I don’t know about you, but I think too much. Way too much. I am always stuck someplace in my head. Sometimes when I am at work or having a conversation I am actually driving my car alone or doing dishes. I notice that I get transported by my thinking. I get so caught up and tangled within the pentetrailias of my brain, that I experience out-of-body sensations when I think too much. For example, I will notice when I am walking that I have been thinking so much that I was totally unaware of what street I was on or how I got to the location where I was now standing. When doing dishes it is a common occurrence that I break dishes because I am off some place in the past or future instead of being present at the kitchen sink. I will spend my days lost in thought. I look like I am going through the daily motions but really I am caught up in the transitory and fragmented sentences and images that are continually looping around in my brain. Hamsters on a hamster wheel and myself have a lot more in common than I would like to admit.
Sometimes I will sit by the side of a highway and watch the cars race by. Mental tin cans with bobbing heads inside. But they are not just bobbing heads. Each of these persons passing by at high speeds are unique human beings (even the ones flying American flags from their American made vehicles) who are dearly loved by someone. As each of these persons races by in their vehicles I can not help but wonder how many of them are actually aware at that moment that they are driving in a metal vehicle at high speeds. I would bet that most of these loved human beings are lost in some thought, somewhere. Their instincts or learned habitual behavior is what is driving the car, while they are reliving some conversation, obsessing over some thing that they have to get done in the future or something wrong they did in the past or just having dozens of thoughts that end nowhere, go nowhere and mean nothing more than an obsessive thought pattern that the person has been stuck in since childhood. As I sit and watch the cars race by, I notice that I have a slight shiver of fright when I think that all these people may be totally unaware of the fact that they are driving a car.
I think this could be true for most Americans these days. Whether it is driving a car, doing dishes, working out, hanging Christmas lights, taking a shower or doing any number of activities- most Americans are not aware of what they are doing in the moment. They are caught up in some kind of thought process instead. How could this not be true? We live in a culture that fills our social, physical and psychological airwaves with a continual stream of fragmented messages- thoughts. We are completely submerged in a sea of over thinking brought to us by CBS, ABC, Time Warner or any one of the multitudinous amounts of media and/or corporate agencies all competing for our thoughts. There are as many thoughts floating around us as there are atoms. The troubling thing is that thoughts are smaller than atoms and cannot be seen by the naked eye. They cannot even be witnessed under the most high-powered microscopes created by human kind. In fact thoughts cannot be seen at all and this is what makes them so fucking powerful. My guess is that if you were indeed suddenly able to perceive thoughts you would notice that you were sitting in the middle of a fishbowl filled with them. Like water, there are thoughts everywhere. We are swimming in them.
So it is no surprise that most people are completely disembodied (including myself at times). What I mean by disembodied is that the person is so stuck in their thoughts that they are not aware of what their body is doing. They are as unaware of the feeling of their feet on the ground as they are the massive amount of thoughts following them around. Instead they are like heads without bodies, spending the majority of their time lost somewhere above the neck. So is it any wonder why there are so many broken dishes, so many car accidents, so many dysfunctional relationships, so much violence and so many wayward souls? We are all thinking way too much. At least I know I am.
So what does Buddhism have to do with any of this? I am not sure yet. I know that the practice of Buddhism can be summed up in one sentence: do not cling to any notion of “I” or “mine.” When we think too much we are caught in the web of “I” and “mine” and Buddhism becomes like a superhero that can swoop down and free us from the tangled web of too much thinking. I have read numerous Buddhist texts. I have gone to retreats, I have spent hours in meditation- all in the hopes of putting some space between my itinerant thoughts and myself. But for all the work that I have done, for all the “Buddhistic” proselytizing that I have engaged in, SuperBuddha is yet to set me free. I still break dishes. I still scare myself with fatalistic obsessive thinking. I still think one thing and say another and then say one thing and think another. I am still as emerged in my thinking as any driver on an American highway.
Never have Americans needed a superhero more than they need a Superbuddha. We are all so assaulted by thoughts that it threatens are very survival. We have been literally consumed alive by thoughts to the point where we are no longer able to distinguish between what thought is authentically ours and what thought is invading from some outside source. As a culture we have been hit hard by the parasitical army of too much thinking and I am not sure that even a SuperBuddha would be capable of setting us free from malevolent web of over thinking. But I am trying to listen to my wife and be somewhat of an optimist. May all these Buddhist books that I have lying around my house can help. Maybe my meditation cushion, which is collecting dust, can be a powerful weapon against the mental flooding that continually seems to suck me under. I will not give up just yet. At least I don’t think so.