So often it’s suggested that we turn off mind chatter and be in the now. The trouble is that few of us know how to do that. But the why is clear: Incessant mental noise and unnecessary focus on the past and future are huge stressors, and they keep us from being present in where we are and what we’re experiencing. So we miss out on the now, the right now.
The good news is that clearing mind chatter and being in the now are tandem skills we all can learn and get good at with practice. The best guide book I’ve found is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I read it recently on a plane to London, and practiced while I was there. By the end of my 4 day visit, I was much better than when I started, which shows that clearing mind chatter and being in the now are learnable skills.
To be in the now, we have to learn how to turn off our thinking. By thinking, I mean the thoughts that run through our heads by themselves, with little or no direction on our part (aka mind chatter, as in that involuntary, mental monologue we hear).
This post shows you how to start the turning off process.
You can start the turning off process by becoming an active listener to your thoughts. Just listen, as if you’re a separate person from yourself. Don’t judge what you hear, just hear it. Notice how the thought process runs by itself, without your effort, much like involuntary body functions like digestion and circulation.
Mind the gap
Notice that in between thoughts, there’s a small gap of “no-mind.” It’s much like those digital message boards that wrap around theatre marquis and entire buildings in Times Square. In between each message, there’s a gap of empty space. Similarly, in our minds, thoughts run in succession, interspersed by gaps of empty space.
These gaps contain no thought, so when we enter into them, we feel a sense of stillness and inner peace. At first, the gaps may last only a few seconds, so our sense of stillness and inner peace lasts only a few seconds as well. But over time, with practice, we become aware of the feeling, and we learn to extend the gaps, feeling more and more stillness and inner peace.
Extend the gaps
I would say about 80 to 90 percent of people’s thinking is is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and negative nature, much of it is often harmful. Observe your mind and you will find this to be true. It causes a serious leakage of vital energy. – Eckhart Tolle
With a good bit of practice, we can get to where we can extend the gaps to long periods of time. That’s what lets us be in the now, or present where we are and in what we’re experiencing now, unencumbered by the past and the future.
Another way to mind the gap is by actively creating gaps (rather than waiting for them to occur). We do this by directing our focus into the now, drawing consciousness away from mind activity, into a gap of intense awareness of the present moment. I’ve found it useful to create a mental image of my thoughts running on a digital message board. As each thought comes in, I envision my hand reaching in and pushing it to the side, so it disappears and all I can “see” is blankness, or the gap.
Catch the frequency
By minding the gap, so to speak, we’re disidentifying from the mind, thus becoming more conscious of what Tolle calls the inner body. The inner body is not the physical body, but rather, the life inside your body; the animating presence within you. That, Tolle explains, is the real you. Mind chatter, in contrast, is not. Here’s what this means:
The voice inside your head isn’t you.
The more consciousness we direct into the inner body, the higher its frequency becomes. At this higher level, negativity falls away and we tend to attract new circumstances that reflect this higher frequency.
Or so Tolle says. I’ve found it to be absolutely true. But it’s experiential. You have to try and see for yourself.
You may be saying to yourself, “But I need my thoughts to do what I do.” Yes, you do. Don’t worry. You can still think, just different (and better). Tolle explains:
[Y]ou still use your thinking mind when needed, but in a much more focused and effective way than before. You use it mostly for practical purposes, but you are free of the involuntary internal dialogue and there is inner stillness. When you use your mind, and particularly when a creative solution is needed, you oscillate every few minutes between thought and stillness, between mind and no-mind. No-mind is consciousness without thought. Only in that way is it possible to think creatively, because only in that way does thought have any real power.
[T]here is only one criterion by which you can measure your success in this practice: the degree of peace you feel within. – Tolle
This post is an intro to Tolle. To really get him, you have to read him. His ideas are on a level few of us are used to. They’re a path to enlightenment. Which is to say, they don’t lend themselves to summation. I’ve tried my best to get you started.
OVER TO YOU: What’s up with all that mind chatter? Have you ever tried just listening to it? Will you try? What do you think of minding the gap – in Tolle’s way? Let’s talk in the comments.
NOTES & FURTHER READING
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now at 17-24, 27, 29, 39, 41, 110-11, 113, 117, 120, 123. See also A New Earth. Tolle’s point is that thought comprises only a small part of intelligence. There is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought. Things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond thought; from beyond the mind. They arise from the inner body, which isn’t the physical body, but rather, the life inside your body; the animating presence within you. That’s the real you. Not the voice inside your head. That’s why we need to learn to turn it off.