The human mind has the amazing, generative capacity to think. So much good in the world has come about because of it. There’s creative thinking, critical thinking, analytical thinking, imaginitive thinking; and they allow us to do amazing things, such as memorize information, understand and interpret meaning, apply knowledge to solve problems, differentiate and discriminate, choose, judge, assess value, invent, organize, perform, on and on. How incredible and great is this capacity? Perhaps, because we recognize and value this so much and see it as one of the distinguishing characteristics of this thing we call “being human,” it’s why we become so empathetic when the thinking capacity of a loved one or of ourselves is diminished by age, or condition.
So, hooray for thinking!
But, now the “bad news” about thinking. We can’t think our way out of grief (sadness, sorrow or pain following loss). In fact, trying to think our way through or out of sadness, sorrow or pain actually has the complete opposite affect of what we desire.
In other words, thinking is the perfect mind-tool for the “doing mode” of life, but the worst enemy mind-tool for the “being mode” of life. When sadness, sorrow or pain arise in the body, the mind, the heart, it’s time to enter “being mode” not “doing mode.”
Engaging the thinking of “doing mode” ends up looking something like this pattern: A first thought emerges, “I feel so sad today.” A second thought follows, “in fact, I don’t think I’ve been this sad in a long time.” A third thought, “I’ve never been this sad in my life.” A fourth, “I don’t think I’ll ever not feel sad again.” Down, down, down we go. It’s a downward spiral. It doesn’t take much to go from an initial ordinary feeling of being sad in this moment to convincing ourselves that we may never feel joy again. Wow, what the “doing mode” of thinking can do in our emotional life. If you’ve ever recognized a pattern like this in your life, raise your hand.
Okay, now put your hand down, because the good news is that we can engage another way of relating to sadness, sorrow, pain–“being mode” cultivated by awareness of thought, yet not attaching to the thoughts and assigning tags to them, such as “well, I have this thought that I am sad so it must be true.” In being mode, we cultivate the mind-tools that allow us to let thoughts arise in our awareness and let them fall away–as they will do all on their own–unless, of course our “doing mode” kicks in and we grab onto and attach to the thought and try to fix it.
In “being mode” we develop the capacity to see thoughts as an uninvited visitor that arrives at the door of our house. Before the age of the Internet there were people who sold products and services going door-to-door. They made cold calls, which means they would just show up on your doorstep unannounced, ring the bell, and as soon as you cracked that door they would dive in with their pitch. They were masters at getting you to listen a little longer than you wanted to, and some were so masterful that they got you to actually let them inside the house, and then they knew they had you, hook-line-and sinker. Thoughts are like that and try to do the same thing.
So, “being mode”–becoming aware of thoughts as they arise, but not attaching to them–treats thoughts the way most of us wanted to treat the door-to-door salesperson. The bell rings, you open the door, acknowledge their presence, thank them for visiting before they begin to make the pitch, then gently, compassionately close the door. One meditation teacher says it like this; allow the thoughts to come onto the porch of the mind, but not into the house. This is the point Rumi is making too in The Guest-House. In fact, after reading this post, you may wish to reread The Guest-House.
I can’t describe how powerful the affect was on my life, especially in the ongoing healing of grief, to come to understand and cultivate the practice of “being mode.” It takes practice to cultivate this mode of life consistently. The practice of mindful awareness–coming to rest in awareness itself, resting in whatever is present in this moment, just this moment, without attaching judgment or clinging to the thoughts that arise; simply recognizing whatever arise, whatever falls away–moment, to moment, to moment. Just this.
Note: I am extremely grateful to the work of Drs. Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn for their work in articulating and showing the path of “being mode” available as an alternate to “doing mode” when it comes to dealing with the emotional life.
May you be well in this moment, and the next, and the next.