I was at Starbucks when I closed my eyes and tried to think of nothing. First of all, I was only able to last about 30 seconds before I opened my eyes and put the earphones back in. Secondly, as you might have guessed, I was unsuccessful. Instead of completely clearing my mind, I thought about the sounds all around me: the music, the whipped-cream spray-can, the clinking, the machines running, the talking; and I thought about the possibility of not thinking about anything.
Why is it that our minds can’t be still, even when we are asleep? Maybe it’s because our senses are always working. Our brains can’t help processing what they see, hear, smell, feel and taste. And we are always doing one of those things. Even if you are a blind, deaf, quadrapalegic with a cold, you can still feel the air against your face and taste your spit (whether it’s good or bad it’s still something to think about). And even without our senses we still have the capacity to create thoughts.
I would say that it’s not fair that we are always thinking, that if I could truly think of nothing I could have solace from my anxious and worried thoughts. But then I thought (because, of course, we are always thinking) that it wouldn’t really be desirable to stop thinking altogether. For one thing, if we take Rene Descartes (who said, “I think; therefore I am.”) literally, we would cease to exist. For another, I would sink into an abyss of nothingness for much of my life.
When I am very motivated to do something, I go for it, and that happens often. But just as often I find that nothing at all can motivate me to do anything. The only thing that keeps me going from day to day are my incessant thoughts. I am constantly worrying about how dirty my house is, whether or not I am a good person/wife/mother/friend/daughter/sister, worrying about my weight, my hair, my weight, my face, my weight, my nails, my weight, my clothes, my weight, and whether or not I am a good blogger/Primary Secretary/Den Leader/budgeter/cook/driver. Thinking about these things, as annoying as it is, keeps me striving to be better, do better, and fill my time instead of just sleeping all day, which I am inclined to do.
My constant struggle to subdue extraneous and especially worrisome thoughts is what causes me to seek solutions, intellectual stimulation and entertainment. When I want to relax my mind, since I can’t think of nothing, I think about something outside of my self: a movie, a book, a T.V. show, a podcast, or music. When I’m stuck in the car and the kids are screamingscreamingscreaming and all I can think of is screamingscreamingscreaming my saving grace is cranking the music to drown out the noise, or blasting a Dennis Prager podcast and thinking about something interesting for awhile.
Sometimes it’s nice to be alone with your thoughts to think things through, pray, meditate, or just let the mind wander. But that takes effort, I admit I rely heavily on external stimuli. Having an anxiety disorder gives you unwanted, racing, uncontrollable, recurring, negative thoughts and, right or wrong, I do what I can to calm the commotion.
No matter what we do to quiet the voices in our heads and control our thoughts, the thoughts themselves will never go away. And that’s a good thing: it’s what keeps us sane. If we have no stimuli at all, not even from within us, what would we be? Maybe we WOULD cease to exist in a sense.