The average human think tens of thousands of thoughts a day. That's a thought every couple of seconds.
I imagine our thoughts like an endless line of faceless men standing next to each other like soldiers. We are the sergeants, walking in front of them. Most of them, we don't even notice. But it often happens that in front of one, we stop.
We pull it out from the line and look at it closely. What is this? Is it real? Is it dangerous? Whatever it says, we believe it without reservation.
We can become obsessed with it, and even if the thought has no basis in reality, we believe it. A thought can become our faulty reality.
Why do we do this to ourselves? The question might arise. Thinking makes us feel safe--it makes us feel prepared. We believe our thoughts because we feel like we are one step ahead of life if we do. It's an illusion of control. UFOs won't be able to abduct us if we are prepared for their attack.
Considering something as absurd as someone being afraid of aliens can be very useful. Because in our own small ways, we believe in the same kind of absurdities. Seeing that can make it easier for us to let them go.
Of course we can't shut our minds off. And we don't have to. It's very useful if we learn how to use it. But these thoughts that have nothing to do with reality, yet we believe them--we can practice letting them go. Allowing the faceless soldier to fall back in line, we can continue onward.
Because of anxiety, I had (and still have) many of these faceless soldiers that I have an urge to stare at. Thoughts can feel very real, especially when they are accompanied by strong feelings. Feelings and thoughts validate each other, and it doesn't take long for us to fall into their trap, abandoning reality for them.
Being free of delusions is a practice--most likely a lifelong one. But it's never too late to start practicing.
What matters is what we do with out attention. Do we give attention to our thoughts? Or do we turn our attention outward, and connect with what is real instead?
That is why in meditation, we focus our attention on our breathing. Our breathing is now, not in the future and not in the past, and it is always there for us, anchoring us to what is real.
Many times when we are among people, we are lost in our heads instead of being with them. We worry what they think, how we look, and we focus our attention on our thoughts so much that we cannot be present in reality. We might not be able to carry a conversation, we might not be able to pay attention. Because our attention is elsewhere, somewhere deep in our minds, staring at the face of a faceless soldier. And this is just one example.
These thoughts can feel so real that it can be hard to let them go. But the more we practice seeing our thinking as "just thinking," the easier it will get.
There is nothing to be afraid of. Even if there is, thinking will not save us. So let's practice focusing our attention more on what is real around us--and live.
A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.
"Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don't realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal." - Eckhart Tolle