I’ve been mulling for some time over some words someone said to me several months back. He said, quite distressed, “I don’t want to become a dried out husk of an old man“, and implied that his current life was driving him to that future. They were powerful and in some ways shocking words, because I remembering thinking at the time, “but you already are – you think it therefore you are already that.”
It was some kind of future hell or death sentence that, because he was intently focused on it mantra-style, already was just that, through mechanisms of fixation and attachment. It was clearly an identity that he already strongly associated with, because he sought strongly to avoid it. Yet in identifying with it, he was adding life to it, bringing it into his now, his current reality.
We’ve all heard “whatever you think you are”. Our minds cannot differentiate between the imagined and the real because they are one and the same in the mind – ideas, thoughts that develop and build in the mind. Likewise, our mind does not differentiate between past, current and future experience – it has no way of telling the difference because when we think about things, they are current and real in and to the mind now, as we think them. That’s part of the mechanism of memories triggering visceral responses and sensations – the mind takes the memories as lived experience now.
This person’s response to avoiding his projected future was to change his external environment, his ways of living, rather than changing what was in his mind. He associated this future image with his current environment, and believed that by changing his current environment , he could control and prevent this future hell. That reality was never going to change until he changed his mind. Sure, an external change may elicit an internal change, but it has to be a conscious, mindful decision. I use the word mindful purposefully.
There is a lovely line in a Josh Pike song: “the mind is a made up thing”. We think these thoughts, and they are stored in our mind, a library of thoughts, a fait d’accompli of thinking. We create, develop the contents of our minds, usually supported, encouraged, embellished by our precious Egos. Our dried out husk of an old man. You are stupid, you are clever, you are tall, you are short, you are you are you are.. Our Ego making up thoughts for us, telling us who and what we are…. We believe those thoughts, without awareness, because we intrinsically believe what’s in our minds, because we identify with what’s in our minds. I think, therefore I am (my thoughts). Put it this way, if I change my thoughts, who am I now?? Am I the same?? Or different? We see ourselves through the lens of our thoughts, we identify ourselves with what our thoughts tell us about ourselves and our place in the world. These patterns of thinking become labels for us as we identify with them: short, tall, sporty, brainy, dried out husk of an old man (this one is particularly powerful because it is so descriptive, so tangible and with emotional attachments).
Until we stop and really look at, review, unpack and scrutinise the contents of our minds, in a purposeful, deliberate and aware manner, our thoughts, habituated patterns of thinking, self-talk etc, we will continue to live in a reality created by those thoughts, continue to be unconscious about how those thoughts operate and manifest in and through our lived actions. They are real in our mind, so are real for us. We use our thoughts to make up stories about ourselves. “I am a dried out husk of an old man”. What an amazingly complex and powerful story is held in that simple sentence. We make stuff up, little narratives, little fictions and biographies to make sense of ourselves, our lives, our experiences, and of others. But they are just that – a patterned stitching together of thoughts, that we made up, and then store in our minds as an encyclopedia of references for use and re-use, to tell stories about ourselves, to ourselves and anyone else we think is a suitable audience. Humans are attuned to, socialised in story-telling, and to receive stories as a way of describing and explaining ourselves. It is a form of enculturation. We believe these stories, understand them as being real, having a veracity that speaks a truth to us, for us, about us. We are wired for it, which is why we believe the stories our minds tell. We believe them in the now, no matter if they are set in the past or in the future, they become real for us now, which is the moment in which we “hear” them. So this person, whilst fearing his projected, dried out husky future, already was that future. Our minds are a made up thing.
*If you are interested in exploring this further, check out my current mind-beau Tiger Singleton on Facebook, and his books on amazon.com. There is also a wealth of Buddhist literature that discusses the mind and its workings, its impacts on our ways of being ourselves.