I have a thinking problem. They say that admitting that you have a problem is half the battle, but I’m not so sure. I’m in pretty deep. I’m not talking about normal, what’s-for-dinner sort of thinking, although I have plenty of that. I’m talking about furrowed brow cogitating, bordering on the obsessive-compulsive — the kind of thinking that takes a toll on one’s happiness.
Here’s a little glimpse. I awoke at 5:30 the other morning, thinking. In my head it went like this: “Should I care that I don’t have a 401K? What I am going to do about that client situation? I’ve got to do something about this fatigue.” I thought money: about tuition that’s due, and whether we could go for a vacation this winter and how to get to a place where I don’t have to think so hard about these things. I began to wonder about how God works. I wondered if it matters at all what we do. I didn’t wonder this with cynicism or a sense of total resignation; I wondered in a very sincere and open-minded way. All this, right out of the gate.
I’m reading a book titled The Geography of Bliss, in which NPR reporter Eric Weiner, a fellow writer, thinker and melancholic, travels to a number of countries seeking the origins of their national bliss or lack thereof. I just finished the chapter on Thailand — a very happy place — in which he discovers this little gem, a Thai maxim for happiness: Don’t to think so much. He finds this revelatory. So do I. Not think so much? Let it go? Don’t take it all so seriously? This is so un-me, I am flummoxed. I am incredulous, dismissive, yet intrigued. I find I’m thinking a lot about it. There I go again. Damn.
Another pearl of Thai wisdom the author discovered is to focus on relationships, not problems. I thought relationships were the problem. But okay, if I don’t think so hard about all this stuff and instead focus on relationships, including to my own life, how would that look? How might it feel? What would happen?
I consider: I’ve spent my entire life thinking very hard, trying to do this life stuff right and taking it all very seriously, and look where it’s gotten me: lying awake at 5:30 in the morning, perseverating over a pile of problems real and imagined, self-help books lining the shelves, a tight neck, reading a book on the geography of happiness — not actually in Thailand, lolling languidly on the beach and enjoying the sunset. More’s the pity.
It’s now 5:45 a.m. My binge thinking session over, I get up, pad to the kitchen and start some tea. There are critters to feed, errands to run and the omnipresent to-do list. Yes, I’m still thinking, but after reading those Thai philosophies I notice that I’m taking my thoughts — and my to-do list — a little less seriously. We don’t eat until almost ten o’clock, a fact my daughter feels compelled to point out. This gives me a very self-satisfied feeling; it’s the sort of feeling you get when you skip school, or open the wine at lunch, like I’m really living on the edge. Out with Mussolini’s trains, in with la dolce far niente.
This kind of thinking, or non-thinking, may cause me to wind up living in a box on some street corner, but if I’m not anxiously cogitating, happy even, maybe that’s okay. It feels okay. In fact, it feels fantastic. It’s like the feeling I get when they crank up the nitrous at the dentist’s office and I find myself relaxed and wondering just what it was that I was so keyed up about a few minutes prior; it all seems so … unimportant. And that, my friends, is how I spell relief.
I spoke with a close friend today who is going through two humongous, simultaneous transitions which have turned his life into a giant ball of stress. “You know,” he said, “I was driving to work today staring at Mt. McLaughlin and I thought, ‘I’m going to be dead one day,’” and then he laughed uproariously. It was clear to us both that he’d had a moment of satori, of enlightenment, both literal and spiritual. This simple, plain truth lightened his load and provided some much needed perspective. This, too, shall pass, so how do you want to live?
I’m beginning to get the message. Life is not a problem to be solved. I’ll think on that … or then again, maybe not.