You’ve probably heard the joke that it’s okay to talk to yourself as long as you don’t answer yourself. Many times, in our culture, we find it strange to see someone sitting alone and apparently carrying on a conversation. But in actual fact, the only real difference between this person and ourselves is that we speak to ourselves without saying anything out loud.
A lot of people feel that it’s perfectly natural to hear your own voice speaking words inside your mind. In fact, everyone that I have ever asked has responded that this is exactly how they think. Psychology tells us that the human mind operates with pictures, and that every thought is conveyed inside the mind as a picture or a series of pictures. Yet most of us think out our thoughts using words and language.
Many ancient systems of philosophy have taught that this “chattering monkey” limits your thinking, and restricts you from ever finding “enlightenment”. Zen and other forms of Buddhism strive to eliminate the flow of thoughts in the mind in order to allow the mind to perceive “satori”, or the ultimate state of existence.
Sometimes, when I am particularly focused on my thinking, I notice that a complete thought flashes through my mind, and then the chattering monkey starts up to describe the thought that just went through. One thought after another flash through my mind, and all of them get described with words, as if I had to explain to myself what I had just thought. And each time a thought goes through this process of being described, the next thought is put on hold until the words stop.
It is at this time that I wonder “What would happen if I could stop the words and let the thoughts play themselves out in my mind?” After spending several minutes on this effort to stop the words, I realize that the time between thoughts is reduced to virtually nothing, and more and more thoughts speed their way through my mind. And the more I’m able to stop the words, the quicker my mind operates. Even in a state of wordless thinking, my mind clearly understands everything that takes place.
I’ve actually tried to stop the words entirely. While it does speed up the process of thinking tremendously, it does have an unpleasant side-effect. I lose the ability to hold an intelligent conversation with another person. Here’s what usually happens: I’m sitting somewhere letting my mind run freely and unrestricted. The level of my thinking is taking on enormous proportions, such as analyzing the ultimate nature of Life, or the intricate similarities between atoms and galaxies. Then someone approaches me and asks a simple question. My mind immediately presents a dozen different ideas relating to the question, and there is a very intricately detailed picture of the whole subject. And I’m stumped as to where to begin in order to respond to the question.
Although I believe that it’s possible to achieve a state of quiet mind while retaining the ability to communicate effectively, I have not felt it was ever a good time to go through the process. Mostly because of ego, as I never wanted to appear to be less intelligent than I was. What I have done, however, is to set aside time periods where I work to turn off the chattering monkey in order to focus my mental energies more effectively on a specific task. Although not as ideal, it seems to be a good compromise. And over the years, I believe that I am moving towards the ideal.
Each session where I eliminate a fair portion of the chattering monkey, I gain sharper insights into the world around me, and the subject that I focus my attention upon at the time. Over time, this has given me a deeper understanding of many subjects, which in turn has increased my level of intelligence. I recognize which pathways of thought are effective since I have had the opportunity to let my mind travel a greater number of pathways. This results in quicker thinking, even when I’m not working on quieting the chattering monkey.
In many situations, this has proven to be of great use, as I am now able to learn a subject in about half the time it used to take, and I am also able to quickly analyze a situation and find the similarities between this new situation and one I’ve studied previously. Only in the last couple of months have I started to learn about setting up websites and working with server scripts, cgi’s, and MySQL databases. I may not be an expert yet, but that will only take a little more time. Not only can I work with all these things, but I can customize many aspects of the things I’m working with.
There is a quote from Abraham Lincoln that sums up the importance of learning to speed up your thinking. The quote is “If I only had 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 4 hours sharpening the axe.” You’re going to spend the rest of your life learning and analyzing situations. Be smart and spend some time sharpening your mind. Set aside specific times where you quiet your chattering monkey. Give your mind the freedom it needs to quickly move from one thought to another. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.