Are You Addicted to Thinking?


How much time do we all spend not experiencing our bodies every day caught up in our own addiction to thinking?  A lot.  Think of what you are aware of in your body while reading this article? at work? While texting? While talking with a friend? While watching TV? We are in an altered state, a trance of inputs and outputs, of thinking and distraction and doing.   You and I are not bad for doing that.  The culture is mind oriented AND I am noticing more and more people coming in to my practice, incredibly psychologically intelligent but still suffering and disillusioned as to why they couldn't figure things out on their own.  -Traci Ruble




by Traci Ruble, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Website: www.traciruble.com

What are you thinking right now?  Do you know what you were thinking when you woke up this morning?  How much time do you spend thinking? For me, I love to think.  I love reading groovy psychology books, thinking about parenting, couples therapy, current events, politics etc.  I love Twitter.  I have grown to love the tweets that contain an article with some groovy insights especially on neuroscience or psychology research.  I even love reading about techno geeky things.  I find technology creative and fun.  And…there is more to being alive, isn’t there than being consumed by our thoughts?

With all that love of thinking I am also aware of how that thinking can have a very addictive quality to it that tires me.  I have upped the ante on my own mindfulness practice in the last several months and as I practice resting in the raw sensations and electricity of my body I miss myself and life when I am off caught up in the thinking cocktail.   I have had a repeated experience as I have become more adept at feeling sensations in my own body over the years that a mindfulness practice feels consistently like a mother’s warm lap where everything is fine.  No matter how chaotic the day or intense the electricity in my body, the lap of mindfulness becomes a place where I can disentangle from my own thoughts and embrace all the electricity without shaming myself or calling anything good or bad.  There is pure acceptance of all of what I am feeling.

The key ingredient, however, is the body.  How much time do we all spend not experiencing our bodies every day?  A lot.  Think of what you are aware of in your body while reading this article? at work? While texting? While talking with a friend? While watching TV? We are in an altered state, a trance of inputs and outputs, of thinking and distraction and doing.   You and I are not bad for doing that.  The culture is mind oriented AND I am noticing more and more people coming in to my practice, incredibly psychologically intelligent but still suffering and disillusioned as to why they couldn't figure things out on their own.

Personal growth or the self-improvement project, as I like to call it, can get co opted by this thinking addiction too.  We can start to obsess or be in our "dome" about our personal process and make meanings and connections in an attempt to make order out of chaos, to gain control of the circumstances that we have found ourselves in and to leave the discomfort of the electricity in our bodies.  Usually the obsessing creates more discomfort – no mother’s lap offered in the psychological processing thinking cocktail. There is a fundamental rejection of the electricity of the body when we are getting carried away by thoughts.

Here is another rub though…mindfulness is not synonymous with being in your body. I remember years ago, when I first started my mindfulness “experimentation” I was aware of how I would use mindfulness as a sweet escape or levitation above the difficult experiences of the day – up and out of my body.  After some time that felt unsatisfying and in my own training as a therapist there is a word for this kind of addictive spirituality – spiritual bypassing it is called.  Using spirituality to again leave the sensations of the body and mind and commune with a transcendent state is bypassing the truth of what we are really experiencing.  I call it "blissing out".  I do it now and again, we all need bliss, but we need the information of all of our other sensations and emotions to know what right action to take in the world.

When I work with psychotherapy clients the body is the place where all our lived life is happening so the body is included every step of the way in the therapy.   And there can be fear that being alive in the body will be way too uncomfortable.  So we go about the whole body piece gently – visiting and leaving and visiting and leaving until the reliable mother’s lap experience is reached.  We use metaphors, analogies, images, stories and dreams as one way in to the lived experience of our bodies.  We also leverage the safe nest of our relationship, if that has emerged between us,  as the way into body experience and the way out of the thinking addiction and into loving acceptance of our full lived experience.  From this place we can choose how to respond to life rather than react or act out of old habits.

Don't get me wrong though.  The mind is a beautiful lovely thing , not a villain.  Sometimes we can even use the mind to help us access our body.  Isn't that odd?  But it can work as a bridge to someone who has not had a lot of practice feeling inside their body.  I love this list of emotions and the places in the body they locate themselves and what they do in there.  I found it years ago and have given it to clients as a bridge to their experience. 

For a deeper discussion on the addictive qualities of the mind here is a great talk by Tara Brach from this last week.  I am going to sign off and take ten breaths and notice the sensations and electricity, arising in me, just by clicking publish on this article.  Join me?

Traci Ruble is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice near the San Francisco MoMA.  She works with adults individually and as couples working on their relationships.  She also leads online mothers' groups, consults with therapists about marketing and is founder of Psyched in San Francisco.  You can learn more about Traci on her website: www.traciruble.com.

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