I need to learn how to stop thinking

Daniel asked:

Hello. For two weeks I have found myself unable to generate a concrete thought as well as unable to avoid generating a thought, my body reacting to philosophical contradictions that always lead to nihilism. I can do almost anything except vomit and puke, and I feel as if my body is vanishing from space. This all seems ridiculous to me, as I have read existentialists such as Camus or Nietzsche (perhaps almost to the point of obsession) and I agree with their vitalist approach. However, my relentless mind and previously conditioned mindset to seek the truth and nothing else has stripped me of every other instinct. I need to know how to simply stop thinking about life and start living. Surely, an actual philosopher may have had a similar experience and learned how to control such things. I would greatly appreciate any form of advice.

Answer by Peter Jones

Hi Daniel.

It seems you have thought yourself into a corner. This may be something to do with studying existentialism.

If you were a meditative practitioner your state of mind would be considered a wonderful place from which to begin and make progress. You have spotted the contradictions that plague the world-view of most people, you are committed to truth, you have recognised your conditioning, you’ve begun to wonder if you’re disappearing in a puff of smoke and you want to stop thinking and start living. These are perfect conditions for a truth-seeker.  It takes some effort to reach this point.

You now have choices. You could try to control these thoughts and feelings. I would not advise this. It would be counter-productive and a waste of all your work so far. Or you could make use of of your situation. To build on this beginning you would need to forget all about existentialism and all other ‘isms’ and set out to discover what is true.

Meditation is the usual way forward. This entails doing just what you wish to do, namely stopping your wayward ordinary mind from controlling your life.  The topic is too extensive to discuss properly here but there is a vast literature. It will take you beyond the mind entirely.

I’d suggest a study of Zen. Perhaps you could try a book Cultivating the Empty Field by Dan Leighton, a compilation of the poetry of Zen master Hongzhi. His poetry says much about his state of mind and reveals a peace and tranquility that should appeal to you while the preface and introduction deal with the philosophical issues.

As for philosophical contradictions, which as you say can ‘do our head in’ and lead us into nihilism, for Zen and the Perennial philosophy there would be no such thing. This would be what is discovered in meditation. All contradictions would be misunderstandings. For more on this issue Nagarjuna would be your man. I’d recommend ‘The Sun of Wisdom: Teaching on Noble Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamptso.

I know of no other method for dealing with the problems you describe than meditation and a study of the non-dual philosophy of the mystics. This will require leaving behind the muddled and purposeless philosophy of our Western universities and it seems you’re keen and ready to do this. Frankly, while I admire Nietzsche I see a study of his thoughts as a fairly direct road to depression and insanity. The problems you describe do not arise for meditative practitioners because they don’t deal in theories or guesswork and become able over time to see the tricks of the mind for what they are. The purpose of the practice is to realise the truth about Reality so this is the go-to method for truth-seekers. The Oracle at Delphi was no fool.

YouTube is your friend. Try watching a few talks by, say, Rupert Spira, Mooji or Sadhguru. You’ll see that they show no signs of suffering from your problems.  They will explain that your body cannot ‘disappear into space’ since neither your body nor space would be truly real. Perhaps you’re intuitively sensing this. If you explore further you’ll find no need for nihilism or pessimism and your mind will become much easier to live with.

Good luck!

12 thoughts on “I need to learn how to stop thinking

    1. I feel it would be best if you read a proper and full explanation. You need only use a search engine.

      Going back to your opening question – If you read up on Zen meditation you’ll see that control of the mind is what it’s all about. Dependent origination is not immediately important albeit it will become so later as part of your practice or when you attempt to understand the metaphysical basis of the Perennial teachings on mind and consciousness. For now the main thing is to see that Yoga, as the ‘art of union with reality’, is all about solving the problems you mention in your question. When it comes to actually doing something about them then I’d suggest using youtube and amazon-books and following your nose.

      Not being lazy but a decent explanation of dependent origination would be a major undertaking. Briefly, all existent phenomena are dependently-originated and thus have no independent non-relative existence. More briefly, existence is a relative phenomenon that must be reduced for a fundamental theory. The source of existence cannot be an existent. . .

      If you could track down an old article in the Journal of Consciousness Studies called ‘Relative Phenomenalism’ it might be useful. Otherwise there is an extensive literature.

      Good luck with the research. If you’re new-ish to the literature of mysticism and the Perennial philosophy you’re in for a treat.

      .

  1. You wrote, ” My favourite is the ‘Something-Nothing’ problem. Which came first? Clearly neither idea makes sense. This indicates that the truth transcends this distinction. The only way to make sense of this idea is to assume the Perennial philosophy is correct to say that the truth transcends this distinction.”

    Is there a question to which truth does not transcend?

    1. Lao Tsu says ‘True words seem paradoxical’. This would be because the genuine nature of Reality transcends the polarities of ordinary language and requires a language of contradiction. He makes no exceptions and I’ve not come across one so it seems possible there are no statements truth does not transcend. I’m not sure it would be quite right to say truth transcends all questions, but it would transcend all extreme or dualistic answers.

      It’s a tough idea to grok, to put it mildly. .

      1. Hello Peter,

        Thanks for your answer. I was also a bit surprised that you did answer my question fairly, because it is my experience on internet that whenever I ask probing questions, people either delete my question or answer in a rude or patronizing way (at least it applies to “true believers”) . I have many questions to ask you.

        “Lao Tsu says ‘True words seem paradoxical’.”

        1. ‘seem paradoxical’ does not mean ‘are paradoxical’
        2. Paradox does not mean self-contradiction.
        3. What anybody (including Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tsu or your neighbor) says is not necessarily true.

        “He makes no exceptions and I’ve not come across one so it seems possible there are no statements truth does not transcend.”

        If by ‘true statement’ you mean a statement which corresponds to ‘reality’ then you have to tell me what do you mean by ‘reality’.

        1. 1. ‘seem paradoxical’ does not mean ‘are paradoxical’ – Exactly. The word ‘seem’ is there for a reason.
          2. Paradox does not mean self-contradiction. – I think it probably does, but there may be exceptions I’m not considering.
          3. What anybody (including Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tsu or your neighbor) says is not necessarily true.- I feel it would be better to say that what they mean is not necessarily what we’re interpreting them to mean, so we must be careful to clarify the meaning of what they say. I would expect everything said by the first three to be either true or helpful to the person to whom they’re speaking but my neighbour, regrettably, is not so reliable. I would agree that we should suspect them all of being unreliable until we become confident in their words. I know of no instance where the first three say anything that is not either true or designed to help us find and understand truth. In the Perennial tradition it is considered very wrong to say anything that is falsifiable or unrigorous unless it is for the sake of being helpful. .

          The idea we are discussing here is that the genuine nature of Reality is beyond conceptual fabrications. This cannot be described, therefore, only proscribed. What is ‘metaphysically’ or fundamentally real might be called ‘true reality’, but everything that appears in or to consciousness would be part of Reality. It is just that only one ‘phenomenon’ would be truly and independently real;. The rest would ‘dependently arisen’ or ‘created’, and must be reduced for a fundamental theory.

          You might like to read a Buddhist text on ‘dependent origination’. Or there is Bradley’s famous essay ‘Appearance and Reality’. For a complete analysis of Reality ‘by reduction’ I’d recommend ‘The Sun of Wisdom’ by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamptso. For an extended explanation of the view I’m describing there is Krishna Prem’s commentary of the Bhagavad Gita. The joy of researching this world-view is the wonderful and extensive literature .

          I’m happy to chat but you may be reaching the point where you would need to explore this literature. To recommend any of it confidently I’d have to ask where you;re ‘coming from’ and what you currently believe etc. Your frustration with philosophy should subside as you read the literature of non-duality but the best starting place will vary from person to person.

          My feeling is that simply be becoming interested in this view you will have begun to escape the muddle that is academic philosophy. It is not an easy view to comprehend but it’s the only view that has to be comprehended so it’s a very different task to that of wading through a thousand competing views in kant’s ‘arena for mock fights’, as he characterises Western metaphysics. . ,. . . .

    1. I know no examples and believe there is no such thing. I endorse the ‘perennial’ world-view for which the Universe is a Unity. Unity is the dissolution of all distinctions so there is no possibility of a true contradiction.

      If you examine the arguments of those who argue for true contradictions, (Priest, Melhuish, Routley et al) you’ll see that none of them understand the Perennial philosophy and all reject it. This leaves them stuck with contradictions they cannot resolve and so they call them ‘true’ as if these contradictions actually exist. They are then forced to argue that philosophy is incomprehensible, Meanwhile, many people claim to comprehend it and they all deny the existence of true contradictions.,

      We are the fault-line here between Russell’s ‘Western’ thought and his dreaded ‘mysticism’. The former is beset by unresolvable contradictions rendering philosophy incomprehensible while the latter is not. These contradictions show up as dilemmas. antinomies and undecidable questions and these are Russell’s ‘problems of philosophy’. They do not arise for a doctrine of Unity.

      The unfalsifiabilty of the Perennial philosophy (Buddhism, Taoism, the Upanishads etc.) depends on the impossibility of discovering a true contradiction so it is completely safe to say there is no such thing.

      As you may guess for me this is something of a hobby-horse. If we do not understand how to resolve contradictions then we will be unable to understand philosophy. In case you wish to delve deeper here’s an essay from yours truly on this topic. https://philpapers.org/rec/JONANA-6
      . . . .

      1. Hi Peter, I tend to agree with you that there are no true contradictions.

        I read your interesting article https://philpapers.org/rec/JONANA-6 .

        There you write towards the end of the paper, “if we take note of Aristotle’s rule for contradictory pairs and allow ourselves to abandon the absurd extremes for an exploration of the mean”

        What does this mean? Please give a few examples of this.

        1. Sure thing. Any metaphysical problem would do. Freewill-Determinism would be an interesting example because this is a problem for which even many anti-mystical philosophers conclude needs compatabilism as a solution. They see that the extremes are unworkable and opt for some sort of compromise. albeit with no comprehension of what this means.

          My favourite is the ‘Something-Nothing’ problem. Which came first? Clearly neither idea makes sense. This indicates that the truth transcends this distinction. The only way to make sense of this idea is to assume the Perennial philosophy is correct to say that the truth transcends this distinction. The alternative is to say that metaphysics is incomprehensible .

          Then there is Subject-Object, Internalism-Externalism, Theism-Atheism, Realism-antiRealism, Existence-nonExistence and so on and so forth. These are all extreme positions/views and all are rejected by a doctrine of Unity. The true nature of Reality would be beyond conceptual fabrication and this would be why metaphysics does not make sense when we assume otherwise. ,

          This is a tricky idea to get the hang of so don’t be surprised if it appears to be crazy. The point that really matters here is simply that the Perennial view rejects all contradictions as mind-created and reduces them for a fundamental theory. This is what distinguishes it from all other philosophies. For all other philosophies the antinomies of metaphysics are unexplained and incomprehensible.

          An exploration of this idea would mean (besides meditation) a study of the philosophy of the Upanishads, Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism and so forth. The book on Nagarjuna I mention in that essay may be as good a place as any to start . Or, you could read through some other essays on my philpapers page. I’m always glad of a few more views and there are mentions of many excellent and authoritative texts. (My Pathways dissertation ‘From Metaphysics to Mysticism’ is up there and might be a useful read).

          I hope this is helpful and not just confusing. The Perennial philosophy is conceptually challenging and not an easy study until something clicks. . . . .

  2. Hi ontologicalrealist – Yes, we may have talked previously. Not sure.

    A ‘contradictory pair’ of propositions would take the form A/not-A. A ‘true contradiction’ would be a real-life case of a proposition being both true and false. A ‘logical contradiction’ would be a case where assuming the truth of a proposition leads to self-contradiction and so allows us to prove its falsity using a ‘reductio’ argument.

    My comment about misunderstandings refers to metaphysical dilemmas and antinomies such as Freewill/Determinism. One/Many, Something/Nothing and so forth. In Western thought metaphysics is a dead-end because because both extreme views are found to give rise to contradictions rendering them absurd. In itself this is not a problem but a catastrophic problem arises when we refuse to conclude that these extreme views are absurd because they are false. This is the ‘misunderstanding’; to which I was referring. It is a misunderstanding of ordinary logic that afflicts a remarkable number of philosophers and prevents them from seeing a third alternative for such problems and creates endless intractable dilemmas.

    These antinomies and dilemmas are more easily interpreted as simply a proof of what is the case. If we adopt this approach then we arrive at ‘non-dualism’ and perennial philosophy. This states that the extreme positions that form metaphysical dilemmas are false in every case and this would be why they are logically absurd. This approach solves metaphysics and does away with all contradictions and dilemmas.

    The topic is too big for a short reply. If you wish to follow it up I can post some links to relevant essays of my own and others.

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