Who taught you to think? When you were a child did anyone sit down with you and say, "Today we'll start learning how to be an effective thinker. We'll explore wonderous ways that you can use your mind to create abundance and beauty that no one has ever imagined!"?
It's most likely that you were simply taught to memorise countless 'things', including many contradicting beliefs and irrational fears, without being encouraged to question assumptions, let alone perceptions, and with no exploration of the terrain of the mind, or what lies beyond it.
Despite the abundance and accessibility of information, and a general recognition of the increasing speed of change, education still focuses predominantly on rote learning, which is one of the most effective methods for breaking imagination. Rote learning is necessary to some extent, however as Hippocrates said: "The dose makes the poison."
Rote learning serves the function of creating a map in the mind based on a perception of reality. The process starts with naming things and then associating them with specific emotions, and it ends with a fixed world view that may not be conducive to realising the full potential of developing human beings.
With undiscovered talents and untapped potential many children grow up to seek refuge in relationships whose bonding rituals revolve around the consumption of proscribed news and entertainment programs that portray a world of violence, dysfunctional behaviour, and dystopian futures, with a smattering of comedy and romance, leaving them floundering in a slightly euphoric but predominantly anxious daze, until the next round of programming.
At the leading edges of consciousness many spiritual teachings focus on not thinking and not believing one's thoughts. This can be very helpful for people who want relief from harmful thinking habits. But what happens when they need to think clearly, effectively and creatively? Perhaps some can learn to re-imagine the mind.
THE KNOWLEDGE TRAP
Expert knowledge can limit your imagination simply because it represents fixed ideas, yet those fixed ideas can be used as components of imagination. Knowledge is a product of perception, information, experience, association, analysis and even agreement. It can also be viewed as a story. When reality is re-imagined and perceived differently then knowledge changes, and so does the story of a life, or a society.
Thinking is self-limiting because its existence relies on the segmentation of the reality at hand into digestible units of information. Every bit of information is made of pieces whose appearance and function often depend on how you look at them.
In short, Knowledge relies on abstraction. The very existence of any knowledge depends on filtering out information that could be critical to you. This unconscious filtering of information is determined by the programming that you received through rote learning, through your natural ability, and also the way the mind functions.
Readers who have studied psychology will be familiar with 'Inattentional Blindness', which demonstrates that, under certain circumstances, when given specific instructions, or having specific expectations, people will fail to see something obvious that is right in front of their eyes. This reveals a critical limitation of the mind.
To escape the knowledge trap you need to transition from conditioned perceptions to a creative mode of perception, and beyond that to a way of knowing where there is no distinction between subject and object.
EXPLORING YOUR MIND
It isn't possible to explore your mind without waking up, to some degree, from the trains of thought that dominate your life. Imagine a train of thought like a real train pulling into a station. You're standing on the platform waiting for a specific train, the one that will take you to happiness, abundance and fulfillment. So why get on the train bound for misery? If you're already heading in the wrong direction then why not get off?
Regardless of the destination, each train is powered by thought. Every thought creates a certain amount of momentum generating great amounts of energy, and sometimes the desire to let go is not enough to stop the train of thought. In any case, aim to get off your trains of thought as often as possible until you start noticing the difference between thinking and not thinking. When you explore your mind in this way you will discover a fascinating truth.
No matter how far you travel in life, no matter how beautiful or ugly the scenery, you never really arrive anywhere until you realise that you were not moving in the first place. It's your mind that moves, not you.
THE OLD IS NEW
Drop the common notions of new and old. Everything is constantly changing however change is most often only noticed when it is significant or happens suddenly and dramatically. Try seeing everything as new and in a constant state of flux.
The inventor of the sowing machine could not complete his design because he was stuck with a fixed concept of a sowing needle. One night he dreamed that he was being chased by a tribe of natives carrying large spears that looked like sowing needles. He noticed that each of these spears had a hole located behind the point of the spear. After this dream state observation he relocated the threading hole to the front of his needles. By seeing the possibility of a slight change in a well established design he created a revolution in the clothing industry. In much the same way there is unawakened potential in your life that awaits nothing more than the slightest change in your imagination.
To see things anew stop looking outwards and turn your attention to finding the place from which your thoughts, perceptions and senses originate.
FEEL THE TEXTURES
Take a moment to re-acquaint yourself with how your world feels. Make a conscious connection through your sense of touch with any tool or object that you often use. Get a sense of its presence as well as its textures. Avoid using words to describe what you feel, just immerse your attention in the tactile experience. Perhaps you have never noticed that some neighbouring objects feel cooler or warmer than others even though they are all the same temperature. What else might you have missed?
TASTE SUBTLE FLAVOURS
If you are living a life under pressure then you are probably eating while doing other things, without really tasting and relishing your food. Have you tried eating without thinking? Take your time before swallowing your food. Eating on the run and while doing other things sends your nervous system the message that something is wrong. Eating slowly and savouring your food is a way of affirming that you are safe.
SMELL YOUR ENVIRONMENT
When was the last time you smelled the things around you? Why not do it more often? Is there some fear associated with using your nose? Perhaps some concern is warranted given the number of toxins used in the manufacture of electronic equipment, binding agents, artificial scents and air-fresheners. However your sense of smell helps you to keep these things at a distance until you know whether or not they are safe to have near you. It might help you to clear out some things that are not serving you. Smelling your environment creates moments of spaciousness in your life, and encourages the relaxing practice of bring your attention to the breath.
HEAR EVERYDAY SOUNDS AS MUSIC
Find a quiet place and stop listening for meaning or warning signals. Just bathe in the sounds that appear and disappear, be it rain on your roof, the wind rushing through the trees, birdsong, a passing car, or the pulse of your own body. With a little practice you will also be able to apply this practice to words. Music has no inherent meaning, which is why so many people find it helpful in calming a busy mind. You can hear the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of life everywhere when your attention is not hijacked by words and concepts.
SEE THINGS WITHOUT NAMING THEM
Notice things that are unnameable such as unusual shapes, for example, the shapes that appear between objects placed randomly near each other, or the shapes of clouds. But don't try to find obvious patterns or associations. Just look. The moment you name something you turn it into an abstraction of reality, a fixed concept, and you place upon it certain limits of thought. This not only locks the concept into your mind, it also locks you into the concept. Look at common objects, the things around you, without naming them, and see them for the first time.
FREE YOURSELF FROM WORDS
Words are so fundamental to people's way of being that they barely if ever notice the creative or destructive effect words have on their lives. Eckhart Tolle, a former victim of relentless negative mind states, once equated compulsive thinking with a virus taking over humanity.
Next time you take a break try repeating some words over and over until they lose their meaning. Avoid words that have negative associations for you because they can make this process unpleasant and more difficult.
Choosing an uplifting mantra or an affirmation can have additional associated benefits. Charging positive words with strong emotion can change your state of mental and physical being. However, for now, the key is to experience words or mantras in a way that takes you beyond the meaning generally attributed to it.
MOVE WITHOUT PURPOSE
Notice how much of your physical movements are purely functional and contracted. Find a time when you can move your body in a way that explores the surrounding space and stretches your muscles. Move without any sense of destination. If that's psychologically challenging then start simply by moving your fingers and hands followed by your arms and so on. If free-form dancing seems out of reach for you then learn a new physical activity, perhaps Tai Chi, Yoga, or Aikido, will suit your temperament and help free up your creative energies. When moving notice that it happens against the still and peaceful backdrop of awareness.
You can't hurry imagination. By slowing down you can not only help your imagination but also gain a sense of happiness, inner peace and freedom right now. The more stress you experience the less capacity you have to think clearly, let alone creatively.
In an emergency you want to call upon all the benefits you've gained from being relaxed, clear-minded and imaginative. In fact the only time you ever need to hurry might be in an emergency, and even then it can pay to take your time. You must learn to slow down so you can re-evaluate what causes you to hurry. Slowing down gives your imagination the spacious conditions it needs to serve you, and ultimately to help others.
Meditation is the ultimate method for slowing down while still remaining conscious. Try to focus more on your inner condition than your outer posture. Find moments during the day when you can let your attention relax, even for a few seconds, without following any passing thoughts. Even the intention to do this creates a seed that will eventually grow. Meditation will help you to disconnect from fixed patterns of perception and reactive thoughts.
RETURN TO ORIGINS
Sensations and thoughts appear so quickly in the mind that very few people ever stop to wonder how and where they originate. You can be lost in thought, or lost in the senses, or you can observe and experience your thoughts and senses in a way that awakens you. Notice when thoughts and feelings arise and subside, rather than focusing on their content, and you will start connecting with the origins of imagination and consciousness.
SEEK THE COMPANY OF INSPIRING PEOPLE
Inspiration fuels a healthy imagination. Inspiring people will give you countless ideas without even trying. That is how humanity has flourished. People shared and copied ideas, and the act of sharing ideas created community and abundance, and in turn inspired new ideas. Imagination springs from the one root and expresses through different branches.
This is only a tiny part of a very big picture. So find a creative group of people that resonates with your interests and explore these topics with them, or, if you're nearby, join us for some chanting, music, meditation and stories for awakening.