Contemplating Existence: Thought vs. Action

Meditations on Life

Good, bad, fortunate, unfortunate, beautiful or ugly: all of these terms are labels. They have no solid derivative meaning of their own to cling to other than that which we attach to them according to our own unique biases and belief systems. When I think about “How I’m doing” or someone asks me “How’s it going?” my first reaction is usually to recall events that have happened to me that day or that week. I naturally try to formulate an honest response that both encompasses how I feel to some extent and puts a positive spin on it. Something like, “I’m OK”, “I’ve got a lot going on” or “Not bad but it’s been a weird day” usually comes in handy. However, saying “I’m good” is something I hesitate to do, even though I may be feeling what I deem to be “good” at the moment I’m asked.

The reason is because the moment I say “I’m feeling good” about something, or the second I admit that “I’m doing good” in my own mind, the spell seems to be broken. The good I may have been feeling becomes almost tainted, and fear starts to set in. Fear that the good I’m feeling isn’t good enough, it will soon leave or somehow it isn’t really there to begin with seeps into my thoughts.

It’s like admitting out loud that “I’m good” (or forming the thought in my mind) makes me realize simultaneously that I am indeed good, but at that same exact moment, that good is escaping me, slipping through my fingers. That I could be better, and how good am I really when I compared to others I admire?

Thinking vs. Doing

Experiencing goodness and happiness is separate from saying the words “I am good” or “I am happy.” This is evidenced by the fact that as human beings, we experience less happiness and goodness the moment we state how happy or good we think we are. It’s not some curse or magic spell that is broken upon speaking or thinking, but the difference between experiencing a feeling or a state of being, and examining that same feeling or state of being through the lens we call consciousness.

The ability to think about thinking, also known as metacognition, is something that not many animals have the ability to do. So far we know that humans and chimpanzees have this incredible gift, but that’s it across the entire animal kingdom. If you’ve ever watched a group of sparrows or squirrels mill about when the weather’s nice, you’ll see pretty good evidence to back up this assertion. I’ve never watched a sparrow or squirrel stop what they’re doing to contemplate their existence, even for a moment. But we as human beings do this constantly. I don’t know about you, but I certainly do.

The difference between thinking and doing is an important distinction to explore. In fact, it can be very easy to say or think one thing, and actually do quite another, as I’m sure everyone has experienced at one point or another in their lives. The old idiom ‘practice what you preach’ is a good one to live by, but how often do we think one thing and do a completely different thing, through no fault of our own? My guess is pretty often.

Even when we attempt to do what we are thinking about, often the result ends up completely different than what we expected. Does this mean we are bad at thinking about doing things, or bad at getting things done? No. It means that thinking and doing are two completely separate dimensions of existence entangled in the web of life.

Separating Thought From Action

Thinking “I am happy” will not make you happy, nor will it necessarily make you sad. The point here is that the thought has nothing to do with the state of being happy, and may in fact hinder one’s natural ability to exist in a happy state by switching on thinking mode and separating one’s self from the actual experience. One must remove one’s self from a state of being long enough to contemplate it, thus the problem with thinking about being happy vs. actually experiencing happiness.

The power of positive thinking is undoubtedly something that every person can and should use to help keep themselves moving forward through everyday life. Positive thinking engenders more positive thinking and often engenders positive actions, the result being the more positively you think about things in your life, the better those things will ultimately turn out.

There’s no denying the fact that thought and action are connected, but the problem arises in something psychologists like to call thought-action fusion, which shows us that though thoughts and actions seem to be aligned in the same realm, they are in fact totally distinct from one another.

People think about wacky things all the time. People also do some pretty crazy things, but the difference is not everyone does what they think about. If every person did everything they thought about on a daily basis, we would be riding unicorns to work and eating chocolate covered rainbows on never-ending lunch breaks. There are plenty of other not-so-good things that would be happening too, but you get the point.

Our thoughts may affect our actions positively or negatively, but knowing the difference between having a thought and doing an action is crucial. You can think all the goofiest thoughts your mind can churn up, but be choosey about your actions, because those are what end up defining you to others.

Remember that having a thought is like a breeze in the wind, you never know when one is going to pop up and it might do nothing more than stir your hair, but it may also blow you off your feet. That’s OK. Get up and brush the dust off with the knowledge that weird thoughts are natural and the weight of your actions are much more significant than any thought could ever be.

To truly find a measure of happiness in this life, I think it is counterproductive to think about being happy, because you are taking time away from yourself with which you could actually experience a unique state of happiness.

Worry less about the state of your thoughts or the state you think you’re currently in, and focus more on doing things that help you experience a happy state of being.

In other words: just be.

Image courtesy of Flickr user irishwildcat.

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