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    Something to Think About ~ Thinking about Thoughts

a woman deep in thought with cartoon drawings on a wall behind her representing ideas

May you think fewer thoughts, and may they be deep, happy, and kind. - Dr. Amit Sood

Dear friend,

Your calm face and still body belie a very active inner physical environment. As you read these words, perhaps you’re totally unaware of your heart beating, diaphragm moving, lungs inflating, blood circulating, and intestines gurgling. In my medical training, I was amazed when I first heard the orchestra playing inside the human body—the heart beats, lung sounds, intestinal peristalsis, blood flow—brought to life by a simple stethoscope. Our inner orchestra is fairly loud—an unborn baby hears seventy to eighty decibels inside the womb (it’s about as loud as the sound of a vacuum cleaner).

A calm face belies another inner noise, one that originates in thinking. By one estimate, each day, an average person thinks fifty thousand spontaneous thoughts. Our spontaneous thinking is chaotic and mostly repetitive from one day to the next. Each unit of thought has a context, but just like the random movement of the particles in a space (which scientists call the Brownian motion), tracked over a period of time, these thoughts go nowhere and don’t accomplish much. Such excessive thinking produces inner congestion that stands in the way of our ability to connect with the world. Buried in our inner environment, we grow distant from the people closest to us and become strangers in our own homes.

Perhaps, just as a living heart beats, a living mind thinks. My automatic thoughts are a reflection of my mind’s life. I shouldn’t take their content and variations too seriously.

I believe the chaotic mind wanderings are a recent phenomenon. Not too far back in time, the human mind didn’t have the luxury of mindless wandering, busy as it was protecting the self from the elements. Each technological progression that has made us safer and more comfortable has also freed up our attention, allowing us to think. This is an enormous opportunity for our species, and no other life form has access to it.

We need to make only one change to harness this opportunity—develop intentional thoughts. We should recognize the trivial nature of the vast majority of our spontaneous thoughts and instead choose to think intentional thoughts, ones that serve our conscience. Further, we should tether our intentional thoughts to timeless values of gratitude, compassion, acceptance, higher meaning, and forgiveness.

Thoughts aligned with these values are enormously precious. A substantial number of us thinking such thoughts would justify the tremendous effort nature invests each day to make human life possible. If, however, we were to spend our entire lives letting our minds think mostly repetitive, disorganized thoughts, we would be participating in a colossal waste of time and thought force—a tremendous lost opportunity. That would be sad.

Take care. Amit

Read previous blogposts and follow @AmitSoodMD  on Twitter.

Dr. Sood is director of research in the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He also chairs the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at Mayo Clinic.