Don't Think About It

Like a lot of people, the first philosophical aphorism I learned was Decartes’s classic: I think therefore I am. Whenever I encounter this nugget I am reminded of the Buddha’s answer to the question: “Where do thoughts come from?” He was supposed to have said, (and I paraphrase): “If you are shot in the leg with an arrow, you don’t ask how the shaft was made, or where the feathers came from, or what its velocity was when leaving the string; when you are shot in the leg with an arrow, you pull the arrow out of your leg.” A bit of a dodge, but more useful to be sure. And maybe more accurate. I read Eckhart Tolle recently who pointed out that Descartes had it wrong anyhow. We do not know we exist because we think; we know we exist because we are aware that we are thinking. There is a big difference. The former insinuates that we are our thoughts. The latter reminds us we are not.

All of this was running through me last night while watching The Amateurs. In this film, Jeff Bridges plays a down on his luck middle-aged man who decides to make an amateur porn movie. He wants success, you see. He’s lost his wife, he feels he’s losing his son, and all because he’s never had success.

When the movie opens we find Jeff Bridges sitting in a bar trying to think of an idea that will bring him success. Nothing is coming. He’s desperate. He’s broke. He’s out of work. His desperation grows and grows until he finally shouts, “THINK!”

It is appropriate that the idea he then thought of was a porn movie, because it is impossible to come up with a good idea merely by thinking. Thinking is how we arrange ideas, how we implement ideas – not how we come up with them. It made me sick to watch this scene. I felt as if I were in the throes of a hallucinogenic flashback. I was Jeff Bridges – or at least I had been too many times to count. How often had I tried to think my way out of despair, when it was thinking that got me there in first place? If there is a greater pain than this, than trying to solve the mystery of happiness with my brain, I have never felt it.

Fortunately the scene passed. Fortunately, I was soon back on my own couch with my wife and son. I took a deep breath, pulled the arrow out of my leg, and got back to the business of being alive.

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