Too Much Information
Q: My inbox is filled with wise quotes, thought-provoking and reflective questions, positive thoughts and encouragement. I read books that help me to calm myself and use both parts of my brain together to create inner harmony. But during the bustle of the day, that often goes out the window and I find it hard to do such things like guide my mind to ask thought-provoking, positive process-starting questions. There's several questions that arise from this phenomenon. Why does this happen? Is there really anything I can do about it?
A: I think part of the difficulty may lie in the fact that reading quotes, thought-provoking questions and books is sort of like reading a menu and thinking you've tasted the food. Reading is essentially an intellectual exercise that excites the brain. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but have you ever thought about where all those thought-provoking questions and such came from? I'd bet you a dollar that they came from deep introspection and meditation, not from reading other books and quotes.
We get this in Ch'an and Zen all the time. People who've read a lot of Ch'an and Zen books come to our temple thinking that they know all about it, not realizing that the people who wrote all the Zen books were meditators first! Their books were based on their deep meditative experience, not on intellectualizing or good-sounding quotes. Again, it's not that intellectualizing or having thought-provoking quotes are bad things, but it pales by comparison to the meditative mind itself. What westerners have a difficult time realizing sometimes is that the brain is not the mind.
I believe that the reason you have difficulty guiding your mind at this stage is because your head is far too busy processing all the information you've been feeding into it. This creates a lot of movement and chatter, which is not conducive to insight. When the chatter in your head meets the clatter of life, it just creates more clatter and chatter.
I would humbly suggest that you engage in some kind of meditative practice. Meditation helps to calm and focus the mind so that you gain a great deal of insight into yourself and into life itself. Meditation is work: it involves discipline, energy, sincerity and patience, but it is the gateway to an understanding that is far greater than any book, quote or question can provide. This kind of understanding is invaluable when it comes to living one's life in harmony with others because you can't truly harmonize with others until you are harmonized yourself.