Steve Brooks (Abhaya) – Poetry, Prose & Art

A Very Short Book

A Very Short Book 

Steve Abhaya Brooks

Many years ago, I said to myself, “If it was simple, someone would write a very short book, and we’d all relax.” This is that book. It is that simple. So, just relax.

When I was a young man in graduate school I confided to my even-younger brother-in-law that it was tough having a mind that wouldn’t quit, to, in effect, parry with God. Many years later, I learned to stop thinking. I learned to give up my addiction to thinking. When I was six months in the Far East, I was for a time with an enlightened master. I went to India with a woman who was a sannyassin to the notorious guru, Osho Rashneesh. I was not a follower of his, he had died two years prior.

In his beautiful ashram, I heard about another teacher, Sri Harilal Poonjaji, aka, Papaji, and I went to see him. He confirmed the practice of letting go of all thought. For someone who had a mind that wouldn’t quit, I came to accept that I also had a mind that could and would quit thinking, all to its benefit, and that is the gist of my very short book.

It became easier and easier for me to stop thinking, but it was a challenge to sustain, not because I couldn’t do it, but because there was such resistence to it. It’s easier to quit thinking when you’re going to sleep, but harder when you’re awake. First, this is something we all do, every night. If we’re good sleepers, we let go of thinking and go to sleep. Counting sheep is a technique of training the mind to focus on less and less activity. There are countless gurus teaching countless courses, countless paths to train the mind to focus on the breath, a mantra, a deity, but I discovered that all of that is unnecessary. 

One may accept that thinking is the problem and that holding a thought, any thought, is the problem, but we are so conditioned to cherishing our thought processes, we find it difficult to let go of any thinking. A thought comes, we pick it up, and we hold on to it. I once thought my thinking was to be honored, that every thought, even dark and disturbing thoughts, no matter what they were, were to be honored. I needed to let go of that addiction. 

Drinkers love their drinking, thinkers love their thinking. I’m convinced that alcohol isn’t the problem for an alcoholic, its the attachment to alcohol that’s the real problem. I am convinced that thinking is the great human addiction. Once we became self-conscious, we fell in love with our thinking. “I think, therefore I am,” said Voltaire, confirming for the rest of us that our thinking defined us, that thinking made us who we are. 

We accept that sleep is necessary. We need our rest, but we begin thinking as soon as we’re awake, and even in our dreams. When I first returned from India, I woke up one day and got in the shower and my thinking began, preparing me for the coming day, and I thought, “Oh, thoughts,” and they disappeared. I felt relief, I felt better, I felt clear-headed, I felt happy. 

So is someone, without thought, an idiot? Far from it. It’s like being on-deck for a home-run or a base hit. It is drawing back the bow. It is being at the ready, without anxiety, it is being at peace in a warring climate. It is being at peace in a peaceful climate. There is no programmed thought crowding the field prior to an awakened thought. Thinking doesn’t end when one lets go of thinking. One simply lets go of holding onto thoughts. It is the pause that refreshes. It is no longer holding thoughts. One’s mental hands are free. Thoughts come and go, they are simply not given a place of primacy in one’s identity.

Cats are a good example of being thought-free. You have seen a cat, half-asleep or apparently staring into the void, who suddenly jumps into action, as if out of nowhere. But “nowhere” is our judgment. A man went to see Carl Jung in the 1930s. He was a hopeless alcoholic and Jung finally admitted he couldn’t save him. Jung told him, “Once in while someone like you is cured by having a spontaneous spiritual awakening.” “How do I get that?” Roland said, “Should I go to church? Would that work?” “Maybe, maybe not,” Jung said. “Then, how do I get it?” “I don’t know,” Jung told him and said goodbye. Roland, on the boat back to the US, had a spontaneous spiritual experience of some sort and when he got back to Vermont, he was sober and he stayed sober. It shocked his friends, including one friend who had an transformative experience of his own. 

That friend stopped drinking and told his story to Bill Wilson who started AA, which functions along the same lines. Jung said that Roland needed a transformative experience and then told him goodbye. The addiction to thinking is similar. There are teachers and programs and ways of life to break the addiction to thought, but I believe the answer is already within every person.

To me, the moral of the Jung/Roland story is that Jung told Roland what he needed and said he couldn’t help him achieve it, it was up to him. The ball was in Roland’s court. He was on his own. How does one stop thinking. One stops. Goodbye, and good luck. 

Buddha has a spontaneous spiritual experience by a tree and nobody knows what that was. Still, he decided there were things one could do to make the change more possible. So he created Buddhism. He didn’t create the spontaneous spiritual transformation. That is up to the individual. 

Christian sinners let go of their sin and accept the forgiveness of God. How do you do that? You do it. The ingredients are there within everyone. Learning how to accept who one is, is the same. We all know who we are. Who else could we be? Acceptance is letting that be and letting go of everything else. OK. We all know how to let go of things, and we know how to accept things. 

Thinking is a habit that first occurred in an early human being. Once it occurred in one of us, we all fell in love with it. But the process had and has a downside. It separates us from the self that exists without the distance of self-consciousness. Self-awareness is self-acceptance without thought. You already are who you are. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to know that. If you see a friend coming toward you, you don’t have to think to decide who it is. You know. And you know yourself. But thinking about it complicates the reality. 

Thinking about oneself is like thinking about your friend. You have to become separate from the object of your thinking, to think about it. That’s OK, all of human progress comes from this distance. But along with all the things we have created and all the things we have done and all the things we have become, there is a price to pay. That distance has made us separate from our existence, from what we call God, from the earth, from each other, and from ourselves. 

Human beings have sought to close that gap, as much as we have sought to exploit it and appreciate it. We surrender. We surrender to all manner of people, ideas, things, behaviors, callings, fantasies, truths, and lies, good and bad, but, in the end, it isn’t the thing we surrender to that gets us to the sense of reunion and union we seek, it is surrender itself. 

Knowing how to exist without thinking is already within our enormously capable existence, but we are habituated to ignore that sort of surrender. The surrender that succeeds is without guidelines, rules, proscriptions, leaders, or followers. There is no name for it, no one is in charge of it. 

When I lay me down to sleep, I don’t count sheep. I don’t think happy thoughts. I don’t tell myself what to do. I don’t take up the techniques of any guru, enlightened master, priest, rabbi, preacher, book. advice or idea. I let go of my thoughts. I used to stare into the dark, but any method brings up a thought about it, and one is off to the races with thinking. I let my thinking mind die, not literally of course, but I pay it no heed. I let it sleep. I give it no ground to stand on, I stop thinking. And the amazing thing is, it feels very good.

Early on in this re-education of the mind, my thoughts would dance around my letting them go. They might say, “That was great. You did a great job. Now let’s try it this way,” in order to regain control of the process. But, without a process, there is nothing to help it regain control.

The feeling that comes without thought is a kind of natural happiness, like coming home to oneself, like being at peace with oneself, like being who one has always been, before all the activity begins. It’s striking how much thinking is unhappy and judgmental, and how much the mind cherishes that sort of thinking. Reordering one’s mind to think happy thoughts is better than thinking unhappy thoughts, but thinking no thoughts whatsoever is the best. It’s probably what went on in the mind of the first human being to become self-conscious. It’s right on the edge of enlightenment, and it’s available to every single human being without an expensive trip to an ashram or any other place of worship, although if you want to worship, it seems to me that the only true prayer is, “Thank you,” although that opens up another can of delicious worms.

In the 70s, in a cafe where I went to write, I sat with a girlfriend. I decided to write something. I took out a pad of paper and a pen and I began. After a while, my friend said, “Steve, do you know what you do?” I said, “No, what?” She said, “When you begin to write, you become spiritual.” I had never thought of that before, so I began to think about it. I looked at what I had done to bring on this state of mind. I went back to the beginning of the experience. I remembered how I had begun my practice. I took out my pad and paper in a busy cafe where I had been before and I thought of nothing. I stopped thinking of the people in the room. I looked out at the busy street and I stopped thinking of the cars on the street. 

I looked at the spirit in the room. That’s a romantic way of describing it. I let my own spirit be on the loose in the room. That’s another romantic way of saying the same thing. Essentially I became a blank slate, like the paper tablet in front of me. That allowed me to let go of any ideas I had about myself, about everyone else, and about everything else. My friend called that me becoming “spiritual.”  I didn’t know I was doing that, but I see now that by emptying my mind of thoughts, I entered a state of awareness that is open to the best of who I am, what I might romantically call my “spiritual” self.

A while later, in the same cafe, a young woman approached me and my best friend with a pamphlet for us to read. It was a list of twenty questions from AA, meant to questions one’s drinking habits. The questions ran along the lines of, “Has your drinking ever interfered with your love life? Has your drinking ever interfered with your work life? Has your drinking ever interfered with your life in general?” My friend substituted the word “thinking” for the word “drinking,” and we both had a good laugh about it. I broke the habit of my drinking in the next few years and began to think more about my habit of thinking.

Around the same time, along with a couple of other poets, I read my poems to a large room full of high school students. After one poem, a kid asked the question, “Was that a real poem, or did you make it up?” Everyone laughed. It felt like criticism, but it got me to consider what the difference might be. There are times in my writing when poems seem to appear and other time when they seem constructed from some contemplated subject matter. I prefer the former, i.e., real poems, to the kind that I just make up. The second kind can still have good qualities and I don’t want to completely dismiss them, but the state of mind that produces the former feels better, and I think the poems are better. 

It’s clear that I am still a thinker, but I’m inclined to lay the ground work for my thinking the best I can by emptying my mind of the attachment to thought. Then what follows has some spirit to it that I appreciate, no matter what comes of it.

I began this book by saying that “it” was simple. What is “it”? “It” is the meaning of life, the angst of being alive, the question of who we are and what we are doing here. I have wondered about this for decades, but I don’t wonder anymore. The question arises because we are a questioning animal. Other animals don’t ask questions. They live and die without asking why they exist. We are the thinking animal, and I am a thinking animal. It occurred to me, years ago, that everything I needed to know was available to me, within my own life and my own experience. My existence was the workplace and the playground for my awareness. How could it be otherwise? 

I have come to the conclusion, after asking myself, “Who am I?” that the answer is without question, and the acceptance of that reality is my best state of being. How could it be otherwise? Whatever is absolutely true is always true, and any other reality is a relative reality. The world of relative realities is the business of being alive, full of the contradictions of being alive, but being still and letting go of thought is the path to awareness of one’s essential reality and to the acceptance of it. 

Letting go of thought opens the door to the acceptance of my existence, and everything I do and everything I am follows from that. The fear comes up that letting go of thought is a horrendous deprivation and a terrible vulnerability, that it lays one open to all manner of deceit and manipulation, like an innocent child at the mercy of a cruel world. However, the protections of the mind are not lost to a peaceful and open mind. In fact, they are lost to a mind that dwells in the normalcy of minds that do not know who they are, minds at the mercy of thought and thinking.

The mind is like a beautiful Golden Retriever. Left to its own devices, it will shit on the rug and tear up the furniture. I had such a dog and I was surprised to see that it was dying to be told what to do. It wanted to be led by me. When I didn’t lead my beautiful dog, it tried to lead me, and it was not happy leading me. So who or what leads the mind to become a happy golden retriever of thoughts?  The security of knowing what lies at the root of my thinking leads my thought and my thinking. Awareness makes my mind a happy dog. Peace has come upon me and doubt has disappeared. 

This state of being, this state of mind, was always with me, always available to me, always in effect, whether I knew it or not. I was naturally “spiritual.” When I heard another man say what I intuitively knew to be true, peace was reinforced and any doubt I had felt in my consciousness disappeared. It is simple. Thus, this short book.

Steve Abhaya Brooks

Asheville, North Carolina

June 21, 2021

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