For any novice meditator or human being for that matter, it doesn't take much to realize how noisy the mind can be. How often do we find ourselves doing one thing and thinking thoughts that don't have much to do with what we're actually doing? Sometimes, we aren't even aware that we are thinking because we are so entrenched in the narrative in our heads. We've all been there, this is part of being human. We are often not present for our friends or family because we are so caught up in the busyness of the mind. The mind always seems to be distracting us with thoughts, memories, urges, stories, feelings, sensations, judgments, et cetera. Oftentimes, we find ourselves lost in these manifestations of the mind without ever remembering if we had a choice to engage with them or not. Amazing! It's like finding our self at a restaurant we dislike and don't even remember being asked if we wanted to go or not.
Much of the time the mind leads us to believe there is something to solve or figure out with our thoughts. Take worrying for example; while many of us know worrying doesn't help us much, it's almost as if worrying equates to preparing. The mind has subtle rules, such as "If I worry about what could go wrong and what I need to do, then I will be better able to handle the situation if it comes to fruition." Worrying may give us the illusion that we have control over something; we can actually worry as a mental behavior, it is something we can DO, and we have some control over it, however, we can't actually fully control the outcome of an event. I suppose to the mind (or ego), some control, even if it's illusory, is better than no control. Because of this, we often find ourselves entangled with and engaging in thought as if we are racing to get to the finish line when there may actually not even be a finish line or a race for that matter! Getting lost in thought isn't necessarily bad, but rather we need to look at whether or not it's helpful (see this blog post). Daydreaming can be a pleasurable activity, but incessantly thinking about what some medical test results are going to be isn't going to change the results, however, it will cause us unnecessary suffering.
"...muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone..." - Alan Watts
I find this quote to be an exceptional metaphor for the workings of our minds. Our natural state is to see a jar of dirty water and stick our hands in it and splash around trying to willfully remove or organize each grain of dirt and sand to try and clear the water faster. This only agitates the dirt more and results in a consistently cloudly bowl of water. When we walk away from the bowl and return later, we find the dirt to be resting nicely at the bottom. The water is clear and you can see the bottom of the jar from the top. By not actively engaging with unhelpful thoughts (such as with the help of mindfulness practice) we can begin to see our mind as a jar of clear water with sand at the bottom.
Imagine a giant snow globe. A snow globe so big that you can actually scuba dive in it. Each snowflake represents some kind of thought, memory, sensation, urge, story, sound, feeling, sight, et cetera. We tend to live our lives swimming aggressively around the snow globe, grabbing onto individual snowflakes, and agitating countless others in return. All we want is for the snow to stop falling and can't understand why there's always an endless snowstorm. We're doing everything we can; we're grabbing each snowflake one-by-one as quickly as possible and placing it at the bottom. However, for every single snowflake we successfully place at the bottom, we kick up ten more. Perhaps we need to take off our flippers, stop swimming entirely, and simply float around the snow globe, allowing snowflakes to fall as they may, even if that means some of them hit us on the way down.