Who doesn’t want a quiet mind? I think most people do, although many don’t even realize it. It’s the reason we drink, smoke a joint, binge-watch series on Netflix and check our smartphones.
We want an escape from our over-encumbered minds that torment us with repetitive thinking patterns about what happened today, and what might happen tomorrow.
A Patron named Jacob asked me for philosophical ideas we can use to quiet our mind and, basically, feel less overwhelmed by daily life. So, I turned to different philosophers for answers. In this video, I’ll share some interesting things I’ve found.
Now, for starters, let’s do some backward thinking. If our goal is to achieve a quiet mind, we should find out what exactly causes a noisy mind first. The answer is very simple: a noisy mind is caused by overthinking. Excessive thinking patterns can be dangerous and I made a video about this if you want to know why.
Most philosophers that were concerned with obtained inner peace, came to the conclusion that the way we use our minds decides how we feel. However, there are different philosophical viewpoints on how this works. So, let’s dive in.
Originating from ancient China, the philosophy of Taoism views the dance of life as the one thing we should fully embrace. Lao Tzu, the alleged author of the Tao Te Ching (which is considered the main scripture of Taoism) emphasizes that life is ever-changing. So, to embrace life we must embrace change. Lao Tzu wrote:
If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 74
So, instead of swimming against the current, we should let go, let ourselves float along with life, and act only when necessary. Doing so not only saves energy; it also washes away our worries, because we are fully immersed in the present moment.
The Stoics observed that a noisy mind is caused by desire and aversion in regards to things that are beyond our control. Epictetus emphasizes that we should unconditionally accept everything that is beyond our control.
Also, if we’re able to see good in every situation, it doesn’t really matter how life has been and how life will turn out, so there’s no need to worry or ruminate.
That’s why we shouldn’t encumber our minds with grasping at one thing and aversing another. We should fully embrace what comes at us instead.
Epictetus explained this beautifully:
Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you.Epictetus, Enchridion, 15
The idea of Amor Fati, which can be translated as the love of fate is a useful reminder to embrace whatever happens.
To achieve tranquility, we shouldn’t let our minds linger outside the present moment so often. Unfortunately, people do this all the time, chewing over past events, even if they occurred many years ago, and worrying about what might happen in the future. Stoic teacher named Seneca said about this and I quote:
Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped they worry no more. We, however, are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come.Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 5-9
A quiet mind comes without strain. Philosopher Alan Watts, who is famous for bringing Eastern philosophy to Western audiences, argued that the act of thinking puts a strain on our minds because thinking is a linear process that goes slower than what our consciousness picks up through the senses. Thus, it takes effort for our thoughts to keep up with reality.
The more we tend to live in a world of thought, the more we tend to live in an abstract world, that is removed from and has a gap between it, and the real world of nature.Alan Watts
Watts observed that, as a result of this, we tend to live in a world that is unsatisfying and lacks vitality.
A Danish philosopher from the 19th century made a very similar conclusion. Among the writings of tormented soul Søren Kierkegaard is a masterpiece named Either/Or. In a chapter of this book called The Unhappiest Man, Kierkegaard stated that the most unhappy man is the man who has the fullness of his conscious, in some manner, outside of himself. He said:
The unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself. But one can be absent, obviously, either in the past or in the future. This adequately circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness.Kierkegaard, Either/Or, The Unhappiest Man
The observation of the young Kierkegaard touched on the essence of the noisy mind, which is being outside ourselves, thus, in the past or in the future.
This is surprisingly similar to Eckhart Tolle’s teachings about living in the present moment, and I quote:
Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
If life is not now, then thinking about anything else than the now is an act of being outside of life. Sometimes it’s necessary to step outside life for a moment, to plan for the future or to learn from past mistakes.
However, when planning becomes worry and worry becomes anxiety and when learning from mistakes turns to repetitive reflections leading to destructive emotions like shame, guilt, and remorse, we know that the mind is lingering in the wrong places.
So, how do we achieve a quiet mind? The solution is amazingly simple: think less.
Here’s a quote from the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita:
For the one who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for the one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be his greatest enemy.Bhagavad Gita, 6
Therefore, Eastern traditions are very much concerned with training the mind.
The Buddhists call a noisy mind a monkey mind, because like our thoughts, a monkey jumps from tree to tree. The practice of meditation is a way to tame the monkey mind by observing our thoughts in order to let them dissolve like clouds in the sky.
Achieving a quiet mind takes practice. But, only with a clear mind, we can live in the present moment and fully immerse ourselves in the dance of life.