Recently I have become more aware of how often I have automatic “machine” like thoughts about the world. When I hear someone sneeze I automatically reply “bless you” with no thought as to why I am saying what I am saying. A thousand times a day I have some type of response to someone that is not really a response but rather just a trite saying that I have not thought closely about. In every day we fall back on these automatic machine phrases that we utter without using much brain power. These thoughts sort of think themselves, and we just go along with them.
In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to get away from these routine and automatic thoughts by becoming more aware of our actions, habits, and thoughts themselves. In his book he writes, “Whether it’s sunny or rainy, whether the path is dry or wet, you keep that one thought, but not just repeating it like a machine over and over again. Machine thinking is the opposite of mindfulness. If we’re really engaged in mindfulness while walking along the path … then we will consider the act of each step we take as an infinite wonder, and a joy will open our hearts … enabling us to enter the world of reality.”
Rote thinking saves brain space. It allows us to go through the motions of a conversation, a walk, a drive, or a life without having to consciously consider the wold around us as we go. It is automatic, habitual, and has no real meaning or purpose. The machine-like thinking referenced by Hanh serves no purpose other than filler for our days. True mindfulness reveals just how frequently we operate by machine thought. Becoming more aware of our rote habits helps us to uncover what is really taking place versus what we are doing just because it is habit or commonplace in our society. Mindfulness takes away the filler and helps us see the world without the stories we tell about the world, allowing us to recognize judgements, desires, fears, and concrete facts of our life in a more clear way. One of the biggest benefits I have found from my imperfect mindfulness is the pulling away of the narrative that I have attached to so much of my life. Without the stories that I make up and without the filler of machine thought, I have had a better approach to the world that is less driven by fear and stress, and more driven by a conscious choice of what is important to me and my life.