Cannabis: Thinking Vs Thinking
For the sake of making a point, I’ll suggest that there are two very different kinds of thinking. Although the principle could apply to the way we use—and are used by—our thinking minds in general, in this post I’m applying it to working with cannabis.
One kind of thinking is tangled up with the almost universal compulsion to obscure what Buddhist and other teachings have described as the emptiness at the core of our being.1 The constant activity of the thinking mind, or discursive mind as it’s sometimes called, is the ego’s core strategy for attempting to keep the fortress closed and safe.
Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa used the metaphor of a cocoon. It may feel safe in there but it’s also stale and claustrophobic with limited visibility. As such teachings point out, ego—the illusion of a separate self—is synonymous with struggle, a war on emptiness as it were. Though much of the defensive activity runs in the background, the cocoon requires constant maintenance to keep the “beyond” from leaking in. The activity of the compulsive thinking mind is the prime material we use to repair leaks and keep the system closed.
Directed, Higher Thinking
The other kind of thinking comes from a radically different place. You could call it directed thinking, or higher thinking. There’s another descriptive term from the science-fiction novelist Robert A Heinlein, “grokking.” Grok means to understand something so thoroughly that the observer merges and blends with the observed. It’s a kind of ‘thinking’ where in some situations the whole gestalt can be understood at once. In its purest form, this kind of thinking arises from that emptiness rather than functioning to fight against it.
In the forthcoming book Cannabis and Spirituality (Inner Traditions/Park Street Press, 2016) I and the other contributors stress the poorly understood idea that with all its other uses, cannabis can be a powerful spiritual ally, especially when we can allow the thinking mind to fall away for at least some of the time we’re in the herb’s embrace. In his essay “Beyond the Thinking Mind” Eckhart Tolle put it concisely, “Spiritual awakening is awakening from the dream of thought.”2
Along with its ability to invite us beyond the thinking mind however, cannabis also has the uncanny capability of opening us up to sharp insights and fresh perspectives. This is where directed thinking comes into play (or: comes in to play). When you are largely free from the compulsive grip of the thinking mind, you may be able to treat it as a tool that you can pick up when you want to use it and put down when you don’t need it.
Then, cannabis’ amplifying, energizing, clarifying function can be given free rein. That’s why I call it higher thinking (with no pun intended). It’s similar to the idea of the Muse. When we can get ourselves out of the way, clear the clutter and noise of the busy mind, the Muse can come through. That capability of cannabis has remarkable creative implications.
Ego the Trickster
There’s a twist to the situation though. Given the basic fact that almost all of us have been to one degree or another avoiding the emptiness at the core of our being, the distinction between directed thinking and compulsive thinking may not always be clear during the cannabis high. As a friend of mine likes to say, the herb “puts a shine on things.” It’s easy to get seduced by our ‘brilliant’ ideas and not recognize that at the same time we may be avoiding the unconditioned reality beyond the thinking mind.
That’s why having an ongoing, non-thought based, bare-attention type of meditation practice can be really helpful in this work. Coming to the plant with at least some experience and recognition of the insubstantial nature of thoughts and the ability to allow “head traffic” to periodically dissolve can put us in a state where we can let the plant open us up and invite us in to a rich and expansive experience of the present moment. Though the cannabis high is of course temporary, that kind of experience has the potential over time to contribute to an enduring consciousness transformation.
- Loy, David R. The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory – “Instead of being a constant anxiety that haunts me, the nothingness at my core turns out to be my freedom to be this, to do that. This liberation reveals my true nature to be formless.” p. 30
- Tolle, Eckhart, “Beyond the Thinking Mind,” http://commonground.ca/OLD/iss//0312149/tolle.shtml