Achieving some level of inner composure is quite simple – stop thinking. Give up on thought. This is easy to understand, but almost impossible to achieve. The reason it goes against almost every impulse within us, is that conceptual thought is humankind’s big advantage over all other creatures, and the tool one human being uses against another. When something has been so crucial in our achievement of dominance, and has served us so well, it is going to be difficult to tame.
Thought has brought us weapons to protect us from other creatures. It has released us from constant infestation by parasites of various kinds, allowed us to protect ourselves from the weather, and on a daily basis human beings seek to take advantage of each other through deceit – the carefully crafted lie. And so our conceptual thinking runs pretty much all day, every day, and it has afforded us so much of an advantage that we are addicted to it.
We then use this same mind; the one addicted to solving problems and outsmarting the competition, for other more subtle issues. We can think about the inevitability of our own death, of old age and illness, and of any number of misfortunes that might come upon us. And so our problem solving mind siezes upon these uncertainties with gusto, in the belief it can find a solution. The more naive among us might believe that science has an answer, and that cryogenic preservation of our corpse might guarantee some sort of immortality. Others create notions of a soul, of something that persists after the death of the body. Some of these beliefs are fairly crude, and others more inventive. Some sects believe that we can create an immortal soul through various disciplines and exercises. Please note that all of this is the same problem solving mind that discovered how the sharp edge of a stone might be used as a weapon, only now it is using the same algorithms to try address its own mortality. Finally we come to the most inventive ideas – ideas that have occupied the minds of philosophers, saints and sages for millennia. “Being”, the ontological proof of God, contemplation of the void, unknowing, existence and non-existence, existentialism – and so on, are our mind’s most subtle attempts to solve the unsolvable – namely that we are mortal and we die.
If somehow we could convince our mind that the body will not endure one second more because it has studied “being”, or any other esoteric topic, then perhaps it would content itself with the shopping list, getting a promotion at work, quantum physics, or any other activity that does not involve metaphysical flights of fancy. The mind only gains some composure when it understands, and really understands, the limits of its own powers. Until then people will indulge in new age nonsense, religion, ungrounded metaphysics, spiritualism, and other notions that derive from the mind’s fear of its own annihilation. And all the time, the people who indulge in these activities will be plagued with doubt, and strive even harder to convince themselves that their flights of fancy are based on reality. The solution is simple but difficult – understand that thought works very well when we are planning a vacation, but is wholly useless when trying to find a satisfactory solution to the problem of mortality.