Thinking nothing? Impossible! Or maybe not

“What are you thinking?”



It is said that not thinking is impossible. But is it really so?

Many people believe that holidays are for not-thinking in order to recharge batteries for the next year’s  rat race. Or for seeing old things in new ways. Perhaps non-thinking is significant for the concept of Thinkibility itself?

 With non-thinking we don’t mean a lack of clear or rational thinking, daydreaming or musing. Nor do we mean subconsciousness. We mean the absence of thinking at all. Can we deliberately switch off thinking?

Actually, the objective of meditation in Zen is not to think. The goal is called Zazen, a sitting meditation, where the mind is calmed down by attentive counting the breath. Students are encouraged to “let thoughts go and escape from the body, like air-bubbles in the water” or “solely watching your thinking, by accepting them that they exist as such”. It is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them. When you are  meditating you  strive to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference.


In my opinion, the ability to focus and to describe the thinking involved are closely linked to the ability to meditate.

Sometimes a scholar is given an unsolvable problem to block intellectual thinking, a so called koan. One well-known koan is “what is the sound of one clapping hand?” Other ways to block thinking is to give the mind an impossible focus. A monk was given the instruction to walk for 30 days and to contemplate on how wonderful it is not to fall from the earth. In Zen, meditation sessions are interspersed with slow walking, not only to stretch the legs but also for exercising concentration by focusing on every muscle that is used. During this Kinhin each step is taken after each full breath.

 Work as cleaning, washing dishes and cooking are in the monasteries supposed to be performed with “mindfulness”, bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis. Mindfulness is a concept that fairly recent appeared in psychology and therapy programs.

 Many times I have wondered whether marathon runners, swimmers, cyclists and lovers of trekking and mountain climbing are experiencing Kinhin, just by the endurance and focused attention needed.


But there are also sports where during a very short time maximum attention is needed: judokas, boxers, pole vaulters. In both kind of sports participants speak of “just doing”, “not- thinking-at-all” or “being in the flow”. Or sometimes a “being in the zone”, “ in tune”, “centered” or “ singularly focused”.


The psychological state where a person is fully immersed and focused on an activity or task is called flow. As Wikipedia states: “When one is in the flow state, he or she is completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, loses awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. This occurs because all of the attention of the person in the flow state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated.”

It seems that non-thinking exists.

Photos by Sira AnamwongChatchai Somwat and Tom Curtis (

2 Replies to “Thinking nothing? Impossible! Or maybe not”

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