I like to sit and think. People think I’m mad.

Try it. Sit down on a park bench and start thinking deeply. Within two minutes, someone will put their hand on your shoulder and ask if everything is okay. The guy sitting next to you has already called 911. Another well-meaning person comes running, “I’m a paramedic!”

People are meant to sit and think. That’s what grey matter does. It’s called contemplation and it’s something that our ancestors spent hours a day doing—while gazing at the stars, tending the sheep, or on those many long walks from place to place pre-Henry Ford. They were thinking about stuff. Whatever they wanted to think about.

No, not worrying. Not fantasizing. Proactively pondering a certain thought for more than 10 seconds. Contemplating.

Today our senses are inundated by a torrent of data buried within rivers of noise on all channels from all directions and attacking all senses until the brain simply has no RAM left for actual thinking. That’s why many of us seek out a person who will teach us how to make room for our own thoughts—a meditation or mindfulness coach. And, yes, they teach us how to calm and empty our minds. Very nice.

But they stop there. That’sMeditation used to mean filling your mind with your own thoughts. Now it means emptying your brain from any thoughts at all. the problem. That’s how contemplation gets hijacked. Meditation used to mean filling your mind with your own thoughts. Now it means emptying your brain from any thoughts at all.

Quietness. Serenity. Sounds so blissful. And it is. Until it becomes an end in itself. Then it’s a dead end.

Because that’s not what your mind was made for, that’s not what any of the original teachers intended, and that’s not what you, as a human being in this overwhelming world, need right now.

All that serenity is just a prerequisite to something far more vital and important: Thinking for yourself.

Caution: Human at Thought

“Do you hear your thoughts?” It’s a question I’ve asked many people. Responses vary: “Some of the time.” “Doesn’t everybody?” or even “It drives me nuts! How do I get it to stop?”

But the most common answer is something like “No, I’m perfectly sane, thank you.” Accompanied by one of those looks that says, “What kind of a wacko is this?” “Hey is this the same nutcase I saw sitting on a bench in the park?”

Or just a blank stare.

That could be half of humanity. Maybe much more. Intelligent, well-educated people. But they have no room in their lives for listening to the thoughts zipping across the neuro-connectors of their brain.

All I’m trying to point out are two simple truths that everyOnce aware of your thoughts, you can grab the leash and take those thoughts to wherever you wish. book of wisdom takes for granted: 1) You, as an adult human being, are aware of your thoughts and 2) therefore you can grab the leash and take those thoughts to wherever you wish.

Today’s American-styled mindfulness and meditation, with a good teacher, can help address #1. As for #2—grabbing the leash—these offerings, as currently packaged, just leave you hanging.

Leash Your Brain and Unleash Your Brainpower

“Think healthy thoughts!” we tell people. “Whenever one of those ugly, toxic, pull-me-down thoughts floats up into your head, don’t react in the slightest. Just choose another healthy, inspiring thought to think instead.”

The common response? “What are you talking about? You can’t choose your thoughts. They just are!”

The truth is, even if you’re eager to switch thoughts in midstream and believe it to be possible, it doesn’t come so easy. Someone needs to provide guidance, coaching, techniques, and strategies for contemplating those healthy thoughts.

There are plenty of strategies. Among them:

  1. Learn some Torah by heart and review it in your mind, thought by thought, seeing the connection between one thought and the next.
  2. Imagine yourself standing before a group of intelligent people, attempting to explain something you find truly wondrous. They stop you and ask questions. You respond. All in your mind.
  3. Think of a problem that fascinates you. Attempt to solve it in your mind.
  4. Try feeling each of your thoughts. What does reason feel like? How does light feel? If you could touch the ideas you were just thinking of, what would be their texture? Really—you can feel just about anything with your thoughts.
  5. Count one by one the blessings that have come to you. Feel the goodness of each blessing.
  6. Recall a deep, enriching experience of your past. Fill in as many details as you can. Where were you? Was it warm or cold that day? Rainy or sunny? Who else was there?
  7. Say a blessing or a prayer real slow, word by word, and focus your mind and heart on the meaning of each word. Where does each word take you to? You’ll find more guidance in this technique in our Jewish Meditation Series.
  8. Imagine the faces of each of the people who helped you in life and those that you love. Think of where each of them might be right now.

There are so many more. All take time and effort to develop. Choose some that work for you. Develop your own. After a few weeks, you’ll find you can slip in and out of thinking modality with ease. In a conducive, quiet environment, free of distractions (I know—finding one of those nowadays is like striking gold—just avoid park benches), you should be able to keep mostly focused for up to an hour.

Okay, try ten minutes. But, hey, 60 seconds is also darn good.

Thoughts That Nourish

You want inspiring thoughts. Joyful thoughts. Thoughts that will lift you up and carry you high through life. Funny thing, but rarely will you see people walking out of a philosophy class singing and dancing. So you need to look for thoughts that do that—that nurture the soul and give it life.

Try some of the many deep, subtle and rich concepts of the inner Torah. Torah is about life, and the inner Torah is about your inner life, the universe’s inner life, and G‑d’s inner life. When you ponder thoughts of life, you come alive and celebrate life.

You’ll find plenty of inner Torah thoughts to ponder in our Building Blocks or ChabadThink. Chabad is actually an acronym for the three faculties of the mind as they are described in traditional and kabbalistic writings: Chochmah, Binah and Da’at.

  • Chochmah is the father of the mind, the spring from which wisdom spouts forth.
  • Binah is the mother of the mind, the river of thought that carries the wisdom outward and into your grasp.
  • Da’at is the realization that is born out of the intimate union of chochmah and binah, when the mind is totally focused and immersed in intense contemplation.

The Chabad approach considersFood is only nourishing when chewed well, swallowed and metabolized. The same with knowledge. knowledge of the inner Torah as food for the soul. Food is only nourishing when chewed well, swallowed and metabolized. The same with knowledge—especially those rich and juicy chunks of knowledge that are vital nutrition for your soul: You have to chew them until you reach that da’at-point.

Here’s how: Think of ways by which this lofty idea applies to your personal life. Try to envision what it means in your world. And think it clearly, as though you had to explain this to a simple person.

You’ll find yourself returning to the core idea itself, again and again, reaching yet further into its depth, seeking to isolate its essential point so that you can tie that to your reality. That’s the dance between chochmah and binah as they create da’at. And da’at is what will flow out into your heart and limbs in real life.

When you and your knowledge become one, your ideals play out naturally in real-time. Everything about life becomes much deeper and richer. Meditation of this sort takes your experience of Judaism, the Torah and its mitzvot to a whole new level.

Thoughts in Focus

Then there are some important tips to keep your mind focused:

  1. Keep returning to the point. There was a point, wasn’t there? Otherwise, it’s plain fantasizing—just allowing your mind to bob up and down on top of whatever emotions happen to be swishing about inside you. Instead, you want to orbit carefully around the point—or purpose—or storyline—that you are contemplating, always returning to stare a little deeper into that point before you blast off again.
  2. Don’t react to distractions. It doesn’t matter whether it came from your environment or your own psyche. So you got lost in some fantasy for a while. Just gently move back into your point, as though you were never distracted. Reacting just makes those distractions much more distracting.
  3. Do this at the same time in the same place every day. After only a few consistent sessions, you’ll find yourself naturally falling into contemplative mode at that time or in that place.
  4. Find something to stare at. Trees are always inspiring. So are fish. Or moving water.

Why Think?

Why is this important? Well, it’s your 2.5 lbs. of grey matter, so why shouldn’t you learn how to control it yourself? But there are many reasons besides. Like:

  1. There’s nothing more refreshing and uplifting than focusing your mind on a single thought even for a small duration of time.
  2. When a crucial decision comes up, perhaps one that involves your ethics and priorities in life, you’ll be better able to handle it.
  3. All freedom begins with the freedom to choose your own thoughts. There’s no greater slave than a human being who has no control over what’s flashing through that grey thinking mass up there.

But here’s my #1 most urgent reason we better reclaim contemplation and do it now: The time is swiftly approaching when we’ll look at a machine and say, “What’s the difference between me and it?”

Guess what? If we don’t know how to reflect on our own thoughts and take them where we want them to go, there isn’t really much difference.

Let’s win the war against autonomous contemplation before it’s too late and we’ve already surrendered to the machines.

Where should we begin? In public school. All Let’s teach quiet thinking in preschool.the way down to preschool. Give every child a minute or so each morning when the teacher instructs, “Now is the time for each of you to think about whatever you choose to think. Whatever is most important in your life. It's your own moment with your mind and your heart.”

Read more about that plan in our Moment of Silence section.

Think about it seriously. We could liberate an entire generation.