Lianas of Thought

In your mind, you are Tarzan — master of vines, king of the jungle. Every waking moment, you swing from liana to liana, jumping from thought to thought.

On some vines, you’ll linger. You’ll hang on, kick your legs out, then pull them back again. Wee! This thought is fun! You could swing on it forever. Stay too long, however, and suddenly, you’ll get vertigo. From one moment to the next, the thought will feel threatening. Dangerous. Just a little too close for comfort. That’s how you know it’s time to jump.

At other times, you’ll be the one making heads spin. You’ll go so fast, we won’t be able to keep up. We can barely see into your mind, after all, let alone catch a shadow in it, hopping from thought to thought at lightning speed. Every now and then, even you, rajah of the jungle rope, will have to pause and catch your breath. What liana did you leave behind seven turns ago again? Darn it, the good idea is gone.

Interestingly, while lianas of thought are your everyday bread and butter, biologically speaking, they are “a conspicuous component of tropical forest ecosystems.” A parasite feeding on nature’s organic outgrowths, willing to veil whatever brilliance might lie beneath it, desperate to reach the canopy for a few moments in the sun. Could your thoughts be…? No! Oh, but commonly, they are!

Do the vines you’re so busy swinging from actually lead you where you hope to go? Or do they merely form a big, barely comprehensible circle? If you keep going round and round in your mind, the lianas can keep growing. Feeding. Hiding whatever organic insight waits underneath, dying to reveal itself. How convenient for your thoughts! Yet how unfortunate for you.

Zoom out, Tarzan! Stop swinging for a second. Slide down the current vine, and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Look around you. The forest is so much bigger than just the lianas. There’s earth, crawling with activity. Little streams, transporting nutrients to bushes. Animals big and small, navigating the dense, moist atmosphere. And of course trees — trees high and mighty, yet often suffocating under your lianas of thought.

Swinging from jungle rope to jungle rope is just one way of traversing the jungle. You can also walk on the ground. You might swim for extended periods of time. Heck, you can even build a plane and fly high above the whole ecosystem! You’re much more than Tarzan! Not only king of the jungle but king of the world — at least your world, and that is plenty.

Thinking is wonderful. Useful. But it’s not why we exist. Not why our lives have value. Even when we’re doing it well, vine-swinging requires the right speed at the right time. Every so often, however, the best thing we can do is to stop, stoop to the ground, and look to the skies. There! High up there, above the canopy, that is real sunlight. Insight. Wisdom. Presence. Only when it reaches all of the forest’s participants can the whole jungle keep flourishing — and if that means we’ll have to whip out our machete and cut some vines, so be it. Sever some thoughts to save the whole brain, and perhaps a lot more than that.

Don’t get lost in a sea of lianas, and never forget what thinking is for.