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Orthoskepsis: When Too Much Thinking Is A Bad Thing

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We're always thinking, of our health, finances, family, friends, environment, politics, and so on. We think of ways to improve, earn more, get ahead faster, do and live better, maximize enjoyment, minimize stress. We also think about how useful it is to think about these things. Is it useful? Where has it gotten us?

Perhaps thinking too much could be the problem. American physician Steven Bratman proposed the term orthorexia: "orth" (right and correct) + "orexia" (appetite). The term refers to an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Orthorexia is not yet an eating disorder recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, academic investigation is underway. I am convinced we also have an unhealthy obsession with thinking. What would that be called? Orth-o-skepsis (orth, plus the Greek skepsis: examination, doubt, skeptical philosophy). I just made that up. I threw in the "o" so it would sound ok.

We've been fed a lot of contradicting information over the years that has made our heads spin and robbed us of our common sense. Society pressures us to be bigger, better, faster, stronger and make more money. Does all this thinking and trying so hard actually lead to greatness? Or more often than not does it make for a lot of dissatisfaction and destructiveness? Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food illustrates an interesting timeline of scientific epiphanies that contradict each other over the years, leaving us running a hamster's wheel of spending and consuming.

Official scientific opinion in the beginning of the 60s decided that animal fat was a deadly substance. This lead the way for the miracle of hydrogenated vegetable oils, the ones we are now learning may be deadly substances. In 2005 we found out that dietary fiber might not help prevent colorectal cancers and heart disease, contrary to previous reports. In 2006 the news was that a low-fat diet, once believed to protect against cancer, may not protect us at all. In the fall of 2006, two prestigious studies on omega-3 fats published at the same time came to strikingly different conclusions. The greatest thinking keeps getting undone by the next greatest thinking. Which is maybe not such a great thing when it comes to living healthy.

Pollan tells his readers he speaks on the authority of tradition and common sense. He says most of what we need to know about how to eat we already know. Or at least we once knew, until we allowed nutrition experts and advertisers to shake our common sense, tradition, testimony of our senses, and wisdom of our mothers and grandmothers. Why have we gotten to this point? Common sense doesn't push products the way new studies, claims and fear tactics do.

It seems pretty clear we have gone too far without remembering and living by what we already know. Eating isn't the only issue, it's just a big one. President Obama is an inspiration and a reminder for all of us to do what we can and more. He reminds us to take responsibility for our actions, live to our potential, work hard, and serve others. We already knew all of this, but we may sometime forget. It's time to remember. Do you really need to buy that plastic bottle of water that will sit in a landfill forever, long after you are gone? Is it so hard to be kind to a stranger? Funny thing is, living consciously fills us with joy. Helping someone out makes us feel good. Creating less waste makes us feel good. Eating good foods makes our bodies healthy and happy. It seems like a no-brainer.

Too much thinking takes us out of ourselves. One thought moves to another and we go on and on moving further away from healthy existence. Osho advises us to come back down to earth. Be earthly in this sense - not worldly, but very earthy, substantial. Come back to existence. Intellect makes everything a problem, and doesn't find its way to solutions. Instinct never creates problems and doesn't need any solution. Intuition is pure solution! It brings meaning, splendor, joy and blessings. The instincts we have to buy organic and local, smile at a stranger, and serve others all make us feel good.

"Intellect is blind. It knows not how to deal with the new. It always brings the old answer to the new question." - Osho

I went to a talk by Krishna Das, Sharon Salzberg, and Dr. Mark Epstein last weekend. The theme was Joy. Dr. Epstein told a story of the Buddha. His talk was more elaborate and lyrical than I am able to illustrate, but this particular slice resonated with me. The Buddha left home and went into the woods to become enlightened. He did this because his life up to that point was sheltered from suffering. He fasted for a long time until he was down to bones. He knew his body would die if he continued to fast. The gods came down and were going to feed him in secret so he wouldn't die. The Buddha saw that as a kind of cheating, so he decided to break his fast. He ate a small amount of food and got up the strength to walk some more. He sat under a tree and then he had a memory of joy. He remembered what it was like to be joyful, happy, at peace. This was the moment he became enlightened.

That's it? It seems so simple. I suppose the hard part is putting this all into practice. Krishna Das said at the talk that everyone is suffering. You have to practice. It's not about being perfect. That's not going to happen. Just keep a practice.

Whether your practice is asana, meditation, chanting, gardening, or something else, I hope it brings you back to joy. All of these teachings are telling us to remember who we are, use our common sense, and serve others. Remembering joy cures orthoskepsis. Now that seems like useful information.