Realising the difference between the conceptual and non-conceptual mind has been a game changer for me when it comes to overthinking - and the quality of my life, in general.
The conceptual mind is the one that deals in thoughts and ideas. It's the voice of our mind chatter - the inner narrator. Every day it lets you know precisely what it thinks you need to do to stay safe and avoid things like social embarrassment. The conceptual mind narrates the story of you, but it's what most of us think IS us. It's the 'you' that you think exists just behind your forehead.
In contrast, the non-conceptual mind is pure awareness. For centuries Eastern wisdom from Buddhism and Daoism have pointed to this as your true nature - who you really are. This wisdom makes it clear that the cause of our suffering is believing that the 'you' created by the conceptual mind is actually a solid thing. In truth, it's a thought-created illusion. Obviously highly useful when it comes to making your way in the world. But also the cause of your insecurity, your anxieties, and your chronic overthinking.
It can be helpful to imagine the conceptual and non-conceptual minds as two different channels on a radio.
The huge upside of being able to tune into the non-conceptual channel is the sense of stillness and peace it provides. You're living in the present moment. You feel at home. The mind chatter can still be going on, but you're not identified with it.
It's like you've moved into the deeper water beneath the waves on the surface of the ocean.
When a mindfulness or meditation practice encourages you to take a step back and become aware of your thoughts, to become the witness, it's pointing to this shift from the conceptual to non-conceptual channel.
The initial barrier is that you can't make this shift by thinking about it. It's a subtle, intuitive move - you feel your way into it.
For someone who's new to all of this, you've probably tuned into the non-conceptual channel already. It's what happens when you experience awe.
You gaze at a beautiful sunset, get goosebumps from your favourite music, or watch in jaw-dropped amazement at a piece of sporting genius - and for a moment you forget yourself. You're entirely present. Your inner chatter has gone quiet.
The game-changing realisation for me is that this non-conceptual channel is always broadcasting.
An inner sense of peace, stillness, ease and joy is constantly available.
It's just that our attention is habitually drawn to Mind Chatter FM.
The game is to become alive to both channels.