Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of January 11, 2010

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Thoughts as Thoughts

(Aspect 5 of 12 of the Path to Presence)

Thoughts carry power: the power to create and the power to destroy, the power to understand and control much of our world, the power to guide us toward inner freedom and the power to keep us inwardly enslaved. For these and other reasons, our civilization worships the power of thought. Consequently our education revolves around enriching the content and developing the process of thought.

But in all of that, we miss the fact that the power and quality of thought depends on the quality or level of energy fueling the thoughts. The energy most commonly giving substance to our thoughts is the automatic energy. Our endless stream of self-generating, associative thoughts runs on automatic, without any intentional direction. One thought triggers another related thought, which triggers a third related to the second. Soon our thoughts have no apparent relationship with the first thought. And then some sensory perception pops into our awareness, the sound of a word, a sight, a pain, and our thoughts abruptly fly off in another direction altogether. This semi-chaotic mind goes on all day, every day.

In itself, our automatic stream of associative thoughts does no harm and even brings value. For example, that ongoing commentary on our life provides some comfort, something familiar, a touchstone amid the constant changes of our external world. But this is where our relationship with our associative thoughts passes into trouble, where power of thought exceeds its proper place.

The first problem is the extent to which we live in our thoughts. We listen to and occasionally participate in this ongoing mental commentary. And rather than just being about our life, our thoughts become our life. We allow our attention to be swept away in the stream of associative thoughts, veiling us from the simple and ordinary perceptions of living. For example, we often do not fully see the people around us because we are too busily engaged in our thoughts. We get lost in conversations because our thoughts distract us from listening. We sometimes walk with little awareness of our surroundings or our body, because we are in our thoughts. The thought stream substitutes for a more complete life.

The second problem is the extent to which we live as our thoughts. Their very familiarity lulls us into assuming that, in some fundamental sense, we are our thoughts, that what our thoughts think is what we believe, and that we are, or rather I am, the thinker of these thoughts. But even a little observation of our mind shows that these ever-present associative thoughts are thinking themselves, constructing themselves out of the material of our memory of experiences, information, and habitual patterns, coupled with those current sensory stimuli that are strong enough to break through our perceptual filters.

Out of this emerges our personality, a complex but fairly static pattern of thoughts, attitudes, memories, and responses. And that’s who we believe we are. When a thought comes into our mind, though unbidden and by association, we nevertheless believe that is what we think and even that we are that thought. But we did not think that thought. It thought itself. Thoughts masquerade as us. The thought stream substitutes for us, allowing us to live primarily on autopilot with minimal participation in our life. The thought “I,” is not the I who we truly are. Live, in the moment, the challenge is to see our thoughts as just thoughts, and nothing more.

But if we are not our thoughts, not our emotions, not our personality, then who are we? The truest answer is that we are our will. And we shall explore that understanding in a later aspect of the path to presence.

For this week, notice your automatic, associative thoughts passing through your mind. The You who sees your thoughts is not just another thought, is not a function of your thoughts. Notice that your thoughts are not you, though they seduce you into believing that you are these self-generating thoughts chaining on in their own way. This is the ephemeral, insubstantial core on which our personality is based, the personality that we think we are, that substitutes for us. See your thoughts as just thoughts.


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