Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of July 4, 2011

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Thoughts and Opinions

(Obstacles on the Way: Part 5 of 9)

To have created a species with the ability to think is perhaps the crowning achievement of evolution so far. So why do we include thoughts and opinions among the obstacles on the spiritual path? It is not obvious that thinking and holding opinions is an obstacle. Thinking gives us remarkable powers to plan ahead, to solve problems, to weigh options, to analyze situations, to search our memory, to learn, and much, much more. The development, through good education, of our ability to think clearly and logically makes an enormous, positive difference in our life.

The power to think should be prized, respected, and used well. But the latter is the problem. We may think well sometimes, while most of the time our thoughts think us and we float away in the stream of daydreams, self-generated associative thoughts, and aimless imaginings that dissipate our energy. Or our fixed opinions, views, and attitudes control us, demand that we promulgate and defend them, even in some cases at the risk of our very life. As has been said, we become machines for the reproduction of memes, as embodied in our thoughts. All these cases, which we experience so much of the time that we take them as normal, are actually aberrations, misuses of our power of thought.

This situation is revealed to us through our inner work, our practice of presence, meditation, and prayer, which enables to see our thoughts as they are, to see how we collapse into them. Through our inner work, we see that we live in a mental fog of thoughts and opinions, a fog that mesmerizes us into believing that we are our thoughts and opinions. That fog clouds our vision to such an extent that we are unable to be conscious and at peace, unable to be present. And even at those moments when something does break through to remind us of the work of presence, we quickly get sidetracked by yet another passing thought.

This endless stream of thoughts is on the whole not intentional, it is automatic. Thoughts enter our mind along established patterns and in reaction to other thoughts and to events around us. And they take us. We hear our familiar thoughts and we feel, “yep, that’s me, that’s what I think.” So we are fooled into believing that these automatic thoughts are intentional, that they arise from who we are. That is how our thoughts think us.

Sometimes though, we do use our thinking mind by intentionally thinking about some subject, perhaps working out a problem or creating a plan. This requires contact with the meaning of our thoughts, contact that comes with the sensitive energy of thought, as opposed to the automatic energy of programmed thinking. Another example of intentional thinking is in those many forms of silent prayer in which we say the prayer in our thoughts. Intentional thinking, regardless of its content, shifts us out of the automatic mode of our thoughts thinking us and temporarily removes that obstacle to presence.

We can be present while thinking intentionally. The prime way toward that is to involve our body, to be aware of our body while we think. This is the work of sensing, of contact with the sensitive energy in our body. The more we practice sensing, the less we are lost in the stream of automatic thoughts and fixed opinions. The more we practice sensing, the more we are able to see our thoughts as thoughts, as just thoughts. The more we practice sensing, the more we can open to consciousness, to the spacious and cognizant stillness within us. In consciousness, we can see that our thoughts and opinions are not who we are, we can see our thoughts passing like clouds floating through the big sky of our mind. When contemplating, when thinking intentionally in consciousness, we see our thoughts in the context of other relevant thoughts. This can even pass into creative thinking, where having steeped ourselves in a subject and its various possibilities, we set it aside and allow the truly new and spontaneous thought to enter.

As with other thoughts, opinions in themselves do not present any difficulty for our path. The problem arises when we identify with our opinions, when we believe our opinions are central expressions of who we are. Opinions, like likes and dislikes, make life interesting, giving us a position from which to approach life, something to defend, to hold up as our perception of truth. Yet holding too fast to an opinion and defending it at all costs, like being ruled by a like or dislike, actually sacrifices our freedom, collapses our presence into the opinion-driven emotional reaction, into being opinionated. We may live by principles and passions, but opinions do not rise to that level. Opinions can easily change with new information and are an expression of our personality. So we may have our opinions, but to keep them from blocking our path, we do not allow our opinions to have us.

For this week, notice your thoughts and opinions. Notice how you believe in them, how you are mesmerized by them, how you identify with them. See your thoughts and opinions for what they are: just one, superficial component that does not define you.


     

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