Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of November 25, 2013

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Being Your Mind

(Being Yourself: Part 2)

Descartes’ most famous line goes: “I think, therefore I am.” This can be true, when our I directs our thoughts. But the overwhelming majority of our thoughts arise without the participation of our I: they come by chains of association, bouncing off other thoughts or in response to some sensory perception or event. We do not generally think our thoughts; they think us. Our automatically arising, self-generated, associatively activated thoughts run our mind. Though we cannot stop our thoughts anyhow, we do give them free reign to run our mind and pretty much run our life, precisely because we believe Descartes’ dictum is always true, when in fact it is only infrequently true. Whenever we notice thoughts passing through our mind, we believe we are thinking them, we believe they speak for us, we believe they represent us. We even operate on the assumption that we are our thoughts, that because our thoughts are the most intimate thing we recognize in ourselves, then our thoughts must be the essence of who and what we are. This implicit, unchallenged assumption, distorts our life by putting our entire self-image on a false foundation.

I vividly remember when I first saw this clearly. Someone was speaking about noticing their mind rehearsing how they would act in a particular upcoming moment. This struck me with great force, because I was aware that my own mind did the same. For the first time I glimpsed the charade and saw that my thoughts are not me, that I am not my thoughts, and that they usually operate without my intention behind them. This was a shock, a revolution in my view of myself. But it would be a good many years before that realization resulted in an effective change of attitude, one that affords freedom in front of thoughts. For that though, something more was required than a negative, something more than simply seeing that I am not my thoughts.

What we also need is a positive, a new perception. If I am not my thoughts, then what am I? A good place to start is by being our body, particularly our sensation body. From there we can work on being our mind, the mind that is before thoughts, the mind that does not depend on thoughts, the mind as a cognitive space through which thoughts and mental images appear and are perceived. We can glimpse this pre-thought mind in quiet meditation. We sit there just staying in the moment, seeing whatever comes to us. What does come up is thoughts, multiple trains of thought, branching onto associative tangents, circling around, vying for our attention.

Gradually, very gradually, as we sit there the thoughts slow down. Gaps open between them. What is in between the thoughts? The gaps seem to be just empty space. Sitting with this, we begin to realize that the empty space is our mind itself, is not just between our thoughts, and is vast. Our thoughts pass like small clouds through the endless sky of our mind. We open into and enter that spacious mind. We become our spacious mind. In the process, we relax more deeply than we had imagined possible. We discover true peace and equanimity. We spread our inner wings and can breathe.

From our mind we can see. This means perceiving, cognizing without the intermediary of thoughts commenting, categorizing and interpreting what we see. We just see directly, without filters. This is not some esoteric magic reserved for the special few. We all have moments of direct seeing, every day. We just need to start noticing those moments, noticing how they are qualitatively different than the perceptions that get interfered with and redirected by our thoughts. Once this becomes clear to us, thoughts no longer spoil our direct seeing. The thoughts may be there, but like small clouds they do not obscure the vast, cognitive sky of our mind. Our thoughts no longer define our mind, rather our mind contains and sees them.

For this week, be your mind.


     

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