Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the week of January 20, 2014

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Mind and Thought

Introduction

Thoughts pass through our mind almost all the time. Logical and creative thinking is perhaps the principal feature that makes us truly different than other animals, while the totality of our thoughts define us as individuals. Our thoughts shape our life, shape who we are, what we do, and how we respond, for better or for worse. Yet despite their centrality, we hardly notice our thoughts as thoughts. We consider them to be our private inner voice that speaks for us and as us, a window into our very soul. We do not consider our thoughts to be separate from who we are. We do not question their role as the basis of our mind, our self. Indeed, we believe we are our thoughts. When a thought arises in our mind, our unexamined assumption is “that is what I think.” Our very identity is submerged in, defined by, and embodied by our thoughts.

Often our thoughts are commenting on whatever is happening at the moment or even narrating our life. And of course, we presume that we are the commentator or narrator. Or our thoughts may be ruminating on some past event, telling us, embellishing, and interpreting the story. And of course, we presume that we are the story teller. Or our thoughts may be planning some future actions that we may undertake, but often do not. And of course, we presume we are the planner. Or our thoughts may be aimless, just wandering around our mind, as we wander with them. Or they wander in a specific direction, which we call daydreaming. And of course, we presume we are the wanderer and the dreamer.

Because of their range and flexibility, our thoughts give us the illusion of freedom. But the truth is that our thoughts are bound by their patterns and by memory. Their central pattern is that they refer to a non-existent self, our ego, that we believe we are. Our thoughts create our ego in the same way that a novelist creates a character. It’s just words, but they paint a convincing image that we take to be the real thing, that we take to be who we are. We believe that we are the one that our thoughts reference all the time. Whenever the thought “I” arises, we take that to be who we are. But the thought “I” is just a thought. Our true I is not a thought and does not depend on thoughts to define or announce its reality. The I that is defined by our thoughts is that self-centered ego, an imposter and usurper.

A very important measure of inner freedom and spirituality is the degree to which we are free in front of our thoughts. Our attitude toward our thoughts, regardless of their specific content, affects our happiness or lack thereof, our relationships, and all that we do. Yet how much effort have we put toward examining this central issue of how we relate to our thoughts? Yes, we pursue an education and various interests which affect our thoughts, but those efforts affect the contents of our mind, the information embedded in our thoughts, not the meta-level issues regarding the place and role of our thought processes themselves.

    1. Noticing Thoughts as Thoughts
    2. Who Is Thinking?
    3. Beyond Thought: The Conscious Mind
    4. Freeing Our Mind
    5. Beyond Mind

In the coming weeks, we will explore our relationship with our thoughts and the mind in which they roam. For this week, please see if you can catch glimpses of your unvoiced attitudes toward your own thoughts.

See Also: Thoughts and Thinking


        

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