Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For week of July 27, 2015

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Thought Awareness

(Presence Tools: 4)

While body awareness is an essential anchor, full presence requires more than that. For many of us, our experience of life is dominated by our thoughts. Yet we are so identified with our thoughts, that we regard our thoughts as who we are, or as the most direct expression of our real self. For example, when the thought I comes, we believe it is us or at least expresses us. All of that is an illusion that keeps us locked in a small world. A major step toward true inner freedom comes with the piercing of the illusion of thoughts as self.

Toward that freedom, we practice being aware of our thoughts, as thoughts. Ordinarily we drift along with our thoughts, sometimes aware of their meaning, but rarely aware that any particular thought is just a thought, just a mental word sound or a mental image. We do not usually see thoughts for what they are, namely just thoughts, because we conflate them with our self.

The practice of thought awareness is best begun in sitting meditation. We first establish our presence in our body, through relaxation and sensing. After becoming settled in our body, rather than lost in thoughts, we maintain a background contact with body sensation, while putting our foreground attention into our mind to notice our thoughts. We see each thought arise, occur, and pass away, often quickly prompting the next thought to arise, occur, and pass away. We may notice that the thoughts have meaning, but for the purposes of this practice, we do not engage with that meaning. We keep attention to the bare fact of a thought arising, occurring, and passing away. It is like watching a text stream scrolling through our mind. Rather than being concerned with reading and evaluating the text, we just see the ongoing, endless stream itself. If we find ourselves being carried off in that thought stream, we reestablish contact with our body and then return to the practice of thought awareness.

Once we acquire the taste of seeing our thoughts as just thoughts, we can extend this practice into our day beyond the sitting meditation. When we notice that we are engrossed in a stream of thought, we rouse ourselves to see that the thoughts are just thoughts and nothing more. In particular we see that our thoughts are not who we are, though they implicitly claim to be. Simultaneously sensing part of our body, like an arm or a leg, while watching our thoughts, helps us stay grounded in the present moment, rather than being carried away in the thought stream.

For this week, please practice seeing your thoughts as thoughts.


     

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