Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the weeks of August 8, 15, 22 & 29, 2016

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Inhabiting Our Mind

(Basic Inner Work 4)

Inner work regarding our mind begins with thought awareness, in particular, awareness of thoughts as thoughts. That is different than simple awareness that there are thoughts running through our head. We often know that we are thinking. The issue is that we believe that we are generating our thoughts intentionally, all our thoughts. And with that belief comes the assumption that our thoughts speak for us, speak our mind, even that we are our thoughts. In short, we identify with our thoughts. This running commentary on our life is ours. We believe that we are the commentator embodied in our thoughts.

The difficulty is that sometimes this is almost true, but most of the time it is not. Most of the time, our thoughts generate themselves. They associate somewhat randomly, bouncing off each other, our sensory impressions of the moment, and our memories. Our thoughts run automatically in long-established patterns. No one is thinking those thoughts; they think themselves. They run all our experience through their filter, coloring and creating our view of life and the world, coloring and creating what we take to be our very self. The great majority of the time, our mind is idling, turning over with automatic, associative thoughts that speak only for themselves, not for us.

However, there are times when we do think our thoughts. The distinguishing factor is intentionality. Are we intentionally considering some topic, weighing the pros and cons of some situation or decision, pondering a problem, or planning what we will do or say? In such cases, we are thinking our thoughts; they do come from us. Yet even then we are deceived: we mistake the thoughts for the thinker. We identify with and believe we are our thoughts.

Our identification with our thoughts is deeply ingrained. Thought patterns are the patterns of our personality. Automatic thought reactions seem to our reactions. Yes, our thoughts also drive our feelings and our feelings drive our thoughts. But it is our thoughts that interpret how we feel and set our course of action.

This remarkable, multi-purpose, powerful tool that is our thinking mind is perhaps our most important capability for dealing with the world around us. It sets us apart from other animals and has enabled us humans to dominate all life on the Earth and adapt our environment to suit our needs and desires. No wonder we identify with it.

Nevertheless, it is a lie, a false, though fundamental, assumption. We are not our thoughts.

The way to begin to realize this and, more importantly, to learn to be independent of and unconstrained by our thoughts, is through quiet meditation. Without the practice of meditation, we might never understand the possibility of living beyond thought, we might never see ourselves as the thinker who thinks our thoughts when they are intentional and not automatic.

We sit quietly, relaxing our whole body, and then sensing our whole body. Established in this bodily anchor in the present moment, we can practice noticing our thoughts as they come and go, without going with them, without thinking them or pushing them away. We just let our thinking mind relax, let it slip into idleness and seemingly random thoughts. Gradually as we watch our thoughts come and go, come and go, we start to notice gaps between them.

Who am I when there is a gap in my thoughts? I see the gap, so I am not my thoughts. I can be in that gap, in that stillness between and behind the thoughts. Even when there are thoughts, rest in that stillness. The one who is resting in that stillness, the one who is seeing the thoughts and the gaps between them is me, my I. This is the same one who thinks my thoughts when I intentionally think them; the same one who sees what I see and does what I do. Stepping behind and out of our thoughts frees us from the enslaving illusion that we are our thoughts. We drop the heavy and consuming burden of believing we are our thoughts and instead come into our Self.

This meditation needs a good deal of practice. We need to marinate in that inner stillness until our identity shifts from our thoughts to our I, to the one who can use our mind to think. In the process, we learn to inhabit our mind, to inhabit the cognitive stillness that is our mind prior to thought. Our thoughts may run through our mind, but they need not disturb the cognitive stillness that sees them. We have dropped a part of our false identity and gained an important measure of inner freedom. In meditation, this comes intermittently and temporarily, until the day when we see through our thoughts so clearly that we no longer identify with them, whether on the cushion or off in our life. We do not need our thoughts to be ourselves.

For this week, please practice inhabiting your mind. Practice coming into the inner stillness, resting in that inner stillness, while letting the endless stream of thoughts pass by. They are, after all, just thoughts. Their only power over us is the power we give them.


     

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