Thinking About Thoughts

When we begin to soften, to let go a bit, and perceive with an attitude and lens of not-knowing, we ease into vulnerability, rawness, and a willingness to meet and greet what is appearing instead of living in our mental processes of thinking, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, memories, and imaginings.  A deeper understanding of what is appearing resides beyond the brain’s conditioned mental processes and this deeper knowing unfolds on its own when we deeply question and meditatively inquire into our cherished inner dialogues and stories. But what does this jargon mean in simpler terms?

(c) Alen-Tomasz

The ability to see how the mental processes operate provides a few ways to “crack open” and explore the habitual mental processing mechanism which many refer to as the mind or brain. I like Paul Hedderman’s use of the term “mental processing” since it shows no mercy for the habitual and sneaky machinery –  so we’ll go with his term here.  During meditation or prayer, or while sitting quietly, we may turn our attention to thoughts and notice the thought stream, aka, the mental processing, until it plays itself out while allowing no merit to be placed upon the content or the process any more than we place content upon the clouds passing across the edgeless sky.

During meditation or sitting quietly we may also notice our thoughts roaming free in all directions and place no judgment, opinion, or rule about how thoughts “could or should be.”  We may use thought to detect thought. How else do we know thought? Notice if you can watch a raw thought arising in awareness without using a label or a descriptor of the thought. How did that go for you? Seeing how this works is the first step towards your natural and abiding inner peace which never moves, nor changes but can become obscured and ignored when we are living inside the mental processes.

You’ve likely heard the metaphor comparing thinking to a river. You are relaxing on the bank of a beautiful and peaceful river just watching the water move along as it does. You can do the same with thinking and thoughts…just watch thoughts as you would watch a river – allowing all thoughts and thinking to pass freely across the screen of awareness without going into a story or thinking. Just notice the river/thoughts and when you notice thinking, move attention back to noticing, again and again. Eventually you will quickly notice when you are in the story of yourself instead of the rawness of the moment because the story feels heavy and constricted and/or flooded with yearning or grasping.

Do you know the difference between thoughts and thinking? Perhaps this will clarify some of the stickiness for you:  A random thought like – “I need to wash dishes” is passing across awareness.  It’s just a thought, one of millions passing across awareness. I do not claim it or make a story about it as this process of naming, and claiming creates story-making or thinking. All thinking is story-making. Thoughts are just raw, random, energy flowing as the stream of awareness. Thinking on the other hand dips into the emotional and psychological land-mines we create in support of our personal narrative – I’m a clean-freak or I’m a slob with a week’s worth of dirty dishes stacked in the sink.  See what I’m pointing towards?

Simply paying attention to what is appearing without the mental processing machine allows the raw and fresh seeing of what is appearing without any story or commentary about a personal me. But first you must begin to see the workings of the mental processing machine in your head. This is why meditation is so important in seeing what is and uncovering your natural and abiding inner peace. And many confuse their seeing of what is appearing with the habitual story of the mental processing machine.

It is difficult if not downright painful to inquire within as the mental processing is serving up defensiveness, jealously, anger, envy, and hatred for what is arising. Where do these reactions arise and to whom? What is noticing these passing states and feelings?  We must be open, raw, and vulnerable to allow a quiet blanket of unknowing and a hot cup of tea to warm and enfold us as we quietly sit and unravel these prickly threads that weave the illusory personal self into a believable entity.

Paying attention to how you are responding to what is offers you clues to where you are on the pathless path to peace. And when we deny our shortcomings we see them appear in others so we can remember to do the work of self-inquiry. Are you open, raw, vulnerable to the moment or closed and habitually already knowing “the content” of the moment because you are going into the depths of memory? Memory is dead. Some nostalgia feels good but this too is a trap for staying in the mental processes and missing the beauty and gift of this moment. (Eventually you will see that nostalgia and all memories are actually new and fresh this moment, but that comes after you see the inner workings of the mental machinery and you’ve explored all the repressed stories that promote suffering.)

Only this moment is alive, raw, fresh and pregnant with the possibility that you will actually open to it like a small child accepts what is appearing – and really experience the wonder and delight of beholding what simply is. Once you are able to behold what simply is showing up without any judgements and stories you are on your way to uncovering your natural inner peace that passes all understanding….in other words, you see and swim within the deep inner peace that is beyond the mental processing, when all the naming, labeling, comparing, and claiming are seen for the nonsense they are. This is seeing through the delusion and misperceptions that the mental processing.

Deeply explore and listen within to what is appearing with openness, with fearless honesty, and really see the patterns of clinging to and defending a personal self. Only with clear, raw, and innocent inquiry can the mental processing begin to free itself from its mechanical conditioning and relax as this natural aware presence and compassionate understanding of and for this moment.  And you will see clearly that this compassionate peace and pure awareness has absolutely nothing to do with any religious or philosophical trappings whatsoever.

Anita

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