Thinking About Thoughts?

Center for Mindfulness and Nonduality at Juniper Level Botanic Garden

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 (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?

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 mental 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 we offer no merit to be placed upon the content 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. Again, we place no judgment, opinion, or rule about how thoughts “could or should be.”

We may use thought to detect thought.  Notice to see if you can watch thought without using thought. How did that go? Seeing how this mental processing works is the first step towards living as our natural and abiding inner peace which never moves, nor changes…but is obscured and ignored when we live as 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 thoughts and when you go into 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, resisting, 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 with the mental process of naming, and claiming. If I do claim this thought as mine and how it impacts my life then I’ve gone into thinking and story-making All thinking is story-making and vice-versa.

Thoughts are just raw, random, energy flowing as pure awareness. Thinking pulls in the emotional and psychological land-mines we create in support of our personal narrative – I’m a clean-freak and keep a clean and tidy kitchen or I’m a slob with a weeks 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 we must begin to see the workings of the mental processing machine in our head. This is why meditation and meditative self inquiry is so important in seeing what is and uncovering our natural and abiding inner peace. And sadly, many confuse our seeing of what is appearing with the habitual story projected by the mental processing machine over the pure awareness of what is.

It is difficult if not down right 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 we are responding to what is offers us clues to where we are on the pathless path to peace. And when we deny our shortcomings we often see them appearing in others so we can remember to do the work of self-inquiry. Are we open, raw, vulnerable to the moment or closed and habitually already knowing “the content” of the moment because we 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 we will see that nostalgia and all memories are actually new and fresh this moment, but that comes after we see the inner workings of the mental machinery and we’ve explored all the repressed stories that promote suffering.)

Only this moment is alive, raw, fresh and pregnant with the possibility that we 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 we are able to behold what simply is showing up without any judgements and stories we are on your way to uncovering our natural inner peace that passes all understanding….in other words, we 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 here now with openness, with fearless honesty, and really see the patterns and habits of clinging to and defending a personal self. Only with clear, raw, and innocent inquiry will 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 we will see clearly that this compassionate peace and pure awareness has absolutely nothing to do with any religious or philosophical trappings and beliefs whatsoever.

anita

 

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