Most of us identify thoroughly with our thoughts… I know who I am through the way I think.
Meditation is not about “not thinking.” However, it can be powerfully helpful to get clearer about what thoughts actually are, and how we usually relate to them.
Most of us identify thoroughly with our thoughts. We own them, they are ours, and in some sense they seem to define who we are. I know who I am through the way I think.
Meditation can be an opportunity to gently re-examine this quasi-intuitive conclusion.
First, as phenomena, what are thoughts? They are primarily of two kinds: visual and auditory. Thoughts are imaginary sights and imaginary sounds (mostly voices, speech, talk – though musicians commonly “hear” music too). The imaginative function of the mind generates and experiences thoughts. We see images of things which are not in fact before us in the external world. We hear sounds that likewise are not arising in the external world.
These “internal” sounds are most commonly speech. Talk. We hear voices in our minds saying words, phrases, sentences. And often we also see images. Often the two arise at the same time, and we experience “movie scenes” in the mind, with both image and speech. Like the early “talkies.”
The art of meditation (or one of its arts) is to realize that when thoughts arise, they are simply these phenomena – imagined sounds, (since no one is actually talking to us, and we’re not talking out loud to ourselves) and imagined sights (because the people or things we are seeing are not actually in front of us). Once we can detect this fact about thoughts clearly, they bother us much less.
What makes it hard to detect and see this fact about thoughts, is that we have trained ourselves over decades to get beguiled and entranced by thought. We allow it to take over our experience of the moment, and we get “lost in thought”. But we don’t have to. We do have the capacity to withdraw from the thought-stream, we can come back into our bodies here and now, and realize that we had been listening so intently to the speech in our minds that we got captivated by it.
It is possible to be less readily caught by it, to hear it, and see it, for what it is. Then our relationship to it starts to change. We begin to taste a new kind of well-being, born of freedom and clarity and lightness. We taste the reality of our actual living experience here and now more vividly. We come home to this moment, and find it has treasures, right here and now, and they are freely ours to enjoy.
Well — just a few random thoughts on thought.