Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in charge of our thoughts? Imagine a life where every thought you had was supportive, constructive, kind, useful and in service to your greater good. How do our thoughts work, and how can we get them on our side?
About twenty years ago, I joined a group of people who organised workshops about emotional intelligence. This particular system had been going for at least 10 years when I came aboard, and here I was at my very first meeting, the newbie in a room of seasoned veterans. On this particular day, the group were very excited because the founder of the system was to be there. There was a lot of awe and reverence surrounding this man.
The only available seat in the room was right next to him, so being the newbie, and lacking awe or reverence, I plonked myself down next to The Big Man.
The session began and the group fired their questions at him. It transpired that the top man had a condition that was causing his thinking to be foggy and so he was slow to bring forth the answers to the questions.
However, because I was sitting next to him, as the answers were trying to find their way to him through his fog, I was picking them up. So as he ummed, aahed and struggled to find the answers, I jumped in with suggested answers. It was so unexpected. The irreverent newbie was speaking the thoughts of The Big Man.
This was my introduction to how thoughts work. The questions elicited answers. Any one of us had access to these answers. They literally moved around the room, knocking on doors until they were picked up.
The answers didn’t belong to a person, they belonged to the questions.
I picked them up because I didn’t know that I was supposed to leave the big questions to The Big Man.
And so began a curiosity with how thoughts work.
I noticed that there is a societal tendency to teach us what to think, rather than how to think. We each grew up within a context, circles within circles. When they are in accordance with each other the action of questioning rarely arises. So if we grew up with a family, a school and a society that held the same beliefs, we would have no reason to question whether our thoughts and beliefs were actually true. We wouldn’t even know that they were beliefs, we would just think that’s how the world was.
Thoughts have substance. They remind me of fish in the way that they swim around, going about their business until such a time that we catch one.
And like fish (and pretty much everything else) they tend to hang out with others of their own kind. The type of thoughts we ‘catch’ depends on the type of ‘bait’ we are using. It’s like the thoughts just hang out in the ethers until we call them to us using our vibration as bait.
When our vibration is higher, we have access to higher thought forms, when it’s lower, we’ll be trawling through shoals of less desirable thought forms. The art is in discerning which thoughts are useful and which can be thrown back into the water.
The trouble with the way thoughts interface with us, is that they tend to do it in a recognisable voice, usually our own. Because they tend to speak in a voice that we recognise, it’s like they have our password and get through our filter systems. If a person on the street told you that you were unworthy and undeserving of happiness, chances are that you wouldn’t believe them. But when the same thoughts seem to emanate from within, we don’t question them.
It’s actually very easy to change our relationship with thought. The first step is to simply notice that you think. The best way I know of to do this comes from Eckhart Tolles’ ‘The Power of Now’.
To do this exercise, simply close your eyes and sit for 1 minute like a cat waiting to pounce upon the mouse of thought. Every time a thought comes, notice it and then let it go and wait for the next one. The very act of bringing your attention to thought already interrupts its flow and causes there to be space between the thoughts.
As you get used to doing this, you’ll find that you begin to notice that you are experiencing thoughts even when you’re not doing the exercise. When I began doing this exercise, I quickly noticed that there were underlying thought patterns that I had literally based my life around that turned out not to be completely false. My underlying thought pattern was that I didn’t have space and I didn’t have time. I thought that my house was too small, and that I didn’t have enough time to focus on myself in any meaningful way.
Turns out that the truth was that my house was the size that it was, and that I had the same 24 hours in each day as absolutely everyone else. Who knew?!
There is undoubtedly violence in the world we live in, and I see no reason to add to it through self harming thoughts. I strongly urge you to question your thoughts, and to not believe everything you think!
I have a question about no-thought. I heard somewhere (I think from Adyashanti) that all thoughts are part of the ego and countering ‘negative’ thoughts with ‘positive’ thoughts is still playing the Thought-Game.
Therefore, getting to a place of no-thought is the desired outcome. This concept seems very different to what you are mentioning here about truly listening to oneself and as you are the one who recommended me to Adyashanti I am interested in your perspective on this!
Or are you meaning the the ‘listening’ doesn’t come from thought? Or that it’s the identifying with thoughts which is the unhelpful part rather than the thoughts themselves (like, as Jesus ‘said’, the love of money being evil rather than money).
Avanti Shivpuri says
Thank you Camilla for your question.
Firstly I wouldn’t agree that absolutely ALL thought is part of the ego. Adyashanti has addressed his comments about thought saying that what he says to people is to help them to take their next step, rather than it being an absolute. He likens it to giving people medicine, and as with medicine, once it’s not useful any more, you stop taking it. For example, an absolute perspective might be that what you are is everything, that nothing in an absolute sense is not you. But if this is beyond our conscious awareness, it simply goes over our head and doesn’t help us. With most spiritual teachings, it depends on the angle we are looking from.
When we are in a place of being tormented by our thought patterns, our next step is to recognise that we are not our thoughts. It is not absolute, but in this context it is more useful than the notion that we are everything, including our thoughts. I would agree that the thoughts that operate on a loop in our minds, do come from the ego, and in that sense being without CONSTANT thought is certainly a preferential way to live. But even in a clear mind, thoughts still arise, albeit with a lot of space around them. And these thoughts are often very useful. I know that when I am most relaxed and clear, and there is less ‘local weather’ within me, grander thoughts arise, meaning of life kind of thoughts. I welcome them and enjoy their visitations.
And yes, listening doesn’t come from thought, and yes the identification with thought is what hurts us. But no, not all thought comes from ego, just the ones that the mind creates based on past experiences with the intention to ensure that we are safe. If we can offer ‘satsang’ to these thoughts, tell them not to worry, that we’ve got this, they can begin to learn a new way.
It’s almost like there is our small, localised mind with it’s thought patterns based on the past, and there is a wider, more expansive mind which is able to play with grander thoughts. I imagine that Adya is referring to the small, local mind when he says that all thoughts come from ego.
This is very clear and interesting, thank you. I shall eat what you’ve said and see what digests 🙂
The 8th century Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara wrote in a similar fashion, No one thinks, ‘I am not’, arguing that one’s existence cannot be doubted, as there must be someone there to doubt.