It is not uncommon to describe thoughts as a tool, one that has great practical value for our human self in the world. It is very useful for helping us navigate and function in the world, for instance by creating an overlay of thoughts on top of perceptions, including organizing the sensations within a sense of extent (space) and continuity (time).
Towards the end of Five Truths About Truth, Adyashanti takes that analogy further in a very illuminating way.
With out physical tools, we are usually pretty clear about when it is appropriate to use them, and what they can and cannot do. They are each used only as needed.
For instance, we would not ask a hammer about the meaning of life. But we do ask that question of the thinking mind, although that too is just a tool, of limited and practical value, and cannot really come up with a (satisfactory) answer to that type of question. It will innocently try to come up with an answer, and may spend a lot of time and energy doing so, but whatever answer comes up will never quite do it. It will always feel a little hollow and, ultimately, meaningless.
In the same way, as Joel at CSS pointed out a few Sundays ago, thinking mind is great for collecting information about and projecting possible outcomes of decisions, but it cannot make the decision. That comes from somewhere else, for instance the heart.
Thinking mind is an amazing tool, and it does a great job at what it is good at.
It produces an overlay of space and time on top of perception, allowing this human self to navigate in the world. It creates and continuously refine maps and databases of information. It projects memories of the past into the future creating possible scenarios of what may happen and what likely outcomes of different choices may be. It takes direct perception and experience and puts it into worlds to help differentiate and explore experience, and also communicate it to others. All of this helps our human self to orient, navigate and function in the world.
At the same time, just about all the misery of human existence comes from not being clear about how and when to use this tool. We attach to what it produces as if they were absolute truth, while they are only innocent suggestions and questions about the world. We ask it to do things it cannot do, such as coming up with answers to existential questions and make decisions for us. We identify with the thoughts it secretes and take them as “I”, while they are really just phenomena arising as anything else.
The whole process of awakening, of Ground noticing itself, is really just about how thoughts are related to. Are they taken as absolute truths and an “I”? Then, misery.
Are they seen as just thoughts, phenomena arising, inherently absent of an I? Then clarity and ease.