Thoughts: a risky experiment

 

Thoughts is one of life’s risky experiments.

It seems to work pretty well for non-human species. I assume many non-human species too have thoughts that mimic the senses. Imagined sensory information that helps them remember the past, plan for the future, and function in the present.

We humans have gone one step further. We have created language out of a combination of images and sounds. That’s another level of abstraction, and one that is both powerful and dangerous.

It’s powerful since it allows us to explore the world in the abstract. It allows us to take what’s already there in less abstract thought, and create everything human civilization has created – from agriculture and cities to science, art, and technology.

It’s dangerous. When we take our thoughts to be real and true, it creates suffering for ourselves and can easily do so for others as well. And that happens at social (war, religion, oppression) and individual levels.

And it’s a risky experiment from life’s side. It may not work out for very long. We may self-destruct because of our inability to use thoughts in the most beneficial way. And we may take some ecosystems and other species with us. Of course, it’s not really that risky since everything dies anyway – species, ecosystems, living planets, solar systems, and the universe as a whole. It may just speed up the death of some species. And as we know from Earth’s history, mass extinctions create room for new species, ecosystems, and life innovations. (It’s also not “risky” since it’s not a planned evolutionary step, it just happened because it happened to give our species a survival advantage.)

Thoughts can be a very useful tool. As mentioned above, it seems to work pretty well in its less abstract version, prior to more complex language. And even with higher levels of abstraction, it can work well. We can recognize thoughts as a tool of limited value. They are very valuable in helping us orient and function in the world. And yet, they can’t do anything more. They are questions about the world. They have no absolute or final truth to them.

Who knows, perhaps humans will eventually evolve so a majority of us inherently know that thoughts are tools only. If so, humanity may have a long lifespan.

From a Darwinist point of view, this will require those who are less inclined to believe thoughts to have a survival advantage and produce more offspring. On the surface, that may not seem to be happening. Although who knows. If we are around for long enough, we – as a species – will see.

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Thoughts, charge, identification

 

Finding clarity often has to do with differentiation. And here is a very basic one.

There is a difference between thoughts, bodily sensations, and identifications.

Thoughts are mental imitations of the senses – whether they are images, sounds, taste, smell, movement, sensations, or something else. When we talk about thoughts, we usually mean images and words, and words are typically a combination of mental images (of the words) and sounds.

Sensations are bodily sensations. When the mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, the sensations tend to lend a sense of charge (reality, substance, solidity) to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations.

When there is identifications with a thought, it seems true. The mind identifies with the viewpoint of the thought. Thoughts that are not identified with pass through and are recognized as just thoughts. They are seen as questions about the world. Temporary guides for orientation and action in the world, at most. It’s clear that they don’t reflect any final or absolute truth. Thoughts that are identified with tend to seem true and real. And the mechanism for identification with thoughts is for the mind to associate sensations with thoughts, as described above.

When it comes to tools for exploring these, they each seem to work on certain aspects of this thought, charge, and identification dynamic. They each use a slightly different angle to invite a release of the charge out of the thoughts, and soften the identification with these.

For instance, Living Inquiries tend to release the association between thoughts and sensations. Thoughts are then more easily recognized as thoughts, and the previous associated sensations may still be there but now with less or no particular meaning. The Work helps us recognize that previously believed thoughts are not inherently or absolutely true, and that other angles are as or more valid. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) tends to release the charge from the body which is associated with stressful thoughts and trauma, and the thoughts behind the stress and trauma tends to seem less charged and less true, and there may be less identification with them. Vortex Healing seems to work from both the bodily charge and consciousness side of this dynamic.

A footnote about mainstream psychology: I have for a long time noticed that mainstream psychologists sometimes don’t differentiate between these. For instance, many psychological questionnaires ask about thoughts but not how much charge they hold, or how identified the person is with these. And that’s one of many ways questionnaires can be interpreted in a misleading way.

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How to be miserable

 

As the video above, and the book it’s based on, reminds us:

It can be helpful to explore how we create what we want less of in our lives.

If I want to be more miserable, what would I do? Here is my list, right now.

Sleep. Make sure to consistently not get enough sleep, or sleep way too much. Make sure it’s consistenly irregular.

Diet. Eat a good deal of dairy, sugar, wheat. Eat mostly refined and processed foods. If you notice you crave something, then eat lots of it.  (Craving = a sign that your body reacts to it.)

Physical activities. Find ways to move as little as possible. Drive instead of walking. Stay indoors as much as you can. Avoid nature.

Thoughts. Believe stressful thoughts. Indulge in them. Never question them. Treat them as true and unquestionable. Seek out more stressful thoughts. Let them amplify each other.

Social. Spend a lot of time alone, isolated. OR spend time with people who focus on what doesn’t work, who believes and reinforces your own stressful thoughts, who is unable to be present with you, who wants you to change (for their own sake). Set other’s needs before your own. Make those around you miserable. (Complain, be ungrateful.)

Situations. Stay in situations that doesn’t work for you, that feels wrong at a deep level. Grin and bear it or complain instead of doing something to change it.

Attention. Put attention on distractions. Put attention on things that are urgent but not important. On news and drama. Train attention to be scattered.

Activities. Set diffuse goals, and impossible goals. Don’t break goals into doable steps. Always wait until you feel like doing it do actually do it instead of scheduling. Tell yourself that whatever you do isn’t enough or won’t work. Let small setbacks or discomforts mean that you should give it up. Complain instead of making a change.

Why does this exploration work?

It helps me examine what doesn’t work, and how this comes about.

It makes it easier to recognize when I do it.

It makes it more into a “thing” which helps me relate to it more intentionally. These dynamics are seen more as an object and are less identified with.

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Misunderstanding “living in the moment”

 

There are several valid criticisms of mindfulness:

  • It’s a very broad term and it’s used in many different ways. That means that, in itself, it doesn’t mean much.
  • It’s only one element of any serious self-exploration. It needs to be combined with a range of other forms of exploration. For instance different forms of inquiry, heart-centered practices, body inclusive practices, attention to how we live our life, psychological healing, relationship work including our relationship to ourselves, others, society, our planet, and life, and a study of other people’s experiences.
  • It can open up a pandora’s box of unprocessed materials and disorienting transpersonal experiences, and not all mindfulness teachers are experienced enough to guide their students through whatever terrain is opened up.

One argument against mindfulness that I sometimes encounter, and most recently this morning, is a straw man argument and not valid. It’s when people say: “We can’t just live in the present. We need to plan ahead and learn from the past. That’s our strength as human beings.”

That’s all true. And mindfulness allows us to use that ability with more skill and avoid some of its inherent pitfalls.

Mindfulness helps us change our relationship to thoughts. It helps us see that our thoughts – including thoughts about the future, past, and present – happen here and now. They, in themselves, are not the future, past, or present. And mindfulness combined with a simple form of inquiry helps us see that thoughts are made up of imaginations (words, images) and sensations. They are not what they appear to represent.

And that, in turn, creates room for us to relate to these thoughts more intentionally. It helps us recognize thoughts as thoughts. It helps us be less caught up in them. It helps us avoid taking them as anything more than thoughts. It helps us hold them more lightly and recognize then for what they are….. questions about the world.

We not only are able to “live in the present” while using thoughts as tools. We do so all of the time. The only difference is whether we are caught up in our thoughts and take them as real and infallible assumptions about the world, or recognize them as thoughts and questions about the world.

In either case, thoughts help us learn from the past, explore possibilities about the future, and form working assumptions about the present. Without mindfulness, it’s easy for us to take thoughts to be more than they are. And with, we can use them more skillfully as very helpful and essential tools.

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Not painful to think?

 

Arne Næss, one of my favorite philosophers and human beings, once said:

It’s not painful to think.

And yet, of course, it can be.

Thoughts come with a whole mess of things, including sometimes memories and associations that trigger uncomfortable emotions. It can certainly be very uncomfortable to think.

If we think seriously about something, we may….

See that we don’t know as much as we think, or with much certainty.

Notice discrepancies and inconsistencies in our worldview.

Be reminded of painful situations or aspects of ourselves.

Have to question our beliefs and identities.

And much more. All of which can be quite uncomfortable.

The puzzling thing isn’t that not more of us are thinking more thoroughly. It’s that some do. And why? Most likely because we realize that it’s actually more painful, especially in the long run, to not examine things thoroughly.

Reality is kind, and we are kind to ourselves when we align our views more closely with reality.

Note: I am sure Arne Næss knew this very well. He probably just wanted to make a point. Thinking itself is not painful. It’s what we do with it that sometimes is. It’s how we react to it that can create discomfort.

Note 2: There is a clear difference between examination/inquiry and thinking. I know that this post blurred that distinction a bit.

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Finding meaning, and holding it lightly

 

We are conditioned to find meaning in the world, and especially in what happens in our own life. It’s put into us through evolution, and it just makes sense that we do so. It helps us survive and function in the world.

One special case is when something happens that we don’t particularly like. Often, it’s in the form of a loss. We lose someone or something, and the mind tries to find a meaning in it.

The meaning may be that we are a victim, or that we are not good enough, or something similar and painful. And in the best case, we find a meaning that help us learn, heal, mature, and find peace with what happened.

For instance, the meaning may be I have an opportunity to learn about impermanence. I can learn to relate to it in a more helpful way. It may invite me to more fully appreciate what’s here and make use of an opportunity while it’s still here. It may invite me to know it will go away, and find some peace with it even before it happens. It may help me mature as a human being and find and deepen my empathy with others who experience loss. That all makes loss meaningful.

I like to keep these meaning-stories as simple and real as possible. I could add to it. For instance, life “wants” me to learn this, or that the loss was a special set-up just for me. But that doesn’t really make sense. It just adds unnecessary complication and drama to it. Some meaning-stories are inherently stressful.

And, in reality, any and each meaning-story can be stressful if we hold it as too real and too… meaningful. If we take it as absolutely true and real, instead of just as a temporary guide, any story will eventually be stressful.

There is a way to do this that seems the most helpful to me.

Find a meaning that’s practical, simple, and real. A meaning that helps me heal, mature, and function well in the world. Hold it lightly, as you are able.

Leave the rest aside. The meanings that seem overly complicated or makes it into something special. The meanings that are clearly stressful or painful.

Take to inquiry any remaining meaning-stories that seem real and substantial, and especially the stressful ones. Examine them.

For instance, use The Work of Byron Katie to see the consequences of holding it as true, how it may be if you don’t, and the validity in the reversals.

Or use the Living Inquiries to see how the mind creates its own stressful experience, how it attaches sensations to stories to give them charge and a sense of reality and substance, and help the mind soften or release the association between the stories and the charge.

To find a constructive meaning, it can help to talk with someone we trust or use some guidelines or tools found in – for instance – the positive psychology world.

And when it comes to holding any meaning lightly and set the stressful ones aside, some form of inquiry can be very helpful.

Note: When I say “I like to keep these meaning-stories as simple and real as possible” I don’t mean that I hold the meaning itself as real. It just means that I try to find a meaning that makes sense to me. A meaning that’s “real” in the sense of authentic.

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Thoughts as guide

 

At some point, we realize that thoughts are…. thoughts. They contain no final or absolute truth. They are tools. They are here to help us orient and function in the world.

As we mature in that realization, we learn to function in the embrace of knowing that thoughts are thoughts while also using them as guides.

One way that works pretty well is to…..

Use consensus reality thoughts as general guide in everyday life, unless there are good reasons not to. This is especially helpful when we interact with people and in our work…!

Use maps that fit with our deeper experience of reality, perhaps similar to what is found in some spiritual traditions.

Use overarching maps of maps found in, for instance, integral models such as the AQAL model of Ken Wilber.

Use kindess as a guide. Use big picture views and long term perspectives as a guide.

Know that our experience, our choice of views, and the views themselves are inherently biased. They are the product of the whole history and evolution of the universe up to this point. They each have innumerable causes stretching back to the beginning of the universe.

Use the maps, views, and orientations with some fluidity, receptivity, and humility. Knowing that with more experience and maturity, we’ll find other ones that make more sense to us.

And there is always further to go. What I outlined here is pretty basic and a first step.

Senseless, sensible, coming to our senses

 

Senseless: Lacking common sense, wildly foolish.

Oxford Dictionary

Sensible: Done or chosen in accordance with wisdom or prudence, likely to be of benefit.

Oxford Dictionary

Come to your senses: to start to understand that you have been behaving stupidly.

Cambridge Dictionary

There is often wisdom in traditional sayings and expressions and even embedded in everyday words.

What does it mean to come to our senses? In an everyday use, it means to perceive and act in a more grounded and sensible way. There is a literal truth in that expression. When we are caught in thoughts, we can get a bit loopy and insane. We live in abstractions. We take our own imaginations, our own mental images and words, as reality. We make ourselves crazy that way.

Coming to our senses means to bring attention to our senses, to sensations, sights, sounds, smell, and taste. And also to our imaginations as what they are, recognizing them as mental images and words (imagined sounds and mental images). When we bring attention to our senses, the mind is incapable of simultaneously be caught up in stories and content of thought. It’s either one or the other. (Unless we do both half way, in which case we are still caught in stories and imagination.)

The more we bring attention to our senses, the more we make it into a new habit, and the more we have an actual freedom in shifting attention between our senses and occasionally into stories. Now and then, we do need to bring attention into stories to function in the world. Using stories in this practical sense is natural and kind. And we can do it as needed and while recognizing these stories as imaginations.

There is some effort here in terms of intentionally bringing attention to our senses. And over time, it becomes more and more effortless. Even the recognition of imagination as imagined becomes more effortless more often.

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Thinking with mental images and other imagined senses

 

We humans think with imagined versions of our senses. We think we mental images, imagined sounds, imagined smell and taste, imagined touch. Even words are imagined sounds and images (of the letters), often combined with mental images of what the words refer to.

I imagine that most animals do the same. They think with imagined senses, with mental images and imagined sounds, smell, taste, touch and more. Whatever senses they have, they may think with imagined versions of these senses. I assume mammals and probably birds and reptiles do that each in their own way. Insects may also do it, although, although more rudimentary.

And if there are beings in other places of the universe, it’s possible they do the same. They may think with imagined versions of their own senses, whatever those senses happen to be.

Some form of feelings or emotions may also be included for many beings. For us, sensations give a sense of solidity and reality to some imaginations, and they also give them a charge. And that serves a survival function.

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The mind trying to make sense of what’s happening

 

The mind is a sweetheart, as one of my teachers (Todd C.) likes to say.

It tries to make sense of what’s going on. It tries to help out the best it can.

This happens when an old trauma is triggered by a current situation.

An old trauma is triggered by the current situation. A strong emotion or reaction comes up, the mind thinks it must be about the current situation, and makes up a story that makes it seem as if the current situation justifies the situation. To others, it may seem that the reaction is way out of proportion to the situation, but to the mind it seems justified because of the story it made up. (Afterwards, we may recognize this and feel perplexed or even a bit ashamed Or we may take it as an opportunity to look at the trauma and the initial situation creating it.)

And we also see it just about all the time in everyday life. Something happens, and the mind tries to make sense of it. It interprets. Makes a story out of it. Tries to make it coherent as best as it can. It may make a story out of it that either deflates or enhances the imagined self, depending on its inclination.

The mind is a story maker and we need it to function. We do need basic stories to navigate and orient in the world. And yet, it’s really helpful when we can recognize this as it happens. Recognize the stories as stories. Recognize velcro as velcro. (The charge we experience when the mind associates sensations with the stories.)

Emotions and thoughts are not telling the truth

 

Emotions and their associated thoughts can be misleading in two ways.

(a) We think they are about the current situation.

We assume they reflect or are justified by or even created by the current situation. The reality is that almost always, these emotions and accompanying thoughts are old. They come from early in life. They may even be passed on through the generations. The current situation trigger these old patterns in us.

Emotions and their thoughts are often not about what they on the surface seem to be about. A friend or partner leaves me, I feel a sense of abandonment and that I am unlovable, and that’s not really about the current triggering situation. It’s about early childhood experiences, perhaps all the way back to infancy, where I felt like this and it was not resolved. (The only way to resolve these is to be present with and feel the sensations, and examine the imaginations connected with it.)

(b) We think they tell us the truth.

We think the emotions and the associated stories tell us the truth about whatever they seem to be about. And yet, that’s usually not the reality. They are from identifications, beliefs, wounds, and even trauma. They come from reactivity. At most, they have a very limited validity, as do a number of other stories (including their reversals). And even more so, the reality is that we don’t know.

Using the example above, I have stories about being abandoned and unlovable. On the surface, they may seem and feel true. But they are really just imaginations (mental images and words) associated with sensations in the body. When we identify these and feel the physical sensations and look at the images and words, the original experience doesn’t seem so real anymore. We recognize it as created by the mind through sensations associated with imagination.

When I say emotions and their associated thoughts, I mean thoughts that seem to give meaning to, elaborate on, and explain emotions. And also thoughts that trigger and create emotions.

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Coming to our senses

 

Coming to our senses.

That’s an expression that can be understood literally.

When I am caught in thought, I am – in a sense – caught in the imagination of my senses. I am caught in the story created by mental images (sight), words (sight, hearing), and mental imaginations of sound (hearing).

I am absorbed in these stories, because they feel real. And they feel real because these images and words are connected with sensations in the body, which gives them charge and lends them a sense of solidity and reality.

All of this can be useful in a practical sense. Imagination is vital for us to function in the world, to plan ahead, run through different scenarios, sift through and examine the past, and act on what we learn from this imagination. It’s vital for our survival.

At the same time, it can go a bit awry. We can get caught in stressful stories about the past or future, and these can even go in a loop. We stress ourselves out rather than use imagination as a simple and practical tool.

What’s the remedy? One is to examine these stories. (Is it true? What happens when I take it as true? Who would I be without it? What’s the validity in the reversals? (The Work.) What images and words are associated to the sensations? What do I find when I look at each one, and ask some simple questions to help me see what’s there? (Living Inquiries.))

Another is to, literally, come to my senses.

I can notice what’s here. Notice sensation. Sound. Thought. Shift from thinking to noticing thought. Allow. Notice it’s all already allowed. Notice the boundless space it’s all happening within.

I can feel the sensations. Feel the sensations I may have wanted to escape, by going into thought. Rest with it. Take time.

Both of these – noticing and feeling – helps me shift out of thought.

The noticing helps me notice thought as thought, notice imagination as imagination.

The feeling helps me meet, feel, and even befriend the sensations I initially tried to escape by going into thought. I may get to see that the sensations that initially seemed uncomfortable or scary, because of the stories attached to them, are not so scary. They are sensations. They don’t inherently mean anything. I can feel them, rest with them, even find kindness towards them. I get to see I don’t need to escape sensations by compulsively going into thought. (Getting here may require some inquiry.)

This is a retraining of the mind. A forming of a new habit of noticing and feeling, when I notice the compulsion to go into (obsessive, stressful) thought.

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Finding safety in understanding

 

There are many flavor to how our minds turns away from feeling what’s here.

One is to try to find refuge and safety in understanding.

If I think about my understanding, I don’t have to feel this.

I can explore this in several ways:

What would I have to feel now if I didn’t think about my understanding? Feel that.

What am I afraid would happen if I didn’t go into understanding? Look for the threat.

Can I find X? Understanding? Insight?

Can I find X? Someone who understands? Someone who gets it?

Can I find the command to understand? To get it?

Here are some of the ways I use understanding – thinking about understanding something – as a way to avoid feeling what’s here:

I get caught in figuring something out. Or rehearsing an understanding, or elaborating on it, or fine-tuning it. I distract myself from feeling.

I use it to avoid shifting from thinking to noticing thoughts, since this often will lead to noticing and feeling what’s here.

I use it to avoid doing what the understanding is about. I think about my understanding of something instead of actually doing it, including dealing with things in my life, natural rest and inquiry. This helps me avoid feeling what I would have to feel if I actually did it.

There is of course absolutely nothing wrong about understanding and insight. It’s essential and beautiful. It’s what allows us to function in the world. And it’s what allows us to evolve as a species and civilization. It’s one of the ways life explores and experiences itself through us.

Even compulsively going to understanding to escape feelings is OK. It’s innocent. It comes from deep caring. It’s what the mind does when it scares itself with its own stories. And it’s not satisfying in the long run, or even in the moment.

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More personal thoughts

 

It’s warm today. I have to call my parents. I will take a shower before going outside. I need a new pair of summer shorts.

Some thoughts seem less personal, like these. (At least to me, now.)

And some thoughts seem more personal.

I am not getting enough sleep. Why did they paint the house with high-VOC paint? Don’t they realize how toxic it is, and that there are good alternatives? Why is the air conditioning on at night, when it only makes the air stuffy and humid, while the outdoor air is fresh and cool? Where am I going to stay the next few days or weeks? Life is unfair. I don’t belong among Americans.

I should be over this. I am embarrassed I still have a charge around it. I am not looking at the situation as clearly as I can. I am afraid I’ll mess it up. That I’ll get caught in reactivity, and regret it later.

The difference is that the latter thoughts have a charge around them. There is (some) identification with their viewpoint. They feel more true. They feel more real. There is more “velcro” there. (Words and images seem stuck on sensations, and these sensations gives the words and images charge, and a sense of reality, and that that’s “my viewpoint”.)

That’s why they seem more personal. That’s why they seem more true.

That’s why it’s easier to get caught up in identifying with their viewpoint and stories, and not even notice what they are – words, images, sensations.

These are the ones that can go “under the radar”, at least for a time. Often, it’s easier to recognize what they are later. And sometimes even as there is identification and charge around it

Some call these “secondary thoughts” or “commenting thoughts” but that doesn’t seem accurate to me. All thoughts are commenting on something, and they are all – really – commenting other thoughts. Thoughts comment on each other. That’s why they are all also secondary thoughts. They come after and depend on prior thoughts.

The difference, to me, is that some thoughts have more identification and velcro and seem more true, and other thoughts have less or (apparently) none of this. The latter are easier to recognize as what they are. The former can be a little more difficult to recognize.

That’s why it’s good to slow it all down, through resting with it, and perhaps asking some simple questions to clarify what’s there.

Every story was made up by someone

 

This is very obvious. And it can also make a big difference if we ponder it and take it in.

Every story was made up by someone.

And then passed on by others, and changed.

Any story was created by someone. Stories saying that a word means a certain thing. Or that something is good and something else is bad. Or that this is anger, or sadness, or pain, or joy. Or that loss or heartache is terrible. Or that humans are separate from rest of nature. Or that something called God or Spirit exist.

Stories about these stories were also made up by someone. Stories saying that the initial story is true, or false, or comes from an authority (so you should perceive and live as if it’s true), and so on.

Each of these stories were made up by someone. They are all a thought. They are more or less useful as a pointer in daily life. Their content is really a question only, a question about the world.

 

What is a thought ?

 

Thoughts. They seem very real. What they refer to may not be real, or may not be as the thought says it is, but the thought itself must be real?

What do I find when I look at thoughts?

I find that a thought may be an image. Or it may be a sound (a word or words) with associated images, for instance one or more images that the sounds refer to, and perhaps an image of the letters making up the word or words.

These may appear connected with certain sensations. And these sensations may lend a sense of reality and solidity to the images and/or words. The stronger sensations, and the stronger the sensations seem connected with the images and words, the stronger the sense of charge associated with the thought. This charge may appear to mean that what the thought refers to – or the thought itself – is real, important, good, bad, that I like it, or dislike it.

It can be helpful to notice this. Look at the images and/or words. Listen to the sounds. Feel the sensations. Perhaps ask simple questions about each, to clarify what’s really there. (And what is not.)

Seeing what’s really there, and feeling what’s really there, can be very freeing. It gives more freedom around the thought. I can relate to it with a little more clarity and intention.

Also, can I find a thought outside of these images, words, sounds, and sensations? Can I find a real thing called a thought?

Taking this further, I can explore images, words, sounds and sensations. Can I really find each of these, as a solid and real object? As they initially appear to me?

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Save all sentient beings

 

Hearing Buddhists talk about the intention of saving all sentient beings, I hear it in a way that makes sense to me right now.

I hear it as referring primarily to the beings arising in me – wounds, emotions, thoughts, physical pain, identifications.

If I was this wound, this emotion, this thought, this physical pain, how would I like to be met?

As a wound, I wish to be heard, felt, allowed. I wish you to be with me, to stay with me. I wish for you to let me have my life, and for whatever else comes up in you in response to me to have its life. I wish to be met, seen, felt, and even loved, as I am. I wish to be respected as I am, and also for healing and alignment with love and the reality of all as Spirit. I wish to be recognized as innocent, as love – even if I was created from confused love.

As confusion, I wish to be met with kindness. I wish to have my life. I wish for you to allow me my life, and for whatever else comes up in you in response to me to have it’s life as well. I wish to be recognized as innocent, and as love.

As a thought, I wish to be seen, felt, loved, as I am. I wish for you to identify the thought, and find what’s more true. I wish for you to do this for its own sake. If you notice any motives, any desires for me to go away or transform, I wish that you allow these their life as well, and that you make a note of them and find more clarity around these thoughts. I wish to be recognized as innocent, and as love, even if it’s confused love. I wish to be met with kindness and respect. I wish to align with love and all as Spirit. I wish for your help in being liberated from being taken as true.

As physical pain, I wish to be met with kindness by you. I wish to be met with love, to be held within love. I wish for you to identify and look into the resistant and stressful thoughts you have about me. I wish for you to identify and look into your images of me, and see what appears to be here, and what’s here when you look more closely.

As identification, I wish to be met with kindness, understanding, and love. I wish for you to see me as innocence and love, even if it’s confused love. I wish for you to befriend me, to relate to me as a friend. I wish for you to identify and look into the thoughts you have about me. What thoughts are there saying I will help you, protect you? What thoughts are there saying I am bad, wrong, something that needs to go away or change? What’s more true for you, when you look into these thoughts?

And as I find more kind ways of meeting and being with all of these beings, it may naturally, inevitably, without any effort or intention from my side, spill over in how I meet and am with beings in general – whether they are emotions, wounds, thoughts, or pain, or beings in the wider world – humans, animals, plants, ecosystems, society, Earth, future generations, past generations, present generations. It may or may not, and whatever thoughts I have about it is something I can meet with kindness, understanding, love.

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Three facets of thought: Page, letters, meaning

 

A book has three essential parts: The white pages, the ink and letters on the pages, and the content and meaning of the words.

And that’s how it is with images and thoughts – mental field activity – as well.

There is ink and letters – the images and thoughts themselves, as images and thoughts. It’s what I notice when I label images images, and thoughts thoughts. An image comes up, it’s labeled image. A thought comes up, it’s labeled thought.

There is a content to these images and thoughts, they have a meaning. An image is of a bird. A thought says it’s a magpie, and it’s standing at the doorstep looking in.

And it’s all happening on and as a white page. Images and thoughts happen as awareness, it’s the play of awareness taking a temporary form as an image or a thought. It’s “substance” or “material” is awareness itself.

So when there is an image or a thought here, the experience of it may be quite different depending on where attention goes.

(a) If attention goes to the content of the story, that’s what’s in the foreground. If attention is absorbed into the content of the story, and the story is taken as true, what it tells me will seem quite real, substantial and solid. And if the content is recognized as an innocent question about the world, as an image or thought and not reflecting any absolute or final truth, this content can be very helpful in a practical and pragmatic, sense as an aid to orient and navigate in the world.

(b) If attention goes to the image as an image, or the thought as a thought, for instance through labeling, then that’s what’s in the foreground. The image here is recognized as an image. The thought that’s here is recognized as a thought. Attention is freed from being absorbed into the content of the image or the thought, although there is awareness of this content.

(c) If attention goes to it all as awareness itself, as the play of awareness, then that’s what’s in the foreground. It’s all happening within and as what I am. And this includes any images or thoughts about a me as this human self, and an I as an observer or doer. A variation of this is bringing attention to the image that’s here, or the thought that’s here, as also love.

Again, this is perhaps most effectively explored through various forms of inquiry, investigating what’s here now in immediacy.

 

I-thougths sometimes really about others

 

I-thoughts are sometimes really about what I think others may think, say or do, only internalized so thoroughly I may not notice that’s what’s happening.

There is an I-thought saying I shouldn’t be tired, or I need to be active, I want to be healthy.

If I imagine myself alone in the whole world, would I still have the same thoughts? No, I find I am at peace with myself and the situation. That shows me the thought may really be about others and what I am afraid they will think, say or do.

So what are the thoughts I imagine others may have about me?

I am tired, not healthy, and what I am most afraid others will think, say or do is….

They will think I am lazy. They will think I am weak.

They will talk about my behind my back.

They will pity me. They will shun me. They will abandon me.

(more…)

Sounds and aftertoughts

 

When I sit with the Zen question who hears the sounds?, or explore the sense fields, I notice that what’s here is already here. It seems quite obvious.

Sounds are already heard. Sights already seen. Tastes already tasted. Sensations already sensed. Thoughts already thought.

It’s all already here, crystal clear, as awareness.

A sound appears. It’s already heard.

Then, there is a gap in time, and an image comes up, perhaps of a bird. It labels the sound. It’s an innocent question. Bird?

Then, another gap in time, and thoughts come up. It’s morning. It’s a small bird. And these are also innocent questions. Morning? Small bird?

By the time images label, and thoughts tell a story, the sound itself is gone. All this happens afterwards, as an afterthought.

Then there are some other thoughts.

The sound is heard by me, by this human self.

It’s heard by I, this doer, listener.

And these too happens afterward. A sound appears. There is an image, a label. There are thoughts, telling a story. And there is an image of a me hearing it, and I listening.

As this is seen, it’s almost comical. What I sometimes take as so solid and real – the label and the stories, the me and I listening – is, quite literally, an afterthought. It happens quite a bit later, after the sound itself is gone. It’s constructed.

When it’s taken as real and true, it seems real, substantial and true. It’s experienced that way. And when it’s seen to be just an afterthought – images and stories happening after the sound is already gone – it’s seen as an afterthought. It looses its sense of solidity. The label, the stories of the sound and a me and I are recognized as images and stories.

The same happens when I explore sensations, tastes, sights, and even mental activity itself. Who senses these sensations? Who tastes the taste? Who thinks these images? Who thinks these thoughts? In each case, I find it’s happening, crystal clear, as awareness, and there is a gap in time until there is an image and stories labeling and explaining what’s happening.

Love for the ego

 

The “ego” refers to the dynamics that happens when a thought is taken as true, it’s what I get to explore through question three in The Work.

One of the things that comes out of taking certain thoughts as true, is the tendency to take thoughts as true:

I will be more safe if I take this thought as true. I will get what I want if I take this thought as true. There is an I here. I am this body. I am this mind. It needs to be safe. It’s possible to be unsafe.

Another of the things that may come out of taking certain thoughts as true, is to see this as a problem or even wrong or bad or something we need to get rid of.

The ego is a problem. The ego causes suffering. I need to get rid of the ego.

Beliefs are a problem. Beliefs causes suffering. I would be better off without beliefs. I need to get rid of beliefs.

There is an ego. There are beliefs. There are thoughts. It’s possible to take thoughts as true.

As I investigate these thoughts, and notices the dynamics around taking thoughts as true, I may find a genuine appreciation for the “ego” – for all of this.

It’s all innocent. It’s all confused love. It’s what happens when the thought “I” is taken as true, there is the thought it needs to be protected, and that taking thoughts as true can help it keep safe.

Through more clarity on this, I find a genuine love for the ego, for these dynamics. I see their function. I see it’s innocent. I see it comes from love, a slightly confused love.

And I see it’s all already love.

(more…)

Stressful and negative thoughts

 

I listened to an interview with Byron Katie where the interviewer used the words stressful and negative thoughts.

One the one hand, it seems that no thoughts are inherently stressful, and thoughts are not negative or positive.

And yet, thoughts can appear stressful when taken as true. And thoughts may appear negative or positive depending on what beliefs I have about them.

I also noticed that Byron Katie let it pass without attempting to clarify. I imagine she let it pass because stressful and negative thoughts are terms most people are familiar with, it can be an easy way into being more curious about inquiry, and when we do inquiry, it’s often or usually – at least in the beginning – on thoughts we could call stressful or negative. The stressful and negative labels make sense in the beginning, and if we stay with inquiry for a bit, we’ll question these labels as well.

Thoughts as love

 

Through inquiry, thoughts are revealed as love.

And taking thoughts as true is love too.

– 0 –

Thoughts are innocent questions about the world.

They are there to help exploring, navigating and functioning in the world.

And taking a thought as true is equally innocent.

A thought is taken as true because it’s innocently seen as right and helpful.

And thoughts and taking them as true both happens within and as the mind, within and as awareness, within and as love.

– 0 –

So a thought is love because it makes it possible to explore, navigate and function in the world.

Taking a thought is love because it’s seen as helpful.

And both are love because they happen within and as the mind, within and as awareness, within and as love.

Finally, not being able to take a thought as true is also love, because it comes from clarity and allows kindness and wisdom to function more freely in and through this life.

(more…)

Three Meanings of Thought

 

The word thought can refer to at least three things:

(a) It’s commonly used to refer to a verbal and conscious thought. If there is a story such as “I thought that” it seems intentional, and if not, it may seem unintentional.

(b) Thoughts can also be in the form of images. There is a sound, and then an image of a bird to match the sound. This seems to often happen without much conscious awareness, although the images can have a strong effect on experience.

(c) Finally, thoughts can refer to the whole world of experience they create, especially when they are taken as true. Thoughts create the most basic boundaries (I, other, world, object, being) and the most basic interpretations and labels. They filter perception, trigger emotions, and create even basic experiences such as hunger and pain. Thoughts create a whole world – rich and full bodied, and it may appear unquestionably real.

When I use the word thought here, it’s often in the third, more inclusive meaning.

Metaphor

 

“We have discovered, over the past decade and a half, that a conceptual system contains an enormous subsystem of thousands of conceptual metaphors — mappings that allow us to understand the abstract in terms of the concrete. Without this system, we could not engage in abstract thought at all — in thought about causation, purpose, love, morality, or thought itself. Without the metaphor system, there could be no philosophizing, no theorizing, and little general understanding our everyday personal and social lives. But the operation of this vast system of conceptual metaphor is largely unconscious. We reason metaphorically throughout most of our waking, and even our dreaming lives, but for the most part are unaware of it. At present, the metaphor system of English has barely begun to be worked out in full detail, and the metaphor systems of other languages have been studied only cursorily. Working out the details would be a huge job — not as big as the human genome project, but most likely more beneficial. For what is at stake is our understanding of ourselves and our daily lives, and the possibilities for improvement through that understanding.”
– George Lakoff, ‘The Neurocognitive Self’ in The Science of The Mind, page 229.

“Space and force pervade language. Many cognitive scientists (including me) have concluded from their research on language that a handful of concepts about places, paths, motions, agency, and causation underlie the literal or figurative meanings of tens of thousands of words and constructions, not only in English but in every other language that has been studied. … These concepts and relations appear to be the vocabulary and syntax of mentalese, the language of thought. … And the discovery that the elements of mentalese are based on places and projectiles has implications for both where the language of thought came from and how we put it to use in modern times.”
– Stephen Pinker, How The Mind Work, page 355.

Through inquiry, my world of metaphors is revealed bit by bit, and itself taken to inquiry. It goes from being unconsious and sometimes unconsciously believed to investigated and perhaps liberated from belief.

Thoughts create my world

 

How do my thoughts create my world?

I find that my images and thoughts label and interpret my sense fields.

So any image or thought of what’s happening is from my own thoughts. Nothing else.

And these in turn create feelings and emotions.

Which in turn influence how I am in the world.

The world may then accommodate my labels and interpretations (self-fulfilling prophecy), and that is just another interpretation.

Abstract thinking in evolutionary perspective

 

I am reminded of this again:

Abstract thinking, especially in it’s verbal form, is relatively new for humanity and for life in general. (I imagine the image form of abstract thinking is much older and shared with many other animals.)

And that’s perhaps we are having trouble with it. Why so many of us seem predisposed to believe our thoughts, and why we often are unable to take the long and big perspective even when it benefits us. Abstract thinking is a new tool for us. We are still trying to figure out how to use it, and how to relate to it in a more mature way.

It seems that reasonable that seeing thoughts as thoughts, not believing them, has an evolutionary advantage. When I believe a thought, it creates stress, drama and false perceptions. When there is more clarity around a thought, I can relate to it as a thought. I can use it as a tool if that seems helpful, and let it pass otherwise.

So humanity may, in time, evolve to not so easily believe thoughts.

(more…)

Thought and energy

 

Thoughts can give me a sense of drained energy, or they can be energizing. And this seems to depend on their content, and more importantly, how I relate to them.

In general, when I take a story as true, it will drain my energy. And when I recognize it as just a thought, it will be neutral or even slightly energize.

Why is there an experience of drained energy? I imagine it comes from the image of an “I” or “me” struggling with the wider world, in different ways. Just taking that image as real and true will give an experience of energy drain, tiredness, and at times even exhaustion.

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