Thoughts reflecting the past II (effects)

What are the effects of noticing, through careful examination, that our thoughts always reflect the past?

Well, when it is seen, over and over, in our own life, and is felt in our bones, it allows relative truths to be seen as relative truths, and the release that follows.

Holding our stories more lightly

It is another nudge in the direction of holding any thoughts, ideas, stories, assumptions and shoulds a little more lightly. Seeing that, yes, they are only relative truths at best. Only questions about the world.

And it is a reminder to look a little closer when something appears to myself as an absolute truth or a statement. Maybe it is really just a relative truth and a question.

This goes for the grand scale theories and views, such as our general world view, religion, political faith, and so on, and maybe especially for the smaller and apparently more innocent ones in my daily life such as she should do her dishes, people shouldn’t lie, I should have more money, I shouldn’t be sick, and life should be fair.

The shift

When these are taken as absolute truths and statements, they bring stress because life does not conform (my individual will is at odds with life’s will.) When they are examined, and revealed as just relative truths and innocent questions, there is a sense of release, spaciousness, ease and simplicity.

Reactivity gives way to receptivity. Contraction to spaciousness. Struggle to ease. Confusion to clarity. Compulsiveness or paralysis to natural engagement. A sense of separation to intimacy. Alienation to a sense of belonging. Defending against any view, to finding the truth in it.

Thoughts reflecting the past

Many teachers (and teachings) talk about how thoughts reflect the past, and only reflect the past.

Is it true? When I heard this again as a quote from Byron Katie, there wasn’t an immediate and whole-hearted recognition, so I decided to explore it again for myself. It is true in my own experience?

Thoughts arising here and now, with content about past, present and future

Thoughts, as anything else, arise here and now. But their content appear, on the surface, to be about the past, present and future.

Thoughts about the present, about what that just left

When I look at thoughts about the present, I see that they always reflect what has already gone. They cannot keep up with the continuous stream of content, they are always a little slow, always about what just left.

Thoughts about the future, reflecting the past

Thoughts about the future are maybe a little different, but even here, they actually reflect the past. They are projections into the future, into what may be, based on experiences from the past. I hit my toe on the leg of the table a while ago, and it hurt, so I assume it will hurt if I do it again. I enjoyed a vacation up in the mountains last year, so assume I will enjoy it again. I resolved a stressful issue last night by doing inquiry into it, so assume inquiry may work again on future stressful situations.

These are all reasonable assumptions, and are very helpful in daily life. They have a clear practical value in our everyday human life, and without them we probably wouldn’t last very long.

But as helpful as they are, these thoughts are still reflecting the past, taking past experiences and lessons from past experiences and projecting them into an imagined future.

Thoughts about the past, present and future, all reflecting the past

So thoughts about the past are obviously reflecting the past, thoughts about the present are really about what just left, and thoughts about the future reflect past experiences – projected into the future.

And the interpretation of any of this also, obviously, reflects the past. Past experiences, and my stories about them, color how I interpret anything in the past, present or future.

Humbling realization

So, yes, when I look at my own thoughts, I see over and over that they not only reflect the past, but 100% reflect the past.

It is a humbling realization.

More about the effects of realizing this in the following post(s).

Freshness of experience and expression

As beliefs in ideas fade, go into the background or fall away, there is a more immediate experience of what is arising. Where thoughts would say I have seen this before, there is the immediate experience of whatever arises as always fresh, new, different.

In the same way, as beliefs fall away our words take on a fresh quality. They come out as fresh, new, and different, whether they appear to have been spoken before or not.

Freshness of experience

Thoughts arise with a question: is this similar to what has been experienced or said before? And then maybe, yes, it seems similar.

And if this thought is believed in, another set of thoughts may come up: yes, it is the same. I have seen or heard this before. Things should be new, yet this is the same old. How boring.

Thoughts can also be seen for what they are: as innocent questions, even when they appear as statements. They can provide useful and practical information in a conventional sense, as a help for orienting and functioning in the world. Yes, when they are not believed in, they remain as just guidelines of temporary and practical use only. And they too arise as always unique, fresh, different, along with anything else arising here now.

Freshness of expression

And the freshness of expression comes in two ways:

One is from the immediacy and freshness of experience, which gives the expression of it a sense of freshness as well.

The other is in seeing ideas as merely ideas, which gives a freedom in experimenting with how to express immediate realization and experience in different ways, relying less on what we have heard, read or said before.

The makeup of our human self probably plays a role here as well.

If it is happy with tradition and what is already laid down, it may use that as a framework for expression. There are many examples here of following collective or one’s individual traditions.

If it has more of an adventurous and newness seeking tendency, it may explore new ways of expressing perennial insights, as Adyashanti and Byron Katie do. Or it may come up with something that combines these perennial insights with temporary insights and views in a fresh way, as Ken Wilber does in his aqal framework and Genpo Roshi with the Big Mind process.

And maybe most importantly, it may seek to grow, mature and develop so the ways the insights come out do the same. So there is a freshness in how it comes out, also in the context of its own history.

How to deal with thoughts?

Some of the ways we relate to thoughts…

Believing in or not

In general, we can believe in them or not.

As long as there is a belief in any thought, there is a belief in the basic thought of “I” and a corresponding identity. We believe in some thoughts and not others, and with different degrees of attachment.

This creates a sense of I and other, an identity that defines who I am and am not, a discrepancy between beliefs and the inner and outer world as it arises, and a sense of struggle and drama.

When there is realized selflessness, beliefs in thoughts fall away as well. Or we can say that when the belief in “I” as a segment of what is falls away, so does beliefs in other thoughts as well. Without a sense of I, no attachment to thoughts.

(I have to say that in some cases of alleged realized selflessness, it certainly appears – when looking at words and actions – that there is still a belief in certain thoughts. What the human self does seems remarkably limited and frozen if all beliefs indeed had dropped away.)

Awakening to thoughts as related to stress

We can awaken, in different ways, to thoughts as related to stress.

We notice that being absorbed in thoughts, or attaching to thoughts, or trying to push thoughts away, brings disassociation or stress.

And although this is true for all thoughts (at least all the ones I have explored so far), it may appear as if it is true for only some of them.

And although it is the belief in thoughts that brings stress, it may appear as if thoughts themselves are a problem.

:: See thoughts themselves as the source

If we see thoughts themselves as a problem, we set ourselves up for failure.

We may engage in strategies to pacify or remove thoughts, such as drugs, sleep, entertainment or other forms of distractions. If we are a little more sophisticated, we may engage in practices that manipulate attention (visualizations, “good thoughts”). Although these strategies may give short term relief, it is ultimately a recipe for failure as thoughts come and go on their own and live their own life.

:: See beliefs as the source

We can recognize beliefs as the source, and inquire into the beliefs – allowing the attachment to the thought to erode and eventually fall away.

:: See the sense of I as the source

We can recognize the belief in the thought “I” as the source, as that which all other beliefs hinges on.

So we may engage in practices that temporarily shift attention away from the sense of I, giving a taste of how it is to be free from the story of I and everything that comes with it. These practices include, again, drugs, sex and entertainment. And also being in nature, prayer, meditation, and Breema.

We can inquire into any stressful belief that comes up, allowing one thread of the tapestry of beliefs to unravel at a time, until it all falls away taking the belief in the idea of “I” with it.

Or we can go directly for the belief in the idea of I through other forms of inquiry, mainly various forms of Atma Vichara such as the Big Mind process, labeling, and noticing the seen and the seeing as inherently absent of I. (And allowing what is seen to seep through our whole being, allowing it all to reorganize around it, be affected by it.)

Relating to Thoughts

Nothing new here, but still something that comes up for me…

As long as we believe in thoughts – or more precisely in abstractions in any form, such as images, memories, models, theories, thoughts and so on – we will experience stress. The world will show up in a way that does not conform with our beliefs in particular abstractions about it, and the discrepancy creates discomfort, uneasiness, and suffering. Our conscious view is out of alignment with what is, and this naturally creates suffering.

And as long as we believe in thoughts, as long as they have a charge for us, we will also experience what we perceive as unwanted thoughts. Thoughts appear because that is their job. They come and go as clouds. And if we believe some of them should not, then they appear as unwanted. We interpret them as intruding, and some of them may even be labeled negative, destructive, pathological and so on.

We use many ways of trying to deal with these thoughts, including developing a strong focus (temporarily pushing them aside), shifting attention (to the breath, the body and so on), therapy, affirmations (trying to replace them with other, more “positive”, thoughts), and so on. But none of these will really work as long as we still believe in the original thoughts. For as long as they have a charge for us, they will show up and want our attention. They will come back wanting resolution. Wanting to be resolved. Wanting to be seen through.

These thoughts are completely innocent. It is only our belief in them, or in our stories about them, that gives them any charge. We attach to them because they appear real, significant, substantial, powerful, accurate and/or true.

And this belief can only hold as long as it is not thoroughly investigated. It is only the unexamined beliefs which stay beliefs and maintain their charge.

When we investigate the beliefs, through the four questions and the turnaround, and explore more in detail what is really true for us in our immediate experience, the belief naturally erodes and falls away. It is seen through. The thought loses its charge. It loses its apparent grip on us. It loses its apparent reality, substance, power, accuracy, significance and truth.

The thoughts are now revealed as what they are – completely innocent questions about the world. And as they have no charge anymore, they come and go as clouds – and with as much (or rather little) impact as clouds passing through the sky. They no longer appear intrusive. No thoughts are seen as positive or negative. No thoughts are any longer pathological. They just are.

In releasing these beliefs, we also uncover the inherent nature of mind – is clarity, wisdom, compassion, love, and effortless effectiveness in functioning in the world. These qualities are what we are, inherently, each one of us, and they are only temporarily covered up by beliefs in abstractions and the consequences coming from that. It never goes away, no matter what the surface phenomena may look like in the present.

Ultimately, we end up seeing through the belief in the idea of I, and even that one falls away, revealing the selfless nature of what is. We discover that we are not exclusively our human self or awareness, but what is – beyond and including any and all polarities. There is only the suchness. Only God. It is all the play of God, and it is all good.

It is good, far beyond even the most appealing and attractive images and hopes painted by any belief.

Thoughts as Innocent Questions

When thoughts are believed in, they seem substantial, real, important, meaningful, and so on.

When thoughts are released from beliefs, they are revealed as innocent questions – inquiries into an aspect of the world.

So there may be the thought I am a failure.

If I believe that thought, it seems substantial and meaningful, and it will most likely make me depressed – and cause a range of other responses and reactions in me as well.

If I don’t believe that thought, it just becomes an innocent invitation to inquiry. Am I a failure? Well, it obviously depends on how failure is defined, and it can easily be defined in many different ways. How does my life appear when I examine it filtered through some of these definitions? That can be a quite interesting exploration, allowing for useful and helpful insights.

This insight is just one of the many Byron Katie mentions. And it is one that seems to arise naturally from engaging in her inquiry process over time, at least it does for me. As with any insight, it is temporary and arising during one phase of the exploration process. Next time I look, it may well appear differently. Another layer may have been shed, and something else arises.


When I listen to or read various teachings, there is often an impulse coming up around precision.

So there is an impulse of precision coming up. If I think it is for someone else, it takes the form of judgment. If I realize it is really for me, it is an invaluable pointer towards maturing a little further.

Thoughts as problems?

If someone talks as if thoughts themselves ever are a problem, there is a discrepancy with my experience of thoughts as never a problem – only beliefs in them are. This discrepancy can takes the form of wanting more precision.

And if I put it on him, it becomes “he should be more precise” and is associated with blame, judgment, sense of separation and so on. If I see that the impulse is for me, I take it as an invitation and opportunity to differentiate for myself.

I can see that for me, only beliefs appear as a problem, never thoughts themselves – they are innocent. And it also invites me to inquiry into and explore this further. What is really true for me in the present? How is it true for me in the present?


The same is the case for talks about attachment. Sometimes, it is presented as if we can ever be attached to situations or things. That does not seem true in my experience.

I find that I can only be attached to stories and beliefs, and this may – and usually does – take the appearance of attachment to situations, people, things and so on. But it is only an appearance. I can only find attachments to stories and thoughts…

Again, it is an invitation to explore what is true for me, and what is true for me right now – which may, and usually is, different from what I expect.

Sharing findings

My experiences and findings are obviously for me, meant for me, and if they can help others inquire and explore for themselves that is great as well.

They may find something entirely different, which in turn can stimulate me to inquire a little further and more honestly.


The Byron Katie inquiry process may appear – before we engage in it – to concern itself with thoughts.

In reality, it seems to help us clear up our relationship with Existence, on all levels.

The “thoughts” we work with – in verbal/written form – are indications of much deeper orientations and relationships with Existence. And these orientations runs through all levels of our being, including physical, energetic, emotional, cognitive and consciousness/awareness.

When there is suffering and/or contraction, it indicates an area where our deeper orientation is not aligned with what is – with Existence. And through inquiry, we can clear up this confusion.