I sometimes see people talking about the importance of thinking for ourselves.
What does it mean?
I was into it too in my mid-teens, as most teenagers are. (It was a big topic in my middle and high school to the point where it became an ongoing joke.)
It’s natural for us to branch out and explore ideas, information, and worldviews outside of what we grew up with. It’s part of growing up. And it’s good to examine and re-examine our own ideas, assumptions, worldview, and the information we operate on.
What’s typically happening is that we exchange one set of ideas, orientations and sometimes worldviews for another, and one that better matches us and our situation. We adopt views, orientations, and worldviews from other subcultures and sometimes other cultures.
In this sense, it’s not possible to completely “think for ourselves”. It’s always influenced by others and our wider culture and civilization.
EXAMINING THOUGHTS THEMSELVES
We can also examine our thoughts themselves, for instance, through inquiry.
We can learn to identify and examine our thoughts and beliefs and find what’s more true for us. The Work of Byron Katie is excellent for this.
We can also examine how our mental field creates an overlay on the world which helps us orient and navigate, and how our mind associates certain mental field representations with certain sensations. The thoughts give meaning to the sensations, and the sensations lend a sense of solidity, reality, and truth to the thoughts. We can use traditional Buddhist sense-field inquiry to explore this, or modern versions like the Kiloby Inquiries.
Through these kinds of explorations, we can find the nature, gifts, and limits of thoughts, and that can be very helpful. We recognize that thoughts – including our most basic assumptions about ourselves, others, and the world – are questions about the world. They are here to help us navigate and function in the world. They can be more or less accurate in a limited and conventional sense. The world is always more than and different from our assumptions about it, and also less. And thoughts cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. That’s not their function.
In general, it’s good to be aware of our biases.
Our personal experiences, subcultures, culture, biology, evolutionary history, and so on all color our perceptions, views, values, worldviews, and life.
We cannot escape it, and why would we? It’s part of the richness of the world. But we can be aware of it. We can be aware that everything about us and our history shapes our perception and orientation. We can also be aware of how our biases color some specific views and orientations, especially when we compare ours with those of others.
THOUGHTS LIVE THEIR OWN LIFE
We may find that we are never “thinking for ourselves”.
Thoughts happen. They live their own life as anything else.
We can notice a thought appearing. Where did it come from? Then it goes away. Where is it going? They just seem to happen and live their own life.
This is easiest to notice when identification releases out of content of experience and we notice what we more fundamentally are. (That which any content of experience happens within and as.) When identification releases out of thoughts, we notice they happen on their own and live their own life.
We can explore and get a taste of this through inquiries like the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.
We may find that anything appears to have infinite causes. We can always find one more, and one more, stretching back to the beginning of time and out to the widest extent of space.
In that sense, “we” are not thinking. It’s all of existence thinking locally here in and as this mind.
ALL TOGETHER AND MORE
This all comes to mind when I hear people talk about “thinking for ourselves”.
In a conventional sense, it means to explore and examine and variety of ideas, assumptions, information, and worldviews, and find the one(s) that makes the most sense to me now. This is all always up for revision, of course. It’s good to notice that it’s all coming from somewhere else, we are not really “thinking for ourselves”.
It means to be aware that we have innumerable biases and be on outlook to identify some of them and how they color our perception and life.
It means to examine thoughts themselves. What’s their function? Their gifts? Their limits? What do I find when I examine specific thoughts and assumptions? What do I find when I explore the mental field and how it interacts with the other sense fields, and especially body sensations?
How is it to notice that thoughts live their own life? That they happen on their own?
How is it to notice that they, like anything else, have infinite causes? That it’s really all of existence thinking here, locally?
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