A few days before writing this, I was having an on-line conversation with a few of my marvellous friends, when we got onto the subject of meditation. My sparkling long lost friend Trisha mentioned that she has tried meditation but that '[her] mind refuses to shut up'.
I got the impression that she was a little frustrated with this, but I would like to suggest that this is one of the most fundamental realisations that anyone who begins to try out meditation can make. Get just this one thing and you have made a major breakthrough in awareness.
Before carrying on, I would like you to try a little experiment. It will only take 4 minutes of your time. You will need a watch or clock so you can roughly time yourself. Accuracy is not important. Find a quiet place where you can be alone for 4 minutes. For the first two minutes, try to completely stop thinking. For another two minutes, try to think exclusively of a penguin, with no other thought at all, for the whole two minutes.
Unless you are an extra-ordinary individual, my guess is that you will not be able to do either of these things.
As Trisha discovered, we have virtually no control over what we usually refer to as 'our thoughts'. So why is it that we consider them to be 'our thoughts'? I would suggest that if they occur without our will and we have very little ability to direct them at all, then there is no reason whatsoever to consider that they are 'our thoughts'. They are just some thoughts. They appear in our awareness. But so does the weather. So do trees and traffic. We don't say to other people 'I am bad weathering today' or 'I am trafficking very negatively today.'
Yet most people automatically personally identify with the thoughts that enter their awareness. Most people automatically consider thought to be them talking to themselves. But as we have seen from the little experiment, almost none of the thoughts that pass through our minds are initiated by us at all.
So where does this realisation lead us?
First of all, it leads to the conclusion that trying to 'control' thought is a futile endeavour. There are many proponents of 'positive thinking' who suggest that we root out negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones in order to have a happier life. I would suggest that this is totally impossible. As the experiment shows, we have very little control over thought and any control we have takes concerted effort and direct attention, so any successful change would be only a tiny percentage of total thought.
Does this mean we are helpless? No it does not. Imagine you have a radio that is playing all day long. It never switches off. Although you cannot completely stop the sound of the radio, you can choose whether to listen to it or not. You can also choose whether to believe or discard the things that radio guests and presenters have to say. The same is true of thought. Even though it is very often incessant, you do not have to listen and you do not have to believe.
"The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions." Leonardo da Vinci
Whenever another person says something to us, we will tend to question it. Even with our best friends, trusted colleagues or members of our family, we will not automatically assume that what they say is correct or true. But when a voice appears to speak to us in our own head, we are far more likely to just accept what it says. Imagine a stranger comes along and tells you that you are useless and not worthy. The chances are you will get uppity and tell them where to go. But all too often we allow thought voices to tell us such things and let them go completely unchallenged.
Why do we do this? Because we are under the illusion that they are 'our thoughts'.
I hope that now you have a little doubt about that and will be as ready to challenge the voices that appear inside your head as your are the voices that appear outside it. There is no need to fight with thought. There is no need to try enforcing 'positive thinking'. Simply realise that thoughts are not you and then you are totally free to choose to listen to the ones you like and discard the ones you don't like, and when you are tired of listening to thought, you are also totally free of the obligation to listen to thought at all.
"And this is one of the mysteries, that the mind can speak, and knows nothing; and the heart knows everything, and cannot speak. Perhaps to know too much makes it difficult to speak; the mind knows so little, it is possible for it to speak." Osho
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