Thought People

November 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

Thought People

When examining ordinary consciousness we might see thoughts arising that evoke an emotional response, or feelings arising that evoke thinking. We see a resolute belief in the reality of thought and feeling, as well as a general tendency for the self to identify with these. This belief and identification is a barrier to knowing our true nature and improving the human condition.

The ordinary mind also constantly judges and appraises what is happening around it, especially when what is happening creates feelings of pleasure or pain. At the same time it is constantly looking for explanations and problems to solve. The ordinary mind, in other words, is quite a busy place.

Because it is so busy the mind has developed ways to simplify what it has to deal with on a daily basis. One way it does this is by grouping related items together so they appear as distinct entities, if you will, in consciousness where we tend to forget that these are, in fact, our own thoughts. Psychology has provided these thought people with different names, such as the id/superego, inner child/inner parent, underdog/topdog and, of course, the archetypes of Carl Jung. They, and other characters, are stored in the mind where they arise from time to time to tell us what we want, what we must do and what we should think.

When thought people are mistakenly believed to exist in the outer world as real forces, we come into conflict with them over what we want and what they say we should do. This conflict can magnify to incredible proportions when there is a trauma that results in such conditions as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Depression. This can make it impossible for the traumatized person to function without encountering inner conflict on a daily basis.

I refer the reader here back to the previous post “A Buffalo Passes Through the Enclosure” to make it clear that these inner characters contain values that are important to the self and must be considered when seeking to resolve any conflict. For instance, in PTSD the value is survival. No amount of counseling a person that what they fear doesn’t exist will be effective without taking this value into account.

When properly undertaken, meditation creates an awareness of the distinction between the self and its entourage of thoughts and feelings. It also leads to a growing understanding that these characters do not exist anywhere but in the mind, or brain, of the individual.

The awareness that thought has no self-existence, and therefore no power over the self, arises slowly. Theoretically, it could happen right away but most of us are extremely reluctant to let go of our thought people. Besides the values they represent, they also provide a sense of security and safety that is hard to relinquish. Even when our thought people are frightening us or blocking and limiting us in other ways from being ourselves, we will still cling to them. We’d rather bad company than no company at all!

On a personal note, the other day I had a clear realization that one of my limiting thoughts was nothing more than a thought. For a brief instant the thought was stripped of its authority and I felt what could almost be called a physical jolt from this recognition. The intensity of that realization faded; mostly, I believe, because my mind was not used to this new way of seeing. My mind reverted to its habitual ways but not before I had the sense of what life is like when one’s inner barriers fall away.

The work that lies before me now is to widen this realization to other thought people and deepen it so they fade into the background of my awareness. When they disappear altogether, will this not be an experience of Buddhist emptiness?

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