The Nature of Thought
October 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
Meditation is the practice of keeping the mind awake in the present moment. It is awareness without mental commentary. “When we are mindful,” says the Buddhist nun, Tenzin Palmo, “there is no commentary.”
The mass of humanity is closely identified with the mental commentary that streams through their heads every minute of every day. While so identified, people believe that they are these thoughts, and that what they think must be right and true because it is who they are. Meditation aims to curtail this belief through a continuous process of waking up from this mental commentary. This is not an exercise in self-analysis but it may include an analysis of the nature of thinking to break its hypnotic allure.
Part of thought’s allure is that it seems real. This seemingness leaves us believing that what we think is something that actually exists outside of our heads. We become convinced that thought is something we must deal with. And the way to do that is through further thinking that only leads to more thought and more things to deal with.
One quality of thought is what I like to call ‘looping’. The idea is taken from the days when magnetic tape was used to record sound. When the ends of that tape were joined the tape would loop around, playing the same thing over and over again. A lot of thinking is like that. What we felt and thought yesterday is replayed today, and will be replayed tomorrow in an endless loop. (Something to consider when you think mindfulness is boring!)
Identification, the seeming reality of thought and its loopiness, affect us in many ways. Like a sound fading into the background when heard over and over, loop thoughts fade to lower levels of awareness. If we are not actively engaged in some outer activity we follow them down into a bubble of thought that dims our awareness of the present moment. There, we make the same judgments, have the same desires and feel the same anxieties over and over. All the while believing we are engaged with the real world.
We can easily see others caught up in their bubbles, such as the person who believes his way is the only way. Or in the person who exhibits compulsive behavior or suffers Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is harder to see our own bubble but it’s there, acting to distort our perception of the world and self. When we start to practice meditation and mindfulness the true extent of this bubble starts to show.
To again quote Tenzin Palmo, “…the difference between being aware of the thought and just thinking is immense. It’s enormous…” When caught in our bubbles we are just thinking. When we practice waking up to each moment we are aware of the thought. We see that they are just recordings. We see that we are continually reacting to them as if they are real. And we begin to question whether we actually are what we think and feel; or someone and something more?