Thoughts are living beings that live and move and have their being in the collective field of consciousness and unconsciousness of the human species. We were taught to believe that thoughts originate in our brains. But the esoteric and mystical masters throughout the ages have discovered that we shouldn’t take thoughts so personally.
It seems to work like this: there are thoughts that have been formed by every human being who has ever lived on the planet. Once they are thought they don’t just disappear. They remain in the field of consciousness. It’s a little sobering to imagine that every thought I have, or you have, remains a living entity.
Because thoughts are living beings they want to grow and mature like all beings in the universe. When these thoughts find something in us that is resonant (that is, something in our experience that is attracted to the thought), the thought sticks to us like velcro. Once it has us, we get caught up in a thought that wants to have a life of its own. It wants to realize maturity.
For example, I’m walking my dog in the forest, not thinking about anything in particular, but because I’m addicted to thinking, I’m looking for something my mind can attach to. I remember last night’s dinner party when somebody said something about a person that wasn’t very complementary. I happen to have a lot of respect for said person. This thought sticks to me, and I begin to make up stories about why that person said what they said, and what it says about that person that he would be so judgmental, and I remember other occasions when this person has done the same thing, and I start to judge the person, and wonder if I want to be friends, and why do I always get myself into these situations, and why don’t I speak up…Ten minutes later I snap out of it, realizing that I haven’t taken any of my surroundings in (my senses were shut down because I was hijacked by a thought that carried me away). My life has not been my own for this entire time. This, you may have noticed, can happen many times a day.
So thoughts as entities want to grow and mature. The way thoughts grow is by turning into stories that have a life of their own, and takeover our mind/bodies. When we are in a story, it’s the same thing as saying that we are in a traumatic memory. What we are remembering however is not the actual trauma (which is the first step to liberation) but rather the beliefs and thoughts that were reactions to the trauma.
The details of the story will change to fit each individual’s personal and ancestral history. But the core themes (beliefs) are recognizable and universal:
I am bad. I am a good person. It’s not fair. Life is meaningless. I am nobody. I am somebody. I don’t have enough. I have more than you. If I’m not careful I will be shamed. If I don’t fix it, something catastrophic will happen. I alone act responsibly. I’m not responsible. I am powerless. I am invincible. I know a lot. I’m stupid. Add your own particular go-to narratives here.
By now, we’re not having the thought; the thought has us. We are not actually present, that is, here and now. We’re in the past. The details of the story we create will always prove and legitimate the core thought (belief). This is the only way that the thought can mature into a full-blown narrative. There is always temporary satisfaction in creating the full-blown version of the story—because it proves another universal narrative, namely, that I’m right. The thought will pull in evidence, details, whatever is required to help it reach maturity.
These thoughts that turn into universal stories are our ego. It’s not our ego having thoughts. The thoughts and stories are themselves our compensated ego. Our egos are constructed by them. After decades of working and re-working, looping and re-looping these stories, our personalities then construct a meaning system and a life that is filtered by these narratives. Any experience that supports them, we perceive. Anything that challenges or threatens to disturb the narrative, we block out.
When you get that our thoughts are not our own, that they are living beings floating around in the collective conscious and unconscious field of humanity, and that they want to grow like any living being, awakening or enlightenment is near. Enlightenment is simply having a conscious relationship to the thoughts that want to seize us. This is why meditation—simply watching the thoughts arises in our consciousness, take hold, and then dissipate—is an important practice. You stop taking them personally. You de-velcro them. But, and this is important, you can get this without meditation. Simply stay awake, and rather than get caught up in and by a thought (and the story we want to embellish it with), develop a relationship with the thought.
One you have a relationship with thought, you can play with thoughts, and see where it wants to go. You can marvel at the way it wants to take hold and take you away. Or you can end it right there and then. “Thank you very much, but I know where this is going and I’m not interested in losing the next 15 minutes of my life to a fantasy”. But above all, you know once and for all that you are not your thoughts. When this happens, you can actually employ thought as a spiritual activity—choosing to consciously think. But when you are not doing this, there is no actual reason to think. You are free to simply experience without thinking.
Okay, but what happens when you get a hold of this, when you realize that the thoughts and stories that you were so attached to are your ego, and you stop thinking—except when you consciously choose to think? What happens is that you experience a void. And the void is terrifying at first. You might become conscious of how your mind has been trained over a lifetime to desperately look for a new thought to attach to. As with any addiction, you feel initially like you can’t live without thoughts and stories. Then, you might start to feel a little “depressed”. Actually, this is an interpretation of the emptiness you are feeling. But if you feel into it, it’s actually not depression. It’s just emptiness, openness, and you are unaccustomed to feeling this.
That said, if you are courageous and continue to feel into the emptiness, your real story (as opposed to the fantasy stories) may begin to fill the void. And if you are anything like me, the real story is the story of our trauma—how we were shamed, mistreated, abused, unloved, etc., along with the meanings we made of these painful experiences. Tolerating and embracing the emptiness of no-thought requires courage because it is the gateway to authentic suffering (distinct from the suffering generated by the thinking mind). It is the gateway to our authentic story.
It is important to note that we don’t think about these historical traumatic events. We experience them by feeling them as deeply as possible. My friend and shaman, Dave, says that the goal of an integrated, conscious life is not to feel better, but to get better at feeling. And as we get better at feeling, we start to feel better – if you know I mean.
This is the other thing that happens when we are in recovery from thinking. We start to sense the world, that is feel the world with our senses. And when we are feeling the world with our senses, our intuitive faculties come on line, because intuition is born of the capacity to feel the world in our gut, in our heart, and even in our minds (properly understood). A true thought about the world (wisdom) is the way our brain feels when it is aligned with reality. A false thought (story) about the world is how our brain feels when we are in a memory. One leads to life and health, and the other to death and illness.
The good news is that as we work through our authentic story, by feeling into the trauma, and re-integrating the experience consciously, we gain freedom from this trauma story as well. So we gain liberation from unconscious thinking, and liberation from unconscious trauma. One place to begin is detoxing from unconscious thoughts and the dramatic stories they want to be when they grow up.