All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become. -Buddha
There is a veil between you and sublime reality, and this is the veil of thought. Identification with thought is an obstacle. We all live with a voice of thought in our heads. This is the incessant voice that has conversations, plays mental scenarios, comments, labels, and interprets. We have come to believe we are the voice.
Let’s try some fun experiments. This won’t take more then ten minutes of your time in total, and these experiments will show that thinking is compulsive, optional, and obscures our true nature.
Try each for a few seconds, or for as long as you feel like. Come back to these often to try to see if you have a different experience.
1. Close your eyes and think nothing. The objective is to keep your mind completely empty of thought for as long as you can. Cut off any thought when it begins. If this is hard to do, focus on breathing. Keep your mind alert and empty. Be ruthless about cutting off a thought.
2. Think continuously without gaps. When there is gap in thinking, force a thought in there.
3. Identify the voice in your mind. Does it refer to you as ‘you’ or ‘I’? A third person? Does it feel like a separate entity?
4. Wait for your next thought. Wait for it with all your energy and alertness; be ready to pounce right on it, like a hungry panther, as soon it emerges.
There are no right answers.
Note how you felt during each exercise.
That was a complete and utter waste of time.
That was enjoyable. That was calming.
I felt stupid and self-indulgent.
I don’t really understand what I’m supposed to be doing.
This is pointless.
I feel a vague agitation. I feel fear.
Close your eyes and think nothing. The objective is to keep your mind completely empty of thought for as long as you can. Cut off any thought when it begins. If this is hard to do, focus on breathing. Keep your mind alert and empty. Be ruthless about cutting off a thought.
The experience most people have with the first experiment is it’s difficult not to think (unless you have been practicing awareness or meditation for a while). Thinking is compelling and obsessive, but we’re all so used to the torrential river of thoughts that we get pulled right into the rapids, and we have come to accept this as completely normal. Don’t feel bad if your mind ran away after the first second. It’s difficult to block thinking with force. The violence of blocking just aggravates the torrent.
Think continuously without gaps. When there is gap in thinking, force a thought in there.
The second experiment is also difficult, but probably not at first. We are addicted to thinking, and trying to think is easy at first, but soon attention wanders. Gaps may appear. It gets harder and harder to think of a thought to put in there. It’s possible you have been experiencing strong emotions or obsessive or repetitive thought, in which case, it may have been relatively easy to put a thought in there. Generally, we get swept away in the river of thinking, in the subject of the thought, and we forget about the experiment. We can’t seem to halt thinking, but we can’t force it either. Essentially, we don’t control thinking at all.
Identify the voice in your mind. Does it refer to you as ‘you’ or ‘I’? A third person? Does it feel like a separate entity?
The third experiment of identifying the voice of thought may have been difficult to do as an experiment. Try it other times during the day. Try to identify the voice, its tone, its gender, whether it feels like you. Or does it feel like a different entity inside of you? Is there more than one voice? Are there sometimes two voices talking to each other?
Wait for your next thought. Wait for it with all your energy and alertness; be ready to pounce right on it, like a hungry panther, as soon it emerges.
In fourth experiment, where you’re waiting for a thought, you may have found that a thought does not come for a long time. If this was not the case, try it again. This is to show that there is a way to stop the incessant noise of thinking. If you observe it, if you shine the light of consciousness on thinkingness, it loses its motion. Shift attention from the current of thought to the observer of thought, and thoughts lose their momentum.
What these experiments show is we don’t control our thinking. Thought is compulsive and torrential. We are deeply identified with thought, and it’s hard for most people to see that this is a false identification. We are not thought. Thoughts are things that arise in our awareness.