Monday, November 5, 2012

Do You Think You are Your Thoughts?

There's one addiction in the world to which nearly all of humankind has unconsciously surrendered -- thought! Day after day, hour after hour, moment after moment, the mind keeps churning out thoughts, like silicon wafers on an assembly line. Because we don't understand how the mind works, we have simply come to believe that we are our thoughts, causing ourselves untold mental anguish and pain. Self pity, depression, hopelessness, dissatisfaction, anger, resentment, and disconnectedness, among others, masquerade our being by hijacking our authentic self.

The Buddha provided an apt description of the mind process:

The source of thought, "Awareness" is a non-judgmental alertness to the presence of an external stimulus detected through the five portals of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. "Perception" is the interpretation of the stimulus through judgment and labeling as positive or negative. Physical bodily "Sensation" is the outcome of this interpretation, and can be pleasant or unpleasant. Our in-built level of craving or loathing -- love or hate -- for the arising bodily sensation acts as a catalyst that fuels the corresponding "Emotional Reaction."

In other words, when the mind senses an object, it kicks in a default mechanism that begins processing the arising thought by labeling it sweet or tart, pleasant or unpleasant. The labeling evokes a predetermined bodily sensation that manifests itself on the physical plane in the form of sweat, shivers, chills, aches, pain, etc. Keep in mind, all of this processing occurs within a matter of microseconds. The catalysts -- craving and loathing -- aid the conscious but unfocused mind in deciding what degree of grasping to unleash. For example, if we perceive aggression as a strong trait, we hunger for more. If we perceive negotiation as a weak trait, we swiftly deny/discard it. Consequently, we either reject the arising thought with a vengeance or hold on to it for dear life. Either way, the response is a mindless engagement that holds the power to spin us into different emotional states throughout the day.

How do we maintain a positive, sustained emotional state throughout the day? If thought is an ongoing production, how do we slow it down? How do we detach our identity from thought? How do we steer clear of the negative states of being that thoughts and emotions perpetuate? How do we get in touch with our authentic self?

While we can't stem the flow of thoughts, we can cut off its oxygen supply by becoming mindful, by consciously refraining from editing/labeling/questioning/doubting/judging thoughts when they arise. We can further develop balance and equanimity by actually choosing the type of thoughts that we'd like to entertain. Remember the three wise monkeys: see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil? 

The first step is to become mindful or aware of the flow of thoughts. Vipassana meditation is an effective tool in developing mindfulness and moving beyond thought to create an authentic life. Meditation, the doorway between the outerscape and the innerscape, provides an opportunity to witness the formation of thought and the entire mind process. All we have to do is sit comfortably and bring our attention to the breath. When a thought, sensation, or feeling arises during meditation, and we leave it alone, it generally makes a quick exit. The key is to remain as non-judgmental and non-reactive as possible. When we become 'lost in thought,' and this happens more frequently than not in the beginning, we bring our awareness back to our stream of inhalations and exhalations. We will find ourselves doing this over and over again. The patience and persistence with which we regard what arises in meditation has the power to decelerate the thinking process, hone our ability to distinguish our identity from our thoughts, and helps us gain control of our life, one emotion at a time. It also sets the tone for how we will respond to whatever arises in other areas of our life, including health, career, finances, and relationships. 

Once we have understood the mind process, the next step is to exercise prudence in electing thought choices. I recently saw a 3-monkey graphic that I'd like to share here. This graphic is an extension of the original "three wise monkeys" principle associated with being of good mind, speech and action. The gift we could give to ourselves when we make an effort to transcend, ours and others' limitations, deficiencies and shortcomings, is priceless, and a giant leap in life's onward journey.

Through regular meditation, we can lift ourselves up from the ashes of self-pity to the pinnacle of self empowerment, from masquerading to authentic being, from the shackles of hopelessness and resentment to the freedom of optimism, from a descent into depression to an ascent into sustained joy, from the relentless rush of dissatisfaction to the tranquil lake of contentment, from the depths of disconnectedness to the highest peaks of empathy and compassion. 

When we know who we truly are, we acquire the tools to enrich our lives with simplicity, beauty and meaning.

1 comment:

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