How much of what I think is truly mine?
How much of what I think is purposefully generated, instead of random, unconscious dictation?
I’m sitting in my wheelchair with my headphones on in the middle of a meditation. This particular meditation I’m focussing on the silence underneath the noise. That is, I’m observing the base onto which all phenomena are displayed; the screen which allows the thoughts/images/films to arise. In essence, I’m witnessing Consciousness.
It’s a peaceful place; neither good nor bad but a neutral, timeless focus.
Yet, to get there, I have to become acutely aware of the endless thought-cascade that is continually flashing through the mind. The most disturbing discovery is that if we can separate our awareness from our thoughts and observe them from a distance, then one has to conclude two things:
- I haven’t consciously created them, and,
- I am not those thoughts.
We may have heard this before from a meditation teacher, monk or guru, yet, I don’t believe its connotations have impacted us with the gravity it’s worth.
It hasn’t occurred to most people the implications of that witnessing experience. If you can witness your thoughts even for a moment (not just be aware of them, but watch them like a third party), then that’s an immediate discovery and confirmation that you have nothing to do with those thoughts.
Not consciously anyway.
Because if I’m observing thoughts, then how can I be consciously creating them?
This shouldn’t be surprising.
I know that we’re on auto-pilot most of the time; doing things automatically without any conscious input. I also know that most of what we think is automatic and reflexive. One second we think that we’re hungry, the next we remember a memory snippet from two years ago, and the next we’re making another automatic judgement about something.
Meditation’s purpose is to see this phenomenon first-hand. Therefore, its ultimate goal is to free our attachment and affiliation to our mental rollercoaster.
How often have you started to think about something entirely random and find yourself spiralling into an abyss of emotional torture?
Look back, and you’ll find that you had nothing to do with it except allowing it to cascade by giving those thoughts your personal identity. But once something distracted you, or time passed, or you were skilled enough to become conscious of what was happening, then the cascade stopped. What seemed an overwhelming onslaught, all of a sudden disappeared.
I have found incredible benefit and peace of mind by paying more attention to these random thoughts, and consequently repeatedly saying to myself “These aren’t mine.”
An incredible thing happens if I consciously say this when I catch myself in a gratuitous spiral: they stop!
They stop because at that moment I am consciously present, in control and aware of my mental state.
The other thing I often do is wear headphones with pink, blue (higher frequency), or brown (lower frequency) noise playing. There are many 8 – 12hr tracks on YouTube. Pink noise sounds like static and is commonly used to relax babies and help them to sleep, block extraneous noise and helps drown out tinnitus. However, it’s also a great tool to drown out the thought rollercoaster. The sound seems to inundate the brain with stimuli that somehow overpowers our mental chatter.
As a consequence, when I listen to blue or brown noise, I find myself more focused because I’m not being distracted or carried away by random mental garbage—and it is garbage. It’s a cacophony of irrelevant and irreverent imaginings constructed from the mix of sensory input, current hormonal predominance and subconscious emotions. None of which have anything to do with what we’re doing currently.
It’s confronting, yet, freeing to realise most of our angst and worry is entirely caused by random thoughts we assume we created. We presume the internal monologue is true, authentic and something that we’re consciously constructing.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Buddhists call it the “Monkey-mind” for a good reason. Like the monkeys in the forests of South-East Asia, our minds are impersonal, loud, unrestrained, untrustworthy and lacking focus.
How do you protect yourself (and your stuff) against ADD Ninja monkeys? You see them for what they are and stay vigilant.
Likewise, see your thought-stream for what it is: impersonal, loud, unrestrained, untrustworthy mirages. Stay vigilant by viewing them from the third-person perspective and repeatedly reminding yourself “I didn’t consciously think that. That’s not mine!”
Notice that our reactions, judgements and impressions are automatic. We haven’t formed them from a conscious, place of neutrality. They arise on their own and feign our personal identity for the ride.
However, our automated thoughts are impersonal. Their automation is more a reflection of impulses than what we want to think.
Our thought-stream is akin to white water rapids with us caught in its torrent. Instead, try to make yourself stand on the bank on solid ground and watch the raging torrent go by.
Grab yourself some headphones, play pink/violet/brown/blue/grey/green noise as you go about your day (choose one that resonates with you), or whenever you’re doing something that requires concentration. Notice the difference in not being distracted continuously or caught up in your mental chatter.
They’ll still be there but not as loud and overwhelming.
Over time, you might feel lighter, more centred, less anxious and on point when you stop taking your automated thought-stream personally.
Give it a try and let me know your experience in the comments section.
Also published on Medium.