What Does A Thought Do?
Thinking about thinking.
We spend our entire life thinking. What to do? What not to do? What to say? What not to say? Figuring ourselves and our life with thoughts. But have we ever thought about thought?
What is a thought? Where does it come from? What does it do? What is it made of? What happens when there is no thought?
Unfortunately our school curriculum did not have a subject called “Thought”. Even though we use our thoughts to learn everything, from ABC to calculus, we do not learn anything about thought.
Better late than never, let’s start educating ourselves about thought.
When we think about thinking, what do we notice?
We notice that it’s happening all the time. From the time we wake up to the time we sleep. Thoughts. Thoughts. Thoughts. A never ending mental chatter happening all the time. And since it is happening all the time we realize something else.
We cannot stop thoughts. We cannot say “I am tired of thinking, let me stop thinking for some time.” Then our thoughts stop. After sometime when we need to think, we do not tell our mind “I need to plan my day, now please resume thinking.”
This brings us to an important realization.
Thoughts are not in our control.
We cannot use will power to stop it. We cannot choose not to think. It is not in our volition. In other words we do not think. It happens.
Sure enough we can use thoughts to plan our holiday, make a shopping list or analyze different options to make a purchase. But we cannot stop thinking.
Even though we get a feeling we are thinking, when we realize we cannot stop thinking we also realize it is an unconscious activity. Just like breathing, while we may use our will power to regulate our breathe for some time, most of the time it is happening on its own.
But unlike our breathing we mostly believe we are thinking our thoughts. We therefore conjure a thinker of thoughts. This same thinker becomes the feeler of emotions. This same feeler becomes the doer of actions. This thinker-feeler-doer becomes us. A person in time is created by thoughts.
That brings us to the two magical things that our mind conjures. Thought creates time and space. Every time you mention a time, either in the past or future, you are using a thought. Every time you mention a location, you are using a thought.
Thought is a collation of symbols. Minutes. Hours. Days. Months. Years. Are symbols of time. Mumbai. New York. London. Are symbols of space. They exist as symbols of thoughts. In actuality we never experience the past, the future or any location.
The only time we experience is Now.
The only space we experience is Here.
Thought traps us in space and time. It makes us believe we are a separate person, having a past and a future. This person comes into existence only through thought. When there is no thought, like in sleep, this person with a past and future disappears into Emptiness.
Since thought is made of words and images, it is abstract. It cannot be experienced by the five senses. It cannot be seen, tasted, heard, touched or smelled. It creates an abstract reality, put together by a network of thoughts. A virtual intangible world created by the mind. With a virtual intangible person inhabiting that world. With his virtual intangible story.
As thought creates an abstract reality, they disconnect us from the tangible world felt by the five senses in the present moment. Thoughts grab our attention and make us believe their story. The story becomes our reality. This story feels real when it is validated by others. The world of thought is a collection of stories. Narratives, opinions, beliefs, ideas and concepts are all a part of the stories.
Symbols and stories divide an indivisible Universe. If there was no thought, existence could not be divided into different entities. The sun, moon, stars, ocean, trees, mountains, birds, humans, table, chair, bottle; everything animate or inanimate would be Existence. One Existence. Yes, each has a separate function, but all would be just Existence.
Just as the heart, liver, hand, leg and kidney have different functions. But working together they are all a part of this person called me. Similarly the Universe is a single energy, expressed and experienced in different forms. Thought makes us believe each form has a separate reality of its own and can exist independent of the other.
Thoughts are like clouds, appearing against the backdrop of the sky of awareness. Thoughts come and go in a space that can watch the thoughts come and go. This space witnesses what happens. It watches the thoughts, sensations and feelings. It watches everything outside and inside us. This capacity to watch is called Awareness.
Thought obscures Awareness. It hijacks attention and creates a person with a story. Within this story we lose touch with the reality of the present moment. We are unable to see a tree, smell a flower, taste a fruit, touch a leaf or hear a bird, because our attention is subsumed by thought and its story. We may be standing in front of the majestic Himalayan mountains and see none of it. All we will experience is our thoughts.
When we reflect on thought, we create distance between us and thought. In this distance space is created. This space enables us to see the activity of thought clearly. In this clarity the following realizations are borne.
I am not the thinker of thought. The thinker exists only in thought.
My existence is independent of thought. This Existence is not mine.
It simply is.