One of the most potent practices to quickly advance your Awakened perception is to watch every thought that comes by in your mind and say, “That’s just a thought, I don’t believe it”
As we’ve discussed earlier, thoughts can seem the most tricky impediment to waking up, because we have so many of them and they seem so real. Most people have thousands of thoughts coursing through their mind every hour: main thoughts (the “important” ones we believe we must focus on,) sub-thoughts (less important thoughts that still command our attention,) and sub-sub-thoughts (unfinished sentences or little scraps of thought that have no immediate importance to us, like a quick judgment about a character in the TV show you watched last night, or the flavor of a croissant you had in France 4 years ago.) They flood our minds in quick succession, so quickly there’s barely a nanosecond to stick the wedge of conscious Observing in between them.
They seem so real because of the habit of always thinking and letting our minds become our masters over millions of years of conditioning. The amazing thing – perhaps the single most amazing thing in all the world – is that our thoughts are not real. The very definition of insanity is believing, obeying, or identifying with something that’s not real…yet that’s exactly what virtually everyone in the world is doing, all the time! We hear those thoughts, that voice in our head, and we think, “I need to think that thought,” “I need to obey & react to these thoughts,” and finally “I am these thoughts…that’s me in there, thinking things through and advising myself what to do.” Truly, this is the source of all the insanity in the world. Even lifelong meditators often say, “I’m looking forward to quieting much of that noise & chatter but, hey, some of those thoughts are REAL, and I need those ones.” In this dream-world it’s quite amazing how lifetimes of habitual conditioning have left us thinking our thoughts are something real.
Note: When we say “thoughts” here, we include emotions, which are just the bodily felt feedback of our thoughts, and all body sensations. All desires, plans, fears, judgments and moods are also just thoughts.
The truth is, NONE of them are real. None, zilch, zero. One of the beauties going deeper in your Awakening is seeing thoughts for what they really are. Just empty movement. That’s all. Just fleeting sensations and inert movement across the Void. They’re not even “our” thoughts.
Being awake means constantly, consciously being aware of, and dwelling in, Ultimate Reality, not un-reality. We certainly honor the humanity and passions of this relative dream-world, and simultaneously, recognize that anything that’s not permanent is not ‘real’, not The One eternal Awareness. Obviously thoughts aren’t permanent. Not only do they shift and change constantly like desert sands in a windstorm, but when we die, all our thoughts are gone. Finito! No more brain & body, no more thinking (there is still Being and “knowing,” just not mental thoughts.) So thoughts are unreal. Many people, even those on the ‘spiritual path,’ bristle when hearing this, and (through thinking & talking) try to prove their thoughts are real.
Now, with a little contemplation & insight, anyone will realize one of the most astonishing discoveries: The only thing that “proves” a thought is real, is another thought! Wow! That’s startling! Try proving your thoughts are real – any of them – without using another thought to prove it! You can’t. That’s because they’re just identity-less sensations, rising and falling; ephemeral, flighty things that have no lasting substance. It’s pretty easy for everyone to agree this is so, and know it conceptually (although most people won’t dare look at this truth; it would make them feel so angry or foolish or disoriented to admit that all the thoughts, judgments and plans of their precious mind, throughout their entire life, were just free-floating, owner-less sensations.)
As you Awaken, however, you drop knowing that conceptually in the wake of seeing, experientially, that all thoughts, emotions and body sensations are just empty movements of energy with no “suchness” of their own. As an analogy, it’s like looking out in your yard and seeing a cluster of very “real” bugs circling & hovering in front of you, and then remembering that you just rubbed your eyes for a while, and that in fact, your “bugs” are nothing but those little points of light you see after a hard eye-rub – phosphenes. You may get a little jolt of disorientation when you realize that something you swore was very real was actually just phantom lights. Not surprising they also call them ‘getting stars in your eyes.’
You may get a big jolt of stark terror when you realize all your thoughts are actually hollow nothingness! “Oh My GOD! You mean all these thoughts that I’ve been thinking all the time, judging, reacting to and making my decisions from, all my LIFE, are empty nonsense??” Yep. All of ’em. “Well, damn! What do I do now? If I can’t even believe in my thoughts, where do I get the information I need to tell me how to live this life? Who am I, without these thoughts and my belief that they are real?”
Precisely! Who, indeed are You! Congratulations, you’ve just come to the precipice of self-inquiry and the possibility of Knowing who You really are, beyond thought. Will you jump off? Remember, the thinking mind accounts for only the tiniest fraction of your total Consciousness. Wouldn’t you love to experience the Rest of who You are?
The way to jump off is to be willing to question your belief in every thought. Every one! As best as possible, stand aside from every thought, as a detached, non-judgmental Watcher, and say, “That’s not me. That’s just another thought passing by. I don’t believe that thought, or that one, or the next one.” Eckhart Tolle put this practice in a beautiful, succinct way. He instructed us to say, “There’s that voice…and here am I watching it.”
You won’t stop having thoughts…hundreds or thousands of them every hour. Maybe a little quieter during your deeper meditations or for a while after. That’s just fine, because you’re not endeavoring to cease having thoughts, only to cease believing in them. Stopping for a moment after you’ve had any thought, particularly an “important, must-obey” thought, and saying “That’s just a thought, devoid of substance, and I don’t need to believe it,” takes the wind right out of it and instantly makes you the calm witness of even your most commanding, dreaded thought-forms. Doing this ongoingly, with all your thoughts, makes you enlightened.
Practice walking away from your monkey-mind. Allow thoughts to rise & fall, but don’t impart significance to any of them, and don’t believe any of them.
If you practice this perceptual shift constantly & devoutly, you will indeed experience a radical re-orientation or perspective. It can feel immediately blissful, or frightening as hell, or both, depending on how invested you were in believing your thoughts were your identity, your very ground of Being. The minute you realize your thoughts are just empty “stuff,” you may suddenly feel like you have no ground to stand on, which is what happened to this writer as I awakened to Reality. One evening, I turned a laser-focused attention on my thoughts, and said, “I don’t believe that thought. Just empty movement. I don’t believe that one either. More empty stuff.” One by one, I discounted every thought that passed through my mind, and pretty soon, my whole thought-world collapsed and the bottom dropped out of my perception. I felt like I was floating, mostly in deep bliss, but also with a jolt of fear, like “Whoa, I’m really getting out there! Hope I don’t go psychotic and lose touch with “reality.”
Then a Voice inside of me (inside, outside, all around, who knows where,) said, “That fear is just another thought. Don’t believe that one either!” I spread my arms, let go of all thought and all belief in thoughts, and felt myself drop into an abyss of Silence. The abyss could have been disorienting, if I had any thoughts to register fear or comment on being adrift in space, but I didn’t have any. This thoughtless, timeless, spaceless place felt like home. It felt like me, surrounding me. Then something ‘clicked,’ and even I disappeared; there was simply This, with no one experiencing it.
Ever since then, I’ve been clear that not only are our thoughts vacant of any substance, but they are unnecessary. Our Being’s omniscient knowing takes care of everything that ‘happens’ or needs to ‘happen’ in this existence – both the Real existence of the One, and the illusory existence of all these lives we seem to lead.
P.S. I know this because all of that happened while I was driving a car on a highway, and even with awakening in full bloom, ‘I’ never lost control of my vehicle, and ended up safely at my destination. Jesus, take the wheel, indeed!
Thoughts are wonderful – remember, they’re part of Spirit’s ‘creation’, too, and as such, should not treated as some cosmic ‘mistake’ to be gotten rid of. Plans, preferences, judgments, desires, passions, even fear, are such amazing experiences the One is having, as the seeming Many. Enjoy your thoughts, be bemused & playful with them, and allow them to help you express your own unique expression of this Divinity. Just don’t believe them!