Posts Tagged ‘Preconceptions’

Do We Really Think?

May 15th, 2010 2 comments

In the quest to know ourselves, it is likely that, at some stage or other, we will attempt to observe our own thoughts. Indeed, doing so is central to most techniques which purport to lead to self-realisation.

After all, much of our lives appear to be dominated by our minds, and although we have physical senses, our experience of them is typically interpreted continually by the mind. So clearly, any insight that we can obtain into thoughts and thinking will be key to self-understanding.

Having undertaken quite a lot of meditation myself over the years, I have gradually come to get a sense of what goes on in my own mind, and I am expressing here conclusions based on my own experience.

The first observation I have is that thoughts appear to come to me more or less instantaneously. I am unable to identify anything that I could reasonably call “thinking” which takes any length of time. Rather the thoughts just arrive or occur (as in the expression “it occurred to me that”).

It is true that there is a time-based element in what happens subsequently. For example if I want to express the thought verbally, this process takes some time. However, I am not necessarily actually thinking while I speak. Rather I am just holding the memory of that thought and transcribing it. During that process I might realise (ie. have another instantaneous thought occurence) that a word that I was about to use could be improved with the substitution of another. So I can have another thought occurrence while the memory of the original thought was still there. But it appears to me that this is still not really a process of thinking per-se, but rather the subsequent occurrence of further related thoughts. So while the talking may appear to be continuous, there is no continuity in the process that fuels it ie. no “thinking” process.

An apparent contradiction here is how I can appear to be able to string coherent, related sentences together. Would that not imply some kind of thinking process going on?

I suspect that can be explained by the fact that when I focus on a particular topic, for example, the thoughts that occur to me do usually relate to that topic, and to one another – and the reason for that is because I am filtering thoughts ie. choosing to ignore or disregard any thoughts which are not relevant, which gives the impression that only relevant thoughts are occurring to me at all. It is a matter of where I am putting attention.

In those cases where extraneous thoughts do also appear, they are usually ones triggered by some form of sensorial input eg. I may hear a sound, or see something that apparently triggers a “distracting” thought. However, might it not be the case that all that happened here was that the change of attention from the topic of discussion to the distracting sound/sight simply caused my focus to change, and hence be receptive to thoughts relating to the distraction rather than the original topic?

So the picture that I am painting here is one in which

  • thoughts occur to us – and that therefore we do not “think” per-se
  • the subject of thoughts that occur to us depends on our current focus of attention
  • the focus of our attention may or may not be changed by distracting phenomena that we perceive

The conclusion that we don’t actually “think” may seem contentious, as it seems to imply either a lack of individual control over our thoughts, or that there is no personal creativity involved. However, I cannot deny that some of the thoughts that occur to me are creative ones. They can at times be funny, inspiring or even beautiful, for example. But if they appear instantaneously in my mind rather than being constructed by me in some kind of process, then what actually created them, and can I really take personal credit for them?

This kind of self-questioning is central to the teachings of Advaita (non-duality). The results of such enquiry may seem to go against common sense, but unless you are actually prepared to question what is commonly accepted as true without question, then can you be sure that it is?!


February 20th, 2010 1 comment

These clouds, this sky... no longer exist

One of the greatest illusions under which we labour is that there exists such a thing as permanence.

Permanence exists only in our minds, which like to make order out of chaos, to make sense out of non-sense, to attribute qualities and traits to our existence which are not truly there at all.

We cling to memories of things, events which have passed, expired, evaporated.

Perhaps without our memory of these things, we feel we have no foundation, no security, no basis for our lives.

And yet without them we also have utter freedom from pre-conception, conditioning, habit and expectation. And life becomes eternally novel, fascinating and pristine.

Are you willing to let go? To forget? To experience each moment anew?

To accept fully the fleetingness, the changeability, the ephemerality of existence… is to become truly liberated.

Categories: Life, Spirituality Tags:

Principles to Live By – Freeing Yourself from Preconceptions

August 30th, 2009 No comments

"Relativity" by M.C.Esher

"Relativity" by M.C.Esher

The biggest limitation to your enjoyment of life, your personal fulfilment and your peace of mind is nothing other than your very own set of preconceptions about life and your situation in it.

The reality of life is that there is nothing that can make us unhappy other than our own thoughts about, and resistance to, what we experience around us.

If you are unhappy, irritated, sad, angry, jealous, agitated, it is because you are holding on to a mental conception of how you think things ought to be, and dwelling in that unrealistic state rather than connecting with the truth, simplicity and immediacy of what is, right now.

Here is a challenge for you. Next time you notice yourself making a negative mental comment about yourself or your circumstances, stop and ask yourself whether or not that mental comment or perception is necessarily actually true. Look deeply, try to find the root of it – what may have generated that perception in you in the past, why it might have become a pattern of thought for you, whether you have challenged that attitude in yourself before.

Some examples?

  • I’m no good at this.
  • Life has been very hard on me.
  • If only I could afford a nice place to live, I would be happy.

And some possible corresponding truths?

  • I’ve always believed I was not good at this and have therefore never really tried, or given up without giving it a proper chance. In any case, what does “no good” mean – do I mean absolutely no good, or just relative to some other people, or am I just talking about other people’s opinions that I have adopted? Even by those standards, there may be others have have done it better, but no doubt also many others who have done it worse. Relative to at least one other person, I’m probably better. Maybe they could even learn something from me. Etc…
  • No person ever has a totally hard or easy life. Many people whom I imagine have had an easy life in reality may have experienced many hardships that I just don’t know about. How can I say for sure that my life is harder than anyone else’s? Even if I know a lot about their life, and think that their circumstances make it easy, is it not possible that they have their own private inner torment, and that they in fact experience life as even harder than I have done? Etc…
  • If I look back, I can remember thinking that I would be happy if only lots of different things had happened, and by now in fact some of them have happened. And yet I am probably no more or less happy than I was then. Actually I am sometimes happy now anyway, at least if I’m not thinking about wanting a nicer place to live. And who’s to say that even if I bought an expensive house, I would soon get used to it and then start noticing lots of little things that weren’t as good as I had imagined. Etc…

So even if you still think or feel that something is probably true, just the recognition that there is at least a small possibility that it may not be true is enough to begin the process of freeing yourself, and allowing yourself to experience the current moment a little more fully, with greater presence, greater joy.

And from that point on, it is simply a matter of rinsing and repeating, rinsing and repeating. Each time you notice and challenge your own preconceptions, their grip upon you becomes diminished. Even though some patterns of thought may be deeply embedded and ingrained, a continuing process of self-observation will eventually wash them away, and leave you freer, lighter, and more alive.