What happens when you go beyond thinking? The space beyond discursive thought is essential to the practice of meditation. It’s the doorway to true insight. Without being able to go beyond thinking, the practitioner will stay stuck within confusion, agitation and many other basic obstacles. Therefore I will dedicate this article to the development of clear seeing specifically in relation to thought-activity.
Thinking is at the Root of Suffering
When you look around yourself, you will see a lot of stuff that humans have created. All these things have started with a simple idea. Our ideas are simply based on the wish to be free from suffering, discomfort and problems. The mind constantly seeks for ways to improve life and contemplates ways of how to get out of problems. This is the basic working-mode of our mind.
When we deeply contemplate all the stuff that we have created we can’t avoid to see that our solutions always come with a host of problems and vice versa. The new car for example needs an insurance, regular fueling and a parking space. Constructing it has created a whole lot of headaches, pollution and disposing of it creates even more pollution. It’s never just the one thing that will make us and all others “happy ever after”.
Another important point is that thinking constantly keeps us in a wired state. We can’t “switch off”, suffer from sleepless nights, get into political fights with those we love, judge and misjudge others, drown in stress and can’t rest in general. Thinking keeps us in a state of being constantly busy on the inside – without even one second of rest. Deep sleep to the rescue!
You can’t Stop Thinking
When a beginner first contemplates the downfall of constant, non-stop thinking activity, the usual reaction is: “How can I stop this madness?” Well, it’s not that simple. You actually can’t stop thinking. Thinking doesn’t stop by resisting it. And by following every thought in the hope it will lead to a “happy end” we keep ourselves endlessly wired. Since following and fighting are both not working out, we have to come up with a third way.
Thinking is a bit like trains, hence the saying “a train of thought”. There are beautiful trains that lead to happy-land and there are those ugly trains that lead into unhappy-land. Most people are boarding those trains without even knowing what happens to them. It’s almost as if they were sleepwalking from train to train. And many are also tossed from train to train by circumstances, things that happen around them.
As you see, following the various trains is not an option if you are seeking some real rest. Fighting against the trains is silly as well. You might even successfully burn down one train – but the next one follows right in the same tracks. If you don’t want to exhaust yourself with such madness, then read right on.
How Thinking Ceases by Itself
If we stick to the train-example above, then this step is all about learning how to stay on the platform. Instead of boarding train after train we need to practice staying non-reactive to coming and going moods/thoughts. We need to be interested and invested in thoughts so they can keep functioning. Once you are no longer interested or invested in your thoughts, the thinking-process comes to an end.
Like a salesman that comes to ring your doorbell every day in order to sell you a product, thoughts come into your consciousness all the time and advertise to get your attention. For them to work properly, you need to believe in their reality. You need to feel as if you were the thinker yourself. Thoughts need to appear as significant as possible to get your attention.
Once you are interested, thoughts draw you in closer. And when you are inside, you are seeing the world and/or yourself filtered through its tinted windows. This is called “identification”. You are no longer aware that there’s a thought. Because you are the thinker. If you compare thoughts to a car you will see that it doesn’t drive when you – the driver – are not in it. That’s how thinking ceases by itself!
The Emptiness of Thoughts
If you don’t want to buy into the clever salesman of thought you can either keep your door shut or see right through him. Thoughts are much like smoke. They have no substance are are constantly in motion. If you are observing smoke, you can find no lasting essence. It’s not a “thing”, a solid substantial entity. Like water or wind it is constantly in motion.
You can observe thoughts as simply arising and passing like smoke. Thinking lacks true, inherent existence. Thoughts are like space – empty and hollow. Fighting with thoughts is like fighting with holograms. The only thing we get rid of is energy. If we could see the hologram- or space-like empty nature of thought we could see that there’s nothing to be scared of, nothing to follow, nothing to fight with.
Seeing the suchness of thought clearly requires a good level of mental stability. If we are constantly carried away by thoughts, we can’t see them. The mind has to become still first. That’s why we practice our Meditation method before we engage in observation. If the aware, knowing quality of the mind is not stable, this exercise will only work on the intellectual level.
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