In a previous blog post, I discussed how our mind operates in such a way as to create severe limitations for us on all important areas of our lives. I also tried to discuss the reasons behind this inherently problematic function of our mind.
In the same post, I then continued with presenting 10 practical (and readily available for you to use) tips to address our mind’s fundamental shortcomings.
Now, upon popular demand (thank you very much for your sincere interest!), I will proceed in the coming days and weeks with publishing 10 different blog posts. Each one of these 10 posts shall elaborate further on every one of my respective 10 tips.
And the very first one is, of course, tip Number 1: “Accept That Your Thoughts Aren’t Who You Are“.
Your Thoughts And You
In essence, these 4 words are all you need. If you can really grasp what they mean in their entirety, you’re good to go. You don’t really need to read the rest of the article!
OK, let’s crack on with this!
What these 4 words say is something really simple: your thoughts is one thing, and who you are is another.
Accepting this premise alone (mind you: not just mentally, but viscerally, with every inch of your being) is enough for you to realize a huge leap forward in your life. This is a step that most people never even become aware that it exists, let alone actually take it.
See, most people believe that the voice they hear inside their head, speaking to them almost constantly (except perhaps when they’re sleeping or in rare moments of relaxation, which are often associated with direct observation of, and interaction with, nature and animal life) is who they are. Period.
But this is just not how things are.
Science says: There Is No Such Thing As Conscious Thought
I must admit that I was very tempted, at this very point…
I wanted, quite badly, to refer you to many a characteristic excerpt from the “official” scriptures of some of the most important religions and spiritual movements and traditions in the known history of humankind.
However, as many of you have probably already surmised, I also wish to remain attuned with what most acknowledge to be the number one source of status and authority in our times, when it comes to both theoretical and practical knowledge.
I’m speaking of course about science.
So, let’s see: what stance does the objective, cold fact- and trial and error-oriented, science adopt on this issue?
It’s a rather provoking and radical one, according to the views Peter Carruthers, the distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park, expresses in this immensely interesting Scientific American article.
Truth be told, this enticing article demands a certain degree of concentration from its reader. But, fear not: I’m very happy to summarize for you the two key points it makes:
- First, in a rather subtle and indirect way, it confirms my main point: it’s plainly wrong to identify oneself with one’s thoughts. Specifically, the article invites the reader (alas, not in the most straightforward language) to distance themselves from any immediate identification with the content of their thoughts. This identification is, according to it, a big trick our mind plays to us;
- Secondly, it basically describes thoughts as a kind of “abstract formations“, which appear on and disappear from our screen of consciousness without anyone understanding neither where they originate from nor where they end up. In this sense, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration, if you considered your thoughts to be entities that possess you, contrary to your wish and, of course, best interest.
How To Prevent Your Thoughts From Hijacking You
I’m afraid I will tire you, but I feel I must repeat myself: the very first, most crucial step is that you distance yourself from your thoughts, so that you don’t identify with them, under any circumstances.
And you should distance yourself in a twofold way:
- In terms of content: you are not what you think. At best, you should perceive what you think as the expression of a momentary state you find yourself in. Something that is very temporary and fleeting;
- But also (very importantly) in terms of structure: you don’t control the mechanism that produces your thoughts. If you find yourself doubting the truth of this statement, please revisit the previous section and (re-)read the Scientific American article on the illusory and mysterious nature of conscious thinking.
Now, I must be very clear here: you really need to practice a lot before you become a master of distancing yourself from your thoughts. However, you will have already achieved something important, if you can intellectually accept the validity of the radical differentiation between who you are, on one hand, and what your thinking mind is AND produces, on the other.
Distancing yourself from your mind and its thoughts is a huge achievement. But, once you’re there, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.
On the contrary, you are to remain extra vigilant, in the following sense:
You are to observe your thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them go; but you should NEVER fight them!
See, if you opt to fight your thoughts, you’re back to square 1.
Because if you do enter in a combat mode against them, it naturally follows that you’re engaging with them as if they were vitally important to your being. But (remember?), they aren’t! They’re just obscure, phantom-like entities, produced by mechanisms unknown to science.
In other words, these vague entities become upgraded to a more solid status insofar as you actively entangle with them.
So, the way to keep your thoughts at bay is not to fight them back. Instead, you are to observe them, acknowledge their existence as if they weren’t part of who you are (because, again, they aren’t), record them, if you must, and then let them go.
A good analogy here is your behavior regarding the ever-shifting weather conditions: you observe them, you adjust to them, but it’s pointless to get angry at, or frustrated because of, them. They are what they are.
And you are who you are.
At this point, I need to make an important clarification: it’s the involuntary kind of thoughts that I have been referring to throughout this post. The thoughts that you voluntarily generate in order to practically address a situation or issue at hand are a different story altogether. You obviously need this type of thoughts if you want to function properly as a human being.
In other words, I’m not advocating that you completely cease to think. But to significantly reduce your volume of thinking activity via the “observe, but don’t engage” technique?
Oh yes, this I strongly encourage you to do!
But If You Aren’t Your Thoughts, If You Aren’t Your Mind, Then Who Are You, Really?
Ah, yes, the question of questions.
Here, I would need to write a whole book to be able to provide you with a proper answer…
Oh wait, I’ve already done so!
The (quite appropriate) title of this book is “WHO ARE YOU?” and, if you’re interested, you may find more information about it by following this link.
Disidentification from your thoughts is your first and foremost ally in your quest to liberate yourself from your mind-made prison.
And this mental decluttering presents you with another significant benefit.
Since you will quickly notice that most of your thoughts revolve around what you perceive as your “past” and what you anticipate to be your “future”, the next step of this process is that you will gradually distance yourself from these (contextually very heavy) notions as well.
In other words, you enlarge your Presence in the Present Moment, given that the importance of your “past” and “future” self quickly recedes, fades and eventually loses its former sense of immense gravity in your life.
Who you thought you were, and who you think you’ll be, doesn’t matter any longer.
Only who you are, right now, always NOW, is what truly matters.