Archive | April, 2017

Do We Choose Our Thoughts?

When my attention is drawn to the thinking mind, I often am amazed anew that we spend our lives with an endless stream of thoughts swirling around us that we normally imagine originate somewhere inside our heads, and are almost always totally ignoring the fact that we have no idea what this stream of thought really is. We can say they are fleeting images of letters, words, or other physical objects. We can say they are alive, because they are manifested by our living presence. But these last two sentences are just more thoughts, and thoughts don’t tell us what anything actually is, including our selves. What is clear is that because of our ignorance, because of our ignoring that we don’t know what thought is, we continually attempt to grasp onto this thought stream and imagine that we can control our experience by continually attempting to control our thoughts.

So an interesting question for spiritual inquiry is to ask who or what chooses our thoughts? Our normal waking consciousness consists of seeing objects, hearing sounds, feeling sensations, and thinking thoughts. What is our actual experience of the thinker? Is the thinker the chooser? Can we find an actual entity, either inside or outside of our head that thinks our thoughts? If we’re willing to ask this question from a deep enough place to stay with our actual experience of a series of thoughts arising and disappearing, we realize the imagined entity we label the thinker is nothing more than another thought in a series of thoughts.

Try staying still for a few moments and notice the successive thoughts arising and dissolving. If you’ve been practicing contemplation for awhile, it’s probably easy to notice a gap between thoughts. Where is the actual chooser of the next thought in that gap between thoughts? The thought of being the chooser is simply another thought in the series of thoughts produced after you read the sentence, ‘where is the chooser in the gap between thoughts?’

If you have the experience like I just had, of having the thought ‘I’ve found the chooser’, the chooser thought just appears in retrospect as the next thought in the series. We are continually fooling ourselves when the chooser thought takes responsibility for being the initiator and enjoyer of our thoughts. Our actual experience of a succession of thoughts is that the chooser isn’t there in the gap between thoughts. The chooser is just a thought saying I was there choosing between thoughts, but the chooser thought only appears later as a subsequent thought. The thought of being the chooser isn’t choosing anything, it’s just the expression of the thought of being the chooser. It’s the clown that takes the bow, claiming responsibility for thinking and choosing the thoughts after the fact. The sense of being a separate self, being a separate entity, being a separate thinking person, is that chooser thought.

This type of discussion can be difficult to digest, and one big reason can be that it gives us a sense of being totally determined by some impersonal mechanical process. Some of you may have had the recent experience of changing a password or opening a new account online and presented with a task that starts with the phrase ‘I am not a robot’. We don’t like to think that we’re programmed and have no choice in our experience which of course includes the choice of our thoughts. So we’re uncomfortable with just the suggestion that our experiences might be predetermined in a mechanical conditioned process, and particularly uncomfortable with the notion that we don’t possess free will. So we sometimes have a feeling like our innate love of freedom is being curtailed and we feel rebellious.

Our feeling rebellious is an expression of our love for freedom. We love the idea of freedom because deep down we sense that our actual being is totally free. The idea of there being a controller or a container of self limiting us is just another thought. Our real being isn’t the result of any fixed, regulated, definable, or confined system; it is simply infinite ever present awareness freely expressing itself as our life. But the separate self idea doesn’t possess freedom; there is free will, although there is no my free will. The truth of our actual being is the potential to realize infinite possibilities, including the realization of our true identity. Our true identity is the spiritual life force expressing the timeless joy of boundless freedom.


The Screen of Awareness

Yogananda once said: “Just like images on the screen of a motion picture, so is everything made of shadows and light. That’s what we are, light and shadows of the Lord, nothing more than that. There’s one purpose; to realize that the beam is you.” He means the light of awareness itself, that which is now looking out from our eyes, is our true identity. The particulars of our experience, sensations, thoughts, sights, and sounds, are mere reflections on this screen of awareness. They have no substance apart from this light of awareness, this screen of awareness itself.

To try and help clarify this, imagine if our attention was drawn to the screen you’re now reading from, we would experience the uncanny sensation of suddenly becoming aware of something we simultaneously realize is so obvious as to require no mention. And yet at the moment when the screen is indicated, we seem to experience something new.

We have the strangely familiar experience of becoming aware of something which we were in fact already aware of. We become aware of being aware of the screen. The screen is not a new experience that is created by this indication. However, our awareness of the screen seems to be a new experience.

Now, what about our awareness itself, which we all share by the way, that is aware of the screen? Is it not always present behind and within every experience, just as the screen is present and within the words on this screen? And when our attention is drawn to it, do we not have the same strange feeling of having been made aware of something that we were in fact always aware of, but had not noticed? We become aware of awareness itself.

Is this awareness not the most intimate and obvious fact of our experience, essential to and yet independent of the particular qualities of each experience itself, in the same way that the screen is the most obvious fact of the words on it, essential to and independent of each word? Is this awareness itself not the support and the substance of every experience, in the same way that the screen is the support and substance of every word?

Does anything new need to be added to the screen in order for it to be seen? Does anything new need to be added to our current experience in order for us to become aware of the awareness that is its support and substance?

When we return to the words, having noticed the screen, do we lose sight of the screen? Do we not now see the two, the apparent two, simultaneously as one? And did we not always already experience them as one, without realizing it?

Likewise, having noticed the awareness behind and within each experience, do we lose sight of our awareness itself when we return the focus of our attention to the objective aspect of experience? Do we not now see the two, the apparent two, Awareness and its object, simultaneously as one? And has it not always been so?

Do the words themselves affect the screen? Does it matter to the screen what is said in the words? Does the content of each experience affect the awareness in which, and as which it is expressed? Every word on the screen is in fact only made of the substance of the screen itself. They only express the nature of the screen, although they may attempt to describe the stars.

Every experience only expresses Awareness or Consciousness, although experience itself is infinitely varied. Awareness or Consciousness is the open mystery expressing every experience.

It is so obvious that it isn’t noticed. It is so close that it cannot be known as an object, and yet is always known just by being itself, by being aware. It is so intimate that every experience, however tiny or vast, is utterly saturated and permeated with its presence.

It is so loving that all things possible to imagine are contained unconditionally within it.

It is so open that it receives all things into itself.

It is so spacious and unlimited that everything is contained within it.

It is so present that every single experience is vibrating with its substance.

There has never been anything other than THIS.