Thoughts on Thoughts
Sometimes it can be fun to image a miniature me - a little Ashley - inside my head deciding to think all of those thoughts that arise all day and sometimes all night too. But really there is no such me deciding to think let alone deciding to torture myself with untrue and unhelpful thoughts. Thoughts arise without someone deciding to think them. Check this out for yourself. Did you decide to think those compelling thoughts? You know the thoughts that I mean: Should I open a llama farm? What will I name the llamas? Why did that painful thing happen? I should have said this instead. That driver is definitely an asshole. Why won't she be my friend anymore? And it goes on and on. The nature of thoughts is that they are habitual and never-ending - at least until we die (as far as I think!). They arise like water from a spring and if it has been raining a lot the spring flows fast. If something very troubling or very exciting has happened there may be very many fast flowing thoughts like that spring water after a deep rain. Thinking is a function in the same way that the beating of your heart is a function. It is your heart beating (and they are your thoughts thinking) but it really isn't that personal. The heart beats not from you willing it, manufacturing it, or controlling it. It is the function of the heart to beat. In the same way thoughts arise not from your will, control or manufacture. Instead we can observe that thoughts are habitual and reflexive and arise dependent on a matrix of conditions that include genetics, upbringing, culture and current environment. They are also very strange and amazing. We need them to live and love as we do. How really - and I don't necessarily mean scientifically - does the grey matter in your skull produce something as endlessly fascinating and at other times peculiarly boring as a thought that you then understand?
Of course we can and do have deliberate thought and sometimes we can even "control" the flow of thought, but so often they come unbidden and so many of them are not exactly true. We become the star of our own show. What shall I do? What happened to me? We all think a self into existence and forget that those thoughts about a self are not an actual self. They are thoughts. Just like a description of my mother is not my actual living breathing mother, your thoughts about yourself are not the living breathing you. You are much more wild and undefinable than any characterization that arises through thought. A narration of what you did today was not your actual day, and your thoughts about your day, the people that you see around you, and your experience are not the same as that day and those people.
Don't believe everything you think, as thinking is by nature reductive and self referential. It can be so helpful to remember that all thoughts arise and pass away naturally. Also, we all have the capacity of discernment when we stop to notice - is that thought useful? Is is true? Is it skillful? You don't have to believe everything that you think! Having anxious thoughts doesn't mean conclusively that you need to be anxious due to an external situation. Sometime anxious thoughts arise out of habit rather than a reflection of the actual circumstance.
The next time you wander down a familiar thought path, take some time and really investigate those thoughts. Do they arise regularly in a particular situation? It may feel like you thought the thought but did you? Or did the thought arise and then you knew the content of the thought? Is the thought helpful or is it an old habit that brings you down? Is it a thought that your learned to think in childhood? Thoughts are powerful and they color the world that we live in.
Thoughts can often crowd out our connection with ourselves, each other and the world around us. They become "loud", and whether painful or pleasant they can be addictive and compelling. Practices like yoga and meditation can help turn the volume down on the thinking to allow for a deeper intimacy and connection with the actual world rather than the conceptual realms of the mind. Pause now and again to sense into the alive fullness that throbs and pulses underneath and through your life.