Do thoughts even matter?
Over the many years I have worked with people seeking peace of mind, three questions consistently arise. (1) Once you SEE that thoughts are transitory, that all thoughts just pass through our minds unless we hang onto them, do thoughts even matter? (2) Given that thoughts passing through our minds sometimes seem random, does it really mean anything to think, or that we think? Can’t we just live in peace allowing whatever thoughts arise to just come and go? (3) Are we really the thinkers, or just the vessels through which images flow, experiencing the illusion that we’re thinking them?
Here are three simple answers.
(1) Once we SEE that thoughts are transitory, no particular thought exerts power over us. The power of thought is our power to exercise free will over all thoughts, choosing what to make of them. We know that all thoughts pass through our minds and we are at choice which ones to welcome and which to allow to move on. We can bring thoughts to mind because we want to think about them, or we can just allow thoughts to stream through our minds like ripples in a river. We are always in control of our thinking, even though sometimes we lose sight of that temporarily.
With this understanding, we cannot find ourselves, unknowingly, in the prison of our own worst thoughts. If my mind fills, for example, with negative thoughts about someone or something in my life, I certainly can entertain those thoughts, and experience the negative feelings that result, and work myself into a snit about something. But I also can just let them pass, and other thoughts will come to mind. It’s up to me. Knowing the nature of thought, though, even if I hang onto those negative thoughts for a while, I know as soon as I turn away from them, they will disappear, so they can’t “hurt” me. I’m deciding. And that is my freedom; I can think whatever thoughts I want to, for as long as I want to. My feeling state will always let me know whether I’m thinking constructively or destructively. But, either way, it doesn’t matter because, eventually, all thoughts pass. Thoughts only last as long as we keep them in mind.
Without any understanding of the nature of thought, however, we can easily get frightened and caught in our most destructive thinking, and then feel compelled to analyze it or fight it to try to clear it up. The harder we try, the bigger and stronger the thoughts get, since that process requires thinking more and more about the thoughts. We can fight and analyze for hours, days, weeks, months, even years, and never come to peace because, without realizing it, in total innocence, we are continually feeding the thoughts from which we want most to free ourselves. It appears to us that the thoughts have the power, but actually, we are unwittingly misusing our own power to think.
In answer to question (2), of course, we could simply lie around and let random thoughts pass through our minds indefinitely. We could call that a vacation state of mind; all of us do that sometimes. But it’s in our nature to interact with others and with our world, and in order to do that, we have to direct our thinking. We have to decide to think about visiting a friend in order to gather the thoughts we need to make arrangements and set things up with our friend. We have to decide we are interested in science, and then turn our thinking towards scientific inquiry, in order to follow a dream to be a scientist. We have to summon certain thoughts and use our thinking to do just about anything except lie around and daydream. It appears to be the nature of humanity to be curious and interested, to think and learn and dream and aspire. And it is also within the capacity of humanity, because we have the free will to do whatever we want to with our thinking, to use our thinking against ourselves, and ruminate, stew and fret. Since we come into life with the consciousness of what we are doing, it is also within the nature of humanity to see how thought works and to intend to use it wisely, and recognize when we’re not.
The simplicity of this is that our experience changes with any change in thought. It’s not hard to feel better, and get back on track with useful, constructive thinking. As soon as we recognize, from our feeling state, that our thoughts are, in Sydney Banks’ words, “taking us down a rocky path,” we know all we have to do is stop focusing on them and allow them to pass, and we will be on a different course.
Once we come into this world, we are active participants in the world of form, the creative process that transforms pure energy, spiritual energy, into our universe. We may never understand why, but it is for us to know that we are here, that we are fully engaged, that it is thrilling to create and engage in life, and that it is a stop on the journey of the soul. Imagine! We are part of an enormous energetic process in which stars are being born and dying, and microscopic organisms are floating unseen and fading away. It is the miracle of ongoing universal creation, the movement of formlessness into form, and form into formlessness. And whatever we make up during our part of it appears to be real to us, and is a part of the whole cosmic dynamic.
And, lastly, (3): As much as we are, deep down, spiritual beings traversing the earthly realm in a body, of course we are vessels through which thought flows. If we never intentionally form a thought, the energy of life will still take form in our brain as long as we are alive in our bodies. But as we grow into life in this realm and become curious to understand what we are sensing, we start to manage our own thinking and discover we can make choices. That is an exercise of our free will, what we do with the gifts of thought and consciousness that allow not only to know, but to manage, our lives. What we think is illusionary, in that our thinking produces our own particular thoughts, unique to us, that pass as our thinking changes. Thoughts arise and we feel the associated sensory experience of them, but no two people have the same thoughts. So we are all living in an illusion, brought to us by our own imagination. And yet we are doing that within a shared “reality” which none of us will never know objectively, only through our own thinking. And that reality, too, is changing constantly as all the forces of the universe play out. Nothing is static.
So here’s the bottom line. Our own thoughts matter to us because they do create our own experience of this life. And within our lifetime, our common experience is shaped by thoughts. If an entire community take on insecure thinking, it will make different decisions (should we expand the jail or build a playground?) than it would in secure thinking. If a family is habitually locked in negative angry thought, the family members will have a much different experience of living in the same neighborhood as the folks next door, who are filled with thoughts of gratitude, love and compassion. So, yes, thoughts do matter; the choices we make about how to hold and use our own thinking do matter; the general thinking we take to heart or set aside matters. Thought is the creative tool we use to navigate through our lives, and we alone can change our lives if we don’t like the direction we’re going, simply by understanding and changing the way we hold and use our thoughts.
But it’s also true that thoughts do not matter because they are evanescent, like images in a kaleidoscope. They dissolve and disappear as new thoughts form; we can only be “stuck” in a way of thinking if we keep choosing to think the same things, over and over. If we allow our minds to come to rest; if we hold our thoughts lightly and let thoughts drift away as new thoughts occur to us; if we intentionally follow the thoughts that lift our spirits and inspire us and intentionally turn away from the thoughts that lower our spirits and depress us, we feel at ease in life, and find beautiful feelings.