Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Thinking about Thinking

I think; therefore I am. ~Descartes

There is no such thing as a true thought. ~Adyashanti

These two quotes represent contrasting concepts of thought. The first reveals thought as the source of our very existence. The second knocks thought off its pedestal.

We reflected on these statements during the last in person gathering of the No Way Café. We found the topic difficult to discuss. It’s hard to consider the nature of thinking because we are thinking as we do it! So I apologize in advance for what might be confusing and a bit convoluted. But I wanted to extend the invitation to join in the conversation.

Most of us live in our thoughts. When an event occurs, our minds quickly begin a process of labeling and evaluating. We tell ourselves a story about what happened. The story is heavily influenced by our past experience. Feelings might arise. We interact with or react to the event based on our stories and the feelings they evoke. In this sense, we exist within the story we have created.

If several people are present at the event, each will have a unique story and therefore a unique experience of the event. Some experiences might be similar, if based on similar thought stories. Others might be dramatically different. But none will be identical. Our thoughts give us identity, and they also separate us.

So while we might identify ourselves with our thoughts, does that make them true? We might say, this is my truth (as if truth can be possessed), as distinguished from your truth. Truth becomes, like our thought stories, an individual matter. We all exist in the closed spheres of our individual realities, which we often believe are universally true, but can’t be. If my thoughts are unique to me, then they cannot be universally true.

Sometimes our thoughts are not even individually true. Remember that our thoughts are not the event itself. They are separate from the event and may or may not have any relation to it. Recently someone did something involving one of my kids. I interpreted the act in a certain way, based on my difficult history with this person. Feelings arose. I rehearsed many responses in my mind and had feelings about those, too. But I held off on any actual response. I could see that I was having a hard time discerning an appropriate response because I was so caught up in my thought story. I asked a neutral third party to sort things out. Evidence showed that the person’s act was reasonable and well intentioned.

Wow. My thoughts were not true at all. Not only that, but even after I found out they weren’t true, I was still very attached to them. My feelings based on the untrue thoughts were still swirling. I realized that I secretly wanted the thoughts to be true so that my feelings would be justified. I wanted this even though it caused me distress and what really happened was much better for all concerned. Once the thought story takes hold, we get very invested in it and closed to other possibilities. Why is that?

And what happens before it takes hold? If we go back to the event and look closely, we will see that there is a moment, an almost imperceptible nanosecond, before our thoughts begin. In that moment there is only the event and our awareness of it. Many of us are never aware of this tiny space. The shift from the event to our thought story about the event is too fast. But if you have ever had a shock of some kind, you probably felt that momentary delay between the event and your thinking about it. When we are shocked by something our minds can’t label right away, we might feel disoriented, confused, even sick, like the ground just fell out from under us. Our minds frantically scramble to find a label, to start a story, to get us back on what we sense as solid ground.

To the extent that we identify ourselves with our thoughts, this delay between the event and our thinking about the event is terrifying. In that moment there is no separation into our individual thought stories. There is no “I,” no separate ego living in a thought created reality. It threatens our very existence because within it there is no thought, and therefore, to paraphrase Descartes, I am not. No wonder our minds scramble to jump into the safety net of our thoughts.

But what are we missing? What happens within this nanosecond of pure awareness? While our mind is rushing in to label and evaluate, our spirit enters a vast emptiness filled with wonder. Within this fleeting moment is an eternity of infinite possibility. We are in harmony with the universe. We are one with the event, with everything, because at that moment we are everything, without the separate existence created by our thoughts. We might only glimpse it, but if we watch for it with a little willingness to tolerate the absence of our thought existence, we might find ourselves amazed. We might find truth.

Perhaps both the above statements are accurate. “I” am because I think. Yet no thought is universally true. That doesn’t make thought bad. It just makes it thinking. And it opens up the possibility that there is something true besides thought. Hmm, now that is something to think about!

While reflecting on this topic, I ran across the following passage which seems to capture this conundrum.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking…and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. ~Romans 1:22-23

12 thoughts on “Thinking about Thinking”

  1. What an amazing revelation here, Galen. I never thought (lol) to glimpse that nanosecond between the moment and the place where our thoughts take hold. Therein is, indeed, the mystical place where awareness trumps ego. May we never become futile in our thinking, but dwell in the glory of the immortal God.

  2. Hey, Martha. Isn't that a great Bible verse? I love that phrase "futile in their thinking." So much of my thinking seems futile! In A Course in Miracles, that nanosecond is called the holy instant. The holy instant contains all eternity and is where we meet God. I love that. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Hi, Polly. Since you are familiar with A Course in Miracles, you can probably relate to the concept of the holy instant and the idea of not getting caught up in our ego stories. When we look at our own lives, most of us can find examples of how these abstract concepts might apply in very practical ways. Sometimes we are surprised when we realize that these ideas really work. Like a miracle! Ha! Thanks for commenting.

  4. Willie Nelson penned a song entitled "Two Stories Wide" that speaks to the uniqueness of individuals' experience. And then there's Eckart Tolle, who says we are the space between our thoughts.

  5. Mona, I looked up the lyrics of that song–perfect! And I love the reference to Tolle's idea that we are the space between our thoughts. That is a powerful image and one that is easy to visualize. As we look for that space between our thoughts, and find it, it becomes wider with our awareness of it. Lovely. Thanks for commenting.

  6. This post is an interesting coincidence (or not), because just last week I was having a lot of trouble with ruminating over things, which I knew was making me feel bad.

    Then all of a sudden I thought, what if I didn't attach judgments to all of these things that happen to me? And I just decided to stop thinking so much.

    After that, whenever I caught myself brooding about something, I would do a little trick with my eyes and brain, which helped to open up that little space between thoughts that you're referring to, and sort of elongate it. I would say to myself, "No Thinking," and this produced a peaceful feeling like someone was pouring cool water over my overheated brain.

    Now that I'm doing this regularly (among other things), I find that I'm feeling a lot better in general. I wish I could teach other people how to do it, it's so helpful. 🙂

  7. You just DID teach other people how to do it! Perhaps not the exact "trick" that you use but I bet we can all come up with something similar. Sometimes a simple technique is all we need to take an idea from the theoretical to the practical. I'm on it! Thanks for your comment.

  8. Hmm, well, if I think about it, what I'm doing is to relax the muscles around my eyes, and raise my eyebrows just slightly, as if I'm surprised.

    Then I take a deep breath and focus my eyes on nothing in particular, but keep them really still on a central point for a few seconds, while saying "No Thinking" to myself. This seems to sort of "reboot" my brain for some reason, like pressing the home and start buttons on an iPhone.

    I kind of imagine the thoughts draining out of my brain and down through my feet, and then they're just gone. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the additional instruction. Your description of thoughts draining down through your feet is very similar to wuji posture in tai chi–you stand in a relaxed way and let all the tension drain from your fingertips and through your feet down into the earth. Now I'm going to add thoughts to the release. Merci.

  10. I think the scripture matched well some of the thoughts you expressed. I was rather fascinated by your whole post. I can go along with the theory of your thoughts being a story line. I have found myself following this trend in my thoughts. Even today, I had a moment when I started a story. I will have to be more aware of how I utilize this idea in my own mind.
    Blessings for making me think a little harder! Hugs~

  11. LeAnn, we are so accustomed to our stories that we really don't even know we do it until we pause and watch. Once you become more aware of them, you can evaluate for yourself how the stories affect your experience and influence your feelings and actions. I find for me that one effect, perhaps the main effect, is that my stories separate me from my inner wisdom. Or, as the scripture says, I find that I substitute my story for God's thoughts and guidance. Thanks for commenting, and let me know how that thinking goes!

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