Eckhart Tolle has said and written many things that resonate with me for different reasons. One in particular puts me in a state of ease when I let the words wash through me. It is this:
“Here’s a spiritual practice for you: Don’t take your thoughts too seriously.”
Aaaaaahhhh. I can just feel the “heaviness of life muck” just melt away from my stomach as I read that.
Why is this? Why do I, and probably many of you, feel better and lighter when we take our thoughts less seriously? Quite simply, it’s because a s*^t ton of our thoughts are negative at best and destabilizing at worst.
Two types of thoughts
The critical point needs to be made that I’m not referring here to all thoughts. I break down thoughts into two categories — intentional and unintentional.
An intentional thought would be “Okay, I need to go to the store. Let’s see. I need milk, lettuce, ketchup, beer, Greek Yogurt and tortilla chips.” Intentional thinking is great. It’s using the superior intelligence that our evolved homo sapiens brains offer us. It’s what separates us from animals.
What Eckhart’s quote refers to are the thoughts we don’t decide to think. They’re the ones our minds tell us to think.
Unfortunately, our unintentional thoughts outnumber our intentional ones by…well, a lot. There are millions of examples of these thoughts, but here are a few:
“I’m such a terrible parent. My kids have eaten nothing but cheeseburgers and French fries all week because I’m too lazy to make them something healthier. I suck.”
“I can’t believe he said that. What a jerk. How can anybody act so rudely?”
“I’ll never have enough money for retirement. I hope I don’t starve to death on the streets.”
Why do we allow our minds to drag our attention into all these awful thoughts? We don’t. Our minds accomplish this without our conscious acquiescence.
Which begs asking: What the hell is this mind that seems to operate independently and contrary to our interests? The mind is the entity we create starting early in childhood to defend ourselves from the outside world. I’ve called it the conditioned, egoic self in several previous articles.
The mind isn’t real
Bottom line is that it isn’t real. Which isn’t to say that its effects on us aren’t real. They are. In a big way. Our minds haunt most of us on a daily basis. They create a near-constant state of unease.
So let’s sum this up so far. The mind produces thoughts independent of our will, it isn’t real and yet its effects are deleterious. So what can we do about that?
What we can do about it
We can ‘not take our thoughts too seriously,’ as Eckhart teaches. And it’s not just Eckhart who teaches this. The basic concept that we are not our thoughts is foundational to Hinduism, Buddhism and many other spiritual traditions. It’s a concept that’s been around for thousands of years.
What most traditions and spiritual teachers, like Eckhart and Mickey Singer, teach is to not identify with our thoughts. Because they aren’t who we are.
Mickey Singer doesn’t listen to Mickey
Singer often says, “I never listen to Mickey (his thoughts). Why? Because he’s always wrong.” Which is another strategy we can employ. Just ignoring our thoughts. As if they are just an annoying person, yammering on and on.
But if we aren’t these thoughts, then who are we? We’re the consciousness, the awareness, that notices we’re having these thoughts.
What’s the best way to strengthen the ability of our conscious selves to notice this constant stream of annoying thoughts? Meditation. And practicing mindfulness.
Meditation is key
These practices, at heart, are about reclaiming our attention and placing it on something happening in the present moment, like breathing. Then noticing when our minds have snatched our attention away again and returning it back to the present. Then doing it again. And again. And literally thousands of times over the months and years of our practice.
The more we do this, the stronger our conscious self becomes and the less power our thoughts exert over us. How does that manifest inside us? We feel calmer, less anxious, less frenzied, more centered. What it all adds up to is feeling better on a moment-by- moment basis.
If that sounds appealing, it should. Can you think of anything better than what I just described in the previous paragraph?
Meditation: the best thing I’ve ever done for myself
Give the meditation thing a try. I made the plunge over eight years ago and can honestly say I’ve never done anything better for myself. What a gift it’s been.
If you’re looking for a place to get started, try my free program at davidgerken.net. I designed it to make it as easy as possible for regular people (i.e., those who’ve never lived in an ashram, as I haven’t) to get going in meditation.
So don’t forget: You are not your thoughts. You’re the awareness of those thoughts. The conscious presence that is brilliant, beautiful and beyond comprehension, but that is present when our thoughts aren’t.
Don’t take your thoughts seriously and you will 1) Feel lighter and better in that moment, and 2) Deprive the thoughts of their power and therefore hasten their gradual demise.
That’s a spiritual one-two punch we would all do well to pursue.