You are NOT your Thoughts, so why be Afraid of Them?

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the inherent activity of the mind and the nature of thoughts and feelings as observed in meditation.
  • Learn about the observer mode, the concept of detachment, and the control one has over reactions to thoughts and feelings.
  • Explore the concept of cognitive fusion and the idea of free will in response to thoughts and feelings.

When you meditate regularly, you realize that the mind is inherently active. Thoughts and feelings are always percolating up. They rise into the theatre of awareness, with no necessary logical order, then subside, connected by the loosest associations. Some are happy, some are sad. Some stay longer, and some disappear almost as soon as they arrive. As you practice staying in observer mode, the mind becomes a movie screen, upon which random thoughts and feelings are reflected. Your mother appears, then your car, then your spouse, maybe some past love interest, then thoughts about a career change. That’s just how the mind works.

What do you learn from this experience?

First, you learn that the thoughts and feelings are just visitors to the mind. You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. You are simply an observer to the great stream of consciousness. Or, think of your awareness as a train station, and thoughts and feelings as passengers that are constantly arriving and departing.

Second, you learn that you need not take these thoughts and feelings seriously. Since they arise randomly into awareness, they are not strictly yours. You and your stream of awareness may be fellow travelers, but it did not ask permission, and you did not give permission.

Third, you learn that just because a thought or feeling appears, that doesn’t mean that you have to react to it, and you certainly don’t have to react strongly. You can choose simply to observe it, instead. This frees you from the bondage of cognitive fusion, and provides you with a measure of free will. Free will is good.

Think of it this way: Let’s say someone knocked on your door. Would you immediately drop everything, run to the door, fling it open, grab them by the collar, and hurl them into the living room? Absolutely not. You’d look through the peephole first and determine whether you even wanted to allow them into your home. The peephole provides you with a choice point. If someone shows up and you don’t want to let them in, you shrug and walk away. They might ring the bell again, in which case you can choose to shrug again.

Likewise, unwanted thoughts and feelings need not be granted automatic access to your awareness. You can choose to detach. When you detach, you are no longer going down the same old tired pathways that led to your current situation. Instead, you have empowered yourself to change.

Fourth, simply noting thoughts and feelings, you achieve a more comfortable distance from them. You may even come to understand each thought or feeling as an invitation, as having its own agenda, as if each thought or feeling were saying “Come with me and see what awaits you!” Whether you accept the invitation is up to you.

Fifth, you learn that you learn that you cannot control thoughts or feelings. In the West, we love control, and when control is threatened, we experience anxiety. You can control your behavior (mostly), but you can’t actually control your thoughts. They simply arrive, a continuous stream of associations, from who knows where. You can, however, choose to attend to these thoughts, thereby amplifying them, and you can choose whether to take them seriously, and you can choose not to react strongly to them. But you can’t control thoughts out of existence, so that you don’t have them in the first place.

Reading Comprehension Questions

1. What does meditation help you realize about the mind?

  • A. The mind is inherently passive.
  • B. The mind is inherently active.
  • C. The mind is an illusion.
  • D. The mind is inherently chaotic.

2. How does the text describe the relationship between the observer and the thoughts and feelings?

  • A. The observer is the source of thoughts and feelings.
  • B. The observer is a passive receptor of thoughts and feelings.
  • C. The observer can choose how to react to thoughts and feelings.
  • D. The observer can control the thoughts and feelings.

3. What is cognitive fusion as discussed in the text?

  • A. The fusion of thoughts and feelings into a single entity.
  • B. The automatic reaction to thoughts and feelings.
  • C. The blending of thoughts and feelings into the overall consciousness.
  • D. The bondage from which one can free themselves by simply observing thoughts and feelings.

4. What does the text imply about control over thoughts?

  • A. Thoughts can be fully controlled with practice.
  • B. One cannot control the occurrence of thoughts, but can control their reactions to them.
  • C. Control over thoughts can be achieved by suppressing them.
  • D. Thoughts control the observer’s reactions and actions.

5. How does the text suggest dealing with unwanted thoughts and feelings?

  • A. By automatically granting them access to your awareness.
  • B. By ignoring them completely.
  • C. By detaching and choosing not to follow the old pathways.
  • D. By letting them dominate your consciousness.

Answers

1. B. The mind is inherently active.

2. C. The observer can choose how to react to thoughts and feelings.

3. D. The bondage from which one can free themselves by simply observing thoughts and feelings.

4. B. One cannot control the occurrence of thoughts, but can control their reactions to them.

5. C. By detaching and choosing not to follow the old pathways.