“The mind is a vicious circle. It creates problems for itself and then tries to resolve them.”
Swami Prajnanpad (1891-1974)
In our culture we tend to be very enmeshed and identified with thoughts. We label ourselves, others, the moment and the world and believe the labels to be a true representation of life, of how things are. Even mindfulness gets high-jacked into something that supports a cognitive process. The question isn’t what mindfulness can do for cognitive behavioural therapy but what cognitive behavioural therapy can do for mindfulness.
Our comprehension is always limited by our past experiences, as well as our implicitly biased thinking and limited senses, just look at a cat sniffing out info that we can’t access. Our idea of life is a little snapshot in time of a human experience, that is all.
Thinking is amazing as long as we see it as a tool and know thoughts as always representing just a limited dimension of reality. There are many problems with believing our thoughts to be true. First of all it is deeply delusional and yet we all do it! The more we are caught up in the thoughts, the more we experience a strong sense of self and the more self, the more suffering. It is when we mute the self that we feel the best.
The unreliability of thoughts also becomes evident when we realise that everything changes from minute to minute. As the moment shifts so does how we might describe ourselves and those around us. Things are in constant flux but sometimes our fixed labels, our thoughts prevent us from seeing that. In this way our thoughts easily become our prisons, preventing us from seeing ‘what is’.
In mindfulness we practice observing sensations, feelings and thoughts without attachment, or judgment, in other words we observe what arises knowing it is not a truth and not ‘me’. In doing so we no longer sit in thought but in awareness of what is arising as sensations, feelings and thoughts. From here we observe what is going on in the human ‘river’ while we are no longer in the river. Not being in the river means we can observe the unreliability and fickleness of the thinking mind, and we realise that sensations, feelings and thoughts just come and go.
So what is the constant? Or is there such a thing?
If we are not our thoughts who are we? Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘A spiritual energy having a human experience’ can be a useful framework to work from.
What arises as sensations, feelings and thoughts is all part of the human experience. When mindful we start to follow Teilhard’s insight, awareness can be seen as a spiritual energy observing the human experience.
What makes this difficult? Most of us feel we are a human who occasionally has a little spiritual flash. Rushing, stress, filling our lives with too many events, things, too much ‘doing’ makes it hard for us to sense the essential beingness in the moment. This is required for observing the river rather than being in it.
On the other hand, regular reminding and practice, a little 5 Magic Breaths, a body-scan, gratitude and surrender will take us to the space that far exceeds our little human system. The beingness is always here, always part of you, it is just that your attention goes walkabout.