The human condition: lost in thought.
Most people spend their entire life imprisoned within the confines of their own thoughts. They never go beyond a narrow, mind-made, personalized sense of self that is conditioned by the past.
In you, as in each human being, there is a dimension of consciousness far deeper than thought. It is the very essence of who you are. We may call it presence, awareness, the unconditioned consciousness. In the ancient teachings, it is the Christ within, or your Buddha nature.
Finding that dimension frees you and the world from the suffering you inflict on yourself and others when the mind-made “little me” is all you know and runs your life. Love, joy, creative expansion, and lasting inner peace cannot come into your life except through that unconditioned dimension of consciousness.
If you can recognize, even occasionally, the thoughts that go through your mind as simply thoughts, if you can witness your own mental-emotional reactive patterns as they happen, then that dimension is already emerging in you as the awareness in which thoughts and emotions happen — the timeless inner space in which the content of your life unfolds.
The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. It wants to draw your attention in completely.
Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.
How easy it is for people to become trapped in their conceptual prisons.
The human mind, in its desire to know, understand, and control, mistakes its opinions and viewpoints for the truth. It says: This is how it is. You have to be larger than thought to realize that however you interpret “your life” or someone else’s life or behavior, however you judge any situation, it is no more than a viewpoint, one of many possible perspectives. It is no more than a bundle of thoughts. But reality is one unified whole, in which all things are interwoven, where nothing exists in and by itself. Thinking fragments reality — it cuts it up into conceptual bits and pieces.
The thinking mind is a useful and powerful tool, but it is also very limiting when it takes over your life completely, when you don’t realize that it is only a small aspect of the consciousness that you are.
Wisdom is not a product of thought. The deep knowing that is wisdom arises through the simple act of giving someone or something your full attention. Attention is primordial intelligence, consciousness itself. It dissolves the barriers created by conceptual thought, and with this comes the recognition that nothing exists in and by itself. It joins the perceiver and the perceived in a unifying field of awareness. It is the healer of separation.
Whenever you are immersed in compulsive thinking, you are avoiding what is. You don’t want to be where you are. Here. Now.
Dogmas — religious, political, scientific — arise out of the erroneous belief that thought can encapsulate reality or the truth. Dogmas are collective conceptual prisons. And the strange thing is that people love their prison cells because they give them a sense of security and a false sense of “I know.”
Nothing has inflicted more suffering on humanity than its dogmas. It is true that every dogma crumbles sooner or later, because reality will eventually disclose its falseness; however, unless the basic delusion of it is seen for what it is, it will be replaced by others.
What is this basic delusion? Identification with thought.
Spiritual awakening is awakening from the dream of thought.
The realm of consciousness is much vaster than thought can grasp. When you no longer believe everything you think, you step out of thought and see clearly that the thinker is not who you are.
The mind exists in a state of “not enough” and so is always greedy for more. When you are identified with mind, you get bored and restless very easily. Boredom means the mind is hungry for more stimulus, more food for thought, and its hunger is not being satisfied.
When you feel bored, you can satisfy the mind’s hunger by picking up a magazine, making a phone call, switching on the TV, surfing the Web, going shopping, or — and this is not uncommon — transferring the mental sense of lack and its need for more to the body and satisfying it briefly by ingesting more food.
Or you can stay bored and restless and observe what it feels like to be bored and restless. As you bring awareness to the feeling, there is suddenly some space and stillness around it, as it were. A little at first, but as the sense of inner space grows, the feeling of boredom will begin to diminish in intensity and significance. So even boredom can teach you who you are and who you are not.
You discover that a “bored person” is not who you are. Boredom is simply a conditioned energy movement within you. Neither are you an angry, sad, or fearful person. Boredom, anger, sadness, or fear are not “yours,” not personal. They are conditions of the human mind. They come and go.
Nothing that comes and goes is you.
“I am bored.” Who knows this?
“I am angry, sad, afraid.” Who knows this?
You are the knowing, not the condition that is known.
Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.
Feel the energy of your inner body. Immediately mental noise slows down or ceases. Feel it in your hands, your feet, your abdomen, your chest. Feel the life that you are, the life that animates the body.
The body then becomes a doorway, so to speak, into a deeper sense of aliveness underneath the fluctuating emotions and underneath your thinking.
There is an aliveness in you that you can feel with your entire Being, not just in the head. Every cell is alive in that presence in which you don’t need to think. Yet, in that state, if thought is required for some practical purpose, it is there. The mind can still operate, and it operates beautifully when the greater intelligence that you are uses it and expresses itself through it.
You may have overlooked that brief periods in which you are “conscious without thought” are already occurring naturally and spontaneously in your life. You may be engaged in some manual activity, or walking across the room, or waiting at the airline counter, and be so completely present that the usual mental static of thought subsides and is replaced by an aware presence. Or you may find yourself looking at the sky or listening to someone without any inner mental commentary. Your perceptions become crystal clear, unclouded by thought.
To the mind, all this is not significant, because it has “more important” things to think about. It is also not memorable, and that’s why you may have overlooked that it is already happening.
The truth is that it is the most significant thing that can happen to you. It is the beginning of a shift from thinking to aware presence.
Become at ease with the state of “not knowing.” This takes you beyond mind because the mind is always trying to conclude and interpret. It is afraid of not knowing. So, when you can be at ease with not knowing, you have already gone beyond the mind. A deeper knowing that is nonconceptual then arises out of that state.
Artistic creation, sports, dance, teaching, counseling — mastery in any field of endeavor implies that the thinking mind is either no longer involved at all or at least is taking second place. A power and intelligence greater than you and yet one with you in essence takes over. There is no decision-making process anymore; spontaneous right action happens, and “you” are not doing it. Mastery of life is the opposite of control. You become aligned with the greater consciousness. It acts, speaks, does the works.
The Truth is far more all-encompassing than the mind could ever comprehend. No thought can encapsulate the Truth. At best, it can point to it. For example, it can say: “All things are intrinsically one.” That is a pointer, not an explanation. Understanding these words means feeling deep within you the truth to which they point.
Excerpted from the book Stillness Speaks, by Eckhart Tolle. Copyright © 2003 by Eckhart Tolle. Reprinted with permission from New World Library, NewWorldLibrary.com.