This morning I woke up just as the sun was starting to make its way over the horizon. When I peaked out my window, blazing orange, pink and yellow tones filled the vast sky. I caught the last glimpse of the moon shining as dawn broke and night turned to day.
Another day, another precious opportunity to live, love and contribute on this magnificent planet.
The only trouble is, before I even had the chance to slide one leg out from the cozy burrow of my blankets, I had already been bombarded with a litany of thoughts too long to count:
“I need to text that friend about dinner. Don’t forget to return the library books. Is she mad at me? Check the calendar so you know when you can get out for a hike. You’ve got to call the insurance company by the end of today. Make sure the laundry is folded. Did you get that plane ticket yet? Did I say the wrong thing yesterday?” and on and on the chatter went with no end in sight.
This is the madness of the mind–what many Buddhist teachers and scholars lovingly refer to as the “monkey mind.” Although this is certainly not my favorite way to wake up, I feel fortunate that I’ve been at this self-inquiry process for long enough now, that I’m intimately familiar with the wild and sneaky tricks my mind can sometimes play.
It is very easy to believe that we are our thoughts. Our thoughts are a perpetual companion, with us throughout every waking moment, except in those rare moments of pure internal stillness and pause. It is common to confuse our self for our thoughts because they seem so real.
This morning my true Self, the wise, clear witness that each one of us has, quickly became aware of the chaos that had ensued. She guided me lovingly into the other room and perched me atop the meditation cushion. For 10 minutes I sat, bringing my awareness to the breath and every time one of my eager thoughts came knocking, she gently coaxed me back into the sensation of breath rising and falling in my belly.
This simple decision was an act of generosity toward myself. I knew I did not want to enter the activities of my day completely consumed by the bucking bronco of my mind. Choosing pause and breath were my declaration that I am not my thoughts.
But of course, it wouldn’t be life if there weren’t some paradox involved. And so the paradox is this: although we are not our thoughts, we also are our thoughts. Meaning, that the thoughts we think are deeply intertwined with the core beliefs that we carry. Our beliefs are shaped by many factors including but not limited to family, friends, experiences and cultural background.
If we do not look the deep roots of our thoughts squarely in the face, they dictate the decisions we make and the actions we take all day long. These choices become the foundational building blocks of our lives, governing major factors such as who we choose to partner with, what type of work we do, how we care for our bodies throughout the week, how we relate to our loved ones and much, much more.
The repetitive mental loops that each one of us faces is unique to who we are, our greatest fears, ambitions, needs and desires. Thus, although we are not our thoughts, our thoughts have tremendous wisdom to teach us about ourselves.
For example, if I take a step back and compassionately witness the flavor of my thoughts from this morning, I can see the seeds of fear and insecurity embedded in the thought forms. My desire to be loved and to prevent anyone from having a negative feeling toward me is right there between the lines. When I can see this clearly, I then create more space and choice for myself. My wise self recognizes that I am deeply loved, there is no limit to the love available and that it is okay if someone doesn’t like me.
With this tiny dose of perspective, I am immediately freer. Instead of darting around like the jacked up monkey of my thoughts, making neurotic decisions rooted in the fear that I am not love-able, instead I can flow through the activities and responsibilities of my day with the confidence that I’ve got the support of my wise internal companion who will help me to negotiate the everyday tasks of living.
Now, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below: How do you relate to your thoughts? Do you have any wisdom or reflections to share about why you are or aren’t your thoughts?
As always, thank you so much for being a part of this incredible community!
With my deepest respect and appreciation,