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What Do Thoughts Think About?

Woman-thinking-dreaming-looking-at-skyWant to make someone pause? Ask them, “What do thoughts think about?” Ask yourself.

Try to think about something that is not a thought — if you can, let me know! Why is this important? Well, most significantly it means you cannot think about yourself! You can only think about thoughts about your IDEA of self. This means the REAL You is off the hook! No blame, no shame — your story is not about you, it is about an idea of you.  Thoughts can only think about other thoughts!

A common response, “But who is the real me then?” You cannot answer this with thought — that would just be thoughts thinking about thoughts, but you can experience yourself beyond all thinking, beyond all description and story. This is the experience of freedom and spontaneity. This is the experience of being Awake (from the thought/trance of self).

This is not an unusual experience — it happens when we lose our self in a laugh or sneeze; it happens with a surprise like a trip or slap in the face. But this moment beyond the mind, when thoughts are stopped, is so brief that we miss it.

The question I repeatedly contemplate is, “How can I use this in my therapy practice and in my life?” I am familiar with this insight and how to practice with it but I still have to practice and re-remind myself that thoughts are thinking about other thoughts and that I am not a thought – not who I think I am. The problem is that I get involved with thoughts with my body mind and emotions — know what I mean? Go through this with me:

  • The first step is to practice noticing and watching thinking, as it is, without any motivation to improve it, escape from it, or stop it — just to practice the skill of watching and noticing, without commentary. You also watch emotional feelings and bodily sensations and other sensory information You notice and watch how quickly sense data gives rise to thinking and to thinking centered on the IDEA of self.
  • Now, commentary will come in. Just watch it, too. This is the tricky part because we are so conditioned to listen to thoughts and to be lead around by them, that we forget watching and noticing every few seconds as a thought hypnotizes us into being the idea of self versus watching the ideas of self go by like clouds in the sky: “What good is this going to do?” “This is boring?” “Isn’t there a more interesting practice?””I think I really need to work on myself.”
  • These are all just thought, thought, thought, thought. They are very seductive, no? They will pull you right out of watching into their dramas. If and when that happens, go back to noticing and watching as soon as you notice you are not watching. Here is a tip — discouragement, boredom, and irritation are all thoughts, too. Watch and notice them.
  • Do this for just 5 minutes a day if that’s all you can manage. Practice to develop the strength of your capacity to watch and notice uninterruptedly. This is the secret to experiencing the freedom that we already are.

Good luck!


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