Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice



Inner Work

For the week of: January 14, 2002

Thought Awareness: I Am Not My Thoughts

One of the more important obstacles to our spiritual development, and also to happiness, consists of our identification with thoughts. We believe our thoughts. We believe in our thoughts. We believe our thoughts represent or embody who we are. We spend too much of our time living in the stream of our automatic, associative thoughts, like fish living in water. When a thought passes through our mind, we assume that the thought is the voice of our true, secret self. This inner voice, hidden from the world, serves as our home, our refuge, our truth. This inner voice of thought expresses our ongoing commentary on our life, our plans, dreams, and fears.

But like TV and radio, our inner voice lulls us into a programmed, autopilot mode that paints us as a character we play unawares, not noticing the inner voice as a voice or our thoughts as thoughts. If we do notice a thought, then we tacitly assume that it is what I think.

However, our I goes much deeper than thought. Our thoughts nearly always arise on their own, in reaction to some stimulus or to another thought, without the participation of our I, and thus without our intention. Consequently, our thoughts hardly ever reflect what I think, but rather indicate our conditioned, habitual patterns and reactions to the world. We believe these familiar habits of thought are who we are, our deepest self. But they are not. Thoughts are only surface phenomena, like waves on the ocean.

Who am I when my thoughts stop, or in the gaps between thoughts?

Notice your thoughts. As you begin to see your thoughts as thoughts, you may also start to notice the you that is aware of your thoughts. That aspect of you that sees your thoughts is not just another thought.

Practice thought awareness several times each day: simply watching your thoughts, seeing them as just thoughts rather than being caught by their meaning, observing the thoughts come and go, not being lost in the story they tell, not succumbing to their seductive whispers, shifting from content-enthralled to process-aware. And when the opportunity arrives, notice the gaps between thoughts.

Practicing awareness of bodily sensation facilitates thought awareness. Grounding in our body anchors us in the present. While in contact with our body, we are less apt to be carried away by our thoughts and more able to notice and watch the thoughts. Intentional awareness of bodily sensation stabilizes consciousness and enables us to see thoughts as just thoughts, without being grabbed by them, like iron filings to a magnet.

For this week, practice thought awareness and non-identification with thoughts.


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