Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of February 13, 2006

Intentional Thought Awareness

Whenever we actively consider an issue or a problem, we think intentionally, an important life skill cultivated in school. If we add a further element of awareness to intentional thinking, it can be a liberating spiritual practice.

To increase awareness of the process of thinking, we can collapse our thought stream into a short phrase, repeated intentionally. For this, at least once a day use a repetitive phrase or prayer as the focus of your thinking. When extraneous thoughts intrude, leave them alone while you return to your intentional thought. While keeping attention on your intentional thought, on the inner repetition of a brief phrase or prayer or a sacred word, see that you are not your thoughts. The fact that you can control your thoughts, even if only briefly, shows that you and your thoughts are not identical. This trains you to understand that thoughts are just thoughts.

As you work with thought awareness, notice the quiet space between thoughts. Relax into that wider stillness of pure consciousness underneath thought, into that silent context and transparent container of all thought, emotion, and sensory perception. And with that relaxation into consciousness, temporarily put down the burden of believing in your thoughts and stand free in that clarity.

Of course we could direct our entire being and will into the prayer of repeating a sacred word or phrase and seek thereby to transcend even the stillness of consciousness. Though this exercise of intentional thought awareness has a different purpose, it does help pave our way toward deeper prayer. Here we work instead to extricate ourselves from identification with our thoughts.

Practicing awareness of intentional thoughts helps us enter the conscious space surrounding all thought. From that wider perspective we can see the unintentional, self-perpetuating, associative, reactive, and ego-generated thoughts that usually occupy our minds and masquerade as who we are. Ordinarily our thoughts mesmerize us with their endless stories, the opinions they spin, the outrage and criticism, the daydreams and worries, the sad and self-critical thoughts, the arrogant and self-aggrandizing, the patterns of regret and the memories, oh, the memories of mistakes, failures, triumphs, victimization, abusive acts, loss and gain. Thoughts collude with emotions in a mutually-reinforcing feedback loop. All this funnels into our thought stream and paints a false but convincing picture of who we are.

When we catch a clear glimpse of our ordinary thoughts in action, we naturally start to emerge from our thought stream. The more we see, the freer we are. We become ourselves rather than being our thoughts, being identified with our thoughts as who we are. Opening to the pure consciousness beyond thought shows us that our inner world is much more than just thoughts, emotions, attitudes and desires.

We need not attempt to practice this type of intentional thought awareness throughout the day. But we do need enough of it to thoroughly accustom ourselves to not identify with our thoughts. Releasing the grip of identification, we stop being so concerned with and driven by our thoughts. We enter a peaceful coexistence with our thought stream.

For this week, work to disengage yourself from identification with the whole range of your thoughts. Practice intentional thinking coupled with full awareness of your intentional thoughts. See that you are not your thoughts.


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