Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of December 4, 2006

Emerging From Thought

Most of us live in our own subjective world of thoughts, in the endless bazaar of concepts, images, commentary and inner chatter that is our mind. We recognize the more objective reality outside our brain only insofar as it impinges on our habitually patterned thought-stream. Our thinking takes on any convenient subject. Whatever makes it through our perceptual filters becomes food for thought. So accustomed to this unquiet morass, we take the world of thought as our normal mode of being.

If a thing does not enter our thoughts, then it holds little or no reality for us. Thus we mistakenly conflate our thoughts with reality. It may be the reality that we experience, or rather half-experience, but it pales before even the ordinary reality of the physical world. Purposeful, intentional thinking makes up only a tiny portion of our day. The rest of the time our self-activating thought-stream encircles and captivates us, limiting our horizons to its narrow confines. Often one thought decides to do something, while the next forgets completely about it. Even when we think “big” thoughts, we still remain in the orbit of thought.

But a deeper world and a more satisfying way of life await us. For all these reasons and more, one major thrust of any true spiritual path consists of learning to see that we are not our thoughts and of increasing our contact with, our place in, non-conceptual reality, the locus of joy, peace, and the sacred. For this, many techniques exist, but all share the characteristic of bringing our perceptual focus out of our ordinary modes of thinking. In practicing such methods, whenever we notice that our attention has fallen back into ordinary thinking, we return to the exercise.

Examples include:

  1. Counting breaths: attention to the physical sensations associated with breathing while mentally counting each exhalation up to 10, then beginning again at 1. We also start over at 1 whenever we lose the count or return from being lost in thought.
  2. Repetitious prayer: mentally repeating or vocally chanting sacred words, especially in contact with their meaning and their feeling.
  3. Attention to the body: sensing in turn the right hand, right foot, left foot, left hand, right arm, right leg, left leg, left arm, all four limbs, and finally the whole body.
  4. Sitting patiently, relaxing, noticing thoughts until they dissipate.
  5. Opening to and entering the formless, empty stillness, the consciousness beneath thought. This depends on the experience, taste, and attention acquired through exercises like those listed above.

For this week, practice emerging from thought.


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