Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the Weeks of April 4 & 11, 2022


Behind Thoughts 

(Into the Stillness: 3)

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We live with this continual hum of thoughts running through our mind. We can hear it with our inner ear any time we choose to notice. But mostly we do not notice our thoughts as thoughts. When we do notice thoughts, we notice them as if they are speaking for us, even as if they are us. These hidden thoughts, that no one else can hear, that is me. They run in the background at the center of my life, shaping my life. Always a comment, a reaction, always more of my story, always expressing how I want this or I do not want that.

The thought "I" is the central thought and seems to be my center, who I am. My thoughts say, I will do this or I went there or I need that or I like this. My thoughts say, what is this person doing to me, or I remember being there or I hope I win. We never question whether all those "I" thoughts are the real me. We never question whether all those "I" thoughts refer to the real me, much less who or what the real me is. And with that, we never question whether our thoughts truly speak for us, truly represent us. We never question whether there is anything more to the thought "I" than that thought itself. Our thought-stream mind is a fortress where light does not penetrate. Within this unexamined morass, we are left with the expedient, default assumption that the thought "I" is indeed who I am.

Despite all that, our thoughts are not a problem. The ability to think, to imagine, to plan, to analyze, to strategize, to remember, to foresee are essential parts of our equipment, part of what makes us unique. Yet our thoughts cannot penetrate the spiritual worlds. That ability goes beyond thought. So the problem with thoughts is that we identify with them, we believe in them, we believe that they speak for us or even that they are us. That identification imposes a severe limitation on our perceptions, binding us wholly to this material world, keeping us on the surface of our being.

Once we look at our thoughts and see them with even a little objectivity, our relationship to them begins to change. We start to raise ourselves out of the thought-stream. We start to see that there are gaps between thoughts. And within those gaps, we do not cease to exist. So somehow we are not our thoughts. This sounds almost trivial, but that realization creates a profound change in us, leading toward a much freer life with a whole new dimension of depth. Instead of life being driven by our superficial patterns of thought and emotion, we start to live from the depth of who we are.

The quickest approach to this realization comes in quiet meditation. After sitting for some minutes, maybe many minutes, our thoughts start to slow down. Gaps open: interludes of brief silence between thoughts. If we live into these silences, we start to notice an unexpected thing: we are still aware in those silences between thoughts. Continuing with that practice, we start to notice another unexpected thing: the silences between thoughts are all part of a greater silence: a cognizant, unbroken, unbounded, and ever-present stillness that lies underneath our thoughts, as the base of our mind. All our thoughts and mental images are layered atop the surface of that cognizant stillness.

This silence is no mere absence of thoughts, which would be short-lived in any case. The silence behind and around thoughts is substantive and its substance is awareness, pure awareness. That is why we call it cognizant stillness.

Through training ourselves in meditation to abide in that cognizant stillness, to abide beneath the stream of thoughts, images, and impulses, we come into the ever-present nature of that stillness. Then it can carry into ordinary life. Like sparse clouds passing through a vast sky, the thought-stream has no impact on the stillness. At any moment, we have only to open back into that stillness to enter that freedom.

The stillness is not only unbounded in space, but also timeless. It is not in time. Because of that, living in that stillness does not contradict or interfere with living in time. We can live our ordinary life, wholeheartedly, while also being in the cognizant stillness, or more simply, while also just being.

While there are even deeper levels of stillness, coming into the stillness around and behind our thoughts is a major step toward the Sacred. It is most assuredly worth the effort of learning to recognize the stillness while sitting quietly, of learning to abide in it, and of learning to return to it during our ordinary life activities. We can live from that stillness, from our own depth.

For this week, please explore the cognizant stillness behind your thoughts.


     

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