Thinking as Spiritual Activity

“Our brain is a spiritual instrument and the science of spirituality is the textbook of how to properly play it.”

Melvin Morse, M.D.
MONKEY MIND

Meditation is a way to stop the “monkey mind” (a Buddhist term for uncontrolled and confused thinking) and to learn how to “properly play” this great “spiritual instrument”: the brain. But, many people struggle with meditation (and its many forms) because if they try to stop thinking they crave thinking even more. Thinking then takes them over. Thinking controls them and not the other way around.

When we attempt to exert conscious control, a subconscious horde of arguments rise up fighting our resolve. This is why New Year’s resolutions are usually so short-lived and ineffective. Sometimes resolutions and affirmations backfire and make the habit or pattern worse. You intend to go on a diet and exercise and almost immediately become tired and hungry, thinking of all the “wrong” foods you want to eat. The fact is the 5% of the conscious identity is fighting the 95% subconscious, unconscious self that directs and thrives on repetitive thoughts. The conscious, full-of-itself-self (ego) thinks it’s the CEO but ideally would be the  perfect Administrative Assistant to the wiser, healthier Higher Self. But the ego hates and fights that demotion.

ROTE THINKING

My philosophy professor at university called the constant, non-stop chatter that generally passes for thinking, “grocery list thinking.” I understood that he meant by this the repetitive, rote nature of thoughts that deal with everyday “taking care of business” and the thoughts that are a bunch of already-been-thought thoughts. What we call thinking is often just repetition of thoughts already thought over and over again until they become thought habits, thought patterns, and thought belief systems. Ultimately they become thought addictions. To not think these thoughts or to have someone challenge them is painful and can cause strongly adverse reactions such as hurt, denial, anger, argument, aggression, or internal stress.

When I realized that thinking is probably the addiction that underlies all other addictions, I had a “Eureka!” moment, only to stumble onto Eckhart Tolle addressing the same condition of addictive thinking.

Repetitive, out-of-control thinking is stressful and impairs life because it fails to listen to anything but itself. It’s the thing that keeps people awake at night and causes knots in the stomach.

Stressful Thinking

To remedy this common problem, spiritual teachers and healers have over thousands of years created techniques to calm and master thinking and gain awareness of other ways of being. Some techniques are designed to stop thoughts. Others, because it is so difficult to stop thinking, are designed instead to give distance from thoughts. Centering Prayer for example works by witnessing thoughts. An example would be, “I am worthless.” [implied statement of fact, but really a belief]. In Centering Prayer, one might witness the thought and think, “I am having a thought that I am worthless.” (This begs the question who is thinking and who is observing the thinking).

[Next blog: different kinds of mediation and the subconscious saboteur.]

In my last blog I said, “I do NOT think—Therefore I am Aware” (boldly taking on Descartes’ proclamation, “I think, therefore I am.”).

Am I saying that thinking has no value? Of course, I’m not saying that. Of course, thinking has value. It is, along with the opposable thumb, one of the great gifts of humanity. But thinking has been elevated to an importance that exceeds its purpose; and now what often passes for thinking has fallen into a state that often renders it far less valuable than intended because it lacks insight, creativity and wisdom, and is merely a “laundry list.”

As I stated in the last blog, we do not need to think in order to BE. We do need to BE in order to think. The higher value goes to BEING. When I switch off my workaday thinking and enter into the silence then the thinking that follows is fresh, new and creative. The empty mind is open to inspiration—to creative thought. The brain becomes then the spiritual instrument it was always intended to be.

Nature is a constant process of creation and destruction only to create again and destroy again–an exquisite cycle of being. Empty becomes full only to empty – over and over.

This ability to be in Silence and Stillness was made easy for me by a profound near-death experience when I was 27. During that experience I lost my identity as a temporal being (and consequently returned with partial amnesia). Admittedly, it left me ill-prepared for daily life. It took me years to remember words, personal biography and to be able to read and write again. The challenge also contained a gift. The gift that has remained is being able to be at one with all that is. Despite the practical necessity of a persona (which took me years to re-establish), I did not and I do not possess a spiritual, emotional or intellectual desire for a separate ego identity. My persona (ego) is an instrument that serves me.

Close your mouth, block off your senses, blunt your sharpness, untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. This is the primal identity.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (56)

In my “meditation” (which is really just showing up to Being) the result goes way beyond watching the thoughts drift by like clouds. My experience informs me that we are meant to transcend the clouds—the appearance of forms—to emptiness where Silence and Stillness resides, to Rumi’s field (see last blog). To say it another way, at the point between light and dark, true and false, good and bad, there is nothing to judge or interpret and therefore no need to think.

He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (24)

Illumined Human (Part 2)

Becoming: Feet of Clay

Genesis 2 says that God created Adam out of the dust of the earth. World myths (Greek, Sumerian, Egyptian, Chinese, Babylonian, Hindu, Maori, Inca, etc.) depict people, male and/or female made from clay. Even Wonder Woman was sculpted out of clay by her mother Hyppolita! A Jewish  Talmudic legend portrays Adam as a golem (clay figure–a body without a soul) for the first 12 hours of his existence.

Egyptian god Khum creating man from clay

               It is safe to say that we all have proverbial “feet of clay” even before we left the Garden of Eden. If we were already clay or dust were we of heaven or of earth?

A long time ago I surmised that the reason we Earth beings left the Garden of Eden was because the divine actually wanted us to go—a reason and a purpose. Perhaps we had developed enough that it was time; or perhaps we hadn’t developed enough and needed a challenge course for growth.

So, as the Genesis 2& 3 goes, an apple tree was planted in the midst of other fruit trees in Eden and the young’uns were told you can eat the fruit of any tree except the fruit of the tree of knowledge. As any parent knows, if you put something where the child will regularly encounter it and then say, “don’t touch”, the temptation is irresistible. But even then Adam and Eve didn’t eat the fruit, so a serpent had to be devised to seduce them. And, voila! Success! Humans who lived in an eternal state of BEING fell into BECOMING. Birth, biography, death.

“What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good?” 

A Course in Miracles

Not knowing its source, I kept  that quote on my refrigerator for years so that I would see it often. And, because I am aware that BEING is “One”, I concluded that I was an integral part of the planning.

“Is willing to accept that she creates her own reality except for some of the parts where she can’t help but wonder what the hell she was thinking.”

Story People, Almost New Age

Is our world is a virtual reality of our own design? This idea is closely aligned with the ancient spiritual tradition of India that we are living in “maya” (roughly translated as “illusion”). There is the beautiful maya of the natural world that is there to appreciate it and to meditate on its many mysteries, to teach us and help us grow spiritually. But it is the human maya that becomes our role play—our charade–and leads us into believing that this Earth life is our only true identity. However, it is not. It is a merely temporary reality.

: “Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

Any cursory exploration of quantum mechanics reveals that modern Western science has met ancient Eastern tradition.

Wordsworth captured this knowledge and the inevitable destiny of ego development in Ode on Intimations of Immortality.  An excerpt:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

          Hath had elsewhere its setting

               And cometh from afar;

          Not in entire forgetfulness,

          And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

               From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

               Upon the growing Boy,

But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

               He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

     Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,

          And by the vision splendid

          Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.

The Illumined Human (Part 1)

From Being to Becoming: Time & Space

“Being is always there; it is what we are in the most fundamental way”. –


A. H. Almaas,
The Pearl Beyond Price

I see no reason why spiritual awareness or self-realization must be incompatible with a personal human life or that being an ordinary human, flaws and all, must be a hindrance to self-realization as an illumined human. Embracing humanness may very well be essential to spiritual awakening.

There was three year old child who kept insisting that she had to be alone with her newborn sibling. The parents, concerned that the older child through sibling rivalry or just lacking awareness might harm the infant, refused the request. But the child kept asking, insisting over and over again on time alone with the infant. Finally, relenting, the parents stationed themselves outside the closed door, having set up video and sound monitors in the room. Not being a religious family, imagine their surprise when they saw their daughter lean over the crib, put her head close to the infant’s head, and say:


“Please tell me about God. I’m starting to forget.”

Most people cannot remember anything prior to age three. Sense of self, or self-concept, is something that develops with time and experience. Children become self-conscious (showing signs of embarrassment or shyness) around age two to three. Also until around the age of three the child often doesn’t understand the concept of “I” and speaks in the third person (e.g. “Sharon want toy”).

The splendid innocence of the infant is that physical birth marks only its bodily separateness but not its differentiated psychological self. Over time the personality evolves through enculturation, experience and increasing levels of choice into a separate sense of itself—a self-concept.  Self is constructed. As that self continues to grow and become stronger, it creates a kind of amnesia of the Essential Being, its spiritual home. Veils descend that allow the ego to assert and sustain itself.

Time & Space: Relative Existence

Many who have experienced a near-death experience report that time does not seem to apply to reality. As one experiencer, Jeanie Dicus, put it, “Before we’re born, we have to take an oath that we will pretend time and space are real so we can come here and advance our spirit. If you don’t promise, you can’t be born.”


greekmytholog.wikia.com/wiki/Lethe

The tale of Er in Plato’s Republic gives us the image of souls returning to Earth drinking from the River Lethe (Lee-thee), the “River of Forgetfulness” that ran through the caves of Hypnos, so that they would forget from whence they came. The implication of the Greek myth is that we are hypnotized out of remembering our true nature so that we can adopt a new human identity. This would suggest that developing that identity is actually important.

Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity explains that time is subjective. An amusing anecdote, wrongly attributed to him, is supposed to explain this theory:

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”


While this is relatable and generally subjectively true, in this case time has not changed at all, only the perception of it is different, as can be measured by a clock.


The actual theory is that in the space-time continuum time does not move or flow. All of time is now. Time just IS; and passage of time is a result of limited human awareness.


People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”.


Albert Einstein, 1955

If the spiritual world is timeless, the physical world is not. Not only is time called into question but so is space or locality. We have an awareness of solidity, and yet we are both wave and particle. We occupy a location, but exist in a quantum state of non-local entanglement.  Another way to say this is that we merely appear to be here. There are fundamental contradictions between what are scientifically understood as proven realities. The cognitive dissonance that this creates—that existence itself is a paradox—can only be resolved by accepting that two (or more) contradictory realities can and do exist simultaneously.

  1. The material/spatial/temporal world is real. Deal with it. Study it. Understand its laws. Be in it, grow and learn with it. Embrace the experience of being fully human. Later, you will be mature enough to learn that it does not define you.
  2. The spiritual/non-local/timeless world is real. Deal with it. Be with it. Understand that this is a larger, truer you. Your earthly biography, like a story, has a beginning and an end. Don’t believe that the story of you is you. But don’t allow that awareness to prevent you from having a human life.
  3. Be at peace with both realities.

I am

I am empty, so You fill me, but I am never full;

For I am a fountain pouring forth your love, emptying.

Beneath this craggy mountain shell is cavernous magic.

I am countenance, only an image, as the leaf is of the tree.

I am empty, so You fill me, but I am never full:

For I am a singing, starlit river carrying ecstatic rainbow fish.

Spilling into your vast, eternal ocean.

I am but an iridescent bubble, delicate and hollow,

Floating, shimmering, pretending to be knowable until I burst,

I dance in the breeze while I can, flit and spin myself

Into and out of being.

I am nothing. Empty. Without form.

I glisten and shimmer with dragonfly wings.

I hover and land then flit away on a moment’s inspiration.

Exhaling.

You breathe You into me, and I breathe You out.

I am empty, so You fill me, but I am never full:

I am a hollow shell holding the roll of the ocean.

I am a cupped hand holding light.

I am nothing. I am.

©Sharon Heller,   (Yom Kippur)  September 18, 2018