Thoughts. Where do they come from? Where do they go? And what leads one to another? Why do they keep appearing and dissolving? Why do they never stop? What’s the mechanism producing this constant rising and falling away? It’s not as though we can point to any place in the brain and say, “This is where it all happens!”
Some thoughts rise up out of memories, some appear out of thin air, and others pop into our consciousness in an “aha moment.” When we are solving a problem, we use the power of our brains, in particular, the frontal cortex, to “think.” We analyze, relate, and create. But, what about other times when unorganized and disconnected thoughts tumble into our consciousness? Perhaps we’re just having a cup of coffee and looking at the leaves falling from the tree outside the window. Thoughts come any way. Perhaps at this moment they arise from memories of other trees or other cups of coffee or perhaps not. Thoughts about the dirty dishes left in the sink or a friend who hasn’t returned a text message we sent him may take us far away from the cup of coffee and leaves falling from the tree.
Sometimes a thought appears because we’re on the same wavelength with another person. We pick up information (become entangled with someone) and the thought occurs to us. We saw this example last week when we talked about synchronicity. Suddenly I’m thinking of a friend for no reason. The phone rings. It’s the friend on the line.
Thoughts often have a way of bothering us. We may not want to think particular thoughts but in they come, invited or not. We can be so disturbed by them that we become distressed; we want to run away from them; or we yearn to fall asleep. Sleep may be acceptable at bedtime, but not in the middle of the day. What are we to do? Where’s the on/off switch?
There are no muscles, like those that control our bladders, that turn on and off thoughts. But, we can be with them in such a way that they are there without causing us any distress or interest at all. That’s what we do in meditation. When we focus on the breath, thoughts rise and fall away, but we pay no attention to them. In the beginning, we can nod to each one as it appears by saying, “Thought,” and then return to focusing on the breath. After awhile, we don’t feel the need to make this acknowledgement. We simply allow them to do what they do without showing interest, or interacting, or reacting to them. After a few minutes, the space within us grows bigger; we become calmer and more centered. The thoughts are still there, but they have receded into the background like wallpaper in a room that we’ve become accustomed to. We give them no notice and if asked, “What was that thought?” Well, we have no idea. So, in this way, we turn off thoughts.