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Radical Happiness Blog

The Impersonal Nature of Thoughts

From In the World but Not of It: New Teachings from Jesus on Embodying the Divine

in the worldThoughts are not personal means they are impersonal, universal. The thought-stream is similar from one person to another, with only minor variations. Just as some people have blue eyes instead of brown, some have more of certain kinds of thoughts than others. But thoughts, regardless of what they are, serve the same two purposes. First, they define you: They tell you who you are, how you look, how you feel, how you compare to others, and how you’re seen by others. Second, they tell you what to do and how to behave: what you can and cannot do, what you should and should not do, and how to behave. The specific definitions and instructions vary, but everyone is given basic definitions and instructions. This is your programming, your software.

This programming comes partly from genetics and partly from conditioning, or programming acquired from the environment, particularly from those who raised you or with whom you grew up. And where did their definitions and instructions come from? The same place: from their genetics and their environment.

Given this, you can probably appreciate that your conditioning is not necessarily that useful or true now. If you look at the specific definitions and instructions about who you are and how you should behave, you can see they are arbitrary. They could apply to anyone, although the truth is, they apply to no one, really.

So much has happened within society in even just the last one hundred years, and yet similar conditioning continues to be passed down from one generation to the next. To say that some of it is outmoded would be an understatement. Because conditioning hasn’t kept up with evolution, it’s causing a lot of problems. People continue to believe things that aren’t true, such as the superiority of certain races and religions, and they behave in ways that are dysfunctional, such as trying to solve problems through war and terrorism. Conditioning that may have been appropriate or useful for one era is now contributing to humanity’s demise. This is no less true on a personal level. Much of your conditioning doesn’t contribute to your well-being but does the opposite. Seeing this is important now.

The ego is an antiquated aspect of the human machinery. It developed to support survival when humanity lived in tribal groups and hunted and foraged for food. Then, danger lurked everywhere, and fear enabled humans to avoid being prey. The ego’s motto was and still is “Kill or be killed.” However, now, in most cases, fear has nothing to do with an actual threat but is caused by a thought. Fearful thoughts cause people to be stressed-out, make poor decisions, and do unspeakable things to each other. Fear that stems from believing mistaken thoughts is at the root of most bad and ill-advised behavior, and such fear comes from the primitive ego.

The voice in your head is not functional, even though it may have been and even though some remnant of ego is still needed to function and survive. This is an important distinction: You need an ego, but you don’t need the voice in your head, which is the ego taking over the mind. Your evolution as a species depends on recognizing the destructiveness of this voice.

The thoughts in your thought-stream are not your friend. Seeing this can work against you, however, if it pits you against your thoughts. “What you resist persists,” and so resistance is not a useful stance. Thoughts are not the enemy, although once you realize the truth about them, it’s natural to feel that way. However, only the ego could see anything as an enemy.

An enemy is someone you fear, someone you believe has power over you. But thoughts are not to be feared, as they have no power over you if you don’t believe them. Would you be afraid of a rope if you knew it was a rope and not a snake? The same is true of thoughts. They are what they are, an outmoded part of the human machinery. If you leave them alone, they’ll go away. Leaving them alone is enough.

This is easy enough to do if you don’t believe that your thoughts mean anything about you, if you know they aren’t really yours. The only way they could bother you is if you believed in the you they describe. To the extent that you believe in this you, there will be a reaction to your thoughts—either buying in to them or being irritated that they still arise. So, what to do?

The answer is simple: Just notice. Notice the irritation, annoyance, or desire to be rid of thoughts. That isn’t the real you that feels that way. The real you is loving this great adventure called life, including the challenge of having thoughts that are both entrancing and unwanted. What an interesting dilemma being human is! When you accept your thoughts and let them be, you drop into Presence, where seeing the truth about them is much easier.

You can see there is a Catch-22 here: You need some distance from thoughts before you can be objective enough to see the truth about them and detach from them completely. This distance develops over time, and there’s only so much you can do to develop this. Daily meditation speeds this along like nothing else because it teaches you to notice thoughts. Meditation develops the Noticer because meditation brings you into Presence, which is what notices and experiences life.

From In the World but Not of It: New Teachings from Jesus on Embodying the Divine

This book is also available as an audiobook.

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