Do you ever think about how much time you spend thinking? Or to be specific—how much time you spend thinking without thinking you’re thinking?
Because when we begin to examine it, we quickly see that we get so lost in thought we don’t even know we’re thinking.
Which has got me thinking.
That whether we’re engaged in fully conscious thought or lost in the fast current of unconscious cogitation, our thoughts materialise from somewhere just off camera, just beyond our frame or field of awareness. We don’t direct them into existence. There’s no central subjective Self, some Mini-Me of the mind, sitting somewhere just behind the eyes, pulling all the strings and levers of our faculties.
That might be a troubling thought to think: that we’re not in charge of our thoughts.
You would’ve thought, wouldn’t you, if there was anything at all we were in charge of in these infinitely complex lives of ours, it’d at least be the content of our noggins.
But as anyone who’s spent even just a minute in meditation will tell you: not so.
If you sit and close your eyes and attempt to focus on your breath, you’ll inevitably, invariably and almost instantly be buffeted and bombarded by thoughts. Try it.
All manner of thoughts will come. Some might even feel quite relevant like, “I’ve never noticed how hard it is to stay focussed on my breath.” And before you know it you’re thinking when thinking was exactly what you didn’t have in mind.
So yes, when you get down to it, it’s really quite clear that we have pretty much zero say in our thinking.
And again, that might be a troubling thing to contemplate.
Because it leads, in one direction at least, to the question of free will: If I don’t control the thoughts I have, and if all action is the manifestation of mind, then what exactly, if anything, am I in charge of here?
But since free will, it seems to me, seems to be one of those rarefied dinner table conversation topics, like voting conservative or going vegan, that provoke heated debate then ire, I’ll leave it for another day (a decision which to some will prove the existence of my free will and to others will point to its absence since I didn’t author the thought or feeling that precipitated the decision…). As I said, best left for another day.
Not having control over the thoughts we think isn’t the same as saying we don’t have control over what we believe or say or do or don’t do. We might not control the moment-to-moment thoughts that arise in our mind’s eye, but we can choose our response.
This, I think, is the level of consciousness in which our agency exists.
And it’s in this agency that (whether or not we have true free will), we truly do have freedom. And in it’s in this freedom that we can choose to make our lives, and the lives of others, as pleasant as can be.
It’s a little like the weather. We can’t help it if it rains or shines, we have no say in the matter at all.
But we can take an umbrella and choose a lovely pair of boots.
And with that I wish you happy thinking.
Love, Jake x