There are three types of thought swilling around in our minds. The most damaging are those that come with an emotional charge. Maybe your partner said something hurtful, and resentment has set in with thoughts of retribution. Or maybe we read somewhere about something called enlightenment, and because we generally live in a fairly miserable state, we are greedy to escape the pain and reach this fabled state where no pain can reach us. In both cases there is an emotional charge – resentment in the first case and hope in the second. By-the-way hope is always a bad thing, being the other side of fear – if you hope you also fear. In any case most of our thoughts come with an associated emotion, and may set up a feedback loop – the more we hope for liberation (because we are in pain) the more we feel miserable because we are not liberated, which makes us hope with an even greater intensity. These dynamics are very difficult to overcome, but with an understanding of the emotions and practices such as self observation, it is possible to acquiesce to our emotional states, and by accepting them they are much less troublesome and tend not to fuel painful thoughts.
The second genre of thought is largely a product of imagination. People who believe in systems, for example, will construct elaborate edifices to deal with life. This might come in the form of theology, philosophical systems, or anything that takes a person away from their imminent reality. Unfortunately, life does not accommodate intellectual constructs of any kind, and will not be straightjacketed. The inevitable result is that elaborate intellectual constructs must inevitably come falling down like a house of cards. Ernest Becker, in his book The Denial of Death, gives a very good account of how we seek to escape from the brutal reality of life through our inner symbolism – language mainly, and of course thoughts that seek to construct some kind of edifice employ language.
It should be clear from a consideration of these two forms of thought – the one charged with emotion, and the other building elaborate structures, that the common aim is that of escaping reality – that we will die, that those we love will all die, that organic life is just a self-eating machine, and that life seems to give us no firm foothold. Well, the first and most important step in jumping over our own knees is to be able to fully acknowledge the terror of the situation – to feel it in the depths of our being and not to turn away from it. Obviously, this requires a certain amount of courage, and it may take many years to see the full horror of existence.
The second step that completes the process of jumping over our own knees is that of realizing that our thinking processes are just useful tools, with no validity beyond this. Thoughts are just thoughts – some of them useful, most of them fairly random, and others nothing more than persistent imagination claiming undeniable validity.
The first step – that of seeing reality, is absolutely necessary if we are to remove the emotional charge from most of our thoughts. We are part of the horror show. It is the survival drive causing us to ride a roller-coaster of emotions, and when we see it and understand it, then it loses much of its power. The second step – that of seeing thought as simply a tool, can be equally painful since it requires us to kill some of our best-loved children.
So what is left after we have stared into the eyes of the beast called organic life, and seen through the mental constructs we call ‘I”? Nothing is left, the third kind of thought – no-thought. You are free.
For some people, these processes can be quite sudden, and for others very gradual. And in reality, no-one completely escapes the beast or the spells cast by thought. But there is a decidedly different existence for those who have fought long and hard with the monsters and the spell maker. The sage sleeps soundly in the graveyard at night.