There are two types of thought in Buddhism:
- Initial thought – first thought
- Developed thought – elaboration on first thought, which leads us into fantasy and belief in our constructed stories.
This is similar to the four layers of concept and language which is how our thoughts construct what we think is reality.
- 1. Naming – we name something.
- 2. Elaboration- we layer onto the name, our stories, interpretations and evaluations
- 3. Clinging – we become attached to our stories
- 4. Opinion/or belief – our stories become “right” and solid.
And I add:
- 5. War, fighting to defend your opinion or belief.
This developed thought is how we can stay stuck in our heads, thinking and thinking. This is the monkey mind which just goes round and round. Sometimes I think, most Americans live from the neck up.
The construction of reality in our heads is what Buddhism calls “Delusion”. Our practice leads us to enter into the experience of the moment without naming and constructing concepts. This doesn’t mean – we annihilate “thinking”. But it’s importance to understand the real use or truth of language, concepts and stories. We know that the “name” is not the thing. We know that “Judith” is a sign for me, but it, the name “Judith”, doesn’t tell you anything about me really, about my sensibilities, my body, my history, my energy or my truth. It’s just a name, important for communication, but not the thing itself. In Zen, we often say that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. Entering into the direct reality, dwelling in the present moment, can bring us great Joy and settle our whole being down into the truth of the moment.
There are many practices that can help us learn to work with our elaborated thoughts.
My favorite practice is Pema Chodron’s instructions:
- Drop the storyline
- Stay with the underlying energy of the moment.
This is the ability to return to right here, right now, and not let your thoughts carry you away. In order to do this we have to cultivate our ability to hold the underlying energy of the moment. This is very hard to do. Mostly, we want to do anything but feel what’s happening energetically and our usually escape mechanism is to go up into our heads. I often have said – we have to increase our capacity to hold our emotions without reacting.
As Pema Chodron adds on to the teaching:
- Don’t repress
- Don’t act out
- Stay with the energy of the moment.
These are very powerful instructions. They help us become aware of our habit energy and gives us the strength to interrupt our negative habits of thinking and acting. In order to do this, we make friends with and intervene on our negative karmic habit patterns. We have to develop a mind of love and compassion that can uphold our emotions with gentleness from underneath the storyline. This mind of love can always be the place to go when we are tossed away by our stories and when we notice our habit patterns.
Becoming diligent with noticing our thinking patterns and cultivating our mind of love will help us “change the peg” of unwholesome thinking to wholesome thoughts. The guardians at the gates of our mind can help our awareness. Then, we can enter into the direct experience of our lives and not just think about our life. What did Buddha say, “Reading the prescription is not taking the medicine.”