- The content of cognition; the main thing you are thinking about
- The process of using your mind to consider something carefully
- The organised beliefs of a period or group or individual
- A personal belief or judgement that is not founded on proof or certainty
Have you ever travelled by tram, bus, or train? Have you ever looked at all the people around you, and wondered what they might be thinking? I have, and it’s amazing to watch! You can tell they’re thinking as they blankly stare out the window, or into space, but you don’t know what they’re thinking!
Everybody’s thinking about something different. One man is thinking: “I wonder what I’ll get my wife for her birthday tomorrow,” whilst the other is thinking: “I’ll grab his wallet as he goes to get off.” One woman thinks: “I need a cigarette right now,” whilst another thinks of her dying mother in the hospital.
One boy thinks: “that girl’s quite cute.” One girl thinks: “ why doesn’t that horrible boy stop staring at me?” All in all, that’s a lot of thinking going on in one tram, and we can’t see any of it.
Imagine if you could see thought! What an interesting place the world would be. Embarrassing for some, dangerous for others, or just plain comical. You see, you never really know what people are thinking. You can try to judge facial expressions and actions but you never really know…
The politician talking on camera, discussing morality, whilst thinking about meeting his mistress.
The schoolteacher chastising a child for smoking, and secretly wondering if he’ll ever be able to kick his own smoking habit.
The soldier who has killed an enemy, thinks of his family, and how he would feel if one of them had been killed.
The film star smiles broadly for the fans whilst wishing he was at home in bed.
The world is full of thought, which is silent, but if one acts on a thought, that thought becomes a reality. You can think of declaring war, raping a girl, murdering that old man, kissing that girl, telling someone you like them, telling someone you hate them. You can think of quitting your job, leaving your husband, having one more child, or having sex with a prostitute. You can think of stabbing that man, fighting the football fan, telling your parents you love them, robbing the bank, or killing your friend and stealing his money.
But it’s all right, there’s no good and bad thought, just thought. No one can see it, it’s just in your brain, in an area specifically reserved for putting everything together. A thought is innocuous. It cannot directly harm another being in the entire world, until we turn that thought into action.
I stabbed that man. I raped that girl. I hate you. I declare war on you. I have quit my job.
Before every action there is thought. When someone says, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” what they mean is that they are sorry they weren’t thinking straight. Action cannot take place without thinking even if you didn’t mean it. There is always thought present.
Try to ask for a kilo of bananas, turn left in the street, light a cigarette or make a phone call without thinking first. It’s not possible. You must have already thought (the process of using your mind to consider something carefully).
Meditators spend their time trying to transcend thought, to quieten the mind from its incessant mind talk, to achieve a state where thought does not exist, only pure consciousness and clarity. They attempt to do this through various means – by chanting mantras for instance – to force out all other noise, but we will discuss meditation in more detail as a separate topic. Let us just say that thought has been giving anyone concerned with the mind a great deal of problems over many years!
We already know that thought is a process, but what we are probably not aware of is that thought can only use what already exists in the mind to work with. This will make sense to all of you, as you would not be able to work out a complex mathematical problem if you had never studied mathematics, nor be able to speak in french, if you had never bothered to learn the language.
Thought relies on what has been learned already. In short, memory. This can only mean one thing: that everything you think, is based on events from the past. Education, experience, teachers, parents, politicians, media, your peers. In fact, every person, and everything, you have come into contact with, is going into your memory, ready to be pulled out if needs be, to construct complex thought.
You couldn’t live without memory, otherwise you would never remember how to drive your car, do your job, or even remember where you live. That would lead to a lot of confusion in the world. So memory is vitally important to the smooth running of humanity. The problems begin when thought comes from the conditioned (a learning process in which an organism’s behaviour becomes dependent on the occurrence of a stimulus in its environment) mind.
We all have conditioned minds to some extent. Do you remember when we had our first discussion about why you thought the way you do? Remember the following example, where we tried to understand where our views came from, and how we could transcend them. How over generations, our opinions were being formed by the attitudes of our teachers, parents, media, politicians, culture and friends?
I support the death penalty
I am opposed to the death penalty
Where the conditioning of our minds made us not able to think openly, even if we wanted to. Where we looked at the above statements and chose our side instantaneously, without “thinking.” Well, thought was there, it just happened very quickly! So let’s look into this very carefully, shall we? If I can make a snap decision like that, based on thought alone, thought must be the single most powerful weapon in the world. Imagine that! Your mind as a weapon.
They say that countries don’t start wars, people do, but I’d like to take that one step further, and say that people don’t start wars, thought does. Remember, before every action there is a thought. Do you see how dangerous this can be?
If I have been thinking about a certain race of people, and based on my conditioned mind, think that they are a dirty, evil race who have come here to take over my country, I could use this thinking to condition and convert others into starting a war against them. Just like that.
Although some of you will say that thought can be used for good, let me say that true love, the love of all other living creatures, could never come from thought. You never think you love someone, you love them with your whole being. You feel love.
When you care for another human being who is sick or dying, you do it out of love, not because of thought. When you see suffering, you help out of love; out of empathy with another being who is suffering. You do not need to “think” about it.
I love you dad
You didn’t need to think about that, did you? Thought causes suffering and pain, thought causes jealousy, greed, war, ambition, power, desire and violence. Love is all that thought is not. Love is a feeling of peace between all men. Love is harmony, where thought is destruction.
Thought is where “I” get in the way of love, with all my wants, needs, desires and prejudices. All acted out as a result of thinking. When all these are gone, there is only love. But let’s look at thought in history shall we?
Can anyone really tell me that anything good has come about from thinking? Governments starting wars, religions going to war, kings going to war, all for what? Honour, or for a noble cause? I’m afraid that maybe the conquest of land, the conversion of people to a different religion, the greed of men, the arrogance of kings, and the desire to rule the world, are more like it! And all this pain and suffering, caused to millions, over thousands of years, has been the result of someone somewhere thinking… “I’m going to take over france,” or “I think we should kill the unbelievers,” or “there’s gold here, it’s mine,” or “look at all the oil, I want it for myself.”
No, thinking should be relegated to the history books, it hasn’t really done us any good.
What then is to be done about thought? We can’t just turn it off, we can’t just flick a switch and replace thought with love, and see all the problems of the world clearly. We can’t force our brains to stop thinking, or take a pill and see reality without the smokescreen of thought. No. The only way forward is to be aware of yourself, aware of yourself in the moment, where thought is occurring, and step aside.
What do I mean by step aside?
Well, to put it simply, we get in the way of clarity, with prejudice, ideas, opinions, education; what we have heard our politicians say, our friends, or the media say. We have put up so many barriers, that clear awareness of the problem is not possible.
Conditioning has closed our minds to all but the past. The only way forward is to decondition our minds, to remove the layers of conditioning and see what is really there, not to limit ourselves by thought anymore.
We are the most intelligent beings on the planet, but when we look at what we are doing because of thought, I sincerely believe we should give up that title. So next time you are riding the tram, bus or train, have a look around you. I mean, have a good look around you, and look at each and every one of your fellow passengers.
Try to see what your mind is doing when you focus on the man with the shabby clothes. Listen to the voice within, which is you, the judge.
Listen to what you’re saying about the man. Listen to the terrible things you think about him. And at that point, try to step outside yourself.
Try to visualise sitting on your shoulder as a virtual observer, and the physical you becomes the observed. This is a very important exercise in developing self awareness, but don’t try to think “why am I thinking this way?” That is only you getting in the way of yourself again, just watch.
The homeless man, the woman who is not so beautiful, the schoolchildren fighting. The man who smells of alcohol, the man with the tracksuit who looks like he might rob you, the old lady staring at you. The group of youths laughing at the other end of the tram, the business man in his sharp suit, the man with the bitten dirty nails. The woman with shabby hair, the man whose coat is torn, the blind man with the stick. Thinking, thinking, thinking, that’s all we ever do. We can’t help it, we have to think, think, think…
“Urgh, look at that homeless beggar, urgh, I bet he stinks of urine, I hope he doesn’t come near me, or touch me, he’s disgusting.”
“That woman should really do something with herself, she’s really ugly. Maybe if she got better clothes, wore a bit of make up, she might look better…”
“I wish those schoolchildren would stop that, it’s really annoying. Why do they let schoolkids on the trams at this time, it’s really inconvenient. They don’t even pay, and they’re really loud…”
“That guy looks like a criminal, his eyes, the way he’s dressed, he doesn’t look like he’s got a job. I better check my wallet, and make sure I’ve got my hand on it just in case…”
“Those youths are really noisy. I bet they’re aggressive. I wish I could tell them to keep quiet, but they’d probably attack me, yeah they look like that sort of people…”
“That man looks like he’s got a lot of money. I wish I had a lot of money. Maybe he hasn’t, maybe he just dresses like that to impress people. I bet he hasn’t got any money, that’s why he travels by tram, otherwise he’d go by car…”
“Urgh, that man’s nails are disgusting, they’re filthy, why doesn’t he clean them? I wonder what sort of job he does, he doesn’t look clean. I bet he doesn’t wash very often.”
“Why doesn’t that woman do something with her hair? It looks awful, she should look after herself more”
“Look at that man’s coat. I wouldn’t go out wearing a coat like that, why doesn’t he get it fixed? Maybe he can’t afford a new one. Who can’t afford a new coat? I’d be embarrassed wearing that coat…”
“Look at that blind guy, it must be awful not being able to see anything. I bet he wishes he could see, he’s missing out on so much. I wonder how he lost his sight, maybe it was an accident. How does he know when to get off…”
We judge and we criticise, and the great thing is, we don’t even know the first thing about these people! With the way we think, it’s a good job thoughts are not visible, otherwise we’d hurt a lot of people’s feelings!
How would you feel, if you knew you were being judged and criticised all the time; not verbally, but psychologically? Not by someone who loves you, but by a complete stranger, who you will see for a fleeting moment once in your life. And from that meeting, without actually acknowledging each other, you will use all of your conditioning (from parents opinions to teachers; from media opinions to politicians; from experience to peer group opinion) to make instant judgements about them. A person you will never know, who has had no effect on you, becomes an object. An object for judgement. Why?
Well, in evolutionary terms, watching other people could have meant life or death in some situations. You had to decide very quickly if this person was friend or foe. It was all about survival in the old days, and to some extent, we still need our early warning systems in case of attack. But this is not about survival, is it?
Imagine the previous tram car scenario. Who do you think the only person not judging, or not criticizing was? Was it the homeless beggar, because he was at the bottom, addicted to alcohol, with no where to live? Or was it the ugly woman, because she couldn’t very well criticise other people with a face like hers? Or was it the youths, because they obviously don’t think a lot?
Wrong on all counts! The homeless beggar is judging you for not giving him any money, the ugly woman is looking at another woman and criticizing her clothes, the youths are judging the oldies because they aren’t cool enough. The only person not actively judging and criticizing is the man with no sight, not because he has no prejudice or conditioning, but because (although conditioning will in the most part be through language) the object of the conditioning must be visual.
There is no point in being told that criminals have a certain look, dress a certain way, or behave in a certain manner if you can’t see them to apply this rule you have been told.
Without the visual cues, the conditioning is incomplete and worthless. You are conditioned by society (criminals dress/look/behave a certain way), you have a visual cue (someone who fits this conditioning), you process this against your conditioning (does the visual cue match the conditioning?), and come up with a thought…
“This man must be a criminal, I should watch out.”
Amazing! The brain is amazing! You see, it doesn’t matter now if he is a gentle family man on the way to meet his wife for shopping, or a hardened criminal, ready to stick a knife in you for your last ten pounds.
He matches the profile you have in your database, so the judgement has already been made for you. No amount of convincing would allow you to accept he wasn’t a criminal.
“No, my mind’s made up, there’s definitely something funny about him…”
And so it goes on, the constant judging and criticizing of our fellow man, through conditioning of the brain, and thought, its messenger.
As the most intelligent species on earth, don’t you think we started to lay thought to rest for a while? Is our thinking really helping us improve the world or just helping to judge it and criticise it a little more, and feel oh so smug, when we’re proved right.
“See, I told you he was a criminal.”
Thought can only lead to violence.
When thought is absent love is present.
Can you see that? Only if we love the criminals, the ugly women, the homeless beggar, and the man with the dirty nails, can thought cease.
Most of you will be saying: “This is extremely difficult, how am I to put aside years of prejudice and conditioning to experience love? And what if I am right about them?” (there goes your thinking again.)
Love is not effort. You cannot force yourself to love another human being. You cannot decide to love. Love is all encompassing, love is a feeling that warms your whole body. Love is just being. And if some of you are confused now, let me ask you a simple question. When you say:
“I love you dad”
what are you thinking? Are you judging him, because he is old, or for the things he has done in his life, right or wrong?
If your dad was a criminal, could you still say “I love you?” What if your dad was a homeless beggar could you say “I love you?” If he was stupid, smart, wise or ignorant, could you still say “I love you?” When you truly love you cannot judge. Now go back to the last moment you told your parents or someone very close to you “I love you,” and remember how it felt.
What were you thinking when you said it?
When you love, the conditioning crumbles, you start to see reality as it really is. You stop judging, and criticizing, after all, where does it get you? It only makes you feel worse thinking negative thoughts – about yourself, or anyone else.
Negative thinking is responsible for causing wars. For if it was positive thinking, that would be love, not thought, and when you love something, or someone, you certainly don’t want to destroy it!
When a leader of a country thinks negatively about another nation of people, it won’t be long before you are all thinking negatively, and, thanks to conditioning (propaganda/education/media), you will suddenly hate and want to destroy an entire nation of people! Amazing. And most of you will never have met someone from the hated country, and will know nothing about them, but are still prepared to go to war and kill them.
So in order to hate you have to think. Remember this.
I am not asking you to walk around preaching peace and love to the world, just try one thing when you are next in a restaurant, at work, on the tram, at school, or in the pub when you see someone you want to judge or to criticise. Stop!
Close your eyes for the briefest of moments, and imagine that someone somewhere told them “I love you.” They are someone’s son, daughter, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend. Someone loves them very much, someone who told them “I love you” with no judgement or criticism, the same way you said to your parents or someone close to you, “I love you.”
Why are you judging them, why do you criticise them in your mind? They are loved, as you are loved, why waste precious energy turning love into thought and negativity, when love is already present?
by alan macmillan orr
“The natural mind- waking up “