It can be intimidating to hear about “observing thought” because thoughts are subtle and slippery. We can’t touch thoughts. But very often, unnoticed thoughts force us to react mechanically to life, and remove us from fresh experience in the present.
We have already observed our thoughts many times: for example, when we catch ourselves daydreaming, or notice that our point of view differs from another person’s.
What happens to thoughts when we bring attention to them? Sometimes they simply disappear. Sometimes we may wonder if we are being aware of thoughts or just thinking about them. Sometimes as we plan a trip or remember an argument, we know clearly that we are seeing images and hearing or seeing language in our minds, and that “movie” continues.
Our practice is to:
~ Pay attention to thoughts without getting lost in their content. Instead, we simply notice that thinking is happening in our minds. We often get lost in thoughts about the past or future. Labeling these thoughts as “remembering” or “planning” can bring us back to the present moment.
~ Learn how thoughts are connected with feelings, body sensations and emotions.
~ Investigate. Do we control our thoughts? Or do they seem to appear and disappear whether we like it or not? Thoughts are not an enemy to be killed. In fact, trying to “kill” thought simply speeds up the thinking. Instead, we can open attention to lively chaos, with discipline, deep curiosity and wisdom.
This spacious awareness gradually buys us out of slavery from cowardly views and miserly habits. We begin to be less interested in compulsive thoughts that lead to suffering, and instead we cultivate those that spring from the heart of the unknown and lead to happiness.