This single piece of advice from Eckhart Tolle’s masterpiece The Power of Now was the first truly enlightened moment in my life.
The realization that the voice inside my head is not me changed the relationship I had with myself.
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki uses an example of the mind like a wild horse that is more easily controlled as less pressure is applied to it. And this was sincerely the first steps into what’s become a more available contentment and happiness. Which was pretty impressive considering my history of unhappiness and anger.
As the years have gone by my relationship to You Are Not Your Thoughts has only grown deeper. It’s the first piece of advice I give to people struggling with their internal happenings, and it’s the motto I repeat to myself if I ever start to feel overwhelmed.
This has become especially important for my meditation practice. Vipassana and Advaita Vedanta practice requires examining one’s own thoughts and either noting them (vipassana) or asking who’s they are, and who is this “I” that feels them (enquiry/advaita vedanta).
As I sit there is a stream of “who feels this? Who knows this? When am I?” in response to whatever thought arises.
Yet, lately while sitting I’m finding myself asking, “who asks this question?” At first it seemed like a normal part of enquiry practice, until recently, when upon asking the question “who asks?”, the questions stopped. Not only did the questions stop, but so did any types of thoughts.
I sat in my skin enjoying the sensation, and a sense of accomplishment. This is why I’ve been spending so much time meditating, right?
But as I sat in the void, the silence was overcome by a great deal of anxiety. What if the thoughts wouldn’t come back? I really like my thoughts. I like my imagination, and the ridiculous theories I come up with.
Then, with force I would make the thoughts reappear. It would take a surprising amount of effort to have them reappear, but would be relieved they weren’t gone forever.
And this was the game I’ve been playing with myself for the last few weeks. Which, obviously, made practice difficult and uncomfortable.
I was thankful, though, that I was able to find my thoughts again. And was even finding an odd pleasure in realizing that I could stop and start them at will.
Then, sitting in the back of my head was Tolle’s advice:
You Are Not Your Thoughts
The sneaky devil had found his way into yet another epiphany.
This game that was happening inside was not mine that I was playing but a game that my brain was playing with itself right in front of me, tricking me into a sense of ownership of the actions.
But, like all great teachers my mind was showing me a lie that I had so fully bought into, I was using it over and over to reaffirm a delusional thought.
The thoughts: “I” sit to meditate, and “I” ask myself questions, and “I” decide what to have concentration on – are all a delusion.
I do not meditate. I do not ask questions. I do not stop thoughts.
None of it is mine because I am witnessing it happen – and the object cannot be the perceiver.
The feeling of ownership is delusion. As Tony Parsons says, “it’s just happening.”