by Lisa Ernst
You’ve probably heard that before, right? It sounds pretty simple and maybe sometimes it is, but at other times, nearly impossible. Why? Because for many of us, certain thoughts appear as unassailable “truths,” specific stories about our lives, about ourselves and others. As long as these thoughts operate below our awareness as stealth narratives, they can’t be seen for what they are, impermanent conditions that arise and pass away. We remain bound by these thoughts and they may lead to significant suffering and even depression.
When we identify with a thought or emotion as “I” or “mine,” our boundaries of inside and outside remain intact. There’s me, and then there is the outside world. This is only a perception, but its so strong as to feel solid and real. Buddha taught that this idea of a separate, inherent self is the root of suffering.
As a practice, try asking yourself, “is this thought me; is this thought mine?” You can do the same with emotions. This exercise is not intended to suppress or push away thoughts or emotions, but to allow you to begin seeing them without personal identification. This opens space to perceive the thoughts and experience the emotions as they are. This practice, reflective inquiry, isn’t a form of analysis. You’re letting the question remain open ended, to allow experience itself provide the answer. As you do this, you are opening yourself to the realm of dharma, where customary ideas and everyday perceptions don’t apply. The good news is, you don’t need them as you experience your thoughts and emotions appearing and falling away. Here you can access the heart’s true wisdom.
“When Ajahn Chah said it was possible to learn as much from stupid thoughts as wise ones, that was such a radically different approach. A wise thought arises and ceases. A stupid thought arises and ceases. A painful thought arises and ceases. A painful feeling arises and ceases. A pleasant feeling arises and ceases. I realized I didn’t have to feel ashamed when there was confusion in the mind. Just let it be and know it for what it is. They are all just states of mind, coming and going. Rather than anxiously holding on or to try to make sense of everything all the time, I got a feeling for letting go and letting be.”- Kittissaro, Listening to The Heart.