Of late I’m becoming sensitive to my emotional reactions to my thoughts. A moment ago I was feeling offended because of reading on the Toastmasters’ International website how a member moved from attending his first meeting to becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) in two years. Two years! This immediately aroused in me feelings of hostility and rationalization: why had it taken me four decades? Why does it generally take most members at least a decade, often two? I was incensed. The reasons aren’t important here. What is important is that I sensed for the first time the resentment and perhaps jealousy – as a feeling in my body. And by experiencing that feeling and recognizing it for what it was, I became aware that I was the experiencer, not the feeling itself.
Once we become aware of a feeling and do not identify with it – that is, by not losing ourselves in further thought and thereby evoking further unfelt feelings within us – we are on our way to ‘lightening up.’ That is to say we are learning how to observe our emotional responses to our own thoughts and thereby purifying them.
By purifying, I mean that we are not laying them down in our mind-bodies seeds which will grow unmonitored in our subconscious minds. For when we think and get emotional about it, without recognizing what we are doing to ourselves, we are creating within our mind-bodies what Vipassana meditators know as sankaras. Sankaras are the impurities which grow within and cause us so much trouble later on.
The thought that is suppressed, or even worse, repressed, is the cause of so much trouble in our lives. When a thought arises we should remember that the thought is not us. It is a thought. We can accept it or reject it. By reject, I mean ignore, pay it no heed. But if it has strong emotional aspects and we try to get rid of it, we could well make it worse. It is said that what we resists persists. Therefore it is better to either simply ignore, but if we cannot do this, then to examine the thought impartially – clinically…without judgment.
We can examine our thoughts impartially if we always bear in mind that we are not our thoughts. They are something which arise in our minds but are not the essential us. We can use thought. We can ignore it. But we are well advised not to lose ourselves within thought by identifying with it and believing that it is our self. The French Philosopher, Rene Descartes, was wrong when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” He could just as easily have said, “I feel, therefore I am.” Or any one of a number of things. Probably he’s have been nearer the mark had he said, “I observe, therefore I am.” Or “I am aware, therefore I am.” For it is very possible – with practice – to stop one’s verbal thinking and yet one is still alive; one still is. The “I am” is not reliant on thought to know that it is has existence.
But to get back to being able to sense the emotional content of a thought as it arises. This is a wonderful step forward in my self-understanding. For a long time it was theoretical – except in periods of meditation. Generally, when some strong emotion was aroused in response to a thought – which might have been triggered either by me or someone else, or something else – I would react and thereby register it within me. Now, at long last, perhaps that automatism is finally coming to an end. If it is, then I’ve made a real, tangible advance towards living in continual and willed awareness whenever and wherever I wish it. Being ‘in the now’ as and when desired will have become the norm rather than an ambition.