Wildfires in the Mind
As close observation of the inner working of the mind progresses, space between thoughts begins to open up and one can observe and experience periods of silent, peaceful, quietude in which all internal mental dialogue ceases. With diligent practice, the moments when thoughts subside become more frequent and easier to observe. The mind shifts into silent states in which it is aware without having to make any mental commentary or judgements.
From within this state of pure awareness, the next challenge is to try to catch thoughts as they begin to arise. In the beginning, thoughts will likely progress a bit before they can be caught, but as soon as this is recognized the mind should be pulled back into the silence. As the practice progresses, it becomes progressively easier to catch thoughts just as they begin to emerge. From within the silence this may be observed as a random word or visual image suddenly appearing and attempting to grow into a more complex thought form. The practice is to simply catch it as it emerges, and, as it is being observed it will tend to fall away on its own, so long as the thought is not being indulged upon.
When we indulge a thought with any amount of interest, it will grow and take shape because we are feeding it the energy it needs to take its form. If we simply observe without indulgence, we are giving it no energy or room to grow and it will wither and subside on it own like a plant that is not given any water.
There is however, a trickier, more difficult type of thought emergence to catch. To understand this more difficult thought emergence, we must first make a distinction between two types of thoughts. First there are the discursive, free flow, mind theatrics type of thoughts that always have a time component to them. This can include daydreaming, fantasizing, regrets of the past, worries of the future, etc.. In general, it can quickly be observed that this class of thoughts do not serve us very well, and are the greatest source of disharmony in our lives. They are also the most prevalent form of thought. For most people they run completely unchecked and unchallenged, which is why most people do not recognize them as a source of discord.
Secondly, are deliberate, intentional thoughts. This type of thought process always occurs purely in the present moment, that is to say there is no time component to them. These are the type of thoughts that are used in creativity, problem solving or in learning. They are a tool and as such, like any tool, should be put away when we are finished with them. In other words, when the mind is not actively engaged in creativity, problem solving or learning types of activity, the mind should be returned to the silent state.
It is this second type of thought patterns that give rise to the more difficult to catch type of thought emergence. Because we have engaged the mind, because we are indulging in mental activity, we are giving thought processes energy to take form. Within this process, a random word or picture may still try to emerge in the same way as it emerges from the silent mind. Because we have the mind engaged, and thus are providing our thought processes energy to grow, the emergence of discursive thought is like a spark hitting dry grass. The fuel source is there, the mind is engaged. The spark, if not caught immediately, will grow very rapidly and can quickly get away from the observer. Discursive thought then spreads like a wildfire.
If one were working with an open flame near dry grass one would employ extra caution and greater awareness of ones actions in order to prevent a wildfire. In the same way, whenever thought is intentionally engaged for a specific purpose, increased diligence in thought observation is of the utmost importance.
|Michael L. Fournier|