How often are we lost in thought?
If you think about it (pun intended) you are constantly talking to yourself. Who are the players in this dialogue? Who is talking to whom? Who is listening to the dialogue? Who is giving the speech? Who is the objective observer? Can the observer see who is having the conversation? Step back from the conversation. Get a really good look. Who is there?
From the contemplative point of view, being lost in thoughts of any kind, pleasant or unpleasant, is analogous to being asleep and dreaming. It’s a mode of not knowing what is actually happening in the present moment. It is essentially a form of psychosis. Thoughts themselves are not a problem, but being identified with thought is. Taking oneself to be the thinker of one’s thoughts—that is, not recognizing the present thought to be a transitory appearance in consciousness—is a delusion that produces nearly every species of human conflict and unhappiness. It doesn’t matter if your mind is wandering over current problems in set theory or cancer research; if you are thinking without knowing you are thinking, you are confused about who and what you are. “Waking Up” Sam Harris
When we are calm, in a peaceful place, our thoughts are often meandering. They might be about something we sense. The cool breeze, the sound of the rain, the smell of breakfast, the chatter of the children…. Then, in a flash, our thoughts shift. Our minds go back and forth in time and space. We think about a memory, a past moment, a reminder of another situation. Then our thoughts shift to imagining or planning the future. Then we are back in the present moment when we sense an empty feeling in our stomach.
“I am really hungry.” “That breakfast I had on my vacation was amazing.” “Wonder if I could recreate it at home?”
And on and on it goes…
When we are worried or in conflict, our thoughts take a new form. Now the dialogue is like watching a play. We imagine a future scenario with actors. One of the actors is us and the others are people we know.
Act one, scene one…bosses office with you and your boss having a discussion
You thinking: “I don’t know why my boss hates my work.” “I think I’ll tell him how I really feel.” You speaking: “Listen Jim, I don’t know what your problem is but you must be really stupid to not appreciate all the hard work I’ve done arround here!”
Jim: “Is that right? Do you want to find a new job?”
You: “Maybe I should reconsider that approach.” “Jim, I know you are so busy and I really admire your leadership.” “Maybe I could help offload some of your work?” “I have some great ideas…”.
Jim: “That would be great. I have this 300 page proposal I’ve been working on. How about you take it for me?”
You: “No that won’t work either. I don’t want more work.”
Act one, scene one, revision 3, take 4…
And so it goes…
If you look within, who do you see? Can you find you? You can “hear” a narrative, so there must be a voice. Who is talking? Go ahead and see if you can find the owner of the voice…I’ll wait.
You can’t find anyone, can you? But you can look, right? Who is looking? Can you find the one looking to see the one talking? You can’t find that one either. But you are very aware of “you” the whole time, right?
So let’s ask a different question. What is looking? What is hearing? What is aware of the dialogue? What is aware of the thoughts?
This “what” is “you.” This you has no form. This you has no substance. This you can’t be described…but this you can be sensed. This you can be felt. This you can be experienced.
This you is the awareness you are. This you is your true self. This you is what is watching the thoughts that come and go. This you is what looses its attention, gets lost in the dialogue, becomes so caught up in the play it is watching it forgets it is watching a play. This awareness is your true self.
When you are aware of the real you, the consciousness you are, then the thoughts, the dialogue, the meanderings, are not you but something you are observing. Being aware of your thoughts is to live in the present moment. Being aware of the play as a watcher of the play is being your true self. Living in the present moment is eternal life. Being present in the present moment (instead of being lost in thought) is being aware of your beingness.
As your true self, aware of the awareness you are, there is peace. The observer of a play may experience the drama of the play and identify with the emotions of the actors, but the play is a play. The watcher of the play may be lost for a moment in the story, but when the lights come up, the watcher remembers that they have been watching a play.
We can live this temporal life as the watcher who experiences the temporal life while never being completely lost to the identity of the play actors. Being aware of your thoughts as the observer is a key that opens up the spaciousness to experience what you are. Awareness of being lost in thought is a great pointer to the formless (or thoughtless) self you are.