In the Dhammapada, Buddha says, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” Yet, Zen master Suzuki likens those same thoughts to passing waves, urging us to learn to let them go, for, they are not who we are.
It seems contradictory. But we can look upon this delightful little enigma as an invitation to reconcile both aspects of the polarity. It’s kind of like light…now it’s a particle, now it’s a wave.
Where thoughts are concerned, the catch is that they can and do pass…when we let them. As weary travelers pass continuously through the revolving doors of the grand hotel, our thoughts pass incessantly through our minds at the astounding rate of 1000 per blink of the eye. At this rate, it’s hard to imagine, we could catch any of them, at all, but this is exactly where it gets tricky.
The problem happens when we get stuck on a thought. Like gum stuck to our shoe, we then begin to wear it, exude it, transmit it. And then, it wears us.
What are we to do?
Through the simple practice of mindful meditation, we practice letting thoughts come and then letting them go. We practice non-attachment to those thoughts. Like anything worthwhile, it takes a lot of practice (which is why the monks spend 15 hours on their cushions a day). Because let’s face it—most thoughts only get us into trouble!
But as we become more comfortable with this process, we learn how to work with our thoughts in more skillful ways. MRI screening now confirms what Patanjali told us 2000 years ago in the Yoga Sutras, namely, that through focus and conscious intention, we can convert pesky thoughts into more uplifting ones. Cultivate counteractive thoughts, he said.
What it all boils down to, is living a more exertive and fulfilling life because when our thoughts have got us by the nose (to use an expression my Zen teacher once used with me), we become too engrossed in our internal battles to truly enjoy life.