On Dropping Thoughts
If you’ve ever taken up any meditation practice, especially one emphasizing mindful awareness, chances are, you’ve been told to just let your thoughts fall away. The teacher or meditation guide likely reminded you that you are not your thoughts, as a way of encouraging you not to get frustrated by the constant bombardment of mental chatter. Just gently say, “thinking” to yourself, and come back to presence, he or she probably advised.
I call it “going sailing.” It’s a good idea to resist the urge to “go sailing” when you’re trying to meditate because the minute you get carried off on a thought cruise, you are, to put it in one of my own teacher’s words, “in your head.” If you’re in your head, spinning stories and fantasizing, then you’re not really here—you’re somewhere else that doesn’t exist…in a fabricated rerun of yesterday’s argument, or in some imagined future scenario. And the whole point of practicing mindful awareness, is to come to presence.
Thus, learning to take the perspective of “the witness” is an important part of any meditation practice. As a witness, you learn not to identify with these distractions called thoughts. You, in turn, begin to bring spaciousness into your universe, which is actually less poetic and more literal than it seems because every time you gently come back to this moment, you experience reality more fully. By bringing your concentration back to the breath, or your mantra, or the yantra, or whatever tool you choose to use as a focusing mechanism, you detach from the allure of the fantasy.
You unhook yourself from the temptation to spin the story.
There are countless stories in our heads. Liberation from their beguiling appeal is the essence of Buddha’s instruction to drop the endless desires that follow them, like smoke follows fire. We become narrow and myopic when all we can see in our mind’s eye is our story. We get hooked onto the “catch of the day”—the worry, fear, the conversation on repeat, or the anticipated scenario to come. But once we begin to unclench our bite, we begin to see more, hear more, and experience more of our world. This is spaciousness. This is the beginning of what it means to expand our awareness.
On Positive Thoughts
So, where do positive thoughts fit in? That’s just another form of “thinking,” isn’t it?
There is a useful role, to be sure, for positive affirmations. Cell biologist Glen Rein was among the first to substantiate the idea that our intentions and emotions actually affect our DNA. That the way we talk to ourselves inside our heads can have such far-reaching effects on our well-being, so as to cause changes at the cellular level is more than just fascinating, however—it is empowering. It means that we have more control over our physical, mental and spiritual health than we imagined.
The implication is that, if you can work skillfully with your thoughts and commit to talking to your self with kindness and conscious intent, then you can achieve what the scientist describes as…a heart-focused, loving state and live in a more coherent mode of physiological functioning. That’s the whole key; working with thoughts consciously, not willy-nilly.
One of the most powerful ways we can heal ourselves is by thinking positively.
As an analogy to thoughts, consider actions, in general. In philosophical ethics, we distinguish between negative commands and positive commands: The things we shouldn’t do, like stealing, and the things that are good to do, like sharing. In this way, we reduce harm in the world. Generally, the “don’t do’s” are absolute, whereas the “do do’s” are optional.
As an example, consider this situation: If I remove myself from society, say, by going off to live in a cave somewhere, I reduce the likelihood of causing injury to anyone—I’m practicing “not doing.” This would be akin to dropping thoughts. But this is impractical! We all have lives to live, people to talk to and things to. So, this brings me into the realm of positive action and the need to be more conscious of how these actions will play out in the world.
We don’t have control of the infinite trail of karma over time and space, but with good intent, I simply increase the chances of a positive outcome. This is akin to positive thoughts in the world of our body-mind and the far-reaching ways that affirmations can heal not only ourselves, but our world, as well.
The reach is actually infinite, considering the way that these internal vibrations, called thoughts, will reverberate through our cellular structure, the fabric of our emotions and, like wakes behind a boat…outward, through our energetic projection, our words, our choices, our purchases, our conversations and everything we do.
Thinking positively may be seen as the active component of our practice, where mindful awareness is the softer, more passive part. It’s like reaching out for the apple rather than waiting for it to fall. It’s recognizing my role as the creator of my universe and my power to manifest my health and well-being. It is the Yang to the Yin.
Watch Donna Quesada talking about this topic on Youtube: