You are not your thoughts
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind — you are the one who hears it.” — Michael Singer
I remember the first time I actually became aware of the mental chatter going on in my head.
It was like I was suddenly overhead, watching myself from a distance, observing what was going on in my mind. When I first realized how busy it was in there, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!
It felt like what I imagined Grand Central Station must feel like — constant movement, commotion, noise, and busyness. People rushing about in every direction, always more to see than I could comfortably take in.
In this case, though, rather than people, it was the thoughts that were rushing — in and out of my head. When I really started to watch, it was constant!
One thought after another, on a continuous loop.
I was living in South Korea and working as an English teacher at the time. It was one of the most challenging yet fascinating times of my life so far.
I’d been feeling so lost and down that I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I couldn’t keep going on feeling the way I was feeling. It was too hard. I didn’t want to do it anymore, and I didn’t know how much longer I could do it. I was out of energy and fading fast.
I reached out to a friend, and she gave me the title of a book to read that she thought might really help me. The book was called Loving What Is by Byron Katie.
At that point, I’d never heard of Byron Katie or her meditation practice called The Work, but I trusted the person who’d recommended it, and something in me told me to follow her advice and read the book. So, I did.
Near the beginning of the book, Katie claimed something like, “It is our thoughts about reality, not reality itself, that cause all the suffering in the world.”
That sounded like a pretty bold claim to me. Our thoughts cause ALL the suffering in the ENTIRE world!? That can’t be right. How can it be so simple?
I wasn’t buying it. But then I got to a line that really shook me. I simply couldn’t deny its truth and accuracy.
Maybe this lady was onto something?
That particular line read:
“Most people think that they are what their thoughts tell them they are. One day I noticed that I wasn’t breathing — I was being breathed. Then I also noticed, to my amazement, that I wasn’t thinking — that I was actually being thought and that thinking isn’t personal.”
When I compared it to breathing, I got it.
“Do you wake up in the morning and say to yourself, ‘I think I won’t think today?’ It’s too late: You’re already thinking! Thoughts just appear. They come out of nothing and go back to nothing, like clouds moving across the empty sky. They come to pass, not to stay. There is no harm in them until we attach to them as if they were true.” — Byron Katie
I suddenly became aware that she was right! I don’t control what thoughts come into my head. They just barge right in without any notice! One moment I’m enjoying something and fully in the moment, and the next I hate that exact same thing.
So if the outer world is still the same as it was just a minute ago, when I was in heaven, then what happened!?
My inner world changed.
A thought came in and disrupted me.
Simply becoming aware of this felt like a miracle to me in that moment. I was stunned!
I’d spent my whole life so far thinking that I was creating my thoughts, and therefore that I was responsible for them! When I was depressed and having many more terrible thoughts than thoughts that made me feel good, I thought it was my fault, that something was wrong with me. Why was I doing this to myself? What was my problem? And more importantly, why couldn’t I stop it?
But this book began to wake me up to the truth.
“Thoughts are like the breeze or the leaves on the trees or the raindrops falling. They appear like that. Raindrops aren’t personal, and neither are thoughts.” — Byron Katie
I began to see the humour behind it all, and how nonsensical the constant chatter in my head actually was.
What if I didn’t have to take any of those thoughts seriously? What if I didn’t have to believe them?
If I didn’t take them personally, there’d be nothing to argue with.
If I saw them for what they were (just something that happens), I wouldn’t be so affected by them that they take control of me and ruin my day.
“Would you argue with a raindrop?” — Byron Katie