Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Are Your Thoughts Real?

In the final scene of the movie "I Heart Huckabees"  one character is talking about a protest meeting and says, "Bring your own chains."  And the  protagonist  quips,  "We always do."  I love that line and I was thinking about it this morning in reference to "thinking".

Yesterday I became aware of the  chain like quality of  my thoughts.  I was all tangled up in those chains and if you'd chucked me off the short end of the pier that would have been the end of me.  In Buddhist terms, it isn't the thinking that is the problem, it's our attachment to our thoughts.  The fact that we believe them. (One of my favourite bumper stickers is "Don't believe everything you think".  When I told my Zen teacher, she replied, " it should be don't believe anything you think")  But I digress.  Such is the nature of thinking, following one thought after another like an unruly puppy.

My thoughts, your thoughts, any thoughts they are only troubling when somehow we buy into them, believe them, make them real and substantial.  I found this a bit hard to get at first because we are so intimate with our thoughts.  And we tend to think the same general thoughts over and over.  How can they not be real?  And in western culture our thoughts are considered as the basis for our being.  "I think, therefore I am."

And we do give substance to our thoughts.  They make us feel afraid, angry.  We might think we are bad because we have certain thoughts.  We give all kinds of power to our thoughts.  In watching some habitual and unpleasant thoughts yesterday I thought about the issue of addiction that I had been contemplating earlier.  I could see how I was drawn to these particular unwholesome thoughts in a very strong way.  .... Old long standing thoughts brought about by some family interactions ....  I could see how the thoughts were based on assumptions and how much I wanted to continue to think in the same, slightly self righteous way.    There was a little soap opera going on in my head.  Of course I was the star in the white hat and others where wearing hats of slightly dimmer shades.  These thoughts were agitating, yet I was drawn to them.  When I kicked those bums out, they kept coming back to do an encore.  So I could see what someone with an addiction must grapple with, the tenacity of the siren's call.  I was just trying to say no thanks to a thought, not a line of coke or a smoky glass of whiskey.

Last night I was reading Uchiyama's "Opening the Hand of Thought" and he talked about thoughts as "secretions".  That seemed a bit creepy.  Hmmm, secretions, it has a bodily fluid, ear waxy kind of ring to it.  I think his point was that thoughts just come out of our mind, the way things like sweat come out of our pores.  We don't have a lot of control over them, they are inevitable, everyone has them.  They are essential and helpful in their proper place.  I always love the quote, "the mind makes a good servant but not a very good master."  which I believe belongs to RM Jiyu Kennett, the founder of the Soto Zen Order of Buddhist Contemplatives at Shasta Abbey.

And while sometimes we may think it is the nature of our thoughts that is the problem, really it is our relationship with our thoughts that really matters.  ....To touch them lightly and let them go, as you might a tiny delicate moth that finds its way in through the open window.

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