What Were You Thinking?
The power of conscious thought.
Published: April 14, 2012
Train your thoughts to work for you.
Since most people are identified with their mind, they are also identified with their thinking. Many believe that thinking represents the highest level of human consciousness.
This is not the case. In fact, to my mind, thinking is highly overrated. Beyond the thinking mind is a higher level of consciousness representing intuition, love, compassion and creativity.
When this higher level is in charge of thinking, I call it conscious thinking. Most thinking is not conscious – it is unobserved and uncontrolled and can become very destructive. The point about thoughts is that they are not immaterial phenomena without substance, but electromagnetic realities that influence mind, brain and body. They are ‘food’ for the mind: we become what we think. Therefore what we think is crucial.
Most people in Western societies are stressed and harassed by their racing minds, which are constantly thinking and chasing them around in the daytime and keeping them awake at night. It is therefore important that we learn to stop this busy mind and discipline our thinking.
We once had a client at our neurofeedback clinic, a lawyer who was troubled by stress. I said to her, “In school they teach you how to think. In our clinic, however, we teach you how to stop thinking.”
She was baffled and replied, “But without thoughts I would not exist.”
The idea that we would take away her thoughts was so frightening that she decided to give up the training.
Thoughts are valuable tools for the analytic mind to use to solve practical problems. However, as Eckhart Tolle points out in his best-selling book The Power of Now, most of us are preoccupied with an almost incessant inner dialogue. We are constantly talking to ourselves, continually assessing the events around us and the behavior of ourselves and of others.
Most of the time this dialogue is not conscious, although it is the foundation on which we perceive reality. It also affects our feelings, which are our body’s reactions to our thoughts. Negative thoughts therefore create negative feelings, which drain us of energy and may lead to stress and disease.
It is an awful burden not to be able to stop thinking, but most of us do not even realize this, since it is a very common condition. The problem is that up to 90 per cent of our thoughts are automatic – they go round and round like old records, more or less unconsciously. For the most part we are not using them; they are using us. And when we identify with them, we are letting them take control of us.
How can we regain control? It is very difficult to stop compulsive thinking. Saying you want to stop doesn’t work.
You cannot stop a thought with another thought; the order must come from a higher level. So you must raise your level of consciousness one step up and imagine that you are observing both your thoughts and the thinking process itself from a higher level. Try to be “the silent watcher on the hill,” as Osho puts it.
There are different methods by which you can raise your consciousness ‘above’ the thinking level, such as meditation and brainwave training. (I describe these in my book, New Brain, New World) In neurological terms, watching from a higher level probably means that the frontal lobes are observing and controlling everything that goes on in other parts of the brain. The point is that observing a thought not only makes you aware of the thought but also makes you conscious of yourself as a witness to the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has stepped in. The habitual, compulsive thoughts have lost their power and will gradually subside. Then, as you learn to stay conscious in the present moment, you can decide when to think. In that state you are much more awake, aware and present than you are when you are identifying with your thoughts.
This is eloquently expressed by Eckhart Tolle:
The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.
Erik is the founder of the Mental Fitness & Research Center in Copenhagen, working with brain wave (neurofeedback) training. He has given talks at international conferences, conducted numerous workshops and published a number of articles in peer reviewed, scientific journals.