Saturday, 12 April 2014
The Prison of Thoughts
It can happen to anyone, at any time. It was on the banks of the local river that it all happened to me.....
I am walking along beside the water. Ducks swim playfully on the surface, and sunlight penetrates deeply the clear waters, creating patterns on the stones below. Trees sway in the wind, seagull chancers hover close by in the hope of scrounging some free goodies. I become aware of the stream of thoughts coursing incessantly through my mind. It consists of words uncalled for, and completely unrelated to the present situation. There is also playing intermittently a song that I haven't heard 'live' for weeks, and which I do not particularly like.
A few days later I am walking alongside the same stretch of river. I am once again conscious of a similar theatre acting itself out inside my mind, except that it's a different song playing repeatedly, and different random groupings of words. And that I'm beginning to find the whole thing quite irritating.
Some time later, I take the same familiar walk. On this occasion, the full force of what's going on hits me. Jung talks about thoughts as a bunch of wild animals running amok through a forest, and he is right. These words and songs that seem to come and go unbidden have nothing to do with 'me' in the sense of my conscious will and purpose in life. It's all just random rubbish clamouring for my attention. I become keenly and painfully aware that these thoughts are not harmless, neutral entities. Instead, they have an energy to themselves. A strong thought can knock you off your feet; and this torrent of stuff surging through my mind can leave me drained and exhausted. Conversely, even a few moments of freedom from the cascade releases a great surge of energy.
Let's leave aside the question of whether these thoughts are energetic food for archon-like entities or not. Whatever its precise status, this torrent of thoughts forms, for the aspiring mystic, a crux. The alchemical process of purifying the vessel, thus making it fit to receive higher dimensional wisdom, consists in good part of removing these obstructions to direct experience from our mental sphere.
In Castaneda, this process is described in terms of 'stopping the internal dialogue'. '.....The internal dialogue is what grounds us' Don Juan said.'The world is such and such or so and so, only because we talk to ourselves about it being such and such or so and so.' Don Juan explained that the passageway into the world of sorcery opens up after the warrior has learned to shut off the internal dialogue. 'To change our idea of the world is the crux of sorcery' he said. 'And stopping the internal dialogue is the only way to accomplish it.' (Tales of Power, chapter one).
If we succeed then, in the words of Don Juan, we can 'stop the world'. Stopping the internal dialogue is not, however, so easy. Who we think we are, and the world we identify with, depend on the constant narrative we automatically tell ourselves about how and what things are. In other words, our ego depends on the internal dialogue for its identity and survival; any attempt to quieten the internal dialogue will also threaten ego. It follows that strategies set up by the ego are doomed to failure: its not going to vote for its own abolition. As Victor Sanchez points out in 'The Teachings of Don Carlos', 'It is not possible to stop thinking by thinking about it. Western rationality simply does not work as a method for achieving inner silence.' (chapter six). Even Hindu and Buddhist-based techniques for 'quietening the mind' and developing samadhi can suffer from this problem, and therefore are sometimes of limited value. Stopping the internal dialogue may require more the approach of a trickster, creeping in sideways, obliquely, sneaking in without the ego cottoning on to what's really happening.
To repeat: stopping the internal dialogue is the key. And I'm in no position to prescribe a ready-made and guaranteed formula for success. We're kind-of out there alone. But here is an outline of a few strategies that I find personally helpful:
Listening to sounds. In 'A Separate Reality' Don Juan advises Carlos Castaneda to listen to sounds. Certainly, I feel that meditation techniques which focus too much on the subject will only fail in attempts to stop the dialogue. Sounds are clearly 'outside' us, beyond the clutches of identity and ego, beyond ownership. Our ego identifies far more readily with sights, which are often the predominant conscious sense input for humans. Adopt a meditation posture if you wish, or do it any way you want. Close your eyes and pay attention to all the sounds. Birds, wind, voices, traffic, whatever turns up. That's all you need to do.
Another meditation posture strategy: turn thoughts into concrete visualised words. See the wild animals running through the forest as actual words. They dissolve and disappear.
And the classic techniques of 'being in the here and now'. Be in the physical body, the physical sensations, not in the head. Go out into nature or any other uncluttered situation. Work on experientially distinguishing between thinking and perceiving. 'We modern humans live as prisoners in a reality constructed for us by our thoughts.' (Victor Sanchez again, chapter six). It's time to break out.
And a brilliant quote that is obliquely related to the theme:
'There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil
to one who is striking at the root' (Henry D. Thoreau)
Go for the root, dear friends, go for the root.......