Saturday, May 19, 2007

A welcomed if unexpected visitor

As with reading, we’re all aware of a kind of ‘voice’ in our minds which is how we are aware of our thoughts. Sometimes it is as if we actually ‘hear’ the words spoken in a literal sentence form, while at others it’s a cognitive state of mind that emerges and crystallizes in the moment.

Reflect upon last 24 hours. Through your journey from stepping out of bed, the morning wash and dress routine, the hours you spent engaged in industry, the commute home, the arrival and passing of dinner and retiring to bed: several thoughts came into your mind during that time. But how many did you actually choose to think and how just many appeared in your mind beyond your will?

Your thoughts might have seemed deliberate and connected in a direct way to your own personal life, such as musing while passing a grocery store on the ride home “What am I going to have for dinner tonight?” Especially in situations where there is no evidence of context and it seems to happen spontaneously, the question of control or influence in the emergence of a thought is a perplexing one. Can we reasonably claim to be in control of what we think if the emergence of a thought it beyond our control?

One we’ve had a thought, are we any more in control of what happens with it? Can we choose deliberately not to think about something like a pink elephant and shut it out of our mind? Can we stop a thought once banished from returning? If so, why is it that some have an orbital trajectory, cycling into our awareness persistently over a matter of minutes, or days, or weeks, or years?

One of the few times that we deliberately seek to exercise control over our thoughts happens while in a meditative state, or an activity inducing one such as Yoga. But even here at a time when the consciousness is being purposefully channeled in a specific way, the deliberate focus on specific thoughts or senses is usually not our own, but being guided by an expert, or advice.

There is no conspiracy theory lurking here. Psychologists would contend that we are the originators of much of our thinking even though it may be beyond our direct control or access. That the magnificent machinery operating in the expansive reaches of the subconscious is the forge. And the gifts of everyday existence are the thoughts that break the surface and appear in our mind, often unannounced.

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