“You can’t let go of a stressful thought,
because you didn’t create it in the first place.
A thought just appears. You are not doing it.
You can’t let go of what you have no control over.
Once you have questioned the thought,
you don’t let go of it, it lets go of you.”
(Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy)
Thinking is something we can’t help doing; it just happens; there is nothing we can do about it. Oh yes, one can meditate and apparently there are instants where thought is not, but what has happened is that we have taken our attention elsewhere and it no longer registers thought. But that does not mean thought does not continue happening, it’s just we don’t notice it. If you observe, the same is true in most instances. If our attention is not on the ‘thing’, it doesn’t exist. When we are not thinking about our feet, they might as well not be there: we don’t even have any idea of where they are or what their position is, and I observe my mind went to my feet in the moment I wrote this sentence: I noticed where they were and what position they had taken without my permission or will intervening. Wherever our attention rests it pulls into conscious existence what it appears to capture and blocks out what is not in its horizon. For instance: when I first moved into this apartment, the passing of heavy cargo trucks was very audible and I noticed every time one went by. Today, the same amount of trucks pass, but it is not very frequently that it is brought into consciousness by my attention: I simply don’t hear them anymore. No attention, no trucks.
Consider the following conversation and remember when you might have had a similar one:
A: Goodness, did you see that woman in the red hat last night during the inauguration of the art exhibit?
B: What woman?
A: The one in the ridiculous red hat. You couldn’t have missed her!
B: I don’t remember seeing anyone in a red hat.
A: Last night, and she was talking her head off as if she wanted everyone to notice her.
B: Really? We were together all night and for the life of me I can’t call up a red hat!
Was there a red hat or wasn’t there a red hat? Who is right? One might be tempted to say that the “positive” memory is the correct one. This is what my father taught me: the positive memory is always more correct than the negative: if I remember you saying something, and you don’t remember, my memory is correct, because the memory of something NOT DONE OR SEEN is not a memory; I can’t remember a not-doing. According to this A would be correct and B wrong. However this is based on the thinking that there is only one possible reality and not on the comprehension that reality is infinite possibilities and formed by what one “chooses” to think (perceive) in each moment. B’s reality might have included two men with the same green tie, whereas A’s reality was so centered on the red-hatted lady that for her there wasn’t a green tie in the room. This does not make one reality more correct than the other, but it does point to that fact that we have no proof that something exists unless we perceive it and even then, quantum physics would probably beg to differ.
For people who were not on the site the morning of the Twin Towers, there is no difference between the experience they had seeing it on television and that they might have had watching the movie “The Towering Inferno”, except -a big except- the fact that they believed the Twin Towers incident was real (after all, it was on the News) and the Towering Inferno incident was just a movie. A simple thought: ‘This is really happening’, ‘This is not really happening’: a belief is all that lies between reality and fiction, and yet our whole perception of the world is based on that belief.
If one looks closely, it is possible to realize that the experience in both the hat-tie incident and the Twin-Towering incident are identical: in neither case have we any proof of which reality is the real one. If an alien came to Earth and watched both movies (that is now all we have of the Towers) s/he would not be able to tell the difference. If I believe that reality is the way I see it, I will go to war with you if your vision of reality is different from mine. For instance, if you believe that the Twin Towers was a terrorist act against the United States and I believe it was a high power US manipulation to give the US an excuse to invade oil rich countries and gain control of them, and neither of us are capable of recognizing that both positions are nothing more than beliefs (religion in its individual expression) we will probably end up terminating our relationship (withdrawing our ambassadors from the others territory) and we might even go to war: begin telling everyone who believes in the same theory we believe in just how wrong the other person is (gathering allies), making sure the other is barred from our gatherings, and eventually finding some socially justifiable (for our own people) way to attack them.
Just consider for a moment what the pilots that flew the planes into the Twin Towers had to believe to be able to prepare for and commit their suicide mission. They had to believe, at least, that their act was good for them, their families, their nation, their God: in other words, that they were doing the best thing they could, a good thing: modern day kamikazes. Perhaps in the West we could view their beliefs as absolute madness or evil: How is it possible, we might ask, that someone in this day and age would believe that? How is it possible for someone to believe that the deaths of innocent men, women and perhaps children are good? And yet, how many people in the United States actually believed that Sadam had weapons of mass destruction that would pose a direct threat to their country and perhaps the world, and justified a war that killed many more innocent men, women and children than the attack on the Towers? Was this possible because somebody (the President of the United States, perhaps) told them it was true and they harbored the belief that the President wouldn’t lie? Did the pilots in the planes harbor the belief that their religious leaders wouldn’t lie to them? Aren’t all wars simply a question of believing that one can and does know the truth and that the other is not only wrong but also evil?
The reason I am looking at this today is very simple: I began having a belief about a friend that might have ended in war. I recommended the movie “Thrive” to her because I found it fascinating to contemplate the possibilities exposed therein, and she came back with the absolute conviction that the movie is nothing more than a hoax and sent me an article brandishing all types of proof that Foster Gamble is a fake that only dimwitted people would believe (not her words exactly, but what I understood from them; exact words: There are so many garbage merchants around and enough notsobright people around to ensure them a good income). On the way to coffee I found myself a bit upset and considering a rather dry answer when the thought “She just wants to prove how smart she is” popped into my mind. For an instant I could see how true this judgment was, and then I burst out laughing: my mind flip-flopped directly into a turnaround: “I just want to prove how smart I am!” And it was true! As a matter of fact, for me it was much more true, because I actually haven’t the vaguest inkling as to why my friend likes to debate, but it is the only reason why I would enter into an argument about things that I have no idea are true: to show how knowledgeable and intelligent I am.
The discovery released me. What a relief! It is me, after all. And what can I actually know for sure as true apart from the fact that I am the one who would go to war over my “beliefs”? If I were to be honest, I could say “I prefer this theory, it fits more comfortably with my present mindset and I am open to the possibility that one position is as true as the other”, because everything I might be conjecturing (conjecture, according to Wikipedia, is an unproven proposition or theorem that appears correct) in my mind is nothing more than that: an unproven theorem. And the more I question these unproven theorems, the more I understand Socrates.
With this awakening to myself, I also comprehended why I was becoming so uncomfortable with our “discussion”: I was acting from beliefs I have long since stopped believing: I need to be intelligent, I need people to admire me, I need to be right, I need to be important. Oh dear, what a relief it was this morning to realize this and laugh and let go, and be free to continue being friends. I was guilty of nothing more than thinking and believing my thoughts. Innocent all the way. Freedom, ahhhhh, freedom again!