One of the most important developments in human evolution is the ability to think. However, an even more important development is the ability to grow beyond thinking. To do this, we need to discover the intelligence that’s inherent in awareness itself. It is important to note that growing beyond thinking is not a regressive, dumb, or irrational state.
When we are identified with our thinking, then that believing creates our perceiving. It is through our five senses that we receive information about the world. Hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling connect our bodies with our environment. In Buddhist understanding, thinking is considered the sixth sense. Each of the six senses (including thinking) processes a particular kind of information.
Thinking is a way of actively using all the sensory parts of the brain. It is inner sensing, inner seeing, and inner hearing. Thinking can be experienced as a vivid inner movie. Some people are visual types, but for most of us, thinking is mainly experienced as inner hearing and inner talking. Yes, we all hear voices! Thinking is mostly hearing speech in your head without using your ears. It’s also self-talk, speaking silently to yourself inside your head without using your mouth but with your brain hearing the words as if they’re spoken into your ear.
Try this now: Go ahead, take a moment now and see what the experience of thinking is like for you. You can silently say to yourself, “I am thinking this thought.” And then listen to thought as inner hearing. Then wait, and you will hear the next thought spoken in your mind.
What was that like, hearing the inner talk? Thinking as inner hearing includes all manner of inner monologue, commentary, and dialogue. Inner talking can take the form of a dialogue among subpersonalities who argue, debate, and plead with each other — all inside our heads. When we identify with one of these subpersonalities, we take the voice that is talking at that moment to be “me.”
What is it like when automatic thoughts are in the background? To find out, do a quick experiment now: Bring your awareness to the sensations in your right foot. What do you notice when you focus your awareness in your right foot for a few moments? Do you feel a lot of sensations?
Here’s the thing: A minute ago, you didn’t notice these sensations, although they were already happening. It’s only when you focused on the sensations in your foot that they moved to the foreground of your awareness and began to seem so active and incessant.
You will see that you don’t need to monitor your thoughts continuously any more than you need to constantly monitor the sensations in your foot. Paying attention to automatic thoughts is simply a habit we can change. When you shift into awareness-based knowing, automatic thinking moves into the background, and you experience true peace of mind. You’ll learn to trust that the intelligence of awake awareness will tell you if there is a particular automatic thought that needs attention (which is not that often).
For more information, see Loch’s book and audio of meditations, Shift Into Freedom.