The coaching I do is based on the understanding that everything in our life is experienced through thought. In other words we are living 24/7 in a subjective world, a personal world created entirely through our minds. The world outside that looks so real is actually made up. It is a world of illusion.
And sometimes this looks like total nonsense.
Because of course there are things that exist independently of thought. Real things like furniture, trees, money, taxes, marriage, jobs, birth, death…. Regardless of what I ‘think’ about money, I still need it to buy food and if I can’t it will cause me a problem. If someone dies, isn’t it completely natural for me to grieve? The death has caused me sadness, directly. Nothing to do with my thoughts.
Surely that must be the case?
Well, one thing I know for sure about the understanding that we experience the world from the inside out is that it is 100% true all the time. There is no ‘well sometimes it is this way and sometimes it is not.’ There is nothing I can experience that isn’t experienced through me, through the power of my mind. I know this even if I don’t always ‘know’ it. If you see what I mean.
And if I don’t see it in certain aspects of life then that it is only because I don’t see it yet, not because it isn’t true. Because it is always true. 100% of the time.
Like a helium balloon or a candle flame could look like they are defying gravity. But… nope.
How do I reconcile that then? How does that work with the things that look so real and permanent and objective?
Let’s start with something easy. Is there a table where you live? Let’s all consider our table. What’s yours like? Mine is made of some cheap wood that we tried to disguise with a varnish that is now fading. I hope you have a nicer table than mine. If I were to walk straight into it I would bang my leg. It is real. It is here in my life. No amount of contemplating the nature of thought, even on an intensive retreat where no one wears clothes and we all eat strange herbs, is going to make it not real. It is a real table. It is really there.
There are many moments when this table is simply useful. Like now. Using it to write a blog. Very handy.
There are many moments when it doesn’t even cross my mind. For example, I only occasionally think about my table when I am out with friends (Joking of course…! I often think about it. No really – I rarely think about it when I am out. Maybe even never. Honestly…)
There are also many moments when it seems to cause me stress. Sometimes I look at its streaky varnish, remnants of the previous meal and piles of bills as a clear indication that my life is falling apart and how on earth can I coach people when I don’t even have a non-streaky, crumb-free, uncluttered table.
A table has the power to be useful or to turn me into a failure and hypocrite. Wow. That is some table that can do all that.
Except it can’t. It has no super powers. It has no ability to infiltrate my mind and make me happy, grateful, insecure, stressed.
My thoughts on the other hand… They have all the super powers in the world. They can create social services coming in, seeing the remains of dinner still uncleared, the disorganised bills and whisking my children off to spend their lives in a desolate orphanage. (I’m not joking here. Wish I was.) I can feel the devastation, the bereavement.
It is truly amazing what our thoughts can do. The panoramic, 4D, incredible special effect film that we can produce out of nowhere in a split second. And we attribute it so innocently and so completely misguidedly to something outside us. The table is making me stressed. The table is making me happy. The table is making me sad. It cannot possibly be true.
Let’s take another real aspect of this table. Imagine I were to bang my foot on it. The pain would be felt but everything I experienced about the pain and about banging my foot would be through thought.
It could be:
‘Damn me for being so clumsy’
‘Damn this table for being in the way and also so streaky and piled up with papers’
‘Damn my mother for not making me continue ballet lessons when I was five to make me less clumsy’
‘Damn my husband for… well… everything’ (Poor fellow.)
‘Pain! How cool! My nerve endings are working. I am a walking miracle!’
‘What? Oh… yes. A broken toe possibly. But look at that this awesome manicure I got today…’
Or an infinite array of other possible thoughts in the moment.
All of which have their own movie attached to them – blame, gratitude, guilt, wonder, distraction – which has zero to do with the table, zero to do with the pain and everything to do with the infinitely creative power of thought, brought alive through consciousness in the moment. It’s amazing isn’t it?
And there’s another way we can consider this. This table looks to me like something made of wood designed to put things on. That’s the reality of the table for me, the short hand of it. To my five year old it is a shelter for lego wars. To my nine year old it creates a cosy corner in which to watch dance videos. To a quantum scientist it would be mostly empty space. To an up-cycler it could be a chair or a crib or anything else. To an inhabitant of a post-brexit dystopian wasteland it would be firewood or a weapon….
There is no limit to how the table can be considered. There is no limit to how much there is to find out about it. There is no limit to layers of truth of it or to the things that our imagination could create with it. All of this experienced and created through the mind, through the power of thought.
As it is with the table, so it is (now and ever shall be) with EVERYTHING else.
Even the stuff that looks real and solid and objective. Money, taxes, trees, marriage, birth, death… All of them are real but, like the table, all of them exist or don’t exist, are one thing or another, are simple or complex, awful or wonderful according to thought in the moment.
And let’s be really clear. This is not about positive thinking or mind management or controlling thoughts or seeing the silver lining. It is not about acceptance either because what it is I think I have to accept comes from thought and will change from moment to moment.
It is simply about noticing the incredible power of thought to conjure up an experience, an entire ‘reality’ in any one moment. A ‘reality’ that can disappear without trace in the next.
As we see the truth of this, we move from being unaware and overwhelmed, ricocheting from rock to rock down the white water river of experience to the fascinated and marvelling observer of thought and feeling.
The life changing advantage of this is that we start using our mind as it is designed to be used. When we find ourself stuck with an internal movie about a certain thing or person or situation, for example ‘I can’t make money’ or ‘he makes me sad’ or ‘it is impossible to find a job’ we can realise that we are experiencing that stuckness through the creative power of thought. It is not the person or the thing or the situation that is causing those feelings. It is always thought and thought will always change without our doing anything at all. That is its nature.
And this realisation draws us easily and simply into reality. A reality in which there is a table there, for sure, but in which we are aware that our entire experience of that table is created through thought in the moment.
And as we come into this reality, we free ourself of the illusion we were trapped in, we start to see things differently, we have fresh ideas. Each moment becomes animated with the truth that a new thought or insight is waiting to turn into form.
This is how we were designed. To experience thought and also to notice its power to create an experience.
It is always thought.
Never the table.