The Sanskrit term used in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is ‘vritti svarupya’. That is, mistaking the thoughts for reality. What? That’s right, our thoughts do not reflect reality.
What do you mean? My thoughts are real, I hear you say. I don’t get it.
OK, I’ll try again.
Your thoughts (and mine too) are your brain functioning. Just as your heart does its work by beating ceaselessly, one of the functions of the brain is to create thoughts.
Let me say it again. The thoughts that your mind comes up with can never be a true reflection of reality. The brain takes the cues and information available to it and creates a thought. When you consider that, then how can thoughts ever reflect reality? (They can’t.)
Yes this is BIG.
So whatever I think about something … its good, its bad …whatever … doesn’t actually change anything.
‘It is what is is’.
Regardless of what the mind decides!
You may have come across another quote that reflects this understanding:
‘We do not see things as they are, we see them the way we are.’
Ok, so what is the value of thoughts then? I hear you say. I thought it was good to have a mind?
It IS great to have a mind. The mind is a wonderful tool that helps us as we make our way in life, plan, talk, solve problems etc. But the trick is to recognize what a mind can and can’t do. Yes of course you can have thoughts. Great thoughts and ideas!
It is quite funny. We spend our whole life deciding what we like and don’t like, shaping our world views, becoming the sort of person we want to be.
In fact we even create a ‘mini-me’ in our head, our mind-generated sense of self. Sanskrit also has a term for this, ‘asmita’. It is also the ego.
Here’s the good news! We don’t have to give up any of that. We can just recognize what our mind can and can’t do, and accept that our thoughts are ‘brain events’.
When you think about it, this is very freeing. We can recognize that there’s no need to be too attached to our thoughts, they are really not that special! Our sense of ‘me’ is afterall, just a thought!
Did I figure this out all by myself? No way. I am indebted to my teacher *Swami Shantananda, (affectionately known as Mataji) who gently helps people to see this through the practice of meditation and study of the Yoga Sutras. She says that people rarely figure it out without a teacher, as it is so hidden until it is blindingly obvious!
It is one thing to get this in an intellectual sort of way, and quite another to get it in life. So I watch my thoughts in meditation, and at other times, and feel the freedom that comes from not having to be so attached. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself!
So simple, and yet profound.
“By constantly keeping one’s attention on the Source, the ego is dissolved
in that Source like a salt-doll in the sea.”
~ Ramana Maharshi
*Read Mataji’s reflections at http://www.swamishantananda.com.au/