thoughts on thought

Posted on December 21, 2012


Thought is limited.thought

Attention is unlimited.

David Bohm, a physicist, in his book On Dialogue, examines the role of thought in our lives. Often thought takes on a life of its own, especially in the middle of the night. Thought is full of worry, regret, and fear. It creates inequality, racism, classism, ableism, sexism, and every other imaginable difference. It is the cause of hate, oppression, violence, and war. Thought creates boundaries and nations but then acts like it didn’t do anything, like nations have always been there. 

There is a worldwide breakdown in communication. Why is it that we cannot communicate? No one listens. No one hears the other. Everyone is all wrapped up in their own thinking about this idea or that cause, this opinion or that belief. There is no understanding between people. We are too busy trying to be right. And in order to be right, we must make those with whom we disagree wrong. The busyness of being right and making wrong has destroyed communication. It has destroyed the ability to trust each other and to build relationships. Human beings, at the deepest level, are all connected. We are all the same. But thought creates a lie that we then believe. thought-is-constantly-creating-problems-that-way-and-then-trying

The greatest tragedy of our times is that in a time of unprecedented communication technology, we can no longer communicate with each other. Because of our egos, fears, and beliefs, we cannot even look at each other and “see” the person; all that we have in common, that we are one. All we see is our own thoughts about disagreements and differences.

That which is different, we don’t understand.

That which we don’t understand, we fear.

That which we fear, we kill.

We kill people in many other ways than through war and murder.

We kill people with a look of disregard or disgust.

We kill people by looking down on them.

We kill people with words that pierce to the heart.

We use any means possible to remove that which is different, that with which we disagree; because it makes us uncomfortable. We even judge them and send them to hell in our own minds.

“Thought creates the world and then says, ‘I didn’t do it’” (David Bohm). Thought is a tricky thing, a sly fox. Somehow it is able to mask the lies so that we don’t see their source.

What if we learned to pay attention to our thoughts? They are the source of our emotions; our happiness, our fears, our regrets, our abundance, our scarcity, our hate, our love. Thought creates our world. But we can’t see it… because we don’t pay attention. We are not awake. We are not conscious. We allow our thoughts to run away with our lives, our relationships, our happiness, our love.

Training the mind is key.

We must first step back and follow our thoughts. When we do, we realize we have a “monkey mind” with thought running back and forth between the past and the future; the very things that we have no control over. Regrets of the past, worries and fears of the future occupy our mind all the time.

It takes inner work to develop the practice of the proprioception of thought, perceiving our thoughts, or metacognition at a very basic level.

Cognition about our cognition.

Thinking about our thinking.

Perceiving our perceptions.

Paying attention to our attention.

The basic or ancient function of thought is for survival. It is to solve problems of getting food when we are hungry, shelter with we are cold, or fixing things that are broken.

But thought takes on a life of its own when we allow it to become a god that is solving the great mysteries of human kind or the universe. We think that we can understand that which is not understandable. We gotta put God in a box so we “know” what we are dealing with. We have to explain away the problem of evil so that we can “think” we “know”. But when we try to solve or fix that which is beyond our understanding, our thoughts run rampant. Then when we can’t get anywhere, we systematize an answer through philosophy, religion, theology, or politics so that we can put it in a box and understand it.

We must train our minds to quiet thought so that we can pay attention.

Thought comes from a place of busyness and noise; resulting in worry and fear, regret and discontent.

Attention comes from a place of silence, presence, awareness, consciousness; resulting in gratitude, contentment, and peace.

… leaving us standing in wonder of the great mysteries of life.

There are many ways of developing a quiet mind and a peaceful heart.

I have used the silent worship of the Quakers to wait on God and listen to the silence for the still small voice. I have also used mindfulness practice; a form of meditation. Meditative walking is another way for me.

Contemplative prayer, silent retreats (even at home), or walking in nature are all ways people use to learn to be present.

Learning to pay attention and be fully present is pretty important because this present moment is all we have.

“We could say that practically all the problems of the human race are due to the fact that thought is not proprioceptive…. You don’t decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one who controls each one of us.” (David Bohm,

“Bohm raises doubts as to whether any form of thought can apprehend what he refers to as the ‘unlimited’. As the very nature of thought is to select limited abstractions from the world, it can never really approach the ‘ground of our being’ – that which is unlimited. Yet at the same time, human beings have an intrinsic need to understand and relate to the ‘cosmic dimension’ of existence. To address this apparent disjuncture in our experience, Bohm proposes that attention, unlike thought, is potentially unrestricted, and therefore capable of apprehending the subtle nature of the ‘unlimited’.” (Lee Nichol in the foreward of David Bohm’s book, On Dialogue)

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