Two Sorts of Thinking, Part 2 – Thoughts of Sensuality, Thoughts of Ill Will, Thoughts of Harm
“Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking & pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with renunciation, abandoning thinking imbued with sensuality, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with renunciation. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with non-ill will, abandoning thinking imbued with ill will, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with non-ill will. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with harmlessness, abandoning thinking imbued with harmfulness, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with harmlessness.”
This is a follow on post from my post last week titled, “What is Thinking. Consciousness & Mindfulness.” If you haven’t yet read that post you might wish to start there as it will give you better context to my thoughts shared in this post.
In the above discourse Buddha outlines “two thoughts of thinking.” These are thoughts of sensuality, thoughts of ill will and thoughts of harm or conversely thoughts of non-sensuality or renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will and thoughts of non-harm.
As I discussed last week, thanks to the work of Lisa Feldman-Barrett, the brain operates in prediction based on a construction of thought through experience. I attempted to explain what thought is and highlight that majority of our behaviours today and consequently our reality is largely automatic and without free will.
The good news, however, is that if the reality we are living today is not desirable then we must attempt to change the experience we live today. Because we are highly efficient and automated beings, at will of the predicting brain this is not always easy – nonetheless very possible.
To do this we must disrupt our patterns of thought and the best way to do this is to slow down and become more aware of them. This is the power of meditation and mindfulness.
We have no control over our thoughts. Something fires off in the brain causes us to think and as the brain processes these thoughts it creates meaning in attempt to predict our future and how we should behave. Now, I know I might be repeating myself slightly but it is important to understand this concept.
We are usually very quick and behaving based on the prediction of the brain that often doesn’t give us a chance to intervene. There is a saying most of us are told growing up, “think before you act.” This is a flawed statement because quite simply it is impossible not to. It would be more appropriate to say, “be aware of your thought before you allow it to predict your actions.”
It is often the case that we think we react to the current moment. According to Feldman-Barrett this isn’t correct. The brain is fast to process information and adjust to error but for the rest of the body to follow suit is not so quick. If we were reactionary beings, we might find ourselves in a little bit of bother. No, the brain has constantly predicting our next move so that the body is always prepared.
To put this into context think about touching something hot. Actually, I just experienced this today. If you see fire or see that something is hot you will likely not touch it. If on the other hand you think it will be cool to touch, like the pot on my stove this morning, you will touch it. The brain has predicted that it is not hot. If however, it is because someone left the flame burning after use and the brain still predicts that it is cool, upon picking it up there will be a delay before you notice its hot and you then drop the pot. I had the pot picked up and moved from the stove almost to the sink before my brain realised the error and moved me to drop it.
This is more reason why a pause and higher attention to the moment of thought is beneficial. In meditation we are able to focus on the mind and the thoughts that arise. This allows us to really assess them without attaching ourselves to them. In this process you will notice that thoughts seem to come and go.
What I have found is that in such focus you can really begin to understand the source of thought. The time and silence of meditation is conducive to this. You can better question why they exist and in doing so determine whether you want them to influence any actions or behaviours. If they are not desirable you can then try produce counter thought to help combat and remove them.
A mindfulness practice in time allows us to become more present in each moment of our day. While we are not in a place of silence and there is much noise and action rolling out all around us you will find yourself becoming more attentive to the moment and thought.
Insert Buddha’s discourse. The first set of thoughts, thoughts of sensuality, thoughts of ill will and thoughts of harm, are conducive to self-suffering or affliction on both ourselves and others.
The second set, thoughts of non-sensuality or renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will and thoughts of non-harm, are conducive to a sense of calmness that reduces the suffering we experience and that which we may inflict on others. This minimises our overall displeasure, dissatisfaction, and feelings of restraint in life.
Therefore, in mindfulness and as we grow our awareness bringing ourselves more presently into each moment of our day, those thoughts that are negative in nature and result in some level of suffering may be more easily adjusted for or changed.
Next time we have thoughts that are purely pleasurable in gain or intent, harmful to the self or others, or of ill will we may think twice. Rather than allowing such thoughts to automatically influence our lives we may ask ourselves the question, “How does this thought benefit my life? Does it take me or others not towards unwanted suffering but towards deeper happiness?”
Such a process is not immediate but the more attention we give to our thought the better thoughts we can bring in and ill thoughts removed. This will absolutely influence the experiences we walk into in each moment of our life. And that is how we go about changing the way our brain predicts our future.
This is why mindfulness and meditation practices are so powerful because everything in our reality arises from thought. The good and bad habits we have. The quality of our health, relationships and overall life. Our ambition and motivation. Our success and ultimately our happiness.
There is a great deal more I would like to discuss on this topic such as why is thought of sensuality necessarily a negative – or is it? However, for the purpose of this post and the previous one I hope this encourages you to give meditation and mindfulness a try. It has been one of the key reasons for the improvement of my overall happiness in life and it has been reliant on no external factors to shape it.