Most thoughts are not worth having. They are repetitious. Exhausting. Anxiety driven. They come over and over again. Like water dripping from a leaky faucet.
I observe this in myself. There are some basic thought patterns that occur again and again. When I wake up. When I am in traffic. When I am eating. When I am brushing my teeth. These thoughts are a constant companion. The exact same thoughts don’t repeat, but they are variations on a limited set of themes – broadly themes of concern regarding myself, and the people and the world around me.
These thoughts appear, as it were, with signs: “Pay attention! This is very important! Need to think about this now!” They suggest that if they are not heeded to, something bad will happen. “Protect yourself! Protect the people and things you care about! Ignore me at your peril!”
They feel like you are approaching a railroad crossing, unaware that a train is coming. The thoughts present themselves as the flashing stop sign.
But really, the thoughts are not linked to any impending danger or concern. They are a flashing stop sign disconnected from any broader mechanism. They are like if you took the railroad stop sign, brought it home and put it on the wall. All the time it flashes “Stop”, referring to nothing.
If there is a real danger, thoughts don’t just present themselves, passively. They themselves impel action. They don’t simply advocate vigilence. They move the person in vigilence.
Most thoughts feel vigilant, as if rooted in a need of the now. But they are really stuck in the past, a recurring leftover.
Nor are these thoughts part of intellectual activity, or practical, instrumental thought. Seeking to understand, learn, comprehend, explore. That is thought which propels one in excitement, enthusiasm, interest, passion. Or atleast curiosity and not hobbled by anxiety or fear.
Most thoughts are not like this. They are passive, stale, like a day’s old food left on the table. They present themselves not because they inspire, but just because they are there.
And one thinks them not because one wants to, but more because one doesn’t know how to stop them. They are thoughts entertained passively. Like being unable to stop eating ice cream until the container is empty.
In my life, I estimate atleast 50% of my thoughts are like this. Maybe more. Maybe 70%. Am I underestimating? Is it really more like 90%? I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. And I imagine in this I am similar to most other people.
If these thoughts go from 70% to even 40%, that would be a significant change. A transformation in consciousness. That much mental energy freed up. That much mental garbage removed from the system.
Enlightenment is simply the ideal of having these negative, draining thoughts at 0%. One doesn’t have to reach 0%. Decreasing from 70% to 60%, or in general the direction being towards decreasing these thoughts is enough. More than enough.
How to reduce these thoughts? Not by accepting or even denying them. Accepting them only makes them repeat again and again. Denying them does the same, only now with more pain and self censure.
The best way is to simply be aware of the thoughts. Let them hang in the air, in the mind, without affirming or denying them, without identifying with them or dismissing them.
Observe them as just thoughts floating through the mind. Not as your thoughts that you generated that you need to act on. You didn’t generate them and they are not yours. They are just flowing through your consciousness.
Identification with the thoughts is the energy which keeps them going. Disidentify with them. Observe them as just objects floating through your field of awareness, and the thoughts lose their potency.
They will still float by, as debris floats through empty space. It passes you by, disconnected from who you are.
Then the mind, being less cluttered, just is. Neither thrilled by the passing thoughts nor depressed by them. In equinimity, consciousness resides in stillness. Like a body free of toxins, consciousness, free of toxin thoughts, revels in itself.