Meditation Insight – The brain is an organ that generates thoughts

I randomly came across this quotation on a podcast somewhere a few months back, but it's stayed with me and the more I've thought about it the more I've realised it's a very useful thing to consider during meditation.

The idea is this – just as it is your heart's nature to pump blood and your lung's nature to draw and release breath, it is your brain's nature to generate thoughts.  Left to its own devices your brain will just chatter along, generating thoughts, ideas, playing with concepts, replaying memories, generating fantasies.  It continually does this and we are continually aware of this process.

The important point of this perspective is that it allows us to begin to cease identifying with our thoughts – to stop thinking of our thoughts as who we are and realise that a lot of our thoughts are almost a mechanical process of free-association.  Our thoughts just happen as our brain does it's thing.  We don't have to be our thoughts, we can simply observe them.

As I've said before, not identifying with our body ('I am not my body') is a relatively easy step; more challenging is 'I am not my emotions' where we realise that we have an awareness of emotion and a choice about how to react to that awareness ('I feel sad' rather than 'I am sad').  'I am not my thoughts' is a lot more challenging, particularly in this cerebral age (perhaps more so for someone like me who has always been very cognitive and proud of my intellectual capacities).  However, starting to notice that one's brain is just doing what a brain does, that it is just following along lines of thought and making connections, that a lot of it is a pretty automatic process… that allows 'me' to take step back and think in terms of observing my thoughts, rather than being my thoughts.  At times many thoughts don't seem to have any real volition behind them anyway (for instance when one starts to meditate and one chooses to think about a particular thing, but finds oneself re-living a particularly interesting TV episode instead).  So why not just let them do their thing – let the brain think, and realise that we can just sit back and watch and let it happen.

Of course, being able to directly control that thinking process (and indeed cause it to cease for a time) is damn handy, but in some ways it's a more useful insight to realise that you have a brain that is generating thoughts and that you are not to be found within your thoughts.  Observe the thought generator as closely as possible without getting lost in the narrative of those thoughts… it gives another useful clue as to what this whole 'I' concept is all about.

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