Why Our Thoughts Are Not Real
One physical world, but billions of different internal worlds.
Did you ever realize that everything going on in your mind -- every thought, feeling, sensation, everything you are aware of -- is, in fact, happening only in your private internal world? Your views appear only to you and are not being heard by anyone else whatsoever. There is one physical world here on earth, but billions of different internal worlds. We are all in our own separate theaters, witnessing entirely different shows, and yet we behave as if we are in the same audience, watching the very same event we call life.
Why is it important to contemplate this truth? To meditate on this is liberating because it implies that what we are personally living inside our heads is not real. We are aware of our thoughts, so in that sense they are real. And yet, our thoughts do not exist outside of our awareness. There is nowhere else where the thought that is appealing to you at this moment is actually occurring. Unlike the way we imagine it, our thoughts are not reliable, like trees or rocks that exist outside of us in some tangible way. Certainly, I have never seen a thought walk by me on the street. Where, how and if thoughts even exist within the body is not clear. That thought appears to our awareness, on a giant projection screen (to which we are the audience), is all we know.
Let's say that at this moment you are having a thought about a friend and something specific that she did, and what you want to say to her in response. That friend who you are thinking about is not experiencing your thought (about her) at this moment. If you don't engage with, or entertain that thought, it will literally not exist. The thought appears only within you. Your friend knows nothing of it. And making it even stranger, you did not even have the thought that you are calling "yours." Rather, it appeared to and within your awareness, without your ever choosing it or asking it to show up! If that thought is not fueled by your attention or interest, it will already have disappeared.
What makes a thought feel real is the attention we bring to it. We make a thought into a solid object by focusing on it and relating to it as if it is an event happening in the world somewhere. Usually in the world of the person or thing that we are thinking about. We link the two -- the thought and the object that the thought is about -- when in fact, the two are not actually connected. Our thought does not affect the object of that thought unless we believe it does. How freeing it is to know that if we do not attend to a thought, answer it, change it, identify with it and all the rest, it literally ceases to exist. If we let a thought be nothing, then that's what it will be... nothing.
It can be a bit frightening to realize that we are the only ones living the experience that we are living, that what we are calling our experience doesn't exist in any real sense, except for an instant inside our minds. So, too, it can be unsettling to consider that there really is no shared experience going on whatsoever. Furthermore, we do not choose the thoughts and feelings that appear before us -- they simply appear to our awareness and then disappear, like fireflies in the night. From what thoughts are made and from where do they come, we simply cannot know.
But the question then begs, if each one of us is hearing different thoughts (living an entirely different circus, if you will), none of which we actually script ourselves, then to whom or what are all these separate and individual performances appearing? Who or what is the larger audience -- the collective awareness within which all these individual events occur? This is a question to ponder rather than the answer.
And so the next time that a thought appears before you, within your awareness, remember that it is not real in the sense that it has some solid form or exists somewhere outside of you. The contents of what you are thinking about are in no way affected by the fact that this thought is appearing within you, nor is he/she/it aware that such an event is happening in your internal world. The thought appears in front of and within only you. Without the juice of your attention, it simply disappears without a trace.
Copyright 2013 Nancy Colier
Article appeared in Psychology Today magazine.