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How Do We Break Free Of Disturbing Thoughts?

How do we break free of disturbing thoughts? – an excerpt from editorial of January 2021 issue of The Mountain Path magazine published by Ramana Maharshi Ashram.

What makes us think? Is thinking an action we can deliberately invoke or is thinking independent of our control?

At the most material level thinking reveals itself as a chemical process in our brains. There are nerve strands with their synapses that are red habitually in certain circumstances. We call them samskaras. To change our samskara is to change the way we think and consequently the way we respond to the world and to people. We become different. This often happens after we suffer a shock, either physical or mental, and realise that our thinking is inadequate or false. The admission of delusion spontaneously alters our thought patterns. We see the world afresh and we behave more intelligently. In short, we become wiser.

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi described thinking as similar to a radio which picks up signals. We do not store thoughts in our brain as if they were material objects rather our brain is a receptor that identifies thought waves that pass through us. The point is that we do not ‘own’ the thoughts. They happen to us and we are free to accept or reject them. By the use of discrimination we learn to accept what is good for us and conversely reject that which is detrimental.

Traditional spirituality is a well-trodden path described by masters that shows us how to expose the unfamiliar subtle terrain of our minds and to navigate the gross world with its positive and negative force fields that have taken material shape. By listening intently, by focusing our attention on the silent presence of ‘I’ we see the chain of thoughts emerging and disappearing in our consciousness in an endless series of births and deaths. They are bubbles arising out of the sea of consciousness which we take to be real and with which we identify.

The more we identify with a thought the stronger it becomes. How then do we break free of this pattern? We can do so by seeing consciously how a thought arises, and to do that we require the power of attention. Like any skill it requires training and repeated practice. This is what meditation is supposed to do: it trains the mind to discriminate between the real and the unreal; the permanent from the transient. Attention is like a convex lens that sharpens the light of consciousness to fiery still point that burns away impurities. When we see that what we either desired or feared is nothing but a figment of our mind we can let it go. Or more correctly, it loses it potency and evaporates. What is left is that which we slowly realise is always there: a colourless, subtle presence that is ever fresh (sphuraa). A consciousness that needs nothing added to it. It is so deceptively simple that we ignore it.