Beyond the Meaninglessness of Thought

Tara Singh makes the excellent point that thought is absolutely uncowed by being told in the 10th lesson of A Course in Miracles that “My thoughts do not mean anything.” Indeed, it welcomes the idea, the way a congregation of well-intentioned Christians might welcome a hungry pilgrim. How else shall we convince the Lord of our sincerity and readiness?

But how shall we go beyond thought? Even to pose the question is to think. It can appear that we are trapped, that wherever we look we encounter yet another subjective thought.

However, we can use reason to see that our thoughts are not our own and that we did not make ourselves. A Course in Miracles frequently distinguishes between “thought” and “reason.” Rather than write the distinction off as mere semantics (which of course it is in a sense), it can be helpful to just take the course at its word and see what happens.

So let’s say that one way of thinking is to use reason, which is to say, to carefully articulate the appearance of cause and effect as they relate to one another. I notice I am hungry, I direct my body to the kitchen and heat up soup, and I eat it. Set aside for a moment the nontrivial question of who the “I” is and what it is *actually doing. Can we at least stipulate to the appearance of cause-and-effect and intention?

Given that, can we go another step and see that thought basically arises unbidden? That is, most of what is going on in our minds is appearing of its own accord? Memories, ideas, fantasies, plans . . . They spill over one another in a steady stream, coming and going. Given the word “grandmother” can you not think of your grandmother? Or grandmothers?

If we could actually control what appears in mind, then we wouldn’t need the A Course in Miracles or any other method of learning how to be calm and peaceful and kind. We’d already be there.

So if we look at thinking – at thought – we can see that it arises of its own accord. Whatever its source is, it isn’t our own intention and will. Our intention and will comes into play after thought appears. We can single out one thought or theme for attention, but we can’t stop the flow itself.

When we see this, another juncture opens up to reason. It’s the question of to whom or to what does thought appear? That is, what is doing all this noticing? What is aware?

If you, like me, are a smarty-pants then you already know the answer: there is only awareness. We are the vast container in which all of this coming and going appears. If you, like me, are lucky, then you’ve even had an experience of the container, of the great undifferentiated unified awareness. You have lived – briefly intensely – your oneness with the cosmos.

And you might – like me – have realized that even that oneness is simply an experience that comes and goes, and in that realization realized that you do not know and so cannot say what the Source of Awareness is or who your Creator is or literally anything.

There is clearly this – this very this – but its origins remain clouded. Who speaks of it is not speaking of it.

And thus we come to silence. Thus we come to humility. Thus we come to openness. Thus we come to the fact of:

In no situation that arises do you realize the outcome that would make you happy. Therefore, you have no guide to appropriate action, and no way of judging the result. What you do is determined by your perception of the situation, and that perception is wrong. It is inevitable, then, that you will not serve your own best interests (W-pI.24.1:1-4).

That is the space in which A Course of Miracles meets us: that is the radical openness in which we can authentically say that we do not know and so will refrain from judgment. We assume then the posture of the student – who is the disciple, the apostle – and we learn what is there to be learned. We do not make the curriculum, and so we cannot be the teacher.

So much of our peace and joy is related to that previous sentence – “We do not make the curriculum, and so we cannot be the teacher.” Truly it is the beginning of remembering God as Love in communion with our brothers and sisters.

In silence then we can give attention to our Source or Creator. If there is anything we need to know or experience or share, then it will be given to us. If not, no worries.

This is a practice of grateful acceptance for what appears conjoined to passive indifference for the origins of the appearance, or the means of appearance. Obviously I am not suggesting it is wrong or dangerous to look into appearances and appearing. Rather, I am suggesting that the outcome of these investigations is beside the point.

The point is the looking; not what is looked at, and not what is looking.

In an important sense, awareness is that which cannot be deceived. This is a subtle point. Our senses bring forth a world instantly, flooding it with signification. If I drop a glass you can’t opt not to hear it shatter; if lightening sears the skies, you can’t decide to not see it, or unsee it.

Awareness is not deceived. But our thinking can be quite slippery! We can question everything, including apparent answers, and we can judge the answers, and order them according to our judgment.

But it is possible to come to an awareness of awareness that allows us to see the utility of thought, which is to say, its limitations. There is a lot that thought can do; and there is a lot of static in it as well. Thought itself can’t unsort itself, but awareness can. Awareness is like an interpreter gently indicating what mental or communicative threads require attention and which can be allowed to meander off.

There is a juncture where we begin to appreciate the way in which life takes its own care and “our” contribution is remarkably minimal. So much of our thinking is just . . . not necessary. But good luck getting thought to agree with that.

I remember many years ago sitting in the former Dharmadhatu Center in Burlington, Vermont. Prior to meditation, a volunteer talked about allowing one’s thoughts to simply pass by, like dandelion seeds in a breeze. And I thought – budding spiritual master that I was – my thoughts are way too important to just let pass by.

I was then – and in some ways remain – fascinated by thought. I like ideas and I like words and I like the way words go together and how they mean and how meaning can affect the words in turn. Thinking – especially with others, in person or through their texts – literally turns me on.

But this doesn’t upend the ACIM principle that my thoughts don’t mean anything. The course distinguishes between egoic thoughts and thoughts we think with God. Only the former are meaningless. And awareness will direct our attention to the latter.

That is, the thoughts we think with God are already present. We aren’t waiting for an infusion of love or insight; we are already sufficient unto holiness. We are already sacred, and our sacredness touches everything, including thought.

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  1. As you’ve said in various posts, Sean, ACIM can help us unlearn the false priority of egoic thinking about “externals”; then we can recognize the true priority of awareness or thinking with God. You say: “In silence then we can give attention to our Source or Creator. If there is anything we need to know or experience or share, then it will be given to us. If not, no worries.”

    Similarly, the ego relates to forms—often confusing attachment for love. (Who hasn’t been there?) In “On God, Love and a Course in Miracles,” you say: “Forms come and go; love does not. . . . Form is different, various, shifting; love is the same.”

    There’s spaciousness and ease in returning to what is fundamental. Trusting God instead of my ego’s best efforts—to think, do, or love—feels like a revelation. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Margaret! I appreciate your reading and sharing; it helps, reinforcing as it does that we are in this together. I am grateful for your company.


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