Thinking is natural, but thinking about thinking is special

All living beings think – thinking is a natural characteristic of consciousness. Though natural, thinking doesn’t naturally go in desirable directions. Misdirected thoughts can make us mental wrecks, even when we are physically healthy and financially secure.

To prevent our thoughts from thus sabotaging us, we need to learn to think about our thinking. That is, we need to become aware where our thoughts are going, decide where they should be going, and minimize the difference between the two.

Such thinking about thinking is special because it requires a developed consciousness – a consciousness capable of turning its lens on itself instead of on outer things, where that lens is normally directed. Not all living beings are capable of self-awareness. We humans have this capacity, but it is often under-developed, all the more so in today’s materialistic culture that pulls our consciousness outwards with a surfeit of sensory allurements.

Gita wisdom trains us to think about our thinking by contextualizing our thoughts. The Bhagavad-gita (14.22) urges us to recognize that all the thoughts that arrive in and depart from our consciousness are not necessarily our own thoughts – thoughts that bring illumination, stimulation and delusion are engendered respectively by the three modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. Rather than craving or resenting such arrivals or departures, we can distance ourselves from them, evaluate which of them help our inner and outer growth, and invest our consciousness accordingly.

For such distancing and discerning, we need to be situated at a level higher than our thought-trains. The next verse (14.23) recommends that we become detached observers of our mental world. Yogic practices such as scriptural study and mantra meditation situate us in our spiritual identity, above the mind and its motions.

By thus training ourselves to think about our thinking, we can direct our thoughts constructively.

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