Awareness of thinking is a very important practice. A prerequisite to awareness of thinking is practicing awareness of the body. If we are not connected to the experience of the body we are likely to get lost in thinking. At this stage in our evolution we are more identified with the mind than with the body. That’s why it’s so easy to get lost in thinking. That’s why we live most of our life focusing on the past or the future. And that’s why it is very important to be anchored in awareness of body sensations before practicing awareness of the mind. The body experiences only the present moment; the mind, on the other hand, knows only the past and the future--it cannot grasp the immediacy of the present moment. Whenever we get lost in thinking becoming aware of the body will bring us back to the present moment. You may know this from your life experience: perhaps you were walking along one time completely lost in thoughts of the past or the future when suddenly you banged your shin on something and immediately came into the present moment because of the pain in your leg. When the body is injured it pulls our attention into the present!
But we don’t have to experience an injury to be aware of the body. To the extent that we can have some of awareness of the body we will be connected to the present moment; this gives us the platform to practice awareness of thinking.
When practicing awareness of the body we sense the body within the body itself; we “soak” the body with awareness like water soaks into a dry sponge. Awareness of thinking requires a different approach. Because we are already identified with our thoughts it’s helpful to be aware of thinking as if we where observing the thoughts from a distance--like watching birds fly through the air. As we observe thinking without identification we will see that we are not our thoughts--we are the observer of the thoughts.
But even with a great deal of practice we may find ourself becoming entangled in thinking--so it’s very important to be patient. With practice we find that our entanglement tends to become shorter in duration--we don’t get lost for quite as long. We may still get hijacked by our thoughts but we escape more quickly!
With continued practice we will see how repetitive our thoughts are. As we observe thought patterns without identifying with them they will eventually lose their momentum. Our identification with the thought patterns gives them the added energy to keep spinning. Imagine a spinning Wheel of Fortune and imagine that periodically you reach out and give it an added spin to keep it moving. Without the added energy the wheel will gradually slow down and eventually come to complete stillness.
When we see that “the mind has a mind of its own” we start to become free from the tyranny of our thoughts and we will develop discernment to decide which thoughts are useful and which are not. We will discover that the power of choice lies outside of thinking--our will is free from conditioned thought. And we will see that what I formerly thought were my choices were really choices that were made by the momentum of the conditioned thought patterns.
As we become “aware that we are aware” we see that we are not our thoughts: we are the witness; we are that which is aware. With continued practice the sense of self begins to shift from thinker to observer. As this shift occurs our choices are made from the objective observer rather than from subjective thought patterns; these choices can be guided by wisdom and compassion rather than by craving and aversion.
Eventually even the witness disappears and we realize that we are simply pure awareness. But this occurs organically, we need to proceed one step at a time, and for most of us the next step is to become aware of thinking as it occurs in present moment.