Understanding that we have different types of thoughts, each with its own particular characteristics and qualities, is a key factor in our spiritual evolution.
on a very basic level, we can easily acknowledge 3 categories of thought quite clearly. We can be having a thought about something that occurred in the past, such as a memory or an event we are imagining to have occurred. We can have thoughts that relate to our present moment experiences. And we can have thoughts about things we imagine will be or could be happening at some point in the future.
Each of us experienced these three thought types. We all have many thoughts about the past present and future throughout the day. Many of these thoughts are repetitive or variations on the same thought, but we will address that in a future discussion. The important point is to recognize that not every thought we have has the same qualities or characteristics and may therefore be useful, or not useful, with regard to reaching various goals as you move throughout your day, creating and shaping your life the way you prefer it to be.
Just as their are three basic thought types with regard to time, or what some call 'clock time,' there are three basic feeling states we can attach to any given thought. Generally speaking, a thought could be categorized as being of a "low" or an undesirable quality, such as those that cause us to feel sad, anxious, or fearful. While these emotions are typical and functional, most people would characterize these types of thoughts as undesirable.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, we find thoughts that most people would characterize as desirable. These are thoughts that conjure emotions and states such as joy, happiness, elation, excitement, and so on. For the sake of simplicity, we can label these thoughts as " high."
The third basic thought quality with regard to emotion or feeling is 'neutral.' Neutral thoughts are those that conjure neither "low" or "high" feeling states. These would most often be the bulk of the thoughts we have throughout a typical day. They include what we might refer to as mundane content, such as thinking about what we might need to do when we are out running errands.
Because we have three thought types that relate to time and three thought types that relate to emotional quality, we end up with a total of nine basic types. We can have thoughts that are low, neutral, and high about the past; low, neutral, and high about the present; and low, neutral, and high about the future.
One of the first steps you can take towards developing your Thoughtfulness Practice, is to start to recognize your thoughts according to the nine thought types identified above. At this beginning point, it is not necessary or advisable to try to change or manage your thoughts, only to recognize the quality of each thought so that you may become more aware of, and in tune with, the activity of your mind.
Even the simple act of observation can have profound effects on one's ability to manage emotional reactions and remain in a state of centeredness and contentment. For now, your practice is to notice when you are producing thoughts about the past, present, or future, and to notice the emotional quality that is associated with those thoughts, be it low, neutral, or high. Noticing your own thought activity will be an enlightening experience and give you the perspective you need to make meaningful changes.
As you engage in the practice of observation, resist the temptation to judge your thoughts or assign value to them. Resist also the temptation to judge yourself for having certain types of thoughts, such as those you might classify as 'negative.' Self-judgment can result in feelings of frustration, anger, and even shame. Should you have thoughts of this nature, simply recognize them as negative thoughts in the present moment. Acknowledge the thought as the observer of the mind. Know that your mind is constantly producing many thoughts of different types, some of which you will find emotionally desirable, and some of which you will find emotionally undesirable.
The goal is not to try to change your thinking to produce only those types of thoughts that you would like to have, but to simply observe the thoughts and feelings that your mind/body is producing naturally. Once you are able to observe your own thinking and remain neutral, you will move to the next step, which involves selecting which thoughts to use and which thoughts to acknowledge and let go.
Thank you for engaging the Thoughtfulness Practice as a way to help yourself and your community.
Many blessings and much aloha to you, my friends.
Leave your questions and comments below and I will do my best to respond.
- Kalani Das