Meditation invites us to explore how thoughts are not facts
This topic was recently discussed in the Mindfulness Community Group (MCG) as one some people have trouble with. A few participants offered helpful clarifications to help understand what is meant. I remained unclear about whether the discussion really went far enough, as it seemed to stop short of the core issue at stake. Here is a short synopsis to shed light on what I mean.
In a simplified way, thoughts can be seen as left-brain re-presentations of right-brain direct experience presentations. The left brain brings us the menu about living that describes reality in the form of thoughts, while the right brain serves us the meal of directly experienced reality in the form of direct experience of living. That’s in short how we can cursorily conceptualize the relationship between thoughts and direct sensory experience. Thoughts are the map or menu about the territory or meal of facts.
Thoughts are a form of highly and complexly processed energy flow that is at once embodied in the brain as neuro firing patterns and relationally emergent in the mind as virtual aboutness. Said more simply, they are secretions of the brain that carry a meaning beyond themselves. My thought ‘tree’ is a secretion in my brain in the form of neuron firings with movements of neurotransmitters and electricity, which has been processed by the brain to such complexity that it has ended up taking on a meaning that points to, but is not the same as, this large living object 100 yards from me sticking out of the ground with a brown stem, brown branches and green leaves.
Refraining from getting too philosophical about it, we can now introduce facts as something that is, that exists. If it rains, the falling water that gets you wet is a fact. If your mother is diseased, her not being among us anymore is a fact. If you have been fired, you cannot go back to the office and you don’t make money anymore, that is another fact. Reality can be said to be what is the case, and all that is the case can be seen as facts, particularly if they can be independently verified by different people. Even matters of belief or art can be seen as facts: If I see fairies bringing me my breakfast in the morning, for me the fairies are a fact; for you the fairies themselves are not a fact, but my telling you about fairies bringing breakfast is also a fact. Needless to say, the world is full of facts.
The first level of approaching the meditation ‘thoughts are not facts’ was addressed by participants of the MCG: This concerns the relationship between thoughts and facts and belongs to the psychological level of inquiry psychotherapy is particularly concerned with. In short, some thoughts correspond to and point to facts, in which case they are healthy to cultivate, while others don’t, in which case we don’t want to invest energy in them. The thought ‘the earth is a round globe moving through space’ corresponds to or points to (but is not the same as) a measurable and provable fact. The thought is an accurate map of facts in reality. The thought accurately reflects that the earth is indeed a globe-shaped mass hurling through space. This thought is the menu or the map, which helps me directly experience the meal or territory of this reality it maps. Conversely, the statement ‘the earth is a flat disc swimming in an endless ocean’ does not correspond to any fact. The thought is an inaccurate map of reality facts. In the group’s exchange, the point was then made that for the cultivation of health it is important to distinguish between thoughts that point to facts and those that don’t, and that mindfulness practice reveals how extensive our tendency is to not recognize so many thoughts we believe in, even though they do not point to facts. It was noted that distinguishing accurate from inaccurate thoughts is important for health and wellbeing. So far so good.
Meditation invites us though to explore a second level of inquiry I found was not fleshed out enough. On this level, we explore how thoughts are not facts, period – not whether they correspond to facts or not. In other words, we explore how maps are never the territory, menus never the meal, whether the maps or the menus are accurate or not. We investigate the phenomena of maps or menus arising in our brains and minds, not the territory or the meal they point to, and we also don’t focus on whether these maps and menus are accurate or not. We can also say that thoughts are internal brain/mind phenomena we examine as such, without getting diverted into what they mean in the external world. As you can see, on this level we do not concern ourselves with the relationship of thoughts to facts. Whether accurate or false, every thought is still a thought with the same energetic characteristics as any other thought, and it is this ‘thoughtness’, this energy flow with a particular characteristic that feels virtual we are interested in. We deeply penetrate the nature of thoughts as this dual manifestation of physiological energy flow giving rise to a different flavor of energy flow consisting of a virtual meaning in the mind, whether the thought is accurate or not. On this level, our work is utterly unconcerned about meaning. Instead, we examine the direct experience of this virtual phenomenon called meaning and thought as it flows by, like all other kinds of energy flowing by. In this way, we end up penetrating beyond mind and meaning the vast emptiness of nameless Being.
Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.