Sometimes in the world of spirituality, people get the mistaken idea that thinking is bad, memory is bad, visualizing or planning the future is bad, imagination is bad, story-telling is bad, fantasy is bad, sensuality is bad, caring about the world is bad, money is bad, watching TV is bad, and so on. People get the idea that being awake or meditating or getting enlightened is about being in some continuous state of thoughtless awareness in which imagination has been banished and all sense of being a person has vanished. But this isn’t what I’m pointing to at all.
Yes, it is very important to see how thought can confuse us, to develop the ability to discern the difference between concepts and actuality, to be aware of how we do our suffering—how we reincarnate the mirage-like separate self through thinking and telling the story of me and my problems, and how it feels if we spend most of our time lost in memories or fantasies or regrets. It’s very helpful to be able to see when a story is enlightening us—as in a good movie or a poem or a teaching story—and when a story is just a form of suffering—as in when we’re lost in stories such as “I’m a failure” or “You ruined my life.” It’s helpful to discern when watching or reading the News is part of our responsibility as members of the human community to stay informed and when it becomes a way of scaring ourselves, solidifying our opinions, passing along destructive mental viruses, and stirring up anger and despair. It’s important to see when imagination and visualization and fantasy are creative, entertaining or enjoyable and when these are a way of generating more and more suffering.
We break reality up conceptually into apparently different “things” in order to see different aspects of reality more clearly—and in that way, we distinguish between thought, awareness, consciousness, sensation, perception, conceptualization, imagination, fantasy, and so on. It is helpful to make those distinctions. But in reality, the dividing lines are notional and none of these “things” actually exist as separate “things.” For example, if you look very closely at thoughts as they are happening, they seem ever-more ungraspable. They are bursts of energy with no clear boundary-line between that energy and the storylines and mental images they evoke and the awaring presence beholding it all. It is truly one whole undivided happening. So it’s fine to use the labels and the maps that thought draws, but it’s also important to be aware of how we get bamboozled by them. And when I say it’s important to be aware of that, I don’t mean having that as a new idea or a new belief, that “we easily get bamboozled by our thoughts and concepts,” but rather, I mean SEEING it as it happens, waking up on the spot