Once again, I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting for this reply. There were a couple of reasons for the wait, first among them being that the questions and exercises are getting deeper and require more application. I found things more challenging (which is good) and ended up wandering down a few dead ends en route to what I’ve ended up writing below.
I wrestled with some ideas that came up, wrote a bunch of tangled stuff about them, untangled it, then ended up binning it. That took time. Some examinations of observations I'd made were off-target and at points overthought, but they helped me get to where I was going eventually. The second reason for the long wait is simply that I was re-a-ally tired and needed to sleep and regain my focus.
I feel I could’ve carried on thinking and writing more below but, for now, here's what I came up with.
All there is, is THIS/experience, appearing exactly as it is. And it includes thoughts and the thought stories about THIS! I suggest you keep doing this exercise as often as possible. It is a good way of seeing what actually is.
When are those ‘memories’ actually appearing?
They appear a tiny fraction of a moment after actual experience takes place.
Is there any actual evidence that any of these encounters have happened before?
Without thought / memory there would be no concept that anything at all had ever happened before, let alone evidence of it.
Memories can combine to generate reasoning. For example: some memories contain information that a heart starts beating in a human body before that body is born, and that the body requires a heart in order to remain alive. These memories combine to form a conclusion (knowing) that ‘my heart has continued to beat in my chest since before I was born’. This conclusion couldn’t happen without thought; specifically, without the contents of memories. And because the contents of memories are fictitious, any conclusions that might arise from them can’t constitute actual evidence (even though the thought that they do is pervasive). So memories can’t be said to be evidence, because what they represent doesn’t exist.
If thought says that you saw a spectacular ‘sunrise’ yesterday…is that sunrise experience as you presently find it? No…so it is just thought story ie ‘imagination’. If however, the colours labelled spectacular ‘sunrise’ is experience as you presently find it (ie now), then thought is pointing to actual experience as you presently find it (ie your direct, actual experience). In other words the colour that thought is referring to as a 'sunrise' is what is actually appearing now. Thought either points to actual experience as you presently find it...or it is pointing to thoughts about thought, since the ‘sunrise’ is not the current experience, so it only equates to story...thought fluff/imagination – thoughts about thoughts. Is this clear?
Nicely done! So…without thought, how is it known that there are gaps?
Without thought, it can’t be known that there are gaps—or anything else.
Thought is actual experience. Is thought and different to sound, smell, taste, sensation or colour? Is colour different to sound? Is sound different to taste? Is sensation different to smell?
The various kinds of actual experience you listed: sound, smell, taste, sensation and colour—are all completely neutral, as we established previously. They have no qualities beyond themselves. Thought imbues them with qualities and creates the perception that there are discrete kinds of experience that each have different qualities from one another. It must then follow that this perception is an illusion.
Thought is also neutral; it’s just happening. But the contents of thoughts—consciousness
—give rise to the impression that thought has an inherent quality beyond its neutrality. This quality is perceived as awareness—specifically, awareness possessed by a separate self
or ‘watcher’—and it arises from the apparent ability of thoughts to observe other thoughts ad infinitum
. But thoughts aren’t really separate entities; it just seems that way. They are all one consciousness. I’m trying to find a metaphor here… OK: If you stand with your nose pressed up to a mountain you’ll see chips, cracks, little outcroppings, each one apparently a discrete entity unto itself. Step back and you’ll see that in fact they’re all one mountain.
So, does thought really have inherent qualities that make it distinct from the rest of the pantheon of actual experiences? From a theoretical position I can say ‘no’. But at this stage I must admit it’s not clicking with me that thought really is neutral. Thoughts about thought are arising, such as: ‘But how can thought be inherently neutral when it’s so apparently active?’ and ‘If thought is perception, then its inherent quality is perception’. I think it will take a bit more time for me to get clearer on this.
Sit quietly for about 30 minutes and notice the arising thoughts. Just let them appear as they appear. Try your best to COMPLETELY ignore what they are saying and just notice how they appear, without you doing anything at all.
Where are they coming from and going to?
They’re coming from nowhere, but a mental visual metaphor persists that depicts thoughts bubbling up as if from a quagmire or a glass of coca-cola. Like they’re emerging from the primordial swamp, in fact. As for where they’re going to, it seems that they simply disappear into nothingness. They’re there and then they’re gone. Again, visual thoughts arise depicting thoughts being swept upwards and away like a sheet of paper being yanked out of a manual typewriter, or off to one side in the ‘dark cavern’ of the inside of the head.
Did you do anything to make a particular thought or thoughts appear?
No, thoughts arise spontaneously. At times they seem to do so in response to external stimuli, (AE of sound sensation, etc) sometimes they seem to arise in response to internal stimuli, which is to say, other thoughts, and sometimes they seem to appear without prompting from any discernible stimulus at all. With that said, if I stop to examine the process, there is a lingering sense—and it is a sense, not an articulated thought—that feels like ‘I’ am deliberately directing thoughts to arise. Which is to say, ‘I’ am directing thoughts to focus on a particular subject or subject area. But with all the work we’re doing here, it’s not difficult to kick that notion into touch. It’s noteworthy that when I close my eyes and, for want of a better word, allow the absence of a thought director, I get an thrill, albeit it passes quickly. My heart speeds up and my breathing gets shallower.
Random observation: Everything that I am is constantly being created spontaneously from nothing.
Could you have done anything to make a different thought appear at that exact moment instead?
No. I had fun trying though ;-)
Can you predict your next thought?
No. That’s basically a rewording of the previous question. Even if I could predict my next thought, a prediction of the next thought would itself effectively be the next thought anyway.
Can you select from a range of thoughts to have only pleasant thoughts?
No. A sustained pleasant emotional state could conceivably create a mental environment in which a sequence of pleasant thoughts might arise, but it isn’t something that I could decide would happen.
Can you choose not to have painful, negative or fearful thoughts?
No. See above.
Can you pick and choose any kind of thought?
Is it possible to prevent a thought from appearing?
No, although I’ve found it’s possible through meditation to slow the pace at which thoughts appear. It took over a week meditating for 10 hours a day, but eventually a lot more time seemed to elapse between the arising of new thoughts.
Can you stop thinking a thought in the middle?
This question assumes that thoughts have a three-part structure, and I can’t say they have. Also, thought arises spontaneously and no foreknowledge exists regarding what a thought is going to be about or how long it will be or what its end’s going to be like, so it can’t be possible to determine where its middle might be or of it even has one. It’s not possible to reflect on the structure of a thought until it’s passed on and given way to another thought.
But if I rephrase the question as: “Can you cut off a thought while it’s in progress?” then the answer is simply No. I tried to second-guess this process by thinking, OK, let’s mentally recite a poem and cut it off halfway. I got as far as ‘o’er vales and hills’ :-) and stopped, but of course there had been an expectation that that would happen, so the ‘middle’ of the thought had really been its end all long.
Or had it? The valuable takeaway from that procedure was the realisation that the initial thought (“I’ll cut the thought about the poem off halfway”) plus the poem (“Daffodils”), plus the conclusion that a thought couldn’t be willed into truncating itself, were in fact all the process of thought in action, and not discrete thoughts unto themselves. One can’t stop thinking a thought, because there’s actually no such thing as a single thought. There is only the process of thinking, which is at once multi-faceted and monolithic.
It seems that thought has some logical ordered appearance, but look carefully and just notice if there is an organised sequence. Or is it just another thought that says ‘these thoughts are in sequence’ or “they take content from previous thought”, or that "one thought follows another thought"?
Thoughts appear to be responsive phenomena—to external stimuli (AE) and internal (other thoughts). The impression that they are logical and ordered must be false.
Love and thanks,