Each of us thinks between 12,000 and 50,000 thoughts on an average day. Given this enormous amount of thinking (that we can't seem to stop under any circumstances), identifying thought as a crucial factor in awakening our consciousness may seem a bit superfluous. In fact. becoming aware of how we think is the first crucial step along that path. Here's why:
Very early in our childhood we are all imprinted with perceptual filters and programmed responses, from parental teachings and our reactions to childhood traumas large and small. Later in life those filters and programs cause us to respond to events through imprinted interpretations from the past rather than in terms of the events themselves To the extent that we can recognize that imprinting we will be able to respond to events more appropriately. Being able to perceive and respond to outer and inner events as they truly are is the key to awakening our consciousness.Every thought we have is shaped by those programs and coloured by those filters. This involuntary re-shaping causes us to respond to the world more or less inappropriately. The filters and programs that influence our thinking were formed in response to past events that were quite different from those we are responding to in the present.
As a result, what we usually experience as thinking bears as much resemblance to conscious thought as walking to the kitchen does to running a hundred meter dash. When we walk to the kitchen, the motions of our feet are instinctive -- control of them is delegated to unconscious mechanisms in order to reduce the effort as much as possible. When we run a race however, every aspect of their motion is brought into our awareness so that we can exercise maximum conscious control over them. It's precisely the same with thought.
The vast majority of our thoughts are the result of our minds running on automatic pilot. Some outside event or an internal feeling occurs, and it prompts a thought. Because the thought is a response to a stimulus, it always emerges through pathways that are cluttered with learned patterns. Most of us put absolutely no effort into intercepting that thought in its infancy, recognizing the influences our past have had on it, and trying to reduce those impacts to a minimum. While that effort might allow the thought to more accurately reflect the stimulus that created it, frankly, we're talking about up to 50,000 thoughts per day -- that's way too much work, and most of us would rather just think than think about thinking.
Fortunately, there is another approach that works much better. Rather than walking blindfolded down the cluttered hallway to the kitchen, desperately trying to regain our balance after tripping over each piece of clutter (aka the filters and programs we all have lying around), why not just clean out the hallway and walk down it with our eyes open? With compassionate, persistent inner inquiry, supported by just a touch of courage and encouragement, we can do just that. The following twelve suggestions are signposts on that path.