Thinking is only a small aspect of consciousness. Thought cannot exist without consciousness, but consciousness does not need thought. ― Eckhart Tolle
Thoughts are mysterious and elusive entities which so frequently appear in our heads that they are considered to be an essential part of our identity. Moreover, we are so identified with them that many of us have completely accepted the famous quote by Descartes: I think, therefore I am.
But that is not true.
Our true nature is not determined by thoughts. In fact, they obscure it, as clouds obscure the Sun.
It’s unquestionable that the practical value of thoughts in our lives is immense. Their role in analyzing and structuring a huge stream of data flowing into our minds is indispensable. Their power of generalization and abstract contemplation, of ‘seeing the wood despite the trees,’ is also of utmost importance to us. The mankind has made great advances in science and technology, and, of course, that wouldn’t be possible without the thinking process.
Thinking is one of the essential stages of our spiritual evolution. In the first phase, conscious beings are thoughtless, enjoying the calmness of pure presence in the Now. They are partially conscious of their surroundings, but they are not conscious of themselves. Such beings are animals, for example. In the next phase, thanks to the thinking process, conscious beings are able to become self-aware and to intentionally expand their consciousness. In the final stage, they become thoughtless again, because they don’t need thoughts anymore. They don’t need to analyze or generalize, as they simply know. The subject and the object, the inner and the outer reality merge, and they don’t need any intermediary between them.
Are Thoughts Obstacles to Spiritual Enlightenment?
Therefore, if we want to achieve the final spiritual awakening and inner freedom, we should transcend thoughts. Or at least some spiritual traditions teach us so. Accordingly, the main question related to our spiritual growth could be: what to do with thoughts in our practice? Or, should they be considered as obstacles to spiritual enlightenment?
 A similar thing can be said for emotions, but they are not within the scope of this article. However, emotions can also be regarded as the ‘thoughts of our body,’ so they can be dealt with in like manner.
If we want to achieve the final spiritual awakening and inner freedom, we should transcend thoughts.
So…let’s say we are meditating. Perhaps we are simply trying to focus on our awareness. Or we are concentrating upon a candle, or praying, or doing a mantra meditation. Maybe we are trying to consciously breathe. Or doing loving-kindness meditation. No matter which kind of spiritual practice we are engaged in, we will be repeatedly and inevitably dealing with some distractive thoughts. We’ll get immersed in them, each time, until we become aware of the fact that our practice has actually been interrupted.
It seems that thoughts are obstacles to a smooth spiritual practice. Are they really? Should we be fighting them?
No matter which kind of spiritual practice we are engaged in, we will be repeatedly and inevitably dealing with some distractive thoughts.
Ways of Dealing with Thoughts in Meditation
The vast majority of meditative techniques all around the world deal with apparently distracting thoughts in these ways:
During our mindfulness practice, we are trying to consciously experience the present moment. Our mind is calm as we stay fully conscious of our breathing, of each movement of our body, of visual textures and patterns in the surrounding, of sounds, tastes, smells or anything else that is entering our senses.
However, when a thought or emotion arises, our mindfulness practice essentially breaks down. We get immersed in the thought and completely forget to be consciously present. Only when we become aware that we’ve forgotten to be mindful, then we are able to accept the thought and return to the present moment.
But is this a right approach? Thoughts are coming back again and again. Just when we think we succeeded to calm down our mind for several minutes, hours or even months, and have entered a state of deep and apparently irreversible inner peace, a surge of thoughts, emotions and other mind content rushes into our being and destroys our peace completely.
Aren’t we subtly suppressing our thoughts and emotions by simply ignoring or acknowledging them before returning to the present moment? It seems so, as everything we suppress must emerge again, sooner or later. That’s the case with thoughts and emotions, too.
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