Meditation instructors often talk about thoughts arising and passing away in consciousness, as if they just come out of nowhere and go to nowhere. I’ve found otherwise.
No part of your mind is superfluous. The human brain uses up too much energy for evolution to allow unnecessary parts to persist. Each part does something that helped your ancestors survive and pass their genes on to you. For example, some part of your brain interprets things that could look like faces to be faces, whether you want it to or not. So when face-like things enter your field of vision, that part of the brain puts a face into your consciousness.
All parts of your brain, when activated, speak up into your consciousness when prompted that way. Bladder full? Some part signals to motivate you to go to the bathroom. Hear a baby crying? Another part will prompt you to feel compassion to help it.
So thoughts don’t just arise. They result from inputs, which could be your senses or other thoughts. They’ll persist until what prompted them is resolved, like you scratch an itch or comfort the baby, or a more important thought overrides it, which you’ll perceive as the old one passing away. If none of your thoughts are particularly important, which tends to happen when you’ve cleared your schedule to meditate, you just see minor, unimportant thoughts result from the thoughts before or some sensory input. One of the points of meditation is to develop the skills not to get caught up with any thought or emotion, realizing it will pass away, though I would say another thought will override it.
Freedom and Self-Awareness
I find this insight brings freedom and self-awareness.
Self-awareness by decreasing the feeling of mysticism or randomness in what thoughts arise or not. None arise randomly. All result from prompts, often other thoughts. You didn’t just think of your childhood for no reason. You heard a dog bark in the distance, a part of your mind prompted you to think of the dog you had as a child, and another part of your mind prompted you to think of your childhood.
I find a useful exercise when you notice a thought to trace to what prompted it.
Freedom from realizing that each thought appears for a reason: to help you survive. Thus thoughts aren’t innocuous or just appearances. Accompanying each thought is a motivation to act on that thought, which may be to keep thinking it, but is never to ignore it. So each thought tries to catch your consciousness up in it so you act on it.
If a thought isn’t important, the part of your mind that chooses what to do may ignore it, but it will persist until displaced. Whether you consciously notice it or not, some will catch up your consciousness into it and you’ll start acting on it.
Recognizing thoughts don’t just arise and pass away, but result from prompts and try to catch you up gives you mental freedom for not feeling like you’re out of control or subject to mystical randomness. As a human in a universe, you respond how you are wired to.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees