Is Thinking Necessary? – Toni Packer

This is the sixth day of the November 87 Seven-day Retreat.

Several questions have come up in meetings, probably more than we can go into in depth this morning, but I will mention them anyways.

One is: Isn’t thinking necessary in our day-to-day living? So we will look at that and look at thought which is sticky.

Another question concerns partial awareness: Is there such a thing as partial awareness? Being aware partially?

Then there was a question several people asked, What is love? Is there any place for love in this work?

And there were questions about fear and the fear of dying, the fear of death.

We will start out with the question: Isn’t thinking necessary in our day-to-day living?

One wonders where does such a question come from? Does it come out of observation in our day-to-day living? Or does it come out of the assumption that thought is bad? There shouldn’t be thought. And so, one may continue to think if the mind is empty of thought (which seems to be a goal) certainly one may think this is one’s own spiritual goal – not to have disturbing thoughts – then how will I live my day-to day-living?

We do have enormous amounts of assumptions. Some more available to us than others. Others are very tacit, subliminal assumptions, particularly if we have gone through spiritual training where there seems to be a quite universal demand about cutting thoughts. Just recently, I read in one magazine, issued by a spiritual organization, several articles in which this was emphasized – cut, cut, cut, when thoughts come up. Or don’t get involved in the complexes of thinking, just this (Toni thumps the table)! If you understand that, there is no need to think! And one may find, that one who for many years has trained in that way, that that sort of the thinking atrophies in a way. One thinks along given lines, which one has done before one entered a spiritual organization; now one has a new line to think along. And the leader, the teacher, the authority, the spiritual guide will do the thinking for one, if it’s necessary.

So one doesn’t have to bother one’s mind. I am not saying that facetiously. It does go on.

One knows oneself; one asks questions and expects answers. Questions which one can explore oneself. Not that it isn’t helpful and okay to explore a question together. And yet to see the question, where it comes from, and to listen in the light of the question. No one can do that for one. We re-emphasize this because we are so used to having someone else lead us, do our thinking and guiding for us, which is probably the single most obstructive thing in our life. Relying on someone else and therefore not the openness, the innocency, of looking and listening oneself.

So is thinking necessary in our day-to-day living? Well, we can watch – of course it is. We wouldn’t find our way into the kitchen if we didn’t have memory of how to get there. And that memory does not need to be prompted. It is there, when the bell rings. (Laughter.) How to get here, how to drive home, how to find one’s address, one’s house, and in our daily work, and learning a new skill, studying, all of this requires memory and thinking and memorizing new information.

I personally feel that it is important to be aware of what is going on in the world, close to one’s home as well as in distant areas. To be aware what we human beings are involved in, enmeshed in, worldwide, close at home and all over the globe. Not to see it with an axe to grind or to prove something that one has already concluded but to look freshly all the time and to not be opaque within, as one watches the news. The news in depth, documentary, the past, of the past wars, to not just watch or read what is happening out there but simultaneously be transparent to what goes on within oneself in this closest and most intimate of all laboratories that is available to us – our own thoughts and feelings and emotions and conflicts, upheavals, turmoil, and so forth. To be intimate with it; open to see what goes on in oneself. Not hesitant or fearful to discover the truth of one’s moment-to-moment thoughts and feelings and turbulence, conflicts, contradictions because they are what make up the turbulence, contradictions, and conflict in this world, and vice versa.

If that transparency and that openness to what is happening, not from a point of view but open, if that takes place, our thinking about relationship among human beings personally and universally will be intelligent. It will not happen according to party lines. You will not be defensive of a system that one may have been educated in, an ideology or religious doctrine. One will understand and think intelligently about all doctrine, all indoctrination, and what it does to human beings, to us – by observing within and outside. And when there is this openness, and the clarity of watching and looking and asking questions and discussing with interested friends, then our thinking will be intelligent. It will not be partisan, distorted, defensive, or aggressive; it will reflect what is actually happening.

But it does not happen if there is not awareness of the thinking process itself. And that no matter how much one reads about it, or hears about it, that has to be observed, caught as it happens. And this is what we devote so much time and energy to here, all of us.

When the mind is open, not closed in opinion or defense or fear, but open to listen and to think and to look, then one can discover that certain thoughts do not close up the mind. They can go on and the mind remains open. Right now, we are certainly thinking. Examples are given at times which mean memory is used to remember an incident, to bring it in as an example – that is memory and thought – and yet in speaking or listening, the mind need not close up.

The sound of the airplane, or the breathing of participants here, the changing of a posture, the rustling of clothes, the creaking of a joint, that’s all there. One doesn’t need to label it, and therefore it doesn’t need to disturb the listening. And yet there is a certain focusing on what is being said. Focusing means gathering attention and listening to what is being said and not labeling what else is heard.

If one thought, well this airplane, is this flying toward Boston? I flew over here once and I saw this place down here; I actually did! (Laughter.) It was amazing. I could see these lakes; it was almost frozen and there was sparkling sunshine like we have had. And usually, I have an image of not having any idea about geography and direction and where I am, but when I looked out there, that image must not have been there because something was recognized which looked like Hemlock Lake, and sure enough it was. One could see these lakes like fingers. That is what they are called. And there were these three fields, three patches of openness in the midst of the bare trees. The house was not visible; we were too high.

So coming back, hearing the airplane, will one think, is this the plane to Boston? And get involved in the memory of how nice it was, beautiful site, and the lovely colors, then one cannot also pay attention to listening. But if a sound is heard without being labelled, and the associations do not take place because the attention, the energy and attention is in listening – to the words that are being said – then the sounds do not disturb. They do not close down the mind or narrow it down.

The mind does get almost instantly closed up or narrowed down when there is what we call sticky thought about oneself, one’s pains, or one’s hopes, one’s desires. What injustice has been done to one. An angry incident coming up which the mind goes over and over, wanting some satisfaction from the person that did one wrong. Thought in which the self is threatened, or wants to maintain itself, prove itself, or aggrandize itself. Those thoughts do not allow for an open mind. All the energy and emotions are so intense and absorbing that the outside doesn’t seem to exist anymore, neither the awareness of the process itself.

Or can that dawn at any moment? Can one wake up in the midst of sticky thoughts which close down the mind so that the bird is not heard? Of course, of course, one can wake up. Waking up can happen at any moment. It happens on its own. It’s unfathomable. It has no cause. One comes to, sees the anger, sees the jealousy, or whatever is agitating the mind, or the desire. Then what happens?

People often tell me, “I don’t like to look because it is too painful what I see; it’s too ugly. It makes me shiver or shudder at myself.” And with that one withdraws from looking. Maybe a moment of awareness and then the mind going off on some other track. Why? Why? Why this fear of looking at oneself? Why this feeling of revulsion? One isn’t afraid of looking at other people and criticizing them heartily. (Laughter.) Actually, I think that to the extent that we hate to do it in ourselves, we are that much more engaged in criticizing and analyzing others. Finding fault with what we observe in others. There we can safely look and tackle it. Why not within oneself? What is the threat? What is threatened? What is so threatening about it?

Let us take the hypothetical case that we had no ingrained image about ourselves – how we should be – which we have nurtured and thought about and has been inculcated into us for years and years and is in the air. The moral images of a society, of a family, or a racial collective, they are taken in by osmosis. Those standards and images – how one ought to be – are there in us, in our memory. And what we see does not correspond to what we think we should be, or what we maybe always have believed we are. We can so deceive ourselves. A strong image about what we are like distorts our vision or ignores what behavior manifests; it is ignored. It is not seen. It is rationalized or just doesn’t come into awareness. And therefore, what deep down ails us – the conflict of contradiction in ourselves between what we actually think and do, and what we think we ought to be thinking and doing – that conflict deepens and widens and grates more and more.

This is the human disease. The difference between what actually is happening (the awareness of that) and what we think we are, and living (trying) desperately (or not so desperately) to live up to that. It is so fraught with emotion too, because when we are little, we are chided, reminded, reprimanded, punished. If an adult was treated like we treat children, in this respect, we would explode. Well, children explode too but even that they are often not allowed to do. Constantly being told what to do; what not to do; this is right; this is wrong – by us parents who may do the same things and not be aware of it. It is always so obvious when maybe one is invited to a party where there are many adults with many children. Adults talking noisily, laughing hilariously, and making all kinds of noise, but when the kids get too noisy, “Quiet down, be quiet!” And sometimes not so gently when the children are reminded once or twice, and then they are sent to their rooms, with a noisy command. Being yelled at to be quiet! We don’t notice these things until we begin to notice them.

My husband Kyle said, while we were with our grandchildren a few years ago at his . . ., “One should really be grandparents before one is parents.” Because when it’s not your children, then you can have this openness, and you see what happens. How parents worry about the image that the kids project. “My child will he look like that . . .how will he look in school? Will he behave like this forever?” All these fears and anxieties of making children behave properly, all the while not observing, not taking the time to see the whole thing what happens. Giving attention at a certain segment of the whole thing and then maybe disapproving or stepping in, not having seen what went on before. What oneself did and said before that may have agitated a child.

So we are coming back to wondering whether it is not possible to see oneself, even if it is painful? To look at what is revealed in awareness, if it is painful or frightening or ugly. Realizing that one is observing a human being – in action, in relationship, under stress.

It is not necessary to immediately identify and say, “This is me and I should be that way.” Then the trouble starts; the difficulty begins, and one will ignore or escape. If one remains with it and comes to some profound understanding of how we operate and react, then we will not need this tremendous outlet to blame others, see fault in others.

We realize our common inheritance and common patterns, common bondage, and maybe, common freedom from it. Because if it is possible in one human being to see anger in oneself and have it end in the seeing . . .[all human beings can] be free of it. Drop it. It has flared up but it can be dropped instantly, the angry thought, while you may still convulse for a while. And one gives the time to slow down again, to come back into balance. But an angry thought or a grudge can be dropped instantly, as it is seen. If this is possible for one human being, it is possible for all human beings. Why shouldn’t it be? At least one cannot assume that this is for an elite. Then one is stuck with a new idea.

Actually, one doesn’t immediately escape from something that is seen but looks caringly and feels the feelings of sorrow or anger or fear without naming them, without reacting positively or negatively – just that – the reality, the actuality of it, the aliveness of it. A joy comes into this world – the joy of discovering what is true, what is actually happening – and not this conflict and dilemma of needing to hide or escape, and pretending, being hypocritical.

Maybe we can leave that and go on to the next question which was about whether there can be partial awareness? Or whether a lot of the awareness that we seem to experience is partial awareness? Before we get into it, let us just say that thinking about oneself, remembering what one did and then thinking about it, is not awareness, even though it often masquerades for awareness. One may think very honestly and perceptively, as we say, about oneself. Be able to analyze it very astutely. Remembering and then bringing to bear one’s knowledge about other behavior in oneself, memories, and so forth; but it is not awareness. It is thinking and analyzing.

Which reminds me, using this as an example. Once taking a walk with a psychoanalyst, a close friend, who was telling me about some recurring problem that we both had witnessed. We were together at the time. A recurring problem that this person had in relationship. And in taking our walk together, she was analyzing very honestly and non-defensively how this comes about this clash in the relationship, this repetitive clashing. And since it was apparent that it was some concern, over some particular concern that I had witnessed, I think this is why she was explaining how it happened. And at one point I asked, “Would it be possible to see this as it happens because it happens over and over and over again? Just be aware of it as it happens. Not analyzing it afterwards but seeing it at the moment.” She said instantly, “I don’t want to use my energies that way.” It was an amazing response. It was not deliberated. It came so quickly and maybe, now I am analyzing, (laughter) there is pleasure in our clashes and our angry explosions with each other. We don’t want to let go of that. It gives some release, a feeling of power over each other. One has to observe that for oneself. It is easy afterwards to say why it happened, but why can’t one see it as it happens? And is there attachment? That is a question which one has to ask oneself, ask of oneself. Attachment to the very thing that we are suffering from, only partially suffering from; the other side of it is pleasure. Pleasure in the suffering, in the anger, in the outlet, in the release, in the violence, in the domination and power. It all reveals itself when the mind is not judgmental but open to look. Asking questions and then being quiet in the looking.

So back now to partial awareness. I think it is a very worthwhile inquiry whether, as one feels there is awareness of something, whether the mind is really open to the whole. To the whole situation. One may be minutely occupied with a job. Maybe one is working in the kitchen. One is cutting the carrots, scrubbing them under the water, paying attention. We talked about it the other day. Feeling the water, the coldness of it and the texture of the carrot, seeing its shape and little dark ridges, slicing it and so forth. Being there, being attentive, as attentive as one can be, and all the while, not noticing that somebody else wants to get to the sink. (Laughter.)

So there can be careful minute attention but on a very small, limited stage. And very often when that kind of awareness takes place, center stage is still the me, aware that it is aware, and quite pleased with itself. (Laughter.) There is an image there of oneself being aware, paying attention. Paying attention all right to this thing but not in a broader sense in which there is no image to hold onto. The image can be seen and let go of. It goes if it’s seen because if it is seen, it is seen for its partiality, for its narrowness and stickiness – its darkness. And when the self-image goes, with its commands that you must be attentive, you must be aware, when that goes, it is seen and understood and doesn’t continue, and the world opens up. There is the sky again and all the people next to one, not so different from oneself. Much more alike than different. Which maybe leads us into our next question on What is love?

Is there any love in this work? somebody asked. Being involved in discovering about oneself and often the despair. The deep grief in seeing what one has done to other people. How hurtful one’s violent emotions have been in the past, maybe just a moment ago, and the real feeling of despair, of frustration, and sometimes of hopelessness. Will this ever change?

See these too are thoughts and judgements about oneself. Why can’t there be just seeing? Like when the sun comes out of the clouds, it covers everything, the beautiful brown grasses, the green grasses, and any kind of trash that may be lying around. It’s equally lit up. No differentiation there, no discrimination there. And actually, an awareness which is not beset by immediately judging, the me coming back and judging: this is bad, this is good, this is ugly and so forth. Awareness is of the same nature, of the same essence; it is non-judgmental. It just illumines what’s there.

Can one quickly catch seeing when a judgement is coming up and not be caught up in it? So that there is no, no duality in this seeing, no owner of these behaviors, no possessor of the anger or sufferer of the pain. That’s made up by thought. We went into this quite in detail yesterday, how thought creates the sufferer of the pain.

In reality, in truth there is just the pain. And that is not the word either; it’s not the concept, the idea. It’s what it is. What is it? Without words, without any duality, no one there, just what’s there! No thought about me being this way or that way. That divides instantly, and then there is no more sun, no more light. Then there are only our prejudices, and fears, and opinions, and standards which shade, throw shade, a shadow.

So the question is really – isn’t it? – whether this constant self-centeredness or self-enclosing, this ongoing enclosing oneself with one’s self-image and its needs and fears and so forth, whether that can end, in the light of awareness? So that there is just what is. There is no duality, no owner, no sufferer, no wanter of something different. Those thoughts as they come up are seen, are spotted, and dissolve like snow on a warm blade of grass.

These moments happen to all of us, I’m sure, at times. A moment when there is no feeling of conflict; there is no feeling of standing against anything. There just being the vast expanse of what is there, including what is happening in this chunk of life which is part of the wholeness of life. And it is when there is not the immediacy of judging and wanting different things or fearing. None of that, it is quiet. It is an abeyance. The energy is gathering in awareness, in attention, in not knowing. In not knowing what is right or wrong. Not interested in right or wrong, just interested in being there. In that state, one may find the welling up of love. Out of nowhere. And belonging to no one. Because belonging and owning is thought, self-enclosing thought, but love, lovingness, has nothing to do with thought. It has nothing to do with possession or wanting or lacking. It is just there when it is there. And it spreads like the sunshine. It covers without any discrimination. That’s not part of it; it’s not partial.

And I don’t think it could ever do harm. How could it? Because it is not self-enclosed. When that love is there – it’s not the word, it’s not a concept. When that’s there, then there is no fear of dying. No fear of death. There is no fear. Because the self-enclosure isn’t there. That’s where fear is born and maintained, in the self-enclosure – what will happen to me?

Fear is born out of the attachment to somebody or something. It even gives rise to the attachment. Fear of being lonely. Fear of not getting what one wants or needs. Fear of not continuing as the story of one’s life, as an image. All of our fear of imagining dying is fear of imaging. Fear of not continuing as me, as I know me. So fear and self are wedded; they are inseparable. Where there is a feeling of self, there is fear. There is also pleasure. And the vehicle for both of them being thought and image. For both pleasure and fear, the vehicle is thought, thinking and imaging about myself in relationship to what will happen to me pleasurably and frighteningly. When there is no self-enclosure, when the self-image is quiet, it’s not there, one can even say there is a dying to it, then there is no fear. What would one be afraid for?

Can one look at these things? Ponder them and go into it deeply? (Pause.) Dying to the idea of oneself which is the creator of fear. Dying to the idea of oneself and seeing it and the vanishing of that – that’s being alive – so that then one is alive. Part, inseparable part of all of life, in which the cyclical, periodic, annual dying is no problem. Not only no problem, but there cannot be a new shoot, a new leaf, a new flower or blade of grass without an old one having ended.

So why are we so afraid of ending? It’s like all thought stuff, image stuff. Can one see that, see it freely without withdrawing? Without commenting on it and withdrawing because of the comments? “I won’t be anywhere, what will happen to me?” Actually, when one is not enclosed in this whole collection of images about oneself, then one is everywhere and nowhere. That is what nowhere means, everywhere. (Pause.)

We will end here for today.

-Toni Packer

From a talk given on the sixth day of the November 87 Seven-day Retreat.

Here you can listen to the talk Is Thinking Necessary?

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