by Jack Kornfield: The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.—Sri Nisargadatta
When we carefully observe our thoughts, we discover that they are not in our control—we swim in an uninvited constant stream of memories, plans, expectations, judgments, regrets. Observing the mind we see how it contains all possibilities, often in conflict with one another—we have the beautiful qualities of a saint and the destructive capacities of a dictator. The thinking mind continually plans and imagines, creating endless visions, hopes and fears, ideas and struggles, and scenarios for changing the world. How often we live lost in thought!
Many of these movements of mind are judgment and dissatisfaction. We seem to want both endless excitement and perfect peace. Without understanding thinking, we can be driven by it in unconscious and unexamined ways. Some thoughts can be enormously useful and creative. Yet often they divide our experience with attachments to likes and dislikes, with views of what is higher and lower. We tell stories about our past and future successes and failures, plan our security, habitually remind ourselves of who and what we think we are.
The divisive nature of thought is one of the roots of our suffering. To protect the small, ego self, we push certain things away, and hold on to other things and identify with them. Freeing ourselves from the divided mind takes place in two ways: First, we can bring kind attention to the content of our thoughts. When they are fearful or destructive we can learn to redirect them more skillfully through practices such as wise reflection. With mindfulness, we can see unhealthy thought patterns, resentment, unhelpful worry, self judgment and obsession; we can let go of and release destructive views and opinions. We can reflect on what we most value. Second, when we see unhealthy thoughts, we can thank them for trying to protect us, acknowledge that they don’t have our best interest in mind, and then direct our thoughts into more skillful states of lovingkindness, respect, and ease of mind. Heart-centered meditation practices of lovingkindness and compassion can help immensely by offering the recitation of positive thoughts, phrases of kindness and care that replace the old, destructively repetitious patterns of thought.
However, even though we can re-educate some of our thoughts, the mind has a will of its own no matter how much we wish to direct it. So, for a deeper healing and freedom from troubling thoughts, we need to let go of our identification with all of them. With loving awareness we can learn to step back from all the stories of the mind, the endless views, conflicts and opinions. As the Buddha noted, “People who cling to their opinions just go around bothering one another.” When we direct our loving awareness to see the whole stream of thoughts, we can release ourselves from their divisive grip and come to rest in the body and heart. In this way, we step out of our identification, out of our expectations, opinions, and judgments and the conflicts to which they give rise.
The mind thinks of the self as separate—the heart knows better. As one great Indian master, Sri Nisargadatta, put it, “The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.” Many sorrows of the world arise when the thinking mind is disconnected from the heart. In meditation we can reconnect with our heart and discover an inner sense of spaciousness, unity, and compassion underneath all the conflicts of thought. The loving heart allows for the stories and ideas, the fantasies and fears of the mind to arise without believing in them, without having to follow them or having to fulfill them. When we listen with the heart, beneath all the busyness of thought, we discover a sweet, healing silence, an inherent peacefulness in each of us, a goodness of heart, strength and wholeness that is our birthright. This basic goodness is sometimes called our original nature, or Buddha nature. When we return to our original nature, we can acknowledge the ways of the mind and yet rest in peace and goodness. We discover the healing heart beyond the thinking mind.