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The Bubbling Tea Cup of Consciousness

05/18/2015 04:18 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016

A few years ago, I watched a phenomenal video featuring the author Ami Chen Mills-Naim teaching teenagers about the nature of thought and consciousness.

She used the analogy of putting a tea bag into a cup of hot water. The water, which is like our consciousness, will take on the appearance and flavor of whatever tea bag (i.e. thought) we put into it. So if we're stewing on thoughts of resentment, frustration or insecurity, those are the feelings we'll be experiencing in our life. When, on the other hand, we dwell on thoughts of love, connection, hope and possibility, then those thoughts become our felt experience as well.

There were a few things which really struck me about that analogy. The first was the neutrality of consciousness. I could no more imagine my consciousness having an opinion about what thoughts I put into it than I can imagine a cup of hot water hoping against hope that nobody drops any Lapsang Souchong tea bags into it.

Second was the fact that consciousness was the constant and individual thoughts were the variable. In any given moment I am going to be conscious of something; what that something is will (or at least can) change from moment to moment.

Finally, it struck me that if I wanted to know the quality of my thinking in any moment, I need look no further than my own current experience of life. If I am experiencing the world as a scary place and am caught up in feelings of insecurity, frustration, and hopelessness, that is a direct reflection of some fairly low quality thinking. If I am experiencing a world of possibility coupled with a general sense of well-being, that is a direct reflection of some fairly high quality thinking.

The real benefit of this is in knowing when to trust my thinking and when to treat it with some skepticism and doubt.

Now, while this is all clearly just a metaphor, it does raise an interesting question:

If our experience of life is like a cup of tea being continually flavored by our thoughts, how do we have as much "good tea" and as little "bad tea" as possible?

Well, if our goal was to have as much good tea and as little bad tea as possible, we would most likely attempt to cultivate two key skills:

1. Monitor that tea bag!

If our experience of life is down to the interaction of our thinking and our consciousness, then it would make sense to keep a pretty close eye on our thinking. We would want to do whatever we could to get rid of "bad thoughts" and cultivate the good ones.

In practical terms, we might employ some of the following techniques and practices:

- Affirmations
- Positive thinking
- Belief change
- Disputing negative thoughts
- Reframing
- Mindfulness

Since we will never be 100 percent effective at controlling our thinking, of equal or greater importance would be our second desired skill set...

2. Empty out the bad tea often and be sure to refill your cup regularly

In practice, this would most likely take the form of a variety of meditations and rituals to clear your mind and spiritual readings and practices to refill your cup. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with either of these things in and of themselves, the problem I encountered in trying to live this way was two-fold:

First, I became locked in an eternal struggle with myself to be "disciplined" enough to stay positive; second, although I usually won the struggle (my daily private victory), I lived with a constant background fear that I was only ever about two weeks away from a complete and total breakdown.

As those of you who read these posts regularly know, I was a depressed, suicidal teen. And as I learned and practiced many of the self-help techniques that proliferate in our culture, it got better. But I became convinced that the only thing between me and sliding back into the misery I had fought tooth and nail to escape was my techniques and practices.

So imagine my shock when I realized one evening that well-being was my nature, and that but for my thinking, clarity of consciousness was my natural state.

Here's my new analogy, one that reflects my current understanding of how we create our experience of life from moment to moment:

Imagine that your consciousness is like a tea cup directly connected to a natural spring -- a fountainhead of warm, crystal clear water that continually refills the cup from the bottom up.

While whatever tea bag thoughts came into the cup of consciousness would flavor your experience in the moment, the bubbling spring would soon wash away those thoughts over the side and your consciousness would once again be clear until the next tea bag thought came along.

Sure, if you really kept at it and ruminated on the same dark imaginings again and again (like really poking at a tea bag to get all the flavor out of it you can), you could maintain something like a constant experience of misery and gloom - but the second you got distracted or let those thoughts go, their flavor would quickly dissipate and you would be left with the wonderful clean taste of pure "bottled at source" consciousness.

In other words, with your consciousness directly connected to source, you wouldn't need to worry so much about which thoughts you thought from moment to moment. You wouldn't have to constantly empty out the cup after each insecure thought or manually refill it from whatever the clearest source of water you could find.

Because the bubbling tea cup of consciousness is self-cleaning, and your clarity and well-being are in a state of perpetual renewal...

Have fun, learn heaps, and relax -- it really is easier than you think!

With all my love,
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For more by Michael Neill, click here.