Reality begins with a thought. Thought in turn creates feeling and attitude, which is called consciousness. This inner, subtle world of consciousness manifests externally and it is called living, which includes expressing, interacting, relating and creating. It is the fabric of our human life.
At this time of severe crises and chaotic upheavals the movement towards any kind of stabilization and well-being can only come from the inner world of each individual. The way we see, think, feel and ultimately behave needs a drastic overhaul. The first step is a change in thinking. Without a revision of thinking there cannot be a rejuvenation of living.
We need to connect to our original blueprints, which are deeply embedded in the human consciousness, in the soul of each one of us. This emergence of original qualities will facilitate newness and meaningfulness. How can we reach these inner, subtle blueprints of the self?
It begins with thought, and finalizes itself in behavior. Positive behavior is always the mirror that proves a real restructuring of thinking has happened.
Thought these days needs to be more contemplative. This does not mean becoming nuns and monks (and there is nothing wrong with that), however, the "everyday-aware" person wishes to remain in society but seeks inner quietness. The quietness of a creative space within the mind fulfills and refreshes the self and eventually positively impacts his or her societal existence. All begins with the way we think. We will look at three types of thinking.
1. Formula Thinking
This type of thinking is deceitful and hollow and includes a variety of slogans, ideas, quotes, catchphrases, guidelines, precepts and maxims. The formulas are all very true in themselves, and sound tremendously impressive, but are rarely and systemically practiced. To all intents and purposes they are "dead letters."
The latent truths of these "dead letters" deceive both listeners and speakers into believing that they doing what they are talking about. Propaganda, whether political, religious or emotional functions on such self-deception. Such formulas include "treat all with equality," "God is love," "act with integrity," "truth, justice, freedom," "respect all living things," "share," "democratic rights," etc.
The evidence of such "dead letter" or formula thinking is the growing fragmentation, fragility, collapses, prejudices and sorrow that perpetuate in systems both personal and societal. Crises are the direct progeny of this formula thinking. We think we know these values but nothing is known until it is lived. There is a complacent blindness that we know and what goes wrong is the fault of something or someone else. Formula thinkers and speakers are all about clever words, presenting impressing facts and arguments which are not the reality. Such thinkers and speakers create mirages that crumble and disintegrate with time.
2. Reflective Thinking
This type of thinking is constructive and progressive. The thinker is able to step back from self-centered "I-ness" and creates a clear space of research and inquiry within the self that generates authenticity. The intellect and mind focus, go deep into a question or idea and try to see, find and experiment with possibilities. Doors open that once did not even exist.
People such as Edison, Florence Nightingale, Archimedes and Maria Montessori are among such thinkers. They found insights and these insights offered benefits to others. When such thought is strongly married to action then benevolence is experienced by many.
On the other hand, reflective thinking can be counter-productive if it is not aligned to some kind of benefit for self and others. There will be too much analysis, too much intellectual scrutinizing, criticizing and over-thinking and over-discussing. Consequently, the original creative result or discovery can be dissipated or misused.
This type of thought (although effective) can go off track, and without a higher, benevolent purpose can become useless and (as has happened in the world of science) can become unethical when there is selfish motivation.
3. Contemplative Thinking
To keep reflective thought on track and for the best to emerge, the thinker must also learn how to be silent and still. To hold silence within reflection creates contemplative thinking. A leap of unprecedented insight spontaneously happens.
When we hear about Archimedes we read that he had reflected and analyzed for a long time a mathematical problem. One day, whilst relaxing quietly in the bath, he suddenly got the solution and shouted, "Eureka!" (I have found it!) He found the solution he sought whilst relaxing. In a more contemplative, silent state, having let go of his intellect's grabbing and grasping, he was open to realize. Archimedes needed to engage in analytical reflection first as preparation, but when he let go of his intellectual activity a new door of knowing opened.
Fritjof Capra in his book Tao of Physics describes a similar state. After a period of researching and analyzing aspects of physics he went for a holiday. As he was relaxing near the ocean away from experiments and scientific thinking, listening to the rhythm of the waves he had a vision. Suddenly and most unexpectedly he saw the dance of atom particles. They were cascading, turning, swirling in a rhythmic dance and he felt himself a part of this dance. He felt this all around him and felt it as the eternal dance of the cosmos.
The rhythmic dance of atoms reminded him of the statue of Nataraj, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva. In 2004 at CERN Geneva a two-meter statue of Nataraj, the dancing Shiva was unveiled. A plaque with a quote from Capra was at its base:
In our time physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics.
Nataraj in Hindu mythology symbolizes the divine cosmic dance of destruction and creation. A weary, damaged corrupt world is destroyed and preparations are made for the deity Brahma to begin a new creation. The cosmic dance of Shiva, Nataraj, is a perpetual cycle of birth, death and renewal. Nataraj is surrounded by an aureole of flames, as he dances in perfect balance over a devilish creature which symbolizes ignorance or illusion. Capra believed this image of Nataraj captured perfectly what he experienced. He said "Shiva's dance is the dance of subatomic matter" as well as the dance of nature's and humanity's constant cycle of birth, bloom, decay, death and regeneration.
When I looked at the face of Nataraj, it reminded me of the face of the Charioteer statue in Delphi. Both are very composed, very neutral , calm, in balance, fully focused on the task with an easy mastery of movement.
The contemplative thinkers all stopped their intellectual activity and became quiet. Many innovators also speak of revelations received in this quietness of contemplation. It dramatically changed their perception and way of being.
For us as individuals living in this 21 century how can contemplative thinking be relevant? How can it facilitate the destruction of useless patterns and return us to an original, harmonious rhythm of being?
Contemplative thought rejuvenates consciousness enabling the self to be more perceptive and balanced. The self is no longer dragged into the spinning, stressed and routine wheel of being but actually is able to create a new space for more meaningful ways of behaving and interacting.
Eight tips for contemplative practice:
- Slow down. Slow right down. Consciously decide not to think, analyze, label, categorize.
- Become quiet, feel the inner stillness. Be still.
- Take one thought such as peace, kindness, serene. Just hold it silently in your mind for just a moment. Just hold it gently, no force, no rush.
- Gently repeat your thought ... slowly ... for example: serenity ... serenity. Contemplate that chosen thought slowly.
- As you hold the thought you will gradually feel the thought transcends into feeling.
- In contemplative thought we are absorbed in awareness. In awareness we transcend thinking.
- Whatever thought I choose I become that: I am serene. I am serene. Serene.
- Now let go, let go of all thought. Only Serene Stillness. A Serene Silence. Embrace it. Hold that complete silence and whatever is beneficial to come will come.