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Excerpt from In the World but Not of It

Thoughts Are Like Clouds

The obscurations to Christ Consciousness, to experiencing your divine nature, are simply thoughts. These thoughts are the ones that flow continually through your mind, speaking to you as if they were you, an authority figure, or a friend. They are primarily about you and your life, what to do, how to be, what happened, and what will be. I will be referring to this mental commentary as the thought-stream, the voice in your head, or the egoic mind. I am not referring to thoughts that belong to the intellect, or the rational aspect of the mind.

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Imagine that: Something as flimsy and ephemeral as a stream of thoughts is powerful enough to hide your divine nature from you and, in its place, create a sense of yourself as separate, limited, vulnerable, and lacking. Thoughts create the illusion of a self that has problems, fears, desires, struggles, emotions, and pain. They create the false self. Without thoughts, problems and suffering disappear and so does the false self. Thoughts perform quite a magic trick!

Thoughts couldn’t perform this magic unless they were also compelling, interesting, seemingly true, and most importantly, seemingly yours. Thoughts aren’t just thoughts—they seem like your thoughts. They seem to be personal. As a result, they are fascinating and important to you. Without your thoughts, after all, who would you be?

People cling to their thoughts as if for dear life, and rightfully so, because without them, there would be no one with a life story, no past, no future, not even a name. Without your thoughts about yourself, you would be no one, nothing. You would be just this, just Christ Consciousness, just what is looking out of your eyes and experiencing life. And that’s what you actually are: You are what is experiencing life right here and now without any mental commentary.

You are just this that is reading these words and just this that can determine the truth of them. The egoic mind might agree, disagree, or bring confusion to what you are reading, but those are just more thoughts. Without those thoughts, there’s either an experience of truth or not, or of whatever else you might be experiencing through your senses.

As you progress spiritually, the thoughts in the thought-stream become less compelling, less interesting, less true, and less yours. You come to see that you aren’t actually responsible for those thoughts. This evolution in one’s relationship to thoughts makes detaching from them eventually possible. As thoughts are seen to be less personal, they’re easier to let go of or leave alone. They can come and go in the background without affecting you, because you understand they are simply the programming common to all humans and not uniquely yours. You see that your thoughts actually have nothing to do with you and mean nothing about you—the real you, that is—although they have everything to do with the false self.

This evolution in relationship to thoughts can also be described as moving from believing yourself to be the thinker of thoughts to knowing yourself as the experiencer of thoughts and of everything else arising in the moment. You come to see that you are the spacious, silent Presence in which thoughts, feelings, desires, sense impressions, intuitions, knowing, insights, inspiration, and motivations come and go. You are the ground of being out of which everything you experience arises. You are that which is eternal and untouched by the coming and going of thoughts, feelings, desires, sense impressions, and the whole world of form. And yet, there is total love for form and for its coming and going. What a miracle this world is! In Christ Consciousness, you are in love with life itself and with every way that life manifests.

As thoughts lose their stickiness and the sense that they belong to you, they also lose their ability to shape your perceptions or result in unpleasant feelings. Freedom from thoughts, and to some extent feelings, is the state of enlightenment, the state of being in the world joyfully but not of the world. When thoughts are experienced as just thoughts and nothing more, Christ Consciousness can shine through you. Then it becomes what moves, what speaks, and what chooses.

Going from attachment to and belief in thoughts to nonattachment and non-belief is generally a lengthy process. This spiritual process can take years, decades, or lifetimes, depending on one’s level of spiritual development and other factors. Those who seem to attain enlightenment overnight have laid the groundwork for that over many lifetimes of spiritual practice and encountering spiritual teachings. Thoughts don’t give up their hold easily. The ego, which is behind the thought-stream, has a firm grip on humanity, and the ego and the thoughts and feelings it generates don’t suddenly disappear overnight.

The illusion spun by thoughts—what Hindus call maya—must be seen through again and again in each moment, until eventually your thoughts give way enough to reveal what is true and real: your divine nature. Once there is some space between thoughts and some capacity to witness thought, the illusion begins to break down, and your divine nature begins to shine through.

Buddhists often liken true nature, or Christ Consciousness, to a clear, cloudless sky, and thoughts, which create maya and the false self, as clouds in this sky. I can think of no better analogy than this, so I will borrow it and elaborate on it. The clear, cloudless sky, like divine nature, is always there, whether there are clouds or not. It is pristine, ever-present, immutable, and untouched by the clouds that pass through it.

The clouds, or thoughts, on the other hand, are forever changing and forever coming and going. Thoughts never stay the same for long. Although certain thoughts arise repeatedly, no one thought lasts more than a few seconds unless it’s given attention. Like clouds, thoughts are filmy and unsubstantial, constantly morphing into something else, and have a limited lifespan.

Just as there are different kinds of clouds, there are different kinds of thoughts. Some are like pretty, puffy, white clouds that dot the sky and interfere little with the sunshine. These might be happy or positive thoughts, neutral or objective thoughts, functional thoughts, or previously problematic thoughts that are no longer believed. They interfere little with enjoying life because your attention doesn’t get stuck on them, and so they don’t result in unpleasant emotions. They tend to come and go quickly without leaving a trace and without blocking the joy, peace, love, and gratitude of your true nature.

Most thoughts in the thought-stream, however, are more like gray or overcast clouds that fill the sky so totally that it’s as if there is no sky. Such thoughts can change your perception of the world so completely that your perception becomes your reality. Then the brilliant radiance of your divine self doesn’t even seem to exist. Such thoughts change your experience of life in the same way colored glasses do, but they’re more like dirty or distorted lenses. These are negative or limiting thoughts, fearful thoughts, angry thoughts, sad and regretful thoughts, and other emotionally laden thoughts as well as strong opinions and any other thoughts that are deeply believed but not completely true.

Thoughts in general, especially dark ones, can so capture your attention and create such a convincing story and emotional experience that you lose touch with the whole truth about a situation, and the wisdom, joy, peace, love, courage, and other qualities of your divine self seem lost or inaccessible. But fortunately, the mind doesn’t have to be completely clear of thoughts to experience your divine self. It only has to be clear enough for the light of Christ Consciousness to get through a little.

This sky analogy also works for describing the thinning, or weakening, of the ego that occurs with spiritual progress over many lifetimes or sometimes in just one. The person who is ego identified and deeply involved with the thought-stream lives in a world of thick, mostly gray, clouds. If the egoic trance is strong enough, that person might not even realize there is a sky, or experience it only rarely. Those moments when the sky is experienced are felt to be peak or very special and magical moments, which is how Christ Consciousness feels in contrast to egoic consciousness.

When someone begins to realize the existence of the sky, they’re beginning to awaken out of egoic consciousness. Once someone has had enough glimpses of blue-sky consciousness, the desire to experience that more often is ignited. Then the search begins for the means of achieving that.

The means are spiritual practices, such as meditation, contemplation, prayer, and inquiry, as well as psychological methods, such as emotional healing, affirmations, and positive thinking. Many of these practices and methods dissolve attachment to the thoughts in the thought-stream by exposing them as untrue, limiting, and not useful. Other methods reprogram the mind to be more neutral or positive, which is also helpful.

As a result of these practices and methods and other spiritual catalysts, which result in more frequent experiences of Presence, the clouds—the ego and its thoughts, drives, fears, and other negative emotions—thin and become more translucent, less solid and real. With continued practices, the clouds transform from thick, dark, and sometimes ominous to thin, white, and lovely, with blue sky showing through most days. Eventually what remains in the thought-stream are mostly thoughts that coexist harmoniously within the sky without blocking it. Those thoughts are allowed to come and go, to move through the sky naturally.

And yet, an even more brilliant sky is possible once the puffy, white clouds also disappear, since the positive and neutral thoughts are not needed either. Most of those are simply commentary about what you already know and what’s already happening. To function, you don’t even need those thoughts, although it might seem like you do. Christ Consciousness moves beautifully in life without the thoughts in the thought-stream. If you need to think to perform some task, you think, but otherwise thoughts are not required.

Nevertheless, even for those who are self-realized or awakened, the absolutely clear blue sky of a totally clear mind is usually only temporary, as some white clouds and occasionally dark ones—some sticky thoughts and tumultuous feelings—revisit periodically. When that happens, the person who is self-realized knows that the blue sky is what’s real and permanent and that the dark clouds will pass. This knowledge helps enormously in maintaining a sense of blue sky even in the midst of dark clouds.

At every stage of the spiritual journey, some amount of ego remains. In the beginning, the ego is thicker and holds more sway. It isn’t always recognized and is still often identified with. As the journey progresses and there’s more awareness of the ego, it becomes thinner, more transparent, less substantial, and less powerful. But it is still there. The ego continues to thin until there’s only the barest amount, only enough to function.

The ego is generally the thinnest when people are by themselves, and most apparent when they’re interacting with others. Then thoughts inevitably roll in. If those thoughts are seen for what they are, useless and unnecessary, they remain as wisps and quickly dissipate. Then even in one’s interactions, Christ Consciousness can shine through. However, if those thoughts are identified with a little, they become puffy white clouds, and some Presence is lost. If they are identified with a lot, they become thicker and possibly gray, as they turn into the stories people tell, which make them unhappy. Then the ego is back in charge. If the stories are identified with intensely enough, they create feelings and cover over the blue sky completely, at least for a time.

Most people are identified with their thought-stream most of the time, with only brief moments of clear seeing and freedom from their thoughts. For those who are self-realized, or awakened, the opposite is true: They live in blue-sky consciousness and move into some degree of identification with thought briefly and then return to blue-sky consciousness. Those who’ve realized that they are the blue sky never lose touch with blue-sky consciousness. Even when they’re identified with egoic thoughts, they never completely forget their true nature.

What causes even those who are self-realized to temporarily lose touch with their true nature are any remaining egoic thoughts that are still believed and the feelings connected to them. The thoughts that continue to linger in the thought-stream are most likely ones tied to emotional wounds that haven’t been fully digested and healed. There may also be some remaining egoic tendencies, such as the need to judge or be right.

Although the strength of egoic thoughts and tendencies naturally weakens over time as a result of simply being aware of them without identifying with them, they don’t necessarily completely go away. Even after conditioning has been seen through quite thoroughly, some emotional residue usually remains, which can be reactivated under the right circumstances. When conditioning does get triggered, that’s when more about it can be discovered and healed if you’re willing to question and investigate those thoughts and feelings.

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