“Suffering just means you’re having a bad dream. Happiness means you’re having a good dream. Enlightenment means getting out of the dream altogether.” — Jed McKenna
Imagine you went to a stationery store and got yourself a whiteboard. There’s something magical about a blank canvas, isn’t there? You imagine all the great things you’re going to write on it, you’re happy and you buy it.
You rip off the plastic and begin to write down some ideas and thoughts. It’s nice to see your ruminations expressed. And if you have new ideas, you can erase what’s there and write new things.
Now, here’s a question. Are the thoughts that are written on the whiteboard, the whiteboard? No, of course not.
Are the thoughts that are written on the whiteboard a part of the whiteboard? No, of course not. The whiteboard exists whether or not there are words written on it, but we wouldn’t see the words or drawings if not for the whiteboard.
As you probably figured out by now, this is all an analogy. We are the whiteboard and we have thoughts. But we make the fatal flaw of thinking that we are our thoughts.
We fight to defend these thoughts because we think we will die if we don’t, even though we may die in defending them.
But as ludicrous as it sounds, it’s perfectly natural for one to do this. That’s why we do it all the time.
You defend your name, your occupation, your perspectives, religion, culture, race — your very identity — because who are you without these things?
Well, you’d be the whiteboard. Or in other words, you’d be awareness; you’d be the space that holds the thoughts, beliefs and ideas. But you are not your thoughts, beliefs and ideas.
If we were to erase your name, beliefs and identity, would you cease to exist? Some would say no while others would say yes.
If you said no, it is because you understand that you are not a name, belief or identity (which is just another thought). If you said yes, it is because you really think you’re just a thought.
But let’s explore that.
If I write, “I am Jason” on a whiteboard, is the whiteboard called Jason? No, it isn’t. But that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Let’s get more complicated.
My name is “Jason”. But am I “Jason?” Nope. How can that be possible? Because, just like the whiteboard in the analogy above, I already exist without any thoughts. I existed before any label was given to me.
Furthermore, if I really was a label, I could be any label and take any name and think any old thought and I’d still be awareness, a blank whiteboard. That is the only thing that if you took that away from me, I would cease to exist. Without awareness, without the whiteboard, there are no thoughts, labels, pictures or memories.
People change their names all the time, don’t they? They change their beliefs and perspectives. They get new ideas to replace old ideas. And while others may look on and say, “So and so has changed,” so what? They only changed because their thoughts dictated their actions.
What is the implication of all of this? Your thoughts aren’t you. Your labels aren’t you. The you that you think you are is just a bundle of thoughts, but it is pretty difficult to see that when we live through these thoughts every day for decades.
We as whiteboards have a ton of stuff written on us and we think that we are the things written on us. “I hate [group], I love [person] and I believe in [idea].” It’s a big pill to swallow to think that none of these things are you. But the truth is, they’re just thoughts that can be erased. And if they can be erased by you, then they clearly aren’t you.
Which then leads to another implication: if these thoughts aren’t us, then why should we focus on them? Why not just focus on who we really are which is awareness, the blank space, the empty whiteboard?
I suggest that we should, but can you imagine a world where we all did this?
The wars of ideology vs. ideology would be replaced by debate and honest experimentation.
The interpersonal conflicts of who is right vs. who is wrong would be replaced by acceptance of who someone is without the need to change them.
The inner conflicts we have that cause us to go mad would be replaced with a calm understanding that we have different things written on us, contradictory things, things we may not like and may want to erase, but it’s okay, because it’s not a death sentence. We aren’t the things written on us.
That is a liberation that is hard to put a price on.
Knowing that we are that blank space where everything is experienced called awareness calms the mind. We don’t have to do anything anymore. We aren’t enslaved by a mental phantasm. As Marcus Garvey wrote and Bob Marley sang, “…emancipate ourselves from mental slavery… none but ourselves can free the mind.”
When I first came to the realization that I am not my thoughts and I am not my mind, but I am the awareness that allows experience to unfold, I would’ve gladly allowed someone to free my mind. Well, maybe I’d be too afraid of what that might cause.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have had to suffer so much. Moreover, it still took some time for this realization to settle in. The mind would try to hijack it and say, “But isn’t this realization just another thought?”
As if what the mind was saying wasn’t a thought in and of itself.
The fact is, when we are born it is just as when we get a new whiteboard. There is nothing on it. That is the initial state. But the more things are written on it and the more these things are believed in, is the more one thinks that the person (or whiteboard) is the thoughts.
More thought isn’t the remedy to the mental noise. We won’t free ourselves from thoughts with more thoughts.
But let me be clear. We cannot remove a lot of our programming nor should we. We need it for survival in society. We need to know how banks work. We need to know the laws of the land. We don’t have to erase everything on the whiteboard because it is not necessary to do so.
What is recommended is that we understand that we are not the thoughts. That’s all. Placing our focus on awareness instead of thoughts is enough, just as we would place our attention on the whiteboard and not a specific thought on it.
The people who place their attention on specific thoughts at all times are zealots and no one likes them. Not even zealots. All they talk about is one thing and their identity is pitifully one-dimensional.
But that’s what happens when you take thoughts seriously. You can’t help but take your life too seriously. What happens as a result of prolonged exposure to thought identification is that the ego grows. And if there’s anything more pain-inducing than a zealot, it’s an egomaniac.
The only way to break the spell of ego is to free yourself from mental slavery by dropping thought identification. You may be the prisoner but you hold the key.