Embedded in our Own Thinking

To think is to go beyond. Thinking that deserves the name never attempts to make a cage for mystery. Reverential thought breaks down the thought-cages that domesticate mystery. This thinking is disturbing but liberating. This is the kind of thinking at the heart of prayer, namely, the liberation of the Divine from the small prisons of our fear and control. To liberate the Divine is to liberate oneself. Each person is vulnerable in the way he or she sees things. You are so close to your own way of thinking that you are probably unaware of its power and control over how you experience everything, including yourself. This is the importance of drama as a literary form. It provides you the opportunity to know yourself at one remove, so to speak, without threatening you with annihilation. Your thinking can be damaged. You may sense this but put it down to the way life is. You remain unaware of your freedom to change the way you think. When your thinking is locked in false certainty or negativity, it puts so many interesting and vital of life out of your reach. You live hungry and impoverished in the midst of your own abundance.  (John O’donahue, “Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Yearning to Belong.)

Shakespeare addressed this issue in his first sonnet in a challenge to a friend who was so embedded in his own thinking that he was unable to make the commitment of marriage. Shakespeare described him as “contracted to thine own bright eyes,” telling us that being entrapped in a verbal prison limits us in our ability to see beyond the end of our own nose. Persons like this live in an echo chamber and their private prison is reinforced as they usually gravitate toward social groups that view the world from a similar prison. Conrad Aiken described it as “seeing only the small bright circles of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” Those who do not see the world as they do, those who believe differently and often even vote differently are seen to be in that “darkness” and in some instances are seen as “going to hell.”

Now those of you who drop by from time to time recognize that this is a favorite subject of mine. Yes, “you spot it, you got it” applies to me also! I grew up in a very close-minded view of the world and have not escaped it yet…at least not fully. As O’Donohue noted, even beginning to see what I like to call “epistemic closure” has us in its clutches is often so frightening that we refuse to give the notion another thought. And he noted that “annihilation” is the subconscious fear for ego-identity (our persona) is a verbal construct and for even one plank in this artifice to be threatened evokes primordial fears of disintegration. It is easier to just cling dogmatically to what has been “tried and true” and is validated by our peers and go merrily along our way.

Meditation has been immensely helpful to me to find some degree of clarity or “spaciousness” so that I can catch myself immersed in repetitive thought patterns of non-productive value. And when you can learn to “catch yourself” at “stinkin’ thinkin’” the poisonous thoughts often begin to diminish in power. Until we begin to pause, catch ourselves interpreting things in a worn-out manner…which must be boring and annoying to others…we will remain ensconced in the story that we tell ourselves daily.

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