While the world focuses on our actions, thoughts get a free pass. Why does this matter? The hidden impact of thoughts.
Nature is like a corkboard, and our actions are like nails. Nature does not reject any of our activities just as a corkboard easily yields to a nail. Once a nail goes into a wall, we may remove it, but it leaves behind a scar. Similarly, all our actions, however small, may have permanent consequences. Nature, although vast, has its limitations, in that it cannot accommodate all human activities and their resultant effects. There are bound to be imbalances. Collectively, such imbalances affect everyone regardless of whether or not one is responsible at an individual level. An example of this is the brewing crisis of climate change.
Every individual carries the responsibility to reset and restore balance in nature. This is important as our physical body is part of nature, and in every living moment, there is a deep and intimate interaction with natural elements. Prominent examples are the air we breathe and the water and light we enjoy. Gravity exerts its influence on us as does the earth's magnetic field. We look at the body in isolation, but in reality, it belongs to nature. Through our thoughts, we have a relationship with the body, and through our actions, we maintain a relationship with nature.
Just as our external actions have an impact on the world we share, our thoughts greatly influence the microcosm of nature we temporarily own, the human body. Some thoughts are soft and harmless. Others are hard, sharp, and harmful. Before they enter the world through our actions, thoughts travel through our body. If thoughts are sharp and harmful, the first thing they damage is our body.
We tend to focus on fixing problems with the external world, forgetting the damage that lies within ourselves as a consequence of entertaining wrong thoughts. Thoughts are like the head of a hammer. The ego is like the handle of a hammer, and awareness is like a soft hand that holds the handle. We may not be able to break a wall with our palm, but wielding a heavy hammer, we can break a wall with a few blows. Similarly, when the ego borrows power from awareness and trains it on a negative thought, it may inflict a lot of damage to inner and outer harmony. Awareness by itself does not cause any damage when the mind harbors negative thoughts unless there is the connecting arm of the ego in between.
When awareness is in the mind, we are continually transacting with one thought or another. It is like carrying a hammer with us all the time. A small slip up could result in considerable damage. It takes a lot of willpower to maintain mental restraint, which can quickly become tiresome. At any given moment in time, there are so many thoughts which try to leave the mind through actions. We keep check on them through will power, and this is a form of passive suppression of the mind. We cannot sustain this forever. At some point, there will be a moment of weakness, and actions spill out of the mind which we may later come to regret.
The mind is like a toolbox, and just as we put away tools when not in use, we can 'put away' thoughts when they are not needed. We can do this by unlinking awareness from the mind. Like tools when safely locked away cannot fall into the wrong hands, thoughts, when kept at a safe distance, cannot cause harm to us and others in moments of weakness where we let them take over our being.
Witnessing thoughts, rather than holding them close through a sense of ownership, creates the space between awareness and thoughts. Thoughts cannot jump across this buffer zone to grab our awareness as long as we remain witnessing. However, awareness can travel over to certain thoughts we wish to bring to fruition through our actions. In this manner, we become selective in which thoughts we want to entertain. We go from being novice users to expert users of the mind.
The fundamental core of our being is awareness. From the perspective of awareness, thoughts are tools. When awareness grows, we become more proficient at using the mind's energies. As an unwritten rule, when we grow in awareness, we use the power of the mind for everyone's benefit, not for narrow selfish ends. Awareness is like the sky. The sky does not choose where and when to host rain-bearing clouds. It provides space and the right conditions for the clouds to form.
The wind currents decide where clouds travel. Similarly, awareness provides space for thoughts to aggregate; our habits and tendencies determine in which direction thoughts go. Just as clouds don't shower rain only on the source of its water, thoughts don't just benefit the ones who hold them. Their effects are felt far from their source. The sky remains in one place while clouds are always on the move. Similarly, the space of awareness is static, and thoughts move within them. The sky can exist without clouds, but clouds cannot form without the background of the sky. Similarly, awareness exists without thoughts, but thoughts cannot exist without the screen of awareness on which they project.
When a worker puts his tools away, he or she does not lose the skill in using them. Similarly, when we 'put away' thoughts through witnessing them, we don't lose our ability to use them when we desire. When thoughts are 'put away,' awareness remains as a pure choiceless source of perception. This is our real state of being, and we cannot approach it through the mind, imagination, thoughts, or any other external exercises. Just as we don't need to learn how to be hungry each time the body needs food, becoming aware is inbuilt. Just as the body becomes weak and tired when deprived of nutrition, we become unhappy and miserable as our awareness shrinks. As with hunger, which goes away when we eat, the search for happiness stops as we grow in awareness.
When awareness grows, there is more significant space between us and our thoughts. In this space, we experience deep rejuvenation. There is a faint hint of this after waking up from a deep state of sleep. A conscious experience of this rejuvenation comes through witnessing. This happens on account of relaxation that occurs when awareness is not mixed in with thoughts. Like the reins of a horse, when taut, signal the horse to run faster; when the reins of awareness pull on thoughts, we tense up. When the reins of a horse are loose, the horse slows and stops. Similarly, when we are not identified with our thoughts, the mind will naturally slow down and relax.
There is hidden stress that keeps building up as we exert willpower trying to keep the mind in check. Just as a hammer cannot dictate its movements, the force of ego and thoughts cannot enter the world unless we lend them the power of awareness. Once we recognize the familiar joy, contentment, and a sense of ease that comes with holding onto awareness, we will cease to run behind thoughts and actions in the hopes of pinning down happiness.
We don't go on hammering nails into a wall just because it is receptive to nails. One nail can hold up a picture for a long time. Similarly, a few beneficial actions can stand the test of time. As long as we remain in awareness, we experience joy. We don't need to pound the world with our thoughts and actions continually to extract happiness. Through restraint of thoughts and actions, not through force, but through understanding that comes from witnessing the mind, we restore balance within our body. When we are in balance, we are not carried away by positive experiences, and we don't look at negative experiences as setbacks. Experiences sharpen our inner tools - thoughts, through which we can make the world a better place.