If you read enough spiritual / new age literature, you will likely know the common teaching that thoughts create your reality. That we live in a cause-and-affect Universe and each thought has the creative power to bring you an experience, sometimes one that may not manifest for a good while, maybe not until your next incarnation. And that we are, therefore, responsible for all our thoughts — each one of them!
I’ve sat with this in my meditation quite a bit, troubled by it, questioning its veracity, praying for clarity, wondering about all the people who are ridden with uncontrollable, often trauma-based thinking. Something didn’t feel quite right. Could it really be that black and white? Was there some nuance missing? There had to be. If so, I wondered, why wouldn’t it be clearly laid out in all the texts I was reading? I don’t remember anything other than “thoughts are powerful” and they “create your reality.”
I do believe in the power of thought to create. I’ve experienced its immediacy in miraculous form. And yet everyone, including myself, spends their entire days with all sorts of thoughts passing through their mind, many, if not most, of which they are not aware. Despite my best efforts and 20 + years of healing, I’ve not been able to completely control my thoughts. My mind has become quieter and kinder, yet by no means have I been able to stop the discursive thinking. Wandering, uninvited thoughts still come crashing through the door, often surprising me, for some are strange, some are even disturbing, and I wonder why a dark thought like that would appear in my head; this, after decades of intensive inner work.
Along my journey I’ve even spent time worrying that I’m creating a possible reality that I cannot control because these uncontrollable thoughts, many of which leave me bewildered, continue to surface. How can we, as free-willed beings, have legitimate agency to create if we cannot control / stop our thoughts? Doesn’t negative thinking just lead us all along an endless loop of negative creation, negative thought, negative creation, with each negative creation just creating more negative thought? How does one overcome or escape this self-fulfilling not-so-merry-go-round?
Something felt amiss. And so I prayed and meditated, asking, sometimes in tears given the state of world suffering, is there something I’m missing? Is there some nuance to this I don’t quite understand?
Where do thoughts come from?
It’s useful to contemplate that there is no such thing as an original thought. All thoughts are “recycled”. Consider the thoughts circling in your mind, look at them carefully, and ask yourself, is this the first time anyone — ever — has thought this thought?
I’m sure if you tried hard enough you could come up with a radically weird thought; like, purple blanket eats smelly socks on pancake Thursday morning. You are creative. I’m sure you could come up with something absolutely crazy unique!
Yet, you see where I’m going with this argument. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. From a Cosmic “now” perspective, all that ever has happened and ever will happen exists in the eternal present. Everything that arises does so because it has its origins already set in the creative sea of potentiality that is Cosmic Consciousness. You cannot create something that doesn’t already exist as a potential. All potentials exist at once, and we are simply choosing which potential to experience in any given moment. Nothing is drawn fresh out of a void.
Now, let’s look a little bit more specifically at the origins of thought.
From a past life perspective, you carry in your DNA the memories of all your previous incarnations. All those prior experiences when you were celebrating, suffering, in submission, in achievement, the times you were terrified, alone, connected and in love, all those continue forward into this present time experience as imprints in the incredibly vast living library of your DNA. Those — not all — coded imprints create mental impressions that translate into thoughts.
Of course, there is also your upbringing. The stories you were told growing up lay foundations for your developing paradigm; such as, you can achieve anything you set your mind to, or, it’s a tough world out there and you need to work hard, or, you don’t deserve love. Some thoughts or beliefs you explicitly heard from your parents, grandparents, schoolteachers, and other caregivers. Others you took on implicitly. For example, if you were blamed for doing something that was not your fault, you could unconsciously develop a belief of I am wrong. That core, implicit belief then would provide an “underground” template for challenges later in life.
Ancestral trauma also informs your thought patterns. Research shows that inherited memories go back many generations, and can influence such things as having a fear to a particular stimuli. I remember in my healing journey processing things that were not my own. For example, about 15 years ago I had a huge unexpected wave of emotional release come through me, and the words that kept repeating in my head were, “He had to be strong”. It was my father I was referring to. Given all his adversity, he indeed had to be strong to survive. There was no other choice. In that moment of catharsis, I was clearing out something for him. I was the vessel through which that trauma found resolution.
Ancestral trauma is more powerful than people realize. It quite literally codes the DNA. Fears, beliefs, etc, get passed down and influence us from the shadows. Those imprints then, of course, impact how we think and perceive on a day-to-day basis.
The last source of thoughts I want to point out is the collective consciousness. We are living in a soup of vibrational information that comes at us and absorbs into our consciousness without us even knowing it. We can be walking down the street and take on someone’s energy, unconsciously. When we consider the influence of the media, entertainment, education, and other societal inculcators, we are bombarded from day one with all sorts of frequencies and storylines that shape our identity. How much we allow those in depends on our state of consciousness. I personally feel that those souls who have a higher consciousness, and thus can remain more true to and anchored in their own personal truth, have an easier time withstanding the storm of influence.
Flares from the ship
Imagine a ship sailing across the vast sea. That ship is the limited ego identity most identify with as their self. It experiences itself as separate from other ships and from the ocean. Now imagine that the surrounding water is your soul or higher self. In reality, it wouldn’t just be underneath you, but all around you, and within your body. This is a metaphor, so there will be some limits!
Your soul essence expands in all directions, merging with the larger field of consciousness that is Life, the Universe/Multiverse, God, Buddha Consciousness, Christ Consciousness, whatever language feels best to you. Unlike a ship, there is no clear line of separation of where you begin and end at the soul/Cosmic level. For that reason, at that refined, subtle level of consciousness, you don’t experience the delineated separation you do while here in human form, identified as the ship, your ego.
The path of healing and awakening is the gradual embodied awareness that you are not the ship, but the vast ocean of life. Much like the process of death when your soul leaves your body, with awakening, your awareness “withdraws” from identifying with the limited self to return to your higher self. The ego can now be used as a tool — consciously — versus being the all that is self which most believe it to be.
Now imagine that as this ship traverses the Great Sea of Life, it shoots up flares into the sky on a regular basis. And that each flare is a thought. These flares continue taking flight as expressions of those sources listed in the previous section — past lives, early childhood and collective programming, etc. One after another they keep shooting up, announcing themselves, often quite intensely, into your consciousness. You know the experience. It happens everyday, throughout the day, sometimes ad nauseam!
Take a moment and let this metaphor hit home. When it came to me, I found it helpful to quite literally see each thought as a flare shooting from a ship, rocketing way up into the sky of my mind. One after another.
Some thoughts, of course, are delightful, like I can do it and S/He is so lovely. For the sake of this article, however, I’d like to focus more on the troubling ones, the limiting flares.
For the majority, when they begin their journey on Earth, they assume these thoughts to be real. They identify with their judgments and condemnations, their self-doubt and self-punishment. Without enough self-awareness, these primitive thoughts are the truth. They run the ship. They dictate its course.
Our level of self-awareness is determined by how well we access the inner voice and presence of our higher self which acts as observer consciousness and sees things quite differently. You may hear the belief in you that says “I can’t have that”; but, if you are present and aware, you may also hear a voice and feel a nudge deep within your heart / gut that encourages you to step forward, nonetheless. That discernment based on inner differentiation is essential to one’s empowerment and conscious creation.
The other factor determining our level of self-awareness and inner discernment is the health of our psychophysiology. If someone is ridden with trauma due to, say, sexual abuse, neglect or birth trauma, then that will impact their nervous system and how their brain is programmed. People can then, unwittingly, operate for decades, if not their entire life, predominately from that fear- and shame-based survival programming.
A trauma physiology still, in my humble opinion, has access to the soul. I went through a very challenging childhood. Before the age of four I experienced the devastation of multiple adverse experiences that I spent decades healing, and that severely re-wired me to fear and feel shame. Considering how quickly the nervous system develops at that young age and that, according to many, 90% of the brain develops by age 5, then, from a young age, you can imagine how much of a trauma psychophysiology I had.
Despite these early childhood limitations and impressions, I still remember feeling my intuition. I remember periods when I was guided. I made choices and didn’t quite understand why I was making them. It’s like they were being made for me from behind the veil. That elusive feeling of it just feels right (and I don’t know why) was still, under the ship of my limited traumatized identity, able to find me. It knew what my thinking mind had no way of knowing.
No matter the degree of darkness, there is always light. We are never completely abandoned. Though it can feel we are, as it was for me, lost in the bleak maze of shadows, in truth, we are never without the guiding influence of our higher self, as well as our spirit guides, and even those overlighting influences far above.
It is comforting to know this, that light is always there. Yet we must attune to it and have the courage to act on its impressions. How well we do determines our range of choice. Without self-awareness, our ship is governed by a fear that derives from the core belief that we are separate from life — from the ocean of our essential nature, the light we are. Listening to and acting upon that light of awareness is thus essential for steering our ship towards a truth that cannot be gleaned from the discursive thoughts bombarding us daily, many of which are lies.
Identification and dis-identification
Now, I want to cut to the chase and circle back to the original point of this article: the power of thoughts — flares — to create.
Flares are strong, they are persistent, they shoot high in the sky. Yet, there is the observer within you that is much bigger than the thoughts themselves. Like a pebble in a pond, thoughts dwarf in the presence of your higher self. How well you attune to the spacious observer that is your higher self, that is your witnessing consciousness, determines how much you clutch onto those thoughts and thus identify with them. The more witnessing space around the thought, the less power the thought has. The more you identify with the ocean, the less real those flares will be.
What gives thought power? — How much you identify with it.
You feed and fuel the creative power of thought by believing it to be true — by making it you! Your expanded ocean awareness collapses or contracts into identification with the ship and its fired flares and you believe yourself to be your thoughts. When so, when there isn’t enough space between you and your thoughts, then thoughts transform into spoken word and deed. That is when thought is made manifest more powerfully.
Even without word or action, the sheer identification with thought, with, say, the belief I am a sinner, cannot help but have the power to shape your existence. Just at the level of health, alone, we know the power beliefs have on our mood, which then affects everything from our immune system to sleep. And, from a karmic perspective, it is believed that whatever consciousness we end our life with, as influenced by our belief patterns, that is carried forward as we leave our body.
So, the journey of reclaiming your power is in dis-identifying from your flares — withdrawing your energy from the not-so-merry-go-round loops the ego structure can get caught up in — and returning back to the purer, spacious witnessing presence of your higher self. Self-awareness and self-reflection are key starting points — creating space between you and your thoughts!
This is inner differentiation is not easy. Bear in mind, as highlighted earlier, we hold tightly to thoughts because our survival depended on thinking a certain way. For me, as it is for many trauma survivors, I believed it’s my fault. I did so because I had to. A child who is abused will, in almost all cases, blame themselves to protect the infallible image they have of their parents and to secure whatever semblance of attachment they can have. These are survival adaptations, because the relationship is so vital to the child’s safety and sense of self.
To the degree that fear / survival forges a thought, it gives it power. Remember, our survival is dependent on thinking that thought. A child must blame himself or herself to survive. You can then imagine how deeply wired a thought like it’s my fault or I’m wrong can be in the psychology, and how that unconscious belief can create havoc later in life.
Dis-identification is also challenging when we consider that there are core unconscious beliefs needing uprooting, ones not necessarily easy to identify. It’s not just the belief I can’t do it that needs our attention, but the belief beneath that belief — what Neale Donald Walsch in his book, Conversations With God, calls the “sponsoring thought”. Common examples of core beliefs include, I am wrong, I am bad, It’s my fault, I’m unlovable, I’m not good enough. You can imagine that I’m not good enough is core to I can’t do it.
Though you may not initially get to the core belief, by bringing awareness to its expressions, such as I can’t do it, you will, with concerted effort and assistance from healers, make your way down to the “underground”, or core unconscious stories and deeper trauma imprints.
Let’s explore an example using the metaphor of a tree, and the not-so-uncommon beliefs men are assholes and women are bitches. Assuming these beliefs to be thin “branches” near the top of the tree, to gradually descend into thicker, more core branches and beyond into the roots, we may begin by asking ourselves, why — why do I believe this? What would a thought like that give me? Perhaps it makes us feel protected (from being vulnerable); and therefore a thicker-branch belief is that men/women are not safe. So long as I believe men are assholes or women are bitches, I can keep them at safe distance. Men/Women are not safe would then be the next level down our tree, a more core belief, closer to the root.
From another perspective, more oriented to emotions, we may discover that these “higher-branch” beliefs have long justified the deeper anger we haven’t wanted to take responsibility for. Holding onto our anger allows us to hold onto our derogatory perspective of men / women (which helps us feel safe), while remaining disconnected from the immense fear and grief underneath we are afraid to feel. And, more so, by staying locked in anger, we can avoid the hard truth that our needs during childhood were not met as much as we thought they were; that our parents enacted grand failures in love. Men are assholes and women are bitches allows us to keep the infallible God image projected onto our parents; for, should this image be questioned, it could unlock tremendous pain.
Now we are closing in on the roots.
You see, it’s not about the thoughts. They are simply gateways to more fundamental and vulnerable truths, likely that you are sad, afraid, deeply alone.
Without tending to this underbelly of truth, you will likely continue believing those thoughts. They allow you to remain a victim, which is its own addiction. They allow you to continue spiritual bypassing. That then fuels your grip on — addiction to — the thoughts, or your identification with them. These thoughts become your reality; which is why they have tremendous power to create it. And with enough people believing and creating from similar thoughts, it becomes “culture”.
Your reality shrinks according to the degree that you grip to and identify with negative and limiting narratives. If you believe it’s bad to be lazy, then, to the degree that you clutch or identify with this idea, you are prone to close off to times of relaxation. You may struggle to take care of yourself. If you think I’m not creative, then your choices will lead you, often unconsciously, to places that lock you far more into the dry landscape of pragmatism than the joys of dreaming and imagination.
As it is within, it is without. As consciousness collapses into thoughts, our external life reflects this narrowed range of perception and options. Our world shrinks according to the limitations we impose on ourselves. And if we are not careful, we will call this “reality”, as most do. Richard Bach, in his lovely book, Illusions, summarizes this succinctly: “Argue for your limitations and they are yours.” The book title is also telling!
Despite the influence of the unconscious and all our limiting thoughts, please remember you have the capacity to be self-aware, to witness yourself; you have a higher self, which is you — the light of truth shining through that guides, irrespective of human limitations. Its presence is the observer consciousness we need to step back from any limiting thought and question it. To say, hmmm, is that true?
So, again, dis-identification is the essential first step — creating space between you and your thoughts through self-awareness or witnessing consciousness. If you have a thought that the world is a dangerous place, it’s worth considering where this thought comes from. Did a parent tell you this? Your friends? What about the media? I can assure you that this story didn’t just pop out of nowhere. If you have a belief, as I did, that I am wrong, again, consider where it came from. For me, as written about earlier, I had to blame myself; for, why else would I be treated that way?
Consider that thoughts like men are assholes and women are bitches don’t just appear out of a void. They are circulating in the collective field, and have been for millennia. Therefore, they are not yours, per se. You simply inherited them. You are next in the long line of people to take on a false, misleading, and harmful story, a story we’ve seen acted out with much pain and suffering (and that various forms of media propagate). Nonetheless, you are responsible for those damaging thoughts; for they are in you!
In regards to I am wrong, or I am bad and it’s my fault, for that matter, these, too, are highly unoriginal beliefs. Though they are very real in your experience, they don’t belong to you. You took them on because you learned this about yourself and because your safety and survival depended on pointing at yourself, not the people you depended on.
Reflecting back in time to the origins of thought, or simply seeing that thoughts are part of an ongoing destructive saga, can help depersonalize them, freeing ourselves to know deeper truths that transcend the story of human suffering. It’s a way to, again, withdraw from the ego, and to the soul knowing that we, and all other life, are, in truth, the depth of the loving ocean itself! And that these thoughts are only temporary, transitory, a blip on the time-space continuum that is the human experience, false stories that found us, somehow, in some way. But they are not who we are.
For someone who has spent decades believing themselves to be a certain way, thinking they are their thoughts, this can be radically altering.
Sometimes, you just need to “walk” away
After decades of inner work, random, weird, and even disturbing thoughts still appear in my mind. Yet, to my original query, do they have the power to create? My guidance has been that they do not, so long as I don’t identify with them, and so long as I live increasingly from truths, such as love and compassion, that defy those thoughts. Yet, despite my best efforts, they still come and go. They like to make regular unwelcome appearances.
Pema Chodron wrote, “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” To the extent that I can be that vast sky (or ocean, using my metaphor), I can treat these thoughts as random movements of weather patterns that rise and fall. I don’t have to give them power.
Some thoughts still trip me up. If they align with certain themes that have been trigger-fears of mine in the past, I can get “hooked”. But I’m aware enough now to notice this quickly and not get too seduced by fear, too sucked down the rabbit hole. The practice for me is to not engage the thought at all. When a thought is particularly triggering my tendency has been to challenge it or convince myself that it’s not true. I end up having a conversation in my head in an attempt to refute the thought, justify why it’s not real, and make it go away, which can turn into a battle — and down the rabbit hole I go.
What I’ve come to learn is that these conversations are ultimately futile. Because no matter how many times I engage this thought — try to talk it out of my head or rationalize it as not being true — it surfaces again… and again, the same or as a variant. Darkness is its own endless seductive pit that has influence far greater than I can comprehend. It’s never ending. And so, as it’s been in recent times, the practice for me is to notice without engaging the thoughts. Engaging it, as I’ve described I have, actually gives it power. If I have absolutely no concern that it is true, then why would I give it much attention? The fact that I need to somehow confront and dispute that thought, for instance, by thinking, “Oh I would never do that”, means that I believe that thought to have power. And then I give it power.
Having said all this, I must be clear and reiterate that you’ll likely need to examine thoughts carefully in order to heal. I’ve done enough now and feel enough of the ocean’s presence to not waist much time on these thoughts. I feel it’s best for me simply to “walk” away, because I know another is just around the corner, and because I know that so many of these thoughts don’t belong to be, but are expressions of monumental collective pain. While in the throws of my healing journey, however, I did put a lot of energy into examining the flares firing up in my mind, to understand where they came from. It was wise and helpful for me to do so.
There is a way to practice self-examination and self-awareness without limiting yourself to that thought. You can imagine circling around that thought, like in a spacecraft, orbiting it with curiosity, wondering, but not latching on. This awareness gives you the space necessary to perceive and learn as the witness without identifying. And in that space you create room for a new possibility that emerges from the ocean below.
Imagining yourself as the vast sky or mighty ocean can be helpful. You can picture the negative thought getting absorbed into that vastness and disappearing. Or you can bring your awareness to your heart, and see that thought as being transmuted in the centre of your being. This, too, I have found helpful.
I’m not saying this is easy, by any means. It gets easier if you heal and “unhook” yourself from the trauma imprints — the “roots” — in your body that unconsciously give rise to so many of these thoughts; and if you create the space in your system for your higher self to anchor in and influence your identity and perception. I’d also add that regular self-care, such as journalling and being in nature, along with a consistent spiritual practice, like yoga and meditation, are essential. Without committed trauma healing, self-care and a spiritual practice, you are likely to live through continual distraction as a means of coping with the negativity and toxicity in your system. This is no way to live, though it is the way for the vast majority who are afraid to turn inward.
Your capacity to be at choice and to create the life you want, as well as your health and the fulfillment of your relationships, are all dependent on how well you slow down and bring your attention within. That is where the real journey begins.
Trust your goodness
Thought indeed has power to create. And, as stated, when translated into word and action, that power is amplified. Yet, after much soul searching, my heart tells me, and please listen to your own, that thought doesn’t hold much weight if you don’t believe it to be true — if you see the flare go up in the sky and then simply turn away; or, if you watch and not identify.
If it helps, you can remind yourself that those thoughts didn’t arise with any conscious intention, and that there’s a good chance they don’t even belong to you. It’s quite liberating to do so. It’s liberating to know that you don’t have to believe everything that appears in your mind. As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle writes, “Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts so seriously.” With this level of attuned awareness, so much more space is created within for truth, a truth that surpasses the limits of the thinking mind, a truth that does not belong to this world, but to that of the Great Sea that is your true home.
More than anything, I want you to have compassion for yourself for all these difficult thoughts that appear in you. It’s hard to bear them, relentless they can be. It’s hard to believe, as it has been for me, that we would even think these thoughts.
Remind yourself of your good-hearted nature. Remind yourself of who you are in essence as a loving, kind person, which I know you are, without having ever met you. Trust your goodness — a goodness that extends both to others, and yourself — and know that these negative thoughts don’t align with who you really are. Place your hand on your heart when these thoughts come, take a deep breath and say, “I know who I am. I know my goodness.”
Know that you are not your negative and limiting thoughts. Difficult as this can be to imagine when you’ve identified with them so long, the truth is, you are the space surrounding them. You are the ocean, not the ship; for the ship will sink one day, and you will carry on.
Trust the light you are that is far more powerful than the dark thoughts that impose themselves upon you. Remember it only takes the light of one matchstick to light up an entire room. That’s how powerful you are. That’s how powerful the light of truth is to shatter the illusion of falsity.
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Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart