Primal Zen

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  Table of Contents

1) Introduction
2) Words
3) Silence, Feeling, and Attention
4) Thought
5) Forms of Attention
6) Essential Practices of Silence - Still Attention
7) Essential Practices of Silence - Active Attention
8) Zen & Primal

Chapter Four: Thought

What is Thought?

At its most basic, thought is the "mental" sound of talking in the words of our language. Sometimes we feel that we direct this "talk," like speaking, with our mouths shut. But there is also a rumbling of mental language that seems to exist on "its own." This is a more subtle level of thinking that just seems to play like a radio. In fact it is this level of thought where mental music seems to exist. We've all been in the predicament where a song that we hate keeps "playing" over and over again in our minds. On this level is the "automatic commentary" - the voice that quietly comments on what we are experiencing. When we look at that "thing," some part of us says "what a cute rabbit." It constantly provides labels for our experience in the form of word symbols that keep us slightly removed from the mystery and depth of our perception. Try to be silent and watch it comment on how silent you are!

Then there is the constant visual/feeling imagery of daydreams, memories, plans and projections - "mental movies." This can run on its own without any mental "talk" or sound, and appears to be silence. Silence, however, is a state where "mental" imagery does not distract us from what the Self appears to be perceiving and feeling in the "Here and Now."

There is an even more subtle level of commentary or separation from sensation where some part of us, without words, re-presents what we're perceiving for consideration. In some indescribable way it pulls us away from just being with the tree. It seems to want to get more out of the experience, evaluate it, adulate it, criticize it - in some way symbolize, petrify, and remove it.

There are infinite variations which all of us experience for our selves. Our "minds" are like a virgin forest waiting to be explored. Find out what that forest is like for yourself. It may be considerably different than what I have described.

Negative Thinking Patterns

Modern psychology and New Age philosophy wage a regular war against negative thinking patterns. Whether labeled "old tapes" or "parental voices," professionals and gurus have developed system after system to help us change our negative thinking patterns into positive ones.

In these methods, negative thinking patterns are immediately perceived as "bad" and in need of psycho-surgical removal. The fact that they are a symptom - an indication of a deeper source problem - is often overlooked. Without this recognition, the symptoms are adjusted, but the illness remains, creating other symptoms.

Negative concepts are the product of painful experience and negative parental/social conditioning. They do not originate from the person who thinks them. Similarly, when positive thoughts are introduced by a therapist, they do not originate from the person. They are as much a conceptual invasion as the negative thought patterns were. Then the individual is left struggling with a war between good and bad that takes up a tremendous amount of energy, coupled with the danger that if they donŐt succeed, they will be a failure - another negative thought pattern.

The issue is not positive and negative, it's thinking itself. To create and introduce positive thoughts is just more thinking, more time and energy taken away from the sensation and feeling of what we are. With Zen practice, we become aware of thoughts as thoughts - we learn to identify them from present sensation. That alone will take the hypnotic power away from thoughts of any kind, and lead us back, again and again, to the truth of the present moment. It will also allow us to recognize the traumatic nature of negative thoughts and feelings so that we can let them take us to primal release and discovery.

Silence & Attention and the Diagnosis of Pain

Although silence is generally a relief, it can also lead to experiences that feel worse before they get better. When you begin to pay attention to your Self, you see pleasant things, but you also see your own abuse and suffering. You will see the ugliness of your own addictions. You will feel the emptiness of your childhood, and the emptiness in your own children. You will see your own shortcomings and illnesses, your sad relationships, your meaningless job, your unrelenting debt, your corrupt institution, your poisoned, hurting world. But you will also see that the only true healing comes from attention. What appears to be a miserable life is like a trackless forest in darkness. Silence and attention is a light that lets you see and feel the chaos and carefully weave your way upward and out.

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© January 2000 by Sam Turton.