Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Examining the Reality of Thoughts

Gina Lake

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Gina Lake photo

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Purchase Gina's book: 'Radical Happiness'

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The following is an extract from the above book.

Thoughts may have some wisdom to them, but for the most part, they are stabs at truth and tell us little about how to live in this moment. Instead, they keep us at arm’s length from the moment. They keep us living in a mentally fabricated reality—the realm of ideas—rather than in the now. They interfere with life rather than enhance it.

This is contrary to our deeply held belief that thoughts are important, relevant, and meaningful. Somehow, we have been convinced of this rather than the opposite—that they keep us from Reality and Truth. But that is what we are here to discover!

Thoughts are the structure of the ego and what hold it in place. Without them, the ego would not exist. This belief—that thoughts are important, valuable, and meaningful—is the lynchpin that, when removed, causes the whole game to fall apart; and where we land is smack dab in Reality, in this alive moment.

Aside from conditioned ideas and beliefs, thoughts are largely about the past and the future. It is obvious how our thoughts about the past and future keep us from the present moment, even if it is less clear how others do. When we are thinking about the past or the future, we are mentally reconstructing images of the past and the future and seeing ourselves in them.

Who is it you see in the past or future? Isn’t it just an idea of you? In these images, you see yourself at a distance, as if you were viewing the entire scene. Meanwhile, who are you really? You are not this thought of yourself in the past or the future, but for the time being, you are identified with it, just as you become identified with a character in a movie.

While this is going on, you are no longer in touch with what is going on in the moment, with the sensations and the experience of the moment. Instead, the moment has been covered over by thoughts of some other moment in time. The present moment still exists, but it is not being experienced purely, simply.

A part of us doesn’t want to experience life purely and simply—the ego. It would not exist without the mental drama it creates. It exists and thrives on thoughts about the past and plans of the future. It constantly mulls over the story of me: “How’s it going for me?” “How am I going to do?” “How did I do?” “What do I have to do to get things to go my way?” Evaluations and plans are the stuff the ego feeds on, which cause it to grow, until it looms large in our consciousness, blocking out awareness of other aspects of Reality. When we live in the egoic state of consciousness, life is about the story and how it is going and all the worries, fears, concerns, and problems entailed in that. This is the ongoing drama the ego is engrossed in.

However, there is another life living itself under or behind or beyond all of that, and that is Reality. Reality is unfolding beautifully moment by moment, and it allows the ego’s drama to take center stage as long as it will. Eventually it will get old and Reality will break through, and we will choose it over the ego’s entrancements. That is the beginning of a new awareness and a new willingness to realize the Self—our true nature.

In the meantime, the ego—the me—appears to exist, although it actually only exists as a thought. It appears the ego is having thoughts, but the ego itself is a thought. This is another of the great illusions, which keeps us enmeshed in the egoic state of consciousness. The ego seems very real, and yet it has no substance. If you look very closely, you see that it is composed of thoughts about me and nothing more.

Furthermore, these thoughts about me are constantly changing, so the idea me is not even stable or continuous: One moment you are clever and the next moment you are not. Your ideas about yourself are always changing. Take your self-image, for instance: You look different in your mind’s eye from one day to the next, depending on who you are comparing yourself to or what other ideas or beliefs are moving through your mind.



Exercise: Examining the I Thought

 This inquiry will help you see who you really are and who you are not.

 Who or what is this I that you imagine yourself to be? When you say “I,” what do you imagine? What thoughts and images make up this I? Is this I the same throughout your life or even throughout your day? Have you always imagined and talked about yourself in the same way? How hard is it, really, to change the description and images that go along with I? Isn’t it only a matter of exchanging thoughts and images for other thoughts and images? How difficult is that? Is this I who you are? Who is it that is able to think about this I? Could that be who you really are?

The mind is primarily the instrument of the ego, since so much of our thinking is an attempt to get the ego what it wants. Nevertheless, it can also be the instrument of the Self. Occasionally, thoughts—not just intuition—are the vehicle for communicating the Self’s inspiration and plan. When thoughts from the Self appear in the mind, they ring of truth and are accompanied by excitement, happiness, relaxation, and mental clarity. On the other hand, thoughts that have little truth to them are accompanied by mental confusion, energetic contraction, and tenseness in the body. This is how we can tell how true a particular thought is and where it is coming from.

The mind performs many useful tasks, and we need it to function and keep us safe; but it is also full of useless and incorrect information—conditioning—that passes as facts. Self-realization entails a certain mastery of the mind, which includes being aware of our thoughts and being able to discriminate between ones that have some truth and usefulness and ones that don’t. This takes some practice, but most of all, it takes sensitivity to the signs that something is true or false. Not only do we need to be aware of our thoughts but of their impact on us energetically, mentally, and emotionally.



Exercise: Exploring the Effect and Truth of Your Thoughts

 This inquiry will help you become aware of how your thinking affects your state of consciousness. It also gives you a means for telling how true your thoughts are.

 What are you thinking right now and how does it affect you? Does it expand or contract your consciousness? Some thoughts cause us to become more contracted and ego-identified, while others cause us to become more expanded and identified with the Self. Those that do the latter could be said to be truer than the former. This is because truth puts us in touch with Truth, or the Real, while untruth puts us in touch with what is not true, or not real—the ego.


Although we cannot control our thoughts, we can learn to become aware of them. This may seem like a simple thing, but becoming aware of our thoughts is a very big step in evolution. It requires dis-identification with the mind, which is why it is such a big step. When we are not aware of our thoughts, we are likely to be identified with them and respond without questioning them. This results in a lot of suffering and more difficulties than necessary.

When we are identified with the mind, we believe that we are who we think we are: our self-image and the labels we have for ourselves. But is that who you are? If that is who you are, then who is it that is able to think about this question? What is it that is aware of the ideas that make up your self-image? What is it that is aware of the coming and going of thoughts?

This idea me may seem to reside in the body or the mind or both, but what is it that is aware of the body and the mind? Could that be who you are, and the body and the mind just function within that awareness? In that case, would you be limited to just the body and mind, or could you actually be anything you are aware of right now? Could all of it be you? What if that were true? What would that mean? Life would be lived from a very different place.

These questions can wake us up out of the egoic state of consciousness. Questioning the assumptions of the mind is a very powerful tool for awakening. Becoming aware of the mind, its thoughts, and their truth or falseness can help us bust through the web of illusion cast by the mind and the ego, which fools us into thinking that we are separate when we are not.



Exercise: Who Am I?

 This inquiry will help you disentangle your identity from the false (egoic) self and experience your true nature. You may only need a moment to remember who you are. At other times, you may want to spend several minutes asking these questions.

 What are you aware of right now? If you are aware of a thought, ask: Who or what is aware of this thought? If you are aware of a feeling, ask: Who or what is aware of this feeling? If you are aware of a sensation, ask: Who or what is aware of this sensation?

The tendency is to become identified with the thought, feeling, or sensation and lose awareness of our true nature, which is pure Awareness. The purpose of this inquiry is not to come up with an answer to the question but to experience who you are. If you find yourself thinking, go back to the question and stay with the experience, which is one of not knowing rather than knowing. The real you is there in this not-knowing.



It turns out that the mind is part of the human animal and a tool for both the human and the Self, but it is not what it pretends to be—who we are. The mind dictates the supposed truth to us about who we are and how things are, and we believe it—until we don’t. The mind is an imposter dictator: It tells us this and it tells us that, but it is spinning a false reality.

Beyond the mind lies Awareness, which is aware of the mind, the body, and everything that exists—and that is who we are. We are the Awareness that allows the mind to spin its illusions and create the drama in which the Awareness—the Self—delights. There is no mistake here. The mind, the ego, and the illusions are all intended to make manifest the Self’s playground. Meanwhile, the Self participates in its creation by being aware of it all.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012