Thought In Consciousness: How Private Are Our Thoughts? (PART 1)

What's in a thought? Meditation is becoming a more common tool for reducing problematic thoughts, increasing positive thinking and calming the mind. With a wealth of scientific evidence proving the positive effects of meditation, we've learned to use this ancient practice to feel more peace and equanimity. But where do our thoughts come from? Why have not scientists answered this question?

As a meditation teacher, exploring the nature of the mind in general– and thoughts in particular– is an element of meditation that I have enjoyed greatly. Through paying attention to my thought processes, I have wondered just how much control I have over them (can you predict your next thought?). I've pondered whether thoughts are just with me, or are more communal. Which brings me to the question I'd like to explore in one of two parts:

One Thing I've Noticed

Take for example this scenario: you are out with a friend and want to express a thought that comes to your mind, and moments later, your friend verbalises what you were just thinking?

This often used to happen to me with a friend of mind named Rosie. As we went out for a coffee, walking along Shoreditch High Street, she would say out loud exactly what I was thinking. I’d often do the same with her.

Could it be that a thought as random as ‘Who do you think invented cream eggs?’ was floating around in the river of consciousness? That Rosie and I both became aware of it, but it popped out of her mouth first, so to speak?

Another Thing I’ve Noticed

When I am asked questions about meditation, an answer comes to my mind and out of my mouth. Often times, the answer is as newsworthy to myself as to the other person. Listening to my answer reflectively, I realise I must have had this information prior to the question. Still, it took the provocation of the question to draw it out. I find that the question itself draws out the answer in such a way that both the asker and the answerer are left with a greater understanding. There seems to be a great synchronicity going on.

A real life example of this might be as follows: you're an artist, and you've been wondering about how to present your art work to your new agent. You have reflected, at least unconsciously, on what would be the best way to present yourself and what you stand for. And then, as lady luck may have it, a few days later, an arts publication, or a neighbour next door, gets in touch. They are interested in what you do. They might ask the question, "so what kind of art do you do? What do you stand for and why do you do it?”

You are then given the opportunity, for what will surely not be the first time, to describe to them and put into words what you have been thinking about. You are being given the chance to answer your own question. You're handed a ticket, considering that is a destination you've been needing to get to. 

I have witnessed this type of interpersonal phenomena unfold many times. I hear it every time I teach a class. It seems the question and the answer arise, and are answered, by the same consciousness.

I like this approach to thoughts and ideas, because it encourages a certain communality. It suggests, albeit slightly, that we are all interconnected as small parts of the whole. That we aren’t alone in the world, striving to find answers and solutions all by ourselves. If we want to, we could be open to the idea that the world is conspiring in our favour, to bring solutions and opportunities for growth in understanding and progress. If only we listen…

Emma Mills is a meditation teacher with a passion for finding & sharing thoughtful and intelligent ideas for living well, inspired by culture, the arts, psychology & mindfulness.