She intrigued me immediately.
Since meeting her, I have felt that there is something qualitatively different to the French way of thinking and being—like something about her was inspiring from the first smile she so disarmingly gave. We partied, we laughed, we struggled through a language barrier for which we compensated by making love flawlessly.
The Moroccan hash was the best: squishy, sticking to our fingers, and providing the most genuine high of anything we had to smoke in Thailand.
Not that an altered state of consciousness was necessary. But perhaps, it is not surprising that it was in this state that a reality-defining fork appeared in my life.
One weekend together was all we needed to feel that amidst the clumsiness of the words we exchanged, something more genuine was unraveling, though not necessarily for us as a couple. We later bickered pettily, eventually pushing each other away. Years of unconscious cultural and familial conditioning became too much, even as we tried desperately to live our lives together in pursuit of the understanding through which we had connected that night.
“You are aware of your thoughts, right?” she asked as we discussed our admiration for the writings of Eckhart Tolle.
First, a blank stare. Then, a furrowed brow. Next, a stammered series of indecipherable noises. In my head, I was saying: “Yes, of course. What a silly question. Is she really asking something to which the answer is so obvious?”
Then she asked it again.
And with the magical benefit of hindsight, I now know that this moment—this repeated question—changed my way of thinking, my way of life. This change made all the difference, because our thoughts create our reality, about everything.
What I had known in theory since reading A New Earth a year prior was finally settling within me.
Are you aware of your thoughts?
It’s not the most simple concept to grasp—definitely not for me. My mind runs rampant. It swings like a wrecking ball without direction. It smashes through a brick wall, changes course, crashes into a steel barrier, bounces off toward another topic, deflects toward a pile of rubbish, staggers off course, leading to the next nowhere. It’s in search of a truth, an understanding of the way I am, the way things are.
A memory of this, a worry of that, a fear of everything pushes and pulls my mind in trajectories that defy direction. It seemingly never loses speed, and I sure as hell can’t stop it. Wrecking balls are designed to maintain momentum in this way.
But that night, looking into the wise eyes of this enchanting woman—I got it.
After reading about meditation and trying to intellectually corral its purpose for months, it finally stuck. Not surprisingly, it all happened in a moment of simple observation, instead of endless, uncontrolled thinking about the need to understand.
I have thoughts. But they just come, and they go. In this moment, I understood that even if I can’t stop them, I can observe them and let them pass by like the clouds in the sky. I can focus them. I can change them. That’s consciousness at its most elemental.
I am not my thoughts. I do not need to, and indeed, should not identify my sense of self with them.
Thoughts come in all shapes and sizes, qualities and forms. From childhood or adulthood. From anything and everything my parents ever told me at any time. From teachers and professors, advertisements and political campaigns. From media stories about war and murder. From the things a homeless junkie yelled at me when he jumped in my cab. From what the opposing fans shouted at me when I took the last-second shot in that game in junior high school. From movies about animals talking and finding their way home when they get lost.
Our minds constantly receive the input of the world. At whatever stage we find ourselves in any given moment—be it cognitively, behaviorally, or emotionally—our brain processes the input into a memory, in some form, perhaps associated with a feeling, or even with another memory. The simple point is that our minds are a depository for information, in a broad sense of the word. We take in, absorb, and process. Then we think.
Until we become aware, we cannot understand that the thinking we do about the ideas we have received are mostly or entirely unconscious. We regurgitate through our own filters all that has been poured on us. And then we think that the regurgitation is us.
We identify with our thinking. We unconsciously become our thoughts.
My thoughts told me I was scatter-brained—unable to focus my attention on any of the topics that shot through my mind at a given point.
And then—while in a state of mind that allowed me to temporarily sit on the edge of my own consciousness just enough to observe it as something other than myself—she reminded me that I didn’t have to. I could be aware, conscious of the thoughts that passed through my head unwillingly. I could actively observe, rather than passively embrace and embody every emotion-provoking idea that came to me without my conscious consent. I could change who and what I chose to define as my own self.
I, myself, my self—none was ever the same.
Except, I still love that Moroccan hash.
Author: Matthew Mason
Image: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash
Apprentice Editor: Flavia Simas; Editor: Jen Schwartz
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Leah Sugarman