Thoughts about thoughts

28/04/2011 § 1 Comment

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.” Rabindranath Tagore

I am thinking about thought.

For the past three weeks I have had an idea buzzing around in my head for a new business venture. I didn’t particularly welcome it when it arrived but I couldn’t shake it off. It won’t let go. As I took my early morning walk each day through the vineyards in Germany, my mind kept being filled with ideas and images relating to this idea.

I am not ready to share the idea widely yet, it is too fragile, too newly born to be exposed to the world. Maybe next week. Instead I want to explore the subject of where thought comes from.

I once read a speech given by Sting, the musician and prolific song-writer. This is what he said about where his music comes from: “… if somebody asks me how I write songs, I have to say, “I don’t really know.” I don’t really know where they come from. A melody is always a gift from somewhere else. You just have to learn to be grateful and pray that you will be blessed again some other time.

I also think of great composers such as Schubert or Mozart. They died relatively young (Mozart was 35, Schubert just 27) yet each produced a huge body of work of incredible variety, richness and depth. And what about Shakespeare or Pushkin, who produced work of such quality, and in such volume, that it had a marked and lasting effect on their native language.

How are we to make sense of this? Is it really that these individuals brought this work into being on their own? Or is it more helpful and more accurate to think of them as channels, connecting into some energy field in the ether and translating it into a form that other humans can relate to? They are perhaps a kind of human radio, tuning into channels most of us can’t access. But if this is so, what is the source of the information they are tuning into? Is this a sort of collective consciousness made up of all our minds?

What about us more humble mortals? Where do our ideas, our thoughts, come from? I just don’t know. Was it my idea to write this blog, or did the thought come from somewhere else and I merely attached myself to it? Am I writing this blog or is it a shared venture between me, you and the wider world?

I can’t answer these questions. And I can easily wander off into abstract mysticism, which I am rubbish at, if I spend too much looking at this stuff. Yet still I feel we have to keep asking the questions and extending our exploration – the way we think has a fundamental affect on the way we live our lives, individually and collectively.

One concept I have found really helpful is dialogue. The renowned physicist David Bohm (he worked with Einstein) wrote about it in a book “On Dialogue”. He said “Dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively. We haven’t really paid much attention to thought as a process. We have engaged in thoughts, but we have only paid attention to the content not the process.”

The word dialogue, he pointed out, comes from “Dia” meaning “through” and “Logos” which is “meaning.” So dialogue = meaning flowing through us. He suggested that there is a collective consciousness, a sort of shared mind, that we can tap into, to access higher wisdom and insight. Dialogue as he described it is a group process that allows us to access this place.

My understanding is that there are other ways to access this shared mind. For some of us, a good walk in nature will do it. Or meditation. Or lying in bed in a semi-awake, semi-asleep state. But dialogue is really interesting because it enables you to do it with others.

To explore this, I ran a weekend workshop on dialogue last year (on the basis that you teach what you want to learn). You can read a write-up here.

I should also add (he writes, pausing for a shameless commercial break) that I am running three short sessions on dialogue at the Hub in Islington on 18th May, 8th June and 29th June, each starting at 6 pm. For more details, click here.

I don’t have more to say about this. It feels pretty weird, writing about how I think. I struggle to separate what I am thinking from how I am thinking. Maybe to write about this stuff well, you have to be out of your mind. But then, Dasha thinks at the moment I am a bit out of my mind.

What do you think?

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§ One Response to Thoughts about thoughts

  • Finn Jackson says:

    I want to say something useful here. Something deeply insightful and true, and also that you will find useful.

    What the hell can I say?

    A thought comes to me from nowhere: “Consult the I Ching.”

    So I shall…

    What question shall I ask? Again the thought comes from ‘nowhere’: “What shall I say in response to Patrick’s questions?”

    Hexagram 28 (leading to 62)

    28 is ‘Great Excess’
    What superior people see in this is that just as a great excess of water can destroy wood, so a great excess of talent and intelligence in people can destroy their character.
    Therefore they stand alone without fear and conceal themselves and are free from distress: thus they accomplish the will of a person of exceeding greatness, and perfect the character of a person of exceeding greatness.

    “Having no fear” means that one cannot be constrained by things, having will and energy far beyond that of others.
    “Having no distress” means that errant thoughts do not arise, and one has cultivated development far beyond that of others.
    Because of having no fear and no distress one can accomplish that which is rare in the world, and be beyond the perception and beyond the reach of ordinary people.

    This leads to hexagram 62, Excessive Smallness, which reads:

    What superior people see in this is that [they] should minimise themselves in their daily activities and not become too grand. It is not right to be too deferential in conduct, but when one is deferential one does not look down on people or become arrogant, so there is no harm in being excessively deferential. It is not good to be too sad, but when one is sad one esteems nature and life. It is not right to be too frugal in consumption, but when one is frugal one does not waste natural resources and is content with what one has.

    I interpret the first hexagram as saying that the best way to think is with your body, or ‘character’.
    Thinking with our heads can lead to confusion — and I find there are always a hundred logical arguments for why starting the business you have in mind could be a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ idea, or ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

    What it comes down to, though, is how does it make you feel?

    It might be a good business idea (or a bad one) for someone else — but what is it for you?

    Therefore think with your character, not your talent or intelligence.

    When I wrote my book, my growing experience (over a period of about two years), was that the best process for me was not to think about what the next section should read, but to ask myself the right question…. and then the answer would come. Thinking at that stage would just get in the way. But thinking could be useful in testing the answers that ‘just came’.

    Did those answers (“thoughts”) come from my unconscious mind, from the collective unconscious, or from a Greek Muse, standing invisible at my shoulder?
    I don’t know. But does it matter?

    Is it more important to know where a thought came from, or to know instinctively within you that it is the right thing for you to do? And is your time then better spent understanding where the thought came from, or testing it out and then making it happen?

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