Thursday, March 17, 2011

"The Emotion of Wishing to Think"

Sri Nisigardatta (1897-1981)
I learned from Nisagardatta that every thought has an emotion - positive, negative, or in most instances, pretty much neutral. And I know from self-observation that it is principally the strong emotions that accompany the thoughts of the "ego" (what the pioneering psychiatrist, William James, called "the stream of consciousness") which lure us into the internal dialogues and full-colour mental movies of the wakened, but strangely un-conscious "ego" or self-consciousness. But, in the following passage from his book, "Unfolding Meaning," the eminent quantum theorist and metaphysicist, David Bohm, refers to "the emotion of wishing to think."

At first blush, I didn't get the full import of what Bohm was saying. But upon second reading, and reflection on my experience with meditation, this is exactly what my first spiritual teacher called the subtle "stirring of thought." It is this "stirring of thought," he taught me, that one must let go of before it expands into a full-fledged thought that stirs the ego. (The thought "expands," he observed, like a bubble of air that expands as it arises from the bottom of a lake. My task, he told me, was to dissipate that thought "bubble" through mindfulness before it could "break the surface" of my consciousness.) This initial stirring is, I feel, what Bohm is referring to as "the emotion of wishing to think" in the following snippet of dialogue:
"Q: I'm just wondering where emotion comes into all this. Is emotion a necessary product or program of thinking?"

"Bohm: Emotion and thinking are almost inseparable. They are just different levels of the same thing. It's known that between the intellectual part of the brain and the emotional part there is a tremendous bundle of nerves going up and down. Every thought affects the emotions, and every emotion that comes up to affect the thought. No thinking would take place without the emotion of wishing to think.  And according to the way that desire is, thought will go in that direction."
David Bohm (1917-1992)
Bohm continues, but in a discussion of what one ordinarily thinks of as the connection between thoughts and emotions, the production of imagined scenarios and dialogues, rather than his startling yet revelatory classification of an "emotion" of wanting "to think."
"And emotion is profoundly affected by thought because thought produces images, you see - not the abstract thought but the image and the feeling. Every thought unfolds into images and feelings which operate the same way as perception would. The thought of danger will produce the same emotion as the perception of actual danger. And the same chemical behaviour."
As Nisargardatta noted time and again in his teachings, mistakenly we believe we are the content of our thought, rather than the "observer" of the thoughts and emotions they produce - a teaching which Bohm would deeply appreciate, given the central role of the "observer" in quantum theory.

No comments: