photo by Mandee Labelle •
photo by Mandee Labelle •

The Impersonal Nature of Thought

Thought is always impersonal, even when it seems not to be. Whether we see it or not...

Indeed, it is kind of an odd experiencing, once it’s actually seen and experienced as it is, and is not just an idea, belief or intellectual insight. It can take some adjustment. There can be a wavering… here I try and talk about the experience, explain it a little, as best I can.

It’s really just a trick of the so-called “mind” that associates a thought and makes it personal. There is association with another mentally created object of a supposed entity, what we call “me”, or associated with a name. This happens automatically, out of habit, until it’s seen. And even then, the habit is there, but is merely useful for the purposes of this body-mind phenomenon.

Though it may sound strange to the ordinary way of seeing things and talking, the “me” is really a theoretical entity.

Furthermore, that entity of what one assumed to be oneself, if you really look at it steadily and long enough, there is a direct seeing that there is no consistent, solid, separately existing, real thing. Once out of the shadows, it’s like shifting mirrors with nothing behind them – like a magician swiftly pulling out every prop he has, one after another, to try and convince you of some magic trick!

That goes for the mind too. There isn’t really something called the mind, in experience, if you really look. There is a word and concept called “mind”, but in the actual experience, every thought has no substance other than awareness, the not-visible "background" out of which it arose and sinks back into (this is just a way of attempting to describe an indescribable experience). It is real in terms of being a real experience, but as far as separate entities, thoughts just evaporate like steam, back into the clear air of awareness from which they seemed to come into. A journey from nowhere to nowhere!

Back to the experience of Thought: once the impersonal nature is seen, there is more space to see things like the following scenario. For example, you are out walking the dog, and you hear a voice from a yard on the hill. You can’t see anyone, but you hear them, and you hear a small dog yapping, and the voice says “Just a heads up, she may be heading your way!” and there is an automatic tendency to think they’re talking to you (“me”). There can be feelings associated with it too, such as paranoia or joy, or whatever. But then you realize they were talking to their neighbor on the hillside. You may laugh because of the automatic reaction one had, the comical foolishness of the constant “it’s all about me” reaction, whether it may have been relatively useful to a body, an apparent person, or not.

And in fact, every time a voice associated with the appearance of a body seems to aim at “you”, either because of the direction the person appearance is aiming it, or because of a name that a friend or relative that “knows” you, the same automatic mechanism is at play, and the association is made, even though it’s still an arbitrary assignment to a local entity – the only difference is, in this case it’s useful (hopefully) or enjoyable, and there may be an appropriate response, such as “OK thanks for the heads up, I have them on the leash. Have a nice day!” and you wave and smile at each other.

It’s clear in both cases it’s impersonal, whether it’s a mistaken association with an apparent entity or not. One sees the imaginary nature of the whole enterprise. It’s all made up: that there is a “me” that is a real solid consistent thing that thoughts are attached to, identified with. Even “the body” that we name and call ourselves is a constantly changing set of sensations, thoughts, images feelings, smells, and so forth, existing as an experience in awareness. Where else is it? Have you seen it anywhere else except in awareness, even if it’s a thought, and not so-called immediate? In fact, even that thought that seems not-now, or distracted, or about the past or future, is Now. You never had and can’t have a thought except now, in the so-called present. It’s all there is, really, in actual experience: Total Presence.

In the clear light of awareness, this is obviously the case, and it’s all quite delightful. What had seemed serious, heavy, an onerous job, becomes light, transparent as if made of some invisible substance, blissfully shifting from one form to another.

In the case here, there was some edginess leading up this impersonal experience – not knowing what to hold onto, what to protect – all these automatic mechanisms, extension of the organism and its boundaries that define it as “this” rather than “that”.  In life's biological organization of an "edge", a boundary of "me" and "not-me", there is food-seeking or prey-avoiding, hunter-gatherer or observer, or the hunted, or whatever. This lives on, in a form, as mind-ways. The habit of “taking care of business” and to maintain, protect, be on guard, and seeking things, or avoiding things, or be thinking thinking thinking about oneself, other seeming people, problems, scenarios, issues, desires, goals, plan — all about the past and future — becomes so ingrained it becomes invisible or unstoppable, seemingly.

photo © Kamal Beri

To be in the absolute present is such a gift, and so magical as to be almost indescribable. Or really, it is indescribable as a totality – and one of the inspirations for artists to create, is this perception of Beauty. To see things with no personal thought in the way, actually see them, or hear them, smell them, taste, touch, feel… is wonderful and amazing. In this experience there is no "them", no object, because there is "me", no subject.

It seems impossible that such a thing is possible, the experiencing of experience, whether of what we call beauty, truth, or love, or simply "being alive".  The word “extraordinary” is apt. The ordinary is extraordinary. And we don’t have to go to some exotic locale to experience it!


So again, to summarize, there was never really any real, solid, separate, independent existing entity to which the thought, the thinking, associated in the first place. Yet all through the day, as if in a dream, we are doing this thinking and this automatic association, connecting, attaching, identifying, clinging, holding, protecting, chasing, involved in a supposed past and future, possibly feeling a bit condensed, contracted, tense, intense, unsure (defending, promoting, intending, agenda-ed…)… and it’s quite a burden.

This is a very freeing realization. It come from freedom and leads to freedom.

Another nice thing about this seeing of how impersonal it all is, is how much space for Love it creates or allows.

How can there be space for love if there’s so much in the way?

photo © Kamal Beri

Why are we so afraid of freedom? Because we think, believe, there is something to lose, something personal. It goes against the grain of the training of society, family, culture... so we enter or arrive on this "path" from either a glimpse of freedom, or suffering that leads us to see something else. But even deep into blindness and misery, we know in our hearts there is peace and happiness, otherwise how would we know this is "bad" or worse than something else, unless some alternative were known, at some level?  Some past glimpse or some deep inner knowledge is there, inside, in our hearts...


(By the way, I can’t take personal credit for not taking things personally!)

Eric Platt

Leave a Comment