Have you ever watched your mind and noticed how wild and crazy and seemingly uncontrollable your thoughts can be? I have, and it's not a pretty picture. The Buddhists have a name for the mind that produces all this insanity: "monkey mind." They say the mind is like a monkey furiously leaping about—not just any monkey, but a drunken monkey stung by a scorpion. I'm sure many of us can relate to this description. At times, it seems impossible to settle our thoughts down and find that precious inner peace we yearn for.
Fortunately, the Course tells us there is an alternative to these crazy monkey mind thoughts: our real thoughts. These thoughts will bring the peace we yearn for. What are our real thoughts? In the revised and expanded edition of Robert's Course glossary, now titled Glossary of Terms from 'A Course in Miracles,' Robert defines them as follows:
The thoughts we think with God, joined with His Mind. Our current thoughts are meaningless and are not actually real. They bear no relation to our real thoughts. In thinking them, we are not actually thinking. These thoughts cover over our real thoughts, which lie unchanged within the mind we share with God. In Course meditation, we sink past our unreal thoughts in order to experience our real thoughts. These thoughts will tell us that we are saved. And they will show us the real world.
In this article, I want to expand on this definition. I will describe our current thoughts and our real thoughts as the Course depicts them, and then offer some Course-based instructions for finding our real thoughts. I hope this will shed some light on this confusing topic and help us make the inner journey from monkey mind to the Mind of God.
What are our current thoughts?
In short, our current thoughts—the thoughts that normally occupy our minds—are the result of "trying to think without God" (W-pI.51.4:2). The following categories give us some idea of the nature of these thoughts:
They are unreal and meaningless
Our thoughts feel powerfully real and meaningful to us. It seems to us that they help us navigate our world, give our lives meaning and coherence, and define who we are. The Course, however, dismisses the usual contents of our minds in a truly stunning way. As Robert's definition points out, our current thoughts are totally unreal, so unreal that thinking them doesn't qualify as real thinking. Indeed, the Course says that "the mind is actually blank" (W-pI.8.2:4) when it is occupied with them. In short, they are literally nothing, which means that they are utterly meaningless. This is a strong emphasis early in the Workbook, which presents us with lessons like "These thoughts do not mean anything" (Lesson 4) and "My thoughts do not mean anything" (Lesson 10). Dizzy yet?
They are chaotic and impermanent
This is where we really see that drunken monkey stung by a scorpion. The Course describes our current thoughts as "senseless thoughts and mad ideas" (W-pI.45.7:1), "raucous shrieks and sick imaginings" (W-pI.49.4:3), and "frantic, riotous thoughts" (W-pI.49.4:4). They come and go at will. "They blow across [our] mind like wind-swept leaves that form a patterning an instant, break apart to group again, and scamper off" (W-pI.186.9:5). With such wild things screeching in our minds and pulling us this way and that all day, is it any wonder we find peace so elusive?
They are the source of the illusory world of suffering and death
Our thoughts produce our world. What could such insane thoughts produce but a world that is as unreal, meaningless, chaotic, and impermanent as they are? "The fact that I see a world in which there is suffering and loss and death shows me that I am seeing only the representation of my insane thoughts" (W-pI.53.5:4). Our monkey minds thus produce not only chaos within, but chaos without. Why, then, would we want to hang onto our unreal thoughts? Given the nightmare they've produced, what a relief it is to be told that there is an alternative to the madness.
What are our real thoughts?
Robert's definition puts it succinctly: they are "the thoughts we think with God, joined with His Mind." This passage from Lesson 45 expands on this idea:
You think with the Mind of God. Therefore you share your thoughts with Him, as He shares His with you. They are the same thoughts, because they are thought by the same Mind. (W-pI.45.2:1-3)
We can get a better idea of what our real thoughts are by using the opposites of the categories we used to describe our current thoughts:
They are real and meaningful
Our real thoughts are more than just our thoughts about reality: as thoughts we think with God's Mind, they are reality. The Course, in fact, says that "all creation lies in the thoughts I think with God" (W-pI.51.4:8). As Thoughts of God, our real thoughts are formless realities in Heaven (so they aren't verbal thoughts). And as Thoughts of God, they are more than just meaningful; they are meaning itself, since "He is the Source of all meaning" (W-pI.53.4:3). Our current thoughts are literally nothing, but the real thoughts we think with God are literally everything.
They are changeless and eternal
When I read Course passages on our real thoughts (or on God's Thoughts, which are our real thoughts), the word that keeps popping up in my mind is stability. On those days when that monkey in my mind has drained a bottle of Jack Daniels and has sat on an entire nest of scorpions, just imagining the stability of my real thoughts is comforting. Our real thoughts are rocks that we can cling to in the raging sea of our world. They are utterly changeless and eternal, as all creation is. They are a firm foundation that we can depend upon to hold us up no matter how much shifting and shaking is happening on top of it. See if you can get in touch with the peace this stability brings as you read the following passage:
Under all the senseless thoughts and mad ideas with which you have cluttered up your mind are the thoughts that you thought with God in the beginning. They are there in your mind now, completely unchanged. They will always be in your mind, exactly as they always were. Everything you have thought since then will change, but the foundation on which it rests is wholly changeless. (W-pI.45.7:1-4)
They are the source of the real world of blessing and salvation
Just as our unreal thoughts produce an insane world, our real thoughts show us the real world of perfect sanity. "I can…see a real world, if I look to my real thoughts as my guide for seeing" (W-pI.53.1:5). They have the power to transform the chaos we see within and without into a reflection of the peace of God. And because real thoughts are shared with all our brothers, this peace is not for us alone. Finding our real thoughts helps our brothers do the same, and when this happens, "the world my real thoughts show me will dawn on their sight as well as mine" (W-pI.54.3:7). In short, our real thoughts save us from the nightmare our unreal thoughts have wrought. They bring the blessed peace that all of us seek but so seldom find.
How do we find our real thoughts?
As Robert's definition indicates, we find our real thoughts through practicing the forms of meditation taught by the Course. Our unreal thoughts are currently covering up our real thoughts, but through meditation we can slip past the unreal and contact the real.
We'll give this a try in a moment, but first I'd like to address a question that often comes up in the Circle's Workbook class: How will we know when we have found our real thoughts, especially since they aren't verbal thoughts? The Course doesn't tell us explicitly, but the way I look at it is this: our real thoughts are reality itself, so finding them means finding reality. Finding reality is the goal of all Course-based meditation. Therefore, I think the measures the Course gives us to evaluate the success of our meditation are the same measures we can use to determine whether we have found our real thoughts.
Among other things, the Course says you can tell your meditation has been successful if you feel a sense of "entering into light" (W-pI.44.10:1), "a sense of deep peace, however briefly" (W-pI.47.7:2), "a sense of being lifted up and carried ahead" (W-pI.69.7:1), and "a deep sense of joy and an increased alertness" (W-pI.74.5:4). I think we could safely add a sense of love, holiness, gratitude, oneness with God, or any other quality of reality as the Course describes it. Whenever we are feeling these things, however faintly, we are in contact with our real thoughts.
Now, let's try to find our real thoughts. The following brief exercise is based on Lessons 45 and 49, both of which give us a meditation in which we seek our real thoughts. The key to success in this, the Course tells us, is to bring a certain mindset to our meditation. We are to practice with desire for the goal, a sense of the importance and holiness of what we are attempting, and a feeling of confidence that we will succeed because it is God's Will and our true will that we do so. Lesson 45 captures the attitude we need to adopt in a beautiful image: "For this kind of practice only one thing is necessary; approach it as you would an altar dedicated in Heaven to God the Father and to God the Son. For such is the place you are trying to reach" (W-pI.45.8:4-5).
With this attitude in mind, it is time to "leave the unreal and seek for the real" (W-pI.45.4:2). Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths to relax. Read over the following instructions from Lessons 45 and 49 and then carry them out as closely as you can. The idea is to enter into a time of silence, so you might want to determine the length of that time in advance and set an alarm to bring yourself out of it:
Begin…by repeating the idea to yourself ["God is the Mind with which I think"], closing your eyes as you do so….[then] tell yourself gently:
My real thoughts are in my mind. I would like to find them.
Then try to go past all the unreal thoughts that cover the truth in your mind, and reach to the eternal….
Listen in deep silence. Be very still and open your mind. Go past all the raucous shrieks and sick imaginings that cover your real thoughts and obscure your eternal link with God. Sink deep into the peace that waits for you beyond the frantic, riotous thoughts and sights and sounds of this insane world. You do not live here. We are trying to reach your real home. We are trying to reach the place where you are truly welcome. We are trying to reach God. ( W-pI.45.6:1, 3-6; W-pI.49.4:1-8)
How did that exercise go? Did you find yourself leaving your chaotic thoughts behind and sinking into peace, however briefly? If you did, you have made contact with your real thoughts. If you didn't, don't despair; the Course promises that this form of practice will always be successful eventually, if we keep doing it on a regular basis. If we keep seeking our real thoughts with diligence and confidence, we cannot fail to find them. In the end, however long it takes, we will leave our monkey minds behind forever and gratefully return our awareness to our eternal home in the Mind of God.