You are not your thoughts

You are not your thoughts
Photo by BUDDHI Kumar SHRESTHA / Unsplash

We are constantly thinking and reasoning when we're awake.

This is why practices like meditation and boredom are so challenging. Low stimulation activities force us to confront our digital distraction.

During these calm moments, we notice how fast our mind is thinking; It's uncomfortable.

We prefer continuous distraction to confronting our thoughts.

An overlooked hyperactive roller coaster

Our thoughts are masterfully conceived, and trick us into belief. Interpretations become fact, even when we lack concrete evidence.

As shown in split-brain studies, our brains love to make up stories.

Splitting left & right

The left brain is responsible for language processing, both verbal and mental. The right brain deals with “unconscious” actions, such as hearing, heart rate, spatial awareness, etc. (A simplification for this article)

In split-brain individuals, the highway connecting each hemisphere is cut (usually to help prevent epileptic seizures). The halves of the brain cannot communicate.

Result: the left brain openly hallucinates to explain right brain behavior.

In one study,

split-brain patients received a verbal cue in their right ear, telling them to stand up.

The patients stood up; But when asked why they stood up, they gave irrational responses.

“I want a Coke from the vending machine”
“I want to close this window because it’s getting cold in here”

The truth is, they stood up because the right brain was told to. The left brain hates losing control, so it made up a story where it is in control.

The left brain does this... constantly

We assume, categorize, and form opinions without clear evidence. We see bits and pieces and inaccurately construct the whole.

Interpretations and quick thinking were critical for human evolution.

You’d be killed if you always questioned what animal caused that bush to rustle; Maybe it's just a squirrel, but it could be a tiger.

Assuming the worst and creating false realities helped us survive by trusting only our judgment.

But life-threatening events are far less common today. We overuse the left brain response in situations where there isn’t danger. Creating needless suffering, anxiety, and depression.

Break this cycle with practice

Some of the best forms include yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, mindfulness, or focused breathing.

These can help rebalance the right brain and emphasize the present instead of a left-brain manufactured reality.

You are not your thoughts

Internalizing this is the central goal of these practices.

To separate a "thinker" from the thoughts you create. To view thoughts as leaves flowing downstream while you sit peacefully on the riverbank.

The research in this article came from No Self, No Problem by Chris Niebauer. It's a great read about the bridge between Eastern Philosophy and cutting-edge neuroscience. Check it out if you want to learn more from an actual scientist.