"I am the greatest!" If we repeat this affirmation to ourselves enough times, we will begin to believe it. Then we will begin to act out "Being the greatest," and soon, in our mind, we will be. It doesn't matter what we repeat, it's the repeating that counts, sort of an internal brainwashing. Heraclitis said, "The soul is dyed the color of our thoughts." Whether our affirmation is true or not matters little, what matters is the positive spin we put on our thoughts. It is as if whatever we affirm is a fact and becomes a reality, at least in our minds.

Affirmations appear in all religions. We repeat certain prayers or teachings until we convince ourselves that they are true. As we repeat these phrases, our soul becomes colored with them, and both our conscious and subconscious life becomes dependent upon our affirmations. What we think we become.

Since the soul, or mind, is not intelligent, merely a sponge or a book of records, it will take on anything that thought presents to it, and the danger is obvious. The soul will take on evil thoughts as easily as it takes on good thoughts. So how do we manage the thoughts that color our soul? And what if the soul, or mind was not colored at all? What would be the soul's natural state?

Who or what is it that manages all of this? This kind of question opens the door to an investigation of thought itself, because all of our beliefs are based on thoughts. When we think, we are resolving conflict; that is the function of thought. Thought is not magic, it is just thought. It is a material thing, and not fundamentally us, only a tool that the body uses to survive. The mistake we make is in believing that somehow thought represents me, or my true nature, which it doesn't.

If you watch your thoughts carefully and deeply, you will see that thought is no more than a conflict resolver. We think about what we want, what we don't want, what we want to do, what we want to accomplish, and all of this involves conflict resolution - how do we get there? Therefore, whenever we think, we are by definition in conflict. So when we say that we are what we think, that translates into the fact that we are conflict ourselves. And we wonder why we are miserable so much of the time!

When thought is absent; for example, when we are sleeping deeply just before dream states, the mind is not in conflict. This is the rest that the brain must have in order to survive. This absence of thought can be attained in meditation and deep, contemplative prayer as well, and when we do these practices, we require less sleep at night. During these times when thought is absent, the soul, or mind, is not being colored by our existential, worldly based thoughts; it goes back to its original nature, which is ultimate reality or God nature, and this is peace.

Since we can't function on earth without thinking and solving all of the problems that physical existence presents, thought is necessary. Only when we confuse thought with reality do we become bewildered. If we are fooled into thinking that our thoughts are us, then we begin believing that, as we think, we are. This can become an affirmation, leading to an attempt to manage our thoughts in order to achieve some kind of goal. The problem is; there is no manager, no one behind the thoughts, only more thoughts.

Therefore, is it true then that we are our thoughts? Not exactly. What we are is actually nothing. We are not our thoughts, not our soul, not our mind . . . nothing. There is no soul, no mind, no God, only thoughts. The soul, the mind, our Gods, are only thoughts. It is only thoughts that keep all of these ideas, and the idea of ourselves, alive.

If thoughts are transitory, coming and going all the time, how can we find a permanent residence there? If we say that we are our thoughts, that means that we are as ephemeral and fleeting as our thoughts. That means that in essence, we don't exist at all. And this is the truth. After a little investigation into this matter, the idea that we are a separate self becomes obviously flawed.

Believing in a self, which is solely based on our experience of thought, keeps us tied to conflict, or tied to physical existence; moment to moment, lifetime to lifetime. This idea of self becomes the 500-pound affirmation that doesn't allow the idea of soul, and God, and mind to disintegrate into emptiness. Emptiness of all thought, which can be practiced in meditation, or deep contemplative prayer, opens a door to something greater, something so far beyond thoughts and ideas that it is inconceivable to the mind.

This something else is true God, or true Reality, however you feel comfortable in expressing it, and not our ideas of God, or our thoughts about God. This is pure soul, untainted and uncolored from existential thought; empty mind, shunyata, the void, escape from the cycle of existence. This is true freedom.

When we succumb to that weak finality of believing that we are our thoughts, we limit ourselves tremendously. Perhaps we are what we don't think, maybe not thinking is true union with God, or Reality, or enlightenment. Perhaps our conflicts are only temporary as well, and as soon as we wake up from this bad dream of self, conflict will disappear forever.

It all begins with opening the mind to a new idea; the idea that we must end our ideas, and that perhaps there is much more to our life than what ideas can offer. Perhaps there is another way, a way that leads to true purity and virtue, and a way that leads to eternal freedom.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com