Wednesday 16 December 2020

Thinking - Is it a bad thing, or essential to salvation?

There are plenty of spiritual teachers - especially in the New Age, but also among Christians - who assert that 'thinking' is a bad thing; and making various suggestions as to what should be done to ignore or stop it. 

By my understanding; all such notions become a lethal problem in a world dominated by evil - since any individual that is simply immersed in his environment, passive and absorptive, doing what comes 'naturally in response to whatever is around him... as of 2020 any such person will be doing the work of evil. 

Yet it needs to be acknowledged that there is some validity in the criticism of thinking. It could reasonably be said that bad thinking is a bad thing - and most thinking is bad!


On the other hand, 'good thinking' - which I have variously termed the primary thinking of the real self, intuition, and direct knowing -  is perhaps the most important thing, here and now. 

Interestingly, both those who regard all thinking as bad, and those who recognise the importance of good thinking, are often united in prescribing meditative practices and disciplines that in one way or another aim to 'control' thinking. 

I have come to believe that this is misguided; and that thinking cannot valuably be-controlled; because every attempt to control thinking uses, works-from, some lower from of mental activity such as habit (which is a sub-human behaviour), deliberately altered consciousness (e.g. by drugs, active imagination or 'shamanic' practices), or will-power (which is a superficial and labile, personality-level motivation).   


So what can be done if 'good thinking' cannot be achieved by any kind of 'systematic effort'? 

Well, we can recognise when good thinking is-happening. We can know that this kind of thinking is intrinsically a good thing, and can attend to it; and later reflect-upon it. 

Such behaviour is iteelf (to some extent) an act of attunement and alliance with God's creative work

Thus recognition, discernment, attention, and reflection on good thinking will therefore both encourage and detect God's creative work as it applies to us. 


So we can expect to get better at recognising 'good thinking'; and can expect also that 'good thinking' will happen more often; since we are actively-helping God in that providence by which he brings potentially-beneficial events to pass in our own specific lives.


Jeremy Daw said...

The Greek word translated 'mind' in Philippians 2:5 is 'phreneo' which has its roots in the word 'phren' which refers to the midriff or diaphragm. One Bible scholar points out that 'phreneo' is a difficult word to translate accurately, because it combines the senses of both 'cognitive' and 'visceral' 'thought'. As someone who believes in both the new birth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, this combinatorial rather than oppositional view of the relationship between the heart and the head makes a certain sense to me.

Perhaps ultimately, 'good thinking' is that which occurs when one is submitted to the Will of God and not arrogant enough to believe that everything can be worked out by one's own fallible mind. That, I would argue, is what the process of 'renewing the mind' *is*. It is the process of bringing the cognitive and reasoning faculties of human consciousness into their proper subordinate relationship with the regenerated spirit which is itself subordinate to the Will of God.

Incidentally, thank you for this blog. It is always insightful and always stimulating. God bless you.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JD - Thanks. If you are interested in these kind of word changes, you would probably enjoy Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction, or his History in English Words. Once read, never forgotten (as JRR Tolkien also discovered).

Sean G. said...

Quietly one of the most subversive aspects of the internet is it's ability to easily provide answers to all manner of questions. People are quick to abandon their own intuition in favor of external answers. For most of us our intuition is rarely if ever used. Like most people today, when I have a question or problem my fingers start itching for my internet device. But when you look to yourself for an answer it can be a life changing event. It's a recognition of your own divinity and is invitation for your true self to come forward.

Thomas K said...

UG Krishnamurti, the Brahman 'anti-guru', used to say 'thought is your enemy'. He was an interesting man, known as 'the other Krishnamurti'

Here is a book constructed from conversations with him.

Here is a video of UG:

Bruce Charlton said...

@TK _ Another example is the very successful New Age guru Eckhart Tolle who is explicitly anti-thinking - but probably most of the people who teach meditation are of this type.

There is some truth in this, as many people including myself are troubled by racing, buzzin, gsuperficial thoughts; and these do need to be interrupted or calmed or something before Good thinking can get-going.

But I personally find that a very short sleep - even of just a few seconds, is highly effective at 're-booting' things, and clearing the mind. Of course not everybody can do this, and for them some kind of anti-thinking meditation might do the same.

But this should Not be regarded as an end in itself - but a preparation leading on to Primary Thinking/ Intuition/ Direct Knowing... for what Owen Barfield termed Final Participation.