Did you ever wonder about where your thoughts come from? Your unconscious mind knows many stories. Stories about the past, stories about the future, stories about a person, a place or a thing. It’s also constantly paying attention to input from all of your senses, so it knows what you’re doing at any given time. It’s taking all of the input from your senses and feeding it into all of the stories it uses to understand the world. Then your unconscious mind offers up possible thoughts for you. By looking inward you can begin to see where your thoughts come from.
It’s kind of like the way Google suggests ads for you to buy something. Google is watching what you search for and what you spend time looking at on the Internet. It has a bunch of stories, called computer programs, that it uses to understand your behavior and offer up possible ads for you to click on. If one of the ads seems compelling, you click on it. It’s the same with your brain, if one of the possible thoughts your unconscious mind offers up seems compelling you become consciously aware of that thought. Or maybe if you’re speaking you say those words. The process is shown in Figure 1.
The ancient Eastern teachings call these possible thoughts the seeds of thoughts. Partly because once you select one it often sprouts into a full-grown tree of thoughts as one thought triggers the next. This is what we call a train of thoughts.
This process is good and necessary. Your conscious mind can only process about 2,000 bits per second of information. Your unconscious mind can process something like 4 billion bits per second. So you want your unconscious mind doing the heavy lifting of paying attention to everything that’s going on around you and filtering it through the stories that you use to understand the world so it can suggest possible responses.
At the same time you are experiencing or dwelling in a certain emotional state. This colors everything that’s going on. If you’re in love and happy the stories that are most important at that moment are positive and reinforcing stories. If you’re angry and fearful the stories that your unconscious mind is giving priority to are negative.
Updating your stories
Sometimes the system can get stuck. If you find yourself repeating the same thoughts or words over and over it means that a small set of stories is suggesting most of your possible thoughts or words. This is not good because the world is a large place and we need a well-balanced set of large stories to understand it.
Other times we need to update our system. Say we move to a new city or something about our world has changed. It doesn’t do much good just to tell ourselves okay, I used to live in Chicago now I live in Beijing. That’s just a fact. Facts can’t compete with stories in our brains. Stories select which facts, out of the many facts that are stored in our brains, that they want to use it any given time.
If you want to update your system you need to change the stories in your brain. This is where looking inward comes in. In order to change something it’s helpful to know what it is that you’re changing. Looking in is simply the process of calmly reflecting on the stories you use to understand the world. Or thoughtfully considering what kind of mood you are in or what emotions you are experiencing at any given time. Sometimes looking inward means focusing very specifically on one of your senses like seeing or hearing.
Looking in is an incredibly important process that will empower you to begin to change the stories you tell yourself about the world. You are partly your conscious thoughts, but a large amount of what you think of as yourself is stored in the unconscious stories you tell yourself. When you change the stories you tell yourself you change yourself, you transform yourself.