Thoughts about someone or something are clearly not the someone or something. And yet we become so deeply entangled in thoughts about… [whatever] that we miss, almost entirely, the someone or something about which we are thinking.
Most people would quickly agree with the opening statement above, but still not know just how this mechanism operates and affects their behavior. For example, we are all likely to agree that our thoughts about the weather are not the weather. But our thoughts about the weather may very well dominate our experience of the weather – more than the weather itself. We may, in fact, think we know what the weather is (like), even though we have been inside all day, grousing about “the lousy weather.” We’ll do this even when we have had no immediate experience of the current weather – in this moment. In this scenario, our entire experience of the weather is based on our thoughts about the weather (equating it to past conditions and assigning the label “lousy” to it). Our thoughts about the weather are not the reality of the weather (as it would be experienced were we standing outside, in it). This is a simple example of something we do all the time. We have thoughts about… and mistake those thoughts for the thing itself*. Why do we do this?
We do this because thinking is a deep-seated and culturally supported habit. And we believe our thoughts about a thing to be true (without realizing it). Not only true, but to be the thing itself. Whether one recognizes this in oneself, or is inclined to argue that this is a bunch of hooey, most people are reliable in this habit – until they drop it. So what does it take to drop it?
When we are willing to acknowledge that we do this, start to pay attention to our thoughts, beliefs and behaviors (without judging them as good or bad), and notice how our thoughts about… [something] seem to be as (or more) real than the thing itself (*which, ahem, doesn’t really exist because there are no ‘things’…), then begins a great unraveling.