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Understanding the thought process leads to mastery over your self, just as the psychological work does, from another side. If you are governed by your emotions, conscious or unconscious, you lose control over your self and over your life. The same applies to your thought process. If you become master over your thoughts, you become master over your mind, and so you have mastery of your life. By mastery, I certainly do not mean a discipline that suppresses anything, negative or positive, in you. This concept is, unfortunately, often misunderstood and mistakenly practiced. We will have to be careful not to fall into the same error. Thought control can be mastered without rigidity and suppression. On the contrary, properly done it will bring into awareness what needs to come to the surface. Many current movements teach thought-control by suppression. As I have often said, this is not necessary and is actually very damaging. Your emotions must be allowed to come to the fore so that you can observe and evaluate them.

The first step, as always, is the recognition of what is amiss. Recognize your uncontrolled thoughts, their power over you, their significance, as well as their lack of significance.

Thought process also occurs on different levels. Broadly speaking, we can distinguish between foreground thoughts and background thoughts. Both have many subdivisions and many layers. By proper observation and concentration, you will gradually learn to become aware of these various layers — and this will be very beneficial for you in more ways than one.

Foreground thought is voluntary, background thought is involuntary. What I now tell you, you will experience as being true, if you learn proper self-observation. Foreground, that is, voluntary thought, is always clear-cut and concise as long as it remains in the foreground and does not slide unnoticed into background thought. If you want to think something — whether constructive or unconstructive — as long as you follow it through, it is foreground thought. When you become calm and observe your thought process, you will soon begin to notice the importance of background thoughts. Background thought comes unbidden; it is disorganized and mainly unconstructive.

You will also notice that background thought material consists mainly of the following:

(1) Symptoms of disturbed emotions and inner conflicts that never express the conflict itself. They might bring the nucleus of the conflict to the fore, if the symptoms are analyzed and properly understood. In order to do that, the vague, unvolitional background thoughts have to be made into foreground thoughts.

(2) You reexperience events, conversations, or impressions in snatches and fragments. If these do not belong in the first category, they are completely without significance. Your mind has registered certain impressions and it repeats them automatically like the rolling of wheels. As long as these thoughts remain in the background and you harbor them without full awareness, you cannot distinguish what is important in them and what is utter waste. Repetition of impressions may not only be important because it is indicative of a symptom of conflict; it may also be important because a constructive impression may add something to your life, to your person, to your inner self. Only when these impressions and thoughts are consciously observed can you derive such a benefit. In other words, you must make foreground thoughts out of background thoughts. The stereotyped repetitious thoughts that go on in your mind so much of the time are really waste matter to be eliminated.

(3) Wishful thinking. There are a few subdivisions in this category. You may reexperience a conversation, going over how it might have been, how it should have been, what you should have said instead of what you did say, or you build a daydream of what you wish to happen in the future, which is vague, unrealistic, elusive and unconnected to your real desires, and doesn’t take account of the obstacles within your soul. Such thoughts are entirely wasteful, if they are not made into foreground thoughts and evaluated.

Such wishful thinking, as well as fragments of impressions and automatic repetitions make up, in the main, the material of the unbidden background thoughts. Coming and going, they are not consecutive. They interrupt your voluntary thoughts and are unconstructive as long as they overpower your volition and keep you from taking the reins into your hands through learning to control your thought-world. Thought control increases awareness and raises consciousness. Instead of forbidding yourself to think, do the opposite: transfer background thought material into conscious foreground thought. First learn to evaluate the content of the vague background thoughts, and if you find that they are insignificant, learn to discard them. This process will bring forth additional material about your unconscious conflicts and teach you to control your mind in a healthy and constructive way.

Moreover, this practice will release a great deal of strength in you which was formerly used up by background thoughts. You have no idea how much mental and emotional — and eventually physical — strength they consume.

Some exercise and concentration is necessary to learn first the observation and, later, the control of your thought process. The exercises need not be strenuous, nor will they have to take up much time. Some regular effort is necessary, however.

To become master over your thought process by learning to make foreground thoughts from background thoughts and to ascertain their importance, you will not only release a great inner strength, but you will raise your consciousness and increase your awareness in a general way. You will become more and more aware of yourself — the inner situation, as well as your entire person and life — and more aware and observant of others around you; of life, of nature, of things. You will be capable of concentrating on those thoughts and occupations that you elect to, undisturbed by the wasteful, fluctuating thought material that has no importance, and serves only to decrease your awareness of self and to interfere with your concentrated attention on your task.

Unvolitional background thoughts make you the governed instead of the governor. Not only do your emotional and psychic disturbances cause lack of control over your life, but you are prey to your unvolitional background thoughts. There is, of course, a connection between the two, which we shall examine later.

Unvolitional background thoughts constantly disturb and interrupt you. Even if they have significance, you derive no benefit from them as long as you do not learn to transform them into foreground thoughts, as long as you are not actually aware of them. They overpower you whenever you are not deeply interested in an activity. Background thoughts are weak, insofar as you are unaware of them. But they are strong in that they are often much more powerful than the apparently stronger foreground thoughts. By learning to observe your thought process, you will discover how often these “weaker” background thoughts take hold of you on the sly, so to speak. At first you are utterly unaware that you were drawn away from thinking what you wanted to think about. All of a sudden you find yourself involved in background thought material that you can only now begin to evaluate. When you say that your mind is wandering, you hardly realize the significance of this statement and the effect such “wanderings” have.

The background thoughts are what makes concentration so hard and thus are responsible for your difficulty in focusing your attention on one particular thing. It is due to them that so much time, strength, and effort is wasted. If your time, strength, and effort are not utilized in constructive thoughts or occupation, your mind should be allowed to relax. The best form of relaxation is attained when the mind is given a chance to be quite calm. Background thought material makes this impossible. It disperses the mind in many directions and therefore exhausts it without your knowing it.

This disorder and disorganization is universal but for a few exceptions. And, unfortunately, in these exceptions people have learned to control their thought process at the expense of emotional awareness, so that the benefit is cancelled out. It will be our aim to combine the two factors, so that one is helped by the other rather than hindered.

I should like to suggest an exercise for you to start with. Sit down twice a day for five minutes, not more, any time you wish. Choose a time and a place when and where you know you will be undisturbed and do not have to fear interruptions. Sit down comfortably. Do not lie down. Become very calm. Relax completely, without trying to exert any force, strain, or pressure. Begin to follow the abdominal movements of your breath when you breathe very quietly: up and down, up and down. Or, if you prefer, imagine a point between your eyes — whichever is easier for you. Be prepared for your mind soon to be disturbed by unvolitional background thoughts. Expect them, observe them quietly. If they are not of pressing importance for you now — indicating a disturbance in your psyche — discard them quietly, without getting impatient with yourself. Resume the task of following the abdominal movements of your breath or of concentrating on the imaginary point between your eyes, all the time aware of what the background thoughts really are when they do come. It suffices to observe them as they appear in order to become conscious of the mechanism of thought process. You will then become aware that you are the victim of these thoughts. This awareness will bring you nearer to the goal. At the beginning it will seem impossible to think of nothing but your breath movements. Uninvited thought fragments will constantly rush in. Most of the time, they will be so powerful as to make you unaware that you do indulge in them. You will notice them only after a while. Whenever you do, try to recollect what your thoughts made you think of. Say to yourself: “I was thinking of this or that,” whatever it may have been. This in itself is a means to become more aware of yourself. You may then either go on with your concentration and defer to analyze the thought materials until after, or you may do so right away, if you feel the urge, and resume the concentration exercise another time.

If you faithfully persevere, you will eventually get to the point when you will become a watcher of your thoughts. You will stand guard, so to speak, at the threshold of your thinking process. You will begin to sense what calmness really means. Your thoughts and emotions will stand still, be it only for a moment. As you go on, you will learn to extend this moment. The longer you can do it, the more you will feel rested after such periods. Many other benefits will befall you. You will also get accustomed to watching your background thoughts during the day, during certain activities which do not demand your entire attention. More and more self-awareness will come to you on all levels.

When you do this exercise, approach it in a very relaxed frame of mind, and at the same time try to use your calm inner will. Most important of all is not to feel frustrated when you do not succeed, when you find yourself involved in unbidden background thoughts. Rather, use the experience as a means to understand what I am trying to explain. Such an approach will be most beneficial. It will open vistas to you and will get you eventually to what we are after. If at one time or another you find it impossible to concentrate in this manner because your thoughts always come back to something particular, that is a sign that this something ought to be investigated, that it contains a seed of one of your conflicts. If such is the case, you will not be able to become calm until you have found some clarification.

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To my teacher Marieke Mars who taught me self-honesty. To my courageous and loving pathwork helper Dottie Titus.

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