I have heard of certain spiritual teachers who will sit their students down and ask only one question: “Who are you?” No matter how many times the student answers – Bill, writer, husband father, American, human – the teacher keeps asking, “Who are you?” There are days it seems I am none of the above but only the thoughts I think. I think a lot of them, and those thoughts can send me into the pit of apathy or to the height of anticipation. There are new thoughts and old thoughts, naughty thoughts and practical thoughts, and all of them streaming through me so ceaselessly that my life is surely nothing but an interior monologue occasionally interrupted by the knocking of the world at my mental door. That’s who I am: the thoughts I think.
Yet look how those thoughts change as the light beam of my attention shifts. Here I am focused on a story I am telling, and all my thoughts have been marshaled for that sole purpose. But now the phone rings and it is my brother and my thoughts have moved to our plans for October. Our conversation over, my eyes stray to my bulletin board where I notice a note about local teachers, and now my thoughts are planning a school visit. So I am not my thoughts after all. I am my attention – that which summons and directs my thoughts.
Except the light beam of my attention, while pulled and startled by the colors and noises of the world, does not move by chance. There remains still that which chooses where it shines, that which is neither my attention nor my thoughts nor the body through which both must pass. He is the answer to the teacher’s question, but what to call him? He is not Bill, but the one who sees Bill in the mirror, a foreigner at home in any land, all that is left when you have stripped away everything we can name.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.