Purpose: To show you that all of your current thoughts are meaningless and are, in fact, not real thoughts at all. Recognizing that you have been preoccupied with nonexistent thoughts will pave the way for uncovering your real thoughts.
Exercise: Five times, for one minute or so (no more; cut in half if you are uncomfortable).
- Close your eyes and repeat the idea very slowly. Then add, "This idea will help to release me from all that I now believe."
- Then search your mind for all available thoughts. Avoid selection or classification, seeing your thoughts as an odd procession which has no meaning to you. As each one crosses your mind say, "My thought about _____ does not mean anything."
Remarks: It is important to stand back from your thoughts and observe them with detachment. Do not think of them as different from one another in any real way. You might want to imagine you are watching a strange parade of disorganized, meaningless objects. Another helpful metaphor (not mentioned in the Course) might be to imagine that you are watching leaves float by on a stream.
Response to temptation: Optional whenever you have a distressing thought.
Feel free to apply the idea to any upsetting thoughts you have throughout the day, using the form: "My thought about _____ does not mean anything."
Lesson 4 said, "These thoughts do not mean anything," and it promised the exercise would be "repeated from time to time in somewhat different form" (W-pI.4.3:1). This lesson is the first repetition. It explains that the reason the idea is true is that
all the thoughts of which you are aware…are not your real thoughts. (1:1-2)
That is particularly difficult to accept at first. How can my thoughts not be my real thoughts? It explains that we don't have any basis for comparison as yet, but that when we do, "you will have no doubt that what you once believed were your thoughts did not mean anything" (1:5). So once again the Workbook is asking us, to a certain degree, to take this idea by faith for the time being.
A basis for comparison implies that before long we will experience our real thoughts, and when we do, we will know that what we believed to be our thoughts were not our real ones. It's like we've been eating carob all our lives thinking it was chocolate. Once we taste real chocolate, we know that carob was not chocolate; but until we have a basis for comparison, we can only take our teacher's word for it.
The difference between Lesson 10 and Lesson 4 is in the first word: "My thoughts" instead of "These thoughts." In addition, the lesson does not go on to link the thoughts with things around us, as Lesson 4 did: "They are like the things I see in this room." So the emphasis in this lesson is on the thoughts themselves: "The emphasis is now on the lack of reality of what you think you think" (2:4).
The third paragraph points out the different aspects about our thoughts that have been emphasized so far:
- they are meaningless
- they are outside rather than within
- they concern the past rather than the present
"Now we are emphasizing that the presence of these 'thoughts' means that you are not thinking" (3:2). This rephrases the earlier concept that our mind is simply blank. Before we can have vision, we have to learn to recognize nothingness when we think we see it.
The exercises given make it clear that what the Course is talking about closely resembles many Eastern meditation teachings. What is being cultivated is a kind of detachment from our "thoughts," becoming "the witness" or taking the position of an observer in regard to our thoughts. We watch the thoughts as if "you are watching an oddly assorted procession going by, which has little if any personal meaning to you" (4:6).
One book I read about meditation (Stephen Levine's A Gradual Awakening,1 a wonderful little book) used the analogy of watching a train going by, each car containing a thought or set of thoughts. "Oh, there goes a thought of hatred! There goes some worry. There is a carload of sadness." It also used the picture of watching clouds floating by in the sky, with the expanse of sky being the mind itself. Levine emphasizes that we do not let ourselves cling to any of the thoughts or allow them to drag us along with them, but likewise we do not push them away or resist them. If they are "meaningless," as the lesson says, we need not respond to them at all.
As you do this kind of mental exercise you become aware of your mind as something independent of the thoughts that appear to cross it. You dis-identify with the thoughts. They lose their emotional charge for you. The thoughts become less and less of a "big deal" to you. You begin to recognize the vast expanse of mind in which these thoughts come and go, and to realize that they have no effect on that "sky of mind" in which they float. Notice in the practice instructions that the pace is stepping up a bit. "Five practice periods are recommended" (5:2) in addition to using the idea during the day for any thought that distresses us.
The closing added thought can be helpful to reinforce our belief that what we are doing is really worthwhile. We may need such reinforcement, since the actual practice of the exercise may induce discomfort at times. It isn't comfortable to repeatedly tell oneself, "My thoughts do not mean anything." It may seem demeaning. So reminding myself that "this idea will help to release me from all that I now believe" (4:3) can be a needed step in strengthening our motivation to do the exercises. The Workbook is cognizant of how entrenched the ego is in our minds, and works with us very gently in its attempts to dislodge us from our fixed position.