Quantum Exercise

Separating the observer from the observed.

From where does that thought arise?

When a thought arises, ask "From where does that thought arise?

When we continually ask ourselves, "From where does that thought arise?" we soon learn that a thought arises, and subsides, and then there is a space, after each thought.

This Quantum exercise is similar to the previous one, "To where does this thought subside." In the last exercise we are asked to find the empty-space after the arising of a thought. In this exercise we are asked to notice the empty-space (implicate) prior to the arising of a thought. One workshop participant asked me, "Why so many similar exercises since all you really need is one." I replied, "Not every exercise will work for you or anyone else. If I offer a menu, you can pick and choose the ones that work and discard the rest." Jokingly I said, "Today' s special is to where does this thought subside, it's garnished with the witness, and smothered in the implicate order."

Many years ago, I was working with Nisargadatta Maharaj, an Indian teacher. He asked a woman who was audio taping for a new book, "What will be the name of my next book." She replied, "Beyond Consciousness." He said, "No, Prior to Consciousness. Find out who you are prior to your last thought and stay there."

"From where does that thought arise?" brings us back to that space so that we can witness the rising and subsiding of each thought.

A common experience is to wake up in the morning; a thought comes by your awareness called "I feel good," and the witness says, "That's me." Your mind will then start coming up with reasons why you feel good: "I feel good because I got a lot of sleep; I feel good because I didn't sleep very much; I feel good because I meditated this morning; because I had a lot for dinner; because I didn't have a lot of dinner." Around noon a thought will come by which says, "I'm tired," and you'll respond, "That's me." "Why do I have to go to work? It's such a drag. I knew I slept too much" or "I didn't sleep enough," or whatever the sequence of events you might be experiencing. Sound familiar? A thought arises and subsides, and there's a space. This is the way it functions—it arises and it subsides, and there's space.

The purpose of this Quantum exercise is to bring you back into the space between thoughts. If there's anything that you identify with, it will limit you. "I like blue shirts, I like red shirts, I like tall women, I like short women," whatever it may be. Whatever you believe will limit you, or you could say anything that you identify with or feel attached to, will eventually lead to a contracted and limited experience of oneself.

Webster defines contemplation as "to look at or view with continued attention; observe thoughtfully, to consider or reflect upon." Throughout the book, when I use the word contemplate I mean "to consider and reflect".

Quantum Contemplation

Look into your experience and ask yourself, "Who is it that is always witnessing my mind? Who is it that is always there watching?" The answer is "I am".

There is no answer to the question "From where does this thought arise?" However, notice what happens as you ask that question and look for the space from which each thought arose. To where does that thought arise? If a thought comes by that says "I don't understand," you immediately say, "That's me. That's me because I don't understand. I never understood anything"—this is my story. The benefit is that the more you can observe yourself, the more distance between you and the thought develops. This begins to enhance the ability to choose your identifications rather than finding yourself automatically in the rapids of your mind. Observation gives you a lever or wedge between you and your mind.

The first time I worked with a married couple, the woman stopped her inquiring, looked at me and said, "I'm trying to think of something to say—I'm always trying to think of something to say." I interjected, "That's the story of your life," and she answered, "Yes." The thought "I should say something" went by and she identified it as herself. She would then run all her internal dialogue about how and why she never knew what she should say. A helpful process for her is to ask, "From where does that thought arise?" No matter what thought comes to your awareness, ask, "From where does that thought arise?" "I feel afraid to get started?" Ask yourself, "From where does this thought arise?" As other thoughts arise, keep asking, "From where does this thought arise?"

There is a thought called "I'm afraid," when you first came to the thought "I'm afraid," you identified with it and said, "That's me." Then suddenly your mind said, "I'm afraid because I don't have enough money," "I'm fearful because my relationship is screwed up," "I'm afraid because—" whatever it is. The minute you identify with any thought, you have all of the associated psycho-emotional reactions such as "I'm afraid." And your mind will give you a thousand reasons why you're afraid.


To begin experimenting with this exercise, very gently let your eyes close. Each time a thought comes through, begin to ask yourself, "From where does this thought arise?"

Quantum Exercise 4

When a thought arises, ask yourself "To whom does this thought arise?" You will probably answer "To me." Then ask a second question: "Who is this /?"

"Keep the attention fixed on finding out the source of the "I" thought by asking, as each thought arises, to whom the thought arises. If the answer is "I get the thought" continue the enquiry by asking "Who is this "I." (Godman, 1985)

This is reminiscent of an old Indian approach of asking yourself "Who am I?" I did this inquiring for some time and kept getting more and more answers, which I then had to look at. Asking "Who is this I," moved me from "being" the thoughts—to observing the thoughts.

Observe your experience and repeat this process with each new thought. Notice the rising and falling of your breathing as you notice the rising and subsiding of the different thoughts. As each thought arises, ask "To whom does this thought arise?", receive the answer "To me," and ask "Who is this I?"

You can also do this exercise quite effectively with another person. Sitting comfortably facing one another, one person begins by reporting a thought—"I feel funny doing this, I'd rather be outside," for example. The partner responds "To whom does this thought arise?" "To me," the first person naturally responds. "And who is this I?" queries the partner.

The purpose of this exercise is to begin to sense the difference between the "transient i's"—the changing identities associated with the different thoughts—and the steadying presence of the observer, which is always there, watching the mental parade. Without the observer, most of us go through the day flip-flopping back and forth amidst the waves of our thoughts. With the crest of each wave, we bob around at the mercy of the next wave.

An example: My alarm clock rings one morning, as it usually does, at 7:00 a.m. My first thought is, "I'm tired, I don't want to go to work." Instantaneously, I identify with the thought. In essence, I say to myself "That's me—I'm tired and I don't want to go to work."

After breakfast, a thought goes by, "I can hardly wait to tell Jack about my new idea for redesigning the training program." The same instantaneous identification takes place. "That's me—Ihave agreat idea." Suddenly I feel energized and excited about my work.

Now it's 10:30 in the morning and a thought goes by, "I'm bored, why did I pick this career?" The nonverbalized identification kicks in—"That's me—I'm bored with my job." By noon I'm thinking, "I'm really looking forward to my meeting with Lillian— she's so stimulating to discuss new ideas and problems with." The implicit aspect of this dynamic is the same as in all the other instances: "That's me—I can't wait to talk to Lillian."

The next morning I wake up and look at my partner lying next to me and a thought goes by that says, "Why am I in this relationship?" Instantaneously identify with the thought: "That's me—"I

want out of this relationship"..."I never should have gotten married." I could have so much more freedom." At breakfast I find that I am having a pleasant conversation with my partner. "This is really comforting," I think, "I like the stability."

During my mid-morning break, an attractive person walks past me in the corridor and I think, "I'd like to meet that person," followed by, "Maybe I'd be better off single...I could do exactly what I want..."

Sound tediously familiar?

The point of this example is to provide a sense of how the mind is always changing its mind, so to speak. When we identify with each and every thought, we ride an emotional roller coaster. Learning to observe and witness takes more and more of the tumult out of daily experience. The mind will still generate its geyser of ever-changing wants, opinions, and demands, but the you that observes your mind will develop an equilibrium. Instead of whipping through the day on a roller coaster, you will begin to glide on still waters.

Is there an answer to the question "Who is this I?" No. The point of the exercise is to move you out of the typical, transient experience of being the subject who is identified with each and every varying state ("I am no good") to a less familiar experience of yourself as an observing presence. The experience of "I"—which is generally so personal, so subjective, so attached—becomes more objectified and the intense feelings of identification begin to lessen.

In Quantum Exercise 2, we learned to experience the space or emptiness between two thoughts. Here you are learning to experience oneself as being separate from the comings and going of the mind.

By practicing the exercises in Level 1, in which you learn to experience the space (the changeless implicate order) between your thoughts and identifications (the ever-changing explicate order), you can begin to experience a sense of equilibrium rather than riding the waves of your ever-changing mind.

After I had been observing my thoughts for a period of time, I went to my teacher, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and said "I feel like I'm thinking more and more when I witness all these thoughts coming and going. Am I thinking more or observing more?"

He said, "You're observing more, so you're more aware of more of your thoughts. Therefore, it feels uncomfortable. It's just a phase."

Anything you believe about yourself is limiting. I feel good, I feel lousy, I'm too tall, I hate myself, I can't cope, I'm no good at relationships—each of these we experience as separate psycho-emotional states with separate waves of feelings, sensations, and emotions. In quantum terms, however, each thought is a part-(icle) of energy surrounded by space and, as mentioned earlier, can be experienced as a wave of energy arising out of and subsiding back into emptiness. Actually, the word quantum comes from the word quanta, meaning energy packet. In the same way, each experience is like a packet of energy. This is why we can experience thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. with such "energetic force." If we were to look through our quantum lens, we would see that all the particles or waves look alike. The implication of this quantum reality on a psychological level is that all the oscillating emotional and psychological states (part-icles or waves) we experience as being so remarkably different are, in fact, not fundamentally different. To the degree to which we identify with the states (or particles/waves) as being different, we go up and down emotionally.

A workshop participant once commented, "It seemed as though I was witnessing and going into the space primarily, and then there were thoughts going on, but I couldn't pay attention to them. Rather than focusing on them, it was as if I had gotten beyond them." Another trainee commented, "When I use the approach, I experience my thoughts slowing down in a rhythm. The shift is subtle, but I do experience a distancing from whatever the thought and internal experience was."

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