You feel your arms and legs. Thoughts are feelings in that thinking is a way of feeling. Thoughts are a type of sense data. Say thoughts result from chemical reactions in the brain. So, if the chemical reactions change, the thoughts change, but the brain does not blink out of existence, right? So, thoughts are not the brain. Furthermore, you are not your thoughts, nor are you your brain. Go back to feeling your arms and legs. Think about how your arms and legs feel right now. If you take those limbs away, you are not less of a person – you are still you. Same deal if you take away the thoughts and feelings of those arms and legs. You remain. Thinking is a type of feeling made possible by the brain, but is not the brain, just like feeling your legs (feeling thoughts) or running with your legs (thinking thoughts) is made possible by the existence of your legs (brain), but is not your legs (brain) (feeling thoughts is equivalent to thinking thoughts). So, you are not your brain, and neither are you your thoughts. If thoughts are used by the mind, then they are not equivalent to the mind; if the mind can use thoughts, then it is not the thoughts it uses. We are not our thoughts (our limbs). We think our thoughts (feel our limbs, think about that feeling). We think our thoughts whether or not they come to us in a slow trickle or in a flood. Thoughts change. Thinking remains (indefinitely because God wants it to).
To refuse a thought, it must first exist in my head… whether or not I willed it into existence. Having it occur to me isn’t the same as willfully thinking it. Thinking it is like holding it. There are a lot of items on the shelf in the store that I can see, but just because I am aware of them doesn’t mean I am holding them. A lot of thoughts occur to me against my will… like the pain of stubbing my toe, like the sound of the neighbors cheering the football game, like the memories I’d rather forget, and pleasant memories I’d long forgotten. The pain and cheering are caused by my external surroundings, and the memories, both good and bad, are part of my body (the part we call “brain”) – just like my leg, or my leg when it is broken. Focusing on a memory is like focusing on my leg. I am the focusing, I am not the memory or the leg. Thoughts/memories are external to the self, like the leg is external to the self. The measure of a heart is what it focuses on in privacy (though there is no privacy with God)—but compared to God all hearts are just wretchedly disgusting, but He loves us all anyway. I’m sure you’ve heard of selective listening, where a person can tune out all noise but the voice they are focused upon. That is what one must do when refusing unwanted thoughts – focus on one Voice, selectively listen to Love. Focus on Him, and the garbage will fade away. However… if the unwanted thought that keeps coming back is a person who caused you pain… you treat that thought with respect. You pray for that person, cry to God to release tension if necessary, suck it up, and drive on. Like Peter stepping out into the ocean… except… never losing eye contact. The idea is to recondition a more healthy thought pattern. Replace obsession and pain with edification and love. Thoughts can be replaced. You can not. The more you refuse it consistently, the less it will occur to you (but you… you will occur regardless). But this is also why it is important to fill the vacuum with God – the further you get from God, the closer you are to being swallowed by the storm. Matthew 12:43-45.
If you never learned how to refuse a thought, you may experience a mountain of unwanted thoughts when you put faith in God. The only way out from under that mountain is to let Him lift it off of you. He will teach you how to keep the mountain from re-accumulating. He will strengthen your will like an Olympic athlete. You will know yourself more than you ever perhaps claimed to want to.
If brains are not the actions that they do, then the idea of me being my brain sort of … crumbles right here, doesn’t it? But, thoughts are not actions. How is memory stored for recall if it is always an action? Are you familiar with Dawkins’ “meme”? Memes/ideas/thoughts exist as impressions… like lines carved into clay. The mind is self-conscious clay which can carve lines into itself, and erase lines it doesn’t want (only to the extent that it is aware). If mind emerges from brain, and thought emerges from mind, then mind is not brain, and thought is not mind. Feelings felt by the mind can either be ‘just felt’ (like when you are dreaming or you suddenly remember something out of the blue) or they can be ‘held’. It is in the ‘just felt’ stage that thoughts have not been refused or accepted. If we accept them, they are ‘held’. We can bypass the ‘just felt’ stage and ‘recall’ stored information into the ‘held’ stage. It is in the ‘held’ stage that thoughts can be said to truly emerge from the mind, but in the ‘just felt’ stage they emerge from the mind in the sense that without fingers or a nervous system, there is no “feeling an object” — because without a mind (emergent from brain) there is no “thinking a feeling” (whether that thought is “just felt” or “held”). Thinking/feeling is an action like running… and if brains are legs, then thoughts/sense-data are like toes attached to the feet of those legs. Memories are impressions on the part of the body we call brain. Thinking is running with memories instead of legs. Legs don’t run themselves when the will is in control, and neither do memories. When we run involuntarily (“flight” instinct) we are not our legs – same deal when we remember involuntarily… we are not the part of our brain impressed with memories, nor are we those memories. The fact that we cannot be in total control is evidence of our weakness, our humanity, our need for God. He can help us master ourselves. He can teach us how to amputate infected toes/thoughts.
I can not regulate my will on my own. On my own, I didn’t have the motivation to do that. I do give Him the glory for my freedom. I do the refusing – He does the motivating toward refusal (not because I earned the motivation, but because He loves me and I’m cool with that).