Am I in control of my thoughts?

There is no difference in being aware of a tree and being aware of a thought.

So why is it so easy to align my identity with the contents of a thought and not the condition of the tree? The tree could be beautiful or ugly, tall or short, alive or dead, sturdy or weak, and it does not affect the “I” in any way.

A thought on the other hand can be kind or harsh, pure or impure, moral or immoral, and the “I” is always drastically affected. We align our identity with the thought and then cast judgment upon it. This judgment will either make us want to hold on to that thought or run far away from it as fast as we can. This conditioned reflex to become one with the thought is based solely upon the following statement.

“I am in control of my thoughts”

In the pursuit of our own bliss it now becomes imperative to either prove or disprove this statement above. In beginning this investigation the first and most obvious question is this: Who is this “I”?

If we are going to know the “I” we must first understand our own capacity to ‘know’. Knowledge in the conventional sense is perception analyzed with thought to create concepts. The bottleneck in this process is perception itself. What can not be perceived can not be turned into a thought, and thus not turned into a concept.

Digging deep into the act of perception we can see that there are actually three things required: the perceived, perception, and the perceiver. In the example of the tree we can understand that the tree is the perceived, eyesight is the perception, and then what is the perceiver? My first instinct is to say that it is the brain.

But is my brain also perceived? I can’t see my own brain, though I suppose I could with some major surgery and a mirror. I could also touch it through similar means. So then, can the brain be both the perceiver AND the perceived? I mean, it is the brain that translates what has been perceived through eyesight into an image.

So the brain must be a part of perception and NOT the perceiver.

Who is this damned perceiver then? The celebrated YouTube guru Mooji knowingly points seekers by asking “Can the perceiver be perceived?”. Nisargadatta Maharaj says “The very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive.” Initially this leaves us with a most unsatisfying conclusion. If I can not perceive the “I”, then I can never truly know who I am.

Getting back to the original statement we are examining, if I can never know the “I” then it would be nonsensical to assume that this “I” is in control of my thoughts. In fact in not knowing the “I” it is meaningless to lay claim to “my” thoughts at all.

That leaves us with “control”. Can thoughts be controlled? Do you know the next thought that is going to pop into your mind? It seems that we often get the thoughts we want the least. Through resisting a thought, that for all intents and purposes appeared randomly in your consciousness, we empower it. Continual resistance trains your brain to think your most undesirable thoughts at a most distressing frequency. It is only when you give up this control unequivocally that you release it.

A resisted thought is like a prisoner in our brain.

Eckhart Tolle rhetorically asks “What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is?” Such a thought is being denied it’s own existence and therefore can not run it’s course into nothingness. It is the nature of things to come and go.

The idea of control is problematic on many levels. We can’t define that “I” who is doing the controlling; the thoughts that I want to control can’t even be “my” thoughts without a known “I”; and any attempts to control thinking seems to have a substantial negative effect.

Lets modify the primary sentence in question. Lets toss out the first word “I”, and along with it the last two “my thoughts” as we know them to be either false or unknowable. The middle phrase “in control of” seems to be rife with issues so lets drop it as well. That leaves us with just one word, “Am”. Seeing a similarity to ‘Amen’ I performed a quick etymology check revealing it’s intended meaning as “so be it” or “truth”.

Let us conclude with the only truth to be found in our initial sentence; Am. There is an obvious temptation to use the phrase “I Am” which is extremely popular in spiritual texts and discussions. But in this context I see “I” and “Am” as two words carrying the same meaning. There is no “I” apart from being, and no being apart from “I”. Perhaps the best way to express this is to write it: “I, Am”.


4 thoughts on “Am I in control of my thoughts?”

  1. This is a beautifully crafted and deeply insightful article Graham; you are to be congratulated on tackling a deep and subtle subject so skilfully, if I may say so.

    I have always thought that a great breakthrough in understanding comes when it is finally seen clearly that the ‘self’, ‘I’ and ‘what I am’ cannot be perceived. To perceive is none other than the creation of a percept. How could the ‘self’, ‘I’ and ‘what I am’ ever be merely a percept? It is a nonsense.

    And of course, we should never err in putting Descartes before de horse; in thinking that our being’s proven actuality is dependent upon thought, percept, concept et al. A better phrase perhaps might be the reduced “There is thought; and I am”

    Many thanks Graham; it’s great to see a more fleshed-out piece from you – it must have taken some time and effort, I know.



    1. Thank you for your very kind words Hariod. Funnily enough when I started writing this piece I had intended it to be another short commenting on how the awareness of a thought and a tree is exactly the same. But it kept growing and growing…

      Writing it was a journey in itself being never quite sure of what was coming next. I found it very satisfying though.

      Being “in control” is so closely related to the topic of free will and that is something that fascinates me.

      I didn’t choose to be born and my genes and environment were thrust upon me. If my false self has no free will then what about my true self? Who the heck is doing anything? Could we all just be spectators in this dance of form???

      Anyways I digress. Thanks again for the compliment!


      1. Just saw the coles notes, very interesting! A non-physical mind that makes a backward step in time apparently accounting for the time taken for a neural response! Also, interesting how the terms of consciousness and unconsciousness are used in different contexts than I am used to. Thanks for this!


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