Am I the thinker of my thoughts? The initial response is “Of course I am the thinker of my thoughts.” However, upon investigation this does not appear to be the case. Thoughts appear to arise all by themselves. For example, I get a thought about going for a walk. I don’t decide that I am going to think a thought about going for a walk. The thought or idea to go for a walk just occurs.
Close investigation shows that most thoughts are triggered by other thoughts. Suppose I see a flower. I may suddenly have a thought to walk over and smell the flower. I did not actively decide to think a thought about smelling the flower. The sight of the flower automatically triggered the thought to walk over and smell the flower. I was not the thinker. It just happened.
My mood appears to influence thoughts. If I am in a bad mood, I may have more negative thoughts about something. If I am in a good mood, I may have more positive thoughts about something. If I am in a terrible mood, I may have terrible thoughts. Again these just arise. Why would I actively purposely choose to think terrible thoughts? I have no control over them. If I have no control then I cannot be the thinker.
Another clue that I am not the thinker is the fact that I cannot just stop thinking. “Don’t think of a pink elephant.” I am just about guaranteed that a thought about a pink elephant is going to arise. I cannot stop the thought.
I also cannot think a thought on demand. “Think a thought…now.” There is a short period of time where there is no thought, only silence. After this short period a thought arises such as “that cup is blue.” I did not decide that I was going to think the thought “that cup is blue.” The thought just arose and I claimed it as “my” thought after the fact. I cannot think a thought.
But surely I think! What about problem solving? Do I do the thinking when solving problems? Upon investigation, this too seems to break down. One thought triggers another thought which triggers another thought. There is this cascade of thoughts, none of which I am actively thinking. The cascade appears to be a process of pattern matching with the final pattern being the answer to the problem. If this, then this, then this.
I am not the thinker of my thoughts. I am aware of the thoughts though. What is it that is aware of thinking, but does not think?