It seems as though my mind is a thought factory, working constantly, at peak capacity, three shifts a day, seven days a week. It manufactures thoughts to order, as when I sit with a patient and she asks me what I think; but, mostly, it churns them out on speculation. It crams the warehouses full of thoughts, floods the pipeline, and offers overstock specials. The thought factory is at full capacity when I get up in the morning, before I get my coffee. It squeezes thoughts out when I’m on the toilet, spits them out when I brush my teeth, flips them over and over as I cook my eggs.
My production line of thoughts races as I cruise the interstate. It bottlenecks as I wait at the light. It serves during the long hours of labor: constructing sentences, shrinking heads. It quickly tools itself up for a new line at the mere mention of water-cooler gossip. I make thoughts with my brain and call them cognitions; I make them with my eyes and call them perceptions, with my ears and call them interpretations. My gut produces thoughts and I call them vibes; my mouth makes them, sometimes without involving my brain, and they are ill-considered opinions. I even make thoughts in my sleep and call them dreams.
My mind appears to manufacture so many thoughts that only a small portion of them ever pass the inspection station we call consciousness. Returns, recalls, and regrets are a daily occurrence. Freudian slips slide past quality control. Kinesics reveals tells. Incongruities, inconsistencies, and irrationalities abound.
It seems as though my mind is a thought factory, but actuality, it’s a sham. If it’s a factory at all, it’s the type that receives fully assembled generic product in the back door and pushes labeled brand-name merchandise out the front. My mind only appears to be creating these thoughts; truthfully, it hasn’t had an original notion in, like, ever.
My mind got much of its inventory in a close out sale from my parents. It bought it wholesale from culture. It received it unquestionably from as dubious sources as middle school peers, sitcom wisecracks, and tabloid conjecture. My mind’s stock fell off the back of the truck and I picked it up and put it on the shelves without inspection. Advertising unloads whole cargo ships of thoughts directly into my brain.
I go through most of my life tacitly believing my thoughts. I assume my thoughts represent who I am. When a thought passes through my mind I imagine it’s an intimation of my most private, authoritative Self. This inner voice, my thoughts, unknown to anyone else, claims to be my home, my shelter, my ultimate truth.
Most of the time my thoughts are like a radio playing in the background: offering continuous commentary that is rarely acknowledged, but surreptitiously influential. If I do notice a thought, I always assume it represents what “I” think. If I read a sign on the side of a bus that says, Drink Coca-Cola, I know it’s an advertisement. If I have a thought that says, Drink Coca-Cola, I’m getting a soda. Advertisers excel at smuggling thoughts into my brain and getting me to believe they were mine all along. Scores of white-coated PhDs devote their entire careers to tricking me. Platoons of advertising executives owe their 401(k)’s to their success.
My thoughts indicate my accustomed, routine patterns and reactions to the world. I believe these familiar habits of thought are my true self, but they are not. They are like waves in the ocean: powerful, practical, and petrifying to mariners, but manipulated by every little breeze and of no consequence to the immense deep.
If my thoughts are not my own, whose are they? The provenance is a tangled thread. I can adopt these thoughts as my own if I want; I just need to know that I’ve got a choice.
If I cannot find my True Self in my thoughts, where can I find it? Perhaps my True Self is the thing that listens to the thoughts and not the thing doing all the talking.