Subtle Levels of Thinking

When driving, sometimes I become aware of my mind registering a rapid succession of relevant "objects of awareness." On approaching an intersection for example, my mind may, all within a couple of seconds, clearly, sequentially register a pedestrian about to cross in front of me, a car approaching me, another car about to turn in front of me, and a cyclist whizzing past me. Of course the mind becoming aware of such events is absolutely commonplace, and tends to go unnoticed - "in the background".

A much more subtle function of the mind is awareness of the mind's functioning - the actual process of registering these observations. The mind itself is the object of awareness.

“There are many subtle levels of thinking; even when we are in a state of very sharp awareness, we can be thinking on a very subtle level. ‘Am I aware? Yes, I am aware.’ We are commenting about the experience. The difference with this subtle level of thinking is that there is no story. The thinking mind is the object, not the story.

This subtle level of thinking is purely functional, not a gross level of thinking. Gross-level thinking is something that comes up quite randomly and strongly; you can become aware of it, and if it is not important, it just stops; if it is interesting and grabs your attention, it will continue while you maintain a light awareness or often no awareness at all.

When we observe the thinking mind, we want to learn about the nature of it. Is it skillful or unskillful? Necessary or not necessary? In understanding it in this way, there is a level of wisdom. We want to understand the thinking mind as an object*, nature**.”

Sayadaw U Tejaniya. “Where Awareness Becomes Natural. A Guide to Cultivating Mindfulness in Daily Life.” Shambhala, 2016.

* object = something to be observed, studied & known

** nature = understandable properties or qualities that follow natural laws

Intersection, Taos, NM


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