Do You Take Your Thoughts & Emotions Too Seriously?

The sky as a metaphor for the true nature of mindOur biggest problem in life is that we take our thoughts and emotions far too seriously.

We think they are real, solid, and lasting when they are really only like clouds passing by in the sky.

Over time, we build deep habitual ruts called arrogance, pride, attachment, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-protection, greed, fear, and other unhelpful states of mind that only lead to suffering and discontentment.  One thought or emotion sparks another in an endless succession of mind chatter.

Eventually, the clouds obscure the sky.  We mistake our thoughts and emotions for our true identity.

Even happiness can trigger unhappiness when we want it to remain.  For example, you buy a new car and are jazzed beyond belief.  Then some kind soul dents your car.  Where did the happiness go?  We are so enslaved by our thoughts and emotions, following after them without pause.

The Clouds Are Not the Sky

None of these thoughts and emotions are the true nature of our mind, which is  “…a primordial, pure, pristine awareness that is at once intelligent, cognizant, radiant, and always awake.”  This innermost essence – which is unchanging and deathless – goes by different names in different traditions.

Understanding the difference between the ordinary thinking mind and the true nature of mind is the first step to freeing oneself from the prison of tumultuous emotions.  Meditation is the key to settling the mind so that ultimately we can recognize our true nature when it is introduced to us by an authentic teacher.

Reflection:  the Sky and the Clouds

The true nature of mind  is beyond words, beyond thought, beyond description.  Thus metaphors are used to point us in the right direction.  The metaphor of the sky helps us to imagine the open, boundless, and unlimited quality of our original mind.  At the same time,  our true nature is not identical to the sky as it also boasts a radiant clear awareness.

For the reflection this week, I’ve chosen the following quotations that use the image of the sky to help us remember the difference between ordinary mind and the sky-like nature of mind.

“Always have a sky inside you.”  Kyabjé Dudjom Rinpoche

“Our true nature could be compared to the sky, and the confusion of the ordinary mind to clouds.  Some days the sky is completely obscured by clouds.  When we are down on the ground, looking up, it is very difficult to believe there is anything else there but clouds.  Yet we only have to fly in a plane to discover up above a limitless expanse of clear blue sky.  From up there the clouds we assumed were everything seems so small and so far away down below.

We should always remember:  the clouds are not the sky, and do not “belong” to it.”    – from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche

Just remembering this crucial distinction can help us release troubling thoughts and emotions and bring more spaciousness, grace, and happiness into our life.

Does this metaphor inspire you? Are you spending your time embroiled in the clouds or do you allow them to pass by like clouds in the sky?

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If you liked this article, please share the link with others via your social networks.  Thanks so much!  Sandra

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Comments

  1. says

    Sandra,
    This metaphor of the clouds and sky is one that very much is inspiring. There is so much wisdom in just fully being within our natural world…and the sky in all her beauty is no exception.

    I find great peace in this thought today – and in how the thought of the clouds up in the sky…that also reminds me that they are but passing by. (…as in life…)

    So, when those “clouds” appear n my mind…when the sun isn’t shining as brightly as I’d like…these words today will remind me that there is much good, much peace, much light…and it will be shining brightly again very soon.

    And that is very much a peaceful thought to start my day today.

    Peace,
    Lance

    • says

      Lance,

      Thanks for your very inspiring comment. It gives me joy to be able to share a reflection that uplifts you too. Clouds will always appear from time to time, but knowing they aren’t the sky will brings perspective to me as well. I agree that nature has so much to show us!

      Hope you are having a shining Sunday!

  2. says

    Hi Sandra.

    Yes, we should all know that emotions and thoughts aren’t a real part of us. But, we need to work with them, pay attention to them, and sort them out. We need to know ourselves, work within our karma, to make the most of what we’ve got and manifest glory to the best of our abilities.

    The mind has the capacity to be clear and uncomplicated, but only when it’s under the control of the soul – and for that it needs training. The mind is not our real nature at all: it belongs completely to the ephemeral ‘three worlds’ and has no permanent hold over our real being. The mind is still the ‘clouds’, at its best, it can be still and allow us free passage even further within.

    But it’s said that those who aren’t free of karmic ties can’t pass beyond the mind, so many philosophies simply stop at the mind level.

    I ascribe to a philosophy that says karma or no karma, everything is as it is, work with what we’ve got, God is everything, even if everything is not God. I place my hope and faith that no matter what state I find myself, fall into, or raise to, it’s always just a role being played by the source of all being and consciousness, always real, but always changing.

    Such a philosophy can be misused by the mind – which left to its own devices tends towards self-gratification and enjoyment. In this case it will say, everything is everything, why do good, be vegetarian, be pious, be upright? I have eternity to grow, and my individual existence is nothing.

    But such a philosophy can also say ‘my individual existence is everything’, and ‘why not face the challenges of life head on, and glorify existence.’ We can become stronger beings that pull reality closer to itself with love. Fishing men, so to say – with a net of compassion cast into the earthly realms.

    Holy shit where did that come form? These are just mental understandings. True knowledge manifests in everyday actions. The kind I suck at.

    • says

      Ali,

      Thank you for the thought-provoking, stimulating comment. This is beautiful:

      “We can become stronger beings that pull reality closer to itself with love. Fishing men, so to say – with a net of compassion cast into the earthly realms.”

      I agree wholeheartedly with your first two paragraphs. Understanding and realizing the absolute nature of mind, does not negate training the mind on a relative level or the need for positive conduct. As Padmasambhava said:

      “Although my view is higher than the sky,
      My respect for the cause and effect of actions is as fine as grains of flour.”

      This statement though I think is not so easily understood – “But it’s said that those who aren’t free of karmic ties can’t pass beyond the mind…” It’s not clear to me what “pass beyond the mind” means. You can pass beyond the mind in moments of pure awareness. You can get a glimpse of your true nature and stabilize it so it gradually becomes a bigger part of your life than your obscurations. As you erode away the karma, your true nature shines forth more. Even the Buddha wasn’t fully beyond experiencing the effect of his karma during his lifetime, yet he had attained liberation.

      There is indeed the danger of falling into eternalism (or nihilsim), but understanding interdependence and karma can prevent this. Our actions do have an effect; they do matter. Harming only harms us; helping helps us.

      Mental understandings are an important foundation. We all suck a lot, but we are getting better day by day.

      Thanks for the great comment.

  3. says

    God yes! Here is the gist of a sky gazing meditation I adopted last year:

    * Assume a comfortable meditative posture outside (during the day or night).

    * Look outward at the sky – observe it and inquire about it.

    * Recognize it is vast beyond concept.

    * As mind observes the sky, look inward at mind – observe and inquire about it.

    * Realize it is vast beyond concept.

    * With the understanding that both mind and universe are inconceivably boundless entities, allow their space to begin to merge. Be one with the experience.

    * Rest in this natural, pristine awareness.

    You’re absolutely right Sandra. We can’t mistaken the clouds for the sky. We can’t even mistaken the stars for the sky. The sky is inconceivably boundless.

    GREAT post.

    • says

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks so much for sharing your inspiration and your meditation. You really capture the essence in this line: “The sky is inconceivably boundless.” So glad you liked this reflection! Stay well and thanks for the comment.

  4. says

    As it is said, above the clouds the sky is always blue. But have you noticed that the clouds look much prettier from above than from below? Or is it just me thinking so? Anyway this is a deep message layed out in a simple and understandable way. Thank you Sandra!

  5. says

    Hi Sandra,

    This metaphor of sky and clouds is so descriptive. In any moment, we can become aware of the clear sky of our minds – even if clouds are present! Thank you for a very clear explanation of a powerful truth. I have a few clouds visiting today that I am happy to let pass through!

    • says

      Hi Gail,

      This is a beautiful way to express the potential of this metaphor – “In any moment, we can become aware of the clear sky of our minds – even if clouds are present!” Perfect!

  6. says

    What a profound thought…”Even happiness can trigger unhappiness when we want it to remain. ” How true! I have recently really gained an appreciation for everything in life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is what makes life rich and interesting. All of it. And the lows make you appreciate the highs that much more.

    • says

      Hi Debbie,

      That’s a big shift, congratulations. It’s all going to arise – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I couldn’t agree more, having perspective is what makes the difference. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. says

    I love this part: “When we are down on the ground, looking up, it is very difficult to believe there is anything else there but clouds. Yet we only have to fly in a plane to discover up above a limitless expanse of clear blue sky.” It just makes me so happy to know we don’t have to wait for the clouds to part, dance, move or disappear. We just rise above. Perfection. :)

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