Moving Beyond Memes – Are Thoughts Really Things?

Thoughts are not things, as some modern day gurus would have us believe. An idea and its natural offspring, the thought is nothing other than pure energy. Although there may be some controversy surrounding the science of their existence, I have come to believe that the seeming ‘thingness’ of thoughts is better understood, and certainly better dealt with when identified as ‘memes’. Unlike the energetic idea or thought, memes are denser, they lack life and once adopted they can only bog their host down. Ideas and thoughts are completely different in that they will invigorate a person, cause inspiration and eventually movement towards creation.

If you look up meme on Wikipedia or elsewhere you will discover that a meme is a collection of ideas or mental impressions borrowed from the immediate culture which may include; parents, siblings, teachers, friends and public figures. An important note here would be to consider that we are born meme free and most of us remain that way until exposed to the people with whom we share the world. Memes can be handed down from generation to generation through the practice of storytelling, ritual or even through the veneration of such things as objects and concepts (examples: men are bullies, girls aren’t good at math, etc.). They can manifest as symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or various other observable manners of conveyance.

People who study the science of memes and theorize as to how they are perpetuated contend that these mysterious creations (because they are mind creations first) evolve by natural selection rather in the same manner as Darwin’s postulated survival of the fittest. Memes also spread through the behaviors that they subsequently generate in their hosts (a person becomes angry after someone tells them they look bothered by something). On the other hand, due to an inability to inspire their hosts, less notable memes may propagate less prolifically and become extinct, while others survive, spread and mutate according to the impact their hosts are able to have on a social environment. Theorists point out that memes which replicate the most effectively spread best (think how quickly rumors spread), and some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove detrimental to the welfare of their hosts (think about a person trying to lose weight unable to avoid the impulse to visit the refrigerator).

The venerable ego that just about every Ekhart Tolle follower is so eager to tame or eliminate these days is not an internal thought critic or jokester entity we haul around in our heads. Rather, ego is simply a collection of memes borrowed from the world. We have spent our lifetimes nurturing and incubating the worst of our own personal memes through the choices we make and they in turn are empowered and perpetuated through repeated attention. They seem to take on a life of their own only after we inject a little life giving emotion into them, which causes them to become even more convincing and much more difficult to eliminate. That illusive essence of spirit that all monks, gurus and charismatic spiritual leaders seek to maintain by focusing on the ‘now’ is nothing more than the reality of who we are, minus the memes; fully present, completely thoughtful and intensely creative individuals.

How do we escape these pesky memes and thereby overcome the ego? By recognizing memes for what they are, and choosing to not pay attention to them. It really is just that simple. When it comes to conquering and overcoming memes, how can thoughts be different from memes? How does this small distinction, a shift in perception if you will, make it possible to mentally step outside of their realm of influence? Clearly it takes years spent in meditation and diligent mind control in order to master our thoughts, are memes really that different or have monks been battling memes all of this time? The answer is simple. The thoughts we think are not divisible from our self or our perception of self – it’s impossible to stop thinking unless you’re brain dead, and few of us are willing to go that far just to quiet the mind.

We contain memes in our mind but memes cannot contain us. Without the unwitting attention we pay to them, memes simply cease to exist. Another way to look at this is that thoughts are energy, thoughts contain energy and can invigorate our bodies and travel through time and space (the power of prayer and distance healing, knowing when a certain person is going to call, and then the phone rings) – memes have no energy other than what they borrow from their host, and once enlivened by our attention they draw life giving energy away from us. Memes drain the very life and creative force from the body and mind leaving our spirit gasping and depleted whereas thoughts generated by ideas bring us to life and charge our emotional storehouse with brain chemicals to support our intentions to create. It’s rather like the nonphysical energy of thoughts igniting the physical elements of our minds and bodies by stimulating the very juices that embolden the way we live and cause us to be human.

A Course in Miracles contends that what isn’t love is fear. Under this context, thoughts are love, memes are fear. What about hateful thoughts? Are those memes or thoughts? Here’s the answer; memes lack creative energy, so whether they extend a negative or positive influence, they cannot of themselves launch the energy to manifest creatively. Thoughts whether positive or negative will create. Thoughts create, memes perpetuate. So a meme infection can cause a person to think negatively which can cause negative action.

I like to think of memes as crusty little bits of thought-plaque that collect and stick together in the consciousness based on how much attention or energy given to them. Once recognized for what they really are, all it takes is a good mental cleansing to get rid of them. It is interesting to think that the diseased brains of Alzheimer’s patients contain bits of plaque that appears to have drained the organ of mass. Whether accurate or not, it’s a good motivator for ridding oneself of destructive memes. Memes don’t have an intention or life of their own; they are animated solely by the attention we give them. They may seem to be alive but they are not. They will come to life rather like some freakish form of thought Frankenstein only when we shine our own energy on them. As soon as we come to our senses and take our energy back, they wither, lose potency and disappear. They don’t die, because they were never alive to begin with, and they can be eliminated from the mind by the realization of how they are propagated, which is exactly what this diatribe is all about … how to rid oneself of memes.

By classifying the thoughts we adhere to as ‘ego’ or ‘habit’ or ‘personal characteristic’ or even ‘psychosis’ or ‘addiction’ memes step to the forefront of our life experience, and essentially take over. Eventually, we become animated by memes, thinking we are powerless to overcome their constant chatter, unhealthy impulses and harmful urgings. As any good 12 step program will teach you, once memes take over and you hit rock bottom, the only way out – is to start thinking new thoughts. And naturally, new healthy thoughts replace dysfunctional memes.

My experience with memes —

As many other modern day spiritual seekers do I have devoted decades to calming a rash of negative thoughts so that I could become more of what I really am, whatever that might be. I worked feverishly to overcome personal habits and limitations while seeking to nurture new and healthier ways of perceiving and walking about in the world. Although I have ventured into all genre of intelligence on the subject including studies on religions of the world, mythology, shamanism, prayer, meditation, energy medicine, biology and physics the one central writing that stimulated a real change of mind began with A Course in Miracles, which in and of itself is a study of the mind complete with lessons on how to uncover and control the thoughts we think.

To come to the point where I could own the thoughts in my head was something that required many hours of meditation and quiet contemplation. I have wrestled with my own personal demons throughout the course of these past three decades. I struggled to overcome chronic debilitating shyness and inhibiting introversion. And although I still prefer wide open spaces and tend to avoid crowds I have occasionally tapped into a sense of confidence I didn’t know existed prior. My personal evolution has taken me from being someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t step out into the world much less speak to anyone outside of my small circle, to someone who can lead and inspire people. Developing an understanding of the science of memetics has made it possible for me to shed mind clutter and embrace the possibility of a brighter world.


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