It seems to be the case that “I am thinking”, “I thought such and such”, “I will think about that”, in other words, an I which does the thinking, which experiences the thoughts, an I to which these thoughts belong.
In actual experience though, as we find in meditation, no self separate from the thinking can be found – thinking just appears. Reflection will endorse this: there cannot be a thought and something separate from it which knows it. A thought must inherently be known – or there is no thought.
Does this mean that there is no self in any sense – that we are like robots, our thoughts fatalistically determined? Do we conclude that we are simply a process happening, automatically? Does that feel true?
When we look at thinking, we find an unpredictable always-moving stream of thoughts, there is nothing there we can hang onto. We cannot say what it is made of, cannot find anything constant there which thinking essentially is. It has boundless possibilities, infinite variety, and cannot be pinned down as any one thing. It is indefinable openness, empty of being anything fixed and knowable.
And yet it appears, it undeniably exists in that way, it is not nothing. It appears clearly, vividly, it is known, it has an intelligence to it, it is not meaningless. Even when confused, it can be known as confused. Also, it has what you might call a “heart” aspect to it, a responsiveness, an emotional tone. We can find both intelligence and compassion in our thinking.
Thinking is Openness, Clarity, Sensitivity: it has these qualities, while still we cannot find an essence to it. We could say it is “awareness”, in the sense of a unity of knowing and something (a thought) known. All our experience is ultimately awareness – what are we essentially more than that? And being it, we cannot jump out of ourselves to see what we are, nevertheless thinking, like all experience, feels utterly personal, closer than close, giving us a sense of presence, a certainty of “being-ness”: we are not nothing… we can only see for ourselves, wordlessly.