The random cycling of associations in our minds as we gaze blankly into space may yield an occasional good idea but it cannot be called thinking. Thinking functions by intention. It requires bending our daydreams into a line of thought that has purpose and direction. To ‘think’, we must tackle the mass of associative material circulating in our minds, methodically sift through it and reduce it to an essential conclusion.
This is particularly needed in inner farming, where we quickly accumulate observations on all aspects of ourselves. We observe our Body, Essence, and Personality; their postures, moods, and thinking patterns; their contradictory desires; the way they compete over resources; their useful and wasteful functioning; and the ongoing challenge of infusing them with attention. Though revelatory, this mass of self-knowledge by itself does not affect inner change. On the contrary; it is bound to impede our farming unless we winnow it down to actionable understandings. Of what use is my ability to recognize haste if I cannot curb it? Of what use is my ability to see my fears, concerns, and anxieties, if I remain their slave?
Our thinking function facilitates this refinement. It can retain something we’ve understood long after the experience that triggered our understanding has faded. In addition, it can encapsulate this understanding into a sentence or even a word that can rekindle the understanding when the same, or a similar experience recurs. In this way, our thinking function’s ability to entertain in its mind’s eye things that don’t necessarily exist here and now, expands to encompass our understanding.
We began applying this ability already from our first days of inner farming, when we related what we observed to the divisions given us by this teaching. When we saw unnecessary fidgeting, we attributed it to the ‘moving function,’ associative daydreaming to the ‘thinking function,’ unwarranted worries to the ‘emotional function,’ and so forth. By doing this, we were using our thinking function to detach the sense of ‘I’ from what we observed. In assigning what we observed to a particular function, we were indirectly affirming that it was only a small part of ourselves and not us in our entirety.
August invites us to take this a step further. It is one thing to observe our psychological manifestations in a particular moment, and another to witness their consequences through time. The former deals with only a piece, the latter with the whole puzzle. Observing our habits through time deepens our realization of the price we pay for them. Our thinking function can help us see how our daydreaming isolates us from reality, how our haste constantly overlooks the emotional dimension of our day, or how our chronic negative attitude taints everything we do with an attitude of defeatism. Thanks to its power over abstraction, our thinking function can help us encompass this long body of experience, quantify it, and encapsulate it into one word, or the shortest phrase possible. The next time we catch ourselves daydreaming, or hurrying, or brooding, by intoning that phrase we place the habit face to face with its cumulative price. This gives us a much stronger motivation to resist it.
Those who have yet to accumulate a sufficient mass of such observations can start by asking themselves the following question: If I were transported back to a year ago, and were given the chance to briefly speak with my younger self, what words of advice might I give myself? What self-knowledge would spare me much time and suffering? Encapsulate this advice into the briefest command.
The practitioner who formulates their advice in the briefest possible manner—and applies it in a moment of internal challenge—is like a farmer who has threshed and winnowed his wheat into grain. The grain encapsulates the blueprint of the entire plant and retains its vitality long after the plant’s demise. So can our thinking function retain our understanding long after the experience that triggered it has faded, and recall it in the moment of need.
This is our labor for August.
The Thinking Function as Given by Nature
The Emotional Function as Given by Nature