The thought is the content – ‘I am stupid’ plus the value [emotional content] – this is a good/bad thing.
The thought is a thought about something – the thought, ‘I am stupid’.
The first thought is articulated as a belief – a thought with a value. The value can be either positive or negative, but is important in some way – it affects my physiology – I ‘feel’ different.
When I think about X I feel Y!
The mind and body communicate with each other through a series of sensations [qualia] that are not always expressible in words – a ‘gut’ feeling – a quirk.
If I had the thought I am a bus – this may have no meaning to me at all – I don’t believe it. If I believe it – I then need to decide what it means to me from a utilitarian point of view, e.g., it gives me pleasure or pain. If it gives me pleasure, I may put a positive value on it – If pain (either psychological or physical), I may put a negative value on it. In either case I place a value on it only because I believe it on some level. Value then, is an emotional ‘spin’ that relates to how I ‘feel’ when I think the thought.
Some thoughts I can believe although they have no emotional spin (value). For example, I can believe that 2 + 2 = 4. I can believe these valueless thoughts because while they have no personal value [pleasure or pain] they have competence value – they can help me do things that are successful [or fail] and therefore those acts acquire value. But if some mathematician discovered that 2 + 2 = 5, I probably would not have any difficulty accepting it unless it affected some other belief – e.g., my graduate degree in math is now null and void. The truth criterion is generally – ‘Who’s ox is being gored”.
This sense of value is the equivalent of the Buddhist sense of ‘attachment’. A belief is a thought that is important to us and in that importance it has some ‘hold’ over us – meaning a directional hold leading us to behave in some way. This doesn’t mean that Buddhists do not believe in anything – they do. For example, they tend to believe in the Buddha – however, they attempt to eliminate any sense of attachment that causes physiological ‘gut; reactions. They are, in this sense, like scientists who recognize that everything they believe is only the most effective method we now understand. However, even scientists tend to get attached to their theories and resist change. I am sure this is also true of Buddhist, although not of the Buddha.
On the other hand, if a thought is perceived as a thought about something, it is not attached. I am thinking I am stupid – is a quite different thought than I am stupid. If one is mindful, another Buddhist idea, one can note (be conscious of) the ‘private events’ [thoughts, beliefs, quirks, and the sensations they hold] as they occur. Mindfulness is an attempt to make mental processes that are habituated and normally automatic, conscious. Just as we are not normally aware (conscious of) our blinking, we can become aware and be mindful of blinking, as least for a period of time.
Acceptance of the thoughts is a mental process of devaluation – meaning that the thought no longer has emotional content. One way of ‘accepting’ is to make the thought a thought about something other than the content. If I recognize that I am having a thought about being stupid, I can ignore the thought – whereas if I think I am stupid, this may be distressing.
One attempts to change the way one interacts with or relates to thoughts by creating contexts in which their unhelpful functions are diminished. Context is a frame of reference in which the thought occurs. Thinking ‘I am stupid’ in the midst of a group of quantum physicists is probably much less valued than thinking ‘I am stupid’ in a class of ones peers. One can change the context by asking such questions as: ‘compared to what?’. One can also change the context by separating [distancing] the thought from the meaning [+/- value].
There are many techniques that have been developed for this purpose:
• a negative thought
o could be watched dispassionately
o repeated out loud until only its sound remains
o treated as an externally observed event by giving it a shape, size, color, speed, or form.
This is a mental process of desensitizing or reducing the emotional content of the thought.
• a person could
o thank their mind for such an interesting thought, label the process of thinking (‘‘I am having the thought that I am no good’’)
o examine the historical thoughts, feelings, and memories that occur while they experience that thought.
This is the mental process of separation of the thought from the emotional content of the thought.
Such procedures attempt to reduce the literal quality of the thought, weakening the tendency to treat the thought as what it refers to (‘’I am no good’) rather than what it is directly experienced to be (e.g., the thought ‘’I am no good’).
The result this of diffusion is usually a decrease in believability of, or attachment to, private events rather than an immediate change in their frequency.
Following the Buddhist aversions to attachment, it is beneficial for individuals to identify their emotional attachment to certain thoughts and find methods of detachment at least to those attachments that cause distress.