Filed in Tibetan

First Thought

Dr. Jeremy Hayward

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"In order to communicate very openly with the world, you need to develop fundamental trust. This kind of trust is not trusting 'in' something, but simply trusting. It is very much like your breath. You do not consciously hold on to your breath, or trust in your breath, yet breathing is your very nature. In the same way, to be trusting is your very nature. To be trusting means you are fundamentally free from doubt about your goodness and about the goodness of others."


Hazel Stick Throws

When we trust with our open heart, whatever occurs, at that very moment that it occurs, can be perceived as fresh and unstained by the clouds of hope and fear. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used the phrase “first thought, best thought” to refer to that first moment of fresh perception, before the colorful and coloring clouds of judgment and personal interpretation take over. “First thought” is “best thought” because it has not yet got covered over by all our opinions and interpretations, our hopes and fears, our likes and dislikes. It is direct perception of the world as it is.

Sometimes we discover “first thought, best thought” by relaxing into the present moment in a very simple way. Perhaps you are sitting in an airport looking down from a balcony onto the crowds milling around below. Suddenly your inner chatter stops. You are right there for a moment and actually see and hear. You see the pattern of motion; you hear the hubbub of voices and machines; you have a sense of timelessness and completeness.

You may also come into this open state of mind when you are suddenly shocked. Perhaps you have had the experience of slipping on ice. Without thought your whole body and mind become unified to prevent a fall. At that moment you feel completely alive and right there. Afterwards, you may get a sudden rush of adrenaline and say, “Whew, that was close,” but the feeling of energy and wakefulness lingers for awhile.

Although we call it "first thought," it is not a thought that necessarily comes in words. It is just the very first inspiration, however it expresses itself to us. It may just be “aah!”—a sharp gasp as we come around a corner on a mountaintop and see the valley laid out below us. Of course, then we immediately start thinking second thoughts, and third thoughts, like “Oh my, isn’t that beautiful,” or “How stupid that I didn’t bring my camera.”

The first moment of awakening in the morning can be an opportunity to notice “first thought” because our mind is not yet so caught up in the daily round. We rarely catch the moment when we awaken from sleep, but sometimes we do. There is a kind of blank in which we often don’t even remember where we are or who we are. This moment might be frightening, or joyful, but in either case there is a vivid perception of the room around us.

I have particularly noticed moments of fresh perception during an afternoon of taking photographs. A photograph can capture the feeling at the moment of experiencing something, just as it is, but first you must open your mind and see: the afternoon sun glancing off a bright yellow-green moss-covered rock in the middle of a clearing in the pine forest; a long horizontal bulbous cloud, dark with rain, yet brilliantly lit underneath by the evening sun; white mist over the bay, through which the faint outline of an island, a boat and a lone seagull suggest something out of nothing; a pile of steaming cowdung surrounded by yellow dandelions. In order to capture these moments you look not only at the objects themselves, but also at the light shining around and within them. Then, putting the camera down and looking at the ordinary world, suddenly it too seems bright and vibrant.

When you take photographs, just before you click the shutter, your mind is empty and open, just seeing without words. When you stand in front of a blank sheet of paper, about to make a painting or a calligraphy, you have no idea what you will do. Maybe you have some plan for a painting, or you know what symbol you want to calligraph, but you don’t actually know what will appear when you put brush to paper. What you do out of trust in open mind will be fresh and spontaneous. Opening to first thought is the way to begin any action properly.

The same process happens, very fast, at every moment of our lives. Whether we are artists or not, any moment could be experienced as first thought. We have to touch first thought again and again. There is no promise of any ultimate point where you don’t have to pay attention anymore. At the moment you are about to make any gesture, before you actually do it, you can trust and open to “first thought, best thought.” When we are about to drink a glass of water, do we just reach for it and grab it and swallow it down? Or can there be a moment of first thought, clear perception, as we reach for the glass; and again as we touch it; and again as we lift it; and again as we move it towards our lips; and again as we taste the water on our tongue? When someone speaks sharply to us, do we immediately fire back, or can there be a moment of first thought before we respond?

Likewise, when you go about your daily business, make coffee, go to work, use the copier, attend a meeting, walk down the street, eat dinner, have an argument with your mate or make love, and so on. If you open to first thought, each of those occurrences in your life could be fresh and very direct. So often we ignore first thought—we think it is too silly, or outrageous. We have to be daring to catch first thought and follow it. First thought can guide our life, when we trust.

Dr. Jeremy Hayward, a student of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is the Education Director of Shambhala Training International. Excerpted from Sacred World: A Guide to Shambhala Warriorship in Daily Life, by Jeremy Hayward, forthcoming from Bantam Books.

Image: Hazel Stick Throws, © Andy Goldsworthy, Banks, Cumbria, 1980, from Hand to Earth, published by Harry N. Abrams. Goldsworthy's latest book, Stone, is also published by Abrams.

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res's picture

Thank you Jeremy, and thank you Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

In many situations, whenever I am about to say something, I practice holding back for fraction of a second just to let that first impression rush through me. That delay can have the effect of changing my initial emotional response or it makes me opt for silence, which again permits for the situation to evolve into something all together different, and perhaps more appropriate.

The delay also allows me to consider the intention of my wanting to speak or act, making it possible to "catch", observe and hopefully correct unwholesome acts before they become fruitful.

The absence of constant intervention is a gift because it opens up for direct experience of the present and for the wonders of the potential options that reveal themselves progressively.