“I think, therefore I am,” Descartes famously said. What he meant was, if you wonder whether or not you exist, that already proves you do exist, because there is an “I” that does the thinking.
What observing yourself thinking also proves is: You are not your mind. If you were your mind, you wouldn’t even know what thinking is. You’d just BE your thoughts. It’s a little like the fable about the fish. Three young fish were swimming along in the river. An old philosopher-fish swam by them and called out, “How’s the water?” And the three young fish were like, “What’s water?”
It’s easy to laugh when we hear this story, because of course we know what water is.
But do we know what mind is?
Our mind, our bodies. They are part of us, inseparable from our existence here on earth. We are here on this planet, and our medium here is the mind and the body, and then also the environment we move through.
So what is your mind, then? The way I understand it, the mind is a collection of habits built over the course of your life. At first, your parents, or whoever raised you, instilled these habits. The ‘culture’ you grew up in imprinted its habits through the actions of the people around you. “This is how things are,” said these culture-induced habits. “This is the water.”
Later, through experience, you also began forming your own habits. This is actually a creative act. You take what you have seen and create ideas about how you feel you should live, act, think.
The point here is that you can become aware of the habits of your mind, your culture, the people around you. If you want, you can look at these habits with fresh eyes and say, “Is this what I want to create?” And then, if you want, you can create more of what you want, and create less of what you don’t want.
This process is not instantaneous. It can sometimes take a while to get the hang of really seeing things. The good news is, you can do it whenever you want. All the time, if you want.
All you need to do to begin is: start looking around you. What do you see? What do people do? How do they act in this or that situation? Just pay attention to what's going on. And then you can ask yourself, “Is this what I want? Is this how I want to live?”