The human experience is a complex tapestry of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and stories that seemingly arise out of nowhere. Yet, what if we told you they all spring from a single, indistinct point of origin? This article aims to explore the concept of the “Funnel of Thoughts,” a model that helps us understand how our internal world expands from a point of pure awareness to layers of complexity. The idea resonates with the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts, Jun Po, and of course, in my own practices as a meditation teacher, focusing on finding stillness amidst the storms of life.
On my podcast Stillness in the Storms I talk about this in detail!
The Point of Origin
In Zen Buddhism, it is said that all things emanate from “Shunyata1” or emptiness. Alan Watts echoes this sentiment, referring to it as the “point of nothingness” that serves as the canvas upon which life paints its myriad experiences. Jun Po also refers to this place as “pure awareness,” an undifferentiated space of just ‘being.’ Before a thought turns into a story, before an emotion morphs into a reaction, there is this point—a ground zero for our internal universe.
The Initial Rise
From this point of nothingness, the funnel begins to expand ever so subtly. Eckhart Tolle often speaks of the “power of Now,” emphasizing the purity and potency of emotions like love and care in the present moment. These initial, primal feelings are untainted by complexities and serve as the first layers of our expanding funnel. Imagine these as the clear water originating from a pristine source, undiluted and rich with the essence of life itself.
The Widening of the Funnel
As the funnel expands, the simplicity of the original emotions like love and care starts to layer with thoughts, judgments, and stories. This is where complexity creeps in. Just as a single drop of ink can change the color of a whole glass of water, one additional thought or emotion can shift the purity of our initial feelings. As a meditation teacher, I have witnessed how the practice allows us to intercept these layers, offering a chance for insight and clarity.
The Noise and Confusion
Imagine the top of the funnel as a space brimming with a cacophony of thoughts, emotions, and narratives. At this point, it’s hard to trace back to the pure, initial feelings we started with. Jun Po speaks of this complexity as a clouding of our original nature, influenced heavily by our external circumstances and internal dialogues. The funnel’s broad opening is full of these clouds, distorting the clear sky of our inner selves.
The Interception Point
Here lies the most potent opportunity for transformation—the point where we can intercept these layered, complex thoughts before they solidify into beliefs or actions. As someone who has guided millions through the journey of inner peace, I advocate for practices that help us become aware of this crucial interception point. Whether it’s a guided meditation focusing on the breath or a mindfulness practice rooted in Zen philosophy, the key is to catch these thoughts and emotions, examining them before they become too convoluted to untangle.
Back to Basics
While it’s a challenge to navigate the complex landscape of thoughts and emotions, the good news is we can retrace our steps back to that point of origin. Alan Watts often speaks of “the wisdom of insecurity,” suggesting that our true nature can be found in embracing uncertainty and returning to that initial point of pure awareness. When we do so, a sense of clarity and inner peace naturally emerges, allowing us to experience life from a more grounded perspective.
For those wondering how to navigate their own thought funnels, there are several techniques that can help. Mindfulness meditation, for example, is a practice I’ve extensively covered in my teachings on Insight Timer and AURA. In addition, Eckhart Tolle’s teachings about “The Power of Now” offer valuable insights into staying rooted in the present moment. The idea is to cultivate practices that help us remain aware, so we can intercept and understand our thoughts as they arise and expand.
Cross-Cultural and Interfaith Parallels
The concept of the “Funnel of Thoughts” isn’t limited to Zen Buddhism, the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, or the insights of Alan Watts and Jun Po. Rather, it finds echoes in multiple spiritual traditions and teachings, illustrating its universal relevance. Take, for example, the Christian teachings of Jesus Christ.
In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with the Beatitudes—a list of blessed states that include being poor in spirit, meek, and merciful. These could be seen as virtues emanating from a similar “point of origin” within the human spirit. From this foundation, the sermon expands into a complex but coherent guide for ethical and spiritual living, covering everything from anger and lust to love for enemies.
The funnel’s concept and the Sermon on the Mount both start from basic human virtues and values, widening into intricate guidelines for a complex world. However, they also offer a pathway back to simplicity, advocating for a return to these foundational virtues when life’s complexities become overwhelming.
This idea of an originating point and an expanding funnel of thoughts and actions can be found in numerous other traditions, from Hinduism’s focus on “Atman2” or the inner self, to Islamic teachings about the “fitrah3,” or natural disposition. Across these divergent paths, the essence remains the same: the journey from a singular, pure point of awareness towards complexity and back again is a universal human experience.
The journey of a thought through the funnel is both intriguing and enlightening. It shows us how a single point of pure awareness can manifest into complex layers that shape our perception and, ultimately, our lives. The power lies in our ability to intercept these layers, to understand their origins, and to guide them towards a more peaceful and authentic existence. So, as you navigate your own internal funnels, remember that the path to clarity and peace is not outward but inward, towards that singular point of true self.
- Shunyata: A concept in Buddhist philosophy, particularly Mahayana Buddhism, often translated as “emptiness.” It suggests that all phenomena, including thoughts and emotions, are devoid of independent, inherent existence and are interdependent with all other things. In the context of the Funnel of Thoughts, Shunyata serves as the point of origin, a state of pure potentiality and interconnectedness from which all internal experiences arise. ↩︎
- Atman: A concept from Hindu philosophy that refers to the inner self or soul. In Hinduism, Atman is considered the essence of an individual, but it is not separate from the cosmic order; it is a piece of the ultimate reality or consciousness known as Brahman. In the context of the Funnel of Thoughts, Atman could be likened to the “point of origin,” emphasizing the true, unchanging self amid the ever-changing flow of thoughts and emotions. ↩︎
- Fitrah: An Islamic term that translates to “natural disposition,” “innate nature,” or “instinct.” According to Islamic teachings, every human being is born with an inherent inclination toward virtue and understanding of God. In the context of the Funnel of Thoughts, Fitrah represents the purity and innate wisdom present at the point of origin, before life experiences layer it with complexity. ↩︎