My first suggestion is that you should never stray from an existential relation to thinking. Your thinking should not be theoretical. It should be eminently practical. There is a bottom line to be concerned with at all times. That bottom line is your yearning for the truth that liberates. Ideas can be quite beautiful. So, seemingly, can be your own images of freedom. In the case of the latter, if you are transfixed by your own image, you may overlook, by various forms of cleverness and self-deceit, the failure of your image. You also tend to make the effort to salvage your known life in order to avoid a collision with the unknown. Holding onto the 'me' that you take yourself to be is the foundation of this error. You contribute to your own bondage by being transfixed by a certain notion, or vision of reality. A little bit like a theorist who loves his theory more than the data warrants, you obscure the different glimpses of truth that challenge your vision when you remain transfixed.
Hence, a second feature of good thinking is the cultivation of freedom from attachment. The reach of your attachment is fathoms deep, so deep that it seems synonymous with experience. It is even hard to imagine what it is to cultivate freedom from attachment in thought. The key is not to be overly wedded to your own notions, or to make forgone conclusions.
Awareness, when born, can be fragile. It must be nurtured gently. I have an image that helps me. It is the image of holding a small bird in my hand. The bird might struggle to escape at any time, so I must keep my grasp firm. On the other hand, the bird is so fragile that I must be very gentle lest I crush it. It is with this feeling, this sentiment as it were, that I approach inquiry. I hold my question gently-not so tightly as to crush it, nor so loosely that it escapes my grasp.
Good thinking includes the right relation to inquiry. Inquiry is imaginative, obvious, essential and courageous. Inquiry must be imaginative because you must “think outside the box.” You have to cultivate the freedom of a creator-anything goes-while at the same time you doggedly pursue the thread of your inquiry. Good thinking approaches the obvious with outrageous questions. The very parameters of being must be questioned. Why must we suffer? How is suffering related to our quest for freedom? Are we to blame for our suffering? If so, how?
Thinking must be essential because the multifaceted features of experience can easily lead us astray. Don’t let go the central point! Fiercely, like an animal in heat you pursue your question. Without dismissing critical considerations, continue doggedly along your lines of inquiry until you reach satisfaction. Red flags, red herrings are pursued only briefly and efficiently as you continue on your path. Satisfaction will be noticed at the physical level first. A calm will come over you, or more likely, the alarm of true confession. The peace that comes is the peace of facing. The alarm is the alarm “this one” feels in the face of unworkability.
Courage is an element of good thinking because if you undertake it, you yourself will be at risk; and in no short order if you are sincere and persistent. Since you are oriented by your way of seeing, conducting an inquiry into yourself should raise questions to you about the validity of your orient. Since we are being existential and not intellectual, it is natural for this effort to cause fear. It has to. What you are challenging is your own way of being.
When I was a young girl, my father often took me sailing. I hated sailing, the motion of the sea, the mystery of the world without familiar boundaries, and the fact that I knew my father had learned sailing from books (not a form of knowing that counted for me.) In order to combat my fear, I learned to look at the horizon. That one, steady horizontal line where the sea and sky met was my ballast.
In inquiry, my question is my ballast. If I am rocked this way and that by my discoveries, I can return again and again to my question. Willing to surrender the terms of my image of reality, I can rest in the open sea of doubt by gazing at the beauty of mystery. The spirit of inquiry is my home. The world, tossed this way and that by a multitude of conflicting visions, is the sea. Airy, like a gull, I can soar through the turmoil, neither in it nor out of it, with honesty as I continue my pursuit of truth.