It is obvious that each of us talks to ourselves in thought just like we would talk to someone in conversation, with language. It is equally obvious that our consciousness has fundamental limitations in what we can know, not the least of which is what we can know with that very language.
Nevertheless we accumulate information and matter as memory through experience in order to better predict our future and to better predict journeys to a desired future. We select a future from a set of imagined futures based on our accumulated knowledge and feeling, and then choose actions to journey to that desired future.
All along the way our feeling evolves as our purpose evolves. We ask ourselves,
"Am I improving? Is my life better? Do I feel better?"
These are questions that we also ask others.
"Do you think I am improving? Do you think I look better? Do you feel better?"
What about asking for help, what about petitionery thought?
"Please help me find my path and understand my purpose."
To whom do we ask for help? Our subconscious? Other people? A supernatural agent?
What about gratitude, to whom do we give our gratitude?
"Thank you for the gifts of air, water, stone, soil and fire. Thank-you for the gifts of civilization and life and of the sun, galaxy, and universe. Thank you for the time that we have with each other and for the gifts that we share with each other."
Whom are we thanking? Ourselves? Our supernatural agents? Other people?
It is no little irony that we think in exactly the same manner as we pray and as we meditate−as if we are talking to another person. Therefore it is quite natural to suppose that there is someone with whom we are speaking and that these voices help us find our way in life. It is very gratifying to thank someone for our gifts.
Whether you call this asking or thanking yourself or you call it asking or thanking a deity, we do it the same way and it has the same effect on the evolution of our feeling. We generally feel better. This is the way we can think about matter-time agents without the clutter of more traditional supernatural agents.
Thus prayer, meditation, self-hypnosis, affirmations, tapping, conscious disagreement, visualization, sweat lodges, quests, and other spiritual experiences are all conversations that we ultimately have with ourselves as well as others. Whether you think of them as prayer or thought or mediation does not change the fact that they are all done in exactly the same way, as conversations with ourselves and others.
Interestingly enough, all of the conversations that we have with ourselves seem to have the same demonstrable effect on our feelings. They make us feel better and make our inner life better. Such conversations access parts of our mind that are beyond conscious thought and beyond language. So quite naturally humans give those parts of our consciousness any number of different labels and create any number of different stories about them.
The dao or way dates to ancient China and has been an evolving story first attributed to Laozi in 200-300 BCE but there have been any number of other contributors since then. The wisdom of the dao is in explaining the inexplicable and how to live a good life in spite of the misery of your circumstance. It was first written during the same period and region as were stories of Confucius and Buddha and the dao has a lot in common with those stories as a result. The truths from such stories are very similar to those that come from all religious stories and it a very useful exercise to extract the truths that resonate with your feeling.
Indian Hindus and Buddhists both fold their hands in greeting to acknowledge the inner supernatural life in each person. In Hinduism, the universe is filled with a large number of agents while in Buddhism, there are no agents, only the misery of life and the joy of nirvana, and yet both Hindus and Buddhists revere the inner self as supernatural. Meditation is done in exactly the same manner as prayer and people report exactly the same kinds of feelings, but most insist that meditation is quite different from prayer.
Hypnotic or drug-induced trances also seem to have much in common with prayer and mediation or even with contemplative thought. However, people seem to react quite viscerally to the suggestion that these various forms of thought seem to have much in common.
Quite naturally we imagine in our consciousness an existence that survives outside of our body, i.e. we imagine that we have a soul. The concept of an everlasting soul is so pervasive and so widespread that it is a compelling part of our human condition. The logic of physical reality, though, shows that the chemicals of emotion: dopamine, gaba, adrenaline, oxytocin, seratonin, anandamide, nitric oxide, etc. are all functions of our body chemistry. In so far as our feeling is based on these chemicals of emotion, how can our consciousness survive without the chemicals of emotion?
One might argue that the compassion is much more than just the neurochemical oxytocin. However, one might also wonder what compassion would be like without the reactions of a body to the effects of the release of oxytocin. Without sensation and action, imagination and feeling would have no anchors and consciousness would drift into a sea of dreams.
There is one way and only one way that consciousness survives the final dream of our inner life. Consciousness exists not in our own minds as an inner life but also exists as an outer life in the minds of other people outside of us and in objects that we have touched in our lives. We are conscious in the end not only because of our inner life, but also because of what others feel about us as our outer life. Our outer life's journey leaves a fossil record of actions in all that we have touched and the persistence of that fossil record is our outer life. This means that our outer life does indeed pass into eternity even as the inner life of our consciousness ceases to be. Our memories and the fossil matter of those who we have known are the inner lives of those that have touched our outer life.
And there is the further mystery that is the limit of reality, the limit of what we can ever know.
These limits are summarized in many different ways by many different peoples but in matter time, they are the trimal of origin, destiny, and purpose. Once you have consciously grounded your reality with these three primal beliefs, you will find life's purpose flowing like a silent mountain stream.