Wisdom throughout the ages has explained how the world operates according to the law of cause and effect: as you sow, so shall you reap. If you plant seeds for an orange tree, it doesn’t matter how much you pray, affirm, or visualize, you will not produce apples. The law of cause and effect, also known as karma, says you will reap according to the seeds you have planted.
Life is not a random happening. F. Hoyle said, “A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe.” Similarly, your state of happiness is dependent upon, as well as a reflection and manifestation of, the seeds you plant each day in your mind. The Buddha said it this way: “You are what you thought, you become what you think”.
When you plant thoughts of empathy, kindness, love, and compassion in your mind, your life becomes harmonious, calm, peaceful, and smooth. When you plant thoughts of fear, worry, anger, revenge, jealousy, and greed, your life becomes, chaotic, difficult, out of control, and even dangerous.
As a species, with all our intelligence, we may know how to protect ourselves from wild animals, from some diseases, and travel to the moon, but we hardly know how to protect ourselves from the negative habits of our own mind. Your mind is indeed your worst enemy and your greatest friend. Your thoughts can limit or free you. It’s your choice!
Thoughts, however, operate more like habits. When you don’t pay attention to them, they function automatically, looping so that you keep thinking the same unhelpful thoughts and getting the same undesired results.
Most people spend lots of energy, time, and money trying to master outward circumstances. We constantly worry about what others think about us, but we hardly notice the thoughts in our own mind, which is our ultimate control tower!
Your thoughts create your feelings, which trigger a response in your body. For example, the thought that you might have an accident driving over the bridge creates fear, which in turn, makes the heart race and creates tightness in the throat and chest. These internal responses, in turn, create the impetus for your next behaviours. You may avoid driving over bridges altogether.
Your mind is then the principal instrument in driving your behaviour and creating your reactions. Mind even determines the pattern of breathing – deep, full, shallow, restricted – and the ways you hold tension in your body, which in turn influences your posture.
The mind is like a muscle, we must learn to tame it. If we don’t exercise our power over our thoughts then this power atrophies. We become like a robot, just reacting to conditions and circumstances.
Here are three suggestions to gain mastery over your mind and, therefore, over your life. Change requires effort. The mind is so strong in its habit pattern that it requires daily effort and introspection to redirect your life.
First, listen to inspirational talks and read motivational books daily. Stay away from bad news, gossip, and negativity. We need a tremendous amount of repetition and exposure to what we are striving to achieve for change to happen. Immerse yourself in positive, uplifting, and joyful ways of thinking.
Secondly, change some of the things you do that maintain and sustain negative thinking habits. The activity of doing something different will often change your thoughts and therefore interrupt unproductive cycles. For example, if you never call your friends and then end up feeling guilty and thinking that you are a bad person, then it could be time to make the effort to call your friends more frequently. This way, you can have proof that you are a good person, thereby alleviating your guilt.
Another example: If you avoid going over a bridge because that’s where you had your first panic attack, you will reinforce the thought that bridges are dangerous and you are not safe. You must get back on the horse that you fell from to improve. Going back to the place where you had your first panic attack and being able to handle it, will help you believe that you can take care of yourself. The third step is mindfulness, a cornerstone of happiness. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness in which you experience and observe your internal world in the moment, without judgment. We discussed mindfulness more in depth in the previous newsletter.
Creating all-around happiness and wellbeing requires a careful investigation of our thoughts and effective strategies to work with them. It calls for the discipline to examine ourselves honestly and to refrain from acting on unexamined feeling and thoughts.