~ William James
Two thousand years earlier, the Buddha said that
The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings ...
We Can Change Our Mind
Both of these quotes imply that we can master our attitudes and behavior by consciously choosing which thoughts we allow to become actions and which to let go by or replace.
To think that we are predestined to think and behave in a certain way, depending on what other people do or on what happens beyond our control is defeatist. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy. When one believes that "It's fate" or "It just my nature to get angry when such and such happens" or "that's just the way it's always been and always will be" then one doesn't do anything except react habitually.
When we discover that we can reprogram our self and ultimately de-program our self to act spontaneously in perfect harmony with our situation, then we are on our way to freedom and optimal performance.
Discovery vs. Belief
The word 'discovery' is interesting. Discovery is beyond belief or faith. Discovery implies experiential knowing. Belief is a conceptual mental model. It is thinking that something is one way or another. Discovery is no longer conceptual. As with the awareness of the position of your body, you know based on personal experience.
Of course you have to be careful. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know and stop questioning. Striking the balance between belief and discovery is a skill worth acquiring.
Changing the Mind
James said that we have discovered that we can change the attitudes of our minds and by doing so change our lives. We have the possibility of control. Whether we exercise it or not and how much control we have are open questions.
To change attitudes, mental models, moods, habits and conditioning acquired over many years requires skill and effort.
The trick is to simultaneously recognize and accept our limitations, ultimately, letting things happen and accepting the outcome while continuously adjusting to arising conditions.
There is paradox at play. Take control while letting go. Engineer and manage a desired outcome and at the same time let go and accept whatever happens. While it seems that ultimately we are not in control (as the Yiddish proverb says, "Man plans and God laughs") we do seem to be able to generate change and direct the flow at least to a degree. We can change our mind.
Changing one's mind and then carrying that through to changing one's behavior requires that one is objectively aware of what one is thinking and has sufficient concentrative power to break habitual tendencies and choose a skillful course of action.
Mindfulness and Choice
Mindfulness implies choice. If I am aware of what I am thinking I have the opportunity to choose which thoughts to feed and follow and which to let go. The concentrative power to do something about the thoughts, to avoid unskillful behavior before it begins or to stop it once it has begun requires strength of mind.
Until that strength is mature, when faced with uncontrolled behavior (perhaps an angry outburst, or taking that sweet, even though you don't really want it, for example) that cannot be stopped, once it is over make the resolve to stop it next time.
How will you stop unskillful behavior next time? Recognize its first signs (the thoughts or feelings that precede and trigger the behavior) and let them go at the earliest possible time. The earlier in their life cycle you catch unwanted thoughts; the easier it is to let them go. Once they build momentum, once you feed them and build structures around them, it is much harder to stop them from becoming words and actions.
In addition, you can cultivate new habits, new attitudes, such as loving kindness, acceptance, generosity and such, which will then make it less likely that the thoughts that are the seeds of unskillful behavior will arise in your mind.
The capacity to change your mind is cultivated through mindfulness meditation. That is what gives you the ability to see the thoughts and feelings as they arise, before they gain momentum and the strength of mind to make the choice.
The motivation to change your mind is fueled by your recognition and acceptance of the responsibility for the results of your actions.
"As the shadow follows the body, As we think, so we become." What do you want to become?
© 2012 Pitagorsky Consulting