How To Live With Your Thoughts
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” — Dalai Lama
To a disciple who was forever complaining about others, the Master said: “If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth.” The tale by Anthony de Mello reminds us that inner peace must begin within. There’s no use demanding peace when we mock others and lead an unwholesome life. Disorder exists when we believe our thoughts are true and we find evidence to support them (confirmation bias). In fractured areas of the world, problems arise because people act out their thoughts.
To attain inner peace, it starts with being mindful of our thoughts and has a ripple effect on our life and the lives of others. Consider an inappropriate thought towards another person. If dwelled upon, it inflames other thoughts and leads to negative action. The title of the article is adapted from a quote by the American brain neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor, who experienced a stroke at thirty-seven. In her book, My Stroke of Insight, she wrote: “For me, it’s really easy to be kind to others when I remember that none of us came into this world with a manual about how to get it all right. We are ultimately a product of our biology and environment. Consequently, I choose to be compassionate with others when I consider how much painful emotional baggage we are biologically programmed to carry around.”
If it’s inner peace we seek, we ought to be mindful of the thoughts we choose. For instance, many people are driven by unconscious desires and fall victim to their urges because they are unaware of them. We can concede to the pain in the world or choose to nurture loving and compassionate thoughts in our everyday life. I challenge any person, irrespective of their status, wealth or circumstances, to sit alone with their thoughts. Only then will they know their true self. Similarly, On one hand, we claim to have free will, yet we’re unable to activate this power because of our unconscious desires. Are you satisfied with this understanding that our thoughts are tricksters because they carry unresolved wounds which tarnish the present moment?
That is why we mustn’t be led by our fears and insecurities, since they’ll lead us to dark places. We must be guided by creative thinking, the seat of the intuitive mind. If we’re overly invested in our thoughts, we’re unable to distance ourselves from them because we buy into the idea that our thoughts are true. It was French philosopher René Descartes who first coined the phrase: “I think, therefore I am,” proposing that thoughts are evidence we exist. However, our thoughts are not the cause of our suffering or unhappiness, it is when we identify and attach ourselves to them we suffer.
The Impermanency Of Thoughts
“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” — Francis of Assisi
Problems arise when we define ourselves by our thoughts, instead of seeing them as a stream of consciousness flowing through the mind. In other words, thoughts are impermanent unless we associate with them. We needn’t free ourselves of unpleasant thoughts for peace to exist. Instead, we ought to avoid giving them attention by moving our awareness towards enriching thoughts. As we move our attention away from destructive thoughts, they recede to give way to higher thinking. If we do this often enough, we embody peace at a cellular level. Peace is a choice, not something that requires dedicated study, under the guise of a spiritual guru. Whilst it helps, peaceful thoughts arise from our moment to moment experience.
To know if our thoughts are positive or negative, we can start by observing our body when we think those thoughts. For instance, try thinking: “I hate myself, I’m a bad person.” Note the physical response in your body compared to the thought: “I love myself deeply and completely.” Notice the latter thought is uplifting and effortless. Even if you don’t believe it, part of you identifies with it because of your spiritual essence. Likewise, we can create peaceful conditions through the music we listen to, the words we speak, our actions, and the people we surround ourselves with. These have an energising effect and can lead to wonderful experiences.
A practice I recommend to coaching clients involves a ‘switch word’ they use to disengage from negative thoughts. Mine is ‘peace,’ so if I am thinking negative thoughts, I use the word ‘peace’ to disengage from the negative thought and find an empowering thought to replace it. Yes, it is difficult and there are days where I will repeat the word hundreds of times. But it is worth it if we can embody peace and influence the lives of those around us. Therefore, as we become attuned to our body, we appreciate how our thoughts and the accompanying emotions influence our physiology. In doing so, our body will relay messages on the accuracy of our thinking.
I’ve outlined the benefits of meditation on the mind-body experience in earlier articles. People believe they need to sit in a meditative pose for hours to achieve the positive effects of this practice. However, if you undertake a health regime and stop eating sugar, the benefits are realised within a few days. Expressed differently, even five minutes a day of quiet reflection with your thoughts can have a dramatic effect on your mind and body. “The more open your heart is, the more you have access to your natural state of peace, well-being, and ease, no matter what is happening,” writes spiritual author Mary O’Malley. Considering this, try the exercise I outlined earlier and create a ‘switch word’ when you think negative thoughts about others. If it’s peace you yearn for, look no further than within yourself. This is the starting point of conflict and can be healed with the right intention and an open heart. As the Master reminds us, it is easier to tend to your thoughts than to change the entire world.