By Swami Veda Bharati
Your life is a ‘work-in-progress’. Edit and evaluate your thoughts, feelings, emotions, words, tones, and actions in order to achieve happiness and avoid pain.
At a recent conference at the University of Taiwan in Taipei, a member of the audience asked me, ‘What do I do with my painful thoughts of the past. They either lead me to destructive anger or to depression. How do I stop them?’ One cannot stop one’s thoughts in a vacuum. Thoughts can be replaced by cultivating other thoughts; destructive thoughts with constructive ones, negative ones with corresponding positive ones. Here are some of the strategies that one can employ to achieve a positive personality through cultivating desirable thoughts.
One: Develop a blueprint for one’s life. No architect undertakes to build an edifice without drawing the finest details on a blueprint, and then keeps checking whether the construction is going according to the plans drawn earlier. So it is with our life. Very early in life one should be taught to develop a clear idea of the kind of personality one wishes to acquire. Consequently, one should keep checking whether one is true to that ideal or not. This author recalls that between the ages of 13 and 16 he read the life stories of 400 great men of all religions and nations in order to consciously arrive at a design for his personality and for life. Then, at age 16, he undertook a three-day solitude, silence and fast, to finalize his life’s plans.
Even if one fails to strictly and completely adhere to such an ideal, one may remain conscious of one’s digressions. This awareness will bring him back to the main track.
Twe: One learns to check one’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, words, tones, and actions against the ideal one has set for oneself. Each time one fails, one does not condemn oneself. It is like an author refining his book, a poet improving his masterpiece, a painter altering a shade of color, or a musician doing his riyaz – if one’s sur has slipped for a moment, one simply sings the phrase again, with confidence that one is improving. Life is one complete story being written, and constantly being edited. Edit your thoughts as you edit your essays, novels, poems, paintings, and musical compositions. Edit your life story with an expert refinement.
Three: Contemplation is the best tool for improving one’s thought patterns, replacing dark ones with brighter ones. Contemplation consists of selecting an ideal or value and pondering over it, refuting its opposites and generating logic to support it. Thus one arrives at certain conclusions, or strengthens previously held conclusions. These then serve as guides when one stands at any kind of crossroads.
Four: Mindfulness, smrti-upa-sthana in the Yoga Sutras, or simply smrti in the Bhagavad Gita, is the natural outcome of such a process of contemplation.
Mindfulness is of two kinds:
o Mindfulness of one’s thoughts, words and actions
o Mindfulness of breathing and other voluntary and involuntary (vedaniya and a-vedaniya) natural processes. The two should be practiced together.
In the first kind, there is constant awareness of each thought arising; each word about to be spoken, or just uttered, and its tone; each action large or small. One continuously assesses how close one has been to one’s ideal and how to correct failures. One also evaluates the effect one’s actions had on another person – was it constructive, beneficial, granting delight or peace or was it the opposite? In case it is the opposite, how may one make amends in a way to grant delight and peace?
In the second kind of mindfulness, there is constant awareness of natural processes like breathing. It starts with the practices undertaken during the meditation hour. But after some period of diligent effort that becomes one’s natural consciousness.
Along with these general practices one may apply all kinds of strategies. One young lady in extreme mental anguish and pain said to me, ‘You speak of love but I have experienced no love in my life. I do not know what this ‘love’ is like. How can I love?’ It was painful for me even to watch her in such mental anguish. In such extreme cases I have found that this principle holds true: if you are feeling deprived of love, learn to give love and a space within you will be filled. Slowly, often very painfully slowly, the mental habit will change and anguish will give way to an unspoken satisfaction. Others will notice how your personality has changed; how lovable you have become. I advised the anguished young lady, ‘Each day, secretly, with a vow never to utter a word about it, sneak a flower – or even a tiny petal – at a stranger’s doorstep. Make sure that you are not seen doing so. Expecting no results whatsoever, keep doing so each night.’ I saw a smile sneak onto her lips.
This was my advice to the person in the Taiwan audience: ‘Create a pleasant and satisfying goal in your life. Every time a painful thought from the past arises in your mind, look to the future you have set for yourself. Is this thought conducive to creating that future? If not, just dwell on the pleasantness of future successes and slowly everything self-destructive and self-deprecatory will vanish.’
An accomplished dhyana-yogin, jnana-yogin or karma-yogin dwells in this type of consciousness at all hours of day and night. There is nothing in any of her sentiments, thoughts, sensations, words, tones and gestures of which she is not conscious. Thus does she dwell in a state of contentment.
Such a being chooses to dwell in the world of everyone’s pain, unceasingly engaged in soothing them, yet, having no pains of one’s own. Such a one is Rantideva, in the Purana stories, who donates all his good karmas to the suffering denizens of hell so they may suffer less. Even greater is the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha who has chosen to live in hell till such time that all living beings cease to come in there.
To reduce and finally totally eliminate your pains, choose the path of Rantideva and Kshitigarbha and your mind will again become a playground of the gods.
Swami Veda Bharati is a recognized authority on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and guides over 100 meditations groups worldwide. Contact: (91) 0135 2450596; www.swamiveda.org
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