Friday, May 27, 2011

The Color Of Our Thoughts


"Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; 
for the soul becomes dyed with the color of your thoughts. 
Soak them in such trains of thought as, for example: 
Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible." 
~ Marcus Aurelius

All the wisest and greatest teachers of our time - from Aurelius to Jesus, to Buddha and all the modern sages and scientists - tell us the very same thing: if we can not control the "stuff" of our consciousness and temper the ghosts of fear and anxiety and self-doubt, none of the rest of the stuff matters. Period. 

Dictionary.com says that the opposites of optimism are doubt, gloom, hopelessness and pessimism.That being said, why do we ever choose anything but optimism? Brian Johnson, in his book A Philosopher's Notes, talks about a study that was done with two dogs. They are both given shocks at random intervals. Both have levers in their cage. One can press the lever to stop the shocks and the other one can press the lever, but it does not stop the shocks. The first dog figures it out right away and is fine. The other dog, the one that can't do anything about it, eventually gives up and curls up in a corner as the shocks continue. (horrible test, I know!!!) Yuck. 

In the second part of the test, the same dogs are put into a new environment together. This time, both dogs can easily avoid the shocks. The first dog quickly discovers the trick again and is fine. The other dog, even though it now has the power to change things, just gives up - curling into a ball as the shocks continue. The dog has learned helplessness

                                            Star Prairie Gallery
We work in much the same way. After being shocked by life so many times, we fall into a pattern of behavior - a habit - that seems to erase the possibility of change from our minds. We forget that we have a choice to change our consciousness and choose a more effective response to the "shocks" in our life! And the more we buy into these negative habits, the more they are strengthened and empowered. And the stronger they are, the more likely we are to be swept away by their momentum we feel disappointed or betrayed. 

So how do we stop the momentum? First of all, we must at least have enough consciousness to acknowledge that we are suffering. Knowing we are responding with old habits, catching ourselves in the process, is the first and most difficult step. Without compassionately recognizing this in ourselves, we will remain stuck. It's impossible to free yourself from something you are not aware of in the first place. 

Secondly - change your environment! Do something different.

BWCA 2007
Pema Chodron, in her book, The Places That Scare You, says, "doing something different is anything that interrupts our ancient habit of tenaciously indulging in our emotions." She points out that anything that is non-habit will do. Sing, dance, take a walk, play with a pet - do anything that does not reinforce our crippling habits. This is not simply an exercise in avoidance. For example, when depressed, eating a quart of ice cream may indeed take your mind off of things for a bit, but it still reinforces our inability to be compassionate towards ourselves in response to life's shocks. Be careful to interrupt the momentum with a heightened state of consciousness and not one in which your are numb to the world.

And lastly, remember that this is a work in progress. Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our consciousness is not something we do once or twice and master for a lifetime. This is a practice that, with time, will become easier, but will remain with us throughout all of life's ups and downs. Gently reminding us and offering us unlimited new possibilities for our response to suffering.

"Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible"!


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