When we harbour negative thoughts, our minds become agitated and restless, our actions disturbed and unbalanced. Thoughts of worry and fear are destructive to ourselves and to those around us. Opposite thoughts of cheerfulness, joy and courage heal and soothe. Yoga is the way of life that encourages us to live to our fullest capacity. To achieve this, we have to learn the most precious art of positive thinking.
When you ask people what their goal in life is they tell you it is to be happy, peaceful and content. This goal can take many forms, but in the West, our tendency is to turn to external objects and events in the search for happiness. And what happens when we attain our objectives? It is true there is momentary happiness. But soon we tire of the new toy or situation, and the search for happiness begins again. Frequent change and acquisition becomes a way of life, until we understand that the real source of happiness lies only within our own minds and that it comes from our approach and attitude towards the external world and not from the world itself.
Yoga teaches us that our thoughts are the real cause behind our success and happiness in life. The life we live and the type of experiences we have are the direct result of the way we think. As you think, so you become. Think that you are strong and you will become strong; think that you are weak and you will be weak. Because thoughts are the source of all actions, they are the silent bricks that build our life.
Thoughts mould our character and control our lives. We learn that we carry the responsibility for the quality of our thoughts and that we can choose how to develop our thoughts. We come to realize that we are authors of our own lives. With our thoughts we hold in our hands the most powerful tools of transformation of our life.
We need to bear in mind the power of thought and the extent it can influence the world around us. A thought is not "just a thought, its a living force. Whether positive or negative, a thought will affect the thinker, affect the person about whom it is entertained and affect all of society by entering the mental atmosphere. We unceasingly attract to ourselves, knowingly or inadvertently, exactly and only what corresponds to our own dominant quality of thoughts.
We need to recognize that thoughts gain strength by repetition and that the stronger the thought, the sooner it will be realized. If we constantly think we are, for example, fat, or shy, or not good enough, a thought pattern or habit is created and takes a strong hold on the mind. We find we start to eat more or be obsessed with food, we may refuse to socialize, we may become depressed. But if we think we are courageous, adaptable, or considerate, we find that our actions start to reflect these qualities.
How do we control a mind that is anxious, angry or depressed? Why do we so often find ourselves caught in a situation with the same problems? We need to become aware of what we are actually thinking. We cannot reduce our anger unless and until we can see that we are angry. To develop this insight, we need to witness or watch the mind. The practice requires patience and perseverance, but gradually we watch ourselves in action, almost like a character in a film.
One of the great techniques for strengthening positive thinking is the practice of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Hatred ceases not by thoughts of hatred but by love. Let us say we suffer from irritability. We sit down every morning at a certain time for fifteen minutes and think of patience - its value and its practice under provocation, remembering one incident where patience was needed, then another, bringing the mind back when it wanders. We think of ourselves as perfectly patient and end with a vow: This patience which is my true being, I feel and will act on from today. For a few days, there may be no perceptible change. But if we continue a regular practice, soon, when irritation manifests, the thought will flash into the mind: I should have been patient. Still we practice. After a while, thoughts of patience will arise whenever irritability appears and the outer manifestation will be checked. Still we practice. The irritable impulse will eventually weaken and patience will become our normal approach towards annoyances. We can use this powerful method to develop virtues such as sympathy, self restraint, humility and generosity.
Excerpted from the new book, The Sivananda Companion to Meditation, (Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center/Simon and Schuster; 2003). For more information on the book and the Sivananda Center in New York City, please visit www.sivananda.org, call 212-255-4560 or email NewYork@sivananda.org