“. . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” St. Paul, Philippians 4:8.
“When disturbed by negative thoughts, cultivate their opposite.” Patanjali 2:33
Your mind is wondrous.
It is also powerful.
That’s because your mind creates thoughts.
Your thoughts come into existence as words. Without words you are unaware of your thoughts.
Your body responds to your words, sending chemicals into your blood stream that affect your mood. Your words propel you into action.
All of your feelings and all of your actions first occur as thoughts and words – even when you are not aware of this because it happens so quickly.
As with your body, so with your mind
There is nothing hard and fixed about your body.
Your body is, by nature, soft and flexible.
Repetitive patterns of movement shape your body. Tight muscles pull bones into misalignment.
Through practice, you learn to move in ways that minimize tensions, tightness, and misalignment.
This increases your natural energy, calmness, and physical comfort.
Your thoughts are also movements.
They come and go so quickly that you are less aware of them than you are of your physical movements.
But they have the same effect.
Habits of thought shape your mind just as habits of movement shape your body.
Thought patterns either create stress, tension, and anxiety, or they promote calm, comfort, and tranquility.
Just as there are practices that release muscle tension in your core, realigning your bones and calming your body, there are practices for realigning your mind.
This brings you clarity of thought and reinforces your tranquility of mind.
There is nothing hard and fixed about your mind
Your mind’s function is to generate thoughts.
It is in constant movement.
In every moment your mind receives information. You process that information by noting it, fitting it into a whole lifetime of knowledge and experience, and making decisions based on what you notice and what you know.
And you do this without even being aware of it.
Your mind also creates thoughts which arise apart from any direct relation to information received by you.
Mind movements are extremely supple and quick. In an instant you can be Paris in your thoughts, and in the next, back in your chair focussed on the taste of your coffee.
The quickness of your thoughts makes them difficult to be aware of.
But when you do become aware of them, you notice what both St. Paul and Patanjali noticed over a thousand years ago: your thoughts tend toward the negative.
It’s part of being human.
It’s also part of being human to have the capacity to realign your mind’s natural tendency toward negative thoughts.
You do this by slowing the incessant movements of your thoughts, and shifting them from detrimental ones toward their opposite.
Then you settle yourself there in a soft focussed ‘gaze’ on the thought that you have brought to mind.
This is not a one time in-the-moment practice. This is not the same as “going to your happy place.”
You are not trying to escape thoughts that make you uncomfortable in moments when they arise.
You are schooling your thoughts so that, even in difficult situations, discomforting thoughts don’t hurl you into emotional distress. You retain clarity and stability in your decision making.
This takes practice.
When you’re upset and try to shift your thoughts, it won’t work very well if you haven’t already established the habit of regularly pondering things that are “true, honorable, just, pure, gracious etc.”
The practice is to saturate your mind with such thoughts. Regularly.
With regular practice, you don’t just redirect thoughts that misalign your mind, you actually dissolve their tendency to arise by saturating your mind with beneficial thoughts.
Neuroscience confirms St. Paul and Patanjali
Neuroscience calls this neuroplasticity.
Neuroscientists study your brain, not your mind. But because your brain is the organ of your mind, brain studies can provide some insights into mind.
Neuroplasticity means your brain function is not hard or fixed. The neuropathways your thoughts create are like muscle memory in your muscles. Repetitive patterns shape your brain just as repetitive muscle use shapes your body.
Neuropathways are like unpaved roads. The more you drive over the road, the deeper the ruts gets. Over time it gets hard to move out of the road because the ruts are so deep. Eventually you get stuck.
But you can choose to take another road. And this is what the practices of St. Paul and Patanjali are.
The road to tranquility
Shifting your thoughts is a start.
Saturating your mind with thoughts that dissolve tension and anxiety results in a state of equipoise and calm that you achieve with practice.
This is your natural state. Your mind is part of your calm core, beneath the incessant movements of unschooled thought.
Your calm core is nearly impossible to reach when you are stuck in the rut of repetitive thoughts that muddy and narrow the road.
What St. Paul and Patanjali knew, what psychology and neuroscience confirm, is that there are thoughts and practices for your mind which unstick you from the rut and smooth the road to tranquility.
Over a thousand years of experience and practice confirm that the road to tranquility of mind and clarity of decision, is paved with thoughts of “. . .whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious. . .”
The road to tranquility in your mind is also in your body.
It is far easier to work with your mind when you dissolve the physical tensions that misalign your body. In turn, dissolving mental tensions also improves your physical health.
Your mind and body work together in a wondrous cycle of calm, clarity, and ease.