“The goal of the spiritual path,” writes Matthieu Ricard in his bestseller, Happiness, “is to transform ourselves,” and we do that, he says, by “transforming our minds.”
Transformation of the mind?
What the Buddhist monk has suggested is not unlike what Saint Paul suggested in his letter to the Romans. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2).
What needs transforming, or changing, in your mind? Or, more precisely, your thinking?
- What you THINK about yourself?
- The thoughts you think about someone else?
- Or, what you think, and so how you feel, about life itself?
Much of how we feel about ourselves, others, even life is the consequence of our thoughts. Which is why Saint Paul, in his letter to the Philippians said, “Think on THESE things,” and then enumerated those things we should intentionally work at thinking (Philippians 4:8).
And, it is work, my friend. Which is why Paul, and the monk, both say you must make the transformation of your thinking the goal of your spiritual path or practice (Phil. 4:9).
When I coach clients and colleagues, I am often asked, “How do I change my thinking?”
Try the following…
1. Know first what it is YOU ARE thinking. That is to say, BE the observer of your thoughts. I cannot stress more strongly that you are NOT your thoughts; you are instead the observer of your thoughts.
And, to even say this is not exactly true. But it is closer to the truth of who you really are. Train yourself to observe the thoughts that randomly appear in your mind stream. This creates a little separation between you, the real you, and the thoughts you are thinking.
But, that’s just the first thing you must do to transform your thinking.
2. Review your thoughts for their truthfulness. Why? Most of your thinking is not only toxic, it is simply NOT true. Here, Byron Katie’s “The Work,” as she calls it, has become widespread and helpful.
“The Work” consists of four questions and turnarounds. For example, you might think, and so feel, that “____________ never listens to what I’m saying!” About whom have you had such a thought? Your spouse or partner? Your boss? Someone with whom you work?
Once you identify who that person is, and so have filled in the blank, then put that statement…that THOUGHT…under the scope of scrutiny, or the four questions and turnarounds of The Work.
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, go to question 3).
- Can you be absolutely sure it is true? (Yes or No).
- How do you react, or what happens, when you believe the thought? Believe it is true?
- Who would you be WITHOUT the thought?
Then, turn the thought around. A “turnaround” is the opportunity you give yourself to both know and experience the opposite of the toxic thought. For example, when you complain that “____________ never listens to me,” maybe what you’re really saying is, “I don’t listen to me.”
Well, do you? Have you been listening…OBSERVING…your own thinking? I suspect this may be what really needs changing.
What do YOU think?
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m IN LOVE with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Now.