Every day on the drive home from school my family would pass a party center with one of those light up signs where someone would replace the letters every week. I don’t know who their message posting philosopher was but I read their work every day. I memorized the notes from that sign and they have served me well throughout my life. The most impactful posts, for me, were from Lau Tzu a mystic philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power), which is the original Taoist text published in the 3rd century. I’d like to share them with you:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Over the next few posts I’d like to unpack each of these sentences. Starting with our thoughts.
In yoga the experience of having our thoughts randomly jump from one idea to another is called, “monkey mind.” Because, like a monkey, if not properly attended to our minds will bounce all over the place. We are impacted constantly with sensory information and data that triggers our mental synapses to fire – we see a truck, think fire truck, fire, candles, Sylvia’s birthday is on Friday I have to remember to get candles. And the like.
In meditation we attempt to still the mind – which isn’t so much actual stillness, except observing our thoughts with detachment as if we were watching them happen to someone else. Our thoughts are not for us to manage or dissect in meditation. As we meditate we are simply to stay aware that we are thinking but not engage with the thoughts – it is not easy. That said, it can be incredibly freeing to release ourselves from the constant mental leaps of consciousness and simply be both physically and mentally still. The guidance to, “watch your thoughts,” may be in reference to meditation. To separate yourself from your thoughts and observe them.
Watching your thoughts could also be instruction to be attentive to the quality of the thoughts you entertain. Are your thoughts primarily negative or positive? Are they judging or shallow? A reminder that what we give our attention to is what we will draw to ourselves. If we’re thinking negatively we will want to talk about and discuss with others who share our perspective and will therefore draw more negativity into our lives. Are we thinking about ideas and concepts or are we thinking about ourselves or other people? This reminds me of the sage advice attributed to American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt but originally stated by English historian Henry Thomas Buckle,
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
If you were to be attentive to your thoughts would you be proud to say them out loud? Or if you find yourself ruminating on insults or past interactions might your time be better spent creating new happy memories? Or investigating ways in which you might make your mind a more pleasant place to visit? After all, our happiness begins from within, shouldn’t we do our best to make our minds and thoughts a pleasant place to be and live?
This week I will be watching my thoughts to see what I learn. I hope you’ll join me and if you feel comfortable, share what you’ve learned or noticed in the comments.