What Are You Thinking?

09/17/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"Our mindstream, our choice"- David Michie

I have a lot of moving parts to coordinate these days. I was sorting laundry, fixing breakfast, and suddenly, while hanging up clothes in my closet, I stopped and listened to my stream of thoughts -- the background noise of my life. What was I thinking?

There were the usual rehearsal conversations -- with a contractor, various family members. Then there were the random grocery list items, what to write for my next blog, the phone calls I had not made to my neighbors, the insurance company. And what was the emotional content of those thoughts in anticipation of my day? I was creating my own special recipe of judgment (as opposed to discernment), blame, anxiety, defensiveness, and yes, even a dollop of victimhood (why do I have so much to do?).

There were a few light thoughts wafting through between the clouds, but the conversational tone was definitely grumpy. Like a computer that is running a lot of "background" software, there was a lot of energy going into extraneous programming and downright negative thought -- leaving little reserves for creativity, calm, or even play. Based on what I was sending out into my world, the day was shaping up to be real downer.

So we begin by noticing what we are thinking. We may first begin noticing that we are not actually doing what we are thinking about and vice-versa: that we ARE thinking as opposed to just doing and feeling what we are engaged in at the moment. It is in this moment of awareness when we have many choices, though they essentially all boil down to two -- continue our unconscious, random thought stream or pay attention and intentionally quiet or re-direct it. The first is easy, a tenacious habit of the human mind. The second requires breaking the habit. This is never easy. Like meditation, the method is very simple. The implementation is challenging. In my case that morning, I used a focus on the present, mindfully recognizing without judgment what I was doing and feeling. "Now I am walking." "Now I am preparing my grocery list." "Now I am feeling anxious." "Now I am writing." I made the effort to do only one thing at a time.

The next step is to intend what it is that you want during the current or next contiguous space of time. "I want to feel optimistic, focused and engaged when I speak to my insurance agent. I want to be safe and aware of traffic conditions when I am driving. I want to enjoy my day." These are conscious choices and increase the possibility that the desired outcome will be fulfilled.

And finally, having made my thoughts conscious and my intentions clear, as often is the case, I came across some assistance that helped me tackle the current problem at hand -- a special delivery from the universe. Mine came in the form of Buddhism for Busy People, Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World. Newly arrived on American shores after numerous printings in Australia, the book by author David Michie, ( ) is a totally accessible story about his journey into Tibetan Buddhism and the profoundly personal changes that he experienced along the way. Michie is as adept at the story-telling as he is at making the ancient tenets of the faith and meditation methods understandable and applicable to daily life. For those of us attempting to live in the world in a more conscious way, there can never be enough reminders, for we humans are such forgetful creatures. Michie delivers the message, make us smile and feel like we are walking with an old friend. That morning I was given both reminders and some loving encouragement.

The page I opened to was where Michie is quoting his teacher, Rinpoche Geshe Trungpa, "We all tend to have habitual thoughts, or attitudes, and we need to be very careful about these. Often they build up and have a cumulative effect which is immense. As Buddha said in the Dharmapada:
'The thought manifests as the word
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings...
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.'"

And as Michie points out in the section about karma that follows, "Our mindstream, our choice...we are the authors of our own future happiness or misery." How empowering the "thought that we have the opportunity to transform our whole experience of reality." With this in mind, my reality (which was never really so bad to begin with) and my day got a whole lot better.

Kay Goldstein, MA teaches meditation and writes poetry, fiction and articles addressing the challenges and joys of daily living and spiritual practice.

David Michie, mindfulness, segment intending, Buddhism for Busy People, Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World, karma, meditation, spiritual path, Tibetan Buddhism

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