Earlier this week, I woke to my cat Mazel’s “amewsing” morning antics. Instead of instantly switching on the news (my usual MO), I sat down to embrace his entertainment and breathe in the quiet of the morning. The recent desert winds were thankfully at bay, giving a welcome stillness to our desert paradise. I decided to just sit with my thoughts. There were no distractions, no place to be, nothing to do other than to be a human being instead of a human doing. I made the conscious choice to be fully present in that moment.
I found myself focusing on my breath, nothing forced, experiencing the natural restorative inhalations and exhalations. In my mind’s eye, I asked myself to breathe in relaxation and exhale tension. I found myself wondering why I don’t do this more often. The “feel good” was either from my brain getting oxygenated or the permission slip I gave myself to just be. It didn’t matter so I decided to forego the need to analyze.
I heard the whir of the air conditioning and then the birds outside; their sweet songs part of my everyday world, but so often taken for granted. In this moment they gave me a sense of peace and calm, and I thanked them for sharing the universe with me. Then, out of nowhere, my mind recalled a nightmare from the night before, and I began to feel it physically; my pulse increased, and fear overcame me with a flush feeling. In that moment, I knew I had a choice. I could give in to those uncomfortable feelings or move on with curiosity and acceptance. The dream momentarily felt real, but the crucial realization was, I am not my mind. I am not my thoughts. That power packed thought, if only momentary, gave me a sense of mastery and empowerment. I made the choice to remain in the moment of peace and calm I was experiencing just moments before.
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not ‘the thinker.’ The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated.”— Eckhart Tolle
Rabbi Simon Jacobson, noted author and Torah scholar states, “One of the most eloquent concepts in mystical thought is the microcosm/macrocosm phenomenon. The human being is a ‘miniature universe,’ reflecting every aspect of the world at-large, and the universe is a giant organism. The reason for this intrinsic connection between humans and the universe is because the universe was created for the purpose that we humans refine and elevate it.”
If a human being is mired down in negativity, this can have a monumental impact on the world. It is then crucial to refine and elevate ourselves from within so we can contribute the best we have to give in our relationships and to society. Refine ourselves, refine the world.
Rabbi Laibl Wolf of Australia, renowned speaker and author of Practical Kabbalah was trained in law and psychology. He has addressed a variety of groups including the American Psychological Association, Fortune 500 conventions and Buddhist monks. The following is a recap of one of his recent meditations in which he discusses how our thoughts produce feelings and those feelings can change in a microsecond depending on the new thoughts we bring to mind. Let’s take a moment to address this…
Think of a time you were extremely embarrassed. Try to recall what caused the embarrassment, who was there, what was said. Now become acutely aware of the feelings of being extremely embarrassed, as well as the resulting consequences. Or, a time you injured yourself physically. Recognize how you felt, even the complex feelings beyond the physical pain.
Now, switch to a moment of joy that you experienced; perhaps a birthday party given in your honor as a child. Who was at the party? Recall the cake, singing and blowing out the candles. Now consider, where did that image of embarrassment go? Did the feelings of shame vanish in the moment they were replaced with the joyful image of a happy memory? What happened to the hurt and pain you briefly relived just a few moments ago?
The answer? Your mind determines the outcome of your emotions. As Rabbi Wolf posits, “Change your mind, change your feelings.”
There’s an old saying: You were given a neck to create balance between the intellect and the emotions. When the intellect overrules emotion (or vice versa), dysfunctional consequences can result. One of the greatest gifts I have been given, and want to pay forward, is the awareness that I have the power to change my thoughts. I don’t have to be driven by my thoughts or to be defined by them; they’re just thoughts.
Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and Practicing the Power of Now states that when our minds are racing and we feel like a hamster in a wheel, “all you really need to do is accept this moment fully. You are then at ease in the here and now and at ease with yourself.” He also states that, “The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not ‘the thinker.’ The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought; that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize all the things that truly matter- beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace- arise from beyond the mind.” He adds that these realizations are when you begin to awaken.
In my mind and heart, I believe negativity is an opportunity to change my thoughts and to do better. I learned I don’t have to be held emotionally hostage by my thoughts. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe states, “Think good, and it will be good.”
Today’s news reports of war, divisiveness, intolerance and heartbreaking and senseless violence in our churches, synagogues, public spaces and schools, can trigger an immediate leap to the dark side. Just knowing that you have the ability to choose can be a game changer.
If one good deed leads to another, one positive thought can too. Rabbi Jacobson states, “Knowing that we are a microcosm of the universe also empowers us in dealing with world events taking place around us. Though subtle, harmony in our personal lives helps bring harmony to the world. We may not be able to sense the ‘butterfly effect’ of our behavior on the universe, and its effect is not always direct and overt. Nevertheless, we’re told with absolute certainty that our actions do have a ripple effect of world events.”
And with that, we have the power to change the world…One thought at a time.
Amy Austin is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC# 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.