The art of living leads us to relate with our thoughts and feelings in an active and deliberate way. Instead of being at the mercy of our thoughts and feelings, we make a systematic effort to know and harmonize the way we think and feel.
Although our way of thinking and feeling is largely determined by heredity and the environment, no matter what our mental and physical environment may be, the quality of our thoughts and feelings depends on our level of consciousness.
The lower our level of consciousness, the more we identify with the mental currents around us and the more subject our mind is to impulses, passions and desires. In such situations, our life becomes determined by thoughts and feelings that we neither choose nor can control. We even defend them stubbornly without considering if they really reflect what we believe in and aspire to.
Human unfolding is marked by a long stage in which our thinking and feeling are determined by social conditioning and instincts. This inevitably results in ignorance, conflict and pain.
Even though there is a close connection between thoughts and feelings, our relationship with them is not always harmonious, especially when instinctive impulses and selfish thoughts move us to feel in a way opposite to the ideal that illumines us in the moments of our greatest understanding.
In general, the way we feel expands more slowly than the way we think. Selfishness and passion often dominate our understanding, and this of course is reflected in our behavior. For example, even though I understand that all human beings are equal, I may continue to feel identified with some people while rejecting others. My way of feeling does not match my understanding. Such an attitude not only can cause suffering to those around me, but it also has a negative effect on human relationships as a whole. To think in one way and to feel in another is an obstacle to the unfolding of consciousness and to building a world of peace and well-being for all.
We learn to improve our way of thinking and feeling by adopting a method of life. Systematic work on will and attention and the control of energy through useful intellectual activity and productive work constitute an asceticism for the mind and emotions that helps us achieve harmony. Feelings respond little by little to our emerging consciousness of what is good, and thoughts become subject to our will.
Besides following a method of life, we need to practice certain specific techniques to help us harmonize and develop the way we think and feel. Some of these techniques are surprisingly simple.
Let's consider this one: To attain mental control, we can make the practice of substituting noble thoughts and feelings for selfish ones. Although it is inevitable that undesirable, aggressive or selfish thoughts and feelings will arise sometimes, we can transmute them so that they will do good rather than cause harm. For example, when a negative thought appears, we observe it with as much dispassion as possible, until it is consumed by the weight of its own negative energy. We then produce the highest, most elevated thought we can at that moment, regaining control of our minds.
Let's imagine that we find ourselves having a critical thought about a person. As soon as we become aware of that thought, instead of giving in to our irritation, we generate a positive thought towards this very same person. We can say a prayer for him or imagine that he is surrounded by feelings of peace and love. We turn a moment of negative feelings into an opportunity to consciously produce positive thoughts and feelings. If we are consistent with this technique of substitution, we find that little by little we can change our negative reactions. Instead of wanting to wound others, we learn to respond with love.
Here is another technique for learning to control our minds: We make a practice of generating love for everything we have to do. Even with tasks that we usually do not like, we make the conscious resolution to feel love for the work, being present in the moment, feeling happy for the opportunity to do this particular job. This kind of attention helps the mind stay on its chosen task and, at the same time, helps us stay alert to everything that is happening around us. This practice leads to a heightened ability for attention and perception. By freeing ourselves from the incessant distraction of mental associations and unconscious impulses, we perceive what is actually happening. Every moment in life becomes a teaching.
These techniques are easy to apply, but for them to be really useful, we need to have a deep love for inner freedom. Only such a love can generate the strength we need for changing our way of thinking and feeling which defines us as limited personalities separated from the totality of life.
Right intention and continuous effort are, in the end, our best allies for attaining a harmonious relationship with our thoughts and feelings.
When we attain harmony between the mind and heart, we are free to think and feel in accordance with our ideal. We have within our reach the necessary means for building a world of peace and happiness for all humanity.
Reprinted from The
Art of Living in Relationship.