Last updated August, 2016.
Aristotle once said:
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
That quote is almost relevant to this post.
Instead, I would say:
"It is the mark of a liberated (or enlightened) person to entertain a thought without identifying with it."
Consider some recent thoughts. For simplicity, here are some we all have at one time or another:
These could be in regard to a relationship, a task, a sport, a job, et cetera.
What makes these thoughts so powerful?
They are powerful because you identify with them. There is no space between you and the thoughts. You forget (or maybe you never realized) that you can be the observer of thoughts and, instead, you get caught up in them.
You indulge them, and get lost in the stories running through your head. This perpetuates more thoughts and emotions. It becomes a vicious cycle that can bury you in a landslide of mental noise.
Refer back to our examples above - you probably label these thoughts "negative." If you believe they are false, you will resist them. You will try to convince yourself that you are good enough, you aren't a failure, you are deserving. Or, you will try to silence them through sheer willpower:
If you believe they are true, on the other hand, you will wallow in self-doubt. As the days go by, these thoughts become ingrained and cause you to develop (and reinforce) a negative self-image, and sabotage your happiness and well-being.
Whether you believe thoughts are true or false, identifying with them leads to self-imposed suffering.
The same applies to thoughts you label "positive." For example:
If you identify with these thoughts, they not only shape your behavior - they become you. Thinking you are the best at something means you should act a certain way. And, as we see time and again, thoughts of superiority can cause actions that are detrimental to yourself and others.
But, if you don't identify with thoughts, you will come to find they are simply...thoughts.
You can observe thoughts without getting caught up in them; you can watch them come and go. When they come, you have a choice: you can identify with them or you can say:
"There are those thoughts again. I am watching them come, and I can watch them go the same way. I can choose not to indulge them and, instead, move my attention away from them (and let them be as they are)."
Is it really that simple? Yes, it is. It does take practice, though.
And that's the problem for most people. Practice takes time and effort. And time and effort is, well, time and effort.
We procrastinate. We forget. We prioritize, and things fall to the bottom of our list.
But, this is all in your control. You simply have to make the decision to do it, and start.
The good news is, the end result is worth it. In fact, it's the most important thing you can do for your quality of life (happiness, peace, and contentment).
So, decide now. Get started. Go do it!
Your thoughts are as transient as the clouds in the sky - learn to watch them float by. You don't have to identify with them. You don't have to attach to them. You don't have to build a story around them.
You don't have to follow your mind wherever it leads.
If there is any "secret" to life, this is it! If you learn to do it consistently, things will magically begin to work out for you.
But, most people won't accept it. They won't try it. And, if they do, they won't stick with it - they won't practice. It's too simple.
Don't be like most people!
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