The one constant we face is change. Whether it is small and almost imperceptible or whether it is catastrophic and traumatic – it is constant. Our thinking determines how we manage change and our emotions are linked to our thinking. Therefore, what we think determines our emotions, which in turn determine the level of peace we have in our lives.
In his book When Everything Changes, Change Everything, Neal Donald Walsch writes:
You may not be able to change the fact that things are changing, but you can change your thought about the things that are changing.
Our thinking determines the way we see the world. It is our thinking that determines how we will be affected by the karmic events that come our way and through which we create our reality – which is often distorted because of our conditioned thinking. How often have the Masters told us that the only thing we can change is our attitude? And we change our attitude by changing the way we think and how we react to the events in our lives. Walsch continues:
Reality is not what’s happening, it’s what we think is happening.
We don’t experience what’s going on outside, we experience
what’s going on inside about what’s going on outside.
Perception is our ability to interpret and understand – it is our discernment or insight. Our thinking is based on our perceptions – which are partly based on how society conditions our thinking, as well as often-unreliable second-hand information from other people, along with our interpretation and faded memories of our own previous experiences. Some of these experiences may go back to previous lives because their sanskaras are so deeply engrained in us.
Sanskaras are the impressions or imprints left on the mind by both our interpretation of events and our experiences in previous lives. These impressions are accumulated and carried forward from life to life. They now colour this life − our nature, responses and states of mind. But are these clouded impressions relevant to our life and thinking in the twenty-first century?
We can compare the accumulation of sanskaras to a lens. Whatever we see through a lens is conditioned by the focus of the lens. Similarly, everything we do or perceive is conditioned through the lens of our perception – we perceive through the impressions, effects, tendencies, imprints and conditioning of our sanskaras. And yet they are neither factual nor correct. They are simply our interpretations of interpretations of interpretations – years of false conditioning.
Our thinking is constantly being shaped and manipulated by our sanskaras, and we believe that what we think of as reality is a true representation of an event. We seldom stop to think about the effect of the lens we are looking through – whether it is in focus or distorted. Therefore, what we experience is determined by how we allow the mind to influence what we experience.
It is such a subtle part of our thought process that we are not even aware that this mental conditioning is taking place, and yet we believe our own distorted thinking – from which we create our distorted reality, spawned from our emotional reaction to outside events. When we accept that we create our reality through our thinking, we realize that we can change that reality. We change our reality by changing our mind. It is as simple as changing the way we think.
We often cause pain and suffering – to ourselves and others – because of our distorted view of events. In Living Meditation the author writes:
When someone in this world does something we don’t like, the most common response is to react and to try to change that person. We get angry because the world isn’t the way we want it to be.
A challenge we all face is to accept that we all view and experience events differently. Therefore we should not become irritated and react unkindly when someone else’s thinking is different from ours.
Our bodies constantly change. Our circumstances – which often seem boring in their repetition – are in fact constantly changing. It is important to realize that change means an adjustment is taking place. The thing to be aware of is that when change happens, our lives will never again be the same as they were. It means things will be different from now on. How we cope with that difference will indicate whether or not we find peace and joy within ourselves. But if we cannot let go of the past and we constantly fight to try and make our outer circumstances as close as possible to what they were before the change happened, peace and joy will elude us. The more we focus on what cannot be – on what has passed – the more we perpetuate our misery.
Unfortunately our thinking is also frequently conditioned by what society dictates. Much of the pain and trauma we experience may be as a result of our attempts to conform to what society defines as ‘normal’. But normal according to whose distorted reality? Every action, every thought, every approach is conditioned by our sanskaras and is unique to the individual, therefore there cannot be a ‘normal’ approach to any situation. But our thinking is so conditioned that it traps us in old patterns of thought, binding us to our own web of negativity.
‘Thinking out of the box’ is exactly that – it is to shake off our old thinking and approach a situation from a fresh and different perspective. We do not have to allow our thinking to become so entrenched that we are shackled to it for life. Why do we continue along such a restricted path instead of breaking free? Walsch tells us that we can be free of emotional turmoil, anguish and frustration, anxiety and fear – the unwelcome emotions that so often accompany unwanted change and life disruptions.
Our way of thinking creates our emotions, therefore we can be in control of our emotions. We do not have to be victims of our thoughts. We can move from being miserable to being happy by challenging and changing our thoughts.
Hazur Maharaj Ji has said:
We have to go through a combination of good and bad karmas during this span of life. So we have to go on adjusting to every situation. So we need to change our attitude. Then we will be relaxed and happy. If we refuse to adjust to these situations, then we will be miserable. Our relatives have to die, for example. If we accept that as his will, then it is all right. If we refuse to accept it, we will be miserable.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Changing our attitude means changing our thinking. It is not always easy to do, but it definitely can be done. The truth is that we have always allowed our thoughts free rein and suffered the consequences of our unbridled thinking. To be able to change our thoughts we must be conscious of what we are thinking; then when an unwanted emotion begins to arise in us, we will be aware of the thought that is creating that emotion and we can immediately stop the thought. Stop the thinking that is creating the unwanted emotion. Stop perpetuating pain, fear, anxiety or anger.
Imagine the change that will take place when we die. Imagine moving from the ever-changing physical world to the constant, changeless inner world which is our birthright. The author of Living Meditation writes that it is the privilege of human beings to experience the changeless, deathless and blissful nature of our own true self. And Rumi comments: “My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”
Maharaj Jagat Singh says in The Science of the Soul:
The Maker himself is unchangeable but the world which he has created is constantly undergoing change. Living beings come into this world and then die. The vegetable and the mineral kingdoms are also subject to change. The Creator alone is eternal and everlasting.
The magic of Sant Mat is the change that takes place within each one of us. Our thinking is changing, our approach to life, our diet – so much has changed that we hardly recognize ourselves. Could we ever have imagined such change? As Rumi says:
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
While change can be one of the hardest things to deal with, we need to embrace it because it is absolutely necessary for us to evolve and grow – both physically and spiritually. Growth is determined through an exchange of the old for the new. We may not be aware of the spiritual changes taking place within us, but our Master certainly is aware of how we are slowly shaping our future within.
Two South Africans entrepreneurs, Ronnie Apteker and Jeremy Ord, have written about changes in the IT industry:
When we attempt new things, we begin to re-examine all the habitual and routine things we took for granted. We have the ability to, and we constantly do, reinvent ourselves. As our thought patterns change, we strive to identify and nurture ourselves to think differently. If we can do that and if we have the energy, breadth and vision, we will continue to grow and with that growth and the acceptance of change we will find contentment, joy and happiness.
As is man’s own mind,
so sees he the mind of another.
As is man’s desire,
so becomes his state of mind.
As are one’s deeds, so is one attuned.
Seeking the true Guru’s advice,
man finds the house of peace.
Guru Nanak, in Discourses on Sant Mat, Vol. II