Think less be happy

This weeks blog is contributed by Andy Roberts

The way we think and feel about our friends, career, environment and general situation in life is heavily influenced by how much value we assign to our thoughts. For example:

If I view a sculpture from the side and you view it from the front and someone else views it from 30 cm away and someone else from 30 metres away, we will all have different impressions of what the object means to us.  As we move around the room our initial thoughts may change.  Our opinion about the object may be influenced by similar works we have seen before and how much other people value and rate the object.

Research suggests that first impressions often count.  When we see something or someone we often assign an instant like/don’t like scale which can be very difficult to alter.  These first impressions help us navigate a fast paced, complex world. However if we constantly judge and form rigid views about the world around us it makes us less adaptable, flexible and creative. We may get set in our ways and stubborn.

The example above gives an idea about how the thoughts that we hold are merely instant impressions of what we hold to be true from one perspective at one moment in time.  Truth evolves and our thoughts and views also need to evolve so that we don’t get locked into a false view of the world.

Holding rigidly onto a view of the world as it evolves around us can set up conflicts with other people who have viewed the world in a different light and from a fresh perspective.

Before considering why we may hold certain beliefs and occasionally have repetitive strings of thought, it’s worth considering the complexity of why and how thoughts are influenced by experience.  For example all of the following factors have an influence upon each other and ultimately make us perceive the world in a certain light and think in a certain way:

An emotion, a mood, a thought, a sensation, an internal visualisation, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch, a vision, an action, an external action, intention, the words of others, self talk and so on

What you think makes you feel different.  What you smell makes you feel different and think differently.  What you hear makes you feel differently and think differently.   What you say makes you feel differently and think differently and makes other people feel differently and think differently. What you think today makes you think differently tomorrow! And on and on and on and on.

Western Psychology often seeks to explore and magnify one interlinking aspect of this never ending network of events.  Through deep observation of one element academics and people engaged in coaching hope that profound insights will arise.

Buddhist and Yoga traditions also use techniques to enquire deeply into one aspect of the relationship between mind, body and experience. However these traditions often adopt a more holistic approach to wellbeing. In the Vedic tradition all emotions, thoughts, sensations and actions are seen as fundamentally illusory.  This is because they are viewed as shifting, changing and impermanent.  For example, the view that one takes of an event in your life is coloured by your experience to date.  With time the firm views that were once held change.  They may soften and mellow or become hardened and brittle.

From this perspective there are never any clear facts, only the hazy impressions of events that have already occurred and therefore no fundamental difference between art, works of fiction and works of fact.  There are only ever blended perspectives on moments that have passed and therefore to hold rigidly to a point of view is folly.

In the Vedic tradition enhanced knowledge leads to greater uncertainty and doubt; as knowledge is broadened and perspective gained doubt grows.  This is an area of great synthesis with Western Psychology.  The more one studies one area of the chain of emotions, thoughts and actions the more one realises the infinite complexity of human relationships. With further study, the realisation grows that you know that you don’t know the solution.  This is partly why some Buddhist techniques explore paradox.  Circular thinking promotes realisation that one cannot solve human problems through thought processes alone.  A Zen saying compares thinking your way to a solution with washing a bloodied article of clothing with your own blood.

You are not solely your thoughts or your emotions and therefore cannot solve your problems through thinking alone.

Great thinkers have echoed this idea of impermanence and not becoming hung up or obsessed by what you think you may think at a particular time.

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn. “

Mahatma Gandhi

What does this mean for my own wellbeing and happiness?

Research suggests that in therapy and coaching it is the warm, trusting relationship between people that results in positive change rather than the type of therapy applied.

In our view it is valid and worthwhile to explore the past in order to understand how it influences current feelings, thoughts and behaviours. However, it is possible that spending time dwelling in and exploring problems can make us magnify the extent of these problems.  We become our thoughts, words and emotions as we dwell in them.

Attachment to thoughts, emotions and actions may be an attempt to hold on to a fleeting view of the world which at the moment of experience was only ever a narrow interpretation.  It was never the whole truth.  So how do we detach and continue to keep ourselves refreshed and our thought processes open?

The Buddhist and Vedic approaches to breaking habitual thought patterns stress the importance of the realisation of the impermanent nature of the self.  Through mindful observation of sensations and feelings, in the present, we get into the habit of observing the world afresh as it re-presents itself to us.  Joy arises as we let go of past experiences and view the world afresh, as it arises.

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.”

William Blake

To begin the process of detaching from your thoughts, take yourself to a natural setting and spend some time listening to the sound of nature.  Tuning in to a natural rhythm brings your thoughts and emotions back to a balanced state.  By sitting and looking at nature as it constantly evolves and flows you re tune your experience and become absorbed in the true nature of reality.

Posted on August 14, 2011, in Coaching, Meditation etc. and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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