Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Affirmations as Spiritual Practice

The Eighteenth Century Hasidic master, Tzemech Tzedek, was once asked to pray for a seriously ill person. He said to the family, “Tracht gut vet zain gut,” which in Yiddish means “Think good, and it will be good.” What a bold statement! Do you think your thoughts are so powerful that they create your reality?

At the very least, your thoughts shape the way you experience your reality. You carry your thoughts around like a blue-colored lens, wondering why everything looks blue. Everything is not blue. It’s just the only option you’re giving yourself. Once you realize your lens is tainting your experience, you can make a choice. You can take them off, clean them up, put a new lens in, or you can choose to continue seeing only blue.

The human brain is like a set of eye glasses. It sees what it sees, and puts it all through a meaning making grid. It works with your current set of beliefs, your current lens. You often don’t even realize that your glasses are cracked and warped. It’s as if you have been wearing the same pair since early childhood; unquestioned and familiar. You make choices that confirm these beliefs, or else you make meaning of events that make the beliefs seem true to you. For example, so and so ignored me, and that proves that I am unlovable. The incredible irony is that you accept suffering and unhappiness in your life just to confirm that your beliefs are true. You attract the people and circumstances that verify your entrenched beliefs. You become your own self fulfilling prophecy.

The principle of using affirmations is that you can retrain your brain to see experience through the lens of your choice. First, you can notice yourself lapsing into entrenched beliefs. Observe it and realize that these old thoughts aren’t serving you. Then as you find yourself thinking self limiting thoughts, you can choose different thoughts. You can practice filling your mind with positive affirmations, or at least not adding in unnecessary negative thoughts. Then you can enjoy the benefits of these new beliefs. For example, this person ignored me and I don’t know why, so I won’t take it personally. Or, this situation is difficult therefore I am becoming stronger and wiser. So I wont choose to make it mean that life is against me.

Woody Allen once ended a stand up routine by saying, "I wish I could think of a positive thought to leave you with. Will you take two negative thoughts instead?"

What do you do with persistent negative thoughts? Think positive thoughts about them. Love them into submission. Affirmations are not about suppression. You will have negative thoughts. Some of them will be poor visibility from a cracked lens. Some of them will be appropriate and be the exact motivation you need to make a change in your life. Affirm even the negative thoughts, and the difference will become clear. Which thoughts are serving you, and which thoughts are locking you into self destructive patterns?

Affirmations are about deciding which animal you want to feed. Feed the thoughts that serve you. Practice thoughts that help you to see the world with greater love and possibility. Affirmations offer you a way to state reality as if it’s already true and in so doing you reset your brain’s meaning making machine. Set the intention that you are lovable and loved, that your life has purpose and that you are a servant of kindness and so it will be. Affirmations help you to believe in your amazing essence and bring many of your deepest intentions into reality. They bring enormous positive change into your life.

Don’t expect your brain to rewire over night, but saying affirmations out loud and several times will make a difference over time. They will come to mind at surprising moments through the day. The more natural the affirmation feels for you, the more aligned you are to the intention.

Comedian Ronnie Shakes once said, “I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought, “What the hell good would that do?”

Affirmations will do you a world of good and it will do the world a world of good. It will be part of cleaning up a life time of dirty glasses and the affirmations will spread like a seed of kindness to heal a hurting world. The world needs love, not more judgment. Begin with yourself.


Susan Negen said...

The little book, "As A Man Thinketh" by James Allen is an excellent companion read to this post - downloadable for free in many places on the internet as it is now public domain.

In addition there is some fascinating hard science brain research on the reticular activator (sp?) and the amygdla in the brain that supports the way affirmations work. God/science! Science seeing God in you?! How fun.

Raymond said...

I have been practicing a form of passage meditation by Eknath Easwaran see http://www.easwaran.org/.

It is the same idea. You meditate daily on poetry and scriptural passages that have meaning to you. You memorize the words and quitely repeat them over and over. Over time these words penetrate deep into your unconscious. That which is in your unconscious affects all of your thinking and actions.

Walter said...

What a brilliant post.
Really very well written and clearly expressed, it is also carefully thought-out - I think it would convince even t he most cynical person. You write well.

Ian Lawton said...

Thanks for the book idea Susan, and Raymond for the meditation resource. Its amazing how many resources there are between us all.
Walter, i see you are from Sydney. Where in Sydney?

Wj said...

I enjoyed hearing your views on affirmations, i agree on their power. I have been experimenting with breathing affirmations that feel really good and have taking a waking presence in my daily thought stream.