Let’s begin with a simple question: How often do you observe your thought patterns?
a. Often b. Occasionally c. Never d. WHAT DO YOU EVEN MEAN??
Whatever the answer, in the second part of my eight weeks of mindfulness posts, I want to focus in on Right Intention which is primarily centered on the qualities of our thoughts.
How important is this anyway?
In my humble opinion, it’s something we should choose to tune into if we really want happiness, peace, and all that jazz with ourselves and in our relationships with others. I’m willing to bet the majority of us don’t want to be miserable, though some of us are and it feels inevitable. There is always work to be done which can allow us to live happier, more fulfilling lives. I’d like to suggest that observing our thoughts and changing our thought patterns can really help us to help ourselves be more happy and at peace, with ourselves and the world.
A Little Background
Right Intention is also oftentimes referred to as Right Thought. There is a lovely little Buddha quote that I think nicely summarizes the importance of intention in our lives:
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”-Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)
Keeping this in mind, we know that from our intention, stems our actions and speech(parts of the eight-fold path which will follow this one). Our thoughts do indeed shape our world. In the practice of Buddhism, there is significance placed both renunciation and cultivation: in this case, renunciation of unwholesome thoughts, habits, actions while cultivating wholesome thoughts, habits actions.
Right intention consists of dropping desire, cultivating the intention of good will and harmlessness. The importance of ridding ourselves of desire is not because desire is necessarily evil, but because it causes us to suffer. In this holiday season, what better practice than to cultivate good will, and to let go of desiring.
If we allow ourselves to be free of desire, we allow ourselves to be happier. Of course, there are always going to be things that we want in life, whether they are material things or things we’d like to see in our relationships with others. This is not always a bad thing. We set goals and work towards the objects we ‘desire’. However, the desire I speak of is one that consists of wanting things in such a way that it disrupts your inner peace. It may cause you to have negative thoughts centered on the “WHY do I not have this or that when others do?” This is an unhealthy pattern. It may cause you to resent others who do (at least on the surface) have the things that you want. This is also a harmful way of thinking and separates us from others, rather than bringing us closer together in a way that we can appreciate and be there for one another.
Exercise: Practice contentment. When thoughts arise about needing that newest piece of technology, or comparing yourself or situation to others’, practice contentment. Let go of the desire that is causing your current dissatisfaction, and notice how wonderful everything truly is.
In regards to cultivating good will and harmlessness, this can simply come from noticing when a judgmental thought arises about another person, and choosing to realize that the two of you are one in the same, that that person is your equal, you are both on this journey of life, and you are both choosing to deal with things differently. You can drop the habit of thinking unkindly about others; you can cultivate the habit of thinking compassionate thoughts, wishing them well, even if you do not understand their motivation or intention, and perhaps, sending them the type of positive energy they need. If we cultivate compassion towards others, we will feel better than if we are harboring negative thoughts about them, and we will also perhaps cause them to be compassionate in return.
Surely changing our thought patterns can’t happen instantaneously; it is a process, but certainly if we become conscious of the quality of our thoughts, and what they are telling us about our inner state of being, as well as our attitudes towards others, if we become aware, where we haven’t been before, then we have the potential to change them up entirely.
Being that it is, after all, the season of peace on earth and good will towards men,
I myself, hereby set the intention to cultivate that good will, and invite you to do so as well.
Post 2 of 8 in 8 Weeks of Mindfulness of the Eight-fold Path.