Author: Tim Ong

Managing Thoughts

Managing Thoughts

Introduction 

Thoughts are not real. However, believing in our thoughts makes them real to us. Realising this truth can free us from a lot of sufferings. After all, since thoughts are not real, we do not need to allow them to bother us. 

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Unless we can see and know for ourselves that thoughts are not real, it is hard for us to simply believe this fact.  

Thus, thoughts continue to bother us. 

Types of Thoughts 

Thoughts can be grouped into these three categories: 

  1. Positive thoughts 
  1. Negative thoughts 
  1. Neutral thoughts 

Positive thoughts make us feel good. Negative thoughts make us feel bad. Neutral thoughts do not seem to bother us either way. 

Our thoughts are what make us happy or sad. If we want to be free from sadness, then we must learn to manage our negative thoughts. 

Causes of Negative Thoughts 

What causes negative thoughts to arise? Briefly, association with past experiences – with memories imprinted in our mind.  

Inputs from the external world of the five physical senses and our own internal mental world lead to association with past imprints in our mind as we try to make sense of the world.  

Our own conditioned mind or mental habits determine how this association is managed. It is what our mind inclines to do. 

Effects of Negative Thoughts 

Negative thoughts make us worry. They make us fearful. Then, we react accordingly. 

We worry only because we want things to be other than “what is”. We worry because our expectations are not met, or are threatened. We worry because we cannot see things as they really are, or if we do see things as they really are, we have not accepted them.  We have not surrender to reality. 

What is threatened is not just our expectations. To be more accurate, it is our Self that is threatened. The ego is threatened. The ego’s safety or significance is threatened. 

Managing Negative Thoughts 

  1. Know that thoughts are not real 

The best way to manage negative thoughts, and all kinds of thoughts, is to know that thoughts are not real. It is our own belief in our thoughts that make them real to us. 

Through believing in our thoughts, we give thoughts the power to create both happiness and suffering for us. Without such a belief, thoughts have no power over us. This shows the amazing power of belief. 

This is healing at the level of wisdom (knowing and seeing). 

If we cannot see this truth for ourselves, then we must manage our negative thoughts in other ways. 

  1. Acceptance of what is 

The next method is to learn to accept things as they are, without expectations or wish for things to be other that what is. This is a form of surrendering to the universe, and to universal wisdom.  

This requires a belief that the universe will serve you what is best for your growth. 

This is healing at the level of faith. 

  1. Right View for Right Thoughts 

If you have a right world view or skillful/wholesome way of looking at life, then you will have the right perspective to lead a happy life. A wholesome perspective leads to wholesome perception, which leads to wholesome experience.  

In short, right view leads to right attitude and right thoughts. 

Another way of looking at this is that we tell ourselves the right story or narrative. Just as the way we view the world can influence how we experience life, in the same way, how we tell ourselves the narrative we believe in will influence how we experience life. 

In other words, how we choose to view the world matters. What we choose to believe in also matters. This is what is meant by “believe it and you will see it”. 

We tend to think that we believe something only when we have seen it. That is why there is a saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it”.  

But the paradox of life is such that what really happens is we first believe in something (our views or our story), then we see it or experience it as a validation of our beliefs. Here is another example of the power of belief. 

Realising this truth is important because it means that we can change how we experience life by changing our beliefs, world views and/or stories. 

  1. Stopping negative thoughts from arising 

This requires intense mindfulness and energy. The practice of meditation (bhavana) comes in useful here to strengthen the mental muscles necessary for this kind of job. 

A strong mind can stop negative thoughts from arising, or if they have already arisen, to stop them in their tracks before they can cause more damage to our well-being. 

  1. Replacing arisen negative thoughts 

This is a common method advised by psychiatrists and psychologists to manage negative thoughts. Whenever a negative thought arises, replace that negative thought with an opposite and positive thought.  

For example, if a negative thought about stealing arises, then as soon as you are aware of it, replace the thought with a positive and opposite one, such as a thought of giving or charity. 

  1. Distraction method 

If it is difficult even to replace a negative thought with a positive one, then simply try to distract yourself from the negative thought by focusing on something else that may be totally unrelated to what you are thinking about.  

For example, if you are thinking of something lustful, you can distract yourself from the thought by deciding to go for a run or jog. Finding something useful to do is a good and effective method of distracting or re-directing your thoughts. 

Nothing outside of you is the cause of your suffering.

Nothing outside of you is the cause of your suffering.

Nothing outside of you is the cause of your suffering. Suffering is an inside job.

Nothing outside of you is the cause of your happiness. Happiness is also an inside job.

Pain may be very real, but suffering is optional.

Danger may be very real, but fear is optional.

Meet your thoughts with understanding

Meet your thoughts with understanding

“As we investigate a stressful thought, we see for ourselves that it’s untrue; we get to look at the cause-and-effect of it, to observe in sobering detail exactly what modes of pain and confusion result from believing it; then we get a glimpse into the empty mirror, the world beyond our story of the world, and see what our life would be like without the thought; and finally we get to experience the opposite of what we have so firmly believed. Once we deeply question a thought, it loses its power to cause us pain, and eventually it ceases even to arise.

I don’t let go of my thoughts. I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me. Questioning thoughts that seem to be true—thoughts that may even feel like part of our identity—takes courage. When we find that courage to get still and go within, we are able to meet the freedom that lives on the other side of inquiry.”

– Byron Katie

Your very essence is peace

Your very essence is peace

Your very essence is peace. Your very nature is peace. You abide in peace.

So, if you find yourself not abiding in peace, you should ask yourself why. What is it that has ruffled your peace? What has taken away your peace?

Usually, peace is lost by a thought.

Whatever act done repeatedly becomes a habit

Whatever act done repeatedly becomes a habit

Whatever act through body, speech and mind that is done repeatedly becomes a habit, and quietly slips below the conscious mind.

Mental habits are useful, but they can also become harmful as circumstances change. What is an appropriate response initially may no longer be appropriate now.

So, re-examine your mental habits.

All Phenomena are Empty and Impersonal

All Phenomena are Empty and Impersonal

To be able to see that all phenomena are actually empty and impersonal is a huge realisation. It is the true characteristic of all natural phenomena, but the ego sees otherwise, and therefore suffers as a result.

It is equally true to say that all phenomena are empty and impersonal, but the ego sees them otherwise and therefore rejoices.

So, it is a matter of perspective whether one experiences happiness or suffering. This is only possible because the actual phenomenon is empty of any intrinsic values, except that which we give to it.

In short, our experiences are shaped by our views.

Truth and the Covid-19 Pandemic

Truth and the Covid-19 Pandemic

If there is any blessings arising from this Covid-19 pandemic, it is that it is showing us the importance of truth.This is because we cannot fight this pandemic with denials, lies and distortion of truth. Doing so only makes the situation worse for everyone.

There have been many reports of patients who have history of close contact with known Covid-19 patients denying this very important aspect of their medical history when they go and see their doctors. This resulted in triage error, thus sending them to doctors who are not properly attired and protected. Later, when they are tested positive, they finally admitted but by then it is already too late. Scores of healthcare personnel would have to be quarantined for at least 2 weeks. Sometimes, an entire clinic or department had to be closed down. At a time when we are already short of all kinds of healthcare resources, including skilled personnel, this is nothing short of a disaster.

Another important tool to fight this pandemic is accurate and truthful information. Unfortunately, there have been wide and indiscriminate dissemination of fake news and suspicious information disguised as coming from authentic authorities or experts. This means we will waste valuable time trying to sieve through what can be trusted and what are lies. Accurate information can help us understand the disease better, and make it easier for us to protect ourselves. Fake news are harmful, often giving false sense of security or trigger outright fear or panic.

Lastly, truth is not a privileged but a necessity in healthcare. One may distort reality and still succeed in politics or even business, but it is disastrous and even deathly when applied in healthcare. Little wonder that we now see our politicians, who are used to distorting realities, having a difficult time trying to cope with this pandemic. Their method is useless in this fight.Let the scientists and doctors take the driver’s seat in this fight, and the politicians humbly taking the backseat.

Universal Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic

Universal Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic

Starting out in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019, the Covid-19 virus has spread like wildfire all across the globe within just a few months. It is causing tremendous amount of destruction and disruption to our “normal” lifestyle. There are death and suffering everywhere it goes.

However, looking from a more spiritual perspective, this pandemic may be just the prescription humanity needed right now to reset our views and attitudes towards the world and towards each other, for it teaches us a few very fundamental and essential lessons about life.

  1. Accept reality, instead of resisting or fighting it
  2. Humanity must come together as one family
  3. Actions motivated by fear are destructive for everyone

Accept reality, instead of resisting or fighting it

This is examplified by countries that refuse to acknowledge the global nature of this virus, and by leaders who refuse to face the truth or speak the truth, thus causing the situation to become worse rapidly due to inaction or inappropriate actions. The best example of this is Donald Trump and the way he trivialized it until it became too late to act. Precious early opportunities to contain the spread were missed because of this refusal to acknowledge reality.

Humanity must come together as one family

Precious early opportunities were also missed in China in the early stage of the outbreak in Wuhan, also due to the refusal of their leaders to acknowledge it. However, when the outbreak became apparent, the Chinese government went all out to contain it and prevent its spread. During this time, the rest of the world simply watch and do nothing to help. Our attitude seems to be — it’s your problem, not mine. We should have learned from the Ebola outbreak that early concerted global effort can successfully contain a serious outbreak and prevent it from spreading further.

In addition, when a lockdown was ordered in Wuhan, many of their inhabitants willfully “escaped” the lockdown and travelled overseas, thus spreading the virus to other countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Thailand, etc. This created new clusters elsewhere, making it even harder to be contained, and effectively exporting the virus to the rest of the world. This selfish attitude is the actual cause of the pandemic.

However, this selfish attitude is not exclusive only to the Chinese in Wuhan. We see this selfish attitude in other countries and communities as well. In South Korea, the virus appears to have been well contained until participants in a religious congregation started spreading it elsewhere within and without the country. To date, many of the participants have still refused to come forward voluntarily to be tested. Similar challenges were seen in Malaysia.

In order to successful fight this pandemic, human beings must consciously and intentionally come together as one big family to think and care for each other, instead of acting through selfish impulses.

Actions motivated by fear are destructive for everyone

As we can see from the above, the Covid-19 virus is not the real enemy. The real enemy is fear. Fear and actions motivated by fear are the actual causes of this pandemic.

Fear is seen in many forms. Selfishness is one that we have discussed. Another equally destructive one is denial. The outbreak has shown us many examples of how people in denial of having the Covid-19 infection actually put themselves and their loved ones at risk, as well as their community and the healthcare frontliners working to save them. Everyone of us stand to lose when denial is at work.

This Covid-19 pandemic clearly shows us the negative consequences of actions motivated by fear.

On the other hand, we also see examples of positive consequences of actions motivated by love. We see healthcare workers facing the virus head on, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk so that we and our loved ones can stay safe. They are the real superheroes in our lives.

Basic Principles in Personal Transformation

Basic Principles in Personal Transformation

The most basic factor in personal transformation is the desire to change for the better. This desire to change must come personally from within for any chance of success. It is difficult if the desire to change is forced onto someone who does not want to change. So, personal transformation is a personal choice.

Once you have decided that you want to change for the better, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Awareness before change
  2. Believe that change is not only possible but desirable
  3. Courage to be honest with self
  4. Determination

Awareness Before Change

For any change to be possible, there must be an awareness that we have traits and habits that are not serving us well. By this, I mean, we have habits that are harmful to our well-being or are preventing us to actualise our full potentials. We need to acknowledge that we do have undesirable habits.

Some bad habits are easy to recognise and acknowledge. Others are not. Some may be so subtle that we cannot see them, or we may mistakenly see them as being good for us.

So how do we become more aware of our negative habits? Since we are both body and mind, we need to train ourselves to become more aware of our body and mind. To be more specific, personal transformation is better achieved by being more aware of our mind, and that means the two major aspect of our mind – feelings and thoughts.

The goal of awareness, therefore, is to become more aware of what is happening within us, i.e. our inner world of feelings and thoughts, our self-talk and inner voice. It may be useful to be super aware of what is happening outside of us, but this particular outward awareness is not as useful for us in affecting personal change. More useful for personal transformation is the awareness that we direct inward, in getting to know ourselves (self-knowledge), our feelings and thoughts.

How can we increase our inner self awareness? Here are some ways to do it:

  • Journaling
  • Mindfulness practice
  • Meditation

Believe that change is not only possible but desirable

This is another factor that is required for change to be possible. You have to believe that change is possible, and that it is desirable. Without this belief, you will not be motivated enough to even start.

On the other hand, the stronger you believe it, the more likely you are to succeed. Yes, beliefs are that powerful.

Beliefs are very intimately linked to faith and feelings. When you believe in something, you have faith in it, even when there is no evidence to back up your beliefs. People can get very emotional when their beliefs are challenged or threatened. That is why we have to be extra careful with beliefs. A wrong belief can easily destroy life, just as a right belief can inspire one to great things.

Beliefs can be either beneficial or harmful to us. What this means is that in order for us to become better human beings, we will eventually need to examine our own beliefs. We will need to first recognise our beliefs, determine whether they are self-limiting beliefs or life-enhancing beliefs, and then drop or change those limiting beliefs.

Hve you notice that the practice of spirituality begins with beliefs and ends with knowledge? In any religion, you first begin with faith in the teachings. That is a belief. Then, you must put in the inner work that will eventually lead you to discover the fundamental truths about yourself, about life and about existence. You end with personal experiential knowledge about that which you seek out.

Courage to be honest with self

“Honesty is the best policy” is most apt in this situation where we want to improve ourselves. Without this honesty, we will deny our limiting beliefs and habits, and avoid any effort to change.

So only those with courage will take the necessary steps to transform their lives. That is why this is often called the warrior’s path, or the way of the brave. It can be painful to come face to face with our own weaknesses and shortcomings, but this recognition and acknowledgement is a necessary step before change is possible.

The last factor is therefore putting in the commitment and determination to make the necessary changes in our lives.