Think about the odd experience of being born. From nowhere, *poof* we are here. And, we have no idea where we have come from or where we are going after this experience. We are just here. We are very much aware we are here but we have no idea what here is and even what we are.
We see that there are others that have been here longer than us. We rely on them to explain to us what “here” is and who we are. They give us a name and they also have names. We learn language and our world becomes based on distinctions in that language. Essentially, what we know we learned from other people. If those people were wise, we learned wise things. If they were not, it could lead to much unnecessary suffering.
Whether we realize it or not, all of our minds have been programmed since the time we were born by these and other people. The term we use for this is “conditioning”. We are all slaves to our conditioned minds. Unconsciously, we act out our programming much like a computer. Most human beings live their entire lives unaware that this is happening.
Here at The Peaceful Minds Center we become acutely aware that this is happening. Consciously, through devotion to our practice, we work to dissolve this conditioning. We challenge our old, habitual ways of being (Zen Cards). This process takes many, many years for most of us. Our conditioning is very strong and we are slaves to it. Due to the lengthy process of dissolving the conditioning of the mind we require something to make the journey more palatable. A useful tool to that end is Affirmations.
While we are still dwelling in thoughts and have not yet reached enlightenment, affirmations can help us focus our attention on pleasant thoughts as opposed to troubling thoughts. Understand clearly that we are not trading our old conditioning for new and improved conditioning. That conditioning would be fatally flawed too. The path is to dissolve the ego and the conditioning to be left as the pure and beautiful awareness … To transcend thought … Thought becomes a tool not and identity. Affirmations help us “undo” thoughts that cause suffering as they come up but in and of themselves are not enlightenment.
For example, when something doesn’t go my way my mind is conditioned in such a way that thoughts arise like, “See, it will never happen for you”, “It’s never going to work out”, “You’re not good enough and this is proof”. Anyone who’s ever experienced thoughts like these knows that they are far less than pleasant. In fact, if we dwell on them for too long they can create depression or anxiety. The good news is that thoughts only have as much power as you give them. They are fed by your attention. You can consciously guide your attention to an affirmation and soon you will notice that the uncomfortable feelings are leaving you. One day, you won’t even need the affirmation to do this. However, in the beginning they can be useful.
The affirmation that I like to use in these times is, “The Universe is always conspiring to help me”. I repeat it to myself. I bring my attention to it and hold it there. This affirmation states that things are happening for me and not to me – even when it does seem that way. How many times has adversity brought with it many gift that you couldn’t at first see? By repeating this affirmation I soon begin to forget the other thoughts. Once they are forgotten, they can no longer bother me.
It’s very important to leave your ego out of your affirmations! “I’m the best …” type of affirmations only inflate the ego. Affirmations should be humble, clear and devoid of even the most subtle ego. Don’t let your ego sneak in the back door!
If you find that your affirmations are not working to change your state of mind you may be experiencing a vasana or a strong identification with a thought or belief. If this happens it may require some cognitive work or mentoring. Affirmations are not strong enough medicine to undo these types of things. If you notice something like this running your mind, get with someone you trust to help you see clearly. We can become so deeply identified with a thought that to let it go is so scary and uncomfortable that we cling to it for dear life! Be wise and clear enough to realize that this is happening and ask for help when you need it.
Ultimately, you will lose interest in thoughts all together. Your true nature of Loving Kindness, Compassion and Patience will shine through unabated and it will be the most peaceful and wonderful feeling you have ever felt. You will know that you are home. Until then, it can be useful to create some affirmations on which to rest your attention. They will feel good to you. If, for now, we are going to be either identified with thought or strongly influenced by it, then let’s make them thoughts that bring us moments of peace and joy.
Tom Notarianni Jr.
Founder of The Peaceful Minds Center