When we cultivate the ability to align our words with our actions and highest intentions, it's like magic! Actually, words are like magic, anyway, as we have all read in books like “The Four Agreements” and “The Secret” as well as movies like “What the Bleep Do We Know?”
Perfecting our speech is a profound way to help us overcome negative thought patterns, and, let’s be honest here, we all have our moments when we struggle to overcome negativity and habitual patterned responses. We especially notice this if we are engaging in the practice of vigilantly watching our thoughts and upgrading our responses to stressful stimuli. As a matter of fact, when we first embark on the journey of watching our thoughts and attempting to align ourselves with our most elevated intentions, it is common to go through a period of frustration once we realize how deeply embedded some of those patterns actually are. Feeling overwhelmed by the seeming immensity of these deeply rooted patterns might even cause us to want to throw our hands up in the air and say, “what’s the point?”
I have come to realize that these moments of deepest despair and feeling like there is a long way to go are actually indicators of how close we are to removing them. Once we have defined our fear or perceived a shortcoming, we have basically destroyed it. Recognizing the issue is the key to upgrading it.
A few years ago, when I was reading “The Diamond Cutter” by Geshe Michael Roach, there was a Buddhist practice he explained that really stuck with me. In short, the practitioner would keep two bowls of small stones around. One was filled with white stones and the other with black stones. During the course of a day, as the practitioner watched their thoughts, they would place a white pebble in their pocket each time they had a positive thought and a black pebble in their pocket if they were having a negative thought. At the end of the day, they would count the number of each color. There were always more black pebbles than white.
You have to start somewhere…and that would be where you are right now. That requires being realistic and assessing where you have come from and where you want to be. This requires acceptance and patience, and, from my experience, the main way to develop patience and acceptance is to experience things that are challenging. Ram Dass, the great American spiritual teacher, often touches on this in his talks. In one instance, a questioner asked him if he ever gets angry. He replied “yes, I still get angry…but I find myself waking up sooner and sooner so that eventually the anger disappears more and more quickly.” He went on to explain that the way to improve our ability to wake up is to encounter experiences that trigger various negative emotions so that we get to practice waking up. (Not that we go out of our way to attract those situations, however recognizing them when they come up.)
This reminded me of one of my favorite teachings from Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. In response to a questioner who had hit a rough spot in his practice and was feeling discouraged, depressed and disillusioned, he said the following. “Doubting all. Refusing all. This is the fruit of your long sadhana (spiritual practice). This is when the soul has cast its moorings and is heading for distant shores. The old is over and the new has not yet come…The only way out is through.” Avoiding issues and pretending they don’t exist is living in denial and you will keep inviting them to return until you decide to deal with it. As we continue engaging in the “technology of transformation” as David Life, so eloquently refers to it, the important thing to remember is that wherever we are is perfect. Ram Dass says that even when we are having a thought such as “I should be meditating more” that it is still perfection.
In the same way, when we are in the process of upgrading and aligning our thoughts, words, and actions, it is important to realize this is a wild and mystical journey whose outcome far exceeds anything we ourselves could dream up. So, it is immensely helpful to do our best to stay engaged in the practice and not to judge it while it is in process. As yogis, we are engaged in an alchemical process. There is an alchemical precept that states, “through repetition the magic is forced to arise.” Alchemy is a science that seeks to turn ordinary metal into gold. Since yoga is a science that seeks to transform a normal body into an instrument of Divine will, it is worthwhile to follow the scientific method. According to Wikipedia, the scientific method refers to bodies of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical, and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process be objective to reduce biased interpretations of the results. The four basic steps that comprise the Scientific Method are as follows:
1. Use your experience: Consider the problem and try to make sense of it. Look for previous explanations. If this is a new problem to you, then move to step 2.
2. Form a conjecture: When nothing else is yet known, try to state an explanation, to someone else, or to your notebook.
3. Deduce a prediction from that explanation: If you assume 2 is true, what consequences follow?
4. Test: Look for the opposite of each consequence in order to disprove 2.
It is a logical error to seek 3 directly as proof of 2. This error is called affirming the consequent. As an on-going experiment, let's see what happens when we say what we mean and mean what we say.
Patanjali suggests that when we practice satya or truthfulness that our words will gain potency, that others will really listen to us, and that what we say will come true. “Truth is sought for its own sake. And those who are engaged upon the quest for anything for its own sake are not interested in other things. Finding the truth is difficult, and the road to it is rough.” ~Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen, 965–1039), one of the key figures in developing scientific method.