“A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
This quote is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, an American writer and philosopher, studied Indian texts like the Bhagavad Gita. He believed, as yogis do, that the world we experience is created by our thoughts. This principle is as old as humanity itself.
Here’s a simple example of how someone’s thoughts materialize into physical reality. A student might think, I want to become a nurse. She chooses a nursing college and curriculum. Along the way, she notices I am becoming a nurse. When she has graduated from college and is working at her first job, she thinks I am a nurse. It takes many years of college and practice to become a nurse. But eventually, the student’s desire is realized. The prize is won.
You have already become your thoughts. You are living proof of the power of thought. Whoever or whatever you are today is the product of your past thinking. Often, we’re not even aware of the thinking that made our world. We go through life on a sort of autopilot. But that isn’t the best or fastest way to achieve any goal.
Obviously, we want to use the power of creative thought to realize all our dreams. But some resources, like time, are limited, so we must be selective. This is especially true for spiritual aspirants because the goal is so high—and the distractions of the world are so many.
The intent of this exercise is to build awareness of whether your thoughts align with your most important goals. This is not a bucket list, but a form of deep contemplation. Following is a set of prompts to get you started. As in other spiritual exercises, it’s helpful to consider these questions during a quiet time of the day, such as before or after meditating. Writing your answers, either by hand or digitally, will help clarify your thoughts.
- Where, in my life, have I experienced the power of my thoughts?
- What do I believe, in my heart, is the most valued goal of life?
- What would I do with my time if money were no object?
- How would I spend my life if I had a terminal disease, expecting to live only a few more weeks?
You should return to these questions on a regular basis. The exercise is never completed, because as we mature in wisdom, the answers can change. The purpose of review is important; it keeps us focused on the spiritual path.
Questions like those offered above are often suggested by self-improvement courses. Have you considered other similar questions in the past? Please share them with us in the comments section below.
Quiet Karma regularly publishes spiritual exercises. Please subscribe to get these and other articles on yoga and spirituality delivered directly to your inbox.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.
A quote by Marcus Aurelius,
“The universe is change; Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
Great quote, Tosh! The wisdom of Marcus Aurelius is a perfect fit for yogic principles. Thank you.
All the questions you provided are all so good. However, this is the question that I seem to reflect on a lot these days:
What do I believe, in my heart, is the most valued goal of life?
Being Godlike in all that I do is priceless and utmost important. I feel tremendous gratitude that I can even think and value this as goal.
Thank you Svami Chityānanda for the good questions and article.
Thank you, Nakisa. I’m so happy to hear that you’re contemplating such an important question. Your gratitude is appropriate — it’s uncommon for people to do that kind of introspection. You are the one-in-a-million that the Bhagavad Gita refers to. That’s a lot to be thankful for! Namaste.
Thank you for the article. It is a short read, but there’s much to contemplate.
Re: “How would I spend my life if I had a terminal disease, expecting to live only a few more weeks?” Things get serious when we really contemplate death. I think about what life’s purpose should be; I think about how I am spiritually and how my spirit will be when l leave this body.
This also reminds me of a story about the saint, Eknath Maharaj. Eknath falsely told a rich man he would die within a week. Hearing this, the rich man become focused on the futility of life. Eknath’s lesson made the rich man dispassionate towards life. Isn’t this the first step on the spiritual path?
Yes, Modesto, dispassion is a huge step in the right direction. Dispassion is about letting go of desires that distract us. Peace follows from that effort, and then we have more time for introspection and meditation. — I agree with you about the importance of contemplating one’s death. It helps to keep us moving in the right direction. Namaste.
Good morning, Steve Jobs molded his life through sheer will power. Napoleon Hill had a saying “A man will gravitate to where he belongs just as surely as water seeks its level.”
Thank you, Tony. That’s an interesting quote from Napoleon Hill. Was that from his book Think and Grow Rich? That’s an excellent book for people on the spiritual path. All you have to do is replace financial goals with spiritual goals — then the book’s principles fit quite nicely. Namaste.