“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.
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Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.