Think Kind Thoughts, Use Kind Words

  • Think Kind Thoughts, Use Kind Words

Last week was the first anniversary of our daughter’s wedding. All week long I kept finding myself remembering the sweetness, the love, the joy, the delicious food, music, and gorgeous gardens, but mostly remembering the palpable goodwill and generosity of everyone there. Weddings are like that; they help us let go of ourselves long enough to feel the joy of others and for others, and offer blessings of love and living a life of kindness. There is a lot to be said for thinking good thoughts.

The second factor of the Eightfold Path is Wise Thought or Intention. I like to think of it as both thought and intention because they are not the same as each other. The mind thinks thoughts, but it’s what we do with those thoughts that matters. In the classical Buddhist teachings, Wise Thought/Intention is comprised of three components: renunciation, (letting go of the quality of desire that keeps us locked in the handcuffs of incessant craving), goodwill, and harmlessness. For instance, having an unkind thought and not acting on it is an example of all three components. In fact, noticing the unkind thought and deliberately letting it go and replacing it with a kind thought is not only skillful and well-intended, but good for the mind and heart, one’s spirit.

The thought manifests as the word
The word manifests as the deed
The deed develops into habit
And the habit hardens into character
So watch the thought and its ways with care
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings

The Buddha taught that “what one frequently thinks and ponders upon will become the inclination of the mind.” This is really true. As I found myself reminiscing about the wedding, I felt happy and uplifted. Conversely, anger works the same way. A person who has predominantly angry thoughts is likely to feel unhappy, distressed and angry. The brain works likes that.

 Another way of saying this comes from neuroscience. “In 1949, Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, wrote what has become known as Hebb’s axiom: ‘Neurons that fire together wire together.’ Each experience we encounter, whether a feeling, a thought, a sensation—and especially those that we are not aware of—is embedded in thousands of neurons that form a network (“net”). Repeated experiences become increasingly embedded in this net, making it easier for the neurons to fire (respond to the experience), and more difficult to unwire or rewire them to respond differently.”[2]

Further, the brain has a natural negativity bias, as if it’s Velcro for the difficult and Teflon for the pleasant. This is actually very good news because with mindfulness practice, we train ourselves to notice thoughts and then be deliberate about what to do about them. It’s been shown that by focusing on positive thoughts for 30 seconds five times per day, and noticing how they feel, moments of well-being, that over time we can actually change our wiring making our default setting closer to the happiness end of the spectrum.[3] I think that is amazing.

What’s even more amazing to me is that the Buddha figured that out 2,500 years ago through his explorations of his own mind.

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led by mind,

Made by mind.

Speak or act with a corrupted mind,

And suffering follows

As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led by mind,

Made by mind.

Speak or act with a peaceful mind,

And happiness follows

Like a never-departing shadow.

               The Buddha, The Dhammapada

And for our more contemporary minds, this comes from a dear friend, 

         “Think kind thoughts, use kind words.”

 I love that. It really encompasses the intent of mindfulness practice. Perhaps it’s the whole of the Dharma.

[1]Unknown source, though sometimes attributed to the Buddha and other contemporary teachers

[2]Curt Thompson, MD,, July 14, 2010

[3]James Baraz, Awakening Joy, 2010

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