-William Shakespeare from Hamlet
Since beginning this blog in May of 2010, I have not had a month go by without writing at least one post. This, in and of itself, doesn't really mean much of anything. But, the thought of missing a month shames me into squeezing in an entry at the last possible minute. Again, though, missing a month isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's my thoughts about this omission that color it negatively.
In this way, our mind is an incredible tool. Our thoughts can overwhelm us to the point of being immobilized by fear, doubt and anxiety. Similarly, it is our thoughts that can approach any situation and see the cup as half full.
It's all in our perspective. It's all in our thoughts.
Knowing this should inspire us to view life's challenges as opportunities to grow. It should enable us to deal with life's problems as chances to work on things like patience, humility, ingenuity or even determination. Our knowledge of this mental trick, however, often escapes us. Our thoughts frequently get overshadowed by our emotions and feelings and instead of being able to view a situation positively, the storms of doubt come rumbling in and wash away our hope of optimism.
Or, sometimes our thoughts become so intense and multiply so rapidly that before we know it we are shackled with worry. Take the Syfy Channel's show, "Total Blackout". While I've not seen an episode, I understand the premise to be that contestants participate in games in complete darkness, not knowing whether the bucket into which they're placing their hand is filled with their worst fear or something else. Of course, the show is capitalizing on the power of our minds.
Jesus warns us about giving into such negative thoughts:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?" (Matthew 6: 25 - 27).
He goes on to encourage us:
"Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil" (Matthew 6: 34).And yet we worry. We doubt. We complain. We act from places of emotion instead of thought. We think too much without being aware of our thoughts. We forget (which literally means that we are unable to think of) that nothing is either good or bad, but that our thoughts make it so. We live a life unworthy of our heavenly heritage.
The Buddhist tradition has a saying from Lord Buddha (from the Dhammapada) that illustrates the importance of thinking positively:
"We are what we think. What we are is the result of our thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as unshakable as your shadow."With our eyes and minds fixed on Jesus, the "leader and perfecter of our faith" we can do incredible things. We can "persevere in running the race marked out before us" (Hebrews 12:1), we can walk on water, we can move mountains, we can cure the sick, give sight to the blind, pick up serpents with our bare hands and be unharmed. With our minds fixed on Christ, we can avoid the traps of negativity.
We can adequately conquer the evil that is sufficient for its own day.
This takes effort. It takes practice. It requires patience. It takes consciousness. It demands faith.
As Catholic educators, we would do well not only to model this behavior but also to teach our students how to do it. A disciplinary situation is a chance to walk more closely with Christ. A low test grade is an opportunity to reflect on how effective a particular study habit was. A disagreement with a friend isn't reason to bag the relationship but an invitation to work on listening, discussing and problem solving. Receiving a deluge of homework is a moment to work on organization.
Focusing on positive thinking doesn't guarantee a trouble free or even stress free life. It won't have you bouncing out of bed ready to tackle the day's challenges! It won't make you extra money. It won't give you fame or even make you well liked.
But, then again, I suppose and should probably (if I take my own advice) think that thinking can make even these things so. We do, after all, make our world with our thoughts.
Think about making it something good.