“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
Watch your words, they become actions;
Watch your actions, they become habits;
Watch your habits, they become character;
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
My first brush with this profound statement was in my early school days. I fail to remember if I was formally introduced to it or I happened by it. Later, in one ‘Moral Science’ period our teacher lectured us on the meaning of this statement. It had a tremendous impact on me. Unfortunately the influence was a negative one.
The gist of the meaning (that our ‘Moral’ teacher gave us that day) was that we need to keep our thoughts in control else we would end up speaking them. We need to keep our tongue in check; else we would end up acting our statements out. We need to control our actions for otherwise they would become our habits and if we do not control our habits they will become our character. And finally our character will chart our destiny. So it all begins with controlling your bad thoughts. The phrase ‘negative thought’ wasn’t familiar to me back them; just good thoughts and bad thoughts. So “Do NOT have bad thoughts!”
That meaning could not have been any farther from the real meaning of the statement. Regrettably, I didn’t understand the statement any better that day and the ‘Moral Science’ class unwittingly sowed one of the early seeds of guilt and self-hatred in me.
I vividly remember trying to control my thoughts and words. To my despair, the more I tried to control the bad thoughts the more they seemed to pop like corn on stove. In desperation, I tried to investigate what bad thoughts were. That made things worse. As I delved to find out the bad, I ended up discovering more bad than I could think up of before. Creative exploration of how many more bad thoughts could I come up with given a situation became a compulsive mental stance. Finally I made some sort of temporary peace with my mind by accepting the thoughts and telling myself that this is how I was – different from others – and I simply needed to keep it a secret. But the inner guilt and self-hatred were quietly weaving away their garbs.
It was not until many many years later that I discover the real meaning of the statement and that too by accident. I had then shifted back to Chennai with my wife and had set up my Hypnotherapy practice there. By a quirk of chance, I had chanced upon Eckhart’s Power of Now and had begun a deep practice of mindfulness. It was a blissful period for me. I often used my walks and other routine activities to become mindful and present. So during one of those days, I walked to a nearby stationary-cum-xerox store to photocopy some documents. As the man and the machine hummed away, I simply stood there aware of my being and thoughts. And on the wall right across was an A3 size poster with the same sentence again staring at me. Standing there in mindful awareness, the profound meaning of the statement hit me in the face.
All that the statement ever asked of us was to simply watch. Observe. To be mindful. Not to control, condition, claim, manipulate, organize, or meddle in any other way but to simply be aware of thoughts as they happen.
Watch your thoughts. Be aware of them.
Notice your speech. Be aware of what you are saying.
Witness your actions. Just witness them.
Are you aware of your habits? Just be aware.
No judgment implied whatsoever. Nothing about good thought or a bad thought. Just a plain statement on watching one’s thoughts. No secondary meaning of holding your tongue or repressing your voice. Habits are so regular and ingrained into us that we hardly ever notice them. The statement simply asks us to know about our habits. To see them.
Every second statement is a simple statement of truth.
Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions…
See how the spiral of waves move from subtle to gross, from thoughts to words, from words to grosser actions, from actions to habitual patterns, habits to character, and character to something both fine and gross at the same time – destiny. Like the spiral of a conch shell! So the statement also spirals outwards as a pointer to how things evolve – from within.
Such a profound statement!
But what is the use of it, if all it asks us to do is to watch without doing anything to stop us from becoming ‘bad’ or undesirable individuals?
Well the fear that we’d become ‘bad’ probably comes from our childhood programming where the statement was made in a very negative and tragic sense. “Control yourself, else you’ll suffer the consequences.” This makes the statement seems an affirmation of journey of a derailed life towards its inevitable destruction. But that’s not true.
The statement actually asks us to do something about it – in fact, it asks us to do something extraordinarily potent act. To watch.
Watching, as in simply being aware of something, being mindful, is a very powerful act. Suddenly in the state of awareness, we are pulled out of realm of judgments, desires and aversions. By becoming aware of ourselves we open up a field of possibilities beyond control and manipulation. We are not getting pulled into inferences and implications of our observed thoughts and actions. We are simply watching. The act of watching can simply dissolve our impulses to reaffirm (through desiring or denying) and anchor our behaviors in grosser patterns. Awareness helps dissolve the solidified and the crystallized. The truth is the power of awareness is best understood through experiencing it.
The statement also has nothing to do with age. It is never too late is something I’ve innately believed in and found to be true in most of my situations. Though I’ve come across the statement as a kid, I applied its wisdom only much later as an adult. And through application, I’ve come to realize that awareness is a natural aspect of life itself, a natural state of being and we can tap into it anytime we choose. And that awareness can become the key to unlock our potential to heal, to find peace, to discover who we are, and to be – to simply be.
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