I teach a program with the audacious title of "Living a Transcendent Life." Teaching this program has been the most impacting aspect of my career, even though I previously spent over 25 years as a therapist thinking deeply about how to help people resolve conflicts, deal with psychic pain and addictions and change their lives.
This course is a "think tank" where I begin with a rough outline, and during the session, something profound happens. I transform, develop clearer, more sophisticated thinking and coming up with ideas that I have never had before. A few months ago, confronted with my students' persistent frustration with HOW TO live a transcendent life I got an interesting idea. What if the old notion of "change your thinking and change your life" really is true? What if we CAN, in fact, what if we MUST take on the task of transforming our inner landscape so that we are free of the often-negative litany of monologs that plague our minds? Perhaps we need to stop the insane negative treadmill of thinking to experience the transcendent nature we seek.
By "transcendent nature" I mean living with more loving, peaceful, creative and accepting thoughts, attitudes and beliefs. As you do, your experience of life changes.
To make this notion concrete, let me give you an example. I have had numerous students come to my programs who want to change their career because they "can't stand their job." Rather than taking this complaint at face value and addressing the OUTER CIRCUMSTANCE of finding a new job, I go to work on their inner landscape and have them get in touch with the negativity IN THEM that has their experience of their career be so unpleasant. Each time I do this process, the student ended up loving their job and colleagues. Some of them still chose a career change down the road, but that decision came from a place of self-expression rather than self- preservation. Self-expression elevates, self-preservation stagnates. What I find with those who change jobs without addressing their consciousness is that they end up with a different job but having THE SAME EXPERIENCE OF THE JOB - they end up hating it. Why? They have not transformed their inner landscape of negativity.
So what is the experiment that changed my life and the lives of my students? Here it is:
1. For two weeks, allow nothing negative to come out of your mouth. Do not complain, judge, criticize or express worry. That may sound unreasonable, and it is. In fact, I told my students that most of them would fail before they got to their cars that evening to go home!
You will need to find other ways to express certain things. For example, if someone shares a difficulty with you, rather than automatically saying, "That's too bad," or "That's so hard," you could say, "I feel for you" (empathy) or "Let me know how I can support you" (compassion). Or if you feel hurt, you could express, "I am feeling the complexity and richness of human emotions right now" rather than going into the story of why you are upset.
2. To keep this in existence, get an "accountabilibuddy" to check in with every day, so you keep the practice alive.
3. After engaging in this practice this for two weeks, go to the next level where you now also include your INNER CONVERSATIONS. Allow no negative, worrisome, complaining, critical thoughts in your mind.
How do you do that? When you notice yourself thinking negatively, simply say to yourself, "I'm not thinking that way for these two weeks. I am doing my experiment," and then shift your thinking to something else, anything else!
This practice is rigorous. It does not matter that you will fail at eliminating negative speech and thoughts. What matters is that you begin noticing your habitual patterns. This process is designed to increase your consciousness and your ability to live in peacefulness, acceptance, joy and love.
Here are some of the outcomes experienced by the group:
· New job offers emerged unexpectedly
· An entrepreneur earned a higher income than any previous month
· Weight loss and improved nutritional habits
· Improved sleep
· Increase in creativity and inspiration
· Decreased depressive and anxious symptoms
· Increased happiness and peace of mind
After the four weeks, everyone marveled at the difference. They all reported feeling lighter, happier, less stressed and even that they liked themselves better. Try it for yourself and see. It is possible to change your thinking once you understand the benefits of doing so, and you are willing to commit to a consistent practice.