Imagine this situation: If you take two dogs that haven’t eaten for a day, one of which is weak, old and sick, and the other is healthy and strong, and you put a piece of meat between them, the strong dog will eat the meat, no doubt about it.
But if, instead of the dogs, there are two starving people, one of them old, weak and sick and the other one young and strong, and you put some food between them, it’s likely that the stronger person will eat the food. But is not 100% sure, as there is the possibility for the younger person to choose not to eat all the food himself/herself, but to share it. In the first case, the person choice was based on instinct. On the second, it was base on his intelligence.
These two scenarios can help us understand a hugely important thing: that we, as human beings, have the capacity to choose. We can act out of instinct, just like a dog will do. Or we can act out of intelligence.
We believe that life is created by the things that happen to us: that if we are lucky in our work we will have a good life; that if we find the right partner we will be happy; that if we live in a good city we will have fun, etc. But in reality life is not created by what happens to us, but by the way we chose to see those happenings.
We have a very specific tool in our brain: the capacity to choose between one thing and another. If I have some food, I can decide if am I going to eat it now, eat it later, give it away or share it. There are many options for each given moment, and this is very useful to know, especially when it comes to our thoughts.
Most of the time we don’t realize that the thoughts we have in our heads are things—an energy—that appear in us. With only a very little observation we can see that we don’t really choose most of our thoughts, but that they just happen to come for many reasons.
(Here I can make a distinction between thoughts. There are the very practical useful thoughts like: I need to brush my teethes, I forgot the keys of my car, I have an appointment at 10, etc, etc. These thoughts are practical in nature and useful and can be completely left alone.
On the other hand, we have hundreds of others thoughts that are telling a story, most often a painful one: I am not good enough, she is hurting me, he is not considerate, I don’t like him/her, I need more of ‘that’, what would happen to me if I fail, what if I get sick, etc, etc. These are the kind of thoughts I will be referring to throughout this note.)
When a thought appears in our heads, we take it as something that belongs to us, when, in reality, it belongs to our conditioning, to our history, to the past, to what in psychology is known as the unconscious or in other philosophies as the casual body. What is actually ours, is the capacity to choose, to discriminate. We need to ask ourselves: is this thought that appears in my head useful or useless? Is it telling the truth or is it telling a lie? Is it appropriate for this moment or is it our of place?
We don’t have the obligation to follow every thought just because it appeared in our head, but we can consider whether it is an intelligent, useful, constructive thought, or whether it will simply create more suffering.
It is the capacity to choose between thoughts, and not the capacity for thinking, what actually define us as human beings.
Socrates once he said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. What we should examine in our lives is our own thoughts, because it is our thoughts that create our life, and nothing else, not the government, not the place where we live, not our personal history.
The way we react to the things that happen to us is what gives meaning to what happened, not the happening itself. The same thing can happen to two people and the two people are going to react in two completely different ways in exactly the same situation. Why is that? Because the situation doesn’t have a meaning in itself. Life doesn’t have a meaning. We are the ones who give a meaning to life. It is our thoughts and our beliefs that create the meaning.
For instance, we may believe that the more money we have, the better we will be. But there are many people who are very rich, and are also very unhappy (probably comfortably unhappy). And there are also many people who don’t have much, but are very content and satisfied. And, of course, there are people who don’t have money and are miserable and people who have it and are happy. The point is that it is not what happens to us, but how we interpret what happens to us that gives the meaning.
It is very important to check our thoughts at all time because we have thoughts all the time. Even right now, as we read these words, there are hundreds of thoughts running through our head. But the thoughts are not the problem. The problem appears when we start believing the thoughts without checking them, without discriminating or examining them.
We cannot stop having thoughts–this is the job of our intellect, to create thoughts–but we can stop believing them without examining them. This is our choice.
This is what yoga really is. Yoga is not just about twisting our bodies, this is only a fraction of it. Yoga is about finding a balance between body and mind. It is a method that helps us see things as they are and to become more awake.
During the Yogilates classes we will do both – we will twist our bodies, and we will also check our thoughts*.
That is one of the reasons there is so much emphasis in the clases about presence. Without presence, there is only instinct choice; intelligent choice always starts with presence.
*One of the main critics that i hear of this process is its apparent lack of spontaneity. There is a ‘new age’ fashion that considers spontaneity as a very important trait, and of course, continuously checking our thoughts seems to cut our spontaneity.
But spontaneity based on an unexamined mind is a recipe for suffering. For true spontaneity—a wonderful virtue—the mind has to be free of conditioning, free of false beliefs, free of egoism, free of fear or, at its very least, free of unintelligent thoughts. The majority of the time (there can be exceptions to this but they are quite rare) our spontaneity will reflect our needs. If I feel lonely, spontaneity will look for company. If I feel unhappy, spontaneity will act accordingly. If I feel upset, spontaneity will express that feeling. But loneliness, unhappiness and upsetness, for example, are unintelligent expressions based on our unexamined (wrong) conclusions of things that happen to us. And any spontaneity based on these wrong conclussions is fuel for suffering. Before spontaneity, a ‘mind cleaning’ is necessary, and this is exactly what this process of checking our thoughts is used for.