Humans are so interesting and paradoxical! None of us enjoys the company of those whose attitudes are persistently negative. I have several students who fall into that category and if they should miss a test question, for example, it’s never due to their own lack of studying or preparing, it’s always my fault “for not teaching it to us.” These are the ones who, alas, will probably carry their negative chatter into adulthood unless they come to see how harmful that is. We are so accustomed to the stream of self-limiting, critical consciousness that winds its way through our thoughts, we are often unaware of the impact these thoughts have on our lives. It is only when we become aware of the power of such thoughts that we can rid ourselves of them and fill up on gratitude and the positive outlook that comes from trusting deeply in the God who made us. If we just take a few minutes to examine our thinking and the way our mind works while are, say, driving home from work, a lot of us might be shocked at how much negativity is lurking within our heads. When we take notice of involuntary thoughts in a non-judgmental way, i.e., without getting down on ourselves and thinking we’re “bad”, we can more easily set these thoughts aside. Like most healings, this is a process that could take some time.
While the occasional negative or judgmental thought may be seen as having little impact on the overall quality of our life, these things can have a subtle effect on our prayer life, the way we view God, and even cause us to question or doubt the love we have from others. We spend a lot of time worrying about how to “change” external situations when, in reality, we can only change ourselves. As every Benedictine discovers the first time he reads the Rule, Benedict gives us a lot of meditations and instruction on learning how to listen to and observe the most authentic reality we can ever experience: the Presence of God. When we enter into prayerful silence and become aware of the tone of our thoughts, we can choose to challenge and change them.
A good starting point might be to take a single day when we know we’ll be largely undistracted, and attempt to be conscious about our feelings, opinions, and judgments for that day. From rising in the morning to going to bed in the evening, we could evaluate the messages we are silently repeating to ourselves in our subconscious mind. Try to be objective, considering the situation from a detached distance and simply note the existence of negative, ungrateful thoughts. Don’t judge yourself and put yourself down, simply observe the flow of your consciousness and keep a record of the number of times you find yourself focusing on the negative or on judging yourself or others.
As we become increasingly aware of our patterns of thought, both positive and negative, we will gradually learn where our resistance to gratitude lies. Remember that just because a thought or idea passes through your mind that does not mean they are always a true picture of who you are, even though they have the power, if held in mind, to shape you—for better or worse—into someone you may or may not want to be.
In training yourself to be cognizant of your thoughts, you gain the ability to actively engage in prayerful gratitude at all times, which is after all what St. Paul recommends we do. This inner awareness will eventually enable you to create an authentic foundation of real gratitude for all that God has done and is doing in your life right now.
Have a great week!