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On Transformative Thinking

By Ziv Porat

The journey of life requires us to transform, grow and evolve. Without doing so we are bound to find ourselves stuck, frustrated and subjected to some kind of discomfort or pain. Life has a persistent way of reminding us that we have to move forward. The main obstacle to this progress arises from unproductive or negative, habitual ways of thinking and behaving. Negative behavioral patterns seem to be hard to break and unhealthy thought patterns even more so. Many of us have tried to overcome these impediments with varying degrees of success.

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In yogic teachings a stress is placed on such transformative or positive thinking. It is in one form or another the essential practice of any spiritual path, especially in its beginning and intermediate phases. In Raja yoga, the yoga system from which we have borrowed the physical culture of yoga poses and breathing exercises, such transformative thinking is emphasized and utilized. In the classical text of Raja yoga, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there is a verse that beautifully describes the practice of positive thinking: “When negative or harmful thoughts disturb the mind, they can be overcome by constant pondering over their opposites”[1]. This short verse reveals much about this wonderful and necessary practice.

In the yogic tradition thoughts and emotions are not considered to be two different entities; an emotion is known to be a particular kind of thought pattern. Even though our psychological and physiological experience of thoughts, on the one hand and of emotions on the other is different, they are but mental modifications of different amplitudes, as it were. Emotional states and thoughts are intimately linked as well; they mutually support and produce each other. Habitual thoughts of dislike toward a person turn into anger and in due time this will yield hatred. The emotions of anger and hatred will in turn produce copious thoughts of a similar nature. We frequently find ourselves trying to manage unwholesome emotions and attitudes. This fact makes the direct way of transforming both into beneficial patterns, as suggested in the verse from the Yoga Sutras, a very potent remedy for such a pervasive tendency.

The statement, “disturb the mind” in this verse is quite significant. When negative thoughts and emotions flood the mind they actually cause a disturbance, which induces mild or intense pain. When the calm surface of a lake is disturbed by powerful currents and high winds (unwholesome attitudes, emotions and habits), then the outcome would be huge and violent waves. The waves are akin to our mental agitation, emotional difficulties, unproductive attitudes, less then desirable impulsiveness, irrational behavior, harmful habits etc.

Some years ago, while on a trip to India, I attended a class in which the teacher explained positive thinking with a lovely analogy. He asked the students how they would transform milk in a large and heavy jug into water. Since the milk jug is very heavy it cannot be lifted or tipped and therefore the idea of poring the milk out wouldn’t work. The answer, he said, is to fill a smaller and more manageable pitcher with water, using it to pour the water into the large milk jug. This will cause some milk diluted with some water to spill out and repeating this process will cause the same result. If one keeps poring water into the jug that was once filled with milk, that would further dilute the milk each time we pore water into it. After repeating this action numerous times, the milk jug would be rendered empty of milk and filled with clear water.

This delightful analogy gives us the essence of positive thinking, which is also the foundation of most positive behavioral changes. The yogis tell us that we are not to waste our time trying to push away the negative patterns for this is a useless activity; mind would only resist this coercion and persist with its unwholesome thoughts and habits. The suggestion is a simple one, that is, to consistently and continuously think on the positive opposite, i.e. reflecting on and putting to use the wholesome mental habit that we are trying to create. The suggested method is to invest our intention and effort in cultivating a positive and desirable mental habit. We are to do so without expending much energy in the attempt to eradicate the negative one that we are trying to replace. Once the positive pattern is strongly established and deeply rooted in the mind, the unwholesome pattern will be diminished of its own accord till it vanishes altogether. The practice of transformative thinking is therefore a more pleasant task of implementing positive changes rather than fighting negative ones.

The essentials of this practice, as mentioned previously, are consistency and continuity. It’s about thinking positively in the face of whatever negativity the mind insists on projecting. Since the conditioned, unwholesome habits are deeply ingrained in the mind they will persist for quite a while. We cannot expect an overnight transformation and the yogis advise us to stay the course no matter how long the negativity lingers. Success in this practice is dependent not on its forcefulness, but rather on its steady implementation. The yogis encourage us not to lose heart after a week, a month or a year of sporadic attempts, but rather to keep our effort steady and unceasing. The secret to success is to have trust in the process, confidence in oneself, tenacity and unwavering endurance.

The yogis encourage us to hold fast to the truth that any perceived failure in this practice is only a temporary setback; it will certainly be overcome if we persist. The concept of ‘failure’ itself is part of the unfavorable pattern that we are trying to change. It is an unnecessary and burdensome way of perceiving ourselves and our efforts. It puts shackles on our legs preventing us from moving forward. We need to stop seeing our apparent lack of success in a negative light but instead see it as a stimulus for firmer resolve and further effort. A statement of unknown origin comes to mind in regard to the idea of a perceived failure, “It is not how many times you fall which counts, but how many times you get up.”

The yogis also recommend embracing the attitudes of confidence and cheerfulness, as part of positively transforming our way of thinking. Confidence will allow the seeds of self-development and spiritual progress to mature, protected from the pests of self-doubt. Confidence is the force that gives strength and a steady direction to our thoughts and actions. Cheerfulness is the indispensible lubricant of any transformative process that we undertake. Without a jovial attitude we are bound to get disappointed, stop our efforts and succumb to the weight of the difficulties that we encounter. Therefore, a sense of humor and a cheerful attitude will promote not only success but also a more harmonious journey.

“Never lose faith in yourself, you can do anything in this universe. Never weaken, all power is yours”[2]. These are the instructive words of a great yogi; we may wish to remember that this is not a random statement or a mere pep talk, but rather a statement of fact that was inspired by its author’s firsthand experience and knowledge. This knowledge can and will become our own, if we invest a positive intention, plot a steady course forward, apply effort and possess a desire to realize our own amazing potential.

[1] Swami Vishnudevananda, Meditation and Mantras, NY, Om Lotus Publishing, 1981, page 169
[2] Swami Vivekananda, The The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 7/Inspired Talks/Thursday, August 1, Wikisource, en.wikisource.org/ Date accessed 11/29/2017

About the author:
Ziv Porat has been studying and practicing Yoga and Vedanta as spiritual discipline in the Sivananda tradition since the ‘80s. He has educated students on the physical and spiritual aspects of Yoga and Vedanta in California, Israel, and Spain. He conducts workshops and writes about spiritual development, coaches individuals and teaches weekly yoga and health classes at retirement communities in the SF Bay Area. Ziv strives to make the great teachings of Yoga and Vedanta accessible, interesting and inviting. Website: https://lightonspiritualliving.com

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Love And Knowledge – Are They Different?

by Ziv Porat

Is there a difference between love and knowledge? At first glance this appears to be a rather silly question, since it seems to compare apples to oranges. The personal experience of loving, on the one hand and of knowing on the other, are so very different, how could they be the same, or even similar? One might assume that the more reasonable question should be – is there any thing in common between the two? This might be so if we are satisfied with a superficial understanding of these two facets of the human mind. Yet, if we search a bit deeper into their origin, motives and aim a broader comprehension may emerge.

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Essentially, the desire for love arises from the spiritual impulse to come back to our True Nature, which is Oneness and Wholeness. This truth is so very beautifully expressed by the 15th century Sufi mystic, Jami, who wrote, “Love becomes perfect only when it transcends itself – Becoming One with its object, producing Unity of Being”1. These statements may become clearer by reflecting on the desire for love and its fulfillment. When one loves another, one actually expresses a desire to become one with them. The more intense is the sentiment of love, the stronger is the wish for unity.

When a lover longs for his beloved, he wishes to be so very close, never to be apart from to her; any hour that the lover spends apart from his beloved seems to him, as if lasting an eternity. So many love songs were written about the agony of separation from the beloved. When a mother loves her child, she feels no distinction from the child; the child’s joy is her happiness and the child’s pain is her suffering. Love is such an intense motive force in the human mind that it often overrides the impulse for self preservation; this is called selflessness, or altruism. In altruistic sentiments and actions the love for a fellow human causes the person to completely identify (unite) with the other, considering the other’s well being as one’s own. At times this leads to acts of self sacrifice, in which individual well being is subsumed in the care for the other.

The desire for knowledge arises from the same deep source in the human psyche as love does, i.e. the desire to realize the essential Oneness of one’s being with the universe. For what is knowledge? At its core, the desire to know is the desire to have intimate access to the object of knowledge. As one becomes interested in knowing anything or any subject, the process of learning about it brings more and more information, clarity, focus, details and a familiarity with it. This process of knowing saturates the mind until it becomes close and connected to the object of its study.

A physicist investigates the physical universe, because she wants to gain intimate access (knowledge of) to the subject of her research. What was once far away and obscure to her mind becomes in the course of her research and discovery process, clear and intimately known to her. A yogi meditates on the object of his interest; as his meditation deepens, the distinction between the observer and the object of his observation diminishes. The yogi becomes one with the object of meditation. This process is described in the classical text of Raja yoga, The Patanjali Yoga Sutras, and it is the ultimate way of gaining knowledge. This kind of knowledge does not require any intermediary agents, meaning the senses and the intellect. It is a direct knowledge, which cannot be explained in words, but it can be experienced by those who are interested and practice meditation.

Upon further observation, it may become clear that these seemingly disparate aspects of our mind are actually intertwined. The lover is very interested in his beloved; he wants to know everything about her: what flowers does she like, what restaurants does she prefer, what are her interests and so on. In short, he wishes to gain knowledge about the object of his affection; his desire for intimacy naturally includes a desire for knowledge. On the other hand, it is common to hear scientists talk with great joy and affection about the subject of their study. A scientist’s interest in the object of her investigation may become so profound that she will get as consumed by it, as the lover would in his beloved. The scientific interest turns into fascination, which becomes a burning desire to gain knowledge, to be filled with and united with the understanding of the object of knowledge.

If so, then what is the distinction between love and knowledge? Why do they appear to us as so very different and unrelated? The answer to this lies in the difference between the aspects of mind that are employed in search for Oneness; in the case of love it is the human heart and in the case of knowledge it is the head (intellect). When a particular facet of mind is utilized, it would yield a specific result. One’s experience of fire is heat when it is sensed by the skin and light when it is seen by the eye. A search dog on a rescue mission will most likely find that which it was trained to seek, human survivors and not a stash of gold. In the same manner, the tool that is utilized to seek for our spiritual essence will yield results that are conditioned and limited by that specific tool’s scope and ability. In the case of the intellect it will yield results that are confined to reason and knowledge; when it comes to feeling the search will yield results defined by the abilities of the heart, e.g. care, compassion and love.

As the true motive behind all human desires, whether of the heart or of the head, is found a deeper understanding emerges. This understanding is that all the aspirations of mind are but desires to ‘experience’ our True Essence. Because the mind is conditioned to think and feel in limited terms, it finds only a relative and limited scope of knowledge and a small measure of love. Only when the mind is sufficiently refined by spiritual practices, it becomes a clear mirror reflecting our essence. Both the head and the heart need to be developed and refined, and eventually transcended by the intuitive realization that is beyond the function of both.

Therefore, there is no actual distinction between the desire to know and to love. They are but manifestation of our insatiable spiritual hunger to return to who we truly are, our original Being. The yogis call that being, our True Self or Atman. In the realization of our True Self the search for anything and everything comes to its fruition. The search does not yield any new results of knowledge or love, but rather it allows us to realize that we are at all times a Wholeness that was never lost. That Wholeness is simultaneously absolute Being, Knowledge and Love.

1  Fitzgerald, Astrid (2001). Being Consciousness Bliss: A Seeker’s Guide. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, Page 115

About the author:

Ziv Porat has been studying and practicing yoga as a physical, mental and spiritual discipline since he completed his yoga teacher’s training at the Sivananda center in Tel Aviv in 1983. He taught ongoing hatha yoga classes and at teacher training courses, while living at various Sivananda centers and ashram.

He has educated students on the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga throughout California, in Israel, and in Spain. He teaches weekly yoga and health classes at retirement communities in the SF Bay Area, coaches individuals, conducts workshops and writes about spiritual development. Ziv strives to make the great teachings of Yoga and Vedanta accessible, interesting and inviting.

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