Monday, February 6, 2012

Thoughts are Contagious

You're thoughts are contagious, especially when you vocalize them. Positive thoughts, or negative thoughts, whether it's in the places we live, work, study, practice or gather, when you give voice to your thoughts, they can spread like fire.

A few complaints can create a palor of unsettled discontent in your environment. They can taint the way your friends and family see the world.

The Aikido dojo where I practice has a rule. Students of this Zen influenced martial art shouldn't vocalize their emotional baggage in the dojo. If someone in the locker room starts complaining about his boss, the next guy is likely to join in with a similar story. Next thing you know, 3 people will be complaining about their workplace and a cloud of dissatisfaction settles in. This leaves us in a poisonous place that isn't conducive to practice and study.

The founder of Aikido, O Sensei, believed that the dojo needed to be a place of joy. When I step into the dojo, I notice an uplifted spirit where people smile and respect each other. Experienced students help the new students. Unlike the gym, where vanity and insecurity often rules the environment, I find myself uplifted whenever I enter the dojo. There is no sense of aggression or discontent there. This is the mind of the dojo, or some would call it the spirit of the dojo.

The mind is more mysterious than I once believed. It isn't just the brain or thought process of an individual. The mind is much more vast than that. The boundaries of mind don't start and stop with the individual.

Shambhala meditation centers are sacred spaces for studying how the mind works. When you walk into a Shambhala Center, you immediately feel a sense of uplifted environment, which is very intentional. Japanese Oriyoki flower arrangements are traditionally displayed throughout the center. Shoes go in a special place. The Tibetan Buddhist shrine is a source of curiosity for some, and a thought-stopping reminder of our potential to others. The volunteers that create this space do so as a mindfulness practice.

The Aikido dojo and the Shambhala Centers stand out as examples of what can happen when we recognize that the mind doesn't have clear boundaries and that thoughts can be contagious. We could live in such a way that we contribute to uplifted workplaces, homes and gatherings by keeping in mind that the thoughts we vocalize are contagious.

This means we could also be mindful of the people we hang out with. Negative-minded people can be draining. This doesn't mean we should abandon our friends who are feeling depressed and dissatisfied about their lives. But we could develop the strength and clarity of mind to avoid showing up at the negative thought parties they are constantly inviting us to. If our minds are not strong enough, we may need to limit our interactions with those people, at least until we have developed more stability.

Being aware of the effect our thoughts have on others doesn't mean we should fail to speak up when we see something going bad. Anger may be the appropriate response in certain situations. Wrath may even manifest as egoless anger. Consider the wrathful mother who shouts at her child when he is about to mindlessly chase a ball into the street. This is wisdom, not negativity.

My aspiration, for my workplace and for my gatherings with friends and family, is to be aware of how thoughts spread. I will experiment with it and see what happens when I offer positive and negative thoughts, recognizing that I may lapse and occassionally pose a complaint. When its cold and wet outside I might notice how good it is to drink tea in cold weather, rather than focus on the discomfort. When conversation turns to politics I might note the courage of the protesters in Russia, rather than harp of the uncivility of a presidential campaign.

If we all recognized the lack of separation between our minds, if we all looked at the world as a group mind, what would we want to contribute? What would we seek to create? Whatever it is, your contribution will have influence,n probably more than you once imagined.

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