Right Thinking

“Thinking is the speech of our mind. Right Thinking makes our speech clear and beneficial. Because thinking often leads to action, Right Thinking is needed to take us down the path of Right Action.”
Thich Nhat Hanh in The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Right Thinking is one aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, which is the way to well-being. Other aspects are Right View, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Diligence, Right Concentration, and Right Livelihood. The following is offered to stimulate your consideration of Right Thinking as it may apply in your life.

The older man noticed that he could not see so well one morning. He thought, “I’m getting old. My vision is fading. Someday I’ll probably be blind. I hate the thought of being old and blind. What will I do? How will I be able to stand that?” Then as was his habit, he removed his glasses and washed the lenses. Putting them on, he could see as clearly as the day before.

Right Thinking depends upon Right View. Thinking is influenced by perception. If our perception is off, our thinking will be off. If our thinking is distorted, our behavior will be unhelpful. If thinking and behavior are dysfunctional our feedback from the world will be painful and our feelings will be miserable.

The thinking mind has been compared to a wild horse. It is unruly and difficult to control. If you knew little about horses and were given a rope and told to go tame a wild horse, you would likely create suffering for yourself and for the horse. Traditionally, horses have had to be “broken,” because the tamers didn’t bother to observe the horse so as to understand it. Now we have people called “Horse Whisperers” who get to know horses well. They observe how horses think and respond. They find gentle ways to gain the horse’s trust and to control its behavior.

If we want more control over our wild mind, we must observe it first and come to understand it. We need to learn its habits, its fears, and its tendencies to misperceive. Through practice of awareness and self-observation our mind can become better integrated. It can serve and empower us, rather than throw us to the ground and trample us.

To that end, practice meditation on the breath. Just focus your attention on your breath and let go of thinking. Thoughts will arise, but you don’t have to do anything with them. Just notice them and resume your focus on your breath. One way to do this is to count your breaths as they occur. The first time you exhale count “One.” The Second time you exhale count “Two.” Count to four and then return to one. If you lose track of the number, start again with “One.”

Frequently during the day, stop and notice what you are doing. You may notice that your thinking is not coordinated with your doing. You might be doing a task and thinking of something completely different. Over and over, bring your thoughts back to the task at hand. Seek to unify mind and behavior. If you are cooking, just cook. If you are eating, just eat. If you are cleaning up afterwards, just clean up. Make the choice to drop out of the worrying, planning, evaluating, criticizing, wishing, regretting and blaming game. Remember to experience your senses. Get back into the present moment.


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© 2002 Tom Barrett