Life is an act of affirmation. Each day that we rise from our bed and engage in the moment-by-moment activities and choices that script our personal story, we are saying “yes” to life. Some do it unconsciously. Some do it with great relish and joy. Some do it consciously and with skill.
It is a fact that we are creators of our life story. Life does not just happen to us. While we are born into certain circumstances and have certain predispositions of character, we also have considerable ability to make choices that alter the course of our life’s unfolding. To a great degree we can rewrite our script and revise the character we play.
We are born into each moment as the result of actions (karmas). Karmic conditionality, in the Buddhist sense, functions by way of feedback loops, with the present arising from the influence of both past and present actions. We can see ourselves as an aggregate of patterns of past behaviors, perceptions and attitudes, but it is important to not lose sight that the choices we make now are equally significant in forming who we are and how we live. We can choose to be different and to respond in different ways. When we act differently and think differently, we are different. Present actions shape not only the future but also the present. In a sense, the road ahead of us is being formed under our feet by each step we take.
A Chinese proverb cautions, “Unless you change direction, you are likely to end up where you are headed.” Are you satisfied with the direction you are moving in? In Asia, it is understood that if we want to be different, we must change our mind, that is, one’s conception of oneself. The Buddha said that we are the result of our thoughts. If sufficient energy coalesces around a certain view, that perception will manifest as experience.
Modern psychology refers to the law of predominant mental impression. When an image is held or an idea or attitude is repeated over and over, the subconscious mind accepts this image, idea or attitude as fact and begins the task of converting it into reality.
It takes a certain amount of energy for things to happen. A ball is set in motion when we think a thought. If it is just a passing thought, not much happens as a consequence. However, when the same thought gets repeated over and over, the ball that was set in motion continues to roll and gathers momentum. That seed-thought is firmly implanted in the subconscious mind and, through repetition, takes on a life of its own. Even if the thought is initially a falsehood, when it is repeated enough times the mind accepts it as true and then “reality” shifts to align with this “truth.”
From the Buddha‘s perspective, mental and physical phenomena are two sides of a single coin, and the mental side of the coin is of formative importance in this duality. In the language of Joseph Chilton Pearce,1 a noted lecturer on reality constructs, worldview conditions world-to-view. Thought, word and deed are active energies that shape experience. Buddha taught that intention forms the essence of the act, as it constitutes the decision to act. It is the motive force. The causal chain of consequences, therefore, is directly and proportionately linked to the energy of intention.
The first step to effective change is to become aware of the thoughts and intentions that set the framework for the events of our life. Healer and metaphysical author Louise Hay points out that our experiences are just outer effects of inner thoughts. “Even self-hatred is only hating a thought you have about yourself,” she writes. “The thought produces a feeling and you buy into the feeling. If you don’t have the thought, you won’t have the feeling. And thoughts can be changed. Change the thought and the feeling must go.”2 The challenge is to begin to notice what messages we are repeating to ourselves. We can then make the resolve to replace negative thought patterns with ones that serve us well.
Take a moment to notice what you are thinking right now. Is it positive or negative? Do you want this thought to be shaping your future?
Our lives are built upon an edifice of spoken and unspoken affirmations. In our incessant internal monologues, we affirm “I am not smart enough,” “I am not good enough,” “I am afraid of rejection,” “I am unworthy of love,” “I am powerless,” “I can’t cope,” “I am the kind of person who gets sick easily,” and so forth. These unconscious messages to ourselves are often negative — affirming our lack of money or love or luck, or our weaknesses and failings. We make affirmations constantly. They are seed-thoughts, planted in our subconscious, which cluster into thought patterns. Thought patterns, given sufficient energy, will manifest as physical experience. Many people create enormous and unnecessary problems for themselves by what they think and say.
Negative thoughts and emotions have a negative effect on the body at a deep cellular level. Prolonged states of energetic imbalance brought about by negative thoughts and emotions will damage the various systems of the body on a physical level and will eventually manifest as disease.
Conscious affirmations, on the other hand, help us to literally reprogram our mind, body and spirit, shifting our thought patterns and their ensuing consequences in a different direction.
A key element to successful re-patterning is repetition. Just as unhealthy and dysfunctional thought patterns were created over time by repeatedly thinking the same thought, we can use the same mechanism to instill healthy productive patterns. As the new messages are heard again and again by the subconscious mind, a shift occurs in the mental and emotional bodies as well as in the neural patterns of the brain itself. When emotional, mental and spiritual bodies become aligned in a more balanced and life-affirming way, this also supports the healing and restructuring of the physical body.
Through conscious affirmations, new patterns are created that can attract more positive experiences into your life. Like attracts like. When a pattern of thought is established in the mind, it will begin to attract a similar thought form. The state of your energy field will attract people and events of a similar kind. Positive attitudes produce positive feelings, and positive feelings produce positive actions. Positivity — and negativity — has a snowball effect.
Where your mind goes, energy follows. What you put your attention on grows. The more you dwell on what you don’t want, the more you attract just that. Instead of fighting against the negative, shift your attention — and intention — to creating what you really want. Cultivate the positive.
The use of structured affirmations for positive change can be traced back to Emile Cou, a French pharmacist at the turn of the century who founded a free clinic that used “conscious autosuggestions” in its mind/body approach to healing. One of the most basic affirmations used was “Every day, in every way, I am becoming better and better.” Cou instructed patients to repeat the affirmations 20 times every morning upon waking, calmly, yet with absolute confidence and unwavering expectation of success.
To begin working with affirmations, reflect on areas in your life that you’d like to improve. Select a theme or two — health, self-image, livelihood, relationships, money or whatever seems relevant to your happiness — and then begin to make a list of what you’d like to change in that area. From that list, create 5-10 positive statements. These will be the affirmations you’ll start to work with. This is an evolving process, so as you work with them you’ll tend to fine-tune the wording, or add or drop statements. This is a normal part of the process.
Wording is important. Statements are written in the present tense (“I am strong and healthy”), reflecting your readiness for this to come into your life now. If your statement is in the future tense (“I will be strong and healthy”), then your subconscious mind hears you saying that you do not have that now or that you are not yet ready for that now. “I am” and “I have ” are good ways to begin affirmations. As if you were stating an obvious fact, your affirmation sees you at your goal here and now. The subconscious mind responds to clarity and confidence.
At the same time, your statement must be something your conscious mind can accept as possible or it will be dismissed out of hand. “I am the sexiest and most handsome person alive” or “I am free from all tax liability” will be seen as mere fantasy or wishful thinking. The conscious mind must accept that your assertion could be true or could become true.
Many of our typical thought patterns tend to concentrate on what we don’t have, we want to take care not to reinforce this affirmation of lack. Focus instead on what you want to attract, not what you want to avoid. Try not to use negative language — “no,” “not,” “never” — in your affirmations. Stress the positive factuality of what you are asserting and the subconscious mind will, quite literally, believe what you say.
Look deeply to determine if you’re really willing to allow change to happen. It is common that we may unconsciously want to hold on to our problems even though we may say we want to change. The habitual has a quality of comfort and familiarity, even though it may simultaneously cause great distress. We see this all the time as bodyworkers. In order for the changes we are seeking to happen, we need to be willing to make space for it. A useful affirmation to include along with the ones you are working with is “I am ready to change my behavior.”
Make your affirmations as brief as possible without sacrificing clarity. Be specific, with sufficient detail for you to easily visualize it. “I, Barry Kapke, am invited to teach Insight Bodywork throughout the world. I enjoy traveling and teaching, and my work is appreciated wherever I go.” Statements are simple and direct. Lecturer Victor Boc specializes in prosperity and affirmations, and he suggests five qualifying questions: Do you really want it? Is it realistically possible? Will anyone be harmed by it? Does it contradict any other items on your list? Is it enough?
Having settled upon between 3-10 affirmations that you want to work with, you are ready to begin rewriting your life story. Write these positive statements on a card and repeat them several times a day, allowing them to be inscribed on your subconscious mind and to become a part of your reality. Repeat each affirmation at least three times before moving to the next. Read them aloud, slowly, clearly and confidently, when you first awaken, this is when your subconscious is particularly accessible. Carry the card with you in a shirt or pant pocket so that these intentions are kept within your body’s energetic field. Repeat the affirmations throughout the day whenever you have the opportunity. The more you repeat your affirmations, the stronger your thought-form becomes. Once a day, choose one of the affirmations and write it on a piece of paper 10-20 times. Repeat them again right before you fall asleep. In writing and reading, you are involving four different perceptual and kinesthetic sense experiences — writing, seeing, saying and hearing. Saturate your consciousness with this new truth.
Living Your Intention
Combining visualization with the affirmation helps to further reify the goal. Allow the body to relax, repeat the affirmation several times, and create a detailed image of yourself having met your goal — what it looks like and feels like. Feel yourself being happy, having already made the change that you wanted. Strong feelings will reinforce your belief. Strong positive feelings will reinforce the positive behavior.
This may feel superficial at first, but like all new things it is the practice that is required to develop a new skill. It is a skill, and it is capable of being developed. Trust that these affirmations will bear fruit, and be patient. As you apply yourself wholeheartedly, you’ll begin to see changes. You’ll also begin to become more conscious of the negative messages that you formerly fed yourself quite unconsciously and with that awareness will come the ability to intervene — to choose not to affirm negativity and rather to cultivate what is helpful and healing for your happiness.
For bodyworkers, as you begin to develop your intention and see clearly how thoughts and words shape our experience, be sure to carry this awareness into your bodywork practice. Realize the impact of the messages you convey to your clients and listen for the hidden affirmations as they talk about their bodies and their pains. Point towards the positive potentials for greater wholeness and happiness. Try to move away from judgmental attitudes and words, however subtle. End sessions with positive, encouraging and supportive statements. Suggest an affirmation for them to work with (“I treat my body with love and respect,” “I hear my body’s wisdom,” or whatever is appropriate), or encourage them to find their own. This is a part of holistic bodywork.
Words and thoughts, like deeds, can harm or heal. Learn to choose the abundant power of yes.
By Barry Kapke, ACST, the Program Director of Asian Bodyworks at San Francisco School of Massage and the founder of Insight Bodywork. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, December/January 2004. Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
1. Pearce, Joseph Chilton. The Crack in the Cosmic Egg: New Constructs of Mind and Reality. 2nd revised ed. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. 2002.
2. Hay, Louise L. You Can Heal Your Life. Santa Monica, CA: Hay House. 1984. p 11.
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