As human beings, the biggest task we face is training the mind. The great thinkers have said, “It is easy to win victories over all the continents, to conquer the entire world, but the biggest victory ever won is over your own mind.” If you can master your mind and make it listen to you, obey, then you are a great conqueror. Not otherwise. If you go to an executive office somewhere and see the director of a big company, he or she might be even bragging, “Look at that. A thousand people are working under me. Just with the twist of my finger, I can command people. I can make them stop or work or do anything. It’s all under my control.” The CEO brags about it.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time a CEO was really bragging. I looked at the CEO and said, “I’m really glad to hear that and to see just how powerful and influential you are. But when you were telling me that, did you see that somebody was giggling at you?” The CEO questioned, “Who was that? There’s nobody here except you and me.” “No,” I said, “I saw your cigarette laughing at you.” The CEO was startled and said in disbelief, “My cigarette laughed at me?” “Yes,” I replied. “You control all these thousand people, but the cigarette controls you. Without the cigarette in your hand you cannot seem to do a thing here. You are a slave to your cigarette. You may be the boss to all your employees but you are a slave to your cigarette. Where is the control?”

That is the importance of training the mind. Because if we are not the master of our own mind, then we are nothing but a slave in this world. In fact, most of our problems are caused by the lack of control of mind. Sometimes we know certain things are not good for us. Still the mind says, “No, no, no, no, I love it. Come on,eat this, eat that!” It is as if the mind is commanding us and we cannot resist. We seem to be very fearful of something from the outside coming in and taking control of our minds. We read a lot about cults and brainwashing and mind control. But it seems we are more careful to retain our external “freedom” than safeguarding our internal freedom. We can have all the freedom if we just know how to master our own mind.

Let’s look at another example of lack of self-mastery. Imagine that you have struggled with overeating for some time. You have recently resolved that you were going to eat only to satisfy your true hunger and that you would stop eating after doing so. And this is a problem you have really struggled with, because you have a “sweet tooth” and tend to overeat with sweets. The mind will make so many excuses to do what it wants to do. Anyhow, soon after making this resolve, you have eaten an enjoyable and satisfying lunch. You are full and now want to get up from the table. But suddenly, your sister arrives and she brings apple pie to the table. You are not hungry anymore, but somehow you convince yourself, that just this once, and only because your sister baked the pie, you’ll eat a slice. So you eat it, and you tell her it’s wonderful and you really did enjoy it. So she tells you, “Why not have just one more, small piece.” You think to yourself, “Well, that can’t do too much harm. Tomorrow, I’ll get back on track.” See how the mind tricks us!

With good mental training, you learn how to develop the tools and skills to cope in these situations. You would learn that you could have told your sister, “What a wonderful and sweet thing you did to bring this pie. It looks so delicious. I am quite full right now and I would appreciate your support in helping me to keep my resolve to eat only when I am hungry and only to the point of relieving that hunger. So, please allow me to take a piece of pie and put it aside for when my next meal. So that when I am hungry I will really, really be able to enjoy this fabulous treat. Thank you so much. The undisciplined mind tries to continually trick us. It is a constant fight and struggle. We don’t have to fall sick, we don’t have to feel bad, feel disappointed in ourselves, or depressed!” That is how you learn to develop mastery over the mind.

We won’t have any mental or physical problems if only we have that kind of control over our own minds. Nothing is impossible to achieve with that kind of mastery. No challenge is impossible for a person like that. Because you created the problems you have and you are the boss. You did it, you can undo it. If you have the capacity to do something, don’t you have the capacity to undo it? Tell yourself, “It’s my work, I am the boss.” We can do it.

We need that kind of dynamic strength in our mind. That is real self-confidence. Where there is hope there is everything. Where there is faith, there is everything. Didn’t the Bible say that? “If you have an ounce of faith, you can move mountains.” Is that just some sort of joke? No, it’s absolutely true. People have proven that proverb. And it’s not the monopoly of a handful of people. You cannot say, “Oh, only you can do that.” That’s how the mind tricks us. Instead we should be able to say, “If you can do it, I can do.” It’s true. You can achieve anything that you apply your mind to fully and completely. We should learn to develop that kind of mental resolve, that strength and confidence.

When negative thoughts come up in the mind there are two things you can do. Either you can ignore them or you can face and analyze them. But you should never control, deny, or submerge negative thoughts. If you can’t ignore the thoughts, then face them, analyze them, and question yourself. For example, if a fearful thought comes into the mind, first try to ignore it. Because the more attention you give it, the more it will invite itself in. It recognizes a captive audience! Negative thoughts also gain strength by having you pay attention to them. It gives them energy that they feed upon and then they will grow in strength.

First ignore it. How would you ignore it? By putting some positive thoughts into the mind. Think positive thoughts and cultivate the opposite of the negative thought. For example, if a hateful thought comes into the mind, shout from the rooftop: “I love everybody! Everybody loves me!” Keep on shouting it. And if you keep on doing that, the negative thought may wait for a little while and then it will get tired and walk out. It will realize that you are not going to give it any attention, any energy, and it will begin to dissipate in its strength.

But if you are unable to ignore a thought, face it and question that thought, “What kind of thought are you? Why are you here? What do you want to do with me? If you have trouble putting in positive thoughts and if the negative thought is more stubborn, more stronger than your new, positive thought, then analyze. Question the thought, “Hey, come on, tell me, what is the problem? Why are you bothering me? What do you want to do with me? Why are you here?” Challenge your negative thoughts. Utilize your intelligence to analyze it and root it out. But never, never suppress negative thoughts. This only feeds the thought which will temporarily go into hiding and then will pop out, with more force, at any time.

If you can, don’t act out negative thoughts. Because acting it out will renew the thought or feeling. It is similar to a desire or habit you are trying to tame. Suppose you are trying to lose weight and so you decide to stop eating all the chocolate you eat. How many times would you have told yourself, “Well, I can just eat one.” The next thing you know, you are reaching for a second, then a third piece. You may say, “Oh, this is definitely the last piece.” Until the box is empty, every piece is the last piece. This is because every time you eat one more, you are fulfilling the mind’s desire and strengthening it. It’s like disciplining a child. If the child knows they can push the limits, they will. And the next time, they will push a little more and a little more. Until you no longer are in charge, but your child is. It is the same with the mind. The more you give into the negative thinking or bad habits, the more they grab hold of you. Desires should never be renewed

Our ancient scriptures used to say that if you want the fire to go out, take the firewood away instead of adding more firewood. Negative thinking, bad habits, and unwanted desires are like fire. Don’t let them get fulfilled, don’t give opportunities for them to get fulfilled. Then they will slowly, for want of growth, for want of opportunities to get renewed, they will slowly wither and die. But, if instead, you fulfill them every time, they become stronger.

Many people are afraid of knowing what their problems are. They just want to swallow a pill and forget everything. Instead they wake up with several new problems. They want to be ostriches. When there is danger in sight, they want to bury their heads in the sand. But that doesn’t mean they have solved their problems. Once we understand and solve our problems we become masters. There is no other way if you want to be the master of your mind. No matter how much you try to convince yourself that you don’t want it to go on anymore, it never happens that way. There’s no “last” indulgence. It just goes on and on and on. But instead, you should stand firm with your mind: “No, I’m not going to give you what you want! It’s not good for you. These are the reasons why this will not help you.”

Explain the pros and cons to your own mind, as you would explain to a patient or your own son or daughter. You become the doctor or the expert. Talk to your mind as your patient or student, “Okay, you are looking for one more piece of cake. You may think that you want it; that it will make you happy. But how many times did you try that in the past? What happened? You still weren’t satisfied; it didn’t make you happy to have the piece of cake or just have one last cigarette. How many times did you say, ‘that is the last time.’ Where is the guarantee that this will be the last time. And every time you did that what happened, how did you feel afterwards? Terrible. So? Do you want to feel that way again? Talk to your mind like that. You have to educate the mind and make it understand that by running after things or by negative thinking, it is not going to bring you closer to peace or happiness.

Question the mind fully. Help it to realize how much energy you lose every time you get involved with bad habits. Remind yourself of all the ill effects that happen in relation to indulging in the bad habit.   And convince your mind that by developing that kind of willpower, that power of mind, how great it will be. When you really become strong-minded, rather than weak, people will admire you. Present the positive side to your mind. Argue the pros and cons of what you are trying to do and in this way you can educate your mind.

The mind can be like a naughty child and you have to be the parent who practices “tough love.” It’s something like training a pet; you don’t just give in every time. If it doesn’t obey you, you have to tell your puppy, “No, I won’t give you the biscuit if you don’t obey. If you do, then come and take it.” Only when it listens to you, obeys you, you feel so happy. Not just by giving in. Occasionally, when it really feels too much, once in awhile, okay, give a little rope. Don’t be too rough also. Training a wild horse or training a puppy calms for a firm hand but a loving heart.

All experiences in the world—good or bad, pleasurable or painful—are just a matter of mental adjustment. You are bound by the mind and you are liberated by the mind. You make your own heaven or your own hell. It is all in your mind. All experiences of pleasure and pain come not from the outside but are the result of how we interpret our experiences. Our thoughts and interpretation about things leads to how we feel about things and people. It is the mind that interprets experiences and this gives rise to your positive or negative feelings. So, we should not blame external events or circumstances for our own feelings or discomforts. Nothing can give us happiness and nothing outside ourselves can make us unhappy. When we know that our own mind is the cause of our pain, we will try to correct it rather than blaming the outside world or other people. When this understanding comes, all miseries and pains are over. Because you will realize that you are not a victim; you are the one who determines your own happiness. It is all based on how you interpret and look at the events in your life. You are the cause of your own joy or your own misery. You hold that power. You are your own friend, and your own enemy. In other words, if your mind is a good friend to you, you will see only friends everywhere. If you feel bound you are bound. If you feel liberated, you are liberated. things outside neither bind nor liberate you, only your attitude toward them.

The mind has tremendous power and healing abilities. We see this very clearly now in modern medicine. More and more emphasis is being placed on the mind-body connection. Because it’s the mind that ultimately makes everything possible. Just with the physical side alone, by taking some pills, by following this and that prescription, a person is not going to be optimally helped. I would even go so far as to say, that even if a medicine is really working for you, it’s not the medicine entirely. It is the confidence that you have in that medicine and it’s the confidence that you have in the doctor. Take, for example, the so-called “placebo effect.” What does it mean? You are taking something but there’s no medicine in it at all. You are given some simple sugar globules or something. But it is your faith, your confidence, the power of the mind that heals.

I practiced nature cure methods in Madras, India during the early 1940s. I used to give clay for a lot of things. I would give clay poultices, sometimes even refined, fine clay, to take internally as medicine. I used to keep a pile of clay in one corner. When I was busy with one patient, another patient would come to get some more clay. I would say, “Well, I am busy with this patient, why don’t you just go and take some clay, because you know what to do with that.” And they will say, “Oh no, that won’t work.” I said, “Why, not?” “No, sir. You have to take it and give it to me, then only it will work.” They were very simple and sincere folks. They had faith in me and only if the received the clay from my hand would they then believe it would help them. And it would work.

That is why I say that a major part of healing is the faith of the patient. The medicine, may in fact, play a more minor part in the healing process. That is why I believe the greatest gift a doctor can give is the gift of confidence and hope. There is no reason to tell a patient, “Oh, you are going to die in ten days.” Rather, you should always plant seeds of hope because it is the mind, the faith, the human spirit that holds onto the hope and can regenerate itself when possible. But unfortunately, how many doctors feel not only the pulse but the purse.

Thoughts disturb the mind. But it is impossible not to think at all. Even to think of not having any thoughts at all is a thought. That is why even a desire to be desireless is a desire. Since you must think of something, choose thoughts that will not disturb your mind. There is only one cause for all mental problems, worries, and anxieties; selfishness. All the great sages who deeply analyzed this problem discovered that any thought based on selfishness or self-centeredness affects the mind. You can maintain your tranquility by keeping the mind calm and clean. Test all your desires and actions. There is a stone on which you rub gold and see how pure it is. From the color you can see the carat. It’s called a touchstone. You can have a touchstone also. Ask yourself, “Will this thought or desire disturb my peace?” Your peace of mind is worth more than fulfilling any want or desire.

– Swami Satchidananda

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