Thoughts arise in an endless stream throughout your life. They seem to come from nowhere, but they come from that part of you that is more than flesh and blood. They come from consciousness. You know from the dream state that your consciousness is not bound in physical reality.
In order to choose positive thoughts, you might think of yourself as walking through a field that’s scattered with many stones. The stones are of different shapes, sizes and colors. As you’re walking along, you’re looking at the stones to decide which stones to pick up. Some of the stones might be attractive because they are big or strongly colored. Others might seem attractive because they’re clear or have interesting shapes. If you are in a clear, calm, neutral emotional state, you might pick up different stones than you would if you were impatient, or sad, or angry. But you would never doubt, while you were performing this exercise, that you had a choice about which stones to pick up.
In order to recognize that same power of choice when it comes to choosing your thoughts, you must first recognize that there is a you that exists apart from the thoughts themselves. There is a you that is choosing. For the most part, you probably are not conscious of the act of choosing your thoughts. But you can practice being mindful about choosing them simply by sitting quietly and recognizing your thoughts as they present themselves. You can, to some extent, preview thoughts, and decide whether or not they are thoughts you want to form fully.
If you are having thoughts you don't like, make an attempt to stop thinking them. Pause. Take a break. Step out of the spotlight of whatever experience you associate with the thoughts. Step out of any emotions associated with the thoughts. Turn your attention to something positive about the situation or experience. This is known as reframing, in which you take whatever situation or experience you're having and rescan it. Look at it from a different mental angle. Look for something in it that is positive.
This may feel difficult, at first. But there are always positive things to be found in every situation. If you are having a strong emotion or a strong physical sensation, for example, you can focus on the fact that these strong feelings carry with them a strong aliveness. And perhaps that strong aliveness is a feeling you can relish.
But you can also use your imagination to take whatever experience or emotion you’re feeling and imagine something different about it. If you're upset with someone’s behavior, or some action or some event, let go of your opinion. Let go of your judgment. Let go, for a moment, of the notion that you understand why this person is behaving this way or why this event has happened, and observe it more neutrally.
You might pretend to be an author, a writer, someone who is able to imagine a backstory for the event or the action—in which you create motives and reasons and context from which it is easier to see this action or experience or event not as the result of some negative force, but rather as the consequence of sympathetic factors.
For example, if someone is rude to you, imagine that rude behavior is simply an expression of that person's own emotional state and may have nothing to do with you. That person's behavior could be provoked by anything you might make up. Perhaps the person has had a bad day. Perhaps the person has lost a job, or had an argument with a friend. Perhaps the person isn't feeling well physically. Or maybe the person is worried about money. You can make up any story you want, and if you can then imagine this person's behavior as connected with this imagined backstory it will help you sympathize with the person's actions. It will help you empathize with, and perhaps, react to those actions in a more neutral fashion. To some degree most people already invent a story about events. But in this practice, the point is to choose the story for its positive reframing effect on your thoughts.
Instead of letting other’s behavior trigger frustration or anger in yourself, you can simply register the other person's behavior with an observation. You can say, ’oh this person is behaving this way, but I’m choosing how to respond to it.’
If you are willing to practice this from time to time, it would be a good idea to start with small things, things that don’t have a large amount of emotional impact for you. Just take small events, and if you feel that a negative thought is forming, step outside your normal frame and choose to experience the situation with a different thought. It takes practice to do this. If you practice on small things, eventually it will be easier to do, and then you can tackle practicing it on bigger things.
It’s worth performing this exercise and practicing this mastery of choosing your thoughts because it will have a tremendous impact on the way that you experience life, since every life has situations that are challenging. The more readily you can experience a challenging situation and choose the highest and most positive kinds of thoughts, the more you will advance in your mastery of earth life.
Image: Coloured stones - Porto beach - Corse (France) By Tmaurizia (Own work) 30 April 2007 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stones_Porto_DSCF0572.jpg, via Wikimedia Commons