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Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words and Words Become Action…

August 6, 2019

As noted in some earlier posts, I have been a meditation practitioner for several years, a formal practice I came to late in life but one that I did unwittingly for decades before as a runner. One of the points of meditation is to watch your thoughts and how those thoughts create narratives that, in turn, create your view of reality. This aphorism, which first appeared in Texas newspaper in 1977 quoting the President of Bi-Lo groceries:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

I am fairly confident the Texas grocery store CEO would be surprised to learn that his aphorism’s roots are in the teachings of the Buddha. According to the Quote Investigator website, the first appearance of an analogous aphorism appears in the Dhammapada, the best-known book in the Pali Buddhist canon that was published in the third Century BCE. Here’s a quote from a translation of that by Thomas Byrom:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

I’ve seen versions of this aphorism in guidance offices across the country, variously attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Thatcher’s father, and Lao Tzu. The source of the quote is immaterial. The content, though, reflects the thinking of many educators, parents, and community members I know who believe students should master the ability to witness their own thinking so that they can ultimately understand why they think what they think and why they believe what they believe.

It strikes me that instead of practicing drills to deal with an active shooter schools might use their time to teach children how to witness their own thinking and to see the link between their thoughts and their actions. Our nation is debating access to guns and whether the President is a racist or not. Our time would be better spent examining our own thoughts to see how they are contributing to the divisiveness that is tearing our Democracy apart.

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