How does this work? Over the years, your ego-mind has developed a way of reacting to situations as they arise. These emotions, judgments, cravings, or attachments have become your habit-energies. Your default reaction to what you experience. They have developed into habit-energies because through repetitive use, your brain has laid down pathways, synapses, which connect an input/experience with a particular output/reaction. I thus am not speaking euphemistically when I often say that people are programmed to react the way they do.
This is why the ego-mind has so much power over us, why we identify with it, and why it is so difficult despite having a diligent practice and the right intent to free ourselves from its control and end our suffering.
What you are doing by reciting affirmations on a daily basis, and applying/implementing them in your life, is laying down new pathways, new synapses, that will eventually become your new default way of reacting to events. I say “eventually” because you should not expect this to happen overnight or even within months. Remember you are changing the habits of a lifetime; it takes time to change old patterns.
Henry David Thoreau identified this process years before science understood how the brain operates. Writing over 150 years ago, he said, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
It is important that your affirmations not be recited in rote fashion. Let me rephrase that, they may sound rote, but they must be felt deeply by you. They should express not just what you’ve been taught, but what you believe. In this way you are making the teachings your own. If you recite an affirmation that not even part of you believes, it won’t work.
I recite affirmations at the start of my morning practice because they create a mental environment that fosters deeper meditation as well as mindfulness throughout the day. And I do them as part of a walking meditation because by focusing me, my mind tends to be quieted by the time I sit; it is thus a helpful bridge between daily life and sitting meditation. Sometimes the recitation becomes a catalyst, making me aware that there’s something I need to meditate on, sit with, which is invaluable.
My walking meditation can take up as much as 10 minutes before I start my silent sitting meditation. This practice may be unusual, but I have found it very beneficial over the past 25 years.
What follows is what I recite, or in a few cases used to recite, every morning. Note: I have indicated “I/my true self” in the affirmations because it is only through my identity with my true self, my heart, that I am able to do these things. The “I” that is my ego-mind would never do these things.
1. Breathing in, I’m aware I’m breathing in. Breaking out, I’m aware I’m breathing out.
2. I’m aware of the suffering caused by feelings and perceptions and yet know that they are all a product of my mind. And so I/my true self say to them all, “Not me!” And in truth I know that I will be OK, that I have nothing to fear regardless what life throws my way because I have returned and will always return home to my true Buddha nature, my unwounded heart, and so be at peace and happy.
3. Breathing in, I’m aware that my life is exactly the way it is right now because it’s just the way it is. Breathing out, I/my true self release all desires that my life be in someway different right now and so am happy and content, free of all frustration.
Breathing in, I’m aware that all things are impermanent because it’s just the way things are. Breathing out, I/my true self release all attachments and so take joy in each passing moment, free of all frustration.
4. I’m aware of the suffering caused by guilt and shame, feeling that I am a bad person, and yet I know that these emotions are just a product of my mind. They have been thrust upon me by family and society. And so I say to guilt and shame, “Not me!” And in truth I/my true self know that I have no reason to feel guilt or shame; my heart is pure.
Regardless whether I have done something in the past that harmed either myself or others, and have remorse regarding that action, that does not make me a bad person. I accept responsibility for my actions, for the actions of my ego-mind, but because they are not a product of my true self, my heart, I do not view myself as guilty or shameful. (For more on shame, see my post, “Shame.”)
5. I’m aware of the suffering caused by my craving to have what I do not have or to be someone other than I am, and yet I know that this desire is just a product of my mind. And so I say to it, “Not me!” And in truth I/my true self know that I have everything I need inside myself to experience peace and happiness and I accept my life as it is right now at this moment. Nothing needs to change for me to be at peace and happy.
6. I say to all feelings and perceptions,“not me!” (Then I list them, and after each say, “not me!”) Fear. Insecurity. Anxiety. Negativity. Doubt and confusion. Feeling unworthy of love. Frustration. Judgmental. (These are/were my major issues. Personalize the list as appropriate.)
Instead I know that my true self is my heart. And that my heart is light, love, faith, trust, compassion, humility, gratitude, joy, strength, courage and wisdom. Wisdom is going deep within and knowing that my ego-mind is not my true self. And so all the emotions, judgments, cravings, and attachments that flow from my ego-mind and through my wounded inner child are not my true self. And so I do not engage my feelings and perceptions and instead go deep within myself to seek guidance from my heart.
7. Aware of the suffering caused by my attachment to emotions, judgments, and cravings, I know they are not me, they are not myself because my true self would not cause me suffering. And so I/my true self say to them, “Not me!” and choose to let them go, to not engage them, and instead go deep within myself to my heart for guidance.
8. I/my true self turn my will and my life over to the care of my heart, my true self, my Buddha nature now and every moment of every day. And so return home, am one with my true self, and see myself and the world around me through the eyes of my unwounded heart and am at peace and happy, have compassion for myself, and love myself unconditionally.
9. I/my true self open my heart and embrace all aspects of my being and experience - past, present, and future - including my wounded inner child. Thus nothing offends. All internal and external struggle cease to be and my mind rests undisturbed. And so true faith pervades my mind. I know I have everything I need inside myself to be at peace and happy; no circumstance needs to change. And I will allow nothing to disturb my heart’s peace and happiness. I am one with my heart.
10. And so at peace, I/my true self am open to receiving all that the present moment has to offer, am grateful, and find happiness in the moment.
11. I/my true self open the well-spring of loving-kindness in my heart and feel it flow out to myself, my inner child, and all others. And so I am a light unto myself, my inner child, and all others.
12. I/my true self know that I have nothing to prove. My only purpose in life is to offer joy to myself and others. And all I need to be happy is to offer joy, to be in the company of loved ones and friends, to respect my mind, to respect my body, to be in touch with nature, and live within my means.
13. I am aware that my life has meaning in that I offer others joy and make a difference in people’s lives. But I know that in the larger context of the world and the cosmos, my life is like a grain of sand. And so I/my true self release all feelings of self-importance. I am over myself.
14. My true self allows me to live my life well, which is to be at peace and happy.
15. Breathing in, I breathe in positive thoughts.
Breathing out, I release all negativity.