Howard Nemon

Last week, I wrote about a different way to think about rationalization. In the summer of 1990, my Teacher explained it as a specific faculty or ability of the mind. It is a mental process that can help the mind become more efficient and effective by eliminating outdated or defective thinking that prevents us from developing our full potential.

The benefits of rationalization are many. The mind becomes more focused, more positive, more energetic, more elevated. However, rationalizing the mind is not an easy task. The mind is pulled in a thousand directions by competing desires, attractions, and habituated thinking. Yet we all have this capacity, this ability to rationalize. How to use it?
Here are some suggestions, based on the science of yoga, to strengthen this faculty of the mind:

1. Change the patterns: We all have good habits which improve our lives daily. It’s the bad ones—those habituated patterns of thinking and acting that continually imprison us in a cycle of deceptive pleasure and regret—which we want to eliminate. Even after identifying our patterns, it’s hard to change. One reason is that there are emotional imbalances which reinforce these habits. For example, feelings of jealousy or inadequacy stimulate negative behaviors of criticizing and condemning others to make us feel better about ourselves. These imbalanced emotions are rooted in hormonal secretions inside our bodies.
In order to balance the glands responsible for these hormones, yoga has developed specific physical postures that regulate these glands. By balancing the glands, we can control and focus our mind on more elevated thoughts, making it easier to transform bad habits into positive patterns of thinking and acting.

2. Sharpen the mind: Often our minds are hard to control, fixating on problems and unable to concentrate on solutions. We need to become more aware of how our minds operate and more proficient in directing our thoughts. Only then will we be able to remove and even prevent unhelpful thinking. Over time, yoga practitioners developed a number of ways to sharpen the mind, commonly known as meditation techniques. There are techniques to calm and focus the mind, to develop concentration, to slow the mind and help it to become more receptive, to increase its ability to observe and detach, and to connect with deeper levels of consciousness. Meditation can be practiced both in a stationary pose and while engaging in daily activities. It is probably the most powerful tool we have for rationalization.

3. Keep the best company: No matter how independent we think we are, everyone is influenced by their environment. This includes the ideas and images we expose ourselves to and the people we associate with. Just as we try to consume the best foods to keep ourselves healthy and strong, we need to be selective with the external influences that surround us. If we want to rationalize our thinking by keeping our minds focused on more positive ideas, we need to make sure that everything we associate with is reinforcing this effort.

One of the foundational practices of yoga is a set of principles to guide our interactions with the outside world. For example, there is a practice of mental cleanliness which keeps us mindful when choosing our books, movies, news sources, and company. These principles help us control our thoughts, words, and actions in society and hence are indispensable for the process of rationalization.

4. Remove the walls: Rationalization does not only rely on individual efforts. There are powerful forces in society which impose negative thinking, such as inferiority complexes, on entire social groups and nations. There are anti-social, outdated thought patterns embedded in our political, economic, and educational systems. That is why in spite of considerable intellectual and technological progress today, our entire civilization is still suffering from inefficient and unproductive thinking.
In yoga, the path to self-realization naturally opens us up to the notion of universalism—that all living beings have the right to live and thrive as members of a universal family. It rejects all artificial walls and barriers that divide humanity and promote conflicts and exploitation. By strengthening the idea of universalism, we can take a non-compromising stance towards these narrow and destructive thought patterns and through rationalization, remove them from our society and from our individual lives.

I have briefly described above some yoga practices that can assist you in the process of rationalization. Obviously, rationalizing the mind isn’t something you can accomplish in a weekend, like cleaning out the garage. It’s an ongoing effort. The yoga techniques mentioned here are also regular practices. We will need to integrate them into your lifestyle in order for them to be effective. Like good habits, they will daily improve our quality of life and help us balance your emotions, build our concentration, and keep our interactions with the world positive and uplifting. In this way, we can avoid unhelpful thinking and reach those valuable goals of your life.

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