The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind. -William James
An attitude is the feeling or disposition towards experiences or stimuli, or according to one dictionary of psychology, a condition of readiness for a certain type of activity. Another way of saying that is that an attitude is an umbrella for a group of beliefs that lean in a particular direction. For instance you might have an attitude of fear or disrespect for authority or an attitude of always giving credence to the underdog. For the most part, people do not realise that attitudes are learned, arising as a result of experiences and conditioning and how they have been interpreted. It’s as if the mind forms categories into which it stores its experiences and then labels these categories as attitudes. It’s minds way of simplifying life experiences. Experience here means thoughts and emotions as well as activities. Having developed attitudes we then interpret new experiences in light of them, thereby strengthening or weakening the attitude.
We tend to think we have no control over our attitudes but this is not so. Attitudes are subject to change based on new experiences and new ways of interpreting experience. The person who is so attached to their attitudes that they will not change them regardless of new experiences might as well be dead because intellectually they are dead. Attitudes are also learned by imitation and picked up from the group we hang around with. The dominant attitude in mainstream capitalist society towards spiritual development is not friendly. I have come across many casual remarks about how unrealistic or foolish spiritual interests are. Spiritual interests are often seen as a sign of weakness or failure. Encountering this kind of negative attitude is sometimes enough to put someone off beginning their spiritual search or to postpone it for long periods.
The Americans have a telling phrase, which is used to describe a person, “S/he has an attitude problem”. The question is, an attitude in relation to what?
In order to develop spiritually, to become able to inquire into our own natures we need to develop certain attitudes. These are mental attitudes towards ourselves and our life in general.
These attitudes need to be cultivated before any real understanding of the self and the teachings can take place.
Attitudes are a very good clue as to what your values are. I have written elsewhere about values so I will not go into it here except to say that a study of your attitudes is a great way to uncover your underlying values.
What we are looking at here is, which attitudes support your spiritual search and which ones run counter to it.
We may have an attitude that excitement and drama and activity are more fulfilling than quietness or solitude, without ever having checked it out for ourselves. If we decide that we wish to follow some spiritual development we need to adapt a change of attitude the this.
We need to develop a appreciation for a steady, stable mind. This type of mind is not given to moodiness and emotional roller coasters. This is a more mature mind. This type of mind leads to a steady, stable life where crisis living is not desirable. No one can control whether on not they encounter crisis in their lives but we can set up our lives so as to minimise the chance of unnecessary crisis. Living within ones financial means is one such attitude. Our emotional state is the result of our thoughts and actions. Many people feel that they have no control over their emotional turmoil while at the same time living in a way that generates turmoil. It is necessary to develop some discernment within ones self about the relationship between our emotional state and lifestyle. Suppressing or medicating emotions does not work in the long term. An attitude of taking responsibility for your emotional state and creating the circumstances that will allow for equanimity to develop is in the power of everyone.
Growing up and growing old are not the same thing. Growing up is about maturing as an individual, becoming responsible for yourself and your actions in society. Being consciously aware of this helps you to achieve it.
Another good attitude to develop from the perspective of spiritual growth is open mindedness. To have an open mind is to be judicious about what you believe. You can’t believe everything you hear, nor can you reject everything either. Common sense is necessary. Since we are taught prejudice and judgement as part of our conditioning in society it is necessary to become aware of these qualities in ourselves. Do you have blanket beliefs about politics, politicians, religions, women, professions, ethnic groups, etc. Usually we do not notice these in ourselves until they are challenged or we start a deliberate search to find our hidden beliefs, assumptions and expectations.
As an example of how attitudes might clash, it could happen that a marriage hits hard times because one partner came in to it with an attitude that the milestones of life should be celebrated while the other partner has an attitude of always being frugal. In a situation such as this we can easily become hardened in our attitude, unless we are willing to check out for ourselves how valid is our attitude. Clashes of attitudes arise in everyday life.
An open mind is a scientific mind. It is open to inquiry, to finding out the facts.
If you are so attached to your already held beliefs, “facts” and opinions you will not be not open to new ideas and it is necessary to be open to new ideas for spiritual growth to happen in you.
Learn to find your hidden attitudes behind your moods.
An attitude of self-reliance is necessary. Assume an attitude of responsibility towards taking care of your body, your lifestyle, your moods, your time, your energy and so on. As a child you are totally dependent of your parents for everything. The process of growing up is one of gradually taking responsibility for yourself. Many people get stuck or distracted along the way. Society and the media are only too willing claim some of your dependence but at the cost of your energy and your independence. Self-reliance is about being your own person while at the same time finding a way to fit into society as much as necessary. Many people do not realise they have a responsibility to themselves to figure this out and instead fall into the habit of going along with the crowd.
A common sense attitude is necessary. There is a notion around that in order to be spiritually responsible one needs to be not involved in daily life. Spiritual interest is seen as idealistic, airy-fairy, unrealistic and not concerned with the practicalities of daily life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Spiritual life is daily life, lived consciously. It is about being responsible for your actions, developing a consciousness about every aspect of your life.
An attitude of patience and tolerance is necessary. Patience is about being willing to accept things as they are as opposed to feeling they should be different. It’s about accepting that things happen in a time frame that you do not have control over. It about learning to not rush around or impose a rushing attitude on others.
This is an attitude that is called for in many aspects of our daily lives; in traffic, in queues for all kinds of service, in restaurants, in awaiting results from doctors or school, and so on. Patience is the result of not indulging your frustration or rushing mentality in any situation.
The discernment to be made here is the difference between proper activity and rushed activity.
An attitude of devotion or commitment to your spiritual growth is necessary. Often times people delay their growth out of lack of confidence. They are not convinced that the path of spiritual growth is real or valuable. They have not come across teachings or a person whom they feel to be really trustworthy or authentic. It is necessary to sift through teachers and teachings until you find one who “speaks” to you and to then proceed with an open mind. The very fact of looking to find help with your spiritual growth is the first steps.
A can-do attitude is necessary. Have faith in yourself, in your suspicion or intuition that there is something more to life than the physical world. Determine to find out for yourself what is hidden behind the surface of life. You are just as entitled as anyone to break through the surface of life and find the mystery underneath. This is the natural right of every human being but you must go after it for yourself. Nobody else can do your spiritual work for you.
An attitude of gratitude is necessary. Instead of looking at life from the perspective of how badly you have been treated or how much better or easier it is for others, start to acknowledge to yourself all the things you have been given or taken for granted.
An attitude of discernment is necessary. I’d say the most important attitude because it is what you need to find your way through everyday life to finding yourself. Look deep into yourself, your attitudes, your patterns of behaviour and feelings, your motivations, your expectations, etc. Become observant of yourself and those around you, not with a view to judging but to understanding what is going on. Learn to not jump to conclusions. Fact is stranger that fiction!Discrimination is about learning to see what is going on beneath the surface.
Our attitudes are influenced and modified by the people we associate with, and the culture we come from. In order to develop an attitude which is conducive to spiritual growth it helps to be associating with others who are also on this path.