Lessons in Mindfulness 1.11

Mastering Your Internal Environment

The environments

where you choose

to spend your time

are reflections of

what is important to



Mastering Your Internal Environment

How external environments influence us

    When people use the term “environment,” they are

usually referring to an external setting or place. Although

many environments are natural and untouched, modern

man spends most of his time in specifically designed

environments. External environments can significantly

impact our behavior and our thoughts. Consider the distinct

differences between the following two examples:

First setting: Imagine being in a dimly lit, smoke-filled bar,

at eleven o’clock on a Saturday night. The trendy over-

dressed, or barely-dressed, crowd consumes alcoholic

refreshments throughout the night. The deafening music

from the live band competes with loud conversations,

many tainted with profanity and sexual overtones. By

simply entering the door of this environment, a person

is bombarded with hundreds of subtle stimuli, which

influence his actions, emotions, and thoughts.

Second setting: Picture yourself on a Sunday morning at

church, synagogue, or temple, where candles flicker,

and incense fills the air. A choir sings uplifting hymns,

or chants play softly in the background. People practice

introspection and monitor conversations for tone and

content. The dress is modest and tasteful. In this

environment, thoughts and feelings are mostly peaceful,

loving and uplifting.

Environment is stronger than will

   These two situations are not given as examples of

right or wrong behavior. Instead, they are meant to illustrate

the power of external environments over human behavior

and action. We participate in many kinds of environments

throughout our day, which might include work, home,

entertainment, and the dojo. These environments affect us

strongly, so we must choose them with care.

Your internal

environment is the

lens with which you

view the world.

Self-control vs. mastery of the self

    Most of us don’t realize that we also have an internal

environment. For thousands of years in Eastern culture,

people have practiced mastering their internal environment,

but this concept is not widely understood in the

West. Most people recognize the need for a little

self-control. But few of us comprehend the difference

between self-control and mastery of the self, which includes

control over thoughts and feelings, discipline of the breath,

and command over moods and attitudes.

    Our internal environment is made up of thoughts,

vibration and consciousness. It is the lens with which

we view the world. Our internal environment ultimately

determines the degree of happiness that we experience

over our lifetime. Three steps are necessary to master

your internal environment:

A person’s unbalance, mentally or physically, is the

same as a weight.

1. Understand and accept that you have an internal environment.

Both the body and

mind should be able

to change direction

at any time.

You can’t master something, if you don’t even recognize it.

2. Learn to monitor thoughts, feelings and emotions.


To maintain and eventually master the internal

environment, learn to monitor thoughts, feelings and

emotions. Blaming other people or circumstances for your

own attitude, mood, and or even thoughts is much easier

than accepting personal responsibility.

    Haven’t we all been guilty of thoughts like, “He makes

me so mad, or she upsets me? He frustrates and

depresses me, or they raise my blood pressure? He makes

me happy or she makes me feel good.” Realize that these

types of statements, whether expressed in words or just

thoughts, relinquish control over your internal environment.

    Many times, simple awareness of thoughts and feelings

can affect actions. For example, when we are tired, sick,

angry, or upset, we should probably delay making important

decisions or put off difficult conversations. At the very least,

we should choose words and behavior carefully. People

judge us by our actions, and friends and loved ones will

excuse a bad day, but they will not soon forget it. If we have

too many of these bad days strung together, others begin to

avoid us, or be careful around us, not wanting to provoke


The competitor looks at his opponent, the artist looks

at his partner and the wise man looks within.

3. Take control of your internal environment.

     By now, you realize that all feelings, moods, and

attitudes are born from your thoughts. So getting control

over your internal environment requires that you take

control of your thoughts. Monitoring your thoughts, feelings

and moods for a significant period of time and noticing

your reactions to situations is important. But, you must

take action. Use affirmations and visualization

techniques to help construct your desired mindset.

     Becoming aware of your thoughts doesn’t require that

you endlessly contemplate them. You might fear that this

will take a lot of time, but nothing could be further from

the truth. Thoughts happen in the moment. You cannot

monitor or change thoughts from the past or the future.

You can only change them in the present. Changing from

undesirable to desirable thoughts is a simple, but not easy,

process. Begin by recognizing negative thoughts, banish

them, and then immediately replace them with positive

thoughts. The most difficult task is to recognize each and

every emerging negative thought, before becoming

attached to it. Attachment manifests as a bad feeling,

mood, or attitude.

     External circumstances continuously bombard us, but

we can choose to maintain a steady course internally. We

can use introspection to monitor our internal environment

and reason to guide us. We can use our strong will to

defeat bad habits, push beyond our boundaries, and keep

away distractions. We have the power to master the most

difficult part of our practice, the self.

Learn to listen to that

which is not said, but

only thought.

We can use the practice to truly understand and

eventually master ourselves.

 A person’s heart is

the same as heaven

         and earth.

   It was Monday night and the last class had

just bowed out. Students were cleaning and

saying goodbye, when the master noticed Charles, patiently

waiting to talk. The master approached him and asked if he

wanted to join him in the office. Taking a seat in his chair, the

master asked, “What are we talking about today, Charles?”

      Charles sat down, dropped his shoulders and sighed. His

eyes filled with tears, and he looked very uncomfortable. Finally

he blurted out, “Sir, I want to say goodbye. I am joining the


      Obviously surprised, the master said, “This is very sudden.

When and how did you come to this decision? You have

practiced here for many years and never indicated any desire

to enlist in the military.”

      Charles slowly began to speak, “Sir, my life is a mess.

I am disorganized, undisciplined and unhappy. The military will

provide the structure and discipline that I desperately need.”

      The master nodded in agreement, “Yes, Charles, the

military is a powerful path for those who are drawn to it. It is

a noble and respectable career. But, would I be correct in

stating that you are choosing the military out of desperation?”

      Charles straightened in his chair. “Yes sir, but I sincerely

feel desperate. If I want to accomplish the things that I want to

in my life, I need control.”

      “I would agree that you need discipline and control. But

why the military?” the master asked.

      Charles, growing uncomfortable and a little defensive said,

“Sir, you have often warned that environment is stronger than

will. I feel that being in an environment where I am given very

little choice will be best for me.”

    The master walked over to the window and looked out at

the outdoor practice area. He spoke in almost a whisper,

“Charles, many people live under the supervision of others,

from spiritual institutions to penal institutions, and everything

in between. Even some corporations demand conformity

among employees in both behavior and dress. Many will

blindly follow orders or perform rituals, often for many years,

without making any real progress. If you do not freely

embrace the environment and the principles behind the

organization, you will only resent the confined existence of

a chained man. You must be “called” to a restrictive


    Over the years, I’ve noticed that you have some difficulty

with authority, even here in the dojo. Yes, I have often said

that environment is stronger than will.”

    He turned to look directly into Charles’ eyes, and

continued, “Charles, there are two kinds of environments:

One is external and one is internal. Wearing a military uniform

and obeying rules and regulations will give you external

discipline, but you need to take control over your internal

environment. I am referring to your thoughts, attitude and

moods. To truly be happy, you must maintain control of the

internal world, regardless of your surroundings.” The master

returned to his chair.

    Charles sat quietly for a moment, gathering his thoughts

and began to speak, “I think that I understand, sir. To

deepen my practice, I must include my thoughts, attitude

and behavior. I have been a poor workman, finding fault with

my tools.”

How successful are

you at controlling your

internal environment?

     To contemplate

      and ponder is

   important, but to

become enlightened,

     you must learn

          to just be.


Monitoring your internal environment

     Using a tape recorder or small notepad, record your

thoughts, feelings, attitudes, moods, and emotions several

times throughout the day for 2 weeks. Be specific, giving

as much detail as possible at each entry. Strive for a

minimum of 5 observations a day. Obviously the more

times a day you track your internal environment, the better.

Try not to miss or skip days, but if you do, resume the

activity immediately. Each entry should take no more than

a few moments.

    At the end of each day, read or listen to all of your

entries for that day. Identify your most frequent and power-

ful thoughts, feelings and emotions. After monitoring your

internal environment for 2 weeks, write a paper on your

discoveries. Include the most frequently recurring thoughts,

feelings, attitudes and emotions, for example, anger,

frustration, or happiness. Reflect on what you’ve learned

from observations.

When you have completed this activity keep a copy of your

work for future reference and make a copy to turn in to your


At all times, it is your thoughts, feelings and

emotions, which determine your happiness.


Controlling your internal environment

The secret to control

    After monitoring your internal environment, you should

clearly see how your thoughts are influenced. Rather than

blaming outside forces for your moods and behaviors, you

can gain control over your internal environment. The secret

lies in the breath. Most of us have heard that taking several

deep breathes when angry helps to calm you down. This

common childhood advice is more powerful that most

people realize.

The blood

circulating is

similar to the

moon and sun.

The breath and the mind are inseparable

    The suggestion seems so simple, that we dismiss it,

in search of more advanced or complicated control

techniques. But the breath and the mind are inseparable.

The condition of one directly reflects the condition of the

other. When you are angry, frustrated, upset, breathing

speeds up. When you are calm, relaxed, meditating or

sleeping, breathing slows down. So by taking control over

the breath, we effectively take control over our internal

environment. Centering ourselves, we are able to return

to a calmer, more peaceful state.

    To control your internal environment, use diaphragm

breathing taught in Lesson One. Throughout the day, when

you see or feel yourself becoming upset, frustrated or

angry, immediately take 6-12 deep diaphragm breaths

before proceeding. Before beginning a stressful period in

the day, attending a meeting, facing a verbal confrontation,

or even driving in rush hour traffic, perform diaphragm

breathing to help relax your body and calm your mind.

A martial artist should

 position himself in the

  center of the storm.

       While remaining

         calmly active,

   he is actively calm.

Catch it early

    Imagine that you are on a very steep mountain with a

large boulder resting at the top. The boulder is about to roll

down the mountain, and will probably destroy everything in

the path.

    Your job is to stop the boulder! Where do you want

to be standing? Obviously, the sooner you can stop it, the

better. Once it gains momentum, you lose control. The

same is true in your life. Without control, you will begin

rationalizing and justifying irrational behavior, thought and


The great ones say that you should master the

self…referring specifically to your internal


Key Points

• To control your internal environment, you must identify the

negative thought or feeling early. Once you become attached

to the thought or feeling, staying in control will be difficult.

You are likely to get swept up in the thought and feelings and

feel justified in your behavior. Remember, this is not about

being right or wrong. It is about staying in control.

• Take deep-relaxed breaths, not quick, short breaths.

• The more that you practice this technique, the more you

condition yourself to take deep breaths before responding to


The manner of drinking

and spitting is either

hard or soft.


• Overall better relationships

• Happier, less stressful days

  • The ability to react calmly and rationally

You cannot be aware of your thoughts in the past

or the future–only in the moment.

In ancient times,

martial artists

were known to

practice calligraphy,

write and read

great books. These

activites, along with

practice, led to

greater wisdom and


Recommended Reading

*The Prophet–Kahlil Gibran

Zen Keys–Thich Nhat Hanh

Book Of Five Rings–Miyamoto Mushashi

*Highly recommended