Yesterday I heard a discussion between Rick Steves and Pico Iyer, two travel experts sharing their love of world exploration. Having taken many travelers around the world, they agreed that two people can visit the same country and have very different experiences. One comes away inspired by the music, culture and people, while the other “complains about the food.” The difference is that the people who enjoy the trips had taken time to “open their hearts and minds” to the possibilities they might experience.
That same type of mindset can make all the difference in our daily lives.
Too often we awaken with a sense of worry or dread about what we anticipate might happen today. If we allow our worry to hijack our intentions for the day, it’s hard to even get out of bed. Mindfulness, the practice of bringing our attention to what is actually happening right here and right now, helps us escape from the illusion our very busy mind creates for us and brings us back to the present. After all, none of those things we’re worrying about is actually happening – and it’s very possible they will never happen! It’s wise for us to remember the adage, “Don’t believe everything you think.” People who have a mindfulness practice such as meditation know that our thoughts aren’t to be believed.
When I first began to meditate, I was frustrated – I couldn’t clear my mind and achieve that desired goal of peacefulness. No matter how many times I brought my attention back to my breath, another thought quickly seized my attention. But when I simply noticed the presence of the thought without allowing it to capture my attention, it effortlessly floated away, to be replaced by another thought and then another. It was clear these thoughts were simply illusory and represented my mind’s activity rather than something real. Try it! Sit in a quiet spot and practice keeping your attention on only your breath (or on anything – the feeling of your body sitting on the floor or chair, the expansion of your chest as you breathe in and out…). Notice how your thoughts come in and then float away. This simple practice, even for a few minutes a day, can help to disentangle you from the cords that your mind uses to keep you captive in its thoughts, and help you see more clearly what is real in your life. One physician coaching client of mine told me about her meditation experience – usually less than 15 minutes and sometimes as short as 1 minute a day. She’s noticed she is more centered and has found significant improvement in both her patience and ability to respond more effectively in times of stress and conflict at work. What a great investment of time each day!
And for all of us (meditators and not) there is a simple thing we can do to “open our hearts and minds” to the possibilities of each day. Instead of buying into the dreary and fearful thoughts that flood our minds when we awaken – we can wonder, “what might happen today?” What interesting, fun, stimulating, growth-enhancing, inspiring things might come our way? We’ll only notice, and thus reap the benefits of, the ones we open our hearts and minds to. This simple question will help us do just that.
I wonder…what will happen today for you?