When I was young child, I was playing at my mother’s feet as she was ironing. Curious about what she was doing, I stood on my tippy-toes and reached out to point to the iron. She quickly and firmly cautioned me to not touch the blazing hot appliance. Taking her words into little account, I continued reaching and put the palm of my hand flat against the iron’s hotplate. I remember little after that besides the searing pain that seemed to torch through my entire being!
To be sure, I had a mind of my own. How often my parents must have longed for the ability to control my thoughts! Likewise, parents of teens are constantly wringing their hands because they cannot control them. They have minds of their own.
But which of us doesn’t have a mind of our own? Our minds wander, slip, slide and careen all over the place at times (granted, some much more than others!). Life events happen like curves and bends in the road, and the car veers off course sometimes, landing on its side in the ditch. One thing after another starts going “wrong.” It is not all controllable.
Life unfolds. As obvious as this may sound, with the eyes of Forrest Gump we can see how profound this reality truly is. Life is filled with good things and bad. Often labels are assigned to occurrences that are judged as “good” or “bad.” What one person sees as good, the other may see as bad. It is not universal.
A friend of mine just lost her job. At first, I could sense her downheartedness at this “bad” event. But as she is one who is given to working through trials in her life, sure enough, within about a day or so, she began examining the event from a different perspective. Before long, she saw the amazing opportunities that this “good” occurrence had provided for her.
When something initially knocks the wind out of our sails, if we stand back and wait and watch, something good will eventually come from it. Time often provides our mind and spirit the opportunity to take a fresh look at the bigger picture.
Let me say this: whether you have general stress, extreme stress, chronic anxiety, major depression, panic attacks, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), or any other affliction that is impacting you at the level of your mind, your emotions, or your body, you are not alone, and you are not a freak. And there is help.
Today I invite you to take the first step towards greater peace of mind, towards the doorstep of happiness. But before I do, I want you to think of an Olympic athlete. Did that person get to win the gold medal by just learning about the sport one day upon rising out of bed? No. They trained for it. And how did the training begin? Perhaps with stretches, and then some push-ups (ugh!), followed by some laps around the track.
Or take the renovation of an old house, for example. It’s disheveled and in need of much repair. Do you just start patching and repainting and putting a new addition onto the old, off-kilter structure? Not if you want the changes to be lasting. You’ll start with the foundation, and get it straightened first. It’s a big job, and requires a lot of concerted effort. But it’s the only way, if you want the house to be solid and stable.
So while the following may seem dumb, mundane, and useless to do, if you are really serious about wanting to gain control of your mind, you’ll start at the beginning, at the foundation, where everything you build on from there will be lasting, solid and trustworthy.
A Simple Mindful Awareness Challenge
So here it is: If you have a quiet place you can go to, it will help. And if you feel comfortable doing so, close your eyes. Are you breathing? Good. I thought so. Can you feel your breath going in and out? Feel it right now. Feel it go in; feel it go out. Focus on your breath. Stop reading for a moment, and just be aware of your breath. It’s always with you. Everywhere you go, your breath will be there to focus on. If other thoughts pop into your mind while you are focusing on your breath, just gently replace the thoughts with the thought of your breath. Be kind to yourself if your mind wanders again and again. Don’t scorn yourself for having intruding thoughts as you’re trying to focus on just your breath. Simply and lovingly replace those thoughts with thoughts of just your breath.
If you can do this exercise for 1-2 minutes today, you have more than achieved success. If you can do it for 3-5 minutes, that’s wonderful, too. If you can do this brief exercise several times a day, all the better. But do it lovingly. If you can only manage 2 minutes before your other thoughts dominate, do not be harsh with yourself and call yourself names. You are a wonderful success in doing any of it at all. Love and accept every attempt you make.
Until next time, my friends, Peace.
(Originally posted December 1, 2010)