Every day I wake up with the usual cloud of mental chaos that threatens to start my day poorly. The residue of a disturbing dream coats my tongue and I start to think about all the things I’m not doing with my life and all the ways I’m not helping people, and the ways I’m feeling sorry for or judging myself. I think about how the sand reaches up and pulls my head down to feed its lonely depths. And then I end that retreat to the dark side by thinking about all the ways I’m manifesting these very behaviours just by spending mental energy thinking about them instead of planting my feet on the floor and creating the day I want, the day the world needs.
Do you ever get caught in this vicious mental cage?
So I pull myself out of bed, drink a cup of warm water, slap down my yoga mat, and meditate. I bring peace to my mind by observing the incessant little voice that likes to peck at me, over-analyze, judge, criticize, and make me the most inferior person in my life. Her words may have some weight, but I don’t have to believe everything that voice says.
Each new day requires that we connect, in some way, to our inner selves. It’s part of how we learn to express loving kindness with the world around us.
If I wake up angry, resentful, full of bitterness and allow those emotions to frame my day and guide my actions, I might as well just lock all my doors and windows and stew in negativity because that energy spreads like herpes from one person to the next and that becomes my contribution to the world. I become a giant cold sore, kissing everyone I pass on the street, especially the slow people, the stupid people, the bad drivers, the people who feed the pigeons in front of the giant sign that reads, “don’t feed the pigeons”.
But if I watch that energy, pick it up, turn it over, observe its layers and shapes and colours without judgement and find a way to use it and positively harness its power then I can make a more positive contribution to my environment, the internal one I share intimately with myself, and the larger nucleus containing the air and psychic space I share with others each day.
Mental habits are like any routine behaviours, they become natural and unconscious. But habits can be broken with a bit of effort. It’s kind of like starting a garden. There’s a lot of work at first until it becomes a matter of simple maintenance.
So, when I wake up today, I ask myself:
What will this day bring? What can I create? What new truth will burst out of the forest of ideas and ignite a fresh way of being? What can I contribute to the world?
Today, I made a paradigmatic shift to break old patterns of negative thought. I commit myself to finding a few things that I mentally complain about. Not so I can beat myself up for complaining about my privileged life, but so I can train myself to reframe those complaints as lessons or reminders, reasons to be grateful. Because our thoughts are like the foods we eat. We have to choose them carefully if we want to feel good.
The superficial things that seem to disrupt our daily lives but are actually neutral events is a good place to start. They provide a canvas upon which we can paint a much brighter reality, one enriched with gratitude, love, and expansion.
What if we believed that every situation we’re in in a given moment is the best one possible, with the people involved doing the best they can with the level of awareness they’re at?
I have a jug whose spout delivers water to my glass via a slow, agonizing trickle. I could actually manifest dehydration just by focusing on how irritatingly slow it is. I don’t buy a new jug that delivers a more efficient pour. That would be a waste of money, and I would miss the vital opportunity it gives me to increase my patience so that I may end my own suffering in times when I have to wait for what I need or want. It also makes me realize that I don’t want to rush through one moment to get to the next to get to the next. I want to find joy in the precise moment I’m in.
The sometimes overwhelming crowds of people in the city streets delivers me greater tolerance for people and prevents me from developing an aversion to the diversity of human voices, smells, appearances, and behaviours. They give me the opportunity to work through my irritations with other people and consider them as reflections of my own behaviour. How much do I contribute to the problem?
Similarly, the people feeding the pigeons right in front of the sign reading don’t feed the pigeons reminds me that our awareness is boundless and 100% within our control.
The pain in my hip is the threshold to deeper compassion and it teaches me that my body has an amazing built-in ability to protect itself. It also enhances the ease of movement the rest of my body enjoys.
Rather than becoming the target of my jealousy or inferiority, that amazing writer or whomever I aspire to be like, teaches me mudita. This is the Pali word for the Buddhist practice of sympathetic joy–rejoicing in another person’s success or good fortune rather than being threatened by it. This creates the space to expand our perspective and appreciation of all we have and lift out of the easy chair of self-centeredness.
My eye creases teach me what a privilege it is to age and how each human face is a distinct work of art sculpted by nature.
A breath of unknown sadness some days teaches me that happiness cannot be bought or acquired. It exists as necessarily as the sun and the rain, as the dark side of joy, which is impossible to recognize without knowing what sadness is. It alerts me to the child within who doesn’t yet have the words to express herself, the one in all of us who needs attention and consoling.
That ear smacking shriek of a motorbike ripping up and down the street or the incessant drip of a faucet teaches me that a sound is just a sound, a sight just a sight, a scent just a scent, a sensation is just a sensation. They are neutral until I decide otherwise.
The choice is always mine. I won’t feed the pigeons.