Just as we habitually hoard old birthday cards and souvenirs, bank statements and receipts, clothes, broken appliances and old magazines, we also hang on to pride, anger, outdated opinions and fears. If we’re so attached to tangible things, imagine how difficult letting go of opinions must be (let alone opening our minds to new ideas, perspectives, possibilities and futures). Our beliefs inevitably solidify to be the only truth and reality that we know, which puts a greater distance between us and anyone whose beliefs are different. This distance not only segregates us, it feeds our pride.
All of this grasping, by the way, stems from fear.
Why are we so terrified of change, strangers, the new or the unknown? Has the world not continually shown us beauty, sincerity and love through every generation? Are we so focused on the darkness that we no longer see or even remember the light? This is like “The Never Ending Story”, if you remember it, wherein the minute people stop believing in a reality, ceases to exist. Love is real people! And it’s all around us. It vibrates beneath every act of kindness, service, art and family. Fear is also very real; it permeates every doubt, despair, hesitation, hatred, jealousy, anger, pride and deceit.
Habitually contemplate whether your thoughts stem from love or from fear. If your thoughts originate in love, then follow them. But if your thoughts originate from a place of fear, then dig deep to find the root of your fear. Only then will you be able to finally let go of it so that fear no longer limits your possibilities. There’s nothing to complain about, no reason to be afraid, and everything is possible if we live for each other.
So can we train the mind?
Your mind is like a spoiled rich kid! You have raised it to think whatever it wants whenever it wants to and for however long, with no regard for consequences or gratitude. And now sometimes you want to focus on something, but your mind keeps drifting away to whatever it wants to think about. Other times, when you really want to stop thinking about something, your mind “can’t help it.” Training the mind means being in charge of your decision instead of succumbing to cravings and so-called “uncontrollable urges.” Can you think of a better method for training a spoiled rich kid than some serious boot camp?
First things first: stop granting yourself everything you crave. Doing so simply conditions the spoiled kid to know that it can continue having whatever it wants. Please do not mistake this for deprivation, because that’s not what I’m suggesting, you can still have ice cream, for example, but only when you decide to, not when a craving “takes over.” There is a difference.
So when a thought arises, just watch it; don’t react to it. “Oh, I really want ice cream”… that’s nice; see what it's like to want something but not always get it. The first few times that you try to train your mind you will see the little kid in you throw a tantrum, which is actually hilarious. But it’s understandable; you’ve never said “no” to it before. It’s time you start!
You will eventually notice that you actually have more freedom to choose once you’re in control of your choices.
So what is the big picture?
We are urgently rushing toward some goal or dream, or an ever-elusive “finish line” of some sort. Under the pretense of pursuing happiness (and the heavy weight of questions like “where do you see yourself in five years from now?”), we imagine a different version of ourselves existing in the distant future somewhere – often richer, calmer, stable and wise. As a result, we spend very little time appreciating where we are today. By being focused on how things “could be,” we are under-appreciating how great things already are. Perhaps this could be a new habit to take into the festive period and you could do it from your hammock?
Unfortunately, this mindset affects how we approach almost everything else in life; instead of being grateful for what we already have, we exhaust ourselves with cravings an longings for what we haven’t’ yet achieved.; and rather than seeing the beauty and blessing of the friendships and relationship in our lives (and how fortunate we are to have them in the first place), we regard them as inferior to the imaginary version we’ve created of them in our minds.
If we give ourselves very little credit for how far we’ve already come, we tend to give others little to no credit for their own efforts in life. When we're impatient with ourselves, how can we possibly be forgiving of others? And as long as we continue judging ourselves when we look in the mirror, we’ll be doing the same to everyone around us.
Wouldn’t it be great to stop, if only for a minute on a regular basis, and reflect on how wonderful everything is? Pause for a moment and honor the progress you’ve already made in your life, acknowledge the gifts you do have, and appreciate life itself for a few breaths. We are continually evolving, growing, learning and expanding. And let’s face it, we will never be “done.” Take a step back and notice how the small details we fret about seem to disappear when we look at the big picture.