How to Keep an Open Mind

I had a friend once who absolutely couldn’t stand being confronted with information that contradicted her beliefs.  “Don’t confuse me with the facts!” she would say, “My mind is already made up.”

I thought of her this week when I came across a quote from Pema Chodron.  “The truth you believe and cling to, makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”

As I said in last week’s post, nobody enjoys discovering that what they believed to be true is not.  But our pain only lasts as long as we insist on clinging to our erroneous, distorted, or incomplete beliefs.

The reality is that none of us has the whole picture about anything.  We make up a lot of stuff.  We grab soundbites from the news, read something, or pick up viewpoints from family or friends and add them to our information stock without question, especially when they fit in well with the beliefs we have already formed.  Then, when they’re challenged, we tend to get defensive.  It can be uncomfortable to let go of a belief.

But it doesn’t have to be.  You can toss out a torn or outworn belief as easily as you throw out a sock with a big hole in the toe or a shirt you’ve outgrown.   The key is to see that learning something new is an adventure, an opportunity to get a wider, fresher view of things.   Moving toward a greater truth is freeing.

When you encounter information that challenges your beliefs, see it as a chance to expand your understanding of the world.  You don’t have to buy into it right away. Investigate. Poke around a bit.  Probe the new data to see how sound it is.  Is there good evidence for it?  Great! You’ve opened a new door.  You don’t have to form conclusions immediately.  You can just accept the possibility that maybe there’s something to these new ideas and poke into them some more.  They may lead you back to your initial belief, strengthening and broadening it.  Or they may lead you to a different and clearer view of the world that empowers you to act in it in a wiser, more informed way.

And right now, we need all the strength, clarity and wisdom we can get.  Competing voices from all sides are vying for our loyalty.  It’s important to consider which ones are based in facts and which are riding on mere platitudes or suppositions.  Keep an open mind and do some research into the claims.  Try to distinguish between arguments that are presenting facts and those that are appealing to your desire to cling to an established belief.

Sorting things out calls for a commitment to finding the truth, regardless of where it may lead you.  But searching for greater truth is the greatest and most rewarding adventure of them all.

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The Highest Achievement

This week I want to continue sharing some of the shining nuggets of wisdom that serendipity led me to find.  I picked three that have served me well, especially when I’m catching up with the day’s headlines.  In fact, I’ve come to look at reading the news as a kind of test to see how well I’m doing with them.

The first one comes from Zen teacher Traleg Rinpoche: “The only thing we really have any control over,” he says, “is our own experience.”  That’s a tough one!  Am I getting irritated?  Frustrated? Angry? Depressed?  Whose fault is that?

It’s mine, I realize, when I remember this nugget.  And when I realize it, I’m free to examine my feeling, to choose to let it go, or to contemplate why I’m holding the thought, what stories it’s triggering, whether there’s a larger context than what I’m focusing on.  I can play with looking at my reaction from a different perspective.  I can recognize that what I’m feeling is simply an automatic reaction to whatever evoked it.  It’s a mere thought, and I can acknowledge it and let it go.  Or I can listen to it and see what it’s asking of me.  But I get to choose.  I get to claim my power to control my experience.

The second piece of wisdom comes from Osho, who counsels:  “Don’t seek, don’t search, don’t ask, don’t knock, don’t demand – relax.  If you relax it comes.  If you relax it is there.”

Oh!  Yes, of course.  Relax.  In my experience, that’s advice of the very highest order.  And I love linking it to my realization that I get to control my experience.  Relaxing opens my heart and my mind.  It lets unnecessary thoughts and emotions float away.  It brings me back to the present and centers me.  To my delight, it arouses my sense of humor and my sense of wonder.  It allows me to remember that everything is a grand mystery and that I’m lucky to be experiencing it.

And that leads me to the third nugget, a Zen proverb that says, “To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.”  It’s the highest achievement because it provides the highest rewards.  To be calm is to have inner peace, to know serenity regardless of what is happening in the world around you or within your own body or mind.  It summarizes both of the previous two nuggets.  It allows you to respond to life with authenticity and presence.

Unlike the realization of self-possession in the first nugget, or the counsel to relax in the second one, calm isn’t a means to an end, but an end in itself.  It’s the state to which self-possession and relaxation lead.  It’s evenness in mind, emotions and spirit, a beautifully worthwhile space in which to live.

So I give you these three nuggets to place in your pocket.  Think of them as smooth pebbles you can caress with your fingers whenever you notice that you’re ruffled or out of sorts.  I especially recommend holding them in your hand whenever you read the day’s news.

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How to Make This Year Your Best

The first week of the year was rich with gifts for me.  Among them was the gift of free time, and as I spent it happily reading and listening to teachers of all sorts, I collected a whole basket full of ideas that I get to share with you!

I sincerely hope your week brought shining gifts, too—Memorable moments that you can treasure all year through.  If not, it’s a brand new week in a still-very-new year, and it’s brimming with possibilities.

Really.

We forget that because we get trapped in our routines and habitual thought-boxes.  But it remains a fact that you can add more zest and meaning and joy to your life any time you decide to.  Here’s a little 3-step formula I strung together from the quotes I gathered this week:

  1. “The first step to getting anywhere is deciding you’re no longer willing to stay where you are.” ~David Icke

Make a quick list of things that, if dropped, would make your life lighter, healthier, more like the life you want to live.  You know what they are.  You can probably list at least ten right off the bat.  Go beyond (but include) the easy ones like exercising more, eating better, stopping smoking.  Think about ways you spend time that could be invested in more creative, rewarding, or satisfying activities.  Think about your relationships and what you could stop doing that keeps them from being more meaningful and authentic.  What are you no longer willing to do, to be?

  1. Ben Stein says, “The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.”

So we have two different ideas about our first steps.  Personally, I think Ben’s first step is an outgrowth of deciding what you don’t want.  We know what we’re doing that’s holding us down.  It’s close to home.  And whether we look it in the face or not, we know on some level that it’s hurting.  Identify those things, then ask yourself, “What do I want instead?’

Get real clear on this.  What DO you want instead?  What would that look like?  How would it feel?  Think about a few options for beginning to move in its direction.  How will you begin?  When?

An old mentor of mine often said that if we’re not making the progress we want and know that we’re capable of making, the reason is that our goals aren’t clearly defined.  “Crystalize them,” he said.  Spell out what you want in tangible terms:  “I want to spend two hours more every week with my family.”  “I want to lose ten pounds by March 1st.”  Then decide how you’re going to do it and begin.

  1. Finally, the real key to making it happens is in this quote from Jim Rohn: “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”  Okay, I know that “discipline” isn’t a warm and fuzzy word.  But the root of it is the same as the one for “disciple,” a follower.  When you’re disciplined about moving toward your goal, you’re following your own vision of what and whom you want to be.  It doesn’t mean you have to attain perfection all at once.  It means you keep moving, one little step at a time, one hour, one day at a time, in the direction that you’ve chosen to go.  Some days you’ll make leaps and bounds.  Some days you’ll fail altogether.  Discipline means you keep going, that you keep your eyes on the prize.

I’ll close with a key phrase that has served me well when I’ve chosen to make changes in my life.  It turns on my sense of daring and adventure, so it gives me a delicious sense of courageous nonchalance.  It’s these simple two words:

Why Not?!

Wishing you soaring dreams and the gumption to pursue them.

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The Ultimate Fresh Start

Well, here we are, teetering right on the razor edge of a brand new year.  Another chance to take a stab at being our best, at finally deciding to focus on our best dreams.

And then the next day comes and all the excitement and determination fades right away with the rising sun.  With unadmitted relief, we slide back into the comfortable routines.

And that’s okay.  It’s called being human.  Back-sliding is built right in.  That’s why the more realistic among us don’t even bother making “resolutions.”

Still, it’s good to take some time when the New Year rolls around to give some thought to what you would like to do better, what you would like to leave behind.  That’s how real change happens, after all.  And every morning, every minute, offers us a fresh start.  You can grab one any time you decide to trade something old for something new.

So, if you were going to name something you want to claim more of, or something that you no longer want in your life, what would it be?  Over the next day or two, roll that question around in your mind and see what you come up with.   It’s a good thing to know, just in case that genie with the magic lamp shows up to offer you wishes.

Personally, I start thinking about what I want more of and what I want to leave behind several days, and sometimes several weeks before the New Year dawns.  Then I tuck my answers inside two words or phrases that I use as guide words for the year.  I write one of them atop the first page of my journal and the second one atop the facing page, and every time I turn the page, I write them again.  If I didn’t keep a journal, I’d write them on a card and put it somewhere that I’d see it every single day—on my fridge, in the notes section of my weekly calendar.

For my focus in 2017, for example, I chose the phrases “Vibrant Health” and “Inspired Creativity.”  Looking back, I see that I’ve significantly expanded my knowledge of nutrition and tweaked my food choices in harmony with that.  I’ve added some simple exercises to my routine.  And almost every day, I’ve taken my camera for a walk, fulfilling both guidelines at once.  I’m more playful.  I doodle more.  I make up songs on my electronic keyboard.  I read more poetry and I think my writing has improved.

I’ve come to call my two words/phrases my “nudge words.”   I don’t really think about them or make any conscious effort to act in harmony with them.  But my daily encounter with them seems to give them some power.  They sink into my subconscious and remind me how I want to be, what would make my life richer.

It works for me—effortlessly.  And as this old year slides over the horizon, I find that I’m excited about seeing how my new set of nudge words will be reflected in my life in the days to come.  Pick a couple of your own and give it a try.  It’s no magic genie, but it’s the closest thing I’ve found.

Wishing you a fine New Year, full of health, kindness, beauty and love.

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Stress-Busters for the Holidays

the Grinch

Here they come, ready or not!  The Holidays!  Oh, my!  All those lights, all that music!  Feasts and gifts galore.  And sneaking right in with them, like that mean old Grinch, comes the pressure and stress.  Well, never fear.  I have three stress-busters for you that are guaranteed Grinch-slayers.

  1. The Movie Scene

Every now and then, imagine you’re watching yourself as if you were the main character in a movie.  Imagine feeling what the character is feeling: happiness, frustration, involvement, excitement, dread, anticipation—whatever is real for you at the moment.  Imagine heart-felt appreciation and understanding for the character.  Then zoom out a bit and notice all the circumstances and how the character is doing his or her best—whether things are working out beautifully or totally falling apart.  Extend your love to him or her.  Imagine giving that character-version of you a hug.

Do try this.  You can practice it right now.  See yourself wherever you are, reading this email, feeling whatever you’re feeling.  Appreciate who you are right now, in this very moment.  Give yourself a hug.

  1. The Easy Tool

Whenever you find yourself facing a challenge—visiting the family, performing for an audience, getting all your preparations done, finding the right outfit—ask yourself “How easy can I let this be?”

It’s a magical question.  It reminds you that can let it be easy.  You can focus your attention on this one moment, and breathe, and then take the immediate next step into the next moment and the next, one at a time, and each one can be as easy as you’re willing to let it be.

  1. The Only Expectation

You never know how things are going to turn out.  You may think you do.  We all project our past experiences onto our futures and expect repeat performances.  Then we tend to act in ways that make our predictions come true.

But what if you didn’t?  What if you decided in advance how you wanted something to turn out?  What if you could hold an open space in your mind for the idea that everything might turn out beautifully?  What if you set up an expectation that you would be at ease, and gracious, and kind, and patient, and loving?  What if you expected to see and enjoy the good things in the people you encountered?  What if you expected to do everything you needed to do easily and remarkably well?

As you approach an event, think about how you would like to be in it.  Pick a key word or two to symbolize what you think would be the best you in that situation.  Then let that be your only expectation.

Putting It to Work

To make these tools work for you, try this:  Hold up one finger and say “The Movie Scene.”  Then raise a second finger while you say, “The Easy Tool,” and a third finger while you say, “The Only Expectation.  Do it a few times and then practice it a few times throughout the day for the next couple of days.  Then, when you’re feeling stressed or challenged, remember that magic is as easy as 1-2-3.

Wishing you Grinch-free holidays, full of love, and joy, and good cheer.

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