My spiritual teacher Mary Morrissey, author of Building Your Field of Dreams, often reminds me to notice what I notice. It is a simple statement that suggests that what we pay attention to makes a difference in the quality of our day and ultimately our lives.
Our minds habitually notice the same things. We have a filter through which we see life and our minds are trained to gather the evidence that supports our worldview. If our filter tells us that that life is hard, our brain, in its brilliance, will zero in on the circumstances that support this viewpoint.
On the other hand, if we have a worldview that says life is good, our minds search for events and situations that prove this to us. Here is the thing, the evidence for either perception exists simultaneously. We get to decide what we notice which will then determine the kind of experience we have. The wonderful thing is that once we become aware of how our brain works, we can change our experience by placing our attention on those things that support our desired new way of thinking.
Other world teachers and traditions teach that our thoughts determine our lives as well. The ancient teachings of the Dhammapada simply say “Our life is shaped by our mind.” Thich Nhat Hanh world renowned Buddhist monk and teacher tells us, “Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.” In the Christian Gospels Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat or what we will drink, that it is God’s good pleasure to give us these things. Instead he tells us to seek God first, which is another way of saying “Seek good first.” And from Napoleon Hill author of the classic Think and Grow Rich tells us that “Thoughts are Things.”
Let me give you an example. I sat on my porch this morning to do some reading and heard the loud buzz of the cicadas. I knew in that moment I could choose to be annoyed by these pesky little bugs or I could choose to focus on something else. I took a breath, listened for all of the different sounds and in the midst of the cicada noise I heard the melody of the birds as well. As I put my focus on the mockingbirds in my yard, the hum of the cicadas receded to the background and I became less annoyed. The cicadas were still there, but because I chose to focus on the birds instead, I had a much better experience.
We can purposely focus on specific things to make a situation better.
For instance, if you have to deal someone difficult you can decide ahead of time to notice particular qualities in that person which will make you appreciate him/her more. For example, you can decide to focus on their courage. As you look for the times that he/she showed courage in the face of a difficult challenge, you find that your attitude softens toward them. Consequently, your opinion of the person changes and your time with him/her becomes much better than you anticipated.
Science demonstrates that what we think and feel actually determines our level of intelligence or our capacity for creative thought in any given moment. Pioneering biologist and author Bruce Lipton explains in his book Biology of Belief that negative emotions like anger and fear make us dumber. When we become afraid our capacity to think creatively is dramatically reduced. We hunker down and hope we can just survive. On the other hand, when we purposely cultivate feelings like gratitude, appreciation and kindness, then look for evidence to support these feelings, we are open-minded and able to entertain new possibilities.
It takes practice and dedication. So many of us deeply believe in things like life is hard and people are not to be trusted. I am not saying that we don’t face some really tough stuff. We all face challenges in our lives. Rather, I am suggesting that at any moment we can choose how we are going to see our life circumstances. As we train our minds to notice the good that is always present and give thanks for it, we create a new habit of thinking. Consequently, when the hard stuff comes we are better equipped to handle it without it devastating us.
So, as you go through your day, take time out periodically to notice what you notice. If you don’t like what you see or the way it makes you feel, then shift your orientation and look for signs of abundance, joy and beauty that are all around you. I promise you will feel better and life will get sweeter.