Looking again at the Big Picture has been one of the most important lessons I have learned in life. I have been contemplating on this concept in more depth.
When we have a problem, something that worries us, we tend to focus on that problem obsessively. We don’t think about anything else except what worries us. And while we continue to focus on this obsessive “problem”, we tend to miss everything else. The rest of our lives which we miss is what I consider the Big Picture.
For example, I may start worrying about the car that I have in the shop under repair. I would start worrying about how expensive it can be to repair it. I can start obsessing about how I would go places without my car. So I can go on and on focusing on the situation that I have chosen to identify as a problem. But if I choose to Look at the Big Picture, I consider other situations that would give me a different perspective and therefore a new feeling. I can choose to think about the good health I still have. I can think about the job I still have. I can think about the possibility of learning to catch the city bus or using a taxi. I can so thinks of so many other scenarios that will diminish the stress of having my car in the shop.
Consider also how small our planet is compared to the rest of the universe. When we think only about our community, our neighbor , or even our personal lives, we can easily become preoccupied with self righteousness and anxiety. We can get easily upset when things don’t go our way and start feeling angry, anxious, or afraid. But when we broaden our perspective to include the universe around us, we begin to see how miniature our worries are, and how small we really are. Our “rights” become more insignificant. The whole universe surrounds us and continues to function without caring about our individual preoccupations .
When we also consider how we perceive ourselves individually and worry about our mortality , our fears can be alleviated by recognizing that we all experience the same fate of death and that we are simply in a journey to something bigger than our limited lives .
When we focus on our faults and shortcomings, we tend to put ourselves down. We tend to punish ourselves with rituals and traditions in an attempt to make things better. But again, when we look at the bigger picture , at the fact that we are all imperfect beings, and we all live on the same planet with almost identical needs, we can then begin to forgive ourselves (and others) and commune better with others. We can begin to accept ourselves with our limitations. We can better see the commonality among us.
So the next time you feel stressed, angry, or afraid, pay attention to what is it that you are thinking about. What is it that you are looking at? Are you looking at your individual preferences and desires? Are you thinking only about your individual agenda? And if so, consider looking instead at the Big Picture.
There is a difference between being alert and conscious of your surrounding, and being distracted by thoughts, doubts, and illusions. There is a great analogy I want to use from one of the famous stories from the Bible. In the Gospels, there is a story about Jesus walking on water while his disciples spot him from a boat. His closest disciple, Peter, asks Jesus if Peter could approach him by also walking on water.
Now, at this moment, did Jesus tell him: “No, no, no! Don’t do that! You will drown!” ? Or did Jesus say : “Are you sure you want to come and walk on water?” ?
No, Jesus did not say anything like that. How did Jesus respond? He said one simple word: “Come!”
So Peter got off the boat and started walking towards Jesus… on water. How did he do this? By focusing on Jesus. Again, by focusing on Jesus. And what does that mean?
This is not a religious post preaching about following Jesus. Bare with me for a moment. If you haven’t stopped reading so far, you are about to find out what this post is really about. …
There are many stories and teaching inside and outside of the Bible that can be used to describe what I am talking about here. Focusing on Jesus was all Peter needed to do to remain calm, stable and walking forward. In our current lives, we would also need to focus and be aware of the Present moment, in order to remain calm and stable. But as soon as Peter looked down and was “distracted” by the waters and his current circumstance, he began to feel fear, panic, and began to sank. Jesus had to then reach down and rescue Peter from his “distraction.”
It is easy to lose tract of the present moment by paying attention to our thoughts, doubts and illusions. But remaining conscious and aware of our surroundings will bring us peace and joy. Not happiness.
Being happy depends on circumstances.
Being at peace does not.
While working with some people with mental illness, I have learned a lot about how effective mindfulness can be in helping with some symptoms of mental illness. I counsel individuals with a diagnosed mental illness. Some of these people can suffer significantly from their symptoms. For example, today I visited a lady who lives by herself and 12 cats. She suffers from Schizophrenia, the paranoid type. She is also hard of hearing. When she opened the door, she complained that she could not sleep because the “voices” were too loud. Can you imagine not hearing anything, except voices that scream at you and don’t let you sleep at night? I usually prompt her to distract herself by engaging in an activity that she enjoys, such as painting or watching TV. Any activity that she enjoys and helps to be focused on the present moment.
I often encourage people to focus on the present moment in order to distract themselves from the thoughts that are triggering the anxiety, anger, or sadness. But recently I have tried to encourage clients to change their perspective by changing their physical position.
When we displace ourselves and have a different perspective, we are suddenly doing some mindfulness. For example, if we usually sit on the same side of a table out of habit, but suddenly decide to change to another side, the perspective will change. And when the perspective changes, our attention are automatically shifted to the surroundings. We will then start studying, observing, and adjusting to the new perspective. We start being mindful.
While talking to another client in counseling, I suggested to her to change to the other side of her sofa. She was hesitant to do so because her usual side of the sofa makes her feel safe and secured . But this “security” is only temporary and superficial. It simply gives her a false sense of “power” and “control.” But the idea of maintaining power and control does not lead us to inner peace. It only triggers more anxiety and insecurity. So letting go of the urge to be “in a safe place” is always short lived. It is like being hungry for chocolate, so we go back to eating the chocolate candy that we crave for and we are then satisfied. But the satisfaction only last a certain amount of time and it eventually goes away, and we feel the urge to eat chocolate again. By surrendering our urge to feel secured, we finally can start living inner peace. We start experiencing true freedom.
Yet another client has been struggling with grieving the death of her friend, but she tends to think about ending her own life in order to “join” her friend. I reminded her that it is normal to be sad and to miss the deceased person. It is healthy to set up time aside to cry and to be withdrawn. But it is also healthy to return to the routine of every day life. And this can be accomplished by changing and engaging in new activities. Every time we start something new, either a volunteer work, a new hobby, or a new chore, we are forcing ourselves to pay attention to the present moment. We are inclined to observe and study what is NEW. And it keeps the thoughts that were making us feel angry, anxious, or sad away from our minds.
So next time you feel anxious about whatever is causing the anxiety, one way to shift the focus is to move to a different spot. Once you change spots, simply observe. Look around you. Contemplate on the details of your surroundings . Also try to engage in a new activity. Study it. Learn from it.
And enjoy the present moment. Fully.
Have you noticed that, when you visit a particular setting for the first time, either a new town, a new house, or a new park, that the first impression is always different than the impression you have on the same place a few minutes later?
I think this happens because our expectations increase once we become more familiarized with the environment. And the more expectations we have, the more we are distracted by our thoughts. But when we are faced with a new environment, we are more likely to stop thinking and observe more. Which leads to mindfulness.
I don’t know about you, but I realized that when I make the attempt to perceive a familiar environment as a new and unfamiliar setting , I am inclined to doing mindfulness. I discovered this when I visit a new setting. Somehow it changes my perspective the more I become familiar with it. When visiting a new place, there are less expectations and, therefore, less thinking. There is more observation and attention to details. There is more accepting. And time seems to slow down.
When we are more familiarized with the same place, our expectations increase, and so does our thinking . There is less observation and less attention to details. Time will then seem to go faster.
When I try to focus on the details of my surroundings, such as the street and the trees, and try to perceive it as a new experience , time will seem to slow down . It is the same as living in the here and now. Being more mindful.
When it is evening, I try to imagine it being morning.
Or when it is windy and rainy outside, I perceive it as being in a tropical island (which I am not but I wish I were.)
It is almost as if I can change the perception of my surroundings in order to make it soothing.
And be more mindful.
Every time we say ” I want …” and then you can fill in the blank, we are prone to suffering. Every time we even think that we want or wish something, we are setting ourselves up to suffering.
By suffering I mean the experience of disillusionment and disappointment. We may feel sad, angry , or frustrated. We put our hopes and expectations so high that we end up falling down . Hard.
This is because we don’t always have or obtain what we wish for or what we desire. So we end up suffering by wishing to have what we don’t always have. cEven with the littlest thing , such as a particular kind of clothing, a way of life, or any possession, will open up the possibility of some kind ofdisappointment at the end. It is inevitable.
So what am I saying? Am I saying that we should not wish or want anything to avoid suffering? This is not about shoulds or should not. It is about recognizing that whenever we suffer or feel disillusioned or disappointed, it is because of an underlying wish or want that has not been satisfied. If we define ourselves based on our possessions and accomplishments, we are fooling ourselves. We are creating our own delusions. We are setting up ourselves to suffering.
Are we entities that only live to obtain what we desire? I read somewhere that true happiness is wanting what I already have.
I understand that our basic instinct is to survive, to prevent death. But this is based on needs, not wants. If we are hungry or cold, and do not eat or find shelter, then we suffer physically. This is natural and necessary to survive. But when it comes to possession, success, fame, and other “artificial” desires, then it is not based on survival. It leads us to disappointment. To suffering.
I have never been completely mindful. Most of my life I have identified with my thoughts, perceptions, and assumptions. This blog is mainly about my ever ongoing journey into a more mindful lifestyle.
As I write this post, I am waiting in a car shop for my van’s tire to be repaired. I can try to be mindful , but it is hard to do with a TV blasting in front of me, cars driving by the window , and hundreds of thoughts about all the things going on in my life, including work , the bills, appointments for my child, etc. It is almost an endless ordeal when I try to quiet down my mind. It is almost like trying to stop water from falling from a waterfall . It is also difficult to take deep breaths and relax my muscles when most of what I do is tense up and take shallow breaths.
But I still recognize the importance of managing my time wisely and continue to try to do mindfulness .
Two weeks ago, I went with my family to pick up strawberries at a local farm . First I was hesitant about it. But while I walked on he farm and picked up fresh strawberries , I began to appreciate this simple yet important task. I was being mindful . My family and I enjoyed it.
I have also been able to be mindful whenever I draw. It is relaxing and enjoyable . I try to be aware of my surrounding whenever I see myself having to wait for something. It is an opportunity to be in the here and now.
So even though I have not been completely and fully mindful, I plan to continue to be more aware of the present moment. To be gradually more mindful.