My mind is intense. I have the ability to focus on something I want and hold onto the focus for years if necessary in order to achieve my goal. My husband and kids will tell you it’s an exhausting trait to live with because often my focus can lead to daily discussions on how I’m reaching my goal or not reaching my goal and going to try harder. Many times Eric has been on the receiving end of my focus and even though he has had the ability to put up a good fight on the other side of the tug-of-war rope I have come out victorious on many occasions. Not all thank goodness, but many. Example, when I met and started dating Eric he was, “never getting married and never having children.” That was a long emotional battle and all I say to him now is, “you’re welcome.” He laughs. After twenty-three years together we have both mellowed and more importantly understand each other much better than we did when we were in our twenties. Yet, every time I mention the topic of something I’ve been focussing on like needing a new camera or wanting to attend a writing workshop he replies, “no kidding?” with dripping sarcasm. I smile.
Focus of mind can be good when it comes to writing habits or exercise but it can be harmful when it turns dark. I remember once as a young adult someone asked me to describe myself and I said, “I feel too much.” What I meant was that I thought about things like people who were homeless, foster children, abused animals, animals being slaughtered, hungry children, thousands of greyhounds being killed, the elderly feeling lonely, and the list goes on. My eyes have been open to the dark side of life for… probably my entire life.
If I am not careful this darkness can overcome me. I can begin to feel helpless to the huge problems of the world. When I was fourteen my grandmother gave me, The New King James version – Possibility Thinkers Edition of the Bible. In it are highlighted all the positive versus. On the first page it reads: When I am faced with a mountain I WILL NOT QUIT! I will keep striving until I climb over, find a pass through, tunnel underneath – or simply stay and turn the mountain into a gold mine, with God’s help!
I have kept this Bible close to me since I was fourteen. Looking back I wonder why she gave it to me. Did it have more to do with her life or what she saw in me? As a mom I’m guessing she was trying to impart on me the power in positive thinking. It’s exactly the same lesson I’ve been trying to teach my children.
Positive thinking lights the dark thoughts that can prevail in my mind. The past five years I have been on a journey to better understand myself and my purpose here for… if I’m lucky sixty more years. While on that journey I have been reading books by leaders such as Deepak Chopra, Sue Monk Kidd, Rhonda Byrne, Charles Haanel and Eckhart Tolle. One of the greatest lessons I have learned from them is the necessity of gratitude. Gratitude. Being thankful for everything from the house I live in to the chocolate Toblerone bar I eat while sipping my morning coffee.
Feeling gratitude is more than simply making a list of things I’m grateful for. It’s more than every Thanksgiving sitting around a table and reciting, “I’m thankful for my friends and family.” It’s understanding why I’m thankful. Digging deeper in my mind and asking myself why am I thankful for my home or the chocolate or my friends. I have discovered that when I probe deeper I am creating a habit of being thankful. It’s not a rote mantra repeated over and over, it’s an exercise of the mind that strengthens a new way of thinking. A brighter way of thinking. One that leads to possibilities.
In my journey I have discovered that just as I have habits such as drinking coffee every morning I also have habits of the mind. I wake and immediately the to do list begins scrolling in my thoughts. I think about a party I’m invited to and immediately I tense. My mind worries about finding the right words among strangers. These are nothing more than habitual thoughts that create anxiety within me. I’m addicted to them just as I am addicted to caffeine.
The best way I have found to combat those habits of the mind (no way I’m giving up my coffee!) is to create the habit of being thankful first thing in the morning and before bed. Train my mind to recognize the positive. For the past month I have been keeping a thankful journal. I am reading The Magic by Rhonda Byrne and she suggests writing ten things you’re thankful for and why every morning. Some mornings I drag myself to the journal and my mind screams there’s so much to do today… make the list later. It feels a lot like the days I talk myself out of going to the gym. But just as I feel renewed when I have completed spin class – I feel renewed after I’ve written my thankful list. It is – like … Magic.
Recognizing the dark side of life has created a sense of compassion in me that I am thankful for, however, seeing the negative and feeling helpless to make a difference makes my life useless. Thankfulness brings hope and hope creates change from destructive habits of the mind to new possibilities and solutions. Thankfulness brings a sense of joy that can soothe the heaviness of despair. Thankfulness can make me realize what is truly important in life like a beacon guiding a ship through fog, I focus on the light.
Thankfulness is food for the soul.
Photo by Square Dog Photography.