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Trying to control anything other than yourself is an exercise in frustration
We can’t control much in life, but if we apply ourselves, the one thing we are able to control can change our entire experience of life. What is it that is within our control? The way we respond to the ins and outs, ups and downs, and highs and lows of life.
Mindfulness within the circus of real-life
Let me share a quick real-life story to illustrate this point.
Over the weekend, my husband and I decided to do our Christmas shopping. Please note, I didn’t say start our Christmas shopping. That’s right. We had to “fill the sleigh” in a day.
To say I was approaching the day with some trepidation would be an understatement. Anyone with any life experience at all could safely forecast heavy crowds in the shops, parking lots with no spaces, and seriously frightening aggressive drivers on the streets for Saturday, December 11, 2021. Therefore, I decided to get out ahead of things with my husband for whom none of these things induce inner peace and joy.
“Hey.” I said, “Since this is our day to get in the holiday spirit, let’s make a pact. Let’s promise each other to move leisurely through crowds, to not allow crowded parking lots or insane drivers to get under our skin. When they do, because they will, we can remind each other that we’ve decided to enjoy this day.”
I was smart and didn’t look at him when I made my little suggestion, so I don’t know if he rolled his eyes or not. What I do know is that it worked. Because we’d set an intention for our day to be in a happy, festive frame of mind, we were able to – with a wink and a smile – return to it each time we slipped into cranky, “oh-good-lord-it-is-so-crowded-and-people-are-so-annoying” autopilot.
We dragged ourselves back into the house, tired but, miraculously, still in the holiday spirit.
Setting an intention makes you pay attention
Before you roll your eyes at my use of the word miraculously, I want to assure you that my husband and I have shared many such marathon days and have arrived back at home about as festive as the Grinch. The success of this little intention-setting experiment of mine did indeed feel like a Christmas miracle.
So, what did we actually do when we set our intention? We chose our state of mind for the day and simultaneously gave each other a support system (the wink and nod) to maintain it. In short, we decided to allow this choice to control how we responded to each and every experience of the day.
Paying attention makes us happier people
In an interview with Krista Tippet (OnBeing Podcast, 12/2/2021), Richard Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds, cites a study done with 3,500 people across different parts of the world that found that the average adult spends 47% of their waking life not paying attention to what they are doing. FOURTY-SEVEN PERCENT!
The study did not just reveal that stunning tidbit, but also showed that when we are not paying attention, we are less happy. In my husband’s and my case, had we allowed ourselves to move through the day on autopilot (shorthand for an “out of control” way of living), the festive mood we intended to protect would absolutely have been crushed in the crowds and the traffic. We were able to preserve it because our intention had us paying attention.
Choosing to focus your desire for control on yourself produces miraculous change
To circle back to where we began, we control so little in life. Crowds, the likelihood of a parking spot, and the drivers with whom we share the roads in mid-December are all examples of things that collide into our lives yet lie far beyond our control. Our state of mind, however, is, with determination (and some practice), within our control.
If our experience on Saturday, December 11, 2021, proves anything, paying attention all day long can make even the most exhausting day a happy one. Choosing to manage (with the hope of controlling) your state of mind can allow you to respond to each and every one of life’s curveballs with poise, grace, and even a smile.
And that, my friends, is not just a Christmas miracle, that’s an everyday miracle!