As I have worked to get to know my turbulent thoughts and feelings and recognize the influences of the past, I have become aware that my inner world is an expansive world that I can navigate with consciousness. Knowing my inner world, I have also gained a new acquaintance with what's going on around me. I have discovered that it is a wide, wide world, much bigger and more interconnected than I ever imagined. There is more to this world than just me. There is a whole world out there of all kinds of relationships and forces and challenges that I am an integral part of. Before I considered "out there" the backdrop against which I lived my life. There were some people I was close to and others I saw on the Daily News. It was me and them. Now I have opened myself to a new perspective of the world that includes me and others. We share the world, we are one.
How was I able to do this? My first step was to recognize that I have a lot more room than I had thought inside my mind, heart and soul to incorporate knowledge of others and their journeys. As I have cleaned up a lot of prejudices, useless habits and random thoughts, I have felt willing to open the door and say, "Come on in." Others become my guests, they enter my consciousness, my being-both those I like and those I am not so fond of, because my world is comprised of all kinds of people and relationships. Isn't that how life is? We don't get to choose every person who walks beside us as we traverse our lives.
HELLO WORLD-COME ON IN! Let's see what that means as a practice, in a real life way.
Example1. My colleague comes to work with a headache. I don't have to get her headache, but I can let her in, headache and all. Thoughts like "Now I'll have to do more work" are filed away as irrelevant, and I begin to think about how I can help her. I can close my desk drawers very quietly and maybe offer to get her some water.
Example 2. When I listen to the news of a natural catastrophe, I can experience the human effects: the pain and hopelessness of losing everything I have and know. An approaching siren makes me think of those who are waiting desperately for the arrival of help as well as the valiant first responders. I think about what I can do to help-to make others aware of this situation, collect clothing, or send prayers.
Often I feel there is not much I can do "out there" that is really effective. Though I don't have much control over situations in the external world, I can try to understand and deeply feel the pain. This brings consciousness and connection into the reality of my own small world, and gives me a springboard to explore ways I can respond and act to alleviate some of this suffering. HELLO WORLD!
When I invite the world in and feel the pain of others, I try to be open to let that pain transform my way of seeing them. This takes some work on my part because of my habit of criticizing and judging. For instance, a friend comes to me and is very upset with her boyfriend. My immediate reaction- "Not this again, why does she put up with it?" - I file away as being uncaring, and instead I listen. I can hear her frustration, her fear of being alone, her jealousy and lack of confidence, her habit of being a victim. "I'm sorry," I say and I feel it. I try to help her talk her way through to a potentially new approach to her life situation. Advice from me may not be what she is looking for, but she is now in my world, and I extend myself to her. HELLO WORLD!
Opening myself to the world has propelled me to work on listening. This isn't easy for me because I have a tendency to be self-centered. My instinctive response is immediately to relate whatever someone says to some opinion or piece of information I have. Even when I can control myself enough not to speak until the person has at least stopped talking, I am thinking about the thought her first comment elicited in me, and it's often mostly about me, not her. But I have come to realize that I can't fool anyone. When I'm thinking about myself, it is fairly obvious. If a friend starts telling me about her trip to Mexico, I immediately search back in my memory data base and come up with some experiences I had in Mexico. I am recreating the scene and the food and the people, as she talks about her experience. I stopped listening after she mentioned the word "Mexico." I was living in my own mind. It's taking some work to be able to file those thoughts away under "IT'S NOT ABOUT ME." But, suddenly, when I do, there she is, in my world, and in my mind. I say "Hello! I am here, I am listening." HELLO WORLD!
Here is the most difficult moment to apply this practice: when those who enter my world are those I have some conflict with. Usually these are the people I am closest to and care the most about. But we have a conflict. I am getting to know myself enough to be aware of when I am on the point of losing my temper and could really hurt someone. But after the heat dies down, my challenge becomes to invite the person in with her opinions and point of view.
What do I do? I consciously work to make a lot of room inside so that I can give her some good loving space and understanding. If I tell myself, "I am right!" that effectively blocks the entrance, so instead I do some heavy "mind management." It changes everything. I need a big file for this one. I have labeled it "UNWANTED THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS." I work to keep the lid on, but I have to be patient with myself. That's the best approach. If I try to force myself, my thoughts and feelings will fight back even harder. So as calmly as I can, I file my rejection of another and her life and open the door. HELLO WORLD!
Here is another observation: When several people are listening to the same conversation or information, we all hear something different, variations of a theme, or not at all. When the information I am listening to enters my consciousness, it doesn't come in clean. In my mind, it immediately attracts all kinds of detritus that gives it a severely personal slant. For example, when I hear something that doesn't meet the image I have of myself, I either distort what I hear, completely ignore it or discredit it as not true or ill-conceived. When an opinion comes in that is different from my own, if I am not careful, instead of expanding my way of thinking to include it, I defend my opinion with even more vigor. I need to really prepare myself for situations like this, for somehow an opinion has become THE TRUTH, and I set forth with the vigilance of a Crusader to defend my "holy land."
Isn't this an incredible waste of time and energy-this defense of my limited view of things? Imagine an energy efficient "opinion validating plan." First, I have to recognize that my opinion is simply that, a personal view usually based on a personal judgment. I don't have to discredit my opinion (at least not yet), but simply to put it in its place, one among others. This helps me put down my defenses so I can truly listen to the other opinion.
The negative approach would be to make a quick evaluation; I see the opinion as threatening, at least to my self-concept. "So you don't like the way I cleaned the living room!" I take it personally. "It's not my cleaning job that could be improved, but my character and my upbringing, and besides that you think I'm lazy." This makes it very hard for me to live with myself. Instead of seeing it as a stimulus to do a better job, I start thinking about taking an extended vacation alone on a deserted beach. "That will teach you!"
But now I am learning. I want to move to a more constructive approach and way of thinking. As I feel the reaction of defense rise in me, I file it away in the "SELF-CENTERED" file, which is becoming quite large from constant use. Then I spend some time thinking about a more positive way to receive feedback and wonder if there is a better way to discuss difficult topics with others. I try to listen, to learn, and to respond from openness not defensiveness.
HELLO WORLD-HERE I AM. I have learned from hard experience that the first steps to open to the world outside of me are to create silence within my ever-moving mind and to really listen. This has opened up a large avenue in my spiritual unfolding. As I let go of a constant preoccupation with myself, the noise settles down and I can really listen. I have taken the energy that was previously used to think and project to the world "IT'S ALL ABOUT ME," and I have freed it up for listening, for interacting without aggression. Now it is energy available for my daily life activities and relationships. It is a source of energy without calories or caffeine-it comes from within. As I get more skilled in managing the contents of my unruly mind and listen with understanding to what the world outside brings me, I am free to consciously choose how I live in the world, how I relate to others. I am now free to see the world in a completely new light, and it is a beautiful world, a big world, filled with diversity and richness.
Just think of it. No longer overcome with self-centered thoughts, I can cultivate inner peace. HELLO AND THANK YOU WORLD! I AM HAPPY TO BE HERE!
Other articles in the series "The Peace of a Meaningful Life" by Diana Autumn are My Wake-Up Call, Finding the Way, Step by Step with Silence, Getting Guidance, Taming the Beast, Reining in the Mind: Who's really in charge?, Gaining Inner Strength: Learning to Choose, Engaging the Executive: The Affective Meditation, and Making Peace with the Past.