To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake. Auguries of Innocence.
Don’t you just love them? We all have them and many of us are overwhelmed by them on a daily basis. A few years ago I was given some tickets to the theatre. It was a play that I had wanted to see for some time, so I caught the train into town with great excitement. I had high expectations for the evening and was going to have a great time.
Unfortunately my expectations were rather rudely challenged. I found myself sitting behind one of the pillars that helped to hold up the balcony. My view of the stage was limited, and I started to fret even before the curtain went up. I nearly allowed myself to ruin my evening before it had begun.
Then I remembered a conversation with one of my elderly relatives, she had always liked going to the theatre and loved to see live performances, even after she went blind. I asked her how she still managed to enjoy going to the theatre when she could not see. Her response was to point out that we can experience events in many different ways. Now that she could no longer see so clearly she listened to the words that were being spoken, the silences in between, and the interaction between the characters as they spoke with each other. She described how she still enjoyed a play by using a different sense.
Make the best of a bad job.
So I determined to make the best of a bad job, and I would follow her example. Instead of complaining and ruminating on a problem, I would try a different approach and set out to actively listen as the play unfolded in front of me. I ended up having a wonderful experience. I went away with a greater appreciation of the actor’s skill, and may have had a more rewarding experience and a better understanding of the play.
When we are able to see beyond our current predicament we can see a problem in a fresh light, not as an obstruction interfering with our lives, but as an opportunity to change our world. Our problems can feel like a burden. Stuck behind the pillar at the theatre of our own life we run the risk of becoming so focussed on our immediate difficulty that we become paralysed and trapped in a negative, pessimistic mindset.
If we are unable to look beyond our current experience it means that we are unable to find a way to alter the situation. Instead we get stuck in a negative and stressful frame of mind, unable to see beyond the current fly in the ointment of our lives. We do not have to remain in this state of mind. With practice it is something that we can learn to change fairly quickly, all it needs is determination and practice.
One way in which we can achieve this is through applying mindful attention. We spend a lot of time on autopilot, letting the world pass us by without really paying attention. Perhaps when we go for a walk or a drive, things that we usually do with some purpose in mind, a trip to the corner shop, the dog needs exercise, we are going to work.
One way in which we can achieve this is through using mindful attention.
These are all times when we are likely to be preoccupied with what we are doing. Did I remember my shopping list? I must remember to get potatoes. Do I need to clean up her mess? Will the report be ready when I get there? Not times when we are usually free to think in a creative way, instead we tend to become bottled up in thinking about our problems.
When we do something in this fashion we usually pay little, if any, attention to our surroundings. We are in a rush to get there, to get things done, to tick off another box in our daily checklist. A mindset that reduces our ability to think about the immediate situation. We can choose to use some of this time in a more helpful way. We can practice finding new solutions by doing our best to find new ideas about our world as we walk.
Perhaps it would be a good idea – right now – to stop reading this, and look around, right where you are. Look at your surroundings. Try to actively look at what you can see, and not just be a passive observer.
What can you see around you? Books? Shelves? Trees? Traffic? Other people rushing through their days?
Try to observe what is around you. Consider the objects that you can see, what they are, and even what they might become. Deliberately set out to combine things in a new way, to think up an original use for an old object, to see the detail in the buildings around you, or perhaps imagine a different life for the people you see.
This is not as crazy as it sounds. We can train ourselves to see things in a new light, to become more creative in our approach to the obstacles and opportunities in our lives. Look out of a window and try to think of ten new ways that a common object could be used. How could a drain pipe get you to the moon? Is that manhole cover a portal to another world? Just how many different uses can you find for the ubiquitous traffic cone?
Is that manhole cover a portal to another world?
Each day set out to experience your world a little differently. Look beyond what is obvious in the world around you and push your mind to create new ideas about everyday things. Find something new to say about the commonplace. Set out to see the universe in a grain of sand. If we can train ourselves to make connections in a different way, to see things in a fresh light, then everyday problems become less of a hassle and more of an opportunity to create new solutions. We can invent new ways to address difficulties rather than dropping into a negative cycle of complaining and feeling hard done by.
Mindfulness is a great help in seeing beyond our problems and struggles. We become blinkered to anything else and cannot see the forest from being stuck behind a single tree. When I was stuck behind the pillar in the theatre, I manged to find a way to prevent my evening being ruined. I recalled someone else’s solution to a similar problem and was able to recognise that problems are not fixed. They change and can be altered, providing a new way to experience the world.
Everything changes, both good things and bad, our brand new car loses its power to excite us after some pratt in the car park scrapes it down the side. The sun does eventually come out again after a period of rain. Our problems not only become temporary things, but also things that we can actively change if we can think creatively around them. When we can start to do this, our problems have much less of an effect on our mental states.
Woe is me.
Using our time to think outside the box gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves a very important question.
- How can I solve this?
- How many uses can I think of for a balaclava helmet?
- How can I work around this difficulty to minimise its effects?
- How can I accept this?
- How can I stop this from “ruining my life”?
If we can find time to practice this creative mindset we can move from a negative and pessimistic frame of mind to a more open and optimistic state. No longer in a world view tainted by stuckness and reactivity, but instead able to choose one where we are more creative and proactive.
Then we can make the best of what our lives have to offer.