We need to practice slowing down the mind.
Very often our mind is completely lost in the many thoughts, in its continues movements, and it is important to intentionally try to quiet it down and to bring space into it.
One of the easiest and most profound ways to do it is simply by paying attention to the breath.
I really recommend you to do this often. We don’t have to do it as a formal meditation, although it is great if we do, but at any moment throughout our day, wherever we are, if we are doing something that is not too complicated, like washing the dishes, or going from our desk to the kitchen, or preparing a cup of tea, or drinking a coffee, or getting dressed, or one of the million other things we do everyday that do not demand an enormous amount of concentration, we can pay attention to the breath.
Instead of having the mind always moving, always jumping from one thought to the next, we can practice simply noticing the breath.
After reading this sentence spend even a few seconds just noticing the inhalation and exhalation, noticing the air coming in and the air going out. See that by simply doing this even for a few seconds, a beautiful and necessary space opens up in our mind.
I am saying all this because something a bit difficult happen to me today and I realize that, consciously or unconsciously, we all hope that things will happen the way we want them to happen.
Whatever it is… if I have an appointment I hope to be there on time, if I am meeting another person I expect the other person to show up, I expect other people to treat me warmly and friendly, if I have a holiday I hope the weather to be nice, if I travel by plane I want the plane to be on time, if I order coffee I expect my coffee to be warm, if I eat healthy I expect my health to be good, if I love my spouse I expect my spouse to love me back, etc, etc, etc.
Consciously or unconsciously, either with large events or small ones, we always expect that life will happen the way we think it is supposed to happen.
We all know the truth of this. Very often, too often, things don’t happen the way we hope they should happen.
And then what?
Most people, when they confront the unexpected, they resist, get upset, blame, complain and, very often, have their day ruined, to say the least.
But we can learn to live differently.
This is our right, our possibility.
I can be a bit more aware and know, beforehand, that life does not often happen according to my wishes. Life has its own agenda. Of course, I can and should prepare for whatever it is that I want to make happen, I can and should do whatever it is that needs to be done for my plan to be accomplished, but then, life happens according to its own needs – its own laws – and not necessarily according to my plans.
I may wish tomorrow to be a sunny day, but my wish is not a law for life.
I can prepare for whatever it is that I want to accomplish, but the result of my actions is not in my hands, but in the hands of life and its laws.
I only have the right to my action, but I don’t have the right to the result of my action. That right belongs to life.
And so, we need to be prepared. Instead of expecting that life happens the way I want it to, we need to rise up to what life gives us and learn to deal with it to the best of our abilities.
It is not such a difficult philosophy, not at all, but most people miss it all the time.
In relation to this, I want also to share with you a quote from Marcus Aurelius. In the whole history of humankind, there have been very few (we could probably count them with one hand) truly powerful people that were also wise. Marcus Aurelius was one of them.
There is a beautiful book by him…He did not really write a book, but he kept a diary, one he would write in every night in his tent when he was campaigning for Rome, that was later published as a book under the name The Meditation of Marcus Aurelius. I highly recommend you to read it.
Now, about what he wrote.
Remember, he was an emperor, a very powerful one, and an emperor is someone who should be able to control his environment, at least much better than common folk.
But even so, this is what he said to himself:
‘When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, bad-tempered and selfish. They are like this because of their ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that even the worst of people have a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but of the same kind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at them, or hate them. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation, anger or hatred but a form of obstruction.’
He is preparing himself (in his mind) for the problems he may have to deal with throughout his day.
These are his words, written 2000 years ago.
We don’t need to use exactly these words but we can come up with our own, according to our own understanding.
But the point is that we need to prepare ourselves for the reality that life often does not happen the way we expect it to happen.
Just like Marcus Aurelius obviously knew that things may get difficult, we also need to know and prepare ourselves: how are we going to deal with the unpredictability of life?
And one of the best preparations is remembering this fact: life is unpredictable and does not follow our ideas of how things are supposed to be.
It was true 2000 years ago, and it is as true today.
It is a very simple and basic philosophy, a practical guidance that can truly help us live better…but we miss it and forget it all the time.
That is why an alert, aware and spacious mind is so important.
Throughout your day, practice presence.
Use the breath as an anchor and keep returning to the moment.
Stop, take a breath and Be.