I read an article about an experiment conducted by psychologists Arien Mack and Irvin Rock. Test subjects were shown a video of people in white shirts throwing balls back and forth with people in black shirts. The test subjects were asked to count how many times the ball was thrown. Next, the test subjects were asked to just watch a video. Again, people in white and black shirts were throwing a ball back and forth, then someone in a gorilla costume walked on screen, beat its chest, and left. IT WAS THE SAME VIDEO. However the first time the test subjects missed the gorilla because they were so focused on the task at hand.
Don’t believe me? Play this game. On your way to and from work, think about VW Bugs (or a car of your choice). How many did you notice on the road? Did it seem like a lot? The truth is that those cars are probably next to you every day, but you were not looking for them. What we think about, what we focus on, or how we view the world can greatly influence how we SEE the world.
When we are focused intently on one thing we often miss the other things happening around us. If our focus is on the state of the economy, are we going to notice the joy our 8th grader is experiencing due to being cast in the school play? If we focus on how much we want the new Coach® handbag, do we notice and show gratitude for all the other possessions and joys in our lives? How much of our life do we miss focusing on fear of or longing for the future or focusing on regrets of the past?
What do you focus on during the day? Do you wake up grateful for the shelter, love, and nourishment in your life? Or do you wake up dreading the board meeting, longing for a new car, and regretting your actions from the day before? What do you notice during the day? Do you notice the smile of a stranger or do you become upset about the bad driver two cars ahead? By focusing on the negative do you unintentionally bring more into your life because that is all you can SEE? How would your day change if you began to focus on the positive?
While in Peru, I participated in three San Pedro ceremonies. San Pedro is a medicinal cactus served as a tea. The cactus helps to release the mind of past and present thoughts to help one truly experience the present moment. While experiencing the plant, I had a heightened appreciation for the beauty of nature. The water sparkled and almost seemed to dance. Every grass blade was unique and distinct. I wondered at interesting insects which I might have just swatted away had I not be present and receiving. My mind was empty of the worries of yesterday and I had no thought of tomorrow. I was at peace. I was in the moment like I had never been before. I believe that I found this peace because I was no longer feasting on the fears and worries and longings that usually fill my mind.
You can find this peace for yourself without the help of the cactus. First, try to take 15 minutes a day to be present. Sit, stand or walk and just be. No phone. No radio. No TV. No texting. What do you notice? What might you be missing every day because when you pass by your thoughts are elsewhere? It is amazing that when we are not being hit by stimuli from all sides we can truly experience the entire moment. Clear your mind. Stop focusing on that one thing monopolizing your thoughts or on the laundry list of monkey chatter in your mind, and begin to see all things . . . . . . . as they are . . . . . in . . . this . . . very . . . moment.
The next step is to try to bring that awareness and sense of peace to the rest of the day. Stay vigilant. Are you in the moment when your co-worker is talking to you or have you drifted off to what you need to buy for dinner? Watch yourself throughout the day. Catch yourself when you are dwelling on the past or focusing on the future. Acknowledge when your thoughts have strayed. Just notice and acknowledge your wondering thoughts, don’t judge them or yourself for having strayed. Then gently pull yourself back into the moment. In time you will find yourself more in the moment and more at peace.
Be Present. Be Vigilant. Be Well.