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Life's Path Is Made by Walking It

Purposeful Wanderings – Bradford L. Glass – March 2024


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“All we have are moments. So live them as though not one can be wasted. Inhabit them, fill them with the light of your best good intention, honor them with your full presence, find the joy, the calm, the assuredness that allows the hours and days to take care of themselves.   – Richard Wagamese, Embers

 

Like many, I was brought up to focus my energy on the world outside me … in knowing more, trying harder, getting things right, being nice to others … as keys to success. I was also taught to not question these “truths.” Not knowing any better then, I went along. It took me years to realize this advice might work to ace a math test, but beyond that, it was not only ineffective, but in fact blocked me from the meaning, connectedness and peace I’d always longed for … my version of success – the world inside me. By age 40, I was stressed, exhausted and lost.

 

Thanks to the good graces and persistence of a few wise, caring mentors (who I despised at the time because they got in the way of my “getting things right”), I discovered that, lost as I was, I couldn’t even see how old lessons had led me astray, and how a whole new world of possibility had been inviting me to join it all along. They exposed a world that suggested I create my life path by walking, not by planning it ahead of time and “making” it happen.

 

With 30 years of walking behind me, I offer three practices that changed my life … which also have the power to change yours. This is true no matter what you long for, or even if your life is already a perfect reflection of your dreams. My confidence in this claim also comes from seeing how these practices have changed the lives of so many I’ve worked with for the past 25 years. Be advised, however: contemplating these exercises changes nothing, no matter how hard you “try.” It’s the simple, accumulating impact of felt experience with them that creates change.  

 

 

A Gratitude Journal. A Gratitude Journal is a simple, yet amazingly effective way to change how you see yourself and your life. Using perhaps a dated journal or desk calendar, each evening before you go to sleep, note three things for which you are grateful from the day. They needn’t be big; perhaps the smell of flowers, how someone said “thank you,” your own health, a call from a friend. This seemingly trivial act has amazing power to shift your awareness, both into the present moment and toward the beauty in your life. I don’t know of any change I’ve made in my life that had such impact on my ways of seeing and thinking as doing this exercise every day for a year.

 

Why/how it works: As you look consciously at what works, your un-conscious tendency to find what doesn’t work fades away. This subtly changes the inner workings of your consciousness, so you “see with gratitude,” naturally. Curiously, perhaps, this shift in your ways of seeing and thinking isn’t temporary; it lasts. You might start today!

 

 

Silence. Set aside 15-20 min. of quiet time each day, free from external distraction. The instructions are simple:  … show up … shut up … sit still … listen. That’s it. No right/wrong; just be. For many, old lessons tell them to stop right here … before they even start. So they stop. Sticking with it, however, takes you far beyond that mindless response and into a realm of limitless potential. As you sit in silence, thoughts may arise, often in the form of inner voices (things to do, fears, “this exercise is stupid,” etc.). Pretend your thoughts are clouds; watch them as they pass; then bring your awareness back to the silence. Despite its simplicity and initial awkwardness, this practice reconnects you with your soul, spirit, deepest truth, life’s unity, a higher power, and the center of your existence. Silence focuses your awareness on this present moment; that’s the moment you often missthinking about the next moment instead. (Stay with this until you feel true comfort with silence, whether it be days, weeks, even months.)

 

Why/how it works: With practice, you begin to identify your true self with the silence that lives inside you, not the noise all around you. As noise fades away, you grow self-trust, and become aware of new possibility, possibility that has always been there, but may have gone unnoticed against the all-too-familiar backdrop of noise.

 

Observe Your Thoughts. (Move on to this exercise for your 15-20 min. of daily quiet time only after you’ve gained true comfort with the experience of silence, above.) Now, instead of allowing thoughts to pass by like clouds, bring your awareness to them. Replay in your mind situations from your day (maybe including what’s in your mind right now). Become audience in your life, not just participant. (The participant runs down the street with the continual drama your thoughts create, unconsciously listening to them. The audience watches and learns, listening for them – consciously – instead.) Get to know your thinking. Resist judging or trying to change. Just learn. 

 

Why/how it works: It’s all about self-awareness and clarity. With growing awareness, you begin to see how your thoughts – not you – create your reality, with neither your awareness nor consent. You also see how most of those thoughts are directed either to the past – with guilt, resentment, anger or upset about what has already happened, or to the future, with anxiety, worry, expectation or dread about what might (or might not) happen. This leaves precious little thinking available for the present, which is the only moment you can experience anything.

 

 

Why/how all of these work: The possibility you seek (or the possibility your life holds even if you don’t “seek it”) lives inside you, not outside you, where you were likely taught to look. (I mean, really, if it lived “out there,” don’t you think all your striving would have found it by now?) My mentors helped me shift perspective – from seeking in the outer world to listening to my inner world. There’s an old French saying: “Reculer pour mieux sauter,” which means, “step back, so as to better jump.” Only by stepping back and seeing the bigger picture – clearly, objectively – could I step “back in,” but in … to a far bigger picture than before. These three exercises offer a clear and simple path to get there. The key ingredient (missing in so much of our lives) is conscious awareness.

 

 

Life Lessons from Nature: Many years back, a “tough” client (i.e., blindly committed to making his life happen) asked me to take him for a walk in the woods, suggesting he didn’t know “how.” It was an easy trail (most on Cape Cod are). About 5 minutes in, a couple passed us going the other way. His comment: “People do this, right?” I didn’t respond. I hoped he might just be “listening.” We walked in silence. Another 10-15 minutes in, he stopped, ripped a leaf off a bush on the side of the trail, and said, “I’m done.” My response: “What, do you want to leave already?” He said, “No, I’ve got it … all you’ve been trying to help me see. This leaf doesn’t #$%^&*  try to grow; it just grows … on its own … as if it knew its own way.” I love stuff like this … but I didn’t want to show too much exuberance. So I did what came to me: I stopped, stared at him and said nothing. He responded with what made the day: “I’ve been trying so damned hard to make my life turn out that I never saw the possibility that was right there in front of me all the time; all I had to so was stop long enough to notice. Thank you.” The leaf taught him all he needed.  

 

 

Book of the month:The Tiny Book of Big Manifesting, by Jeffrey Segal.A delightful, approachable and practical look at the amazing powers human consciousness holds for us to design and walk the path of our choosing, every day. It’s a gratitude journal and awareness practice together, all in one.…And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.

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