Visual images are some of the most beneficial aids in my mindfulness toolbox. Today’s post is chock full of my “go to” images that I depend upon to keep me present in the moment and showing up in an authentic way. Even if I’m feeling really strong emotions (mine or others), these helpful tools keep me from impulsively reacting to big feelings.
About 20 years ago, I met the most incredibly calm and benevolent young woman. She was the instructor for my 5:30 a.m. hot yoga class. She would start our practice with a visual image: planting our bare feet firmly on our mat, we were to envision small roots growing into the ground, anchoring us in our yoga practice for the next 90 minutes.
When I was gaining a little traction with my meditation practice a few years ago, I recalled that image from yoga class and thought about how I could create a similar visual to help me take my meditation “off the cushion” and into daily life.
My visual image is of dropping my anchor into my very core of calmness — that place I find when I can let thoughts go and focus my attention in the present moment. In meditation this is returning to my breath. In real life, it is staying present with the situation at hand — and most importantly, not getting attached to my own emotions or those of others. I can make better decisions when I am calm. I will be much more likely to act in alignment with my true nature when I am calm. That mental image of dropping my anchor de-escalates things for me pretty quickly.
A wise mindfulness teacher once said that most situations are benign — they are neither good nor bad. It is how we respond or react to them that makes them positive or negative. What is a big deal to one person may not even get on the radar screen of another. Staying calm and paying attention to how others are feeling, helps me get a grasp on why a situation may be a big deal or a small one for someone else. Often this is more relevant than the actual circumstances.
This may be one of my personal favorites — the visual image of holding a brightly colored spool and letting out a little extra kite string, watching that kite dance a little higher in the sky, adjusting to the currents and gaining fresh perspective.
Sometimes we are just too afraid to let go, even just a little. We chase what we think we need or want so badly. We might micromanage our lives or others. We can be prone to hover or smother, be needy or greedy. We can let fear hold us back from trying new things, or taking that leap of faith.
At this stage of my life, I use this visual image most often when it comes to relationships, especially adult children and extended family. Letting a little kite string out means that I am holding space for others, recognizing that their lives are busy and that they want to solve their own problems. I don’t need to be tugging so hard for attention or to be the one they turn to for advice. I just…..let out a little kite string.
I credit Malcolm Gladwell for this visual. If anyone can look at a situation from a ga-zillion perspectives, it is Malcolm Gladwell. And he does it with a child-like curiosity and unabashed wonderment. To me, this is how it feels to look through a kaleidoscope, twisting and turning it with pure delight, fascinated by the changes.
So often, we view things from our same old vantage point. The fact is that we are changing all the time, and oddly enough so are those chronic ongoing situations in our own lives, in our communities, country and globally.
Listen to a few episodes of Revisionist History podcast with Malcom Gladwell and you will witness a big shift in perspective when a situation is viewed from all angles, and through the experiences of everyone involved.
Remember the old adage, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure? This visual is a little like that for me. I envision myself holding a smooth cylindrical kaleidoscope that has a little weight to it, placing it in front of my eye, and watching the problem present itself in a myriad of ways. It’s a reminder to withhold judgment, get out of my box, stay curious — and make sure I am actually looking at the real problem. (Credit goes to Michael Stanier Bungay and his book The Advice Trap for this wisdom. Far too often we jump in to problem solve so fast, we “solve” the wrong problem).
When I first discovered mindfulness, I had a little cork that I placed in a small clear vase on my kitchen window sill. I would see it every morning when I poured my first cup of coffee. It was my reminder not to get bogged down in rumination, disappointment or sadness. I had read an article in Mindful Magazine that talked about how freeing it is to let go of getting caught up in the negativity bias. The image of letting one’s cork float effortlessly through the flow of life was inspirational to me.
I didn’t know at that time just how much I was actually tethered by old behavioral patterns, my life history and the disappointment of a dream disintegrating. Over time, with awareness and daily practice, I freed myself from those weights and found that I really did feel lighter in many ways. Today when I feel myself growing a little heavy in spirit, I think about that cork on my windowsill. It’s a reminder to look for the good.
The little things that unfold in our daily lives offer buoyancy to us if we are paying attention. Make eye contact with someone when you are having a conversation — you will feel your cork rising when you see it in their eyes that they know you are really listening to them. It’s magic and it’s rare….because too often today our faces are gazing at our phones and not each other. Call a friend or your sibling instead of texting — hearing each other’s voices adds the spice. Don’t be surprised if you learn so much more than you expected. Think about someone who makes your life better — and send them a card or a text expressing your appreciation. Smile more. Laugh out loud. Listen to the sounds of nature. Read a good book. Listen to your favorite music. Dance in the kitchen. Take a break.
Just holding on to those little moments of joy for ten seconds releases happy hormones and that will definitely let your cork rise and buoy your spirits.
I hope you enjoy reading about my visual images. I do love sharing them. Sometimes a simple mental image that is all we need to bring us back to the present moment.