My wonderful partner has a fancy schmancy antique couch. It really is quite nice. Though it may be pleasing to look at, it isn’t very nice to my toes. In the middle on the front of the couch only, it has a decorative leg that sticks out about an inch further than the legs on either end. Occasionally, this painful aberration manages to come into direct contact with my toe(s). When this happens, I’m immediately reminded of how enjoyable it is to not have a stubbed toe. One would think that after striking my toes on the hundred-year-old piece of furniture, more than once, I’d be more mindful of its presence. Well, no-one is perfect – that’s why pencils have erasers. But meow I’m getting away from what I want focus on this week.
When we stub a toe, we can hardly wait until our toe stops throbbing. Yet, when we don’t have a stubbed toe, we seldom call to mind that our toe isn’t smarting as a result of a momentary lapse of awareness.
Buddhist Zen monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, talks about this using the analogy of a toothache. Rarely are we grateful that we don’t have a toothache. For that matter, how often do we call to mind that we don’t have a broken leg, that we are not sick, that we don’t have a headache, sore throat, or cough. How often are we grateful that our hands and forearms are not kitten scratched – oh wait, mine are. It’s not until we experience these painful situations that we appreciate life without them. Why don’t we call to mind our wellness more often?
I don’t know anything for sure, but my experience suggests that we are too busy creating (often imagined) difficulties within our own mind to pay attention to everything that is actually going well in our life. When I’m healthy, not experiencing any pain or difficulties, when I’m not stubbing my toe on the couch anomaly, my mind has the freedom to look for things that are wrong or missing.
We don’t have to live like this.
A simple (but not easy – it’s hard to remember to do it) mindfulness practice that you can do is to frequently call to mind a short list of things that are going well in your life or things that you are not experiencing, like a stubbed toe. This Mindfulness practice helps to train your mind to pay attention to your wellness and to cultivate gratitude.
Not to minimize our struggles, we really do have it good. We have homes with electricity and running water, food in the fridge, and though it may not be much, we likely have money in the bank. We may even have adjustable beds with down comforters to keep us cozy and warm at night. Those of us who are fortunate enough have two working legs with durable feet and arms with dexterous hands. We can see, hear, taste, smell and feel, and yet, we forget that we have all this going for us – until we don’t. Then we remember.
This practice of calling to mind all that is not going wrong is important, and practical. When we focus on what is “wrong” or what’s “missing,” our centeredness turns inward, and the blame for our suffering is directed outward. When we let negativity consume us, we look for things outside of us to make us feel better. And while stimulus driven pleasure may bring about a temporary sense of joy, happiness, or peace and ease, it is not durable and lasting. However, when we focus on how good we have it, we are creating contentment. When we train our mind to look for what is going well within us (and around the world) our centeredness is turned outward and is imbued with satisfaction and gratitude.
When we are contented and grateful, we may find that we save money as we’re not trying to buy our way into a happier life. And if we’re saving money, maybe we could work less and re-create more. When we focus more on our good fortune, we are happier people. And when we are happier people, we may in fact find ourselves being friendlier, kinder and more understanding. When we are happy people, the world is a happier place.
A Mindfulness practice that includes frequently calling to mind that you are not currently experiencing a stubbed toe can transform your life, and the world, to something more enjoyable. So, go ahead, retrain your brain.
You are loved by me, Unconditionally.
Without a Stubbed Toe,
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