Sometimes you run across a story that provides a great teaching. Stan Friedman, PhD, a Psychologist in West Los Angeles, has such a story; a story that uses a metaphor to explore the possibility of breaking free from the confines of our minds and into a world of choice and freedom.
The grapevine section of highway 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco was closed due to a rare winter snowstorm, and I had to turn around and use a different route. What would otherwise have been a 5 1/2 hour drive to complete the 400 mile journey became instead a 6 1/2 hour ordeal in heavy rain and stop-and-go traffic surrounded by the frequent honking of impatient drivers in covering only 100 of those miles. It was pretty miserable out there.
I was bemoaning my fate, realizing that there was no way out of this experience for at least the next 3 hours before reaching the motel I’d had the foresight to book along the way. Once I was mindful that I was ruminating towards the future, “When I’d be out of this mess and in a safe, warm peaceful bed.”
I asked myself a question: “If there were no way out–if I had no choice but to endure this undesirable circumstance—let’s say the world were to end at the end of those 3 hours—would I choose to be out of my misery early, to take death now? After all, there’d be no way out. Or conversely, would I rather choose to live those 3 hours?
No question: I’d take the three hours.
So here I was. What now? I couldn’t change my circumstances, but I could change the focus of my attention.
Indeed, I remained surrounded by sheets of rain and angry drivers. No doubt for the duration. But that was not the only thing going on. No less coexistent in this moment was that I was also breathing. I had body sensations. I possessed consciousness rather than oblivion. Awareness expanded: the thought that in all human history, until the last millennium even the most privileged king could make this journey no faster than this stop-and-go. That the trees to the side of the road were being nourished by the rain. That I could contact and focus upon the loving afterglow from those friends and family I had just visited over the prior weekend. I could plan in my mind details of my next adventure–unlimited possibilities loomed before me.
No doubt, left unmindful the stimulus value of the rain and traffic held the greatest pull on my attention. But once mindful of the moment, I didn’t have to passively flow with THAT current. I could choose, or at least effort, to forge another.
I am, after all, connected in my mind to all other people and things. With that reminder my experience became transformed. The rain and honking didn’t cease. They just became unimportant. There was too much else I preferred to attend to. By the time I arrived at my motel, I was in a state of peace.
I look back to that snowstorm with gratitude. The experience offers me a metaphor of possibility. What is indeed is, and cannot be changed. My awareness of what is at any given moment may be limited. But I can also remember to remember: No matter what exists within my limited range of attention at any given moment, there co-exists always something more, no less true or present at the same moment. Present circumstances go beyond merely what pulls my attention most strongly at the moment. They are unlimited.
This is my faith.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Photo by woodleywonderworks, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 14 Sep 2011