A journey of finding and redefining meaning, harnessing mindfulness, and intentional living, started with a single book
Flying home to North Carolina from Denver in February 2017, I held in my hands a copy of James Allen’s book, As a Man Thinketh. The purpose of my trip had been to pay respects to my uncle who had recently died of pancreatic cancer. In the last few years of his life, my uncle had devoted his energy and resources to creating a beautiful park which is where his service was held.
I had stayed at his house while in town and had pulled the book from his home library. The book was a quick read, occupying little more than an hour. During the remainder of the flight, I absorbed the words, reflecting on their meaning and significance, digesting the very accessible idea that we are the sum of what we think about. The answers I found only led to more questions centered around life, how we accomplish things, and about how our mind works.
That book, coupled with Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, led me on a journey through the most transformative year of my life in which I crafted my first-ever life purpose statement, went to two of Tony Robbins’ events, revised said life purpose, then became an international best-selling author and certified professional coach.
Since then, in addition to reading, I have drawn inspiration from my practice as a yoga teacher. In yoga, being present is emphasized generally, and technical conversations center around awareness and the relationship between the observer and the observed.
In my classes, I introduce this concept using common ideas that resonate with my students: If life is a movie, with you as the director, what are you capturing with the camera’s eye?
Are you telling a comedy, or a tragedy? Sunshine and rain fall equally on both flowers and weeds… only the human mind can choose what it nourishes. The mind is an ocean, full of your memories and recollections, and the place where everyone you’ve ever met resides; your awareness is a lighthouse. Where are you shining its light?
This last idea stayed with me. It begged exploration. Why do people think the way they do? Why do I think the way I do? What are the implications for a society that has made distraction a habit? I married it to other ideas I’d accepted about how the universe operates, like “Where awareness goes, energy flows” and “Our habits become our life.”
There are oceans in our mind, places we take our awareness. In some areas, the water is turbulent and choppy; in others, serene and placid. In some seas, storms tear the ocean into shreds of white foam. When we are sad, our mind might go to certain places. The same is true for when we are happy, in love, or feel incredible joy. When we are distracted, or when we are functioning on autopilot without being mindful of our awareness, the lamp from the lighthouse randomly lights the ocean. These are the ideas that became the foundation for my recent book, The Lighthouse Keeper.
With the lack of focus in today’s world live staring at a screen — it’s said that on average, people check their smartphones eighty-five times a day — life has become like a carnival. There are rides and games and loads of bright lights and shiny objects to thrill and entertain us as carnival barkers vie for our attention by promising all sorts of mysteries and delights.
A life lived being entertained is fun, but like a carnival, the thrills are cheap and short-lived. When we are more concerned with keeping up with the reality tv stars we follow on social media than we are our own personal and professional development, we surrender our most precious, irreplaceable commodity: Time.
So, how can you go about mastering your mind in order to take back control of your life?
In today’s highly distracted world, concentration is missing, replaced in favor of multi-tasking. While debate rages on about whether or not multi-tasking is an effective means of getting things done, the verdict on concentration is in: it works. Focusing one’s mental efforts means utilizing all your constructive thoughts towards a single idea. It also means the absence of destructive or distracted thoughts.
If you want a reality check on your current concentration skills, pick a subject or concept and see how long you can remain fixed on it. If you decide to time yourself with the timer on your smartphone, make sure the sound is on then set it off to the side, out of arm’s reach. What constitutes a good period of time for this concentration test varies from person to person. Twenty minutes of focus is good target if you’re an adult or teen, less if you’re younger.
To strengthen and prolong your periods of concentration, harness your willpower. Willpower is present when we do one more repetition at the gym, when we eat one piece of cake and resist the second, or when we set an audacious goal, determined to accomplish it. Willpower is what enables the person injured in a car wreck and told they’ll never walk again… to complete a marathon.
Two key ingredients to set you on the path to mastering your mind are time and consistency.
Concentration is a muscle that improves with consistent use. I practice my concentration through a daily practice of meditation. If meditation is new to you, start by practicing stillness for just a few minutes a day. Don’t meditate by trying to empty the mind; instead, focus on a single idea. If you want to practice patience, focus on patience by reflecting on times in your life when you were incredibly patient. If you become distracted, use your willpower to bring your concentration back to your area of focus. Over time, when practiced consistently, your concentration will improve. As it improves, your ability to direct your awareness within your mind will also improve. That is the pathway to mind mastery.
As I think back to my trip to Colorado to say goodbye to my uncle, I am grateful that he was a part of my life, that he devoted the last few years of his life to the service of others, and that he had a certain book in his collection. That trip, and that book, sent me on a journey to better understand my life by mastering my mind.
To find deeper meaning in your own life, take the journey into your mind.
This can be uncomfortable, even hard, but it is the most meaningful and fulfilling journey any of us can take.
You may also enjoy reading The Importance of Intention to Create Freedom and Aliveness by Carter Miles