There is a popular saying in the transformational community that "what we focus on expands." What does this mean, when applied to our everyday life? When we focus on what is working, we end up getting more of what is working. When we focus on what is not working, then we get a lot more of... well... what doesn't work.
Why is this?
Our brain only has so much attention to give. "The human body sends 11 million bits per second to the brain for processing [from our senses], yet the conscious mind seems to be able to process only 50 bits per second." (1) This means that there is much more happening around us than we can ever actually process, and our moment-by-moment choice on what to focus on determines how we experience our life.
This is a great concept to keep in mind for Thanksgiving at home, as we navigate relationships that likely have a lot of history. Below are a few tips on how to appreciate the small moments, even when you may feel challenged.
Your grandma asks you for the 5th year in a row why you aren't married yet. Your uncle comments on the amount of food on your plate. How do you deal?
One of the most powerful tools I've discovered for not reacting is using the breath. When in a situation that you find challenging, pause for a moment to focus on your breath. 1) Breath moving in, breath moving out: simply take some moments to notice your body breathing. Follow the breath in and out with your attention. 2) Next, notice how you feel: perhaps you are experiencing certain emotions. Perhaps there is a desire to react. Whatever is coming up, just notice. 3) Notice that a space is created between the situation that is occurring and your reaction. In this space, comes the space to choose. Perhaps this time, using the breath and focusing your attention, you will begin to create a new habit: one of simply being with how you feel, rather than allowing how you feel to take you over.
2. Don't take things personally.
If a family member says something that irks you, just remember that it's ultimately not about you. "Do not take things personally" is one of the greatest rules to follow in life and is one of the four cardinal rules in Don Miguel Ruiz's pivotal book The Four Agreements:
"Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world." (2)
It's helpful to remember that each individual on this planet is truly living in their own world and perceiving this world through their filters. The funny thing about humans is that each one of us thinks that everyone else is living in our world! Give people space to be who they are, with the myriad of different experiences and filters that have created their perspective on the world, and you ultimately give yourself to be who you are, too. It is not your responsibility to change them; instead try loving them through any differences in perception. Which leads me to the third and final tip...
3. Choose Compassion.
Everyone is fighting their own battles, and I truly believe that everyone is also doing the best they can with what they have. This loving kindness meditation has helped me generate more feelings of loving compassion for myself and others.
And if you are hard on yourself for reacting according to the same triggers you've always had, just remember, it ain't always easy. Ram Dass says, "If you want to see how enlightened you are, go spend a week with your family." (haha.) Cut yourself a break, apologize when necessary, give love to yourself and others, and move on.
Finally, enjoy the holidays, from my heart to yours!
1. "Information Theory - Physiology." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
2. Ruiz, Miguel. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Pub., 1997. Print.