January 2, 2012

“What’s Not Wrong?” + Other Ways to Start the Day.

A Simple Practice Sets a Bright Tone for the Day

For a long time, it was my habit to jump out of bed and start working: reading blogs, news, emails, writing. I was, literally, swept away each day by the virtual world we love to wander around in; there were no real breaks and downtime, no time to turn inward, quiet. Every morning, I simply jumped in.

Then a friend told me that he made a practice of always reading something uplifting or illuminating first thing in the morning—not firing up the computer and not reading the news, but rather taking the time to read a bit of poetry or philosophy, something that was more about ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. I decided to try it, turning to books that I valued but hadn’t looked at for years—Wherever You Go, There You AreNeruda’s Garden: An Anthology of Odes—reading as I drank a cup of tea in the quiet of the morning. It changed everything; the books we read have the effect of centering us for much of the day, while teaching us a new perspective.

A piece that I return to frequently, and that I find reverberates mightily in my thinking, is by Vietnamese Zen master, poet and peace advocate Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s called “What’s Not Wrong”, from his book Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life:

“We often ask, “What’s wrong?” Doing so, we invite painful seeds of sorrow to come up and manifest. We feel suffering, anger, and depression, and produce more such seeds. We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with the healthy, joyful seeds inside of us and around us. We should learn to ask, “What’s not wrong?” and be in touch with that. There are so many elements in the world and within our bodies, feelings, perceptions, and consciousness that are wholesome, refreshing, and healing. If we block ourselves, if we stay in the prison of our sorrow, we will not be in touch with these healing elements.

Life is filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. Our breathing, for example, can be very enjoyable. I enjoy breathing every day. But many people appreciate the joy of breathing only when they have asthma or a stuffed-up nose. We don’t need to wait until we asthma to enjoy our breathing. Awareness of the precious elements of happiness is itself the practice of right mindfulness. Elements like these are within us an all around us. In each second of our lives we can enjoy them…

I find that asking myself “What’s not wrong?” has the effect of instantly shifting my mindset, bringing me right back to a positive view, and softening fear…and from there, opening me up to answers we didn’t expect to the problems at hand.


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