When the escape artist Houdini was at the height of his fame, he was billed to perform in an Irish town. His challenge was to break free of both a strait jacket and the prison cell in which he’d been placed. The jacket was easy, but eventually he had to admit defeat over the cell door. He asked the jailor whether there was some new fancy lock. “No,” said the jailor, “I just didn’t lock the door.” Houdini had been working from an unexamined assumption, which proved to be false, and so he had been continually locking himself in. Without taking a fresh perspective, it was impossible for him to break free.
ALLOWING A WIDER FOCUS OF THOUGHT…
Like Houdini, our viewpoint can sometimes be too narrowly focused, perhaps because we are so intent on blocking out unwanted information or thoughts. Yet this selective approach to our thought-process, rather than keeping us free of unpleasant feelings, binds us to them tighter. If we are able to allow a wider focus that encompasses any thoughts and feelings, they have more space to both come and go. This, combined with a lack of judgement or prejudice, makes it more possible for us to come upon solutions.
This shift in our thinking habits takes conscious practice. Leaving our mind to its own devices may allow it to be rather like Mohini, a tiger from the DC national zoo in the States. For several years she had been kept in a small compound where she had continually trodden the same path of 15 metres forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards. So ingrained was this habit, and so used was she to being hemmed in, that when she was released into a far bigger enclosure, she created a 15-metre path, and continued to tread only that path.
MEDITATION CAN PROVIDE A SOLUTION…
Meditation can be a way to teach ourselves to both widen our focus and allow a free flow of thoughts that have no judgement attached to them. Being non-judgemental allows for more possibilities and prevents us from getting too attached to one way of thinking.
Find a place to sit that is quiet and where you will not be disturbed. Sit with arms and legs uncrossed, and back straight; whilst it’s important to be comfortable, it’s also important to be alert and fully awake. Take a few deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, allowing each out breath to be a real letting go breath.
Place your attention on your heart with the intention of allowing it to remain soft and open. Imagine, envision, sense in any way that you can, that you are breathing through your heart. Allow, with an easy acceptance, any thoughts or feelings to easily come and go. Soften to, and breathe through, any painful emotions. Often our instinct is to harden against unpleasantness, as a protection. However, if we can welcome and befriend it, we often find that our experiences of joy, pleasure, peace and love are greater; hardening against one set of sensations automatically hardens us against its opposite set, and vice versa.
If you are new to meditation, five minutes may be sufficient for this meditation. It is more important to do it regularly, than to do a long practice only occasionally. Once meditation has become a part of your routine, you may want to gradually lengthen each practice.