Swimming twenty-six 50-yard laps in the pool at my Wellness Center definitely gives me a lot of time to think.
What surprised me this week wasn’t the amount of time I have at my disposal–it was the sudden realization of the amount of time I was wasting on thoughts that weren’t helpful or useful. To make this even more unsettling, it became crystal clear that some of my thoughts were making me angry.
Swimming back and forth in a pool that size is a very nourishing and solitary thing to do. What I love about it is that I get so many creative ideas that I can capitalize on right away. Then last week, I found myself having a completely different experience with my swim, one that made me stop and pay attention.
The previous week, I had unexpectedly run into someone from a relationship that I thought was long over. Although in the moment, I was able to be gracious and positive during our short encounter, I was astonished at the negative feelings that surfaced immediately afterwards.
The encounter was over in less than 3 minutes, yet it took me another 30 to claim and dissipate my feelings about it—feelings I thought I’d handled over a year ago.
In that 30 minutes, I consciously used all my strategies to settle myself, so I could stay resourceful for the remainder of my evening. Yet once I was back in the pool a few days later, they surfaced again with a vengeance, as I replayed my mental video of this encounter, over and over again with each lap.
And here’s the juicy part of the story: it wasn’t even the encounter that made me mad. Although I handled myself in a powerfully positive way as it was happening, it took my replaying that mental video over and over again as I swam to work myself up into a fury.
Has anything like that ever happened to you?
The great news about an experience like this is that it gives us a rich opportunity to learn something very compelling about ourselves: when we remember that we have Unlimited Cosmic Power over all of our thoughts, all of the time, it frees us to consciously use it.
In the moment of this encounter, I was fully present and I accessed my own power with positive behaviors. When I forgot to stay conscious of my thoughts over the weekend and got stuck in the memory of it, I cost myself precious time that I could have used on moving myself forward on the initiatives that matter the most to me right now.
Processing this insight as I swam, I remembered a Buddhist story about two monks that made me laugh out loud. Here’s where those two monks can save you a lot of time this week.
Two monks were taking a long journey together. The younger of the two was strong and hardy; the elder was more frail. They were enjoying their trip together and the peace they felt as traveling companions. A few weeks into their journey, they came to a river they needed to cross. Standing on the shore was a young woman who was afraid to cross it by herself.
The younger of the two monks offered to carry her across and she gratefully accepted. Once on the other side, the young monk set her down and received her thanks. Then the monks and the young woman parted ways.
As the two monks continued their journey, it took the younger monk a little while to realize the difference in the quality of the atmosphere between himself and the older monk. The quiet peace the two had enjoyed up until the river had been replaced by a very stony silence between them. For two days this silence built a wedge between the two men, until the younger one couldn’t take it anymore.
“My brother, is there something wrong?” he asked as they stopped by a tree to eat their lunch.
The other monk replied that indeed there was. He spent the next 30 minutes telling the young monk how disappointed and angry he was about him picking up that young beautiful woman and carrying her all the way across that river. He gave him all the reasons why this action went against everything their order stood for in terms of spirituality and abstinence from the desires of the flesh.
The young monk listened quietly until the older monk ran out of words.
Then he said, “My brother, I carried that woman for less than 10 minutes across the river and then I put her down and walked away. You have been carrying her with us for the past two days. Which of us has really been defying our vows?”
This story made me laugh out loud (which is a little awkward while you’re swimming!) because I realized that although my encounter had lasted less than 3 minutes, I had been carrying it with me for three days. It was time to put it down!
So if something like this ever happens to you, here are three things you can do:
- Pay attention to your thoughts: are you in the present moment or stuck in a mental film loop of the past?
- If you’re in the past, remember the old monk, and put down that thought (especially if you find that it’s making you mad!)
- Think about what you want right now, and what it will take for you to get it. Focus your thoughts on your own power to move forward with your goals and you will instantly feel the difference.
Although you might have to work this strategy a couple of times before it sticks, the more you use it the easier—and more effective—it gets.
Have a nourishing, positive week—and let me know how this works for you!