As a child in the Middle East, my Dad helped irrigate his family farm with a well in his backyard. So when my little family moved into a suburban New Jersey home in the 1970’s, Dad decided he’d do the same in our new backyard. No permits, no contractors, just Dad and a couple shovels and picks. I’ll never forget that metallic smell of damp soil as he dug and dug with impressive determination. Digging deeper than even he could’ve predicted, moving more boulders than expected, exhaustion began to seep into his bones. As thoughts of giving up took hold, he turned a corner. A loud YES! rang through the summer heat. He couldn’t have been more jubilant that afternoon had he struck gold. He enthusiastically planned a garden of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and other vegetables to feed our family.
Daddy didn’t create that water. Rather, his task was to clear away the dirt and debris to reveal what was there all along. His steadfast and persistent action, coupled with a healthy dose of faith, granted him access to that precious resource. Our efforts to be mindful, to have peace of mind, are similar to Dad’s backyard experience. We aren’t creating mindfulness or any state of mind; we are simply clearing away that which blocks us from reaching it. What covers it up? For many of us, layers of stress, worry, and distraction. That is why systematically cultivating personal tools to remove the gunk is key.
Practicing yoga, sincere prayer, even mini-meditations are some of the instruments that help clear away the fog. Other tools include setting an intention, breathing with attentiveness (especially when feeling irritated), and moving our bodies and minds with purpose and kindness.
Even in this moment, you can catch a glimpse of the peace under the anxieties or stress. Close your eyes, lovingly placing your hands on your abdomen, and inhale deeply. Pause at the top of the inhale. Exhale slowly. Nothing in the external world changed just now, but maybe you felt a little more space, a brief moment of peace. It was there all along. And taking any thoughtful action from a place of peace can be exponentially more effective than doing it from agitation. The beauty of these tools is that the more we practice them, the easier it is for our minds to make that our go-to.