Archive for October, 2014

Renewing Your Mind: In the Present Moment

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

How often do you find yourself distracted from fully experiencing the present moments of your life because you’re busy thinking about the past or the future instead? A key part of the foundation of renewing your mind involves living in the present — waking up to what’s happening inside of you and in the world around you, moment by moment.

I’ve sometimes struggled with too much nostalgia for the past, especially when something triggers grief about one of my loved ones who has died. Memories of my late mom and others I knew well before they passed away can easily overtake my present moments and lead me to yearn to be with them again.

More often, though, it’s the future that distracts me from thinking about the present. As a person who loves to plan, I’m constantly planning ideas for future projects I’d like to work on, future events I want to attend, future trips I hope to take, etc. My mind is so often immersed in future plans that I have to remind myself regularly to appreciate wherever I am and whatever I’m doing right now.

The key to successfully living in the present, for me, is embracing each moment as a simple yet profound gift from God.

That really hit home for me when I visited the Royal Observatory Greenwich in England recently. More than any other place on Earth, I believe, Greenwich offers a thought-provoking perspective on our human relationships to time and space. It’s the place where time and space are officially measured on our planet. The observatory there keeps Earth’s official time, and the prime meridian (the 0 degree longitude line that measures distances heading east and west) runs straight through the observatory’s grounds.

After touring the observatory and the nearby maritime museum to learn how people have measured time and space throughout history, I was struck by the fact that everyone who has ever lived seems to be compelled to try to master time in some way. Yet none of the cleverest gadgets (from ancient sundials to current GPS satellite atomic clocks that can accurately measure nanoseconds) or the most brilliant ways of managing time can change the fact that we all have a finite amount of time — and none of us can predict when our earthly lifetimes will end.

The best that any of us can do to gain mastery over time is to fully appreciate every moment of it. Whenever we do, we renew our minds by waking ourselves up to whatever we should focus on right now.

How do thoughts about the past or future distract you from living in the present? What could you do to start living more in the present — fully aware and appreciative of each moment you experience?

Renewing Your Mind: Paying Attention

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

So many different thoughts dance through our minds constantly that we have to make a concerted effort to pay attention to what’s really happening — both inside our minds and in the world around us — to make sense of it all. Becoming more aware of our own thoughts and experiences in each present moment is the goal of the mindfulness movement, which has been gaining popularity here in the USA lately. It also plays a key role in renewing our minds, since we have to identify what we’re really thinking before we can figure out how to change our thoughts for the better.

As a chronic daydreamer whose mind often wanders, I know what a challenge it can be to focus on fully experiencing each moment as it comes. The mindfulness process is simple. Yet mindfulness can be daunting to actually practice in our culture, which constantly overloads us with information and stimulation, training our minds to be perpetually distracted.

Visiting the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia helped me understand what the process of paying attention should involve. There, the world’s largest moving telescope (the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope) measures radio waves – which are invisible to human eyes – that travel to Earth from objects in space (from planets and comets to galaxies and quasars). Astronomers from all over the world use the telescope’s data to learn more about what’s happening in space, from areas nearby our planet to locations that are billions of light years away. Some of the experiments even delve into the search for extraterrestrial life.

As NRAO scientists tune into signals from space, they follow the same basic steps that we can all take when trying to tune into the thoughts in our minds:

1. Open yourself up to receiving new insights. Just as radio telescopes open wide toward the sky to receive signals that result in new scientific data, you can open your mind to learn something new in each moment. Making an intentional decision to learn more about the thoughts and feelings you experience will help you start noticing much more than you would otherwise.

2. Eliminate distractions. The NRAO is surrounded by the 13,000-square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone, which is designed to minimize radio signal interference. People often lose cell phone service in the quiet zone, and many radio stations don’t work in the area. It’s all so that the telescopes can pick up space signals without the distractions of earthbound signals getting in the way. By incorporating the disciplines of solitude and silence into your life on a regular basis, you can eliminate distractions in your own life, creating your own personal “quiet zone” that will help you tune into your thoughts.

3. Listen carefully. NRAO scientists were often moving their telescopes around, adjusting them to the best positions to receive different types of signals for various experiments. You can adjust your mind by reflecting on your thoughts regularly and listening to their messages carefully.

What challenges do you face when trying to pay attention to your thoughts? How could it help you to focus better if you expected to learn something new each time you’re fully engaged in a present moment? Do you practice mindfulness — and if so, how?

Renewing Your Mind: Who Do You Think You Are?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

It was a just a brief comment, but it made a major impact on my life.

“You’re a gifted writer,” my 5th grade teacher told me after reading a poem I’d written for her class. As a shy girl who often felt awkward, I latched onto the teacher’s encouragement, hoping that it was really true, because it if it was, it would be a lot better than other comments people had made about me: I’d been called a “dork” (because of the bifocal glasses I wore) who was the “new kid” in school after moving and seemed “stuck up” because I was too quiet for some of the other kids to like me. Then there were the negative comments I made about myself through my inner voice, as an insecure child of divorce who secretly wondered if I’d done something wrong to cause my parents to break up their marriage and rip apart my world.

That one new, positive way to view myself planted seeds of confidence that grew over the years. I was still a shy, awkward person, but that wasn’t all I was. I was also a good writer, I told myself, and by reminding myself of something positive in me I started to notice other positive aspects of myself. Finally, as a teenager, I came to faith and discovered my true identity as one of God’s beloved children. Then I really knew who I was, and my confidence was secure as a result.

Your success is in the vital effort to renew your mind depends on having the confidence to do so. In order to have confidence, you have to discover who you are — and like that person!

Many different people speak into your life in various ways every day: friends, family members, coworkers, etc. They may either like or dislike you, and their words may either encourage or discourage you. But they don’t know you completely. Other people see only a portion of who you truly are at any given moment. Others will sometimes misunderstand or mistreat you. Their perspective on you is incomplete and sometimes inaccurate, and their motives and emotions can be skewed.

So don’t let other people tell you who you are. Tell yourself who you are. Then you can live from the secure foundation of that identity, which will lead to the kind of life you really want to live!

Who do you think you are, and why? Are you basing your identity on what other people say about you, or on what you’ve discovered about yourself?

Renewing Your Mind: Your Inner Voice

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

What do you say to yourself in the privacy of your own mind?

Your inner voice constantly runs through your mind, shaping how you perceive yourself, as well as everyone and everything in the world around you. It can either discourage or encourage you.

It’s easy to just fall into a habit of listening to your inner voice’s default messages without analyzing and challenging them. But it’s worth paying attention to what you’re really saying to yourself. Since many people are their own harshest critics, it may shock you to discover how critical your inner voice sounds once you start paying close attention to it. Do you often catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself, such as: “I’ll never be able to do this, so why waste time trying?” or “I don’t deserve to be happy.”?

If so, it’s important to confront such negative thoughts and start replacing them with positive ones that reflect the truth about who you are: a valuable person who can enjoy a confident life.

As the author of several novels, I paid careful attention during the writing process to what I imagined my characters’ inner voices to be, so their scenes would be believable and their dialogue would ring true. But paying attention to my own inner voice in real life is even more important — so I remind myself to do so regularly.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre, which I visited recently in Edinburgh, emphasizes how all people are constantly telling stories simply by how we choose to live our lives. Since the way we live our lives is ultimately determined by the thoughts we think in our minds, it’s vitally important to pay attention to our inner voices, which have such a significant impact on who we are and what we do.

A Scottish proverb says: “The story is told eye to eye, mind to mind, heart to heart.” Stories that really resonate with people are authentic ones that reflect the true essence of the people telling them. If you want the stories of your life to be good ones, you’ve got to think good thoughts — starting with the way you think about yourself.

That’s easier said then done, however.

Gunk from your past — like the voices of people who have discouraged or mistreated you over the years — can clog up the filter of your inner voice. When you catch your inner voice speaking negative thoughts that don’t reflect the positive reality of who you are, it may be because a parent, sibling, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, coworker, teacher, coach, or someone else in your past put you down and you lost confidence in yourself as a result. Recognizing the source of such negativity is the first step in overcoming it. Then you need to clean the gunk out regularly to keep your mind clear.

Does your inner voice encourage or discourage you? How? What changes would you like to make in the ways you talk to yourself in your mind?

 

Renewing Your Mind: Changing Your Thoughts Will Change Your Life

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Welcome to my new blog, “Renewing Your Mind”! This is a topic that that has long fascinated me. Since the way we think determines the direction of our lives, it’s crucial to learn how to use the power of our minds to end up where we want to go — accomplishing good purposes. Our thoughts lead to our attitudes, which lead to our actions, which shape our entire lives in either negative or positive ways.

So it’s important to think about what we’re thinking about. When we do, we can change negative thoughts that lead to places we don’t want to go in life to positive thoughts that lead us to reaching our full potential. Since our lives follow our thoughts, changing our thoughts from negative to positive will always change our lives for the better.

As a person of faith, I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us as we work to change the way we think. The Bible urges us in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

But I’ll be writing here for everyone who’s interested in the life of the mind. I plan to post new content here every Wednesday to offer something that will hopefully prove to be thought-provoking and encouraging in the middle of each week.

One of the best ways I’ve found to visualize the power of transforming our minds is by considering a classic example of change from nature: caterpillars turning into butterflies or moths. I visited Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida to study the process and observe it in action. After making their cocoons out of silk, caterpillars break down their bodies, releasing enzymes that dissolve almost all of their body parts into a mushy substance that’s rich in protein. Then the only parts of the caterpillars that haven’t dissolved (cells that are called imaginal discs) use the mushy goo from the dissolved body parts to build a butterfly or moth body.

The creature that emerges from the cocoon after this process is an entirely new creature from the one that had started the process. In what’s known scientifically as complete metamorphosis, one creature has transformed into another!

As human beings, we’re all works in progress, changing and growing every day. We need to learn how to break down negative thoughts that lead to unhealthy attitudes (such as worrisome fear and destructive anger) and build up positive thoughts that lead to healthy attitudes (like peace and joy).

The power we have to change our own lives and impact others when we change our thoughts is tremendous. While walking around Butterfly World, I encountered a plant called Mimosa pudica, which is sensitive to touch. It closes up its leaves immediately after something touches it too harshly, in order to protect itself from harm. But when I touched it lightly — as  a butterfly or moth would — its leaves remained open.  In the same way, when we express negativity to other people, they will often close themselves off from us, but when we’re positive with others because we’ve been thinking positively, many opportunities will open up for us to move our lives in the direction we hope to go.

What negative thoughts do you struggle with now that you’d like to change? What positive thoughts would you like to make a habit of thinking about, and why?