By Leo Babauta
It’s my belief that a flexible mind helps us to deal with chaos, loss, big life changes, small frustrations, and all that life throws our way.
A flexible mind leads to more peace. You’re not as stuck in your ways, and can adapt to change. You don’t always think you’re right but are curious about other people. You can take on new challenges with a smile. I don’t always have such a flexible mind, to be honest. I’m working on it.
When I’m not flexible, I can feel it: my mind starts to feel rigid, I feel frustration, irritation, anger and disappointment. There’s a feeling of not wanting things to be the way they are, feeling of being wronged or attacked. It’s the result of being caught up in whatever story you’re telling yourself.
So here’s what I’ve been working on, to develop a more flexible mind:
See the tightness.
If I notice myself getting frustrated, hardening up or feeling a tightness—this is the sign that I should practice. And the good news is that practice helps me get better, so I should celebrate! This is a lesson that life has gifted me, and I try to say thank you.
The most harm comes when I act out of my frustration—actions that might include shutting down and not talking to someone. So when I notice the tightness, I try not to take any harmful action. Instead, I try to turn inward to face whatever is arising.
Stay with the feeling.
Turn toward the feeling, and just observe it. See it as something that is arising, but isn’t necessarily me. It’s a feeling, a cloud passing across the sky, not a big deal. What does it feel like, physically in my body?
Explore it with curiosity.
Give it some space, and compassion. If the tight feeling that is arising is a cloud, then I try to give it a big, expansive blue sky to float across. Instead of being immersed in the cloud, I try to widen, open up an expansiveness. And then I give the feeling some compassion. It’s okay to feel this! And it’s good to give it some love.
Relax, and loosen my grip.
The tightness comes from wanting something or someone to be a certain way. I’m holding on tightly, and I really want this. Instead, I try to loosen my grip on whatever it is. It doesn’t really matter that much, I can flow around this. Instead, I try to relax into the moment, and be with whatever is going on. Notice the world around me, right now, instead of being caught up in my story. Relax, and be grateful for what’s around me.
Saying “I don’t know.”
Here’s the key to it all. Once I’ve relaxed a bit, I can now tell myself, “I don’t know how things should be. I don’t even know how they are now.” So this gives me space to not know, and to investigate. What is the truth about this moment? What would it be like to allow the future to unfold without knowing? What is it like to not know how other people should act, but be curious about why they’re acting that way? And to give them some compassion too?
A flexible mind is one that doesn’t really know what should happen, and is not even sure what will unfold in this next moment. It is curious, like a baby exploring the world afresh. When we sit in meditation, or take each moment as it comes, we allow ourselves to not know, and to be interested in whatever arises.
That’s what I’m working with, imperfectly and forgetfully, and I find it helpful.
Leo Babauta is a regular guy, a father of six kids, a husband, a writer from Guam (now living in San Francisco). He eats vegan food, writes, runs, and reads. He is the founder of Zen Habits which is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.
This article was originally published on Zen Habits and re-published with author’s permission.
Editor: Dana Gornall