Attention Training

How to think fast, find your focus, and sharpen your concentration.

Be Like Water – A New Year’s Plan

The Zen of feeling positive.

Picture this: It is late December. In a small mountain village, in the Berkshires, the first snow of the season is falling heavily. It is almost midnight. The temperature is below zero and bone-chilling. The moon is glowing – pale and cold. Snow has coated the glassy tree branches and power lines. Stars sparkle on and into everything. The whole world is quiet and glistening and puffed white.

A woman (or a man) is standing in the middle of a long, snow-piled driveway. From a distance, she would look like a silhouette against all the acres of snow and woods. She is dressed in sweats and wears a woolen cap and scarf. She is still.

She crosses her arms before her, her palms pointed toward her face, then raises her arms, keeping them crossed, over her head, turning her palms outward toward the sparkling sky, and begins a Tai Chi form (series of postures that look like a dance) she learned several years ago. When she begins her movements, slowly, effortlessly, and fluidly, she turns to face you.

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This is when you can see that she has taken a long Kung Fu sash (bright red satin) and wrapped it around her face, covering her eyes. She does not want see, at least with her eyes.

She imagines herself in a dance with the universe, in some very magical place, a place or pure creativity and potential. Feeling this dance is her entire focus. She surrenders to the momentum and completely flows within it.

In holistic arts, this “magical place" is simultaneously in the mind as well as in your environment. And the winter cycle helps you get there.

Winter is all about flow – physical, psychological and spiritual. It is a season that encourages us to look deeply into the furtive places of our mind, from which we can view information from our past and present, slowly, richly – as if it were floating thorough us like reflections across a mirrored surface where nothing sticks, just keeps on flowing. For this reason, the individual at the beginning of this post is enjoying her experience blindfolded. For her, she can more easily pivot between her internal and external environments by amplifying the sensitivity of her other senses as she experiences this particular winter moment.

Eastern traditions associate the winter season with the element of water. The message of water is that it can be soft or hard, still or moving, can flow over, under, or even through things. It can float things or float atop of things. It can absorb. It is formless and can adapt to any container. It can vaporize or become invisible.

As such, water is the symbol of purity, birth, and rebirth. When you embody the characteristics and influence of this life-giving force you are going with the flow. You fill each moment with living, you force nothing, you become, you experience, and you interrelate.

Liking the path of least resistance, water can guide us into the calm yet most powerful, restorative, and creative waters of our Self. Like our Tai Chi practitioner, you can often find this via a wide range of Eastern holistic arts. But a Tai Chi master once told me, “You can practice Tai Chi walking down the street.”

Winter with its slower, falling energy is here to help us synch up. This is where the flow of internal and external information through your mind, combined with your and nature’s creative energy and your personal thoughts, all of this clustered together – can become a powerfully fertile basis for personal growth and transformation as you float it into your next (seasonal) cycle.

It is not surprising that many of us feel like being more introspective and leisurely, in both thought and movement, during this seasonal cycle. The payoff of careful relaxed focus during this time is your new visions that will surge with strength and re-creation and rebirth in the spring.

A Few Winter Resolutions

   • Today I will remember to slow down.

   • Today I will make time to be out of doors.

   • Today I will spend some quiet time considering where I have been,

where I am at the moment, and where I dream I would like to be in the future.

   • Today I will think of ways I could reasonably accomplish my dreams, even if in small steps.

   • Today, when opportunity presents itself, I will advance my visions, remembering my original ideas may be smaller than what, in the end may be possible.

   • Today I will help someone else accomplish their vision.

   • Today I will be like water.

Note: For a more extensive discussion on the idea of Zen and positive thinking, you may wish to check out my book, Be Like Water.

Happy New Year!

Joseph Cardillo, Ph.D., is the author of Can I Have Your Attention? How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration.

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