When lecturing in Japan, I had an opportunity to visit one of their holiest Shinto Shrines, Ise Jingu. During this visit I was given a personal tour of the temple grounds by one of its directors, a former woodsman, who had a real feeling for animism which is the source of this ancient religion.
As we were crossing a beautiful arching wooden bridge, he stopped, looked down, pointed and asked, "What do you see?" Not quite sure of what he was looking for from me, I nonetheless calmly replied in the best way I could, "Calm, clear water."
He smiled and replied, Hai (Yes) and went on to ask, "Now what do you hear?" To which I said, "A frog." In response he nodded again and said, "You will not hear this species of frog anywhere else on the temple grounds."
"Why?" I asked.
Then he looked directly at me with his large, deep brown eyes and said, "Because this species of frog lives only near water that is fresh, clear, and at peace."
Later, as I reflected on this interaction, I realized we weren't really speaking about frogs and water. Instead, I was being taught by this gentleman about what I could experience in life if my heart was at peace and my mind clear. Meditation, mindfulness, contemplation, prayer and other forms of simple quiet time alone offer this kind of possibility. It is easy to have such time when we simply slow ourselves down, sit up straight with our hands resting in front of us, breathe easily and keep a light alertness to the in and out movements of our breath.
Yet, many people avoid such quiet time because in meditation or during such periods of silence and solitude not only do we eventually experience ourselves at rest which is beneficial physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually, but we also initially may see some things we don't like but have hidden even from ourselves.
These hidden worries may include the games we play interpersonally at work, the anxieties and insecurities about our personal life, or the sense that in so many ways we are charlatans (i.e. "If people only knew what we were really like!") The fact that this happens is not terrible. It only feels that way initially because the image we have created of ourselves is temporarily under attack. As a matter of fact, it is actually good because the only negative perception we have of ourselves that can harm us is the one about which we are not aware.
If we remain seated, hold the reality of our unique gifted presence in this world deep in our mind and heart and non-judgmentally view these perceptions and worries like a train passing through the station, we will find out a great deal of helpful information about what is undermining us and causing inadvertent resistance to growth and change.
A wealth of information is available to us each day when we quiet ourselves down for a few moments. Quiet time and reflection can be tremendously helpful if:
1.We are careful to avoid either projecting the blame onto others or condemning ourselves;
2.We look non-judgmentally at the worries about the day's experience to see what we can learn from them; and
3.We write our reflections down after the quiet period is up so we can think further about them and later discuss them with a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor.
And so, in this way, negative experiences and hidden worries can be sources of help when they become conscious, are viewed neutrally, and are examined with an eye to see how they can profitably direct our energies to develop and change. Rather than just bothersome experiences, in this light then, they can become helpful "friends." That's pretty wonderful, isn't it?
Robert Wicks received his doctorate in Psychology from Hahnemann Medical College, is on the Faculty of Loyola University Maryland, and the author of BOUNCE: Living the Resilient Life (Oxford), PRAYERFULNESS: Awakening to the Fullness of Life (Sorin) and RIDING THE DRAGON (Sorin).