A number of years ago, I was walking down the street in Manhattan when I happened to pass a pricey new restaurant. My ego started elbowing me in the ribs, complaining about how my downtown neighbourhood was being ruined by the entitled few. There was a sleek, expensive sedan parked out front as I passed by and a fellow in a black suit on a cell phone sitting behind the wheel. My ego—the clearly pathological, materially reactive part of my mind—began painting a very specific, particularly uncharitable picture of the poor guy, whose only crime was to be sitting in a nice car, talking on the phone.
Then, right in the midst of that spontaneously judgmental reaction, something beautiful happened—something I’m grateful for, to this very day. You might say that all my efforts at mindful awareness, up to that point, found their moment to kick in and suddenly a very different, much kinder inner voice—what you might call my “intuitive intelligence” or “voice of reason”—arose in my heart.
“Stop what you’re thinking, and make up a completely different story about this fellow,” it told me.
It was true, I had unjustifiably been imagining the worst of him. That he was probably rich and selfish (mind you, this all took place in about three seconds); but thank goodness my “spiritual self,” my mindfulness, inspired me to create a whole new scenario, opposite to the heartless, fearful one my ego had pounced upon. Here is the story I imagined instead:
The man was a driver, or a waiter, or just any regular guy. His mother had fallen ill, and been admitted to the hospital that morning, so he’d borrowed his boss’s car to go and be with her. He had to pull over and call his wife to let her know. That’s what he was doing there, parked out in front of that restaurant.
After all, as long as I was just making something up about him, why shouldn’t it be something kinder? How about a story that was easily as possible as the nastiness my psyche had spontaneously concocted? Perhaps an imaginary story of a more compassionate nature.
“The only regular exercise I get is jumping to conclusions.” – Anonymous
This opportunity to re-conceive my reality, to expose and reject the fearful judgments and comparisons my ego had tricked me into assuming, arrived at that moment like a beautifully liberating gift. I realized that I could, at any and every moment, re-imagine my world in a much more joyful, much more forgiving way. Everyone was trying their best in a difficult world and deserved the benefit of the doubt. Everyone was entitled to respect and loving-kindness. The realization permanently changed my life, by permanently changing my world.
“The way we see the Universe, is the way the Universe sees us.” – Anonymous
I learned that mental and verbal restraint was possibly the greatest tool I had to maintain my newly found compassionate mindfulness. Most of what I had been thinking (like about 90 percent of it) ran along lines that never even needed to be followed—cascading thoughts inspired by fear.
I discovered that the compassionately conscious act of mindful restraint allowed me to “cherry-pick” my thoughts; to select the kind of thoughts to speak aloud that I might hear coming from the kind of person I would like to be. That opportunity can come from just waiting for a moment before speaking at all (before having to watch the wrong words come flying willy-nilly out of my mouth again). In this refreshing, easy manner, I began to think and speak like a person that I’m much more comfortable being.
The path where I’d finally stumbled across my transformational moment really opened up to me through meditation—naturally. A long practice that had slowly enabled me to detach my peaceful inner self from the rancor and fear of my confrontational ego. In the terminology of our data-based world, meditation had shown me a way to switch applications and adopt an interface with the outside world that was based in compassion and identification. It opened a channel to a higher mind, closing the door on the fearful judgments and comparisons that were the default of my ego “app.”
And something else came out of this too—I learned what the real power of my imagination could be, once it had been freed from false expectations and comparisons and exercised with an open heart. When imagination isn’t taken hostage by a fearful ego, suddenly anything becomes possible. Not just kinder assumptions about life in general, but the ability to focus it clearly and creatively, in a much more positive direction—and with astounding, almost miraculous effectiveness. On top of that, when it’s inspired by, and combined with Love…well, there’s the magic ingredient. With Love, and my compassionate imagination, I began to see how my dreams could actually take shape. Here’s the simple formula:
Love + compassionate imagination = magical beauty and fulfillment in life.
As long as I can calmly hold to that simple inner line of compassionate imagination and restraint, I move along with ease and connectedness. When I can focus the playful potential of my unencumbered (fear-free) imagination, my life spreads open like a delightful picnic. It’s a real gift of meditation—the true bounty of mindfulness. My friends multiply, my nature lightens, my posture improves, and my inner and outer landscapes, become more beautiful places to be—for me, and everyone I see, walking down the street. It also happens to be how I find the unconditionality in unconditional Love.
And it can all happen simply, because I imagine it more compassionate.
Read this related story: SAMSKARAS: Be aware of judgments for deep-rooted transformation>>