A couple of weeks ago, bedridden for three full days because the flu had me practically too weak to move, I passed the time watching movie after movie on my ipad. They ranged from a Victorian costume drama (Four Feathers) to a light, silly comedy (Parental Guidance) to an action film set in the far future (Prometheus) to a foreign film about the Holocaust (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) to a “Good vs. Evil” melodrama set in the 14th century (World without End). I found myself so immersed in the scenario each of these created that I needed some time between the viewings…..for the immersion in one setting to dissolve enough to permit a new mindset to enter. That’s what good movies (and books) do – they create worlds that we inhabit so fully that our own sense of identity is dissolved.
Think about that phenomenon: how a two- dimensional 8 inch by six inch moving picture with sound, or even more remarkably a similarly sized set of words alone, can create scenarios so engaging that we find ourselves inhabiting different worlds. For long stretches of time I was able to forget almost entirely that I felt like crap. It’s quite clear that images, sounds, and words created by other minds are able to profoundly shift our own feelings and thoughts.What’s generally less clear to us is our ability to create such shifts all by ourselves. But we do it all the time: when we decide to shift our minds to eager anticipation of a vacation or a promotion or a steamy romantic evening. Or to the grieving memories surrounding the loss of a parent, friend, or pet. In these instances no outside stimulus is immediately present – the emotion is being generated entirely by our own minds. “Wait a minute,” you might be thinking to yourself, “of course there are outside stimuli: the anticipated vacation to Hawaii or my grandma’s passing”. Yes, but none are being forced upon you (as would, for example, be true in a situation where someone insulted you, and a reaction would be expected). The mind is able to choose from an almost infinite variety of focal points. If I asked you to sit down and type out a list of fifty subjects to contemplate over the next week it would probably take you only a couple of minutes to do it – your mind would actually be doing “practice contemplaion” that whole time.
Granted, most of us don’t have the ability to be able to create desirable / desired states of feeling with any regularity. But knowing that this is at least POSSIBLE is a very profound realization. Try noticing the phenomenon in action in your daily life : practice the awareness of realizing where your mind is focused, and then practice shifting that focus.Of course it’s a lot harder to shift your mind’s focus away from something quite serious that has “captured” you (e.g. worries about your job security, your health, possible spousal infidelity, or your child’s unhappiness) than it is to shift from trying to decide which pair of shoes to wear to work or daydreaming about what to have for dinner. Do acknowledge. however, that the process involved is identical. With repeated practice it becomes easier and easier to place your thoughts where you want them to be as opposed to where random thoughts have dragged you.