I often think the most amazing gift of being human is the capacity we have for choice: the miracle of all miracles. Consciously or unconsciously within each moment, we have the ability to choose where to put our attention. We can chose to respond to each moment by creating, inspiring, envisioning, imagining, actively engaging or, we can react to each moment through withdrawal, unconsciousness or conscious and careful protection.
Because our innate impulse is survival, we are mostly on automatic radar for anything which might endanger us. This tends to have us hang out in the fear gear of what might or could go wrong. Accordingly, I find we most often are choosing the react mode. I don’t say this to judge it, but rather to notice it as a natural way of being in the world as it holds safety as primary and foremost. A natural instinct and a reactive one.
For myself, I find when I’m living day-to-day in a mostly reactive mode, I tend to feel less alive, flat, more anxious, and not very engaged in life in ways I know are possible. I tend to make the “lazy” choice of reacting rather than pausing and responding creatively to the opportunity of the moment.
In fact, as I own 75 years of being in this body I realize that most of the first half of my life was spent reacting to what presented itself with little awareness of my options to respond. I’ve come to see the reaction option as natural and the responsive orientation as more of a learned trait that comes with wisdom and experience. What I now know is: responding is a lot more fulfilling and satisfying than reacting.
The question then becomes how do we learn to be more responsive versus reactive on a day-to-day basis? The answer is PRACTICE! Well what practice? There are a zillion ways to practice and I offer one which is a ton of fun and very satisfying. I call it the “Treasure Chest of Life” practice.
Begin by reflecting on your earliest memories of the sweet moments in your life and write down each one, like a one liner. For example, I remember being about 7 years old, walking out in our yard in Kentucky in April when the red bud trees were in full bloom. It was breathtaking. My one-liner is simply: “Red bud trees at 7 yrs old.”
Over time, work your way through each decade of your life, noting all the sweet moments, small and large. Make the list as long as you can and cut up each one-liner into a single strip of paper. Fold each one and place it in a vase, box, old fish tank – some safe, special place to which you have ready access.
Eventually, you will have hundreds of recorded memories in your chest of treasures. Each day as you pass by your “Treasure Chest” pull out a memory and notice how your face relaxes, your heart opens, you are more present and there is more fullness and appreciation for your life.
You see: we get what we look for. If we look for the treasure, we will find a treasure. If we look for what’s wrong we will find what’s wrong.
This is how we learn responsive living – choosing how to focus our attention. One of the benefits of this practice is that it makes very real the wonders of this life, right here, right now and has us stand humbly in awe.
This is a conscious, grateful living practice and I invite you to try it and share it with your friends. It just might change your life
It is simple, takes little time, and is immensely gratifying. I use my treasure chest every day, and my whole life has become a chest of treasures.
Chuck Roppel is a Vice-President of the Board of A Network for Grateful Living.
To read more about him, visit this page.