In The Art of Possibility, Ben Zander tells this story:
Inscribed on five of the six pillars in the Holocaust Memorial at Quincy Market in Boston are stories that speak of the cruelty and suffering in the camps. The sixth pillar presents a tale of a different sort, about a little girl named Ilse, a childhood friend of Guerda Weissman Kline, in Auschwitz. Guerda remembers that Ilse, who was about six years old at the time, found one morning a single raspberry somewhere in the camp. Ilse carried it all day long in a protected place in her pocket, and in the evening, her eyes shining with happiness, she presented it to her friend Guerda on a leaf. “Imagine a world,” writes Guerda, “in which your entire possession is one raspberry, and you give it to your friend.”
I often reread this story and, every time, it warms my heart and makes me tear up a little bit. It reminds me that, no matter our circumstances, we can choose to focus on abundance, gratitude and excitement.
So here’s the thing: We have 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day — and 90% of them are the same as the day before.
Since our thoughts trigger our emotions, that means we’re experiencing the same emotions every day. And since we’re wired to focus on potential threats (thanks, Mother Nature and lizard brain!), we’re typically feeling fear, insecurity, judgment, shame, frustration, anger, resentment, suffering — just to name a few survival-based emotions.
In survival mode, we’re concerned with three things: our bodies, our environment and time. We’re coming from a place of scarcity, looking to protect our identity and what we have — and running out of time to do it.
The thing is, we are essentially creative, growth-oriented beings whose actual survival is rarely in question. Thanks to evolution, we’ve developed this big frontal lobe that takes up 41% of our brain (I measured it) and allows us to imagine a wonderful future, and yet we mostly use it to worry how things could go wrong.
But we can’t be in survival mode and creation mode at the same time. If we want our lives to go in a different direction, we can’t just continue to react to the world as we perceive it, we have to consciously think — and feel — beyond our current circumstances. As Dr. Joe Dispenza explains in his brilliant book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, the first step is to identify the thoughts, emotions and behaviors (our personality, basically) that no longer serve us. Then, we can start to actively imagine how we would think, feel and behave if we were our “ideal” selves.
That means I’m spending fewer of my 60,000-odd thoughts on things like: fretting about how fast the year is going or comparing my income/fitness/accomplishments with others. What about you?
If a little girl in Auschwitz can create a state of being that was greater than her circumstances, surely we can too.