The following excerpt from "Just Say Om" has been reprinted with kind permission of Adams Media.
What Is Possible?
At different times in life, we get plagued with doubts: "You cannot do that. You can never do anything right. Nothing is worth it. It's all stupid." Sound familiar? I know this state well. The phrases vary, but the underlying feeling is one of doubt and hopelessness. Of course, if you go into a new task with those beliefs, they will affect the outcome. Therefore, it can be helpful to keep an expanded view of what is possible. This does not mean that you need to know how something "should" look--what meditation "should" be like or how life "should" turn out--but that your vision is open to all possibilities, and that you do not let fears and doubts hold you back.
It is easy to be limited in our views. When I spent a year on an environmental walk in my early twenties, we walked through many countries. The walk lasted for about three and a half years. It consisted of about 70 people across the United States and we had a number of buses to help carry our gear and food. After the United States, the group was usually about five or six people and we traveled carrying only a backpack that included a water bottle, one or two changes of clothes, a writing journal, a sleeping bag, and that was about it.
Often we had very little idea how far we had walked or how far we still had to walk to arrive at the next town. We spent a good deal of time asking people directions. If we were in a country that spoke English, it was fairly easy to communicate, but in non-English-speaking countries, we usually relied on a map and lots of hand signals. A number of times I asked an English speaker how far it was to a particular town, and the person responded, "Oh, it's about 200 miles to that town. But if you are thinking of walking, forget it. It is too far to walk." In their vision, this was an impossible task. I would explain that the walk had been going for two years and had crossed over 5000 miles and that 200 was really no big deal. Strangely, the person would often still respond, "Well, you cannot walk to this town because it is too far." Hello!
Thoughts are very powerful. We are often limited by what we think is possible. I am a girl, I can't do this or that, or I am a boy, I can't do this or that. Thinking something is possible is a first step toward that goal. Most of the great movements (and worst movements) arose from one person's or a group of people's thoughts. The Buddha said that everything that arises comes from our thoughts, so paying attention to thoughts is very important.
I have heard of master sculptors who, before carving a piece of marble, will spend many hours looking at the marble until they can see the image they want to carve already in the marble. Once they have the vision, they simply carve away whatever is not in that vision. They are then left with the image they wanted to create.
Having a vision does not mean that life will go exactly as you wish--sometimes, far from it. There is still difficulty, pain, failure, and all the rest. But a vision helps keep the heart strong in difficult moments. I don't believe in using thoughts to create a particular outcome--visualizing the perfect mate, for example. But I also do not think thoughts should limit what in our heart we really want to do. If you think you are going to fail a test and continually tell yourself that, you probably will. But if you consider that it is possible for you to do well on that test, you have a better chance. This does not mean that you can not study and expect to get an A; it just means that your thoughts have some effect on events.
One of my greatest mentors is a friend named Teru Imai. She was one of the women on the world environmental walk that I mentioned earlier. She was really the visionary of the walk and was on it for the entire journey. While many of us were in our twenties at the time, Teru was in her fifties. Just about everywhere she went, people told her, "You cannot walk across much of the world. Aren't you too old for this? What if someone robs or hurts you? Where will you sleep? How will you survive?" People were even saying this when she was almost finished with the walk.
Teru never answered those questions directly. She simply kept focused on her vision. She just walked through one country, then the next, then the next, until she finished. She just did it. There were extremely difficult times--food poisoning, heat stroke, dangerous people, violent weather, and all kinds of cultural barriers--but there was also something stronger than any of this that was guiding her. She rarely even knew where she would sleep from one night to the next. She simply trusted her larger vision.
I do not think it is essential that we achieve our vision. It is not so important that my friend Teru actually finished the world walk. Most importantly, she gave it a try and followed her instincts. She put her full mind and heart to the task and did not let others' limited thinking hold her back. This is really the best we can do. We cannot guarantee completion of a vision; we can only do our best to listen to our intuition. Even if it does not turn out the way we wanted, at least we tried, and in the process of trying we probably learned more about ourselves and the world than we would have had we never tried.
Try This: A Realm of Possibilities
Sit down in a chair or on the floor and let yourself relax. Gently close your eyes and think of something that you have always wanted to do. It could be to travel to another country or study at a particular school or act in a play on Broadway. Whatever it is, let yourself see it. Now allow in your mind the possibility of this happening. Notice the thoughts that come in to tell you that you are dreaming or that this is stupid. Let those thoughts be in the background and realize that this image you have in your head is a possibility. It's true that this vision may never happen. If we all imagine ourselves as the president of the United States, few of us will get that chance. The goal of this exercise is not to try to make this event happen, but to practice living with an open mind, a mind of many possibilities.