Reality Check: What does your mind rest upon?

Dr. Rick Hanson writes a regular email newsletter called Just One Thing, subtitled, “Simple practices for resilient happiness.”
In a recent publication, he said, “There is a traditional saying that the mind takes its shape from what it rests upon.”
To say “the mind takes its shape” brings the interesting implication that the mind can change in fundamental ways. If so, then if we control what our mind rests upon, we also control the “shape” of our mind.
Where does your mind go when it’s at rest? For example, if you lift your eyes away from this column and let your mind wander for a moment, where does it go? What pops up?
Perhaps your mind rested on the past, whether that’s five minutes, five years, or even fifty years ago. Did it rest on a happy memory? Perhaps a warm conversation with someone you love? The remembrance of the delight of an accomplishment?
Maybe it rested on an unhappier memory; one where you relive a hurt or still feel the sting of a disappointment.
Your mind might instead have gone to the future. Perhaps you anticipated love, gratitude, fun or companionship yet to come. Or, perhaps your mind rested on fear. What might lie ahead? What worries, unknown or unknowable, popped up?
Maybe your mind rested on the present: the sights, smells, and sounds that surround you right here, right now.
Our minds rest somewhere and where they rest contributes to our overall outlook. Hanson is suggesting that what we pay attention to can even shape our brains.
We have no control over a lot of things. However, if we choose to consciously practice, we can have some control over where our mind rests. And that can make a difference.
In previous columns, I’ve mentioned that if we want to add to our happiness, gratitude is a quality worth developing. To do so, make a habit of concentrating on what we are grateful for; that in turn makes us more aware of opportunities for gratitude. It’s a positive feedback loop; the more we experience gratitude, the more grateful we are.
Hanson uses the specific example of someone who wants to feel more cared about. He suggests paying attention to any tiny demonstrations of caring. Take each incident: a friendly wave by a passerby, a short conversation with a neighbour, a pleasant interaction with a coworker, and extend your enjoyment of that moment. Let your mind rest on it. Let it sink in.
While there’s more than that to the technique, the idea is to focus and spend your “mind-resting” time on that which you want to grow. It might sound like common sense, but in practice, common sense can be harder than we’d like it to be.
For example, I’ve noticed a mindset about “the way the world is going” which is truly distressing for some folks. The concern could be generational, environmental, political, technological; just to name a few possibilities. But the common thread seems to be the viewpoint that things are going downhill.
This may be so. Or it may not be so. The most likely (in my perception) is that some things are deteriorating, others are improving, and many are remaining pretty much the same.
However, if what you want to develop is an outlook of realistic optimism, then choosing to rest your mind on positive events and the many improvements may be more effective for you than letting it automatically rest on all the gripes and outrages that seem to fill the news cycle or our personal lives.
But don’t take my word, or Hanson’s word, for it. Try it yourself; see what happens.
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