Think what you missed while you were doing what you were supposed to do.
I often think of the moment when I first let go of the side of the pool. It wasn’t when my brother (who was teaching me to swim) told me to. It wasn’t when I screwed up my courage and decided to. In a sense, it let go of me. Suddenly I was floating, and ecstatic—but the feeling wasn’t one of triumph, because I hadn’t really “done” anything—certainly not made a decision. I just, as they say, “found myself” free-floating in the water.
On many other occasions I’ve “found myself” doing something that involved a kind of consent or courage or acquiescence that had nothing to do with my conscious, often resisting mind. Once, as I was lecturing to about 35 students I found myself walking over to a woman in the front row who appeared to be in acute pain and lightly massaging her shoulder, continuing the lecture as I did so. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, though as I looked back, I realize it was very odd classroom behavior. More oddly, though, no one seemed to object, or even take note, and I remember that she visibly relaxed. So it was a good thing to do, but not a good for which I take any particular credit for “being kind” or even “sensitive.” I just registered her pain and acted in response.
I’ve made major decisions without much attention to the long pro and con lists someone always recommends—so many that it almost seems to me sometimes that a criterion of a valid and right-minded decision is one that comes from somewhere beyond the mind, takes you by surprise, and is already effectively made by the time you realize you’ve made it.
It’s a subtle process—the movement from perception to action that takes a route through the heart rather than the mind. It has a certain gift-character; control and planning seem beside the point when I’m in the midst of a situation that evokes a vivid and immediate intuitive response: “Yes, I’m on my way.” “No, I’m not going to walk into that conflict.” “This is dangerous.” “I was on the way somewhere else, but I’m stopping here.” I went through a day once practicing the mantra, “Say yes. Whatever it is, say yes” as a way of trying to allow myself to notice these invitations. It was a mindful day. I can’t claim that I make it a consistent practice, but whenever it occurs to me to say that “yes,” the frame shifts a little, and I am brought again to the present—always the best place (and really the only place) to be.