Whether introverted or extroverted in nature a change in perspective can help navigate trying times, indeed even make the seemingly impossible possible…even if just temporarily.
On one of my walks into town I pass a man sweeping the road. Morning seems to be the time to catch him. I have no idea what his age is, but I would guess that he is around the 70 mark. He sweeps with intention and strong focus. He has a grey, scraggly beard and wears a reflective jacket.
He sweeps near a busy junction - people walking to work, yoga or a late breakfast - traffic vying for position to either join the freeway or cross over it. The reflective jacket is a good idea. Drivers are pretty aware of pedestrians and cyclists in this city, but early morning preoccupations can distract an otherwise focused eye.
I might be wrong, but I don’t think that this man works for anyone. The two nearby restaurants I don’t believe would require the sort of sweeping that he does. You see he has this fervor about him that gives me a sense that he has taken this job on for himself, for whatever reason. With his broom he takes small, very small, jabbing actions, digging his brush deep into the pavement. There is normally little rubbish there, and what there is most other people would take only a few long sweeping actions to clear. Of course, I could be very wrong on all of this, but the intensity of his work seems to be more than is necessary. However, what really interests me is his focus. If there is dirt there, he will find it and there is no distracting him from that task.
Seeing this man in action always make me think of a Buddhist story. Its truth or otherwise is not important, what is important is the story that it tells.
A young monk was struggling with his studies. He’d learn one word, move onto the next and forget the first. So he’d go back to memorize the first word and forget the second. His colleagues were soon well ahead of him and he was despairing as whether he could accomplish anything. At this point the Buddha came along and handed him a broom. The Buddha instructed him to sweep the monastery’s courtyard while the monks were inside chanting their prayers. While he was sweeping, the Buddha instructed the monk to repeat to himself, “clean away the dust, clear away the dirt,” and with that the young monk set to it.
Time passes by and the monk finds himself reflecting as he sweeps. He reflects that not only is he cleaning away the dirt but also that he needs to sweep away the negative thoughts in his mind. In other words, he is becoming mindful of what is going through his mind, catching himself when the disparaging, unhelpful thoughts arise and transforming them into something more positive - i.e. anger into patience. Of course there is a happy ending to this story, with the young monk becoming enlightened.
We are constantly telling ourselves stories in our head, stories that don’t help us - how bad we are, annoyance at that person who is getting in the way, that room full of people that we would prefer not to interact with - but they are just perspectives on life. Then I see the man sweeping by the side of the road and I am reminded that I can transform that view, look at things from another perspective - clear these unhelpful perspectives from my mind.
These opportunities for transformation are all around us - opening curtains, opening myself to what a new day will bring - closing a door, putting an end to the ill will I express to others. With that transformation our perspectives broaden and the world of possibilities opens up for us. Look for the ordinary in life that can act as a prompt, as a reminder for you to transform the unhelpful into the helpful in your life, the negative into the positive, the ordinary into the profound.