My neighbor told me a story about an incident in which his ability to be present and centered saved his life. He was driving his car, waiting third in line to make a left-hand turn at a busy highway intersection. Suddenly, he noticed a large tanker truck coming towards the intersection from his left. The truck was moving very quickly, too quickly to be able to stop for the red light.
In order to avert disaster,the truck driver veered hard to his right, heading directly towards my neighbor and the two cars in front of him. Without a second’s hesitation, my neighbor instantly leaped towards the passenger door, flung open the door and tossed himself out of his car, rolling out into the middle of the road.
A split second later, he heard a massive crash and then felt a shower of broken glass and liquid all over his body. When he looked up, the tanker truck had rolled over and crushed all three cars, including his. The drivers of the first two cars were killed instantly.
In some situations, your ability to be present could make the difference between life and death. When you are fully present in those situations, your mind, body, heart, and soul know exactly what’s important now for you. You do not need to think about it, check your feelings, or ponder your options. You know and you act.
That same extraordinary sense of awareness can work for you in any moment, not just in moments of crisis. This is the ability that lets you say and do the right thing at the right time, rather than wishing, after the fact, that you had thought of that great comeback line or made that brilliant move.
Doing what’s important now comes from having the extraordinary ability to know what’s right for you in response to whatever life is throwing at you. In order to be present to such a degree, you must develop your ability to accept what is happening and to adapt instantly to what it means for you, without undue thought.
This ability will come from becoming conscious of your beliefs. If you have an old belief that transport trucks don’t make unexpected right-hand turns and crush bystanding cars, you will find it difficult to believe what your eyes are seeing. You will risk being like the proverbial deer, frozen in the headlights of impending disaster. When you become aware of your beliefs, you can change them or let go of them instantly if necessary.
This can be a frightening doorway to cross. You must face the fear that what you have always believed to be true may, in fact, not be so.
We learn our beliefs from the school of life. If we tasted honey as a young child and discovered that it was good, we acquired a belief: Honey should taste good. If we were repeatedly spanked for having temper tantrums, we may have acquired a belief: Showing our feelings is dangerous.
If our parents noticed only our misbehavior and ignored us the rest of the time, we may have acquired a belief: I am a bad person. Throughout the course of our lives, we acquire thousands of beliefs. These beliefs form an unwritten and unconscious “rule book of life” for each of us, based on our past experiences.
Beliefs are what tell us how we will get what we want in any given moment. We use them to interpret and to make sense of every event that happens around us. If a person was stung by a bee as a young child, she may have acquired a belief: “Stay away from bees, or you’ll get hurt.”
The fact that she has this belief will become evident by how she reacts to the presence of a bumblebee buzzing about her head. If she feels panicky, swings her arms at the bumblebee, and runs away, she can be sure that she has this sort of belief. If she feels calm and doesn’t move, she probably has a different belief: “If I stay calm, the bee will go away without stinging me.” Is either belief the “right one”? No. She could run and still get stung. She could stay calm and still get stung. Her belief reflects her experience. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Once a person has created a belief, it sinks deeply into their unconscious mind, ready to serve them at a moment’s notice, should a similar situation come up. My sisters were telling me of women they know with similar deep-seated fears about germs on doorknobs; driving over bridges and highway ramps, and snakes (of course!).
Once you discover that every thought and feeling you have is colored by your beliefs, you open the doorway to taking charge of your life. You become aware that instead of changing your job, your spouse, or your neighborhood, you can change how you feel about each one by changing your beliefs.
By changing some of my deeply-held beliefs, I grew capable of ridding myself of many of my “frozen-in-the-headlight” type of reactions to life’s unexpected tanker trucks. Discovering that the process was quite simple is what makes this a scary doorway to cross. To think that I had that much power over myself was exhilarating, even as it was demoralizing to think that I had suffered needlessly for all that time.
Excerpted from What’s Important Now, Chapter 2, Change Your Beliefs. pg 47