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How to get more out of life by looking UP!

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I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.- Charlotte Bronte

Do you ever feel bogged down with the daily grind of life? Like you’ve been walking through your days with your head down, just looking at where your next step is going to land?

Me, too.

But I learned something several years ago that helps me to release my narrow focus and get a fresh perspective.

I was at a seminar being led by a Native American shaman. He was explaining the ways of his tribe, the Ojibwa people, and ended by telling a story about a walk he took in the woods.

As he plodded along, looking at the ground, lost in his thoughts, he heard a voice inside him say, “Look up!

Suddenly, he realized how much of his present experience he was missing. He looked up and saw the way the tree branches laced together over his head. How the sun peeked through the forest, dappling the growth and his path before him. How the squirrels chattered and played overhead, leaping with breathtaking grace from limb to limb.

Ever after, he always remembered to look up.

A narrow focus

And I have tried to remember this simple, wise directive as well.

I find that my mind too often becomes narrowly focused, worrying about the next thing or lost in replaying a past event, rather than being right where I am in the present. In these times, I’m often looking down at where I’m walking or at whatever is in front of me.

When my shallow breathing and downward gaze come to my awareness, they are my cues that I’ve allowed my inner world to exclude what is happening around me. I hear the emphatic phrase, “Look up!” and I follow its wise command.

What do I see?  I’ve never seen a vision or anything extraordinary.

But the true essence of looking up is that I’m reminded that there is more.

Looking up allows me to see more of my world. I notice that there is more than what is just in front of me.

There are trees and buildings and the Google blimp (really!) and reflections off windows and clouds scudding across the sky and cobwebs in corners and funny patterns in the ceiling plaster.

And I realize that there is more to this moment than what is going on inside my head. There are possibilities and opportunities and things to be grateful for and lessons to be learned and the chance to take a deep breath.

I find that I have more choices in what I do and feel. I don’t have to walk with my head down, feeling the grind-ness of my day. I can choose to look up and around and remember that there are always, always options and each day brings a new batch of them.

And sometimes, just sometimes, when I look up, I see a hawk or a great bird of the sea soaring high above me and I am thankful, even more, for the wise shaman’s advice to look up!

Takeaway points: It’s so easy to become narrowly focused on the routine of our day, where we’re going, or where we came from. The exercise of literally looking up reminds us that there is so much more to our experience.

What does looking up do for you?

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.