5 Lessons for Opening Your Mind and Heart

Hubby was peeved with me.

I couldn’t answer his question about whether or not the yard waste had been picked up.

“Really, you don’t know?” He asked. “You went out to get the paper. How could you not notice?”

Not noticing had been easy. The early morning air was fresh. The sky full of sun and frothy clouds. The crepe myrtle blossoms luscious. I had a writing assignment due. I had to smooth out that choppy section of content in my leadership workshop. Yard waste wasn’t anywhere near my radar screen.

There was the day when I would have fired off a snarky retort, Come on, yard waste? I have more important things on my mind. But that was before I knew about confirmation bias and the power of curiosity and acceptance.

Growing to the point where I could calmly and nondefensively answer, “Sorry, lovey. I wasn’t paying attention,” took a long time and a lot of work.

A few years earlier, I’d grown tired of being angry and feeling defensive much of the time. Differences of thought, opinion, and perspective were causing relationships to be sacrificed—how could people not see things as clearly as I was seeing them? The final straw happened when I reconnected with someone from my past whom I respected and had him say he was surprised that I’d let my mind get small. Ooh, that stung.

There’s nothing good about being small-minded. Too much judgment, too many expectations, too much rigidity and conflict. Ick. I was seeing only what I looked for. That narrow perspective needed to change, and five lessons helped me do that.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!" "Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” ~ Nyogen Senzaki

5 Lessons for Having an Open Mind and Heart

Give up on being right.

Academia and business reward us for viewing the world through a "right versus wrong" lens. Toss that orientation. A “my way or the highway” orientation belongs to bullies. Life, love, and leadership are so much more fun and rewarding when we let go of right/wrong judgments and learn to live with different interpretations of the facts. Ambiguity exercises our minds, expands our hearts.

Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow. ~Tony Schwartz

Pick your battles.

Not every problem is worthy of falling on your sword. Learn to gracefully and tactfully push back for constructive reasons on issues that really move the needle.

Be curious and find the big picture.

Don’t lose sight of the basket of good apples because of the single bad one on top. Get outside yourself and see from the perspective of someone else. Diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective brings the big picture fully into view.

Give people the benefit of the doubt.

If you believe you can always tell a book by its cover, you’re biased and missing out. Enough said.

Tolerance isn’t enough.

Tolerance, i.e., I can live with xx, is a virtue. It’s just not enough, though, in these days in which scientists say the range in degrees of separation is from two to ten people. That’s a lot of difference to contend with. I can live with xx is best replaced with xx is OK. Through curiosity, we learn to respect people’s right to believe differently. Lead with love, not judgment.

Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on. ~Eckhart Tolle

Letting go of certainty brings peace. It begets openness, understanding, and connection, too. Expectations and social constructs become less constraining; conformity more boring. We become free to experience and grow. And not be upset when someone expects us to see the yard waste we don’t see.