Change of Mental Scenery

Jul 05, 2018
pale leaf floating on water with the title Reflections on Inner Peace, Outer Peace

You may notice times in your life when you feel a little stuck in a mental loop - perhaps for some time after that heart-wrenching break-up, job loss, death of a loved one, health challenge or other life calamity. These types of external circumstances can activate our sympathetic, fight-flight-freeze-appease nervous system - which can be difficult to get out of. Even when the situation is no longer acute, even if we appear to be coping well on the surface - we may notice that our thoughts and feelings seem to return to the same place, over and over again, seemingly beyond our control. This is a mental loop!

I have so often found that a short trip away, getting out of dodge - can help to interrupt, and thus allow some space to stop, such a loop. A simple change in scenery, change in day-to-day activities, and what is in front of us to attend to, can interrupt the loop for long enough that we can move forward. An important caveat is not rushing this process. Sometimes we need to really be with, stew in, whatever has arisen - otherwise, this simply becomes a means of escape, and doesn’t really work. Unfelt and unprocessed pain lingers on, even if below the surface.

This change in scenery can be anything from a weekend camping trip, visit friends or family afar, or an international holiday. Many people find becoming immersed in another cultural world - whether local or afar - helps shift, or at least become more aware of, our own assumptions and world views. The most important thing is to really open ourselves to being fully present for and appreciating the new experience and people we engage with, rather than clinging to what we already know and the comforts of home.

Even when we haven’t had a significant crisis or life change, there’s also the “mental rut” of daily life that sometimes arises and runs on a bit of a loop. A poignant phrase in describing this is “when life tastes like sand.” You may have heard the advice to follow a different route home sometimes - even this minor change can help dust off the cobwebs and stop treading the already well-worn grooves in the mind. Don’t wait for life to change for you! You have some agency in changing your mental landscape - and sometime changing the external landscape can jump start this inner shift.

As with all practice, the right balance is crucial. There can be restlessness and agitation motivating a constant desire for new experience. Sometimes the best antidote for that is to sit still and allow ourselves to get bored and feel into “what is the purpose of my life?” and other existential questions that can arise when we finally slow down from the hectic pace we’re used to. That anxiety can often dissolve into peace, ease, and happiness if we allow ourselves to just be with it, rather than reach for the over-stimulation that is rampant in our modern lives. Is the right medicine for you to slow down and inhabit your life fully, or to shake things up a little bit? Knowing ourselves well, and discernment in our practice, are so important for practice to be of true benefit.

Any time is great to do either, but the summer can be a particularly great time to engage in the practice of changing the scenery in order to change the channel in your mind, in small and big ways. I hope you take advantage of it and see the agency you have in your own mental patterns.

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