By Martha Beck
Try something for me: Close one eye, then spend a minute looking around. Scope out the room, admire the view, scrutinize objects near and far. Now open the closed eye.
You can see pretty well with one eye, but the stereoscopic image you get with both is richer, deeper, and more beautiful. Guess what? Life works in a remarkably similar way. You can live years, even decades, with an obstructed view of the world -- believing things that are false to be true, holding fast to things that don't really matter -- until the day your point of view is so thoroughly rattled that you finally see what's what. That experience is often referred to as a breakthrough. It's a shift in your understanding of the world, because the lens through which you view it has been suddenly, gloriously changed. And boy, do breakthroughs feel amazing. They help us live better by helping our outlook match up with reality.
Yet having breakthroughs isn't the point. Living them is. Seeing in a new way is only the beginning.
I watch people experience psychological and emotional breakthroughs fairly regularly. It's much rarer to see someone actually putting their new insights into practice. Take my client Laura, who had a huge meaning-of-life breakthrough at a weekend yoga retreat. She experienced what yogis call "the third eye opening."
"My sense of physical boundaries disappeared," she told me. "I saw that everything is a part of me, and all that matters is love."
Then Laura went home to discover that she was being audited, her dog had eaten her new leather couch, and her teenage son was smoking pot. For a second there, a whole lot of things seemed more important than love.
This is the tricky thing about breakthroughs: Many aspects of the experience may feel unpleasant, both before and after your thinking changes. As a breakthrough nears, you might feel intensely trapped, seeing no way out -- which only makes sense; if you had a way out, the internal pressure wouldn't become sufficient to spur you toward change. After the breakthrough, the work required to sustain it in the face of life's audits, ruined couches, and secret dime bags can feel insurmountable.
"But you know what?" Laura told me. "Those things were hard, but they still weren't more important than what I had learned at that yoga retreat." Amen.
Laura sustained her breakthrough by deliberately focusing and building on it. She journaled and meditated about her experience. She discussed it with friends. She found books and videos that resonated with her new insights. Slowly and calmly, Laura tackled the problems that threatened to pull her back into old fear-based patterns. That's the key to sustaining a new insight: eliminating whatever threatens to recloud your vision. Hold tight to your breakthrough, because once your eyes have been opened, trust me when I say that it will not feel good to close them again.
A deliberate campaign of reminding can work for you, too. Remind and remind yourself of your new insights, until you're literally "re-minded." Your thoughts will change. Your moods will change. Your life will change. You'll be living in a whole new world, not because you've gone to new places, but because you're looking through new eyes.
Martha Beck's latest book is The Martha Beck Collection: Essays for Creating Your Right Life, Volume One.