Close your eyes. Breathe. What can you see in your mind’s eye? Chances are exactly what you saw a second ago with your eyes open. But what if you could close your eyes and awaken a memory of a calm place you have once been, and transport yourself back to that place of clarity?
I just spent the summer in the USA with my family in a small town in Montana, known as ‘Big Sky Country’ for its endless blue skies and wide horizons. It is a city dweller’s dream escape. As I began to unwind in such awe-inspiring landscapes, something interesting happened: Not only did I relax, my dreams and aspirations became clear.
Could it be that the clarity we see on the outside lends itself to clarity on the inside? Scientists have long known that how we feel — our moods, for example — affects activity in the visual cortex in the brain that affects what we see. Putting on the proverbial “rose-tinted glasses” has been scientifically proven to broaden our view.
But what if the reverse were also true: that what we see also affects how we feel? That our view of the world literally shapes our view of the world?
Could it be that the clarity we see on the outside lends itself to clarity on the inside? …that what we see also affects how we feel?
My daily life in Montana could not be more different from my daily life in Hong Kong. In Montana, I was gently woken each day by the sounds of the river and the wildlife moving around me; in Hong Kong I’m stirred by the sounds of the city streets. In Hong Kong, skyscrapers and smog block my view of the sky. In Montana — well, they don’t call it Big Sky Country for nothing.
It’s no surprise if you consider that Hong Kong, with a population of just over 7 million, is squished into 426 square miles: roughly 16,800 people per square mile on average (but if you consider that 70 percent of Hong Kong is uninhabited country park, the practical reality is much more dense). By comparison, there are only 7 people per square mile in Montana. When out for a hike, you’re more likely to run into a bear than another human.
We all live somewhere on the spectrum of extremes between Hong Kong and Montana life and have experienced how different spaces impact us. Personally, I find my perspective narrows in response to living in a densely populated city surrounded by tall and narrow buildings. The frenetic energy around me ignites a misguided urgency: I get frantically busy and prioritize urgent matters over important ones. And I notice people around me doing the same, their vision obscured by their state of “busyness” while preoccupied with working their way to the top. We risk climbing up the wrong ladder if we don’t direct our sights towards where we are going.
Must this be our city-life destiny? Not by a long shot. We can all change our view, despite the view we see. My goal: to find my Montana anywhere — and to help you find yours. Here are my seven ways to get more big sky thinking in your life, no matter where you are in the world.
1. Go into your mind to get out of your mind
Meditation allows you to change the mental imagery you focus on. When it’s buzzing and busy outside, close your eyes to find peace. For a suspended moment in time you have the opportunity, through meditation, to see whatever you choose to see. Try it. (And if you need help, take a look at this post with tips from our resident meditation expert, Tom Cronin.)
2. Get out more
Outdoors, that is. Because what we see on the outside directly affects how we feel on the inside. Look beyond the buildings and into the horizon. When the weather in Asia eventually cools from unbearable to pleasant, get out daily for a walk. Look around you and appreciate nature’s gift. Look beyond what your eyes can see and notice that you are a part of a grander universe, a vast world. As you walk, ask yourself: How can I play my destined part?
3. Go into your flow
I’ve just finished reading Steven Kotler’s book on flow, The Rise of Superman. He suggests that any of us can access what he calls a “flow state.” In flow, time is suspended, we accomplish the unthinkable and there is a merging of body and mind creating what I like to think of as a “magic moment.”
If you can’t get outdoors to find your flow, the next best way is to get sweating. Seriously sweating — I’m talking about fast-moving, mind-controlling energy. Challenge yourself with a cardio boost like sprints, or fast-paced movements that involves your whole body — frog jumps, stair runs. Or how about just a boogy in the kitchen to your favorite tunes? Whatever it is, find a way to completely immerse yourself in the moment to find new inner landscapes.
4. Be Kind
Montanans are some the nicest, most “real” people in the world. Strangers wave hello as they drive past you on country roads and check-out staff at the supermarkets greet you with a smile and ask you how your day has been — and they actually wait to hear the answer.
Don’t let the hectic, and sometimes rude ways of the city sharpen your edges and make life rigid. Returning home, my mission is to soften my city-girl edges and be as kind as I can be.
So, the next time you are in a crowded elevator, for heaven’s sake, smile and say hello to a stranger! Your day (and theirs) will improve with a simple smile.
5. Look up, not down
I recently wrote about the iPhone zombies walking our streets, glued to their phones and oblivious to their surroundings. Practicing what I preach, I made a resolution to leave my phone alone this summer and instead stick to a routine of spending only a few hours at the computer a day. Guess what happened? Nothing. I got just as much done, arguably more, without the distraction of my 24/7 buzzing device.
While I’m not suggesting any of your shirk your responsibilities, I urge you to put that phone down when you can. Walk down the street with your head up, replace that slouched pose with confident shoulders back, and notice the people, the smells, the breeze — ignore the pings and beeps, they can wait. Looking up will not only save your neck muscles, it will expand your perspective.
Fresh off the plane I took a yoga class to re-connect. In the final “savasana” resting pose, the Montana girl in me went to fully release, lying with my arms wide, when I felt my fingers brush against the person next to me. Instinctively, I moved my arms closer to my body.
As I lay there, now slightly stiffer and unable to completely release, I realized this is the habitual and protective state so many city-slickers find themselves in. There is always a holding, a deep sense of being unable to authentically be oneself, to stretch out, to let go. We protect ourselves against so many people in our fight for personal space that I feel we are bursting at the seems for freedom.
My advice? Make time to regularly unwind: Take off the makeup, the high heels or the tight suit and throw on something comfortable. Take off the mask of the person you’re trying to show the world and unleash your wild side. Need a quick escape?
7. Think big
The more I focused on the wide horizon over the summer, the bigger my dreams became. Looking up and out, I realized I am capable of whatever I set my sights on. And the same is true for you if you allow yourself to think big.
If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.
Is there something that you dream of accomplishing? Think bigger than you you ever have. If you’ve been stuck in a cycle of smallness, work through the steps above and expand your horizon. Make today bigger and greater than you ever thought possible. Or perhaps it’s time to book a trip to Montana.