To build awakened attention

Even obstacles often appear at just the right time to teach us something important. I created this exercise called Three Doors to help show that when we’re using the lens of achieving awareness alone, we see boulders blocking our path, but when we engage our awakened attention, the boulders are actually stepping-stones that show us the path forward. To build awakened attention, I have developed this practice, which I’ve shared with bankers and lawyers, U.S. Army generals, Columbia students, homeless youths in New York City, and patients working through suffering and building well-being. The exercise is equally relevant and effective for everyone, because it calls our attention to the road of life.

  1. On a sheet of paper or in your journal, draw the road of your life.
  2. Identify a place on the road where you faced a hurdle: a loss, a disappointment, a death; a time when the thing you wanted – a job, a relationship, an award or accomplishment, an acceptance letter from a particular school – seemed lined up, in reach; and then somehow, unexpectedly, the door slammed, and you didn’t get what you wanted or what you thought you were going to get. Draw the slammed door on the road.
  3. Now consider what happened as a result of that loss or disappointment that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Because the door closed, and because you didn’t claw ahead trying to force it back open, because you stopped and looked around, you saw a new door you hadn’t noticed before. When new insight or connection or path emerged, what new doorway opened, when the first door closed? Add the open door, leading to the new landscape along the road,
  4. Next, can you locate a messenger or helper who showed up and, with or without knowing they played a role, somehow supported or guided you? Perhaps it was someone you’d never met before or someone you knew well; someone who showed up in person or called you or sent you a letter, or someone you thought of at a crucial moment. Who were the messengers or helpers who pointed you to the open door? Draw the messenger(s) on the road.
  5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 twice more, so that your road of life shows three doors that closed and three that opened, and who slowed up along the way to point you on your path. 

The exercise helps us identify three concrete examples of times when our ventral attention network afforded us new vision. And when we observe how doors have closed and opened in our lives, and notice who showed up on our path, we are better able to see that loss and disappointment are often experiences that deepen, no threaten, our lives.

As Walter Earl FLuker siad, “Sometimes when we’re not open in guidance, guides still show up. And if we’re stubborn, they have a way of letting us know.”

Ultimately, he says, synchronistic experiences are “moments of ecstasy when I’m most myself.”

The more we open to the guidance of synchronicities, the better we can engage life as a creative act, living in a way that allows life to reveal itself. 

From “The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life” by Lisa Miller, PhD