(This practical exercise is excepted from my book Lighted Clearings for the Soul)
To “respond” literally means to “send forth your truth back to the world.” Just as exercising your body can strengthen your muscles and increase your endurance and flexibility, so too can exercising your “ability to respond” strengthen your ability to stay on purpose. It can increase your endurance and flexibility in remaining true to yourself in whatever circumstances and situations you encounter. One way to exercise your ability to send forth your truth is the practice of the “Best Day” exercise. Ultimately, of course, you desire every day to be your best—this particular exercise is simply one way to concentratedly practice this intent.
Starting your Best Day
On the day you choose to practice this exercise, find some way to catch your attention as soon as you awaken, to remind yourself that this is to be your “Best Day”— your most truthful day, the day you express your truth most clearly and consistently. Today you will give your best to every activity. How do you want to wake up and start your Best Day? With frantic thoughts about the day to come? With prayer? With peaceful thoughts? With affirmations? Let the phrase “Best Day” be almost like a mantra that you repeat in your mind with every breath, calling you back to your intention for this day—a phrase that creates the lighted clearing within which you can discover and be your own unique best. Pay full attention to each detail and each moment. Mindfully brush your teeth, mindfully take your shower, mindfully get dressed.
Dealing with unpleasantries on your Best Day
If, during your Best Day, your external circumstances seem to interfere with or be at odds with your desires—for instance, you spill coffee on your new shirt, or you seem to catch every red light on the way to work—then ask yourself, “How would I respond to this circumstance on my Best Day?”, or “How would the best me respond to this?” If something happens to you that seems unfair or unjust—for instance, your boss yells at you for something that was not your fault (or even for something that was)— ask yourself, “How would I respond to this on my Best Day?” Often it may seem that you have little or no choice about some of the events and circumstances in your life. But you always have a choice about how you will respond to them. This is the creative gap between stimulus and response—the gap from which you can project your own unique purpose into the world.
Since this is your Best Day, your real question is how do you desire to respond to these kinds of circumstances and situations? For instance, how important is peace of mind or happiness to you? Even if you feel justified in being upset, is that a good enough reason for you to give up your peace of mind? If your circumstances don’t turn out the way you want them to, is that a good enough reason for you to be unhappy (i.e., to make yourself unhappy)? If your project does not proceed according to your expectations, is that a good enough reason for you to become embroiled in frustration and anger? You might argue at this point that, “It’s ‘natural’ to become angry and frustrated when these things happen. ‘Anyone’ (or the ubiquitous, ‘Everyone’) would feel the same way. ‘No one’ would remain peaceful or happy under these circumstances (and I most certainly am not no one).” But again remember that this is your own Best Day. You are not really concerned with what everyone, anyone, or no one would do in similar circumstances, or with some arbitrary cultural definition of “natural.”
What are your priorities on your Best Day?
Actually paying attention to each moment of your day is perhaps one of the best ways to discover your own priorities. It is, of course, useful to occasionally set aside time to ask yourself what your own real priorities are—to ask yourself, “What is my purpose? What is most important to me? What do I truly desire? Am I living my life in a way that is consistent with my values and goals?” From these theoretical reflections, you might decide to make a list of your priorities to use as a daily reminder or as a basis for personal affirmations. But it is within the context of the moment-to-moment decisions of your daily life that you actually have the opportunity to live your priorities—to try them out and see if they actually work for you, if they truly serve you. According to the Spiritual view, Spirit is always providing you with exactly the teachings and circumstances you most need to grow and to awaken to yourself, to discover your own truth. This perspective can create a lighted clearing within which every event in your life, including even the seemingly “trivial” ones, can be seen as a gift, an opportunity to discover and choose your own deepest truth, an opportunity to actually be your best.
What if you feel sick or are in a bad mood on your Best Day?
What if, on your designated Best Day, you happen to find yourself in a bad mood—irritable, grumpy, impatient, anxious, depressed? Or what if you find that your mind feels dull, foggy, unfocused, or distracted? Or that your body feels sick and weak? You might wonder, “How can I possibly live my Best Day feeling like this?” But in the context of this exercise, your real question would be, “How do I want to respond to this on my Best Day?” Once you discover yourself in a given mental, emotional, or physical state, that state is simply your starting point. Just recognizing it may cause it to improve, or it may not. But your question is still, “How do I want to respond to this condition on my Best Day? How do I want to send forth my truth in this situation?”
In every case, by the time you recognize a situation or condition, it already exists in your life—to be aware of something as “something” means that it is already present for you, and that you have already interpreted it. At that point, you simply cannot choose that it never enter your awareness at all—it already has. But you can choose how you will respond to it. If you choose to see the meaning of these internal and external conditions as “bad luck” that has happened “to” you, then your response will tend to be anger or self-pity. If you choose to see the meaning of these things as challenges to your own creative ability to express your purpose, your response will be to do the best you can. Your question is, “What is my best choice on my Best Day?” Regardless of the previous choices you have made, every moment is a fresh opportunity to choose anew how you will interpret and respond to your life.
What about mistakes and lapses of judgment on your Best Day?
But what of those times when you temporarily forget your resolve to live your Best Day, and then later realize that you are thinking and speaking and acting in ways that fall short of how you want to be? For instance, you suddenly realize that for the last fifteen minutes you have been on automatic pilot, ranting and raving at your teenage son over something he said or did that you found especially irritating or offensive. Or you discover that for the last ten minutes your mind has been on automatic pilot cursing that driver that nearly caused you to have an accident. Or you discover that you have been lost in self-pity for the last two hours over some crisis in your life. Sometimes you are vaguely aware of the fact when you are starting to make a mistake, but choose out of anger or fear to repress this awareness, and to forge ahead anyway.
By the time you are fully aware of the mistake as a “mistake,” it has already happened. At that moment of realization, you no longer have the choice as to whether you will make that particular mistake or not—you already have. What do you do when you discover that you have made or are making a mistake—that you are not living according to your own true values and priorities? Again, in the context of your Best Day, you would ask yourself, “How do I want to respond to this mistake on my Best Day? Do I want to invest my time and energy into shame, guilt, regret, blame, and self-recrimination? Or do I want to learn from the mistake, forgive myself, and move on? What do I choose to believe is the truer and more real part of myself—the ‘I’ that made the mistake, or the ‘I’ that realizes that the mistake is a mistake?” Remember that to see a mistake as a “mistake” is possible only from the perspective of a greater vision. As long as you continue to grow and learn, to creatively discover your own true path, you will probably continue to make mistakes—a baby learns to walk only through a trial and error process, a process which involves repeatedly falling down. Mistakes do not invalidate your Best Day—just like the undesirable circumstances or the mistakes of others, your own mistakes can be seen as further opportunities for you to learn and grow, further opportunities to fulfill your purpose and express your truth.
Again, your fundamental reference point here is your own life purpose and your own dreams. On your Best Day, you want to ask yourself, “What do I desire to bring to the world today? What do I desire to creatively send forth from my truth? How do I desire to contribute to others and to the world? ”
What kind of balance do you want on your Best Day?
Another question you might ask yourself is, “What kind of balance do I desire in my Best Day?” There are many things that you might do in the course of your typical day or your typical week—for instance, taking a walk, going to work, taking care of your home, spending time with your family, spending time with your friends, spending time with yourself, contributing to the lives of others, leisure and fun time, personal growth time, exercise time, meal time, quiet time. What kind of balance of these various activities do you desire in your Best Day? Of course you may not be able to do everything on that one particular day. But does the relative proportion of time you spend on your various thoughts and words and actions truly reflect your own priorities? Again, this question of priorities and balance is an individual and personal question. It is not a matter of what you “should” do, but rather of what you truly desire to do—what you desire to do from the deepest and truest part of your own heart. How will you choose to use and allot the time of your life today? Remember that “using” time does not necessarily mean being productive every minute—leisure, fun, and recreation can also be joyful expressions of your truth. But you may want to avoid merely wasting time. In the context of your life, killing time could be seen as a form of suicide (or as one of my friends expressed it, suicide on the installment plan). On your Best Day, you may want to ask yourself, “How can I deliberately and mindfully live each moment?”—including the “trivial” as well as the “important” moments, the “non-productive” as well as the “productive” ones.
How and when to practice your Best Day
Remember throughout this exercise that this is your Best Day. You don’t have to do anything “special” on this day—simply live your best possible everyday day. No one else can tell you exactly what you will discover during your Best Day. This is your own unique creative journey into your own unique truth. How you pursue your various activities, how you choose to respond to the internal and external conditions you encounter, how you choose to creatively express yourself, how you choose to balance the time in your day—all of these are personal choices you make from your own heart. If you’re not sure of what to do in a particular situation, then make your best choice and see how it works. If it turns out to be a mistake, then learn and grow from the experience and make a better choice next time. At first, I recommend that you do this exercise for just one day in your week. As you make this focused effort for one day of each week, you will probably find that you become more mindful on the other days as well. Focus your full attention on every minute of your Best Day. At the close of the day, be peaceful with the effort you have made. Ask yourself, “How do I want to end my Best Day?” You may want to spend a few minutes making some notes to yourself—not with the intention of shame or blame, but simply as an honest reflection of how the day went, which things you want to appreciate and celebrate, and which things you might choose to do differently next time. As you drift off to sleep, you may choose to be peaceful or prayerful or to express your gratitude. Whatever you choose, pay as much attention to the ending of your day as you did to the beginning and the middle of it.
At first, this exercise may seem to take a tremendous amount of effort. You may find yourself almost frantically repeating your mantra, “Best Day, Best Day, Best Day . . .” in the midst of the whirlwind of thoughts and feelings and sensations that threatens to sweep away your mindfulness and your resolve. Indeed, there will probably be stretches of time throughout the day when you completely forget your commitment to do this exercise. But each time when you discover that you have been on automatic pilot, ask yourself, “How do I want to respond now?” Lapses of awareness in your day do not invalidate this exercise—in fact, for most of us, the lapses are probably inevitable, especially at first. Whether it is due to our cultural programming or is simply typical of the human mind in general, we seem to have a tendency to slip into a sleepwalking kind of existence. The Best Day exercise can be very useful in helping you to wake up in order to discover and express your own truth. In that sense, the Best Day exercise is an active, living meditation. You don’t succeed or fail at this Best Day exercise—you simply do your best. Every time you try this exercise for a day, you are a little more awake and aware.
Just go for it!
The tremendous effort that seems to be involved in this exercise, especially the first few times you do it, is the effort to wake up, the effort to undo your own habits and routines. As the habits and routines lose their hold on you and the mental chatter becomes quieter and less compelling, you realize that your Best Day is simply a matter of being and doing every minute what you truly desire to be and do. The only real effort involved is the effort of joyful self-expression. In time, this will probably involve much less effort than the alternative of living out of sync with yourself. It actually takes an enormous amount of energy to sustain a sleepwalking and inauthentic life. But we are usually unaware of this energy because we are lost in our routines. Those who undertake the journey to move beyond a routine life of inauthenticity report that they enjoy more and more energy as they proceed. They now have all of the energy that was previously bound up in the distracted “doing” of those routines that did not truly serve them. Moreover, they no longer have the constant drain of energy that occurs when they live at odds with their own hearts. They report that the journey to mindfulness and heartfulness becomes easier, more natural, and more joyful with every step.