This weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in the spoken word, as opposed to the written word, ie, I got to push away from my desk and give a couple of talks to a group of people enjoying a winter retreat. The setting seemed right for an assignment I've given to a couple other audiences. Afterward, some interesting questions were raised that confirmed the thought-provoking potential of this exercise. And maybe suggest some adaptations I'll make to it in the future.
Here is the exercise: Think back to a period in your life when your mind felt most alive. When there were so many things you wanted to explore and contribute. Maybe you were in college and had just gotten into the course work for your major. Maybe it was at the time of a new job where you had a lot to offer and those you worked with wanted what you had to offer. Maybe it was when you were a new mother or father and you saw clearly your responsibilities and how you would carry them out. Maybe it was when you were newly in love and everything around you had such brightness and clarity. Maybe now is when your mind has felt its most alive. On one side of a piece of paper or 3 x 5 card, write a few sentences about this time period and state of mind in as descriptive terms as you can. Next, write a number "10" next to this description because this will now be the reference point of 10 on your personal mental aliveness scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a very dull mind and 10, a very alive mind.
Now consider, where on that scale of 1 to 10 would you rank the aliveness of your mind now--maybe not this second, but on average during daily life of the past weeks or months? On the back of that same piece of paper or card, write down that number, as well as a few sentences to describe the degree of aliveness now.
Although for some people, their mental peak is the present, for many it's probably sometime in the past. Regardless, the exercise starts people thinking about the question, What is going on in my life that may be either contributing to or being a barrier to mindful living?
Further conversation and reflection during the weekend raised some additional interesting questions about the exercise's revelations: Does a mental peak still count as a mental peak if one's personal life was "falling apart" at the same time? Must a true mental peak always coincide with a spiritual peak? And conversely, can a mental peak ever coincide with a spiritual peak? Can we have more than one mental peak? As we get older, should our mental peaks become more holistic and multi-dimensional (ie, integrating intellect, wisdom, and faith in ever increasing measure)?
Maybe you'll want to try the exercise and think about some of the questions it raises?