What we focus our attention on expands, and that which we give our energy to grows.
An experience I’m certain no other parent of teenagers has ever had (I’m being sarcastic), my two older daughters and I were butting heads and endlessly frustrating each other. Helpless and not understanding what to do, a memory came to me.
Several years ago my wife and I felt we were drifting apart. Of course, that’s a bad choice of term – I got married because I wanted to be with her forever, and the main reason something “drifts away” is because your grip is loosening. Because of my own inattention to the truly important things, I was allowing the most important aspect of my life to dissipate. At the time, I had no idea what to do. After considerable reflection, the thought came to my mind to remember the reasons I fell in love with her in the first place – her resilience, her strength, her wit, her beauty, basically all the traits of my dream companion. As I remembered those wonderful traits I desired to see more, and in an astounding flash of insight I suddenly saw all those remarkable things again. My attention turned away from the puny concerns I had been focused on, and I enjoyed finding more things about her which were fascinating and admirable. I didn’t “fall back in love” with her, but I saw what I had been ignoring and neglecting, and the flames were reinvigorated. My kids now get embarrassed that we aren’t like their friends’ parents, we like each other too much. Tough.
Why was this memory coming back to me? The relationship of parent to child is quite a bit different than between spouses. Then it dawned on me to apply the tools I had learned.
When I remembered and concentrated on the good qualities, amazing talents, and wonderful nature of these remarkable people, those things grew until that was all I could see. My children are amazing, they always have been (every parent says that, but in my case it’s true), I just needed to see that again.
There wasn’t a magical shift that happened in an instant, and sometimes I’m still the idiot father, but when I see my teenagers I don’t see kids trying to frustrate me with every waking moment of energy – I see the miraculous, amazing people I have been blessed to have in my home for the last several years. When I’m tired or not seeing clearly, I have to remember that I will only recall a small percentage of what is happening now, and I have to decide whether I want that memory to be happy or negative. I bite my tongue sometimes, and have to jerk myself back into the right mindset – What is she doing right? How is she remarkable today? Then that grows until I can again see why I like them so much.
Why am I blathering on about this?
Simple, really. It dawned on me that we use the same amount of energy to focus on good or bad things, the only difference is in the consequences for ourselves and others. It may not make any difference to the object of our attention, but it does make a lot of difference to us. Whatever we focus on expands, we can’t help that, so what is our goal?
If our goal is to drive away our neighbor because his dog barks and is really annoying, every thing that guy does is stupid or irritating, and that frustration boils under our skin and informs every interaction we have with the guy. However, if our goal is to get to the point where the dog bark isn’t annoying, we can concentrate on how dependably he returns borrowed tools, or the care he takes with his yard, or the snappy slogans on his t-shirts, until that mindset informs our interactions with him and either the situation resolves itself or we become good enough friends we can happily talk about it.
What is our goal? In the long run, I believe it’s better to have friends and good neighbors than otherwise, and looking at the world today I think that’s something better to aim towards than mistrusting hatred. What are the things we can focus on? First, we’re humans – all of us are children of the same Adam and Eve. Second, most of us want the same things for our families – safety, security, and a loving environment. When we focus on the things we have in common, oddly more of those pop into our awareness. Most religions for example, regardless of how far apart they may appear doctrinally, have beliefs in angels – they don’t always look the same from one faith to another, but most people believe in angels on one level or another. That’s one thing in common. We can also find others, like the Golden Rule. Once we establish there are some commonalities, we can cling to those and allow them to expand, so we have the strength of a burgeoning friendship to build on as we start to celebrate those aspects which make us unique.
In the end, we can go through life with everyone as our enemy or with everyone as our friend – it won’t make any difference to them, but will make a lot of difference to us.