I recently read an article written by a brain scientist, explaining a dynamic that we all would do well to understand more deeply. It has to do with the ways in which our brain resonates with particular words and concepts, strengthening them even when they may be something with which we consciously disagree. The example in the article was the strength that Donald Trump seems to generate, even when people speak against him. According to this author, even those statements that seemingly attack what Trump says actually strengthen his position in our individual and collective thinking. This writer encouraged Hillary to speak of the positives and outcomes she cares about rather than to speak of the negatives and threats that Donald Trump represents.
This got me to thinking about something I learned from a healer who was one of my go- to people over the course of eight years. He often said, “what you fight, you feed.” This was similar to my grandmother’s teaching, where she always encouraged me to focus on outcomes I wanted rather than to struggle against limiting possibilities that might get in my way. I’ve always remembered that and, over the years, I’ve noticed that when I do battle with what goes against what I want, and forget to stay focused on the outcomes I seek, things don’t seem to go as well for me. I might inevitably get where I’m going, but the journey is sometimes turns out to be more of a struggle than I suspect it needed to be.
For this week’s experiment, I invite you to track even more closely where your thinking, fantasies, ponderings, and actions resonate with the outcomes you seek or end up aligning themselves against what you don’t want. I remember that, for years, I would argue with this healer, Harry, about social issues, social injustice, and collective suffering. He would calmly reorient my focus to what outcomes I wanted– equality, kindness, social support for everyone. Then, he would challenge me to keep focused on those outcomes, noticing what opportunities arose to make them happen, even in the smallest ways, and noticing what support I could give to others who sought the same outcomes. At all times, he would challenge me if he heard me fighting against something, feeding it energy.
The social-action, social-justice part of me struggled with this shift in focus of my attention, as I was accustomed to fighting for change, which I still think has to happen at times, as a way to shake up entrenched, crystallized social norms and structures. Even though Harry chided me for my choices, I continue to march and protest when that feels like the thing I most need to do. That said, I also now pay a lot more attention to where my energy focuses, in terms of social changes I hope to see happen within my lifetime. I pay attention to my thinking and my internal conversation, as well as those I have out in the external world. More and more, I choose to emphasize what’s possible rather than lament what’s so out of place. I wish I could say I’m wildly skilled and successful at this, but it’s a work in progress and I get better at catching myself with time.
As you play with this week’s experiment, notice what happens when you stop a thought mid-stream, if it’s one of the ones that rehashes what’s wrong, or feeds a situation you want to see disappear or transform. Once you’ve stopped the thought– a process I compare to closing a book mid-sentence, see what more useful thought might become available that reflects the outcome you’d actually like to see. This can be about personal issues or situations in your everyday life, larger political issues, global concerns– anything at all. The key is to develop the habit of being able to identify when you’ve dropped into “feeding” something you want to see change. Then, you have the option to feed the outcomes you really do want to have in your life, in your world.
As with all these experiments, remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion– a curiosity that can discover what changes in the quality of your internal life as you shift from focusing on what isn’t working to focusing on what you would like to see happen. And, as always, remember to pat judgments on the head and let them move on by when they arise, as they inevitably will.