A while back Charles and I were going through a tough financial time – the kind of time where you sweat the mortgage and dread the credit card statement. I can still remember the feeling of constant anxiety.
And right in the midst of that, I woke one morning with a strange smile and a single thought:
“I have everything I want.”
You have to understand: Gratitude doesn’t come easily to me. Smiling doesn’t come easily to me. Focus, yes. Smiling, no. Charles is the peaceful one. Unperturbable. I’m the passionate one. Fiery and impatient.
This was not a time when I had everything I want. This was a time when gratitude was so far out of reach that making a list of “things that don’t suck” was a stretch. I was frustrated and angry and scared.
And yet here it was. This pure and ridiculous thought. This expansive contentment.
I’d been working the night before with a woman who was in chronic pain. She’d been through a series of spinal surgeries, one after the other. Putting metal hardware into her neck, hardware failing, neck collapsing, pulling hardware out. And here she was, in a metal halo – drilled into her skull resembling some kind of medieval torture – here she was telling me how grateful she was to me. And to God and to Life and to her husband and to her doctors and to…it was endless. Her gratitude was endless. And it wasn’t just words. It wasn’t a script, and she wasn’t reaching for anything. It was just glowing from her. Filling me.
I know what it’s like to come through a crisis and be so glad that the worst of the pain is behind you, and you survived it, that you praise all that’s holy. But what does it mean when you’re still in the middle of it, still struggling, still in pain, and feel so blessed? It’s winter but you feel so warm. Where does that kind of gratitude come from?
It felt like love.
“Lemme go or I’ll hit you again,”
shouted Brer Rabbit.
The Tar Baby, she said nothing.
“Fine! Be that way,” said Brer Rabbit, swinging at the Tar Baby with his free paw.
Now both his paws were stuck in the tar.
– Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby,
retold by S.E. Schlosser
Few people understand that what you focus on becomes part of your experience. And the more you focus on it, the bigger it gets.
Most people focus on the struggle – pushing away what they don’t want to try to get more of what they do want, focusing on problems in order to “resolve” them. We see quite a lot of that in traditional approaches to recovery and healing.
It just doesn’t make sense to try to get rid of something by focusing your attention on it. The more you engage your mind with the problem, the more you are stuck there – It’s like Tar-Baby.
Instead of trying to fix the “illness” – talking about it, examining it, unraveling it, regretting it, reliving it – we encourage people to focus their time and energy on building a new kind of life – practicing a healthy lifestyle, healthy thinking, healthy relationships, finding a sense of purpose. Build up those things and the symptoms fade. They get replaced with health.
Is it work? Absolutely.
But focusing on what you want is a more direct route because it puts the power of momentum on your side.
And it feels better!
Take a minute and ask yourself – for whatever problem you are facing – what focus will bring healing into your experience?