So much of health care focuses on what’s wrong. “The Problem.” If we have a challenging history, anxiety, or depression it can even become addictive to focus on problems and limitations. Whatever we look at grows big, and everything else gets smaller by comparison. When our attention is consumed by problems and limitations, we can eventually lose touch with the beautiful, the strong, and the good within. In more severe the cases Peace and Joy become the foolish fantasies of silly people “who can’t really see what’s going on.” Many people enter therapy when they become lost in this self-reinforcing spiral.
One of the cornerstones of mental health therapy is helping clients learn to shift their attention. Counterintuitively, this doesn’t necessarily mean “think positive.” In fact, when we’re at our lowest, the struggle to think positive can reinforce our hopelessness. No, it often comes down to nurturing your excitement. It starts by doing something – anything – that makes you feel a little bit better. You might not think better. Not right away. But if you’re doing it right, you won’t care about that. And that’s the point.
About a month ago I was feeling some cabin fever. Like many people in the US, my work has moved from a leased office to a home office. That means I spend all day every day in my house. And on this particular day, I was feeling antsy. For a couple of weeks I’d had the thought pop into my head, “You should get on the scooter.” Yet my Apollo electric scooter hadn’t been touched in a while. The thought popped into my head and I’d redirected to the chores, the tasks, the “lack of time.” Can you see how this fits what I’ve been sharing about attention amplifying something? I kept shifting my attention to “important” things that “had to get done.” So those things were always bigger than getting on the scooter. Weren’t they?
Avoiding failure is not exactly building joy. I realized I’d been feeling kinda “meh” for days. As The Dude would say, my thinking had become very uptight. Finally, one afternoon I threw my helmet on and grabbed the scooter.
A Joyful Now
For the first ten minutes I was zipping around still very much in my head. Thinking about thoughts, and people, and stuff to do. Then nature did its thing. Notice those incredibly vivid flowers. Isn’t the sky beautiful? The smell in the air reminded me of childhood moments wandering the woods near my home. And soon, I was caught up in the excitement of The Now. The warm air stroked my skin as the sunlight played through the trees, and the bird calls wove a unique song just for me. The thick, towering trees, projected a soothing, grounding presence. They connected me to the Earth.
As my speedometer ticked away the miles, this magical now enveloped me. I got in touch with the inner child, the young boy who loves to wander and discover. The paved trail hosted numerous dog-walkers and couples. Their energy flowed through me, lifting me this way and that. We shared smiles and waves. Some grimaced at this helmeted figure on an electric scooter coming at them. Others smiled or made a pleasant comment. This was me nurturing my excitement. I enjoyed being alive.
I enjoyed being alive. Not enjoyed ticking boxes. Not enjoyed being responsible. I enjoyed being alive. Period. I liked me, I liked nature, I liked this whole situation. This connection had been missing, and no one else had kept me from it. Just me. A couple hours later I brought that fun, childlike spirit home. Everything felt much more manageable. I put on some music and danced through some tasks.
There is beautiful, strong, and good in you, and in this world. You need to let yourself immerse in it. In my work as a therapist and intuitive counselor, I continually encounter people chronically neglecting their excitement. They’re focused on all the tasks, the worries, the imaginary future. I’ve yet to find anyone who really enjoys running from failure.
If you’re feeling uptight, or wrestling with anxious or depressive thoughts, maybe the answer isn’t to resolve it right now. Maybe the best thing isn’t to “think positive.” Maybe you need to redirect yourself to something that feeds your soul. If you make that a habit, and keep your attention on it, everything else will seem smaller. Often, this only makes sense when you do it.
What can you do today to stay connected with that beautiful spark within?