Energy Flows Where Attention Goes

I keep focusing on the wrong things. Then the wrong things become everything.

The Front Bottoms

Last night I had a little, friend Christmas with my sister, our best friend, and their partners. It was a wonderful time. We had some drinks. We got super high. We exchanged gifts. We played games. And we shared delicious food along with each others’ company. Truly a night to be grateful for.

However, as I was driving home, I was angry. You see, I had a fancy mini bottle of Grey Goose Vodka that I was gifted at work. I had a few shots of it myself, and did bring it with the intention to share. However, my sister’s boyfriend was the only one who drank any of it besides the little I had. I have only met him once before this. He never asked before helping himself time and time again. And at the end of the night I made my way home with a practically empty bottle.

My head was swimming with accusations and indignation. The nerve! I don’t very much like this character any more! How rude can you be! I was fuming. But then I stopped in my tracks. Why on earth was I choosing to focus on that one small aspect of my night? It dawned on me that I always seem to do this. If even one little thing goes wrong, I fixate on just that. I ignore all the delightful parts of any situation in favor of a tiny imperfect detail. I am being ungrateful. I am taking the good stuff for granted.

I was so relieved when I remembered that I can choose where I want to place my focus. Yes, the vodka thing did happen, and it kinda sucked. But that was by no means the most important or significant thing that happened yesterday! I got to spend a Christmas-y evening with some of my favorite people in the world. I was given thoughtful, wonderful gifts. I was given good food, drinks, and drugs. I had a great time. I laughed and smiled more than I have in a long time. I got to watch the joy on my loved ones faces as they unwrapped their gifts that I put so much thought, effort, and love into.

What a difference attention can make. It can turn a wonderful night into something to be angry about. It can turn a banal day into an extremely stressful one. But it can also turn a tragedy into something to be grateful for. We can’t control what happens to us, but we always have the power to choose where we place our attention. And that is such an incredibly powerful thing.

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Growing Pains

Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I think a lot of people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses often have the impression that these disorders have wasted days, months, even years of their lives. I certainly have been feeling that way, this year especially. Looking back on 2020, it seems like I didn’t accomplish anything. The whole year flew by in an isolated haze of anxiety and self-destructive behaviors. And I don’t think I’m alone in my view of this year given the global pandemic and the negative mental health consequences many are experiencing because of it.

The other day I stumbled across the quote included above, and it helped me to challenge this perspective. Perhaps the many days that were shrouded in depression and anxiety weren’t wasted after all. I mean, I certainly would not be who I am today without them.

When I was younger, I used to think bad experiences ruined you. But now I sort of think those experiences are what create the best among us. Has there ever been a truly inspiring, talented human being that has not known great suffering? While there is certainly a lot we lose in times of despair, I think we also gain quite a lot.

Personally I think I would be insufferable if not for the hardships I’ve dealt with in my life. I would be much more arrogant, selfish, and coldhearted. My struggles and suffering have humbled me considerably. They have given me immense empathy and understanding. Things I don’t know if I would have developed otherwise.

These times of depression and doubt were important, crucial even. The suffering we feel is simply growing pains. It is a needed dose of tough love from the universe. It makes us stronger, wiser, more caring. On the surface it may appear that this time is being wasted, but underneath significant changes are taking place.

This realization may not make these times in our lives any easier, but I hope it can at least provide some small comfort. Days spent in bed feeling defeated are not days wasted. Allow yourself this time. You are not broken. You are not ruined. You are not a waste. You are growing. You are healing. This suffering is a burden, but it can also be a blessing if we choose to learn from it.

Your worth is not determined by your ability to be productive. There is value in every experience, not just the pleasurable ones. So try to be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to spend a year resting. Take as much time as you need. It is not a waste.

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