I’m talking about negative, self-defeating thoughts, here.
Several times a month I meet to chat with a man who is a quadriplegic. Some people might immediately think, how sad for him, a reaction he is acutely aware of. He was very adamant on making this point from the very beginning: I am where I asked to be, and I am very happy. At first that statement sounded crazy to me, as though he was blaming himself for the car accident that left him in a wheelchair, or that he was “deserved” to suffer. As we got to know each other, I realized what he was really saying is that he wanted some things to change in his life, and the accident certainly saw to it that his life changed. Perhaps this particular situation wasn’t what he had in mind, but he has decided to embrace what he received. Instead of focusing on things he can no longer do without the use of his legs or full use of his arms, he focuses on the ways his body limitations have helped him to tap into his inner life in a much more meaningful way. “I didn’t want to get caught up in the rat race,” he told me. “I wanted to spend time with my family, more time to study and learn. Now I have all the time in the world to do that.”
For those of us who are planners, those who have birth plans, vacation plans, retirement plans, even diet plans, here’s a newsflash: curveballs arrive without much notice. Not because the universe is vengeful, not because we’ve done something we should be punished for, but because what we need, and indeed what we seek, can be hidden inside the most unexpected of situations.
My friend has reinforced something that I know, but need to be reminded of often. What you focus on expands. What you train your thoughts on will lead you somewhere, so it’s a good idea to think positively and be clear about where it is that you want to be. I think of it sort of like exercise – sometimes it’s really hard to get into the flow, but once you start doing it, you wonder what was holding you back for so long. It feels so good to think good thoughts, to act on them, to see the bright spot in a dark sky. And when you start to make a habit of it, an amazing thing starts happening: you start noticing just how many things there are to be happy about. You start noticing the people who have something positive to teach you. You find more like-minded people, and more opportunities to learn, grow, and – again – be happy.
It is not something that you do for a day and then become the picture of enlightenment. There’s a difference between being able to say “Yeah, yeah, I get it. Think positively,” and actually putting it into practice. And the odds are stocked against us 21st century humans – with a nearly endless supply of negativity bombarding us, (thanks, communication technology!), staying focused and positive is an uphill battle. But I’m writing this on here to make a public record of it: I personally am going to try to make it a priority.
This is not to say that I’m going to tune out all bad news. I’m not using this as an excuse to bury my head in the sand. The causes that are dear to me will only become dearer when I funnel my anxiety about them into positive action. I can’t do everything, but I can always do something. That’s not dwelling on the negative; it’s simply pouring whatever goodness I can muster on top of it.
So, here I go. Wish me luck.