My favorite bumper sticker says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
We are such experts in how horrible we are, what losers we are, how much we should suffer. We can tell anyone, and frequently tell ourselves, how we have failed, wasted our lives, amounted to nothing.
This may or may not be so, but it is only part of the story. We disregard our own grace and beauty when we so are focused on the way we yelled at someone we love, or bounced a check, or didn’t meet our own (or someone else’s) expectations. We forget that we mean well. We somehow ignore the generosity we displayed that same day. We discount any accomplishment, any love we gave out, any breath of relief we breathed into the world.
We are, in fact, deeply loveable.
We are, in fact, fundamentally compassionate.
We are, at the heart of it, unshakably good.
This is known as “Buddha nature,” and we all have it, believe it or not. Just because we can’t always see this or acknowledge it doesn’t mean it’s not true.
We Find the Evidence We Look For
Try an experiment for a while—a day, a week, a month. Try looking for evidence that you already are who you wish to be. You want to be successful? Note your successes, every day. You want to be beautiful? Find the beauty hiding there. You want to be kind? It’s there. It is being expressed. Find it. Seek out the respect, the love, the compassion, and the good life you have, the good person you already are.
We find what we look for, and that becomes our story of the world and how we exist in it. In truth, we create the world, every moment, in our own minds. We interpret, filter, ignore, grasp, or reject every moment of experience we have. This is how our minds work, and it is okay. If we simply watch the thoughts as they stream by, without any effort to chase them or any preference about the content—as in meditation—things are fine. But conditioning ourselves to perceive the worst in ourselves and others creates huge, unnecessary suffering. At the very least, it is inaccurate.
What we believe to be true is not necessarily true, and is rarely the complete picture. It may be true that someone is looking in our direction with a fixed expression on their face. What we do not know is what is going on in their mind: whether they are actually seeing us, are angry at us, or are so deep in thought about something else they are not even present. We don’t know, and we can’t know unless we ask, which we hardly ever do. (Go ahead and ask; 99% of the time you’ll be wrong.)
Choosing Where to Look
Studies have compared people who consider themselves lucky with people who consider themselves unlucky. In one study, the “lucky” people found money that had been placed on the ground where they were told to walk. The “unlucky” people missed the money. They believed they never had that kind of luck, so they didn’t! In another study, the researcher taught people how to become luckier. What does that tell us? We have a choice.
I am not suggesting that you make any effort to become different. In fact, I am encouraging you to be exactly as you are. The only change might be where you put your attention. I am not saying, “Try this, you’ll feel better!” I’m suggesting that you consider that what you yearn for, has been there all along. Just like when we learn a new vocabulary word, or get a new pair of shoes or certain kind of car, suddenly we notice our new thing is everywhere! If we activate our natural curiosity and suspend our usual habits of belief, we might find out that things are different than we thought—because our minds can think anything, and usually do.
When we stretch our bodies and think, “My muscles are so tight!” we experience tension. When we focus on our muscles stretching (which is simultaneously the case), we experience relaxation and ease. We go wherever we place our attention. The key in jumping hurdles is to look beyond the hurdle, not at it. If we look at a hurdle, we run into it.
We can choose where to look. If we look at our shortcomings and regrets, that is where we go. If we focus on our Buddha nature, that is, inevitably, where we’ll end up.
© Copyright 2010 by Ker Cleary, LPC, therapist in Eugene, Oregon. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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