“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
I remember back when I was in Third or maybe Fourth grade during science class, learning about the focal points of convex lenses. We played around with magnifying glasses, trying to focus the energy of the sun in a single point, causing intense heat, and at times, ignition. And, I must admit, for quite some time after, I would find things to burn holes through. The leaves on the bushes around our home. Newspaper and magazines. My friend Mark’s shirt. That last one got me in a bit of trouble.
Later on in school, we learned about the focal point of microscopes, seeing for the first time the bacteria and other organisms that live in our water. We looked at close up images of ant faces and spider eyes. We viewed strands of our own hair, eyelashes, and bits of dry skin. We learned to examine the layers beneath the layers, focusing further and further down into the objects of our study. And we learned that when you focus down too far, the glass slide breaks, and the teacher gets angry.
In my adult life, I took up the hobby of photography, learning how to adjust the aperture of the camera to allow more or less of a photo to be in focus. I experimented with taking shots of the flowers on my fruit trees in spring, as well as different effects with people or objects and the landscape around them. I learned what makes a certain image ‘pop’. I also learned how to focus the camera to bring attention to different areas of the shot, sometimes taking the same shot over and over, changing the focus length only slightly each time.
Each of these ways of using focal points are present in our spiritual lives. We can examine what is not easily visible, we can focus our thoughts to intensify our energy, and we can change where our attention is drawn to help provide clarity in chaos. By learning how to change our focus, we open new pathways to understanding. For example, we can change our focus from an emotional outburst we may be experiencing, and bring our attention to what is happening beneath the surface. Like the experiments we did as children to view the microscopic organisms in our water, our focus can see beyond what we believe created the emotions. We can dive deeper and deeper into our own state of being, revealing a path of causal relationships that may go back decades of time.
Examining What Is Not Visible
For myself, I used the spiritual growth process of looking beneath the surface to help understand many of the psychological and emotional issues I had dealt with over the years. One of those issues was the fear and nervousness I felt when speaking with women who were displaying higher levels of confidence, or those who were in a supervisory role. I originally justified these emotions using several possible options, but never felt any relief from these justifications. As long as my attention was on the emotions at the surface of the issue, the situations were in control. Like the way the ocean wave will grow tumultuous during a violent storm, yet the waters beneath the waves barely moves, a friend of mine helped me change my focus from the surface, where all the turmoil was, to an examination beneath the surface.
As I peeled back the layers, I found the original cause of these unwanted emotions buried in a situation that occurred when I was in early childhood. As I have shared in an earlier post, I had been invited to a birthday party, and was the only boy present, with about a dozen or so girls. At one point, they invented a game that involved me being kissed. When I protested, I was pushed into a closet and held there by a couple of giggly 5 or 6 year olds while the others took turns kissing me. By not properly dealing with these emotions as a child, I buried the trauma inside, causing any similar situations to resurface these fears, attaching a portion of the new emotional feedback to the buried emotions. The more emotions that were buried, the more difficult my relationships became as I got older.
Looking back over my job history, I recognized the times in my life when I walked away from a job, I almost always had a female supervisor. It was the trapped energy of the emotions of my 5 year-old self that continued to surface, creating emotional turmoil that I thought was caused by the job. Yet the true issues were far simpler and much easier to overcome, once they were recognized. By adjusting my perspective, I began to see how this one, simple, innocent situation as a 5 year old child created a snowball effect, leading to a tremendous misunderstanding of my emotions over time. It wasn’t until I released these emotions by facing the initial trauma that I was able to get beyond the nervousness and fear that similar situations would present.
We can also use our spiritual focal point in the same manner as the magnifying glass. The more focused we are with a certain part of our being, the more energy is directed to that part of our lives. The more energy that is focused, the more ‘heat’ is generated, allowing that part of our lives to eventually create ignition. If the area is something we are drawn to for positive reasons, this may come as a welcome change. Business author Malcolm Gladwell refers to this in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Simply stated, the ‘tipping point’ is where the activity no longer requires effort to continue, as it generates its own initiative. The ‘ignition’ is caused not by anything specific we do, but through the unwavering attention we put on creating the outcome we desire.
I first experienced this during the years I was in Real Estate, from 2000 until 2004. I had entered the industry not as a career move, but as a temporary solution to a larger problem. In early 2000, I had lost my job in the dot.com world, as had thousands of others. I had been working as a recruiter and had enjoyed the market greatly during the years when there were far more jobs available than candidates to fill those jobs. Now, in a market turned upside down overnight, with hardly any jobs available, and thousands of candidates looking for work, staying in the recruiting profession didn’t seem feasible. At the time, I wanted to start my own business, but there was very little money being granted for new business ventures.
I recognized that the Real Estate market was still booming, and decided to raise my own investment capital. And so, in late 2000, I had my license in hand, and began to establish myself in the Real Estate market. I set a goal of raising the funds I thought I would need to start the business I really wanted, and figured it would take me five years to get there. Yet through the process of focused energy, unwavering attention to success, and relentless pursuit of my financial goal, after three years I reached my target. Once the target was complete, I began to move in the direction of my desires, and started to shut down the Real Estate opportunity. Although I made this choice in December of 2003, the momentum I had generated continued on.
Over the first few months of 2004, I was still getting new listings, and closing sales, even with no marketing, prospecting or advertising of any kind. I literally had to start handing off new business to another agent in order to finally shut down my Real Estate career and focus on my new engagement. My relationship with the Real Estate industry had reached beyond the tipping point, meaning it took more energy to stop the flow of abundance than it took to maintain it. Luckily, this momentum had been created from a positive perspective. And it had taken conscious effort to get there. However, there are times when the same momentum is created around negative emotional situations as well, and these can be situations where we unconsciously produce momentum.
When the area of focus creates negative emotions, the ignition will be felt as discomfort, or even pain. Failure to address this pain can result in feeling that our lives are out of control. Despair can set in. A feeling of helplessness can keep us from taking any steps forward at all. St. John of the Cross may have been the first to reference this level of despair as The Dark Night of the Soul. The level of utter helplessness, depression and anguish that is felt at this level can be understood only by those who have experienced it. For some, it consumes their being so totally, they do not make it back out.
Recognizing this point in our lives as the spiritual awakening that is represents allows us to move the energy from the negative to the positive. Not all at once though. Physics teaches us that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. The same with emotional objects. When emotion is moving towards the negative, it tends to continue in that direction, until the momentum weakens or expires. Consider this like the swinging of a pendulum. The only way to get the pendulum to swing back towards the one side, is to reduce the momentum of the swing towards the other side.
With a real life pendulum, gravity provides the counter balancing force that slows the momentum, allowing the pendulum to retrace its course. In our spiritual life, where we focus our thoughts creates the impetus to swing the pendulum back the other way. Using affirmations can be one way to lessen the momentum towards the negative. Even small, innocuous affirmations can help. Saying, “I’m alive. I have purpose.”, over and over in our minds can create enough focused energy to begin the process of recovery.
Providing Clarity In Chaos
Finally, the focal point can be adjusted, much like the lens of a camera, allowing us to see clearly only that which we want to be seen. We can use it to highlight a certain area in our lives, providing it with more attention than what lies in the unfocused, murky parts. Most relationships start out this way, with the two partners putting far more focus on the needs of their partner than they do on their own needs. It becomes an unconscious choice, driven by our emotional needs or attachments. As the relationship matures, the focus begins to change, and we find the relationship to be less satisfying than it was originally. The amount of attention we felt originally begins to diminish, as does our desire to put our partners’ needs first.
We begin to feel like we don’t understand our partner like we used to, or that they have somehow changed. We place the blame on situations outside of ourselves, not realizing that what changed was simply where we focused our attention. We have created our own turmoil, but can’t see our own actions as being responsible for what went wrong. This can happen to any type of relationship, within a work group, a sports team, or even in daily activities and priorities. What we sense as turmoil, or the feelings we have of not understanding ourselves or our lives, are simply no more than a change in focus. We are no longer looking at the relationship or events in the same way we used to.
By adjusting our focus, and making conscious choices regarding what we choose to see as important, we can begin to view only what we need to focus on, allowing the rest of the situation to move along however it will, but with a dampening effect between events and our personal reaction to the events. We can begin to see the interconnectedness of all relationships, the pattern behind similar emotional situations in our lives, and understand more completely the reason behind why we had to experience these situations at all.
To put it bluntly, there are two ways to look at life. The first way is that everything is chance, unplanned, unscripted, and without purpose. The second is that there is purpose, that the events of our lives, including our own birth, is part of a bigger plan that we don’t fully understand. I don’t want to get into a philosophical debate here on these two, as I have already written on these topics in greater detail before. Suffice it to say that I cannot believe that humanity would have evolved to the point of having a moral compass if there was no purpose behind our creation. If we were simply no more than a very, very, very lucky roll of the dice (hundreds of thousands of actions and reactions working together to create the perfect situation for the development of our conscious beings), then why should we even care when old ladies have trouble crossing the street?
And, if everything happens for a reason, than even those parts of our lives that we don’t understand, that we don’t like, that we wished didn’t happen, even those parts have meaning and value. We only need to change the focus point from concentrating on the negative, emotional baggage attached, and recognize the growth opportunity we experienced in those moments. For every ‘negative’ event in our lives, there is a positive spiritual growth. For every moment we felt weak, or taken advantage of, or abused, or hurt, there is the seed of opportunity for strength, compassion, honor and healing.
I can name a dozen or more events in my life that caused me to feel terrible anguish at the time, but that I now see as a definite source of strength in my spiritual development. Having done so in the past, as new events come forth, it becomes easier and easier to simply adjust the focus from ‘what’s going wrong’ to a perspective on how you can use the experience to help others, strengthen yourself, or even create new opportunities for the future. Through these simple changes, we can learn to open ourselves to the deeper understanding that our lives are already speaking to us.
If we pull back just far enough, adjust the focus of our attention to see more than just the present moment, yet always living within the present moment, it is possible to see the path that led us to where we are today. And by so seeing, understand not only why we had to experience everything we went through in the process of becoming who we are today, but also begin to see where we are going. And when we understand where we are going, we realize there is no place we need to be, no thing we need to do, nothing outside of ourselves that can bring the happiness and joy we so strongly desire.
As it speaks of in the Bible, we can find “…the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…” (Philippians 4:7). We can recognize our true relationship to each other, and our value to this world. We will find that only love matters. Our lives are meant to share and to be shared, to love and to be loved, to give freely and to accept freely what is given. To open our hearts to the needs of our neighbor, recognizing that our neighbor is us, and we are them.
Image courtesy of ihtatho / flickr.com/creativecommons
Mark Twain quote courtesy of brainyquotes.com