There’s the seemingly common-sense idea that if you try hard enough, you’ll succeed and have the things you need to make you happy. Try, succeed, have. These are all about relationships of the self to the world – you must try for something, succeed at something, have something. This paradigm is about separateness; that which you are seeking is separate from you, a little way up the mountain. When the subject-object relationship of this paradigm is focused on the ego, we call it self-improvement.
The problem that immediately arises, when we think about our striving in this way against the concepts of enlightenment or mental health, is that happiness lies in the future. From the perspective of spirituality or happiness, self-improvement and other forms of striving are seemingly defeatist since they’re not about embracing the current moment. They’re about becoming more rather than gently moving outside of the ego and living in the light and glory of spirit.
Improvement and Attraction
Yet, the classic paradigm of improvement works. I’ve done it and so have you. You see something you want to have or to be, you work diligently, and it comes. Other times, you work diligently and your goal doesn’t materialize – and so you might think, ah, the problem here is that I haven’t worked enough. If I try harder, it’ll come. So you strive and strive, and more often than not you realize your object. This is the classic mode to achievement that is entirely based on rational thought and causal relationships. Despite having nothing to do with creativity, happiness, spirituality, or our higher selves – efforts to expand our egos are generally fruitful with enough diligence.
If you’ve worked to cultivate happiness and spirit, though, you might think differently when your initial efforts don’t work. You might think that the time for this is not ripe, that you haven’t progressed to a point where you are ready to receive this blessing. There is happiness in the relaxing of striving and trust in the ultimate grace. And this approach works too – after you release your intention into the universe… sometime later, your intended goal manifests. You cast your intention out into the world, released your attachment, and in its time it sometimes comes to you. This is attraction, a type of magical thinking with deep roots in the occult beyond clear rationality and causality. Despite a rich tradition in every culture, this kind of thinking is discounted by those with rationality as a fundamental part of their dogma. The sticky goo of the new age section in your local bookstore doesn’t much help make the case.
Neither of these approaches are completely false or completely true. It’s not the striving that brings things to us and it’s not some emotional projection that bounces around in some magical gourd in the universe and comes back to us fulfilled. It’s the attention underlying both approaches. What we lay our focus on continuously manifests in our lives. Whether you labor or pray, relentlessly drive or trust in faith is nothing more than the mode of your attention – and both modes are important. But both modes fail to bring about manifestation if the quality of our attention is insufficient.
Your attention is not just your thoughts, or affirmations would quickly and doubtlessly change everything. Your attention is also what you choose to perceive in the world around you.
Striving or praying continuously for abundance doesn’t always bring you into abundance. That’s because you’re already in abundance. We are, all of us, continuously surrounded by abundance – there’s cyclical abundance in nature, other people are coming into plentifulness, and the simple truth is that you are already abundant in many ways. We must perceive it and welcome it to know it. If you can’t be happy for somebody else’s success, you will always have great trouble finding success for yourself.
Talismans, crosses, and inspirational posters work because they remind us where to place our attention. In returning our attention to those things we wish to cultivate, we frequently find that they are already with us. The more we pay attention, the more we notice them – and the more things there seem to be to be noticed. Reminders of negativity work just the same. The more we choose to dwell on lack or insufficiency, unhappiness or illness, the more negativity we uncover. Positivity is a sticky subject, though – noticing that we’re dwelling on insufficiency is a positive thing just like noticing when we’re acting from ego. In our mindfulness, awareness of negativity isn’t the same thing as mentally encouraging it.
Am I trying to say that paying attention to what we want will bring us what we want? No. I’m saying that paying attention to what we want continuously allows us to perceive the ways in which the things we want are already with us. And in that perception and continued attention, we will find more and more that the things we want are already with us. If we watch the light, we see it growing of its own accord. If we instead watch the dark, we see the dark grows by itself. But they’re not growing, not really – the light and dark are both infinitely deep, our attention just determines how much of each we perceive.
The Great Unveiling
It’s easy to confuse the changes of our perception with movement, to take that feeling of movement and use it to enlarge our egos or become lost in some mixed-up stance where we associate rituals and synchronicity with some sort of personal shamanistic power. But, as the sages say, the entire world is already within us – and how can you move from one place to another, when all places are within you?
Growth, progress, and success are not just about acquiring. They’re about cleansing, about washing off that which dirties the lenses through which we see the world. To be healthy means not just gaining health but discarding illness. To be financially abundant means not just gaining affluence but discarding poverty. The quality of our attention is about what we focus on, about all the light and dark we choose to see. And that choosing is about belief and permission: believe in this moment’s dawn and let the day wash out the night.
So, today in your efforts for wealth, health, human connection, or whatever it is you’re seeking… pay attention to your attention. Notice the thoughts that are focused on the trivial and the banal, notice your recurrent fears and anxieties. Let your attention wash away all that does not serve you, and notice your own inevitability. When we witness just how the fruits of our efforts are edging into our lives, our attention becomes the seeker who consults the oracle, the oracle who answers, and the prophecy.
Interested in synchronicity? This book on Amazon is a delightful romp that might be for you: Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence, Choice, and Unlocking Your Mind.
You may also enjoy:
- A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Oprah’s Book Club, Selection 61) – another recommended book on Amazon
- How Our Role-Playing Defeats Us – programminglife.net
- 5 Tactics When Everything Needs Attention – programminglife.net
- The Limits of Self Improvement – programminglife.net
- William James on Attention and the Road to Mastery – PsyBlog
- Attention, Please! What Every Man Ought to Know About Focus – The Art of Manliness
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