The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, February 28, 2013

"...but thinking makes it so."

How we feel depends upon what we focus on

Last night, as usual, Jason was beating the hell out of me. Originally I was confused about why this was so important to him, but he informed me that the answer was simple: "that's how boys play." Geeze, I wish I'd known THAT fifty years ago. I thought the other guys didn't like me, and it turns out they were just being boys. Seriously. I didn't know.

Anyway, he dove over me, rolled, and hurt his hand and fingers. They still hurt this morning--he was wincing (although less. There was no swelling or discoloration, and the fingers articulated better now than last night...so I think it was just a little sprain, and startle-induced fear) when he came down to my office. I decided to make it a part of our morning ritual. "Your mood is determined by what you focus on," I said.
I asked him to imagine that he is in a fight, and his opponent damages his right arm. If he wants to survive, he might well have to ignore that pain and take that guy out--THEN go to the hospital. If he lets the pain and fear control him, he might die. So I experimented with having him concentrate on his breathing...then the vibration of "Om". That was too subtle.

So...I turned our breath counting into a "staring game". The first one who blinks, loses. He's a competitive little cuss, and within twenty seconds of wide-eyed unblinking "Om"-ing, he was grinning like a wolf pup, focused on beating his Dad. After a couple of times beating him, I let him win, and his grin got wider. We finished, and then I asked him what his job was ("to be good"), what the Laws are (The first three Musashi's Principles: Do Not Think Dishonestly, The Way Is In Training, and Know the Ways of All Arts), the School Rules (pay attention, keep your hands to yourself, exhale when angry or frustrated, do what you're told), and his main goal (to ace an upcoming exam).

And after we were finished, I asked him how his hand was. He blinked, surprised to realize he'd forgotten all about it.

That's how we are as human beings. People say that it's impossible to "not think of a purple cow." Sure you can. As soon as someone says that, think of eating your favorite ice cream. Because while you can't "not think" of something, you CAN simply put your attention on something else. And as long as you do, you won't even notice that you're "not thinking" of purple cows.

If you want pain in your life, think of all the frustration, injustice, pain, failure, betrayal, injury, age, and loneliness. If you want happiness, focus on a flower growing through the sidewalk, a child's smile, a kitten's purr, a hope for the future, a remembered act of kindness. It is up to us.
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. " Hamlet was referring to the interpretation of an event. And our ability to control the perceived meaning of an event depends upon what aspect of its impact on our lives we focus on. THE CHOICE IS YOURS. A certain number of bent wrists and twisted fingers in life is inevitable. But we get to decide whether they make us quit, or simply teach us new things about physics and physiology.

The choice is yours. Jason was smiling when he left my office. I don't know about you, but that sounds like victory to me.

Namaste
Steve

www.diamondhour.com

8 comments:

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Anonymous said...

I love your stories about your son and how you raise him. Everytime I read something from you on this, it gives me ideas on how to raise my own children. I would love to hear more on this!

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giddyprime said...

Late to comment, but this one has been tickling the back of my brainstem since I first read it, and I think I've figured out what was bothering me.

"That's how boys play . . . ". I find I'm rather put off by this idea. Thinking back to bits of my own childhood, I was sometimes intimidated and frightened by behaviors from my peers that adults excused by "that's how boys play" when in fact bullying would have been a better name for it. Kinda sounds like that may have been the case for you as well, Steve.

I've met you and your wife on a couple of occasions, and I know you're some of the kindest and gentlest people I've every had the pleasure of meeting, so I realize that if the nurture side of the equation is at all determinative, the likelihood of the two of you rearing a bully is unlikely in the extreme. But should a teaching moment like this recur, I would suggest that you might want to let Jason know that sometimes boys might actually not want to play that way, and that he needs to know if and when he's got a willing partner in roughhousing.

Steven Barnes said...

Some of what we now call "bullying" is simply the natural hierarchical male behavior, found in primates as well as every society in the world. It is a preparation for life, because, frankly, outside of your immediate family and friends, all the world wants from you is "what can you do?"
This push/push-back is older than civilization. Only half, at most, of the answer is to educate people, create social webs, and so forth. The rest, frankly, is individuals learning to stand up for themselves. You are quite correct: I was viciously "bullied" as a kid, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized it was nothing personal. Just these kids trying to find themselves in the world. And if you don't learn, as an individual, to "push back" when pushed (when appropriate) how can you ever help someone else? Competition is not innately vicious, but weakness brings out the predator in even the nicest people: not a pretty sight. The answer is BOTH compassion and group action...AND each and every one of us awakening the warrior within us. Self-protection is part of the wiring of animal in the world. Human beings have this aspect as much as they have the artistic, healing, or nurturing aspects. Anyone who tells you different is lying to you. We contain multitudes.