15: Beware the Myopia of Misery

Being organized is essential to all major activities. Every worthwhile project can overwhelm us if we get lost in details. All attempts to heal social, mental, or physical problems will seem insurmountable if we let the symptoms and distress of these issues overwhelm us. Overcoming these challenges requires that we resist the urge to march off in five different directions simultaneously to attack the multiple aspects of our distress. This mistake will split our time and energy in ways that reduce or cripple our effectiveness.

It is a mistake to succumb to a myopic perspective about distress and notice only emotional pain or physical discomfort. Such a focus can eclipse our awareness of the parts of our life and health that are still working and rewarding to us. These are the parts we need for our healing, and we must not ignore them. It is common, for instance, that a depressed person will neglect relationships and activities that are still uplifting. Those who worry about their careers often focus on minor faults and ignore the proven talents and knowledge that have succeeded in the past and can reproduce success again. People who are physically ill tend to focus only on the sick or injured part and forget that the rest of their body is healthy, strong, and able to contribute to their recovery.

When we respond to distressful events by obsessing on our wounds and feelings of helplessness, we should beware that these are the sickest and weakest parts of our character. Our subconscious “department of fear, disappointment, and anger”—our F.D.A.—knows very little about how to restore confidence, recharge our courage, and set out on a new path of constructive attitudes and behavior. When we yield to this temptation, we are unwittingly surrendering to fear, anger, depression, and confusion. This is not a good choice! Obsessing on our difficulties also diverts attention from our strengths and other resources that can help us cope. Persistent discouragement, anxiety, and resentment can create a state of “emotional drunkenness” that is as disabling as having too many cocktails. Our dark moods and discouragement can dim our perceptions and weaken our judgment, leading to choices of behavior that are often immature and destructive. Feeling neglected or defeated can disable our ability to connect to better possibilities or harness the power to overcome the inertia that traps us where we are. Self- pity may seem to be a natural response to faults and failure, but it will only cause us to sink lower into the negative psychic zone where hope, enthusiasm, and courage will be extinguished.

It is important, therefore, to recognize how easily we waste too much time agonizing about what went wrong and who let us down. If we are aware of how our frustration can create a myopic focus on what is wrong and our weaknesses, we can look beyond our symptoms and distress. We can do this by asking simple questions:

What can I do to turn this situation around? How can I do this?

Where do I begin? Who can help me?

The answers will not solve all problems, but it will help us break out of the narrow prison of worry and depression caused by our reactions to situations that irritate us. Once we rise above the low psychic zones of fear, defeat, and hesitation, we can get started redirecting our thoughts in healthy directions.

In healing, it is important to concentrate the strength and opportunities we have. If we are short of cash, for example, we become very cautious in spending our remaining money. Likewise, when we are struggling with a life problem or a chronic illness, we also need to budget our strengths, time, and other resources. We cannot afford the luxury of heaping blame on our perceived enemies, spending time reliving old tragedies and battles, wondering why our life is so difficult, or wallowing in self-pity. Concentrating on our remaining strengths and opportunities is essential.

When we recognize the futility of lamenting what we have lost, where we have failed, and how much harm others have done to us, we can move on to better choices for focusing our attention and energies. This becomes possible when we learn to declare a truce with the difficult parts of our past and the people in it. Sometimes the insights, forgiveness, and acceptance we need to heal problem areas will not be available in time to keep us from drowning in our frustration. By declaring a truce, we temporarily end hostilities. It does nothing to heal the basic issues, but it does free up energies and other resources that we need to cope with current opportunities.

In declaring truce in the midst of conflict, we are not giving up or giving into injustice or dishonest behavior. We are redirecting our attention and energy to respond to our immediate opportunities, instead of reacting to what annoys us. We can do this without letting down our guard or allowing our enemies to walk all over us. If others continue to create trouble for us, therefore, we must have the courage to stop trying to fight them, correct them, or defeat them. Their displays of rudeness, dishonesty, or ignorance will speak for themselves and create their own punishment. We can let them be—and put our energies into activities that promote our well-being.

Sometimes we need extra help. When we break a leg we may be unable to walk on it for several weeks. However, we do not have to remain immobile or be limited to moving in a wheelchair. We usually can be up and about with the aid of crutches. By using crutches, we can utilize the strength of our good leg and stay active.

In the same way, when parts of our life are not working well, we can still stay active if we draw on the remaining strengths, relationships, and opportunities we have. If for instance, we miss the companionship of our children when they grow up and move away, we can do more to be close to other family members and friends. If we are discouraged about how one of our co-workers treats us, we can find satisfaction in the support and respect we get from other associates. If recent events have been frustrating, we can take solace in the much longer record of success that has established our capacity to be a skillful and effective person.

There are usually large parts of our character and life that remain untouched by any distress we might experience. When we are physically ill, for instance, it is tempting to focus large amounts of attention on the distress and dysfunction of the part of our body that is sick. However, the healing mechanism and vitality of

the whole body can contribute to the health we seek. Although our stomach might be sick, the rest of the body is probably healthy. We should appreciate that these parts can help us achieve the relief we need.

These healing parts are valuable resources to see us through the rough patches of our life and to support our recovery. Those who have some understanding of the higher dimensions of our humanity and spirit are able to conceive that there is something in us that is always greater than any sickness, fear, or sadness that we might experience. When we choose to identify with these healthy parts, we can change our perspective to include all of our human and divine possibilities. This allows us to shift to a state of mind that empowers us to take charge of ourself and our situation. It also will enable us to summon healthy insights and energies to help us cope with any problem we face.

When we organize ourself in this manner, we are able to break out of the grip of frustrating circumstances and enter into a state where we feel empowered, knowledgeable, confident, and expecting to have a favorable impact on our life situation. Unless we establish this new structure of beliefs, we may waste valuable time and energy that will be misdirected into more psychic self-destruction.

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