Reality Check: The Forest, the Trees and the Path

Bad news, or the fear of bad news, can take a lot of our energy.
Does that matter? I think so. And it’s not just the selfish sentiment of, “I feel better when I’m happy” kind of mattering, either. The energy we use on the bad and worrying is energy that we can’t spend on other things, like the good and the productive.
Consider your own experience. Compare times when you have been anxious with times when you’ve felt happy, confident, empowered. When were you more likely to help someone else?
When we are scattered, fearful, feeling out of control, it’s harder to reach out to others and trust that we can be helpful. When we’re happy, it’s easier to be generous. When we feel in control, it’s easier to want to help others along their paths.
It’s helpful for everyone—not just us—to be satisfied, confident, and empowered.
Dr. Rick Hanson says our minds are like Teflon for good things and Velcro for bad things. That is, the good things slide right out of our heads, while the bad things stick.
Maybe we are just being realistic when we dwell on the bad (which does exist). But Hanson suggests that humans have an innate bias to overemphasize the threats and underemphasize the good.
After all, the survival of our ancestors depended on their awareness of danger; the tigers in the bushes.
Have you ever been frightened while walking in the woods? It’s getting dark and you don’t know exactly where you are. Then, an unexpected noise! Yikes! Is it a tiger? Or a chipmunk?
It’s appropriate to be afraid when there’s danger about. But if fear takes over regardless of reality, we miss a lot—the richness and joy of life. And the world misses a lot from us, too. We keep ourselves hidden, without offering our full potential or helpfulness.
Our threats probably aren’t tigers in the bushes. We may feel threatened by loneliness or disease. We might fear that we will lose our security, our control, our freedom. All kinds of threats are imaginable.
Do you often feel in danger as you walk through the forest of your life? What might help?
Consider choosing a destination.
Some people refer to this destination as purpose, goals, or simply having meaning in your life. When you know where you want to go, you may feel in more effective control.
Wandering around in our lives with no purpose is a lot like wandering around the forest with no destination. We’re preoccupied with the trees right in front of us. Even if we can’t see threats, we can imagine them behind each tree. We feel helpless, powerless.
You can change that perspective by having a purpose that matters to you. It can help prevent getting distracted by every tiny threat or small setback and keep you moving in the direction that you want.
Each of us does have a purpose, or can have a purpose, if we choose to. Everyone’s purpose is not the same, nor should it be!
For some, purpose may mean raising responsible, kind, productive children. For others, it may be doing useful work of any kind. For others, it may be reducing people’s suffering, and there are so many ways to do that.
When you are aware of your purpose, then the direction you need to take on your path will be clearer. You can assess each decision against the criteria, “Will this bring me closer to where I want to be?” And, it may also become easier to distinguish between the real threats and the imagined ones—the tigers and the chipmunks.
There’s a difference between wandering around aimlessly and striding forth with purpose. Which feels better?

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