During a recent Introduction to Meditation class I talked about the fact that by learning actively to direct one’s attention (which is really what beginning meditation is all about (see the book, “The Attention Revolution,” by Alan Wallace)) one can literally define one’s reality.
Most people do not realize that they do not actively direct their attention. Rather, environmental stimuli pull one’s attention to various objects without one’s assent. That is, attention is normally passive. Hence, one’s “reality” is passively determined, meaning that whatever the environment offers to one becomes one’s experience.
For instance, look at the image above. At first glance it seems to be spinning clockwise. This is because one’s attention is passively absorbed by the entire image. But the truth of the matter is that this apparent clockwise spin is an illusion! That this is the case can be seen by actively directing one’s attention to a single orange spot on the image, and keeping one’s attention on that spot alone. When one does this, the illusion of the clockwise spin ceases and one sees the image as it truly is. This simple example demonstrates that by actively directing one’s attention one determines one’s reality.
This lesson in directing attention can change one’s life. For instance, consider a difficult situation or individual with which/whom you struggle. Under normal circumstances your attention is passively pulled to those aspects of the situation/individual that you find difficult. But by actively directing your attention to a different part of the situation or aspect of the individual, your experience of that situation or individual will change. You will, without exaggeration, create a new reality for yourself. A situation will become less negative (or even positive) or the individual will be viewed less negatively (or even positively).
Take a moment and conduct this thought experiment. Think of a situation/individual that you experience negatively and then think about (actively direct your attention toward) something positive about that situation/individual (No situation or individual is all negative.). Then, after conducting this thought experiment, actually engage that situation/individual and put the lesson into practice. You will discover that the reality of that situation/individual is significantly different than how you have been perceiving it. In fact, you will likely experience that situation/individual positively. What a gift that would be, both for others and yourself!
“When a pickpocket meets the Pope, all he sees are the Pope’s pockets.”
In Japan there is a craft known as "kintsugi." Kintsugi is the practice of restoring valuable china with a golden lacquer. In this manner china, such as a vase, increases in value over time. This increase in value is not due to the fact that its original state has been maintained over time but contrariwise. It's value increases precisely because it has been broken and beautifully restored. It other words, it is in the golden seams that "healed the brokenness" of the vase that its increased value is to be found.
As I reflect on kintsugi vases I think back over the many years of my ministry and my own life, recalling how much time has been spent healing that which was broken. Certainly life is full of abundant blessings but so, too, brokenness. The experience of brokenness in life is unavoidable, especially when it comes to relationships. Sometimes we simply fail to hold one another with enough care and consideration. When relationships break, too often we recoil in our woundedness, or shame, or self-righteous indignation, sweeping up the pieces of our shattered selves only to walk away. At the same time, I have seen times when this doesn't happen, times when rather than walking away people decide to do the hard work of piecing the relationship back together. I have seen people sit together in their woundedness and find a greater strength than the wound itself. I have seen people admit their shame and allow love to overcome it. I have seen people dissolve their righteous indignation with acts of contrition and humility. I have seen people, numerous times over, heal the brokenness.
When relationships are thus restored, it is a beautiful thing. That which was broken is now held together more beautifully than before, with strength, with love... with contrition and humility. In fact, living through life together - not only life's abundant blessings but life's brokenness as well - is the source of much of the beauty we find in relationships. Even further, healing the brokenness, together, can be the route to sacred depths... With this in mind, consider the relationships in your life? Do they lie shattered in pieces on the floor or do they resemble a kintsugi vase? If the former is the case, perhaps it is time to take up a new craft...
I am Dr. Riegel, minister at Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church. Enjoy my occasional blog posts here, which may cover subjects ranging from spirituality to psychology to ethics to social justice to church life and beyond...