“What your attention is upon, you become”
When Barry and I were both thirty years old, we had a spiritual teacher named Pearl who lived in Mt. Shasta, California. Unlike most popular spiritual teachers today who give talks to thousands of students at a time, Pearl was simple and she saw several people at a time in her small living room. Pearl had gray hair and spoke with a lisp and had a physical ordinariness. But she had the ability to see what was most needed in each of us.
We spent a summer in Mt. Shasta so that we could be with her every day. Each day she stressed to us in particular, “What your attention is upon, you become.” Sometimes we grew tired of hearing her say that over and over again. But over time, we have learned the value of those words and, if lived fully, can profoundly affect our lives.
As an example, suppose you are upset with a public figure (I’m not giving any names here). Every time you see this person in the news, you grow upset and think about him or her often throughout the day. You might even talk negatively about this person to your friends and family. You might do hours of research on the internet finding information to support your theory that this is not a good person. And you might find TV shows that match your opinion and so you watch them every day. Your attention is clearly upon this person. Think about Pearl’s words, “What your attention is upon, you become.” Do you really want to become like this person that you dislike so much? It is important to be informed about current events, but it is also important to not allow it to become an obsession, so that you are thinking about this person continually, especially in negative terms.
Rather than allowing your focus to be on this person, instead think about someone that you truly admire. Perhaps this is a spiritual leader, an author, close friend, a teacher, your partner, parent, child, or grandparent. It is important that you admire and respect this person. As you put your attention upon this person, the qualities that you most admire in them become alive within you. What your attention is upon, you become.
When our three children were living with us, we had a family dinner each night. As we were eating, we always asked, “Tell us something good that happened to you today.” We all took turns telling something good that had happened. We wanted our children to focus first on the good in life. Each child shared something good, however simple, and we all felt grateful for that particular thing. There was plenty of time for the things that were not good, like too much homework, a boring class in school, not getting the part you wanted in a school play, not getting a good grade on a test you just took, or another student being unkind to you. But by drawing out the good in life first, we hoped to emphasize that seeing the good is most important.
Now that our three children are gone from our home, Barry and I have dinner alone. But this practice continues. We tell each other the good that has happened to us in our lives that day. It is tempting to talk about the traffic that we had to endure, or the news that never really seems good, or our latest ache in our body, or another hole that one of our dogs dug in our garden (that topic is frequent as we now have three dogs). And those things might or might not be expressed, but first comes something good. And then we both feel our gratitude.
I have a going to sleep ritual for myself. Before slipping off to sleep, I force myself to feel truly thankful for something that happened in the day. I use the word “force” because often, when the lights are turned out and Barry and I have said our final good night to each other after a sweet snuggle, I just want to slip off to sleep. But I force myself to allow this slipping off to sleep to include a true gratitude.
When our first child attended the Waldorf School in Santa Cruz, California, her teacher at the time told me that it is very important that a child slip off to sleep with a positive thought. She explained that, transitioning into sleep, the positive thought will enter the dream life of the child, and will grow and develop. I just loved that idea and, in putting our children to sleep, I always whispered something good and positive about them just as they were slipping off to their dream state.
Now there is no one to put to sleep except myself. So I figure that the same reasoning can apply to me and the little child within me. As I am drifting off to sleep, I tell myself that I am precious and a treasure, and I feel my gratitude for something. I notice that when I wake up those thoughts are still with me to help me begin the new day.
When our attention is upon positivity and goodness, these qualities can grow within us. We truly do become what our attention is upon.