After tomorrow, everybody in this country will have a lot to be potentially pleased about, and a lot to be potentially upset with. This is the nature of a mid-term election.
And more importantly, life.
The good news is this: we can choose what to pay attention to, what to focus on, what our experience of reality is. In other words, the good news is that we can create our own good news, no matter what happens in the world.
This is the core message of Winifred Gallagher's fascinating book, "Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life." I've been re-reading it. Since I'm a political junkie, Gallagher's words have helped me realize that I don't need to feel like the election results will control my mood come Wednesday and thereafter.
Here's some quotes (indented) from the first few pages of her book, along with my commentary.
That your experience largely depends on the material objects and mental subjects that you choose to pay attention to or ignore is not an imaginative notion, but a physiological fact. When you focus on a STOP sign or a sonnet, a waft of perfume or a stock-market tip, your brain registers that "target" which enables it to affect your behavior.
There will be so many ways to look upon tomorrow's election. Nationally. State by state. Local, as in right here in Oregon. It is impossible to pay attention to everything that will happen. It isn't Polyannaish to choose to focus on certain results that please you.
Why not? It makes sense to see the glass of life as half full, rather than half empty. Or even better, completely full.
In contrast, the things that you don't attend to in a sense don't exist, at least for you. All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect.
Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.
Neuroscientists point out to us that what we are aware of at each moment is just a minute fraction of the reality available to us. Our sight, for example, zeros in on a small well-focused patch of what surrounds us. The rest is a blur.
So since it isn't possible to be aware of everything in the world, we might as well choose to pay attention mostly to what uplifts us and gives us pleasure.
If you could look backward at your years thus far, you'd see that your life has been fashioned from what you've paid attention to and what you haven't. You'd observe that of all the myriad sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings that you could have focused on, you selected a relative few, which became what you've confidently called "reality."
You'd also be struck by the fact that if you had paid attention to other things, your reality and your life would be very different.
Interesting observation. It is kind of disturbing, if one looks backward, focusing on how much better life would have seemed if we'd paid more attention to stuff other than what we actually did. But the past is, well, past.
In the next moment, as in all the rest to come, we can decide what fills our attention, and what doesn't. That choice determines the sort of life we will fashion.
Attention has created the experience and, significantly, the self stored in your memory, but looking ahead, what you focus on from this moment will create the life and person yet to be. Since Sigmund Freud, psychologists have mostly examined our pasts to explain and improve our lives.
If you think in terms of the present and future instead, you might encounter an intuition lurking in the back of your mind, as it was in mine: if you could just stay focused on the right things, your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you and become something that you create: not a series of accidents, but a work of art.
No matter what happens nationally tomorrow in the mid-term election, I'm confident there is going to be some good news here in Oregon not only for me, but for everybody who cares about politics.
Some candidates I like will win; others will lose. Some ballot measures I favor will be passed by voters; others will be rejected.
I'm going to do my best to focus on the positive and downplay the negative. Not because I want to ignore much of reality -- because I have to. It simply is physiologically impossible, as Gallagher says, to attend to everything happening around us.
So choose happily tomorrow, and every day thereafter. Life is too short, too precious, to put a lot of attention on what disturbs us.
Some decisions about what to focus on, such as what profession to pursue or person to live with, automatically receive serious attention.
Other choices may be less obvious but are just as important to the tenor of your daily experience: deciding to concentrate on hopes rather than your fears; to attend to the present instead of the past; to appreciate that just because something upsetting happens, you don't have to fixate on it.
Still other targets may seem inconsequential: focusing on a book or guitar instead of a rerun; a chat instead of an e-mail; an apple instead of a doughnut.
Yet the difference between "passing the time" and "time well spent" depends on making smart decisions about what to attend to in matters large and small, then doing so as if your life depended on it.
As far as its quality is concerned, it does.