Once More Into The Briar Patch

This past October 15th was the last day for people who filed an extension on 2016 taxes to submit their returns. A close friend of mine had not saved any money for paying his taxes. He sent me a text, saying, “Owing all this money has me freaking out.” But by the time he reached out to me, he had already worked himself up into such a downward spiral of despair, self-doubt, and self-loathing, that it took quite a lot of effort from both of us to pull him out of his tailspin.

The mind is funny like that. It latches onto a fearful scenario and, before you know it, every limiting belief and negative conditioning you’ve yet to release wraps itself up into this tailspin and gets you stuck in a dark emotional experience. The tailspin can get so bad that often the mind would rather just sulk in the negative experience than try to reverse its thinking and start feeling better. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there.

I have another friend who, even when things are going well, often finds herself focused on the parts that aren’t the way she wants them to be. When her glass is 90% full, the missing 10% can still pull more and more of her attention until it becomes 90% of her experience.

We know that what we focus on expands. Focus on a fear of debt, and you’ll get more fear and likely more debt. Focus on what’s missing from your experience, and you end up missing the experience itself. Focus your subconscious on the negative for a lifetime, and you’ll dig quite a hole for yourself. The tailspin gathers momentum, and before you know it, you’re stuck.

It reminds me of the American folk story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit was out for a walk when he happened upon a figure perched on a bench, with a jacket and a pipe and a bonnet on its head. Brer Rabbit gave a friendly, “Howdy,” but when the figure didn’t respond, instead of shrugging it off Brer Rabbit took offense. He got in its face, demanded respect, and soon was throwing punches. What Brer Rabbit didn’t know was that the figure was a person-shaped sculpture made out of tar. Every punch got Brer Rabbit more and more stuck in its stickiness, which just made him that much more mad. Before he knew it, Brer Rabbit was thoroughly covered in tar and unable to move.

The Tar Baby was a trap set by Brer Fox, but the bait was Brer Rabbit’s ego and his quick temper. If Brer Rabbit had been able to stay focused on enjoying his walk, he wouldn’t have gotten stuck. If he had been able to shrug off the initial “insult,” he wouldn’t have gotten stuck. And, if he had been able to see beyond his anger he would have been able to free himself before he was completely trapped.

Just like with the tar, focusing on what we don’t want can actually bring us more of that. The more attention we put on negative thoughts, the more stuck we feel, and the harder it is to move forward with our lives. Remember, negative contractions such as “don’t,” “won’t,” “can’t,” and others, are not registered by the subconscious mind. So when you think “I don’t want more debt,” what your subconscious registers is, “I want more debt.” “I can’t fail this test” is translated as “I fail this test” — you’re telling your subconscious mind you want to “fail the test” and it obliges. That’s its job.

Brer Rabbit eventually freed himself by shifting his attention from his struggle to what tools he had nearby that could help shift his situation — in this case, a briar patch that helped him scrape off the tar and escape. The same thing goes for us. By first recognizing we are stuck in negative or obsessive thought patterns, and then looking for ways to shift our focus to more positive thinking, we can free ourselves from our own mental and emotional traps.

You’re the captain of your own ship. If you register that there is a rocky shore nearby, you can either throw all of your focus on those rocks, or you can steer your ship in the opposite direction. It is your responsibility – and not the ship’s – to do the steering.

Where does your mind consistently get fixated, despite your conscious desire to not think that way? What’s the exact opposite of that negative experience? Hold on to that new positive experience. Focus on it, and watch it expand.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” ― Mark Twain

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