Where are you focusing your attention?

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In the 1960s Burt Bacharach wrote a song that Dionne Warwick made famous, “What the World need now, is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Forty years later that sentiment could not be more timely. When most of us think of the “world,” however, we think of the world “out there,” and we think of what a mess it is, and we might even get caught up in ascribing blame to someone or some collection of people for the mess. This blaming others for the condition of our world gives us a strange sense of comfort and allows the ego to keep the focus of attention on others and off of ourselves. We turn away, throwing up our hands, and hope that someone will do something about it.   


But the place to start in focusing the healing power of love is not to the world “out there,” but rather the world “in here.” It is easier, I believe, to focus on the war in the middle east, the natural disasters, and the many calamities shown on the evening news as the cause of our unhappiness than it is to face into our own shame, pain, and fear.

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After 28 years of sitting with people it has become clear to me that the aspects of ourselves that we despise, disown, and avoid are the very things that so consistently create crisis and suffering in our lives. That repressed feeling of inadequacy and deficiency shows up in the way we avoid intimacy in our relationships and hold ourselves back in the work place. Emotions around past experiences of being abandoned or betrayed that are avoided or denied necessitate walls and masks that keep us feeling inauthentic, isolated, and alone. Buried grief creates a need to protect ourselves from further loss and underlies our fear of getting too close to others or fully engaging in the experience of life. We avoid letting ourselves feel anything uncomfortable and upsetting, and the patterns of repressing these emotions, practiced for decades, finally result in crises of various kinds: debilitating experiences of depression and/or anxiety, relationship breakdown, a deep sense of meaninglessness or discontent, and even physical illness.  


But what are we supposed to do? Early in our lives most of us learned to toggle between two methods of dealing with difficult emotions. We repress them or we act them out, with the previously repressed emotion unconsciously driving behavior that only creates further suffering. 


The fundamental issue here is how we feel about ourselves, the way in which we treat ourselves, and the way we relate to the challenging aspects of our life experience. This is the foundation upon which we build our relationship with everyone and everything “out there.” If we cannot seem to accept ourselves just the way that we are, if we constantly strive to be “better,” if we spend our energies trying to control people and things around us, if we avoid the difficult emotions that accompany many of our circumstances, is it any wonder that we feel discontent and discouraged about our lives and pessimistic and critical about our world.

The answer to this dilemma is implicit in Bacharach’s classic. What our world needs now, that is, what those disowned parts of ourselves need, those painful and difficult emotions, those aspects of ourselves we so strongly avoid need, is love. We must learn to treat ourselves with the tenderness and compassion that we might give our child or a good friend. We must learn to quiet the inner critic and end the stories that tell of our inadequacy and of our need to protect and isolate, and replace them with patterns of self-nurture, affirmation, and ways of love that heal the deep places of fear and pain within ourselves.  


This is no easy task, but together we can do it. There are skills to learn, practices that, with time and perseverance, bring an end to the inner conflict. At The Center for Open Hearted Living we seek to learn to cultivate the heart’s ability to heal its own wounds with the power of loving-kindness. We learn to face into and be compassionately attentive to the repressed, damaged, and disowned parts of ourselves as well as the difficult, painful, and upsetting emotions that we normally avoid or bury. Our intention is come fully into the truth that we are inherently precious and worthy of love and to cultivate our capacity to live more in a state of authentic being and unconditional openness and love within the circumstances of our life. We work in the lab of our own life to fan the spark of love into a flame whose warmth fills and transforms our own life and radiates out to touch the lives of others.