A Horse Named Makia
A horse is a very powerful animal and its importance in the history of mankind can't be overstated. But it isn't the only powerful animal out there, nor is it even the most powerful one. It is useful to us both because it is powerful and because it can be controlled. In the same way our imaginations are extremely powerful parts of our nature, but they are only useful to us if we can tame them. An imagination that is out of control is a very scary thing.
When we permit the focus of our thoughts to dwell on what might happen to us and to go into the depths of our fears, we lose any sense of perspective and power. We become totally enthralled by victimhood. Our fears become so "real" and we become so "helpless" that we become paralyzed. This is the road to depression and a living hell.
I have a friend who has become something of a master at taking something that might be of concern and turning it into the most awful danger imaginable. She gets so worked up that she becomes a wreck trying to figure out how she will cope with the dangers that she has just imagined. It's more than a toxic obsession with "what if ". It's channeling all her energy into the places where she feels awful, not only about the world, but even more detrimentally, about herself. And, so far as I can tell, feeling bad about oneself is about the worst experience we can have.
So just like the horse, we need a way to control our imagination. For the horse that control is conveyed through a bridle. A bridle is a piece of equipment usually of leather used to direct a horse. It consists of straps that go over the horse's head and around its cheeks and forehead with a bit that is held in the mouth of the horse. The reins are a part of the bridle and they convey the directions from the rider to the horse.
So what do you do when you imagination (or your horse) is running away with you? Just as with the horse, the first thing to do is to grab the reins and pull back. Everything needs to come to a halt before anything else happens.
Calming down is the operative task here. In fact, saying the word "calm" over and over can help all by itself. Like many mantras that end with an "mmm" sound, the word "calm" allows the very soothing "mmm" sound to vibrate the skull and relax the body.
Once the uncontrolled racing through the dangers is brought to a halt, then we can turn our focus, the inner equivalent of the reins, to things that will serve to help whatever situation we are finding ourselves in.
There are three steps to taking charge of our reins and focus. The first is to recognize that we are in charge of what we focus on, or at least, we can be. For many of us, our focus is powerfully influenced by the world around us, most especially by the media. Television commands our attention and changes our focus at will. Often our friends and loved ones demand our attention and we have no apparent choice about focusing on them or not.
But, we do, in fact, have a choice and focusing is a major skill all by itself. When we can maintain our focus on something, without being distracted, then we energize that something in a very powerful way. We have to use our intent and will to remember why we want to stay focused. But when we do so, we can accomplish great things. Our energies get focused as our mind does.
The second step is to become aware of how we are feeling with what we are currently focused on. What are we feeling and how do we feel about feeling that way. In other words, does this work for us? Are we focusing on things that make us feel good and powerful. Without this understanding we have no reference point. We can't make an informed choice about whether or not to change our focus. But when we can see that what we are focusing on is making us miserable, then we have the motivation to change that focus to something that works much better for us.
Now we have to have a certain amount of self-confidence to be able to say that what the media wants us to worry about probably isn't worth any worry at all. This self-confidence comes with deciding to be the authority in our lives and that's a very useful decision. It's not a one-time decision, either. We have to keep making it as new challenges to our personal authority arise. But once started, it becomes a very pleasant and useful habit.
The third step is to choose how we want to feel and then what it is that we will focus on that will give us that feeling. If I am feeling really annoyed at how I'm being treated in a car repair shop, for example, I can decide to stay annoyed and savor the feeling of annoyance. Or I can decide that annoyance is overrated and that I want to feeling loving instead. So I can simply think of the people I care about in this world. Or perhaps think about the people I will get to help in the near future. Or even think of all the things that have happened to me lately that have been helpful to my health and wellbeing. All that has happened is a willful change of focus. It's as simple as that.
We don't have to avoid problems that need our attention. A simple awareness of what needs to be done and a commitment to do it will suffice for now. We don't need to avoid painful feelings that arise. Simply feeling them and shifting our focus as they subside will do. We are choosing what we focus on as best we can with the consciousness that our feelings arise from our focus. And when we have mastered to some degree the skill of focus, we have the ability to choose to be happy whenever we want. So I like to say that it pays to pay attention to what we're paying attention to.
Of course, the horse named Makia exists only in my imagination. But that's where it belongs. I need to remember constantly that my imagination can carry me away if I forget to hold onto the reins and steer it where I want it to go. I have the power to direct my imagination if only I will claim it.
Stewart Blackburn is the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want. His website is: www.stewartblackburn.com; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.