“Whatever we cherish, whatever we hate, and whatever we fear are our gods, and we pray to them all the time.”—Thomas Hora
Recently one of my leadership students, a pharmaceutical sales representative, asked for advice about an all-day sales meeting she would be leading. As I listened, she justified her expectation that this meeting was something to dread. I asked, “How long have you been having thoughts that the meeting will not work out well?” “At least a week,” she responded.
I saw that she was, in effect, praying for a bad meeting. Over and over, thoughts came to her that “this meeting is going to be hard,” “they won’t cooperate,” “they are difficult.” My student believed these recurring and upsetting thoughts were arising as a signal to think even more about perceived issues with her colleagues. I explained that by rehearsing why the meeting couldn’t go right, she was doing nothing more than relinquishing her responsibility. My student listened to what I had to say but insisted, “There’s a history here that you don’t understand.” Smiling, I replied, “It sounds like another prayer for a bad meeting.”
What my student came to see is that she was holding on to and justifying her “hard meeting” expectations and crowding out the possibility for inspired ideas to arise. Yet, with all her years of experience and tacit understanding of her field, she was the one who could receive inspired ideas to help the meeting go well.
Her thinking and analysis of the problem were no allies; getting her thinking out of the way was her first step to a better outcome.
For any of us, there is no room to have an inspired idea when, innocently, we pray for things to go wrong. Much of our thinking concerns our ego’s often nonsensical interpretations about what is happening to us, why others are doing what they do, and what should be done about it. No wonder inspired ideas can’t get through, our mind is simply too busy, taken up with the story our ego spins.
“Every worry is a prayer. Every complaint is a prayer. Every grudge is a prayer…Because they become a focus, a theme, upon which we meditate. Of course we don’t call this prayer. We call it thinking.”–Elsa Bailey
A few days after my conversation with my student, my daughter called in a panic about the organic chemistry test she was to take the next day. She had worked out the math and decided there was no possible way she could complete the exam in the time allotted. She went on and on with her “hard test” thinking. I listened.
I asked her if she could see she was praying for a bad exam. Yes, she said, and immediately returned to explain why the test was going to be terrible. I listened.
I reminded her that her job was to the focus on the task at hand–her preparation–and allow thoughts about what she could not control to float harmlessly out of her mind.
Disturbing thoughts arise for all of us; we can’t control that. We can decide which thoughts to drop and which to engage. Upsetting thoughts are not the issue; prayerful attention to dysfunctional thinking is the issue.
Most of us become quite comfortable swimming in the sea of our habitual thinking. This mental sea is full of garbage. Sometimes it seems I am determined to hold on to a disturbing thought and the bad feeling it generates. I find myself reaching for an upset feeling as though I was searching to find a physical pain that had vanished.
It is good to see how invested I am in choosing my ego. Seeing that false choice, I can make another choice.
Bad feelings have to be regenerated moment by moment by entertaining an unhappy, repetitive thought. Good feelings are automatically generated the moment we stop “praying” to the false god of our ego’s thinking. There is a source of clearer thinking that waits on our decision to value it.
We believe our problems are primarily in the world; we believe we should focus our attention and our thinking on our issues. These complementary beliefs are the ego’s greatest deceptions. Our peace of mind is dependent, not on anything that happens in the world, but on one factor alone: our moment by moment choice to not listen to the bad advice that our ego dispenses.
There is an early-bird discount for my upcoming, September 27th workshop: Your Highest Purpose: Living and Leading from the Place that Truly Matters