I used to work in a business call center for an electric company that operated in several states. Invariably, we would have to send out linemen to repair utility poles and downed power lines from single car accidents: Car hit pole.
Here’s the thing. There is a distance between the poles which can range from 125 – 300 feet. That’s 8 – 20 car lengths between poles. The poles themselves are less than 3 – 5 feet wide. When you think about it, it’s kind of incredible that a surprisinglly high number of single car accidents are between cars and utility poles.
Here’s the thing, whatever you focus on is the direction you go.
When something happens and drivers feel themselves spinning out of control, they look at the pole instead of the space between the poles. Therefore, they hit the pole instead of winding up in the ditch on the side of the road.
The same thing is true in life.
It’s been true in my life.
Due to the early and ongoing trauma I experienced from middle childhood, through adolescence, and on into adulthood, learning to focus on the positive and constructive things, the things I want in my life, was a non-starter.
A little over three years into therapy and I’m just now starting to recognize when I’m focusing on the pole instead of the vast space in between.
What does any of this have to do with spiritual practice?
Let’s look at what happens when planning a road trip. You schedule a time. You pick a destination. You identify what you need to do in order to afford the trip and plan accordingly. You map out your route and the stops to be made along the way. These are the mechanics that our rational brain hashes out.
Each one of these things is affected by the reason for the trip.
Is it a business trip or a personal one? What is it’s purpose? If it’s personal is it to have some R & R or is it to meet a family obligation? Again, these are questions the rational brain answers.
The underlying, and often unasked question is how do we want to experience the trip? How do we want to be experienced by others? How do we want to affect those we encounter? What effects do we hope to have? These are the questions our spiritual selves are responsible for.
How do we set an intention? Let’s go back to the car vs pole scenario.
If the driver is able to prevent themselves from going into a panic and emotionally spinning out of control they way their vehicle is, then they can look away from the pole and focus on the space between poles – the safe space to head toward. They aren’t thinking in the future, nor are they thinking in the past. Nor are they focusing on the thing they don’t want.
They are completely focused on that moment, what’s happening, and what they are doing about it.
They aren’t saying, “I will be going to the space between poles.” They aren’t analyzing why their car spun out. They aren’t looking at the pole and thinking, “I don’t want to hit the pole!”
They are looking at where they want to be and focusing on the intention of landing there, safely.
Over the many years of therapy and self-help programs and books I’ve participated in, I learned that our brains don’t actually think in the future or in the past. They process everything in the “now.”
It’s good to have future goals. The goal of the driver is to get themselves and their vehicle stopped in the safest spot with the least amount of damage to them and the vehicle. However, the only way to achieve that goal is to be in the present, acting on the intention in the “now.”
If, like me, you experience anxiety related mental health conditions, such as PTSD, you might want to feel a sense of peace and calm throughout the day, so you can respond to triggers, instead of reacting to them in unhealthy ways. Setting an intention could be as simple as this:
“Today, I am peaceful. Today, I am calm.”
If, like me, you struggle with organization and your environment is chaos the intention might look like this:
“Today, I am mindful. Today, I am organized.”
Disclaimer: I’m really good at learning about things and passing along the information. However, my tendency is to not actually apply the knowledge.
I’ve discussed it with my therapist. What I’m discovering, is that the more I make the effort to practice these things, even once, in the moment, in an unplanned, impromptu way, it is helping me to be more like the person I want to be.
Today, I am intentional. Today, I am in the “now.” Today, I am mindful of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
What are your intentions?