Recently, I’ve allowed my world to become very noisy; I’ve felt engaged, but also disconnected.
I’ve struggled because I think we need to hold on to healthy outrage, heartbreak that’s holy. The pain of the moment must be fully felt in order to be fully healed.
In desiring to not be dismissive of the change that is needed and the pain I believe is necessary, I moved my focus in a way that was counterproductive to my values. I mistook focusing on all that is good–love, life, God’s goodness–as dismissing pain rather than being the very thing that lends pain the power to be transformative. To transform pain into progress, goodness must still be seen and received.
Years ago, I sang a lot. I started classical lessons in sixth grade and added more contemporary work in high school. The vibrato effect that was so valuable in arias and Operalike music didn’t seem to disappear when I sang jazz, pop, Indie, or country. I was infuriated by it. I knew how I wanted to sound on certain pieces and I knew that “Operalike quality” was in my way. The more I thought, “Don’t do the vibrato,” the more I failed to eradicate it. In fact, it was like an invitation! It showed up even more!
Finally, I expressed my frustration and how hard I was working to fix this to a teacher. She nodded, paused, then asked me to try singing the piece again, but this time to only focus on my breathing–to make sure I had plenty of breath support, plenty of sustained air flow through the end of every phrase. I thought it sort of seemed like she was kicking me while I was down by giving me another problem to fix, but she was the teacher, so I gave it a shot.
The vibrato was not completely gone right away, but to my surprise, the task of improving my breath technique had nudged the vibrato out, not to mention I hadn’t criticized myself throughout the song.
When I focused my efforts on what I wished to create, I still had plenty of work to do, but the weight of the frustration lifted. I still needed to practice (a lot), but as I focused on improving breathing technique, I could do the work and make more progress without the intensity of discouragement.
When you focus on what you wish to eliminate—vibrato, or one of the more serious evils in the world—it can be deeply frustrating. It’s joy-stealing, peace-interrupting exhaustion, and I think we cling to it because it dresses up so well as the most responsible way to make progress toward solutions. It’s true you can make progress there, but that progress is without refreshment to fuel and inspire your path.
When you move your focus away–willfully, or unwittingly–from all that is good, power is surrendered. The world becomes noisier, and finding the stillness where supernatural solutions arise becomes nearly impossible. If wisdom and love and power are in the still-small voice, shifting your focus wholly to all that is wrong is like turning up the volume on everything external, but to access divine inspiration and solutions, you must find quiet.
Now, long-lasting systemic problems are not a vocal music technique; the consequences are much graver, and I understand that. But the lesson learned and the point taken is the same: whether you’re in the battle of pandemic restrictions, reckoning with systemic injustices and racism, or the struggle of a job you don’t love, a difficult boss, or a loss of work altogether, the message applies. Focus on what is good and show up with your fullest energy to create more of that.
The work is hard, but there is magic in it.
This is not a pep talk on the power of positivity. It is not a brush-off of real, important problems. I believe you certainly can turn away from pain and grief, but then you’re very likely to wake up years later, bitter and angry and afraid, so I don’t recommend it. A better option is to lean in and wake up in a different world that you helped to create. So lean in. Please lean in. But lean in while keeping your heart fixed on that which is like what you wish to create, not that which you are fighting.
The work is still hard, but there is magic in it.
The magic of the good? It writes your to-do list while it revives your soul. It is rainfall on fresh cut grass: creating the next week’s work while making today worthwhile.
The good is magic. The good is what will refresh, revive, repower, and inspire. Don’t miss it. Your power is in it.
Dream Big by Bob Goff
Bob Goff is sunshine in a bottle–or in a book! His newest book, Dream Big, is based on “helping your dreams take flight.” I was a little nervous it would be a departure from his previous books and a step squarely into self-help territory, but he maintains the feeling of Love Does and Everybody Always, telling little stories all along the way. Pro tip: Listen to the Audible version! It’s rare that I prefer the audio version of any book, but I always go this route with Bob’s!
I have been relishing the homebody life, but I know me well enough to know sometimes exactly what I need is a change of scenery. Maybe it’s a night away, maybe it’s just a long day on the road; it’s well worth it. There will always be reasons not to go. Your own joy is a great reason to go anyway.
Hate snakes, love this plant. It is hearty and can live through almost anything. There’s something about a little bit of life and a little bit of greenery in your living space that can’t be beat. Plus, you’ll probably spend less on one of these than you would on one bouquet of flowers and it will last much longer. Learn more about this plant from @growingandgrowing.
First time here?
Read the first edition to get the lay of the land: Welcome to Level Letters