The Art of Finding What You Want
by Jennifer Paros
When I was nine, I found a small plastic folder in the wastebasket. It was black and empty of its original notepad. But this folder caught my attention, and excited me to the point that it seemed so valuable, I felt compelled to ask my mother if it was all right for me to keep it. She agreed and I ran off to my bedroom to spend much of the afternoon cutting down sheets of notebook paper into a makeshift pad that would fit inside. When I was done, I had my first journal and I couldn’t wait to write in it. When I happened to look into that wastebasket something in me had been alert and actively hunting, whether I was aware of it or not. And because my thinking wasn’t fixated on any particular way things should be, I was able to see what someone else had perceived as dispensable, as being important to me.
When I am writing I am on a similar hunt, sometimes more conscious of what I’m looking for and sometimes less, using my feelings as a barometer of whether or not I’ve found it. If something strikes me as indispensable, I pay attention. But sometimes, all I see is garbage– the stuff I don’t want. What I’ve learned is that in order to see what I do want, I must start by no longer being convinced it’s not already there. Usually truth is assessed in terms of what we currently see in front of us. But I have found that what I thought was real and even evidential doesn’t have to be conclusive. And that the bridge between me and what I want begins with a cognitive shift.
Recently, I received a phone call from my ten-year-old son Sawyer. The buses were not running at his school, and he needed me to pick him up. So, I drove over. There was a long line of cars with other parents there to pick up their kids. As I inched up, I was able to see Sawyer quite clearly, standing on the sidewalk with the other children, waiting for me. I waved but could not catch his attention. I continued to move up in line, but with no recognition from him at all. Finally, there I was in my car right in front of him. He saw me, got in, and started complaining.
“I thought you’d take the white car, but you took the green car! Why did you take the green car – I didn’t think you were here!”
The entire time I was sitting in line and he was looking for me, he’d been unable to “see” me because his mind was insisting I was driving our white car, and I wasn’t. If, at that moment, someone had asked him if I was there, he would have said “no.” Because of what he was thinking, his experience of the situation reflected that I wasn’t there. In his reality I was not, even though I actually was. If at any point it had occurred to him that I might have taken the green car (a car I often drive), he would have looked up and seen me. But the specificity of his insisting thoughts limited his ability to have and see what he wanted, even though it was right in front of him. And so, he became distressed and convinced he was not going to get what he wanted.
I have witnessed this in myself many times while drawing. I get one idea of how a drawing has to be and work with that idea to no avail. I get sketches out of it, but nothing I want. I become convinced I am stuck, perhaps even that I can’t do it. And then, when I finally clear my mind of the original “plan”, I find what I want. Somehow I finally “see” it because in the world of possibility it was there all along too, just like those things I wasn’t interested in. But I cannot perceive it, if I, like my son, am holding too specific and limiting an idea of how it has to be.
The trance is broken with letting go. It takes a cognitive shift – off of one “truth” and onto another. I have to go from being convinced about my judgment of What Is to allowing myself to be unconvinced and uncertain. And it is in the breathing room of uncertainty, no longer believing the evidence is in, that the world of possibilities once again opens to me – the world of possibilities that always includes that which I don’t want and that which I do want.
Please join Jennifer Paros for her audio interview with author Byron Katie in which she shares tools for shifting your perception about everything from relationships, to finishing your book, to dealing with rejection letters.