Neuroscientists have a saying: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” In other words, whatever you focus on literally gets larger. Focus on pain and your experience of pain gets larger. Focus on compassion and your experience of compassion gets larger.
I’ve been in terrible pain for three and half weeks since I fell and broke both bones of my right wrist. We’re not sure why it hurts unusually badly, but one thing is certain – it really sucks. Have you had the experience of something terrible happening that constantly tugs at your focus? It’s hard to think about anything else except that one big thing bothering you.
Besides using ice, elevation and medication to make the pain tolerable I work round the clock at being intentional with my focus. Instead of anger and frustration, most of the time I manage to make a different choice. I don’t need the stress furrows in my forehead getting any deeper. I need my capacity for love and service to others to go deeper, so I turn my attention to other people. I listen more patiently to my kids, I pray for people who I know are struggling, I sit in quiet meditation focusing my attention on the world around me.
Giving our time and attention to other people’s needs, rather than our own aches and pains (whether of the physical, financial or relational variety), expands our awareness of others’ needs. Besides taking our minds off our own aching needs, it makes us better equipped to help people with their problems. Every business in the world centers in some way around solving problems, because every business involves humans. The better equipped we are to solve problems the more effective we become in every relationship. Which means, we will lesson problems in our own lives.
See how that works? I start with a simple problem, but I turn my attention to focusing on other peoples needs. My brain grows in awareness and understanding which in turn improves my relationships, therefore decreasing complex problems in my life. As compassion grows problems decrease.