Whatever You Put Into The Universe Comes Back To You
At all times, the universe is a reflection of everything you are thinking and feeling.
So last night, I was reading Mark Twain’s story, “Tom Sawyer” to my kids. My younger kid was out like a light in 5 minutes. My older kid has more difficulty getting to sleep, so I spend a part of each night reading to her. Last night, we were at the point in the story where Tom Sawyer is hanging out in the schoolyard with Amy Lawrence to inspire the jealousy of Becky Thatcher. Then Becky is spending time with Alfred Temple to incur Tom’s jealousy.
I paused to explain to my daughter that Tom and Becky really wanted to spend time with each other, but were too afraid to talk to each other about it, too afraid to admit their mutual admiration. So they made each other jealous, and did you you notice how they were mirrors of each other, each making the other jealous? I told my daughter that I appreciate Mark Twain for his observations of people. In this story, I pointed out to my daughter that when Tom was jealous, Becky was jealous, too. They put something into the universe and got the same thing back out of it.
I see the world in much that way. I have conducted thousands of informal and personal experiments to verify that what I put into this universe, I get back, and often in multiples. I can’t really explain why it happens, but there is, in my mind, a definite cause and effect relationship between what I’m thinking and feeling, and what follows thereafter.
I am mindful of this in all of my affairs, but mostly, in the midst of interpersonal conflict. When I have a conflict with anyone, I am keenly aware that sarcasm, criticism and passive aggresion are only fuel for a fire in progress. I am mindful that how I treat others will be reflected back to me, like a mirror. So I seek de-escalation, reconcilliation and collaboration in all of my conflicts.
I have made a well worn habit of treading lightly during heated conversations. I will defend myself of course, but the main thing that I do during a conflict is to keep talking. Often, I’m channeling the performace of Mel Gibson in the opening scene to Lethal Weapon, where he’s talking to a man on a rooftop, who is threatening to jump. Gibson just keeps talking to the guy until help arrives and is ready to catch him. As they talk, the man contemplating suicide changes his mind. His mind wandered.
I count on the capacity of the mind to wander during interpersonal conflict. If I’m in an argument with any member of my family, I will keep talking until their mind wanders. I do this purposely because anger is extremely taxing on the mind and the body. When I’m talking, I’m using words to de-escalate, to invite cooperation and collaboration, I’m speaking of consequences we both wish to avoid. I invite reconciliation. I avoid rising to anger myself to keep my mind clear. I have done this more times than I can count now, with regular and anticipated success. I believe that I am still married because I made those choices to act the way I did, with consistency and reliably so that my wife knows what to expect from me.
Likewise, there is no such thing as a trivial question. I got this idea long ago while watching The Hound of the Baskervilles, a live-action play featuring Frank Langella as Sherlock Holmes. In that play, there was an exchange between Holmes and Dr. Watson, where Watson had a question, that he asked with some trepidation, fearing reprisal for asking a trivial question. Holmes responded with an assurance that there is no such thing as a trivial question, for every question has an answer.
I assume ignorance before malice. I assume that when someone asks me a question, he really doesn’t know and had the burning desire to ask. So I answer the question, without reprisal, sarcasm, or implications of guilt. I just answer the question as a genuine courtesy, and if I know it, I give it, and if I don’t, I advise of my ignorance and provide the best reference I can to someone who would know better. People come back for that, over and over. At my day job, people seek me out because I answer their questions without loading the answer up with baggage.
I have a few other habits, too, but mostly, I try to err on the side of peace. Each time I get better at it, with each repeat, my life becomes more peaceful, with each investment of effort, the dividends of peace are returned. You cannot buy this with money, peace is earned through consistent and persistent efforts to effect peace. I do what I do because this is how I want to be treated.
I treat the universe as a mirror. I know from painful and personal experience, that when I err on the wrong side of peace, on anger, on suspicion, on reprisal, the price is heavy, substantial, and costs me sleep at night. So I try to conform myself in such a way that I can sleep at night.
If the universe sends me unpleasantness, then I consider my inputs to the universe. I think of the universe as a giant information processor. In the same way that when I press the letter ‘a’ on a keyboard I get the corresponding letter on the screen, I expect the same of the universe. If I put anger into the universe, the universe becomes angry. If I put sadness into the universe, out pops sadness. If I hurt someone, I tend to get hurt. If I say something funny or do something to bring joy into my universe, the universe responds in kind. It’s not a perfect correspondence, but there is enough correspondence to guide me to peace.
Most of the time, I get to choose what I’m thinking and feeling. Many of us do not believe that we have a choice about how we think and feel. We act as if we’re a ball bearing in a Pachinko machine and accept our circumstances as if they are FOREVER. Nothing is forever, everything is subject to change. One look a the Brownian motion in a drop of water under a microscope will reveal this fact. Everything is changing, even if it looks relatively the same to us, just as the sun moves across the sky. Everything that seems permanent is really just changing very, very slowly. So nothing is forever. Nothing.
That’s one reason why my general attitude is one of optimism. If everything is changing, then a negative circumstance can turn into a positive circumstance. It’s only a matter of time. But it’s hard to notice the good things in life if we choose to be filled with sadness, regret, or maintain a penchant for revenge. Being sad, nursing regrets, and planning revenge are tiresome activities, for they convey a lack of acceptance for the way things are.
I’ve found that optimism and gratitude are two attitudes or states of mind that require little energy to maintain, pay enormous dividends, and portend profoundly positive consequences because they alter our focus of attention. Gratitude for what we already have keeps us in the present. Gratitude requires little effort beyond noticing what we already have and making a choice to be happy with that.
Happiness is not a passive experience. Happiness requires cognition, it requires mental effort. Mental effort expended to be satisfied with what we already have tends to lead to more gratitude and sets the stage for happiness. One milligram of gratitude taken as a daily supplement can prevent days of unhappiness.
Gratitude sets the stage for optimism, too. Once we realize that nothing is forever, that everything changes, even if but slowly, and we recognize that everything we need is here (or we wouldn’t be here), then we can be optimistic. It’s really hard to be optimistic if we’re dwelling on a past filled with regret, with stuff we didn’t get, and planning for revenge against those who have slighted us. Optimism and gratitude make it easier to forgive ourselves and others. Gratitude means that nobody else has to change for us. Optimism says that we can change our lives for the better.
When we practice habits of mindfulness, gratitude, forgiveness, and optimism, we find that the universe will reflect those things back to us. Over time, we may even find that we choose different people to spend time with, or we may find that people who were once difficult to tolerate have become tolerable, even pleasurable to be with. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we can still find freedom in our minds to choose how to respond to our environment. The universe proffers the choices available to us if we take the time to notice the patterns and the responses. Once we see the universe as a mirror that reflects everything that we’re thinking and feeling to us, our choices become clear.