by Nancy Humphreys
When I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-80s, I was sent to San Diego for a work conference. I stayed at a cozy little motel near the bluff overlooking the blue Pacific. That weekend I took many walks around the peninsula in San Diego that lies between the Pacific Ocean and the San Diego Bay.
While walking up the sidewalk along the Bay, I noticed a wonderful two-story wood shingle house on the beach. It had a wide back porch with a barbeque grill on the left side. From a motel up the way, music from a live band drifted through the afternoon.
More than anything I could remember in recent history, I wanted to stay in that beach house. I could taste the promise of summer leisure and fun it offered. But, of course, as soon as I returned to Berkeley, I forgot my wish.
Some years later, Susan wanted me to go on a beach vacation with her. I thought of the cozy motel in San Diego, but it wasnt available. Susan then said, Why dont we rent a cottage. Then we wouldnt have to eat out all the time. She canvassed the papers and the Web and found us a one-room place that said it was a block from the Bay.
When we arrived and parked on the street, we were dismayed to find the landlords in the middle of remodeling. Our little cottage wasnt ready. They assured us they had a vacancy in a nearby duplex that we could use instead. It was more expensive than our cottage, but they wouldnt charge us. We reluctantly agreed to change our plans.
Walking into the two-storied duplex, our doubts dropped away. It was sunny and homey, with a glass dining room table and lots of videos near the TV set. Out the patio doors we could see a wood deck and then the blue water of the Bay. As I opened the patio doors I was stunned to notice a barbeque grill to my right. I walked down the patio stairs and out to the sidewalk. Sure enough, there was the hotel to my right.
Through a series of events I had no control over, Id come to be staying in the house I had dreamed of renting years before. I have no idea what the odds of such a coincidence are, but there are thousands of cottages on the peninsula between the Pacific and San Diego Bay!
Today we call this kind of coincidence the Law of Attraction.
Mostly we focus on the Law to try to attract positive things. But there is a dark side to the Law of Attraction as well. It works when strong emotions, such as desire, are involved. Unfortunately, fear is also a strong emotion.
Many, many years ago when I lived in Wisconsin, two friends of mine went out riding with their 12-step motorcycle group. While going 60 miles an hour, one developed a wobble in her front wheel. She managed to hang onto the bike as it tipped and skittered across the road, until she was thrown free. She survived with just a few scratches.
My other friend, who had just lost a bitter custody battle and was looking at the likely loss of her closest companion, did not fare as well. She crashed into the downed bike and was killed instantly.
All of us who knew her were stunned. No one could understand why she couldnt avoid the other motorcycle. She was a calm person and an experienced rider. Shed even told me, when Id bought my first motorcycle, that she wouldnt ride with me because youre too nervous.
Being indeed nervous, immediately after her funeral, I signed up for a motorcycle safety course. In the very last class I came to understand what had happened to my friend.
The instructor taught us how to go over obstacles in the road by standing partway up like a jockey and pulling up on the handlebars as we were about to hit the obstacle. At the end, he added, If you look at an obstacle in the road, youll for sure run into it.
Of course, I didnt believe him. I thought if you saw an obstacle, surely you could avoid it. So I went out and tested what he said for myself. Using small branches and rocks, I looked at obstacles and tried to go around them. I failed every time. I couldnt even avoid running over the teeniest of gravel pebbles.
Fear is a powerful thing indeed. It focuses all your attention on what you dont want to happen. The Law of Attraction takes care of the rest. What you dont want comes to you.
Approaching life with love and a positive desire rather than fear and a negative desire, however, doesnt seem to be quite enough to stop bad things from happening to good people. Use of the Law of Attraction this way tends to lead to a blame-the-victim mentality when people are hurt. In science and mathematics, laws need to clearly show which conditions are covered by the laws and which arent.
There are at least two other things besides focusing on obstacles that bring about unpleasant surprises. These two things are ignorance and denial. Ignorance is an exception to the Law of Attraction. Denial is not.
Recently a family member from Spain shared a story they learned about Columbus discovery of America. The story goes that the American Indians never saw Columbus coming until he appeared on shore. Thats because they had never seen ships on the sea before. They had no concept or word for ships. When they suddenly saw Columbus appear before them, they easily assumed he was a god rather than a man.
This is perfectly in line with Gestalt psychologys view of how the brain works. We see a table as round, but when we look closer it is really sort of elliptical in shape. Or we see a blank wall. Only when we look again with the eyes of a painter do we see patches of light or shadows on that wall.
The brain leaves out details and perfects what we see so that we understand it, and we can find the words to express it. Those of us living in the Bay Area are very familiar with the tendency in our confusion to imagine that the wind, a defect in a building or structure, or our own dizziness is the cause of the shaking when an earthquake occurs.
This is why some bad things are bound to happen even to good people. Our brains are marvelous creations, but we cant possibly see or know everything we experience. Life involves ignorance and learning, and pain is part of that process. But some of our pain is unnecessary
When we look at an obstacle or threat and we refuse to see it, were in denial.
Denial is the conscious or subconscious choice to keep ourselves in ignorance. We deny what we dont see because we dont want it to be there. We even deny what we do see because we dont want it to be there. Denial is a fear-based response that blinds us and on some level keeps us focused on the very thing wed like to avoid.
Denial, and its favorite companion, Minimization, are doubly-bad dudes when the Law of Attraction is involved. And when theyre in action, their pal Anxiety is not far behind.
To make the Law of Attraction work well for us, we need to be out of denial and motivated by love. For example, were in denial of reality when we deny ourselves our dreams. When we say we cant possibly do something, we deny ourselves the chance to find out whether we could do it if we tried. If we decide not to go to that party because we wont have fun, then for sure, we wont have fun at it. Only if we go, do we have the possibility of succeeding. Love demands risk-taking.
But to make the Law bring us good things, we also need to be able both to see reality and to want reality. For example, if you are driving a motorcycle, car or bicycle, you can go around an obstacle by seeing it and then shifting your focus to that part of the open road that will take you past the obstacle towards where you want to go. This technique works. Its real. And its something any of us can practice at any time in any aspect of our lives.
Nancy Humphreys is a writer currently in the midst of exploring lost wisdom of the I Ching based on the work of King Wen.