Another of Rama's core teachings, for me, is - surprise! - yet another one-liner. It's not that I don't have the attention span to appreciate longer teachings, it's just that…uh…hmmm…what was I talking about? Ok, so maybe it is because I don't have the attention span to appreciate longer teachings. But that doesn't bother me all that much, because of what I have learned from this particular one-liner.
It was one of Rama's favorite things to say. I can't remember a single month in over 14 years that I didn't hear him fit it into a talk at least once. I don't know why he said it so often. Maybe he just liked it; maybe he felt it was one of those things nobody gets the first time or the second time or even the millionth time they hear it, so it bears repeating. I don't know. I just know that it came up with frightening regularity, almost as if he was suggesting it was important. The one-liner went:
What you focus on, you become.
Simple, eh? Sounds plausible. You hear it or you read it and you think, "Big deal. Isn't that kinda obvious? I mean…Duh!" But Rama was just not a Duh! kinda guy. If he kept saying this same sentence over and over and over, as if we hadn't really heard it yet, it just might have had something to do with the fact that we hadn't really heard it yet. So I have been thinking about this one-liner a lot lately, trying to actually hear it instead of just listening to it.
Which leads me, naturally enough, to a discussion of technopimps. You all know who I am talking about. They may call themselves placement counselors or headhunters or search-firm analysts or whatever, but we all know what they really do for a living. They're technopimps. They provide an introduction and then just sit back and rake in a percentage of the profits while you do all the work. I try not to think about this metaphor too deeply, of course, because it might lead to undue speculation about the true nature of my career. But I still like it as a term, one that becomes useful when I actually have to deal with technopimps.
And I occasionally do. When I can't find a contract on my own, like everyone else I am occasionally reduced to calling up the technopimp agencies. And I have developed a foolproof way of screening them to determine whether I can work with them or not. I just refer to the person I am talking to in my first phone call as a technopimp, and see how he or she deals with it. If they become offended and launch into a whole rap about how important they are and how important what they do is, I hang up. If they laugh, I can probably deal with them, and I stay on the line.
I can do this partly because lurking beneath the carefully-crafted facade of harmless old fart who lives alone in the desert, Uncle Tantra has a deep, dark secret that haunts him from his past. I don't tell many people this story, because I have noticed a tendency in them to shun me hideously after I do. But I kinda have to reveal this sordid period of my personal history to deal with "What you focus on, you become," so here goes. I will understand if you see me in your city and feel the need to walk on the other side of the street.
Uncle Tantra once…gulp!… actually was a technopimp. Coming off of a long period of being a full-time meditation teacher, I landed on the job market with no skills and no sense of my own worth in that market. So naturally I was spotted by one of the agencies I went to hoping to have them help me find a job, and recruited by them to become one of their 'placement counselors.' Essentially, this means that you are a salesperson, on commission, and you make money only if you actually place the people who come through your office looking for a permanent job or consulting contract. The potential commissions are high, and that is what first sucks you in, but the reality is that you are a salesperson who is selling the only product in the world that can say, "No." You can put together the perfect employee with the perfect company and everything looks rosy and then the person you are close to placing calls and says, "I can't work there. The walls are the wrong color."
I didn't last long as a technopimp. It just wasn't my thing. But although embarrassed by the job, I can still feel grateful for it, because I learned a couple of valuable things from the experience. The first was a realization that I was sitting there, day after day, interviewing people half my age who were making two to three times my salary. They were all in the computer field. This planted a seed in me that led, in only a matter of months, to me actually working with computers.
The second was an understanding of Rama's one-liner, although I had not yet met him and thus had not heard it at the time. In my first few months in the…uh…profession, I was still under the impression that I was there to perform a service for my clients, whom I understood to be the people who walked in the door asking me to help them find the job of their dreams. It took me a while to realize that the real clients were the companies that paid our commissions, and that it was them to whom we owed our primary loyalty. But before I got that jaded, I would sit there and interview the job hunters for over an hour, really asking them what they were looking for.
And I noticed an interesting trend. The people who had the clearest image in their minds of what they wanted in a job had no trouble finding it. They would walk out of the office and a job order would come in that matched what they were looking for perfectly, and by the end of the week both a computer consultant and a computer company were happy campers. These were by far the easiest people to work with, and I began to long for them to walk in the door.
Then there were the others, the people who responded to my questions about what they wanted in a job with a list of all the things they didn't want. They didn't want cubes. They were sick of overtime. They didn't want a boss who treated them like shit. I would listen to them, and write down everything they said, and do my best to find a job for them. If something showed up that matched what they had told me, I gave them a call and set up an interview. But somehow it never worked out. After a few weeks and a few unsuccessful interviews, I would stop hearing from them. So I would call them up, to see if they were still looking, and they would say, "No. I found a job." I would be honestly pleased, and ask them about it. And they would invariably tell me, after a few moments of sham happiness, "Well, the money is good, but it has cubes and a lot of overtime and my boss treats me like shit."
The people who had a clear image in their minds of what they wanted had no trouble finding it. The people who had only an image in their minds of what they didn't want had no trouble finding exactly that. It was like magic.
What you focus on, you become.
It is magic. That, to me, is the simple secret of Rama's one-liner. Watch where you place your attention - the subject matter you allow your thoughts to dwell on - because those thoughts will be the input that you provide to the universe's operating system. If the only input the universe gets from you is negative, dwelling on all the things you don't want to happen, that is the only input it has to work with when trying to manifest your desires. Duh! Guess what happens?
Tie this realization to the practices of meditation, in which you learn that you can control where your attention lies while sitting quietly, and mindfulness, in which you learn that have that same level of control in your daily activity, and you have a Class-A formula for living what Rama used to call an uncommonly fine life.
Just as the practice of sitting meditation teaches you that you are in control of your thoughts, the practice of mindfulness teaches that you are - to some extent - in control of your life, by focusing your thoughts on the things you want to happen, and not on the things you don't want to happen. It really is magic. When you focus on the happy, positive things in life, they grow stronger in your life. When you lose focus, and allow your thoughts to stray into the swamp of unhappiness and imbalance you see around you, that is what grows stronger in your life.
Don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean that I bury my head in the sand and stop reading newspapers. I still read the papers, and see the same headlines that everyone else sees. But several decades of practicing meditation and mindfulness have taught me that I don't have to allow them to remain in my mind after I have read them. I can move my attention to more productive thoughts, like the change I want to make to the user interface on the piece of software I am writing that will reduce my users' workload and make their lives easier.
The entire study of Buddhism can be seen as being based on this simple one-liner. To me, it is interchangeable with the fourth of Buddha's Four Noble Truths:
Mine may be a simplistic
philosophy, based as many of Rama's critics have charged on a series
of simplistic one-liners. But in this he and I are in good company.
You may notice that what the original Buddha referred to as the Four
Noble Truths are just a series of simple - but far from simplistic -
one-liners. Maybe the critics were right, and both Buddha and Rama just
had a short attention span. Then again, when your life has become a
celebration of Here And Now, maybe you don't need a lot of words to
Mine may be a simplistic philosophy, based as many of Rama's critics have charged on a series of simplistic one-liners. But in this he and I are in good company. You may notice that what the original Buddha referred to as the Four Noble Truths are just a series of simple - but far from simplistic - one-liners. Maybe the critics were right, and both Buddha and Rama just had a short attention span. Then again, when your life has become a celebration of Here And Now, maybe you don't need a lot of words to express truth.