A few years ago, I was picking up a young man that had been helping us with a big project. He was a recent Iraqi veteran, lived in a town about 40 miles from us and didn’t have transportation. We needed the work done, he was willing to do it at an affordable rate, and we wanted to support him, so it was worth the drive for this special project.
I picked him up at his home, and just before we took the road out of his town, we came to a busy intersection. As I brought the car to a stop at a red light, I saw the most beautiful German Shepard I had ever seen run through traffic, obviously lost.
Now for those who don’t know me, I am a BIG animal lover, and I’d pick up any stray dog I find on the street. My attention went to that dog, and my heart went right with it. I wanted to go find him and get him out of danger. However, not all guys feel that way about stray dogs.
When my attention veered to the dog, the young man said to me, “Don’t look at it.” When I looked over in the direction of where the dog ran, he said again sternly, “Don’t look at it!”. I was irritated, but also knew I had to keep driving and this was one dog I wasn’t going to be able to go after. Therefore, I had to release my frustration and shift my eyes to the road before me, and discipline my mind to leave the dog and “not look” at it — even in my mind’s eye.
Since that time, that lesson has stayed with me. I realized that the young man had very likely learned how to “not look” at many horrific or debilitating things during his time in combat. It was a survival tactic. It seems like such a small thing, but it’s so significant. There’s no way I could ever imagine what he had to learn to deal with. However, I could learn to apply this brief but critical life lesson as a simple civilian and apply it to my own reality.
How many times would we be better off saying to ourselves, “Don’t look at it”? How different would our lives be if we could learn how to shift our focus immediately when we otherwise are consumed with disempowering thoughts or ruminating about things that take us off our game? I believe our lives could be transformed.