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Opinion >  Column

Faith and Values: Focusing on the positive, even when it’s tough, is a lifetime lesson

Spokane FāVS editor Tracy Simmons.   (Nataly Davies)
Spokane FāVS editor Tracy Simmons.  (Nataly Davies)

It happens more than I’d like to admit.

Negativity seeps in and makes itself at home in my psyche. I don’t realize it’s happening until it becomes palpable, until I sense a sinking, dark feeling in my chest.

Thankfully, it doesn’t last too long anymore because I’ve learned – or am learning – how to take control of my mind.

This past week has been an opportunity for practice.

The nonprofit I run, SpokaneFāVS.com, is in the middle of a membership drive. We had no bites on the first day of our campaign. No one signed up the second day either.

Disappointment began to close in on me like a fog – so did self-pity and frustration.

People tell me they appreciate what we’re doing, I thought, but maybe they don’t really. Maybe the multifaith news, commentary and community space we provide isn’t worth $5 or $10 or $20 a month to anyone but me.

These thoughts are toxic and untrue, and I know it because they attack me every time we do a fundraiser. But still, the thoughts persisted, and morphed into selfish “poor me” notions.

I’m sure everyone who runs a nonprofit goes through this.

“Don’t people understand the sacrifices I’ve made for this?”

“Can’t my closest friends even support me?”

It stopped being about the organization and its mission and became about me.

The first time this happened, a pastor who wrote for FāVS (who has since moved) gently reminded me that I can’t take it so personally and needed to make an effort to see the bright side.

People do support FāVS financially. Next year, we’ll celebrate 10 years as a publication. We were gifted an amazing building to use as a community center. Our work brings people together and makes a difference in their lives.

He was right. A positive outlook is a game changer.

I’ve heeded his advice ever since, but sometimes I remember it a little too late – after the negativity takes root.

And that’s OK. I’m still learning.

This is why cultivating the mind is a practice. It takes training and discipline and effort.

The Buddha once said, “The mind is everything. What you think you become.”

That means monitoring our thoughts and focusing on what we want to create, or what’s positive, rather than what’s not working in our favor.

During membership drives or fundraising season, I begin to worry about the survival of my organization. So, of course, fear and doubt and thoughts of failure begin to cloud my mind.

But I’m learning to replace those primal thoughts, just like the pastor told me to.

This time, during the membership drive, the negativity only lasted three days before I caught myself. On Day 3, new members started signing up.

I use the fundraising situation as an example because it’s what I’ve been wrestling with this week. But again and again, I must exercise to cultivate my mind because adverse thoughts are everywhere, like mosquitoes near still water.

If I don’t keep practicing, I’ll lose the mental game.

I have opportunities to do this often: when my students don’t do well in class, when I get into an argument with a loved one, when an editor kicks an article back, when the wind slows me on my bike.

My hope is that in time gratitude and joy will come to mind first in these situations and there won’t be room left for unhealthy thoughts. It may take a lifetime, and that’s all right. I never want to stop learning.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a scholarly assistant professor at Washington State University and the editor of SpokaneFāVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.

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