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    Something to Think About: Light and darkness

close up of a person's right eye, blue with lashesDr. Amit Sood says, "The wider I open my eyes, the more light I can see."

Dear friend,

Vultures soar in the sky, looking for carcass, while humming birds dart from one tree to the next, looking for fresh blossoms. They both work hard and find what they are looking for. We find what we seek.

Our choices influence our future. We can direct our life with four different kinds of seeking—seeking the truth, seeking the positive, seeking the negative, or nonseeking.

The ideal seeking, I believe, is to seek the truth. Truth, however, needs sharp, discerning eyes, and a deep, discerning mind, for truth often hides amid noise, and it can be rather unpleasant and unnerving. A mind that can assimilate the truth needs the power of equanimity. Equanimity isn’t for the faint of heart, given our proclivity for strong preferences. An interim solution allows one to see the truth in its most optimistic version.

Next in order is to seek the positive. Seeking the positive helps you find the good within the bad and the phenomenal within the trivial. Positivity, however, if out of balance, risks unbridled, unrealistic optimism and delayed disengagement from a difficult situation. I have seen many abusive relationships in which the abused partner lingered by constantly reframing the situation as not that bad and likely to get better. (My personal rule is to take the exit if someone twice does something to me that I would never do to that person.)

Next is seeking the negative. Seeking negativity biases you to find the bad within the good. You stop taking chances. Your daily guiding principle becomes, “better safe than sorry.” Forever looking out for the bad, you isolate yourself and spend most of your days inside your head—paranoid, fearful, and in the prey mode.

Nonseeking is the fourth option. Nonseeking, I believe, is mostly a theoretical ideal. Remaining completely open to experience with no preferences may be feasible if you live alone, have no dependents, and have few if any worries in the world. For most practical purposes, it may feel good to read about such hermitic existence in wellness magazines, but it is difficult if not impossible to emulate.

I believe living a life combining the first three types of seeking offers an optimal mix. Seek the truth about the self and the nature of life; seek the good in your partner, friends, and loved ones; and seek the negative in lost opportunities and past regrets so you can reframe them.

Such intentionality in your seeking influences your receptivity, which in turn affects your experience. For example, your perception of sweetness depends not only on the inherent sweetness of the food but also on the sensitivity of your taste receptors. After you suck on a very sweet candy, an otherwise sweet pear will taste bland; the same pear might taste particularly sweet after a hot soup or a slice of pizza. Your taste receptors that carry the sweet message, after they have tasted the candy, no longer respond to the pear with the same enthusiasm.

Extrapolating to the totality of life, no moment is totally dark. Light is always present. The brightness depends on how wide my eyes are open. Even through the darkest moments, when I look back I can find some light that was not visible to me during those moments. In the future I should keep this faith—that it never gets totally dark; if I make the effort to open my eyes just a little wider, they’ll see the light.

I suspect the light itself seeks the eyes that are searching. For just as the light fulfills the purpose of the eyes, the eyes fulfill the purpose of the light. You’re precious.

May you seek the light; may the light seek you.

Take care.

Dr. Sood 2

Read, Light and Darkness and previous blog posts.

Also, follow @AmitSoodMD on Twitter.

Dr. Sood is director of research in the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus in Minnesota. He also chairs the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at Mayo Clinic.