William D. Parham, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor in the counseling program at LMU School of Education. His expertise in sport psychology, multicultural counseling, trauma counseling, and health psychology have made him widely known through his scholarship and conversations with domestic and international audiences. He is also director of mental health and wellness for the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). In a series of columns for LMU This Week, Parham shares his thoughts on a range of wellness topics.
A young boy woke up earlier than usual with immeasurable excitement about the holiday weekend camping trip on which he and his family were about to embark, leaving in a few hours. It was a warm summer morning, the exact start of a day that the boy had imagined months ago when his dad, during the middle of winter when their town was battling dreadful cold, first proposed the idea. Entertaining images of enjoying hotter days and warmer nights made powering through the frosty days of winter more bearable.
The family quickly got through their morning routines, including loading the SUV. The trip up the mountain couldn’t go fast enough for the young boy but the moment had finally arrived. The family unloaded the car, set up the campsite, grabbed a snack and went for a long hike.
Dad and mom narrated the two-hour long hike sharing all they knew about the array of rock configurations, babbling brooks, creature habitats, and trail hazards. Dad’s extra knowledge about the range and types of foliage, the variety of bird species, and the medley of cloud formations fascinated his young son who was already enamored by his father’s brilliance and wisdom. The son loved that his father knew something about everything.
Back at camp, the family gathered for dinner and for the next two hours the young boy and his sister excitedly shared stories about their favorite sightings along the hiking path. As the day ended, the sister and mom went to their tent and the young boy, and his dad went to theirs.
At around 2 a.m., the young boy awoke in a state of wonderment and awe at the millions of bright shiny stars he saw scattered across the night sky. His fascination peaked when he witnessed a shooting star. “Whoa!” he proclaimed, as he shook his dad asking him to wake up to experience this moment with him. The father complied, relishing in his son’s elation at the celestial phenomena. Barely able to contain himself the young boy then asked, “Dad, I saw a shooting star; do you think we will see another one?” Following a moment of reflection, the father declared, “Anything is possible!”
The father then asked his very much awake and animated son, who was seemingly irreversibly enamored by the visual extravaganza, “What else do you see?” The son accepted his father’s challenge to see the extra something, but moments later the son’s excitement waned a bit, turning ultimately to befuddled curiosity. The young son finally gave up and asked his dad what he wanted him to see. The dad looked loving at his son, teased him with a companion question, invited the son, this time, to consider what he did not see. The son, really at a loss, acquiesced quickly waiting with bated breath for his dad to share his observation. The dad, in quintessential style proclaimed, someone stole our tent! The obviousness in his father’s revelation spawned another “Whoa!” from the young boy.
The next morning, following family breakfast, the young boy and his father had occasion to talk, each reflecting on the adventures of yesterday. Images of the hiking trail and galactic extravaganza were indelibly etched in the young boy’s memory but not as ingrained as the missing tent episode. What stuck most in the mind and heart of the young boy was his alleged failure to see the obvious. The apparent difficulty in his son’s ability to reconcile his alleged failure triggered the father to invite his son to think differently about the missing tent experience.
The father first invited his son to resist urges to self-judge and to feel judged by others because of his experiences. “One rarely sees what is right in front of them,” asserted the father, adding that everyone, from time to time, goes through experiences of not seeing the obvious. The focus, here, should not be on your experience of not seeing! Thinking too much about what you failed to see or do leads you down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, second-guessing, and measured reluctance. The focus, instead, should be on your successes in discovering lessons learned from experiences you have. Thinking a lot about your successes helps you tap into your inner strengths, self-confidence, and trust that when you put in the work, hoped for outcomes will come to fruition.
The father offered a second lesson on which he invited his son to ponder. He asked his son to be ever mindful of the alluring qualities of phenomena, circumstances, situations, and people. The father went on to explain that when people surrender to situations or circumstances that feel enticing, enchanting, and totally grab their attention, then two inseparable outcomes always result. First, and perhaps the most obvious, people draw closer to situations, circumstances, and people that, for varied reasons, feel enormously appealing. In addition, depending on the strength of the attraction and appeal, resisting urges to move closer is not always easy.
At the very same time, people who are drawn to enormously appealing situations, circumstances, and people are, simultaneously, also drawn away from something else. That something else from which persons are drawn inevitably contains information that allows persons to see and appreciate the bigger-picture context of their in-the-moment experience.
Having the bigger picture as context clarifies a lot of questions. The bigger picture context also allows the focus of attention to shift from a single person’s struggle to make sense of what’s happening, to the always-present larger realities over which have no control. These larger realities, as it turns out, contain pieces of the puzzle that are essential for people to have as they make sense of their current experiences.
In short, seeing and not seeing are two sides of the same coin! One side cannot exist without the other. The value of this kind of experiential currency is appreciated fully when it is used as an investment for securing bigger-picture contexts for every planned or unplanned circumstance or situation that emerges.
Sharing time with his son, watching him discover more about the world around him and within him, prompted the father to recall a lesson first taught to him by his father. With a warm smile, the father repeated silently to himself, “While we teach our children all about life, it is our children’s unbridled curiosity and ability to live in the moment that teaches us what life is all about.” Until next time …