I was trying to take photos of my faded prayer flags the other day. My new camera and I are still working out our focus issues, especially on macro. I'm sure it's nothing a little reading-of-the-instructions couldn't fix, but that would be too easy, yes? I took a number of photos and when I uploaded them I was particularly struck by these two that are almost identical, except for what the camera eye is focused upon.
(Speaking of focus, Hubby just came in the room, obviously bored and wanting my attention, asking questions about all manner of inconsequential issues. I've been puttering for hours with nothing that needed my attention, no focus required whatsoever, and the SECOND I started to focus on this blog post, in he wandered. Same chemical reaction with kids. They're busy doing their own thing but if you try to have a conversation with another adult or start a project that requires you to focus, suddenly they're all about being with you and wanting your attention!)
This photo is obviously a close up of a faded prayer flag hanging in front of a tree branch.
And this photo is just as obviously a photo of a tree branch, seen through
a faded prayer flag.
It makes me think of a number of different things. The saying "She can't see the forest for the trees" for one. And the old parable about the blind men and an elephant
. Whether it's a number of people trying to agree on one issue or just you trying to choose amongst many issues, it's all about focus.
I had my book club meeting last night. I've been worrying and stressing over this for weeks now. My house was a mess and I've been chipping away at making it presentable piece by piece. The last couple of days I finally got down to the nitty gritty of basic cleaning and making some hard, fast decisions about the piles and clutter that would be the most obvious to visitors.
The plan had been to have a tea party sort of theme and although I cleaned the main common areas of the house, to have the meeting in my garden. It didn't work out that way though. It was too windy to set up outside but too hot in the house to have hot tea. So instead I had an ICED tea party and offered trays of tiny sandwiches, hummus with crackers and veggies, fruits, pickles, etc. The basics. I put out a huge bowl of ice and three flavors of iced tea, as well as offering juice and coffee.
Losing my point here for a moment, let me happily announce that the gathering was a surprising success. People seemed happy, comfortable, delighted with my home and the food and drink I put out. They were entertained by Rosie and loved my cats, especially my fattest-cat-ever, Ginny Weasley, who graciously went from person to person allowing herself to be petted, which took some time as there's a lot of her to pet.
It was really odd but pleasant to see my world through "strangers" (we've mostly all just met a few times) eyes and I was sort of startled to discover that I actually LIKE entertaining. I had somehow decided that I used to like to entertain but that I no longer liked it. That it was way too much work. What I realized yesterday was the actual party specific work was minimal. A couple hours of cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, general pick up, would probably suffice for any party. And it took me a couple of hours at most to set up, cook, display, and clean up afterwards.
The part that was overwhelming and hard and made me come up with the "too much work" idea was all the extra work it took me to get my house back to where I really wish it was all the time. The half finished remodeling and redecorating, the piles of overflow that don't have a place to call their own in the middle of things, the cat hair and dust that I can't keep up with because I'm always behind. So, if could just get to that balance of chaos/order that I want to achieve, my guess is that a lot of things that seem TOO DIFFICULT will perhaps not be difficult at all.
So, back to focus. The last minute adrenalin before the meeting honed my focus to a extremely fine point. I didn't have time to pick up a box and and spin my brain around a dozen different things I could do with it - should I sort it out? Put things away? Which things should I keep? Where should I store them? Should I give them to someone? Should I clean the dust off first? Should I put it all in a smaller box? Should I put it in the garage with other similar boxes? Should I just put the box back down where I picked it up from and deal with it all later? Or deal with it never?
Instead my focus was on one thing - not the box, but the end result. I needed a clean room and I needed it IMMEDIATELY. The box no longer loomed as a huge, overwhelming decision. It had been relegated to being a minor step in much bigger issue. And miraculously, my mind felt sharp and clear. At least a dozen clutter hot spots that I tackled seemed almost stupid. The solutions were so easy, why had they languished for so long not dealt with? Other things required required a bit of mental "elbow grease" but still, the answers weren't on the level of "what is the meaning of life?". (Yes, I know, the answer is 42.)
Another story that comes to mind is the one with the one about the rocks, pebbles, sand and the glass jar
. If you do not pick your own focus, if you let small every day things pick it for you, then you can't fit everything into your life that you need to be content. It's such an obvious truth that it should be easy to practice. But what's easy is to lose your focus. There's a million things out there jumping up and down, waving their metaphoric arms, shouting our name (with it's metaphoric mouth), trying to get us to pay attention to it. Most of us are terrible at tuning it, all those millions of its, out and keeping to our chosen focus. So we run about dealing with a million different issues instead of dealing with a few important chosen issues and relegating all the other crap to it's proper, insignifigant place in our life.
It seems like a small thing (all of it seems like just a small thing, it's the mass of all those small things put together that's the problem) but it's probably the most important thing we'll ever learn to do. That's the whole point of meditation. How does one learn to meditate? One learns to still all those multitude of other things we chose not to focus on. They keep trying to get our attention, we keep gently ignoring them. It's not like they ever go away. We just have to remember not to give them our attention for any longer than it takes to dismiss them.
In our nonmeditative life, that means pay attention to them no longer than it takes to deal with them or chose to ignore them. I know that I probably give most details 6,000 percent more time and attention than they actually require to pass them through my consciousness. It's not the details themselves that slow me down so much as the amount of energy and focus I allow them to have, how much time I spend mulling them over, worrying them, twiddling with them.
I had a small poster on my old refrigerator. It has a rambling prose titled "What I Focus on Expands". It starts out:
"I focus my energy on what I want, not on what I don't want. Whatever I place my attention on I energize. Whatever I take my attention away from dissolves. I am always at choice to where I fix my gaze."
It goes on and on saying the same thing from different directions. Talk about focus, this had been stuck to my refrigerator for so long that the entire poster had become completely invisible to me for I don't know how long. Magnets held it right in the center of my refrigerator, the refrigerator that I opened and shut at least a dozen times a day, and yet it came as somewhat of an unexpected discovery to "find it" when I took it off the refrigerator preparing for the new refrigerator delivery. It makes me wonder how many other things I tend to forget simply because my focus has wandered.
I'm going to try to work on my focus. On focusing my focus. Keeping it honed like it was yesterday to a small enough point that it's got energy, it's got muscle behind it. I'm not so much worried about finding the right focus as I am on staying focused in any particular moment, at any particular task. I think the more one does so, the easier it gets. It's not that I haven't been taught this lesson before. I've learned it and even reaped its rewards over and over. But then I lose control of who's in charge, and life takes off with my focus like a pack of monkeys who've gotten into a fruit basket. They rip it to pieces, fighting over the juiciest bits, squash a good bit of it under foot in the process, and then take off for the trees, scattering far and wide.
I like that simile, it's clever and the whole image seems sort of sweet. The monkeys are cute. But in real life, it's not cute. It's not funny. In real life I really don't want to look at the number of hours, days, weeks, years, I've let the monkeys destroy. I don't want to think of the emotional weight lack of focus has created for me to carry. I want to work on picking up my focus again and getting rid of some of that emotional weight. It felt good, yesterday, to be in charge. I want to be in charge more often.