Monday, October 20, 2014

How Dreams Can Help Us

I lay in bed this morning thinking about the dream that woke me. At first I couldn’t understand what it meant. In the dream, I was traveling with my husband and, for some reason, we had a tour guide with us (we never do that). She was a little obnoxious: talking incessantly, overreacting to anything I said (when I could get a word in edgewise); she was intruding on my space immensely and I wanted to get away from her.

Suddenly there was another woman with us, a tall woman bearing gifts for this tour guide. The tour guide started opening them; they were intricate gifts with many beautiful layers, and as she opened them, she tossed aside each beautiful layer to get to the next and deeper layer. The tall, beautiful woman said over and over again, “Don’t toss that aside! Look at it! Take it in!”

It is a kind of meditation to listen to a dream and seek to understand it. After a time, I began to see that the tour guide is my small self, the ego self, the mind that never ceases talking within. I have been working to move beyond that ego mind over many years and it is, indeed, hard to get away from.

The tall, beautiful woman is my higher self, my real self, the soul of me. She gives me gifts and I, in haste, pass them by unseeing. The deeper layers of the gifts will likewise be unseen because I haven’t taken the time to really absorb the gifts in previous layers.

During difficult times, our highest self brings gifts to us that we may not notice. Though they seem difficult, they are beautiful gifts, gifts that grow us, allowing us to live from our highest selves rather than our small selves. But to us they seem painful, and in our haste to get out of that pain we toss them aside, desperately seeking to escape.

If, however, we can allow them in and learn from them, we can move deeper into understanding of what is truly real within us. The pain we feel then simply becomes a pathway to our real selves. More and more, if we travel this path, accepting these gifts, we can live from that real and truest self, that deepest and highest part of our being. This dream reminds me of this; it encourages me to keep on, no matter what the difficulty.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How to Move Through Difficult Times

This year has been challenging for me in many many ways, from my physical well-being to the health of others in my family to a big change in my job and more. I’ve tried to weather this time as well as possible; to keep my spirits up, to support my dear ones, and to learn whatever lessons I can from what life is sending my way.

At times like this, I find I must pare my activities down to the essentials and then really focus on those essentials, letting go and acting from the present moment. That is a very interesting “predicament”. Everything may seem very stressful but, at the same time, I have inward permission to let go of anything that does not apply to the present moment. I’m forced to do what we are so often told is best: to center in the present moment, to let go of the past and the future, and to simply be where we Are.

I also have to see and accept that I am not in control of what is happening outside of me. I can have control over how I respond to emergencies or demanding situations, but I cannot control events or other people. This is a big work in the inner life. It demands, first, observation of my inner self, close observation. When I am about to try to control others or events, then I can ask: “Do I really need to control this? What will happen to me if I don’t control this?” and I can choose to test this out by letting go. The fearful small self continues to try to undo my active effort to let go of control, but I can watch its efforts and thereby continue to create a space between it and myself.

Throughout this process I also have to trust that everything will be alright in the larger sense.  This is always a work in progress. As I let go in small situations and interactions, I strengthen my ability to do it.  I will be more and more able to release the fearful small self’s need to control, and embrace a kind of inner freedom, beginning to see that it is o.k. to let go and be who I am rather than trying to shape events  and everyone else. 

Life challenges provide fertile ground for growth, for learning to let go, for inward change. Because these things do not always come easily, we sometimes choose to fight this process inwardly. But, if we can loosen that tendency to back away from the challenge (a futile exercise in any case) and allow ourselves to move with it, we may well come out of it stronger and more at peace with ourselves, our world, and each other. Allowing this process to flow, for me, always comes bit by bit. I have to keep working at it, one moment at a time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Focus on Love: Mady’s Song

I saw a news segment tonight about Moore, Oklahoma and the people there, well into rebuilding after a tornado devastated their town a year ago. The rebuilding reaches far deeper than buildings; they are rebuilding hearts in Moore, Oklahoma, hearts broken by the deepest kinds of loss.

One man grieved for his young daughter, grieved for the fear she must have felt as the tornado raged around her, grieved that he couldn’t get to her to relieve the fear and save her life. My heart went out to him and others like him who are trying to rebuild their hearts as they rebuild their homes.

Many years ago, a friend told a story to a group of people about her granddaughter. She was very close to her granddaughter, Mady. And this dear grandaughter died suddenly at the age of six.

Soon after her death, my friend sat for some time in Mady’s room, remembering all that they had shared. She felt Mady’s presence with her as she sat there and, picking up pen and paper, wrote what she felt coming from her granddaughter in a moment of clear communication, heart to heart.

She read the words she had written to several of us at a retreat not long after. I asked if I could write them into a song. The song is Mady’s, her words to her beloved grandmother, pure and simple. The words are the words of a six year old child, but come from a profound understanding of the deepest of living truths. With blessings, here is Mady’s song for all of us who struggle with love and loss.
Mady’s Song

 God is love, and love is you and I
God is love, and love is you and I

[Refrain]
It’s easy, it’s easy
You just gotta love each other
It’s easy, it’s so easy
You just gotta know you’re loved

God is love, don’t worry, just be happy
God is love, don’t worry, just be happy
[refrain]

Love is you, and I, and everybody
Love is you, and I, and everybody
[refrain]

In this world, we are all together
In this world, we are all together
[refrain]

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Focus and Clearing

Clearing continues to be linked to focus for me. Since I wrote about clearing, my husband and I have done more clearing, sorting out possessions and emptying spaces. I feel lighter and freer.

The song I have been sitting on for a year or three was one track away from completion, at least as far as the recording goes…a very small bit of recording too. I finally just finished it, fueled by the sense of lightness opening up in my life. As I finished, as I put away the microphone, I realized that finishing recording projects is part of clearing for me, too. I have a backlog of songs written that are not recorded. I need to decide which ones I want to record and figure out a way to do that (I can’t play guitar because of carpal tunnel problems)…one song has a guitar part already recorded, and I am learning to play one of my instruments in a way that does not cause me harm…I will find a way to do this!

When I do, I think the clearing will be immense for me, and lead me places I can’t even imagine at this point. For several years, in the face of physical challenge, I have felt stuck. As I clear things and projects (sometimes just deciding that I won’t do some of them) doors will open before me. I don’t know what they will be yet, but experience tells me that they will open.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mind Seeking Drama

The steady stream of thoughts moving through the mind often seems benign. It is simply a background hum, always there and largely unnoticed. We don’t even question its presence.

When life is difficult, when we suffer, we still may not notice the mind at work, but we certainly are in its grip. Mind loves drama. It feeds on it. We are dragged willy-nilly on its quest for drama and its quest to deepen any drama that we have become entangled in.

I have been learning about this for many years and my quest has been for less internal drama, none if possible. What I have learned from teachers everywhere, past and present, is that we must observe the mind as an essential first step to detaching from the stories and dramas it so loves.

Observing the mind allows one to stand back from these stories and dramas. It gives one breathing space. The drama is caused by attachment to a thought or story that has run through the mind. This flow of thought through the mind is constant; it is nothing that we make; it simply is. When we stand back and watch we realize that we are not the drama and not the mind. The mind is a tool for us to use but it is not our essential being. It is our essential being that stands back to watch.

We have a lifetime of believing that this tool, the mind, is actually our essential self. It takes time to stand back and watch the mind in action, to begin to see the space between our essential self and this tool. It takes time to begin to see the stories we have created with the mind, the thoughts we have latched onto with the mind. It takes time to realize that these creations of the mind are not even real.

When we recognize the mind as a tool rather than our essential selves, then we can choose to train it. The observing continues, but we can add mindfulness into the process. We can choose to focus on a mantra, a prayer, an action (creating a piece of artwork or music) and we can keep bringing the mind back to this focus. Our mind becomes stronger, the tendency for it to run after drama lessens, and peace grows within us. 


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a term that I've had a hard time connecting with over the years. When I read books by meditators and philosophers who speak of it, I lose some of their meaning. A book that I recently came across is helping me with that concept: Turning the Mind into an Ally, by Sakyong Mipham.

In it he writes: “Mindfulness is what we use to hold our minds to any object—the breath, a rock, or a banana—and awareness is the intelligence that tells us what we are doing.”

In this moment, mindfulness holds me to the subject, circumventing my instinct to get up and make a cup of tea because I can’t think of what to write. I am aware that my mind wants to leap away from the subject. It is mindfulness that keeps drawing the mind back to the subject.

The mind has been telling me that the word mindfulness doesn't mean anything. My higher self wants to practice mindfulness, to find my roots in the present moment (which is what mindfulness naturally leads to) but my mind dashes off sideways, declaring that focusing on the present moment with mindfulness is not important.

didn't write at all last week. My commitment to myself is to write at least once a week, and more when possible. Every time I thought of it, my mind went blank. There was no mindfulness, only mind leaping away.

As I have said before, mind is a tool. It is a fabulous tool. But it does need to be trained. We need to develop strength of mind, the ability to choose where to put our focus and to hold it there. Mindfulness is the word that describes that process and that state of being. The more that we practice mindfulness, in even the smallest things, the more we strengthen our mind. The more we strengthen our mind, the more we can center and hold our attention on the Divine. And when we can do that, all else flows with love. We are then held in quiet joy.




Friday, March 28, 2014

Clearing Again

My life has been filled with difficulties and challenges of late. It’s been hard to find the energy, either inner or outer, to write. I often wake up in the morning feeling dark and weighed down. Today I made the decision to do something that often helps me—clearing up external things as a symbol for clearing up the overwhelming inner state. I have for years called this “clearing energy” or, simply “clearing”.  I find that it can have a profound effect on my inner world. It gives me a way to focus when focus is really difficult.

So today I am going to empty the refrigerator and clean it out. Food is such a strong symbol of nurturing that it seems like a great place to start. The refrigerator needs cleaning out, I can think about healthy meals and snacks we might enjoy while I am doing it, and I can add a little soothing and healing music to the process. I just might come out of it feeling lighter and a bit more joyous.

If I can’t find that light and joyous feeling, I will still know that I have cleared energy in my life. I know it will be helpful to the overall picture. When energy is cleared, space is made. When space is made, the heart and mind relax. When the heart and mind relax, it is possible to recognize inspirations which will aid further clearing. It is not a panacea for all ills but, rather, a movement in inner and outer places which feel stuck.

Feeling stuck is akin to feeling hopeless. When we can’t sense anywhere to make movement forward in our lives, especially during hard times, our inward selves feel achy and grey. Clearing energy, making space in what seems to be an artificial way, is actually very symbolic. It is an active way to make one’s intent clear. The space made during that process invites movement. The space for movement allows some new thing to enter in, some weight to lift, some new inspiration to arise.

Here’s the wonderful thing; this works even if we can’t feel the effects right away. And, it works if what we do is very small; the symbolism is the same. As we clear, we state our intent to move. That is all that the universal energy flowing around us needs in order to start to flow freely within our own lives again. We simply need to do the work, then watch, wait, and respond to whatever inspiration the newly created space offers to us. It too may be small; but step after step, we open the way to a greater sense of spacious peace in our lives.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Focus on Less

The other day, an odd thought dropped into my mind:

“You are made for less”.

With it came an explanation which opened up a whole way of looking at the topic of letting go.

It starts with my body. My body gives me really definite cues about what it needs. I am a good weight for my height, and I get enough exercise to remain that weight. However, for the last several years I have had a tendency towards acid reflux. I have explored all sorts of reasons and remedies. I have found that what is really true for me is that if I eat moderately, if I am balanced in what I eat, if I eat more in the way of vegetables and less in the way of heavy foods, my body feels absolutely great. I can have a treat every now and then, but if I try to eat more than an occasional treat, my body does not feel great at all.

My body is at its optimal condition with less rather than more. It is made for that.

If I am going to focus on anything well, I will be aided by a body that is at its best. One thing I can give to it is the right balance of food, and I can respect its need for less rather than more.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Small Steps

I am concerned, as many others are, about climate change, peak oil, and the economic ups and downs in the world. Every generation seems to have its challenges. During my parents’ childhoods, the challenges were the Depression and World War II. Now we face the depletion of resources and the degradation of our planet.

Whenever I despair, even a little, about these issues, I rein myself in and focus on whatever small thing is in front of me. The problems are so very big that I often feel overwhelmed. Pulling my thinking into the immediate work in front of me helps me reorient myself to hope rather than despair. It doesn’t seem like much to take the small steps right in front of me but, amazingly, it is. There is no large undertaking that is not accomplished in small steps, one at a time.

It is important to take the steps we actually can take rather than berating ourselves for the steps we cannot manage. If I feel overwhelmed, I need to look for the smallest step that I can manage without feeling stressed. After that step is completed, and after taking a moment to celebrate its completion, I can then look for the next small step. As I do this I build, at the same time, both hope and whatever I am specifically working on.

Think about how many human beings are on this planet. Many of them are also taking small steps. We may not see them, but we can be sure that they are there. If we can let go of all that is not being done and focus instead on adding our own small steps, we can become calmer, more peaceful, more hopeful, and that state of mind allows us to move from one small effort to the next. As we offer our small steps and others offer theirs, we will all weave together solutions to our challenges.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Resisting Focus

My avowed focus is to write and record my own music. And yet that is the very area of focus that I have been avoiding for quite a while. I have a song I am working on. It is actually well on its way to being done; it needs more vocal work, perhaps a reworking of a keyboard track, and mixing, but this is all quite do-able.

If I can’t hold to a particular focus I have set myself, perhaps I need to examine it more closely. What is it that holds me back? What steps can I take to break through the resistance?

Carpal tunnel problems have kept me from playing the guitar for over a year. They also keep me from working for very long at a time on the computer, which is where I use my recording programs. I am trying to find a way to balance my need to do the creative work with my body’s need to be away from work on the computer.

People everywhere have issues like these and worse. People everywhere find themselves unable to do things the way they used to. So how do we maintain focus on something that is important to us in the face of these challenges?

I think one very important thing to do is to break the creative process down into tiny steps, put on our blinders and then take the first step. That step will lead to the next one, and then the next…If I keep my steps small enough, can I both keep momentum going on a project and reduce the challenge to my body?

I am going to set up my microphone right now. That is a small and very easy forward step.



Monday, February 24, 2014

Head to Head with Expectations

I think of things I want to do with my day and have a lot of energy to do them. That energy can sometimes be derailed if something sends me sideways, away from what I expected. I lose my focus. When that happens, what derails me is not that something new comes up. What actually derails me is that I become upset about it. It’s a matter of attitude. I have expectations about what should happen. When things change, my reaction closes off the flow of energy that is alive in me.

This morning I awoke with energy to Get Things Done. I planned a day balanced between physical activity and creative pursuits that involved the computer. However, we discovered that the step-counters we ordered a couple of days ago were already on our doorstep. Suddenly my day took a detour as we took the time to set up our step-counters and synced them with our computers.

When the unexpected comes we have to be nimble to flow with it. Life by its very nature is not compliant with schedules or lists. We must accept that part of the creative process is to work with the unexpected. We do our work here on earth, in the midst of life, and this process of living is full of interruptions, sideways movements, dropped balls and unexpected events. Our focus needs to be at the center of our being to move with this.

The question is, what exactly was essential in the things I thought to do today? The answer is that I needed to move. I needed to move physically and that focus on physical movement gave great energy to my whole day and all of my activities. I also needed to move with events and the unexpected, to adjust to them. All of this movement allowed me to accomplish a lot during the day, but it played out differently than I thought it would.

Over the course of this day, I have realized that the fullness of movement in our lives gives to us everything we need to learn, grow and create. Out of sideways movement and the unexpected can come new perspective and clarity. Creativity and life are large, spacious, full to the brim with material for us to work with. Confining them to our expectations robs us of their gifts and keeps us from our deepest expression. Listening to the wisdom at the center of our being can guide us to the best use of these gifts of life and creativity, but only if we let go of expectations and actually listen, watching for the rich material that is made available to us. 



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Expectations

Expectations have a way of circumventing focus. The magic of the creative process is that it can lead into discovery and wonder. We start with a vision and an idea of how to bring that vision into reality, but the route we take to get to it may end up being very different than we expected. That is the nature of vision and creation. The vision itself shows us the endpoint. The pathway to that endpoint must be accomplished step by step, and we can only take those steps one at a time. As we focus on each of these steps, unexpected pathways can open up before us.

Expectation may keep us from seeing these alternative pathways.

I begin a piece of writing with an idea and a direction to take it in. As I continue in the direction I have set I sometimes find myself at an impasse. I may get stuck at this impasse if my expectations make me unwilling to look around a little. A door opens before me, a pathway to new understanding, and I am looking in the other direction, toward my expectation. In this situation, I have only one accepted way to move and that way ignores all others.

I know the fear is that we will wander far and wide, down one pathway, up another, and never get to the final result. But it may be that we have something to learn in the process, something that brings added depth to the final result. Following a different pathway may lead to a richer creation, both within the deeper self and in the outward result.

It is challenging to let go of expectations, to open ourselves to unknown possibilities. Before we can even see alternate pathways we have to realize that they are there. We have to look. We have to release our wish for control. If we can do that much, then we can make new choices, guided by our inner sense of what is best. I believe that just realizing that there are alternate possibilities, just taking time to consider them, opens doors within us.

I think that focusing while releasing expectations allows us to explore both outward processes and our own inward depths. What will we find? That is the delight; we won’t know until we try it out.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Essential Time Out: Walking Away

It seems a contradiction, but focusing on something does not necessarily mean giving it all of our attention all of the time. Focusing on something sometimes means we have to walk away from it.

For me this happens often, both when writing and recording music and when writing in the blog. Sometimes what I am creating comes in a beautiful and miraculous flow, finished primarily in one session with some editing to complete the process. That, however, is not the norm. The norm for me is to get something started, get excited about it, work on it until the initial inspiration is spent, and then walk away from it for a while. The next step is to go back to what I am working on, act on whatever new inspiration has arisen in me, and then give it another rest. I keep on in this way until the essential parts of the creation are done.

The only way to see things clearly, once the initial inspiration is spent, is to allow time for new inspiration to arise.  If we don’t take time for this, we lose the gifts that our inner guidance can give us. The spark of creativity that comes from seeing something fresh comes when we stand back and make space for it.

When we focus inwardly for inspiration, we are tapping into something deep within ourselves. When we are not working from that inward flow, when we push and force creation, we are using the mind to create something that is actually not quite ready to flow into being. The mind is a wonderful tool but it is not, in and of itself, the source of inspiration; it works with the inspiration, which comes from a deeper place within us.

If we want inspiration to flow, we sometimes have to stand back and give the resources deep within us time and space to move. We have to wait, holding ourselves in readiness to act when the creative inspiration again rises to the surface. Holding ourselves ready is the way we maintain focus; allowing time out is the way we make space. 

The creative process is a flow.  We focus inward for inspiration, we focus outward to create. We wait (a minute, a day, a week. . .) until the next creative inspiration arises. As we move back and forth between these two states, we find that we are dancing with the creative process. And that dance is truly joyful.





Sunday, February 9, 2014

Focus Inward, Focus Outward

When I started this year’s Focus on Focus I wanted to explore the kind of focus that, I hoped, would allow me to stay centered in the moment. I’ve experienced that kind of focus before in my life and thought that a year spent exploring it, immersing myself in contemplation of it, might lead to a stronger and more sustained experience of living in the present moment.

My most recent blog post (Trust) was a challenge to write. I started with a recording process, seeking the best next step for it. I wrote, threw out several paragraphs, wrote again, threw out more, walked away from it, and then tried again.

Commitment to writing from the deepest part of one’s being is a meditation. Sometimes it flows easily, swiftly, wonderfully; it’s a loving and joyous ride. But, sometimes it moves slowly, sluggishly, in fits and starts. When this happens, I can find that my starting point doesn't lead anywhere. I get lost after a while and have to ask myself: “what exactly am I trying to say here.” 

This happened as I wrote this most recent blog post. Days went by as I wrote and then tossed out what I wrote. I was seeking my center with this piece of writing and not finding it. I was seeking my center with the recording and not finding it. I was seeking my center with this year’s focus on focus and not finding it.

What finally emerged clearly as I finished and posted Trust is that I am now writing about two kinds of focus. One is an outward focus that is about staying in the moment, completely immersed in doing the one thing before me. The other is an inward focus, searching within to find the very best thing to put that kind of focus on. (I wrote recently about this inward focus).

When I look back on previous blog posts, I realize I have been moving back and forth between these two ways of focusing. I see the pattern, a flow from inward focus to outward focus. I see that when I do both, I am truly centered in what I can only call a divine focus. I find where I can best place my attention by searching in the heart of my heart. I then take that focus into the world, creating by staying in the moment, immersed in my work.  It is in this movement between inner and outer focus that I believe we can give what we each uniquely and truly have to give to the world.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Trust

Following inner guidance is not an easy task. Inner guidance is elusive. It is very difficult to sort out where the small self ends and the true inner guidance begins.

I came to a turning point this week with my recording. The recording part of the song could be called done. I could move on to the mixing process. This recording has been so long in the works that it seems like I should be finished with it by now.  However, there are a couple of things in two different tracks that bother me.  The only way to change that is to record the tracks again. Am I being hypercritical? Should I leave well enough alone?

The small self is often very dysfunctional. It lives in a whole universe of its own and can sometimes push its agenda remorselessly. It is hard work to get beyond it, to see what is truly needed, to be able to hear the still small voice within and to act on its counsel.

The truth of the matter, in this instance, is that those two tracks do not satisfy me. Whether or not they ever bother anyone else, I need to change them. I realize now that the feeling of being bothered, in and of itself, is the true inner guidance.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Following Joy

I believe that it is really important to pay attention to what is joyous in our hearts and to act from that joy whenever possible.  Our joy points to the work we most need to do and to the unique gifts we bring into the world. I believe that those gifts are vital to the health and balance in each of us and to the world we live in.

My best days are those in which I am able to listen to and hear the joy within me and act from it. The action that each impulse of joy leads to is sometimes very small but always absolutely right for me in that moment. It is what I most need to do and to give. 

I came into my studio yesterday morning intending to write for my blog and instead found myself editing a track in the recording I am creating. It was a clearly heard whisper of joy as I sat down in front of the computer. Instead of arguing with it, I dove into the work, enjoyed myself tremendously, and finished another bit of editing for the recording.

Following the small impulses of joy that come to us may not lead to any end result that we have in mind. Instead, as we work from the core of our being, knowing the rightness of that, surrendering to it, we can find that the process we are engaged in is deeply satisfying.

When I follow the joy in me (and it may be the tiniest impulse of joy leading to a very small action) I am working on what I am most passionate about, immersed in process and at peace. All questions and struggle within me are stilled as I act from the center of my being. When I work from this joy and peace, I am able to hear the still small voice within me which leads me into the next whisper of joy, the next message of the heart. It only requires that I trust, rather than dismiss, the joy that guides me. 

The listening and the trust are not always instantly available to us. They are cultivated by practice and experimentation. What does that joy feel like? How can one catch such a tiny and fleeting impulse?  How safe is it to follow something so quick and tiny?  How safe is it to do something I so wish to do?

In seeking the center of our being, we have to test things out and develop a feel for how they work. Experimenting with this in small bits, a little at a time, starting with what feels safe and then venturing further and further into unknown waters, we can prove to ourselves that this works and is a richly rewarding way to live.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Following the Guidance of Inner Spirit Through Life and Acting from that Focus

My goal in life is to follow the guidance of inner spirit in whatever I do. It may seem like a nebulous goal, but when the effort is ongoing, continuous, it forms a structure for life. Call it what you may, inner spirit, the still small voice within, the center of our being, this guidance is precious if we can settle into it. The challenge I have set myself this year, to "focus on focus", essentially explores how to do this, using day to day experiences as my field of exploration.

Today the sun is out, perhaps for the whole day. In the Pacific Northwest, this is a real gift.  As someone whose spirits are affected by grey days (see: Darkness and Light), my energy is at its highest on days like this. I want to make the best use of my time, but the pressure I put on myself to find that (perfect) best use makes it difficult to settle down, to focus.

One of the hardest things to do, I think, is to capture the quiet, very quiet, impulse that comes from deep within us and is our truest guidance. My mind can skim the surface of one thing, then the surface of another, never lighting on anything, while a day's sunny moments slip by. The essential me, in all that skimming, cannot come to the surface and provide that one still impulse of direction that says “this, this is where to put your attention”.

Writing helps me to focus. In the process of writing this, I suddenly realized that the sunshine itself is the focus for the day. This means there are some parameters for my activities: doing things on the sunny side of the house, doing them outdoors rather than indoors when possible, and doing things that are physically active (because the sun energizes me). With the sunshine as my organizing center, I move into the days activities, bathed in sunlight, warmed by its joy, satisfied with what I do. I garden. I clean house. I do a sorting project in the sunny main room. There is no strain in any of this; I have found the guidance at the center of my being and can follow it throughout the day, at rest in its peace.





Monday, January 20, 2014

a word about the small self...

There is that within us, deep within us, which rises to the surface of our being slowly, giving us what feels whole and true.

And then there is the small self…the self that tells us stories about how bad things are going to be, how bad they were.

The work of those who seek to live by a deeper truth is to allow the small self to be what it is without engaging in its activities.

To focus, in this effort, is to set one’s attention on what is worthwhile, what comes from the deeper self, letting the small self move about in its stories unattended. 

The stories are so very compelling.  They pull at us.  Letting go of attaching to them can be very difficult, often seemingly impossible.

It helps to take moments, and then more moments, to observe the small self telling these stories.  Observing sets us apart from the small self, so that we are no longer lost in its stories, unknowing.  When we focus on observing this small self, its hold on us begins to loosen and we feel freedom taking wing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Crisis Commands Focus

When I posted my blog entry on New Year’s Day, my mother was very ill and had already made one trip to the emergency room.  A thought appeared in my mind that went something like this:  “maintaining this ‘focus on focus’ may turn out to be more challenging than I think.”  It has been, but I am determined to persevere.  The point of my exploration into focus this year is that it is often difficult to maintain.  What better way to explore it than to follow through now?

Focusing on something, giving it deepest attention, requires that we let go of other things.  That’s often hard to do.  However, when something urgent comes into our lives it can, oddly enough, make letting go a little easier.  It is as though anything extraneous is stripped away.  We don’t have to fight our mind’s inclination to wander because the concern we have is big enough that it can not only pull our focus to the center, it can eclipse other claims to our attention.  As hard as a situation may be, as stressful as it can seem, there is still a little relief in being able to let go of some part of our lives in order to cope with it. 

It’s a small blessing in a difficult situation.  Perhaps, though, when life grows calmer and the crisis passes we can remember what that sense of focus felt like…and turn its energy loose in other areas of our lives.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Complaining: a Distraction from Focus

I awoke this morning feeling beset by challenge, complaining in my mind about problems that just would not be solved no matter how hard I tried.  By the time this inward conversation was finished, I was in tears.  At that point I said ‘enough, enough of the self-pity, let’s get up and make something really good out of this day.’

Over breakfast, I happened upon a blog entry by Jonathan Mead, a guest writing for Leo Babauta’s blog, ZenHabits.  In it, Jonathan writes about complaining, how it stands in the way of happiness and what can be done to break the habit.

As I pondered his thoughts and my own experience, I came to understand in my heart what a total waste of time complaining is.  How much time do we throw away on it inwardly or outwardly during the day?  How much richer might the day be if that time was used in other ways?  I felt my heart lift just thinking about what a day without complaint might be like.

Rather than spending precious time in mental or verbal complaint, I could be using the same time and mental power to take the next step with anything challenging in my life.  Or I could use it to do more creative work. Or I could take care that my communications with others be focused on the positive.

The habit of complaining is a kind of darkness that takes hold in us.  We have a choice before us:  to focus on this darkness, to gather to ourselves all that we feel wronged by, or we can focus on the light, making each moment of complaint a reminder to turn our attention to what is positive and working in our lives.  It is hard to do this sometimes, but worth the effort.  As we replace complaint with what is light in our lives, we add to humanity’s ability to bring greater light into this world.  The tiny steps we each take in this direction will always touch those around us.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Shifting Focus

Because life is not predictable, not completely under our control, we sometimes find ourselves with a new focus before we have taken firm root in the one we only just chose. This has happened in my life. My 85 year old mother went into the hospital several days ago and my focus changed right away. Her needs, and working with my family to meet them, moved to center stage.

When something urgent takes center stage, it usually displaces any other focus. What I have experienced is that not only are these other focuses set aside temporarily, they are often set aside for quite a while. The momentum that carried them dissolves in the face of crisis and it is hard to regain it.

Because I am focusing on focus itself, I have an opportunity to look at this process and perhaps do something differently. It occurs to me that when I shift focus in response to something urgent, I might be able to lightly hold the reins of the original focus. 

So I confer with my family, make phone calls, write notes, organize information, and, most important, call my mom. Then I go into my studio and play one of my instruments. The sound soothes me, the moment’s practice anchors me, and I am, for that short time, tending my focus on music.  Or, I go into my studio and write a little, thinking about focus and how it works with these challenges, and in this way I am tending that focus.

What I discover is that keeping anchored in a chosen focus can be very sustaining during a crisis of any sort. It provides a way to step back into “normal” life for a moment. I can then return to what I need to do with a sense of renewal. The original focus is held lightly, but held nonetheless.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Recording a PianoTrack

I have been practicing a piano track for the song I am current recording.  Distraction is really easy to come by for me when I am recording.  I start out full of focus, finding a clear path through the notes with the tracks I’ve already recorded (in this case, a guitar track and two vocal tracks).  These other tracks make a road map, keeping me on course.

Until, of course, my mind wanders.  Off it goes, sounding something like this:  “oh, lovely, listen to the notes, so pretty…it’s flowing pretty well…I really know how to play this now…good rhythm…oh! where am I in the song?…oh! there; I am there……this may turn into a good track…maybe I’ll be finished with this track and can move on to………..” and, before you know it, I’m not even playing in time with the other tracks, I’ve dropped several notes, lost my way, caught up with it again, and come to rest at the end of a practice track that shows me what I need to do next.

Practice some more.

Focus better.

This process tells me that part of being able to focus on the essence of something involves building skills to support that focus. 

I’m not a practiced pianist at all.  I simply work out sounds by ear until I like them, then play them.  I can hear how well they go with what I already have recorded and how they add to the richness of the song; I can also hear the lack of fluidity in my playing.

Focusing on skills is less fun, much less fun, than actually creating the recording of the song.  Better skills do, however, make that recording awesomely better, an experience that others will truly enjoy.  And better skills will, in the end, allow me to focus more deeply as I record, living in the middle of the music and creating from that point of focus rather than existing around the edges of the song and merely taking pokes at it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Focus on Focus

Each of us is a whole cosmos unto ourselves, able to observe the way things work within ourselves and within our lives, learning about the larger world by doing so.  Our lives can be a very rich workshop for us if we let them.  We learn and create; we observe and learn.  The center of our being can inform all that we do in our life if we stay with it, listening and observing.

This year I want to explore the art of focus and my relationship to it. I notice how often I become scattered.  Instead of this scattering, I’d like to find my way to what is essential to me.  I want to explore what focused experiences are like.  Do they feel serene, calm, centered, joyful, energetic?

To be focused is to be firmly anchored in the present moment, attention on one thing and one thing only, to be immersed in whatever that one thing is, sometimes so deeply immersed that there is no awareness of anything else.

The work in this is to hold our attention to that one thing, to keep it immovably set on the point of focus.  This may be easier if the subject is something we really enjoy and are interested in; it can be more challenging to hold focus on something less enticing.

To hold my focus on focus this year, to explore it in my own life and being, to write this blog consistently throughout this exploration, that is the challenge I set for myself this year.