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.