Cultivating Your Focus

More than six weeks ago, an unfortunate series of events caused my left arm to dislocate from its usual place in the shoulder; twice during a climb. Although a shoulder dislocation wasn’t new to me, having not had one in more than a year I had been under the illusion that the physiotherapy following previous incidents and my well developed deltoids had completely solved the problem. Worried what it might spell for my mountaineering adventures I consulted with specialists immediately. I sidelined the physio suggestion, and decided to go for a surgical procedure altering the anatomy of the shoulder joint. Of the two available surgical options I opted for the (slightly) riskier approach that had the greatest potential to minimize the risk of dislocation in the future.

Since the surgery, my exquisitely busy everyday schedule with regular climbing sessions, long runs, and weekend adventures in the high mountains came to a complete and sudden halt. And over the last weeks I have been feeling this dramatic change in pace in the way I experience life. And something I could not have imagined prior to the surgery, is that, this change could perhaps be for the better. And it has. In this contemplative state of less doing and more being, I learnt the art of cultivating focus.

Focus is a valuable commodity. When you have it, you get things done. You are efficient, like a scalpel that dissects precisely what is necessary. No more, no less. When you lose control of focus though, your mind is everywhere and nowhere.  Problems great and small seem equally hard to solve, and the tasks just keep piling up. The mind becomes a blunted tool. While we may understand and recognize that focus is important, we don’t discuss means to cultivate it, nurture it and grow it. It doesn’t even occur to us that it is possible in the first place–at some level there’s an acceptance of the quantity of focus we are personally able to muster and access everyday. But does that need to be the case?

What I learnt is surprisingly to the contrary. This is not me parroting someone or relating something I read off a book. Rather this is a result of an experiment I performed concerning another topic (about which I may also chance to write about soon) leading me to the surprising conclusion that focus can be heightened just as well as it can be squandered. And the reasons we lose focus are typically traced back to poor habits and bad patterns we have fallen into, in our everyday lives.

Take walking down the sidewalk for example–a basic staple of life in the city for most people in the world today. While executing this simple activity where do your eyes rest as you walk? What happens when people walk past you; bikers come from behind; cars, trucks, and scooters speed around the corner? Where do your eyes look now? Do you notice the young man in a pinstriped suit and leather boots with a skinny tie and impeccable hair? What happens to your mind as you stop, even if momentarily, to notice, process and react to these details? Repeat this pattern through the length of the walk and focus is effectively and wholly lost. The mind’s eye no longer sees. Becoming aware of these patterns, and correcting these mistakes is the first step to bringing the mind under control. With a strong mind, when you can choose to not see what is not important, you are on the path to cultivating focus. You then start to see what matters. A mental task list of the stuff you need to get done today appears. As you remain focused, the tasks slowly get embellished with details and plans to tackle them also emerge. Your eyes are on the prize now.

That is what I mean by cultivating your focus. I suggest you to start small, beginning with a pattern where your mind typically drifts and use your awareness to reel your mind back in, under control. If your experience is anything like mine, you will start to notice that you pay greater attention to what’s in front of you more often. So it’s not just an easier way to get through the day’s tasks, but, perhaps most importantly, conversations come alive in a magnificent way, seemingly effortlessly. That is what it ultimately means to focus. You are able to not see what is not important.

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