Archive for the ‘Attention’ Category

The Discipline of Focus

August 25, 2021

“Keep your eye on the ball,” yells the baseball coach to his player.

You cannot hit the ball if you are not focused on it.

Same with golf. Practice the swing enough such that you can just swing naturally. Then put all focus on the ball.

A race car driver once told me that you always focus on the cars in front. Never look at the wall, he said, because you’ll steer right at it.

Take the Hebrew story of Joseph. Yes, the guy with the “multi-colored dream coat”. He landed in Egypt. The king put him in charge of a most important project. Joseph had interpreted a dream that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph’s job was to focus in the good years on storing lots of grain. I’m sure that given many pressures keeping his eye on the ball was difficult. Then during the seven years of famine, he reaped the benefits of the seven years of discipline.

Pay attention to the words of Jesus, Peter, Paul, James, John and the rest. Stated sometimes and always understood beneath the story lies the foundational teaching of keeping your eye (focus) on God.

I Choose Where My Thoughts Dwell

March 19, 2021

Many people are reflecting upon a year ago. Of course, I am one.

A year ago, we signed the papers and I transferred a bunch of money and we became property owners in a different state. While in Illinois signing papers, my hair stylist called from Ohio. The governor was shutting down businesses like hers and she had a spot open. My usual appointment was three days after the shutdown. I told her I was a six-hour drive away and couldn’t make it. I didn’t get a hair cut for fourteen more weeks. Even a former hippie needed a trim by that time.

We had two major changes–facing life in the pandemic and adjusting to the new reality of living in a community where we knew no one with only a superficial knowledge of the area.

I made it a priority to establish a daily discipline much like I had the past 20 years. Just a few adjustments. No gym. No Yoga classes. No soccer. The only thing that slipped for a while was strength training. Eventually I took care of that and the body is getting back into shape.

Had we not moved, two things are likely. We would have caught the virus (I estimate that 90% of the people we knew from where we’re from have had Covid), and we would not have seen our family.

When other thoughts pop into my head–nostalgia, missing something, adjusting to new surroundings, what if this or that–I choose to focus on what matters. I choose not to dwell on any “what might have been” random thoughts.

This advice from the Apostle Paul to the gathering called Philippians applies, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

When You Work, Work

March 16, 2021

I recently read that phrase in a book meant to help us along the way. What a wonderful concept that we so often miss.

When we work, work.

When we study, study.

When we pray, pray.

When Luke Skywalker said he’d try to do something, Yoda replied, “Do or do not; there is no try.”

How often I go to my desk to study something or write something and I “wake up” to discover my mind is far afield!

How often do we go to work and spend our time talking with (or complaining about) people? If we settled upon a task and actually did it, how successful could we be?

How often do we sit in meditation or prayer and after a period of time awaken to discover we’ve been thinking about dinner?

We are not going to be perfect at this. But we could try a bit of magic called focus. Paying attention to what we are about. What a revolutionary idea.

What We Think About Determines Our Future

October 30, 2018

We listen to politicians who reach deep into our emotions. We dwell on those thoughts. We become cynical and negative. Someone asks, “What is she like?” Oh, she’s a negative and cynical person filled with anger.

We think that we are weak and powerless. We become within ourselves a weak and powerless person.

We let our ego and pride determine our thoughts. Not a good outcome in sight for that person.

We intentionally focus our thoughts on positive images, noticing the beauty around us, dwelling on our possibilities.

We become positive influencers. We become a person of strength and worth.

And we are now prepared in our hearts to tackle problems we see becoming change agents for a better world.

It begins in our thoughts.What we think about determines what we become.

[for reference, try Proverbs 23:7]

Aware of Ourselves

May 4, 2018

The most common angelic greeting in the Bible? When a human meets the divine, what does the divine say?

“Don’t be afraid.”

Fear sometimes is right there with us. The first emotion upon meeting a stranger in the night in an unfamiliar place. We face an imminent weather event–tornado or hurricane, for example.

Sometimes fear is insidious. It enters quietly, like a thief in the night. We don’t know it’s there.

But fear influences our thoughts. We fear change. We fear the unknown. Worse, we project our fears on other humans who become the personification of those fears.

Fear breeds hate. We grow to hate those other humans–those other children of God.

We don’t even realize it. These evil emotions don’t just greet us like the angels in the Bible do. “Don’t be afraid.” They sneak in and capture the heart and mind.

Awareness brings things to light. So much of the theme of the Apostle John’s writing concerned bringing light into the darkness.

Sometimes in meditation and prayer, we must listen to God expose these thieves who have crept into our life and captured it.

Fear and pride–two things that will corrupt your life. Bring the light of the world to shine in those dark and web-infested corners, expose them, and expel them.

The light is called awareness. Pray often that God will expand awareness within us.

From Whom Can We Learn

December 8, 2017

“Have you read that essay that went viral on the Internet about how women can’t be engineers?” someone asked a radio interviewer, who happens to be a woman who earned a Ph.D. in engineering.

“No,” she replied. “I am careful what I fill my mind with. Thoughts can determine attitudes.”

The other day, before I was distracted, I wrote about keeping our eyes wide open this Advent. That’s called awareness.

Do we go through life unaware of the things around us–the good works of some, the grief and misery of others?

The next step is attention. To what or to whom do we pay attention?

Better, from whom can we learn if we but pay attention?

From a professor? Maybe.

From a child? Probably. Consider that a child with few preconceived ideas, observes things from an entirely new perspective. They are curious. Listen. Pay attention. She may rock your world.

From a person with little education? Often, if we pay attention. It’s still a different perspective.

If you are a specialist in one area, listen to those in another area.

We can be intentionally aware of all the Christmas preparations, but we need to watch what we pay attention to. It determines our attitude.

Good Leaders Have Great Observation Skills

August 17, 2017

Leaders are observers.

I was a new college graduate. I thought it would be smart to take a year off before graduate school and make some money since I was paying my own way.

A teaching position opened. I had zero training for the position. But in those days, there was an acute shortage of teachers. All I had was a degree. No training. Protestant religion applying for a position in a Catholic school. No knowledge of the developmental psychology of 13-year-olds. Pure geek. And I became the new 7th grade social studies and writing teacher at a Catholic school.

So I went in to check out my room and met Mr. Carder, one of the other 7th grade teachers (the other two were nuns). We were each to have 40 students in our classes. Mr. Carder began talking about his previous class. It dawned on me that he knew the names and mannerisms of each of his previous 40 students.

Wow, I thought. That’ll be a challenge. And it was.

Somewhere in the Bible is the phrase “Looking but not seeing”. 

Aren’t we often afflicted with that disease.

We think we are watching the road as we drive, but then we can’t remember a thing about the route.

We thought we were awake while walking along the street, but we didn’t see the homeless person or the mother struggling with kids and packages.

We see the people on our committee or organization, but we really have no clue about where they are in life. Are they connected and committed? Is there an agenda? Or a problem?

Let that phrase not apply to us.

Breaking Their Attention To Focus On Something Else

August 10, 2017

We were hiking along a path in the woods and hills.

Family with 2-year-old coming toward us. Kid is cranky and letting everyone know.

We meet on the path. Kid looks at me, still trying to cry and scream. I say something to him. He looks. Breaks his attention. He stops crying. 

But, we pass and he remembers he was trying to get something out of dad–probably a ride. Back to crying.

Reminded me of the one time that one of my kids threw a tantrum at the check out lane of a grocery. She’s laying there screaming. I call out, “Whose kid is that?” Broke her attention and focus. 

I like breaking people’s focus trying to get them to focus on something else–preferably something better.

I think Jesus was a master of that. He’d say something that was on a different plane than the one his companion was on. They’d have to stop and refocus. Some were good at that, many were not.

When you study Jesus’ words, you need to keep that in mind.

Also a life tip. When you find yourself focusing on something depressing or fearful or agitating, purposely choose to think about something else. (Probably not a therapy for clinical problems, but it works for me.) Break your own focus and attention.

For What Do We Search

July 21, 2017

Wisdom says, “Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor;

But evil comes to the one who searches for it.
 Proverbs 11:27

I’m addicted to Masterpiece Mystery shows on PBS (originally on BBC). Just watched the series Grantchester.  Supposedly a murder mystery series of stories, but the real story line delves into the screwed up relationships of the four main characters. You sit there, you watch it. You can see them coming to no good end.

At the end, one woman asks her man, “Just what are you searching for?”

That was the theme of the story. (Find it on Amazon Prime or Netflix or something and watch it. Worth the hour.)

We need to ask ourselves daily, what are we searching for?

Reminds me of a story from the poet Carl Sandburg. Seems a farmer was standing by a field contemplating the harvest when a stranger drove by. The stranger asked, “What sort of people live around here?”

“What sort were they where you are from?”

“They are a mean, lying, thieving sort.”

“Well, I guess you’ll find the people around here just like that.”

The farmer turned back to his field and a second stranger stopped to chat.

“What sort of people live around here?”

“What sort were they where you are from”

“Why, they are honest, hard working, helpful people.”

“Well, I guess you’ll find the people around here are just like that.”

Why do you think I carefully choose what news sources to read and then only check them a few times a day? I’m not seeking ways to get my negative emotions all fired up.

The people who puzzle me and for whom I pray are those who are seeking, but they don’t know for what they are seeking. They are just lost. Its seems worse to me to just drift through life always searching, never finding.

Every day I seek God. On the good days, I find him.

What Or Who Is Your Savior

July 6, 2017

You know the song about the guy standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizonza, right? I stood on that corner once. No girl in a flatbed Ford, though.

C’mon baby, don’t say maybe, I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.  — The Eagles

Rolla May, psychologist and author of a number of books including Love and Will and Power and Innocence, wrote that throughout history men have harbored the idea that a beautiful woman will be their salvation. 

They all didn’t understand the thought of that social philosopher from the early 60s, Jimmy Soul, who sang, “Never make a pretty woman your wife…she does things that causes his downfall.”

Think of the things you think will save you.

Everything will be alright if I can just get seven figures in my bank account, or if I just had that house in that neighborhood, or if I just had that car, or if I could have had that guy (or girl).

This isn’t new thinking.

More than 4,000 years ago a guy named Abraham had conversations with God. It wasn’t belief–he continued doing things that revealed a lack of complete trust in God. But he had those conversations where God spoke and he spoke back. It didn’t seem to surprise him that this special god spoke with him. 

But he’d slip into these moments when he thought his own ingenuity would save him rather than dependence upon God.

Think of all the other heroes in the Bible–Adam, Samson, David, Solomon, King Saul–who failed at crucial times.

Is it time for a gut check? What thing or person have you been focusing on for salvation? Time for a change in focus?