Archive for the ‘focus’ Category

The Whole Thing and its Parts

December 29, 2021
Entrance to Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Gardens

We visited Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Gardens last evening. Various artists transformed groves of plants and trees into light and music experiences.

We had our first significant snow of the year yesterday. Even with temperatures above freezing (38F or 3C) causing some melting, the vestiges of the white snow perfectly enhanced the experience.

The highlight for me was a laser light show across a small lake. Dancing lights to a festive piece of music. In contemplation just in the moment, I de-focused my eyes and absorbed the experience. Yet all the while part of my mind was thinking of the technical intricacies of the lights themselves and the programming required.

Listening to s symphonic orchestra is the same experience. I listen to the whole piece while also noticing the work and movements of each instrument and how the composer and then conductor has brought them altogether for a beautiful whole piece.

Similarly, one should read a great book including Scripture. You must absorb the whole of the main argument of the writer while yet enjoying the parts. One errs by picking out sentences while yet missing the whole thought.

Yet, how often readers of spiritual texts do just that. And not only Christians. Check out how often you also see that trait in the Hindu and Islamic traditions. A human trait, this is, as Yoda might have put it.

And a human trait we can learn to overcome with awareness and practice.

Just don’t think so much that you miss the beauty of the whole.

Frustration

September 16, 2021

I have been trying to find referees for 10 games for tonight. There should be 2 or 3 per game. Six have a single referee and four will probably be cancelled. It’s frustrating to call Athletic Directors and tell them that they have to tell players, coaches, and parents there will be no game tonight.

I feel as if I have failed.

Oh, then this morning another referee wrote an email wondering if anyone was available to take his place. He was sick.

Frustration.

So this morning:

Jon Swanson wrote a prayer on his 300 Words a Day blog to help us deal with frustration.

Ryan Holliday wrote his Daily Stoic newsletter on how the ancient Stoics dealt with frustration.

I just took 15 minutes to disconnect, breathe, relax, and now go back to work.

Frustration leads only to depression.

Breaking the stream, relaxing a bit, refocusing, gets the job done.

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.

Speaking Your Mind

March 4, 2021

Saying whatever comes to mind without an interposing filter–describes every two-year-old everywhere.

Also most sixteen-year-olds who have learned much, but whose brains are not yet fully developed.

I knew a person who would often find trouble with the bosses by always “speaking the truth.” Unfortunately, that version of the truth was always negative, tearing down the reputation of companies and people.

Many people today wan to say whatever they want (true or not) whenever they wish without regard for consequences. If perpetuating lies forwards my perceived best interests, then fine.

These feelings are not modern.

The Apostle James wrote in the first Century about the dangers of speaking without thinking. The tongue, he said, is a tiny organ that can cause great trouble.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa said, “Divinity is purity, it is liberation from the passions and the removal of every evil: if all these things are in you, God is truly in you.”

He also said [pronouns changed to include us all], “You must always examine your own thoughts, your own words, and your own actions in the innermost depths to see whether they are oriented to Christ or are drifting away from him.”

I like those words “oriented” and “drifting away.” I could probably write an entire book just on the meaning of those.

Energy

February 2, 2021

We waste so much energy. Not the petroleum or electricity part. Although that is true. I mean our spiritual and mental energy. Our personal energy.

We succumb to illusion and delusion losing awareness of the ultimate truth. Our mental activities are scattered, dissipated. We have lost focus on the truth of God’s eternal spirit.

We organize our spiritual life into churches, denominations, organizations. And then we squabble among ourselves within and among those things.

We waste so much energy. Emotional, physical, psychic, spiritual.

Let us become clearly aware of the Spirit and our need for our own spiritual formation. Instead of scattered arguments, let us recall the lessons of pride and forge humility on the anvil of the spirit.

A writer once described his main character as having the ability to concentrate entirely on the task at had even in the midst of crises. He called it the immense power of focus.

A magnifying glass can focus the sun’s energy enough to start a fire. Imagine what we each could do if we were to focus the true source of energy onto the things God has asked of us–showing mercy, pursuing justice, loving our neighbor.

What Do We Love?

November 30, 2020

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so thatd we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

1 Timothy 6

Yesterday for Americans, we left the season of gratitude. We entered Advent, the looking forward to Christmas—for many the season of “I want…”

I sympathize with businesses. I’ve spent a fair share of my business life trying to figure out how to increase sales and profits. But the way 140 years of experience have taught them the tools of manipulation of emotion blurs the lines of ethics.

And the target is not just kids. We target kids to bring them into the desire emotion with toy cars and their parents with a big luxury car with a bow in the driveway.

Look at Paul’s key words above—desires, love (of the wrong things), plunged (into ruin), wandered (from faith), pierced (with pains).

It’s about the heart. Is our heart set on the things of God? Is our heart set on objects of desire?

As we enter the Advent journey, let us maintain focus on what matters.

Where Is Your Heart Pointed?

November 9, 2020

We watched a dramatization of an Agatha Christie Miss Marple story last night. The sub-plot behind the main plot of uncovering the murder mystery concerned the decision of a beautiful young woman who must choose a husband from between a man who does foolish things out of a deep love for her or a man who is a political climber, member of Parliament who has not the capacity for love.

She, of course, chooses love.

The Desert Father, Abba Poeman (the Shepherd), once said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

We are in the aftermath of a hard-fought, yet strange, election season in the USA. Some who won are not positive they won all they hoped to win. Many who lost are mired in bitterness and despair.

If you give your heart to politics, you are doomed like Sisyphus to cycles of elation and despair.

Giving your heart to God is “like a rock”, stable, secure, dependable.

Life will provide you with plenty of cycles of up and down. God is always there to stabilize. Daily disciplines focus your heart firmly on that which never changes.

Becoming Effective Rather Than Merely Efficient

February 19, 2019

Peter Drucker, the famed management consultant, once noted that effectiveness should be cultivated rather than efficiency.

I am a productivity geek. I follow (mostly) David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology using an app called Nozbe.

But what good is it to check off many items on your todo list if they are not the most important things?

Try Make Time: How To Focus On What Matters Every Day by Knapp and Zeratsky. The authors worked at Google Ventures. One previously worked on gmail development and the other on YouTube development.

They introduce the concept of the daily Highlight. Either the night before or first thing in the morning determine your highlight of the day–the most important task/project of the day. The thing that, upon reflection at the end of the day, will have brought the most joy or satisfaction.

Achieving Laser focus on the highlight becomes the next most important thing. Perhaps you block a period of time on your calendar for working on the highlight. That is one of many tips on achieving Laser.

How we pay attention to our Energy is the third part of the process. Followed by Reflection which completes the feedback loop.

Jake and JZ (as they are called throughout the book) pack tons of tips in the various sections. Some of these you will find useful, others sound strange.

You will find this book a useful resource as you move from merely efficient to becoming effective.