I’m hard on myself in many ways, both physically and mentally. It’s something I secretly take pride in – this ability to remain focused on some task for a lot longer than I should. It’s also something that narrows my focus and deprives me of opportunities that I could otherwise enjoy.
Here are a few every-day examples of what I mean:
My partner and I passed a restaurant that featured hand-made pasta. We’d just been to a cooking class on making pasta and wanted to have a taste, so we sat down and took a menu. On that menu was gnocchi. Gnocchi was something we’d been talking about for a week off and on. By the time we sat down, I was over-tired and starving, and was focusing hard on only one thing: food. I saw gnocchi on the menu and immediately ordered it, totally forgetting what had brought us to that restaurant until it was too late.
I wanted naturally to experience as much of Italy as I could while there, with the result that I overdid it, stuffing as much of the experience into the short time as I could, and exhausting myself in the process. Then, when I had a chance to spend some time with friends, I became ill and was forced to rest earlier than I wanted.
Here’s one that may resonate with you: every time I see my partner get flustered over his own issues, such as being on time, I find myself getting flustered for him. There’s really nothing I can do, and yet every time I begin to narrow my focus to see what I can do to help.
Each time, I fail to notice my physical exhaustion and the narrowing of my vision; my desire to keep going over-rules my better judgment.
There’s a concept called soft focus that’s been around for some time. I was reminded of it in a workshop I attended with Cathy Gray in the Gestalt Conference in Taormina.
In it, we were encouraged to take time to simply connect with our inner knowing, closing our eyes for a moment, and then with a partner, expressing ourselves through our hands. For instance, These hands make things, and bring to life and reality what is in my mind and heart …. I create every-day things with these hands … I cook delicious food that I can share with people I love … I remember my mother and grandmother every time I do this … I can share my thoughts and values with others through these hands ….
We shared our hands with each other, and then our response to that sharing. And in so doing, enriched our mutual experience, building on our own self-knowing and creating something also out of the connection we made with our partner. What we created together ended up being new, unique and unrepeatable.
This is soft focus. It creates a space for exploration and creation. Soft Focus is really a photographic term that refers to a deliberate slight blurring of a photograph. We also do it with our eyes whenever we relax them – they actually flatten a little, blurring everything and widening our field of sight to the peripheries of our left and right. It’s meaning has been broadened to mean seeing everything there is to see, broadening our own focus. Tom Brown refers to it in his wilderness survival courses. Cathy Gray referred to it in her psychotherapy workshop.
You can tell if you’re in a soft focus by how you are connected with yourself and your environment – if you can sense your own body and are aware of all of your surroundings. You can also tell with a simple exercise: hold your two index fingers out in front of your eyes, then slowly move then simultaneously to the sides of your head, keeping your arms extended. In hard focus, you lose sight of your fingers; in soft focus, you don’t.
After the gnocchi experience, I made an agreement with my partner, that whenever he noticed me going into hard focus, he’d let me know, thus giving me a chance to become aware of it in the moment so that I can begin to change a habit that’s been with me for most of my life.
With this in mind, I began to slow down – deliberately; to let go of the list of what I wanted to do, and make room for moment-by-moment enjoyment. In one of those moments, we were in a small medieval town called Tofia – steep, narrow streets, tall stone buildings on either side. We came across an old woman with two companions, laughing and talking. She was clearly in some arthritic pain, but together, the three of them cheerfully negotiated those streets with grace.
I could have missed that moment.
If you find yourself over-focusing, overdoing regularly, take a moment to soften your focus. See if it makes a difference in your life.
Beautiful Soft Focus Music – by
She was attractive, but so was everyone in this kind of light; the longer the wavelength, the softer the focus. -Peter Watts, Blindsight