For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been intensely focused. My world has pretty much shrunk to the walls of my office and the data coalescing on my monitor. Once in a while, I make brief forays into the outside world to stock up on food or to convince friends that I haven’t actually fallen off the face of the earth. But mostly, all my attention has been towards one thing.
I don’t say this to brag. In fact, it’s more of a confession, or possibly an apology. I have an enormous capacity for concentration. But I’m not sure that makes me a better (or more efficient or more effective) human being.
Focus is where we turn our attention. When we focus, we narrow our visual field to exclude everything but the one thing we’re interested in. We look closely, we dig deeper. We ignore the other things happening around us.
In the short term, this is great. It allows you to be in the moment, to bring your mental faculties to bear on a problem or to soak up joy and delight.
But staying focused on one spot too long… you don’t need me to tell you it’s a bad idea. And friends, 6 weeks is too long.
So when my body woke me up at 4:30 am – as it has been wont to do lately even on Saturdays – I decided to grab my neglected camera and see what I could see.
The dahlias are starting to bloom, and I got to my favorite field a little after sunrise. Watching the light dance along the colorful petals, seeing the bees slowly stir as the morning warmed up, were all restoring to a degree. But I realized that I was still tightly focused on an outcome. Were my shots better than last year? Is this composition boring? Is it insane that I like flowers this much?
These are the same questions that have been tightening the lens of my focus all summer. Not literally the one about flowers, of course, but a constant gnawing worry of have I done enough? What am I forgetting? Is this good enough?
Am I good enough?
Focusing harder won’t answer that question, will it?
I put away the camera and drove rather aimlessly south, finally realizing I was close to Silver Falls. I had visited for the first time in May, and soon realized that the falls, while still stunning, were not as powerful or magnificent in late summer. But no matter; I was in it for the hike. I put away the camera and walked.
I thought about this idea of focus, and the power of questions. While there may not be such a thing as a stupid question, there are limiting ones. The wrong questions imprison perspective and lock out imagination. And I have been asking some pretty bad questions for too long.
They were questions of “enough” – good enough, smart enough – that assumed that only when “enough” happened could I release that intense focus. The problem of course is that there’s no way to measure enough. It’s completely subjective and personal. I was waiting for someone to tell me I’d worked hard enough.
I came around a corner of the trail into a grove of enormous trees, dripping with moss and dappled by the sunlight peaking over the canyon above. I didn’t take a picture so you’re going to have to trust me, but I stopped in my tracks and just … beheld it all.
God and I have had a rocky go of it lately, but in that moment a spontaneous prayer rose to my lips. “Thank you. Thank you for making it possible for all this to be, and for me to be here to see it.”
In all my harried focus, I’d been forgetting one very important thing: gratitude. Gratitude reminds you that it’s not all on your shoulders. Gratitude lets you know when you’ve reached “enough.”
This is a lesson I need to learn over and over again. In a life full of to-do lists and goals and achieving, I forget too often to be grateful. To look back. Heck, to even look around sometimes. That for all the things unfinished and imperfect, there is grace and beauty and humankindness. And even when those things aren’t present, we have it in our power to create them.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to take yet another 100 or so flower pictures this morning, and grateful that you refrain from pointing out that a landscape now and again might be a nice change of pace.
I’m grateful to have a job that thrills me even as it confounds me and improves the world by at least a little bit. It affords me a standard of living that most of the world cannot even imagine.
I’m grateful for my poor neglected body that has been sitting on a chair with barely any exercise for weeks on end, then is asked to hike 6.5 miles on no food and very little water.
I’m grateful for even the smallest moment to breathe and remember that life is bigger and more mysterious than my simple questions leave room for.
Change focus, change everything.
All pictures taken by me with a Nikon D3400.
These are my less-favorite images.
The real showstoppers are (or will be) at Instagram.com/loradow