A few days ago, I sat drinking coffee at a restaurant which overlooks a Golf Course. Most of our day is spent looking at near objects and screens. So, when you get a chance to focus in the distance of the greens, the mind reminisces.
Looking at the people playing, I pondered about my own sports experiences and habits. I remembered my wins and losses. The memories brought back the emotions of those moments and a useful lesson along with it.
What differentiated my wins from my losses? Why did I win some and lose others? The simple answer is that I played good on one day and bad the other. But, let's dig deeper and ask, why did that happen? After all, there was no change in my skill during a small period of time. I was on my 'A' game on winning days and 'C' or 'D' on the losing ones. Why?
The answer I found was: Lack of Focus. It is a much deeper problem than it appears on the surface. It is a mindfulness problem.
Every day, at least once, I catch myself in the act of auto-piloting my life. I execute each activity because it needs to be done and I have to move on to the next one. This is fine to an extent - you can't be expected to be mindful of every time you brush your teeth, or wash your hands. But, every once in a while, when life is dull, and you are carrying through the chores of your life, it helps to take a step back.
Observe the present moment. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, 'Do the dishes to do the dishes'. Be deliberate with your actions. Be aware of the present and stay in it. I have written about it earlier in a post describing an epiphany I had while driving. The benefit of having this as a daily habit is that it then slides over to the activities that matter.
How do we find this focus?
Imagine the future, reading your biography and this moment described in all its wonder by a talented writer.
"... was standing there in kitchen after a day of work. He stood there peeling an orange skin listening to music. This was a ritual to him. The act of peeling was like taking off a layer of burden after returning home...."
This visualization makes any ordinary moment special. You will perhaps be able to find more focus in the act at hand, knowing that it is a story in your biography. Or you could imagine yourself as part of a movie. The present moment then becomes a part of a scene which people are paying to watch. You will thus have more incentive to be focused in the present.
I love this technique. It makes me feel good about my life. It attaches romance to every moment of my existence. Living the life becomes a performance, in a good way. You become the stars of this show. It then becomes important to put up a nice act. Smile, indulge in the moment and let the audience feel they are watching a performer who is taken over by her character. You take a form larger than your life itself.
And in specific situations?
Problem: You are looking at the words but not really reading them. Often you turn pages but completely forget what happened earlier. Or you are stuck on a single page for an hour.
Solution: When I notice that this is happening to me, I immediately stop myself and take a deep breath. Then, I imagine the scene when the words were first penned down by the author. I see the creation of the scene in the author's head, as he leans back in his chair, playing with his pen, brows furrowed and suddenly his eyes widen. He leans forward and writes down the exact words you are reading. I imagine the sense of elation, movement and progress he must have felt. And because I imagine it, sometimes I also experience that same feeling.
For example, you can imagine me writing these words. Where am I? What time of the day could it be? Perhaps it is early Saturday morning and I am sitting in my boxer shorts. You imagine that at this stage I must have paused for a few seconds to decide what to write next....and so on.
It is tough to keep up with this technique since it is intense. But, it can serve as a way to bring back your focus to the book/article at hand and improve your reading experience multi-fold.
The same method can be applied to finding focus and appreciating the art in front of us while watching a movie, listening to music etc.
2. Exercising / Playing a sport
This is a new habit of mine (as I described in this post). I try to visualize the muscles grinding against each other. I feel the muscles being used at those moment and picture them strengthening and gaining volume (I have no idea if anything that I just said is what happens when you exercise, but I visualize it nevertheless). I feel the sweat dripping off of my back. I try to be there. It is not always possible but sometimes, yes.
I thought about this long and hard, drifted off for a little while and then came back typing furiously (side note: you can imagine me doing that and enjoy reading this even more). Finding focus in creation comes from creation itself. It is one of those things that snowballs into a phenomenon where you are constantly in the zone by the sheer effect of having written/painted/clicked... something.
And if you need inspiration to get started, just take note of the present moment and how you arrived here. It will tell you enough to get going. Go back and see the first sentence of this point. This is exactly what I did when I was stuck beyond #2.
4. Having a conversation
I have a thing I do sometimes in the middle of conversations. I look around and observe the set. Then I look into the distance and wonder. I wonder how we would look to a person from far away. Or to a novelist with us being one of the characters he is describing. I have mentioned one such moment in a post on Spiti Valley ( "I wish I could have seen ourselves from a hill 500 metres away with a binocular. That would have been cool." ). Once this is done, you would find a renewed vigor and a sense of amazement in your attitude towards the friend in front of you. Ironically, this momentary zoning out will give you more focus and enthusiasm towards the conversation you are having.
Another thing I have noticed is that people who are focused command respect and awe. Or maybe they do to me. If I find someone practicing their craft as if there is nothing else, I am immediately attracted towards them. An apt example of this comes from a movie about golf - The Greatest Game Ever Played. I won't spoil it for you but if you haven't watched the movie yet, go and do it. You'll identify the scene which I am referring to.
Try and give this technique a shot. Perhaps, like having a perfect day a week, you could have a romantic's focus day. And unlike the former, this is much less overwhelming to practice daily.
Let me know if it works for you. All the best!