Forced Focus

Sometimes, all we need is focus. And the harder we try to attain it, the more elusive it is.

Yesterday, my mind was whirling – mostly in descending spirals. I had no objectivity, no motivation, no clarity of thought or intention. The Black Dog had taken over.

This morning, I somehow managed to get myself together enough to head out for my run around the park. The lovely sunshine and warm breezes helped, I admit.

But once out there, the sheer physical effort of the activity forced my mind to focus. I could feel the darkness pulling, trying to slow my muscles down with a background noise of ‘Too tired, too weak, just stop, go home’ – but I kept my feet moving forward.

Until my breath became steady. My eyes focused on the sights around, or even just the grass as I pounded through it. I felt the muscles in my legs, my heart and lungs… body and mind had to work together, to fulfil this task. That was all.

The endorphins kicked in as I hit a mile – always a thrill for this plodder! – and by the time I did return home, I felt invincible, that I could do anything. Because I had just run around a park.

Sometimes it’s the simple things, such as a distraction that engages the brain, or the voice of a friend. Sometimes a harder kick is needed, a challenge, that might seem utterly impossible at first. Even a breathing meditation (which needs no special equipment, just time and focus) can seem like the hardest thing in the world.

But by keeping on Doing, we pull ourselves back, to ourselves and to what’s true and important, drowning out the unhelpful voices and letting us move back onto our track. We have Done Something, just for us. And in so doing, we can feel alive again.

Brimming Over with Wrongability

Like everyone, I’ve been told throughout my life when I’ve been at fault, whether it be by family members, teachers or friends. Nothing wrong with that – it’s how we learn, after all.

Except… for those times when your secret self cannot possibly believe it. Even if you can see why the other would call your thoughts, words or actions ‘wrong’, the determination rises to prove yourself right. Sometimes this is a battle. There can be casualties.

I’ve been seeing evidence of this in various places lately, contemplating the balance that is needed but often thrown askew by limited perspective or information. Notably in the rhetoric of politicians versus the op-eds of the Press, and the sound-bites of social media. Those who don’t want to see the full picture, because it would clash with their agenda – far easier to call ‘true/false’.

But it’s the voices of the artists that resonate most strongly with me. Those with fire in their heads, often called mental illness; I recall hearing once that the poor man is mad, while the rich merely eccentric. I may be somewhere in the middle, myself.

My fire isn’t stoked by madness – the black dog drags me away from the creative flame. But then from that darkness comes the determination once again, to strive forward and prove myself. I might not be ‘right’ (I’ll be the first to admit that!), but I want to explore the journey, the reasoning, the full story in each of its’ multitudinous hues. By burning your hand, you learn not to touch… but you learned this yourself, through truly feeling, experiencing, knowing that truth.

I’m not advocating attempts to fly by jumping off a roof to see if you can. As the late, great Bill Hicks said, ‘Start from the ground!’ But do start… and keep striving on. Because if we don’t, if all we do is believe the voices of others, then we surely lose our own.

‘Some day I must make a list of the reasons for which I have been thought mad and by whom: it would make such an amusing medley.’
(Explorer Dame Freya Stark, writing in 1930. From ‘Passionate Nomad’, by Jane Fletcher Geniesse)

‘The contrariness that others saw was really just the persistence of longings too important to let go of: images in his head kept alive by a fierce imagination that overruled an increasingly contrary world.’
(From ‘Van Gogh: The Life’, by Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith)