by Frank Muller
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We can train our bodies to do incredible things. It is a marvel and a blessing to have watched Michael Jordan on the basketball court, Yo Yo Ma on a concert stage, Luciano Pavarotti on an opera stage, Bobby Fisher playing chess, Nadia Comaneci on the parallel bars, Michael Phelps in the swimming pool……
On and on we see these great physical and artistic and intellectual achievements of human beings who became completely absorbed in their pursuits. This relentless focusing of the mind on a specific task and then goal is the real achievement. For without this focus and burning desire these great things would not have been achieved.
Yes, physical talent and gifts are what determine how high we can fly but they do not determine whether we fly at all. We all know that the world is full of promise and talent that lays by the side of road unused or wrecked because what the person thought about was not consistent with achievement of maximizing their talent.
It is our thoughts, properly focused and disciplined, that translate into our actions in pursuit of an objective. It is not success-based outcomes, but rather failure-based outcomes that drive the focused mind to greatness.
We can see how quick success can just as quickly lead to quick distraction. A belief becomes embedded that I am better than my competitors only to learn the hard way that the competitor who does not lose their focus quickly overcomes and defeats the superior talent.
The question for us then (and please be honest with yourself), what is it that I think about? Take a mental inventory throughout the day of your random and fleeting thoughts. Are we even whilst reading this missive distracted by a TV set in the background, a task left undone, a grudge towards another, some lingering sadness…? If we carefully examine ourselves (especially in this technology enabled distracted age), do we control what we think and rigorously root out distractions?
Or do we embrace distractions in order to fill the empty space where focus resides?
Like any form of training, it must be relentless and dedicated and demanding. If the most valuable asset a human being possesses is their conscience mind, do we in fact train and strengthen that tool or do we use its’ enormous capabilities for comfort and ease?
If we examine the things that we could focus on, do we choose well? Consider for a moment a great athlete who on the field of competition dominated. Will they, at the end of their lives, consider a basketball game to be transcendent and the defining aspect of their lives? If so, so sad.
My suspicion is that many of us will come to realize that it is Love (either presence or absence of) that will be the thing most desired and valued. Every day we see elderly former star athletes, warriors, intellectuals, artists pass from us this year in almost total obscurity. The time people tend to think of them is when they see the death notice and wonder to themselves “I thought he or she was already dead”.
If the real achievement of our lives is to know love, to experience love, and to give love – wouldn’t we want to dedicate our minds to the task of trying to master it? Would we not want to be the Michael Jordan or the Michelangelo of love? Think of how many people who would show up at the funeral and eulogize and say, “this is a person who knew how to love and be loved” versus “did you see that three-point shot he made 60 years ago”. Which do we think matters more?
Learning how to love is learning how to think and apply ourselves in everything we do to that goal. Whether we are a maid cleaning a home, we can learn and think about love whilst doing that job well. If we are a world class violinist, we can learn and think about love whilst doing that job well. That we do the things we do well because we focus the things as an act of greater loving.
My hope with this missive today, is to share a prayer that says we are what we think about. If that argument resonates, then let us start to control and focus our minds. We can achieve failure through trying to focus on a thousand different things or we could rather focus our thoughts and desires and inputs on the thing that matters.
There are millions of distractions at our fingertips. Click only on those that help focus our minds on the good and true. Indulge only in things that are beautiful and kind, right and true. Commit to learning and exposing ourselves to the pursuit of truth that leads to Love and then things become clearer, simpler and peaceful. We are creating empty space where the great paradox resides – focus.
First step, commit to doing a thing and eliminate all distractions until it is done as well as we can. It does not have to be perfect. We advance in our thought life because we see later the mistakes and we focus on fixing them one at a time as we get better. It is the mistakes that help us grow, it is the successes we are grateful for, it is there that we learn to love ourselves and others.
When we start this process, we may be shocked that we can only truly focus for less than a minute. That is ok, today work for a minute in complete focus. Tomorrow, ninety seconds. If we fail, start over tomorrow and get that ninety second focus and work up from there.
Last consideration. Do not disturb those who are focused on a task. Be patient. The greatest villain to focus is often our own will or those closet to us. That small sacrifice to help a friend or family member to focus will reap enormous benefits for all.
May Peace be with us all.