Friday, January 1, 2016

Renewed Focus

World View

I find it increasingly difficult to concentrate, to "be in the moment". There are so many distractions coming from every direction, including internally, that I often find myself pulled away from my purpose or drifting into memories or fretting about something yet to come. I listen to the radio news every morning and evening, sometimes in the middle of the day, and the stories and images permeate my consciousness. Politics, war, terrorism, corruption, the environment, poverty, goes on and on. Far too often I give in to the time suck of smart phones, tablets, the internet and social media. I spend more time than I care to admit checking for new email messages, reading Facebook updates, watching cute animal videos and streaming TV shows on my iPad. I feel anxious when I can't check my messages and turn to the devices regularly during the day, just like a chain smoker. I will confess that I have checked my phone at dinner and even in the middle of conversations. I am addicted. And then there is the constant noise. Even in my relatively tranquil neighborhood, sometimes it's hard to think, let alone hear birds or other sounds over the steady hum and rumble of buses, cars, leaf blowers and heat pump fans. 

A couple of weeks ago I was on a walk at the botanical garden. I had gone to see if I could find and photograph a very early blooming Hepatica flower, a new flower for me. The weird warm weather brought them out a month early, and the gardens were going to be closed for the week between Christmas and New Years, so I made a quick trip so I wouldn't miss the blooms. I usually hike with several cameras--one with a telephoto lens for things that are far away such as birds, butterflies or deer, one with a macro lens for close ups of flowers or stationary insects, and another point and shoot camera for general shots. I had only brought that camera this time because it was to be a quick trip in the midst of holiday preparation.

Hepatica (Don't know which species)
As luck would have it, I did find the pretty Hepatica, and I got some photos of it. The weather was warming up after a week or so of cold, wet weather, and as I walked back to the car, I noticed a number of birds flitting through the bushes and around the branches of the trees, perhaps hunting insects that were perking up in the warming sun. I did not have binoculars or a telephoto lens, but I decided to sit and enjoy the birds for a while, so I found a bench and watched. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hopped up the trunk of a tree. Chickadees zipped between branches. Crows cawed in the distance. Then I saw a tiny yellowish bird in a bush a few feet from me. It was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. And as I watched, I saw it flash its ruby crown again and again, something I rarely get to see. "Darn," I thought, "it's too bad that I don't have my long lens." But then it came to me. I am seeing this bird clearly because I am not distracted by trying to take its photo. As I thought more about the truth of this realization, I understood that I have been spending far too much time being distracted. I have been missing the whole point.

Sapsucker Holes

Reflection is essential, but when I spend too much time rehashing past missteps in my mind I am neglecting the here and now. Likewise, planning for the future is important, but worrying about things that have not yet happened keeps me out of the present. Cameras are tools to record and capture a moment, but while I am focused on a bird or flower, I risk missing the rest of the forest. I have to remember to take time to enjoy the moment as well as capturing it. And when I spend hours plugged into the virtual world, I neglect the actual sounds, smells and experiences. Years ago, a friend who was dying told me that in her last days she wanted "attractions, not distractions". What a mind blowing concept! Time is limited for every one of us. Attraction is what I want, too.

Quiet Winter Woods
So here is my resolution for 2016: I want to use my time on Earth wisely. I want to concentrate on keeping my attention on the present and real and remember to appreciate what I have here and now. I want to help make my world a better place. And I want to seek out peaceful spots that help me focus on the beauty that surrounds me.

Happy New Year.