This week two things signaled reminders for me about focus, trust, faith, and never being too old. As you likely know by now, every life lesson for me relates to the creative process.
Focus-what is it good for? Focus is that state of mind, that state of being in which you are connected completely. By focusing there is no pressure to do anything other than what you are doing. And you are doing it so wholly you are allowed to be truly yourself– mind and body make what they would make, when they make something. There is an ease to the endeavor.
First reminder–I tried to connect my phone (which had everything totally erased last week) to a speaker in order to hear music, something both Otis and I have done many times. (And he’s kind of a computer geek, so REALLY?) We were excited to entertain outdoors for the first time this year. But when I went to put on the music I couldn’t. Otis couldn’t either. For over 20 minutes between us, we struggled. Of course, at the same time we worried about our guests—Do they need anything? Is there enough ice? Are they getting hungry? Are they wishing for music? You’ve been there—it’s Thanksgiving and the turkey isn’t cooking so you burn the salad.
That’s the opposite of focus.
The next morning, without pressure, I connected the speaker in about 60 seconds.
The other thing that happened this weekend, which was all over the news, was the collapse of Jordan Spieth at the Master’s Golf Tournament. I’m not a fan of golf, but I do know that it is a mental game. And when this young golfer was heading to the finish with a big lead, he hit a bad shot, that led to another, and another, and another. Sports psychologist’s Monday morning analysis—if only he had not let that first errant shot shift his focus from what he knows how to do. If he had kept faith in his ability, he likely would have sailed to the championship.
I was reminded that in hoping to be the perfect hostess, or the champion golfer, wanting to do it just right or quickly, it meant the focus shifted and frustration had set it. The flow (and the thrill) had gone.
Wikipedia—“According to Mihaly Csikszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy while performing a task. Flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity.
This feeling of joy is the biggest reason I paint.
Finding “flow”, can start with ritual. When I begin, (you’re going to hate hearing this again), I choose a subject that speaks to me in that moment. I may have thought about painting this or that, but now I’m in front of the blank wall and this or that no longer interests me. So now what? I find something else in the studio, which is strewn with images that appeal. And I pay attention to them, choosing what needs to be chosen. I start by actually feeling the canvas. I feel it’s height and width and the surface. I spray it with water and I feel how the water moves over it. I usually start with charcoal, but maybe not. I scan the selection of media and pick one, without thinking. I respond to the abstracted light and dark shapes of my imagery and let my media do what it’s designed to do in response. I scan my paints, sometimes I have a new tube, which excites, or I choose a color out of curiosity. And go.
In that little routine I’ve created a channel between me, my hand, my subject and everything needed in my art-making process. Even in reiterating that sequence in writing, I begin to feel a calm, a focus, about to take hold.
If you have any tricks for focusing—share. If not, try mine. Someone suggested pot-that’s fine too. It’s legal!
In the “you’re never too old” category is a story of a woman who I can guarantee gets into the flow, based on her output. She painted nearly 400 works in her first 5 years starting at 90! This speaks to the value in just the doing. She is now 105 and she is about to have an exhibit in the states. Here is her story: