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Focussed as compared to scattered

The Fringe Dweller's Guide to the Universe

Focussed as compared to scattered


I've been working with a new client; a guy who has ample reason to believe his wife is having an affair. She's being semi-blatant about it - she took off to Europe, and introduced "mister wonderful" to her two grown children. My client is all over the map with it - and I understand that. He's never experienced this before. He's a scientist, used to precision, unemotional behaviour and "things making sense."

His approach has been quite scattered. He's made demands, and then retracted them. He's yelled and screamed and is now trying tact and diplomacy. He's worried about losing the house, losing the kids. He is talking to a slew of friends, and of course getting conflicting advice.

I don't think he quite "gets" me - because no matter how complex he makes the situation, I keep asking him one thing? "What does his wife want to do about the marriage?"

Actually, I keep suggesting he says a variant of the following to his wife: "I'm not happy with the present situation. I need to know, by Aug 15 (or whenever) whether you are willing to work on the marriage."

He's busy in his head, concocting all kinds of scenarios, involving the kids, the community. He's scaring and confusing himself, and lately thinks that if he acts kind and sweet, she'll "see that he's changed" and all of this will blow over. And I keep saying that this might have a small chance of working if what she wanted was for the marriage to improve. If she's planning to leave and is just waiting for the right time, his attempts, while both noble and helpful in a healthy relationship, are futile. What he needs, I would argue is focussed attention to the specific question: what is his wife's intent?

We might define:

  • Scattered as being all over the place, whether physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally.
  • Focussed, on the other hand, is being of one "mind." One self. Another word might be integrated.

Now, of course, as with all of the dichotomies, there is nothing wrong about being scattered. We also live in a chaotic, random universe, and sometimes, perhaps often, we need to let our hair down and let go. It's all a matter of degree. Or, as I read not too long ago (somewhere - sorry, can't remember where,) "Everything in moderation - including moderation."

I teach businesses and individuals lateral thinking; I don't know a lot of people who are good at that. Now, the process might appear chaotic or scattered, but it isn't. While there is an incredibly free flow of ideas and a lot of looking at things from several angles, what's really going on is what might be called focussed chaos. It's not "out of control" - there is structure and meaning in the work. In that, it's a lot like modern art.

Where I see issues is when there is undisciplined anything. Gabrielle Roth, a dance therapist, has created an exercise where one dances in different ways - lyrical, rhythmic and chaotic are three I remember off the top of my head. The chaotic piece involves flinging oneself around the room to atonal music. But even within this seeming chaos is a structure. The structure is provided by the leaders, the music and the clock.

True chaos, on the other hand, often simply leads to hospitalization.

Underneath things that actually accomplish something is an implicit order and direction. Being scattered, on the other hand, means yielding to whim.

  • One thing one week, another thing the next.
  • Not attending to the present moment because of the appeal of the past, the future, or your fantasies.
  • Not dealing elegantly and directly with relationships because what's going on in your head doesn't match what's going on in the relationship, and you opt for your head, thereby losing the relationship. That's a big one for my clients.

As you might judge, and certainly have read, my preference (neither right nor wrong - just a preference) in life is for focus. I believe that I exhibit great flexibility in my thinking and acting, but not chaotic or scattered thought or action. My reason is simple. I choose to be guided by certain flexible principles, not just do whatever crosses my mind. While I agree with the writers of Language, Structure and Change - "Life is a purposeless drift," I also agree with my buddy David Raithby - "We may not know where we are going, but we can choose to go in a group." Or Ben Wong - "The facts of your life remain. What you do with those facts is up to you."

My wish for a growing and deepening relationship with Dar, for example, precludes doing things that will complicate matters. While we have a broad based relationship, the bottom line for us is that we are committed to a daily walk together, and that we make non-negotiable. So, I'm not going to pick a fight with her because I'm having a bad day or because I need to be right. My goal of deepening the relationship precludes being a jerk and demanding my own way.

Of course, this also applies in the "real world" of problem solving. Dar and I were thinking back several years, to a day we spent "surviving." (Hey, maybe we should go on the show! Not!) We'd driven north of Sudbury to do a baptism of a friend's granddaughter. The father of the baby was a canoeist, and we asked him to set up a paddle for us, we being into kayaks. He picked John's Creek.

He drove us in a Land Rover out into the bush, following a hydro corridor. We soon reached what I would call a river. But I don't live in the North. The sucker was 60 feet wide and ripping along. He says, "Hmm. I paddled this thing a month ago. Took me four hours to get to the lake, and a couple of hours across the lake. But a tornado went through here a couple of days ago. Looks like there's more water in the system. Watch out for deadfall."

Undaunted, we pressed on. Our kayaks are river kayaks. We can't pack much. We had a first aid kit, basic survival gear, and two meals. And a tarp.

We paddled along, taking in the wilderness. We looked at birds and animals scurrying in the woods. We hit the first deadfall 30 minutes in. Took us 20 minutes to navigate around it, but we managed to do it without leaving the boats. Last thing you want to do is get pinned to a deadfall in a kayak in a running river. That will kill you, for sure.

The next deadfall was different. A huge tree was down across the whole "creek." It was sticking out of the river a good 3 feet the entire width of the "creek." The banks on both sides were not climbable. I scouted around and discovered three things.

1) There was a waterfall 100 feet past the deadfall.
2) There was a spot above the waterfall to pull out the kayaks.
3) There was a dead moose caught in the deadfall.

We ended up having to crawl out of the kayaks, up on to the tree, pick up the boats, swing them over the tree and get back in, all without touching the moose. We did a pile of thinking and talking, then did so. (Dead moose smells nasty, in case anyone asks you.) We paddled to the clearing, and portaged the kayaks past what turned out to be a quite large waterfall, perhaps 50 feet high.

We got past it, but there was no way to take the boats back down. Just a steep embankment. (By the bye, I hope you're getting the point. What should have been an easy paddle was turning into an obstacle course. While we had a goal, we also had to continually go into lateral thinking to get home. Scattered panic wouldn't do. At that point, focussed, lateral thinking was a must.) We sat there a few minutes, weighing our options, of which there were none. Our only "out" was the "creek." So, one after another, we climbed into our kayaks, wiggled our butts and got them to tip over the embankment. We slid down, through trees and brush, and crashed back into the creek. Neither of us wanted to capsize and swim in water downstream of the moose so we managed to keep the boats upright.

I could go on and on, but we stopped for lunch, several deadfalls and another waterfall. No more moose, though. It took us 8 hours to paddle the river. We managed also to take some neat pictures, clothed and sans clothes, at the last waterfall, but I digress. I felt like mooning the wilderness, not just flashing it.

Our survival had depended, as it does in "real life," on focus, determination and free thinking. We paddled another 3 hours across the lake, past the hydro dam, and got to a road, pitched down. Our friends' house was 3 kilometres down the road, which meant we had to carry our gear and the kayaks, after paddling 11 hours. We ended up carrying one together for 100 feet, going back and getting the other, carrying it past the first by 100 feet, going back… you get it. 15 hours after we started, we made it back. Obviously.

The wilderness has taught us many lessons, chief of which is the need for focus and commitment. I think of one of my friends, and her note to me last winter, about skiing and getting lost. She focussed, cleared her head, and found her way out. My book, Stories from the Sea of Life, contains other teaching tales with this same theme.

This week, look at your focus. How often do you bail on your relationship, job, path, because your attention wanders and you get "scattered?" How often do you act rigidly, and miss the way out? How often are you stuck in being right, as opposed to free to have flexible focus?

At the end of the day, it's a purposeless drift. Where you end up, and in what condition, is entirely up to you.

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Focussed Flexibility requires of us the understanding that there is always more to a situation than meets the eye or seems to be going on. In the depths, in the "hidden," is more, much more. A friend sent me this picture a couple of weeks ago:

"An amazing shot. This came from a Rig Manager for Global Marine Drilling in St. Johns, Newfoundland. They actually have to divert the path of these things away from the rig by towing them with ships!

Anyway, in this particular case the water was calm & the sun was almost directly overhead so that the diver was able to get into the water and click this pic. They estimated the weight at 300,000,000 tons."


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