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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shifting gears

It's dark and cold and rainy and windy this morning, here on Rehoboth Bay.

I get a chill just looking out my window at the rain and the wind and the dark.

Walking Theo in this stuff is not pleasant.

At. All.

Even he agrees with me, doing his business in  a most efficient fashion. He looks back at me and his eyes seem to say, "I'm doing this as fast as I can, Mom."

The wind is coming up from the Northeast and it's Very Strong. As I write this, I'm watching the wind blow the water that's trying to gather in the gutter right over the opening of the drain pipe and off the corner of my house. The waters in the marsh are choppy and Very High.

There are warnings of coastal flooding. I've moved my car.

It's a good day to put some spit and polish on my sermon for tomorrow, maybe clean out a closet and a few drawers, put away some summer stuff and organize my sweaters and coats to take to the dry cleaners. After that, I'll probably spend the afternoon reading.

It's that kind of day.

Oh, I would much rather spend the day doing my usual Saturday errands and riding into town maybe having lunch with a friend  - but that will have to wait for tomorrow.

The day will not go to waste. I'll just have to shift gears, is all.

Life is like that, sometimes.

I've become more and more convinced that one measure of a good life lies in our ability to shift gears. Yes, focus - and staying focused - are very important, but so is the ability to change according to what's happening in your life right now.

I love to drive a car with a stick shift because it gives me a sense of greater control. That may be just an illusion, but I love the participatory nature of driving with four gears on the floor.

Since stick shifts are not as popular as automatic engines, it used to be that they were actually less expensive. Not any more. Now, you have to pay more to get a car with a stick shift. Simple principal of supply and demand, I suppose.

One analogy I've found helpful is that of ridding a bike with gears. There are mental gears of focus which, I think, have a correlation with my old four-speed bike.

The first is a broad attentional focus which allows you to focus on several things all at once, e.g., changing gears, the incline of the hill, cars that are around you, friends that may be riding with you, etc.

The second is a narrow focus which allows you to focus on one, maybe two things, e.g. a passing a car or a companion.

The third is an external attentional focus which directs attention outward toward an object, e.g., the top of the hill.

The fourth and final focus is an internal attentional which is directed inward to thoughts and feelings, e.g., I am getting tired, my legs hurt, I'm almost there, etc.

These types of focus are used in a variety of combinations depending on the situations that arise. Shifting through these mental gears of focus allow you to ride safely in any terrain or weather or condition.

So, too, do these mental gears get you through life. We all need at least four gears - broad attentional, narrow, external and internal - and the ability to shift or use them in combination.

A few years back, I sold my four-gear bike and got myself an old-fashioned Schwinn. No gears. No hand brakes. No wires. A big basket on the front handle. A "saddle basket" on the back which is very helpful when I take it up to the local store for some milk and bread.

It doesn't go very fast. It's not so great going up hills, but I tend not to look for those anymore. I also tend to brake slowly, shifting the weight of my body, instead, and moving my heels back on the pedal to come to a necessary stop.

I still use all my mental gears and shift them accordingly. It suits me just fine, thank you very much.

I'll not be riding my bike today. Indeed, I won't be walking outdoors much today, either, except for those times when Theo deems it necessary. No umbrella in this wind. I'll just have to bundle up and put on a rain hat and some boots and hope it doesn't take too long.

Even so, I'll still be shifting gears and changing my focus on the landscape of the day.

Let the wind howl and the rain pour.

So far, it's been a great ride!


walter said...

Well 4, I believe that the very essence of the spiritual exercise of Mind Raising coined by Dr. Paul’ preaching comes to us by the Vitale Kaeton Grace in the empowering distinction of broad attentional focus, narrow attentional focus, objective attentional focus and inward attentional focus. In the name of the One Organism who keeps us centered and focused we stay centered in the Moment Lyrics Liturgy of the good Life.

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...