In an old album I find a picture of my college-aged self, long hair, giant ’70s glasses and all. I’m playing my French horn, staring laser-eyed at the music on the stand as if trying to burn a hole through it. In case you’re wondering whether that indicated high general tension: YES. I was also demonstrating a basic human skill.
We are capable of a very narrow, fixed focus and a wide, flexible scan. We made much greater use of the wide scan in a wilder environment (find dinner, don’t be dinner!), before the modern luxury of a world that doesn’t require constant situational awareness. Now we spend most of the time immobile, staring forward and downward at a fixed distance. Instead of large physical threats, we live with smaller perceived threats (deadline!!).
Try this: stare intently at one bit of the man’s face below and keep zooming in. You may notice that you get pulled forward and your breathing stops. Awareness of your surroundings grows dimmer. Not to mention your response to his anxious expression!
Now shift your perspective:
Let go of focusing on the picture and let your vision widen to take in the whole periphery. You could extend your arms out to either side so that your fingertips are barely in your visual field. Sense out past your fingertips .
Start to include a sense of the ground underneath you. Map the space surrounding you and let it get more and more 3 dimensional.
Find the space behind you and the space from the top of your head to the ceiling.
Sense out with your entire skin surface.
When I invite students to re-orient their attention from a downward, inward focus to one that senses out into the environment, I notice that everything shifts. There’s less worry about being right, more curiosity about what’s going on around them, more availability for movement of breath, more dynamic balance through all the joints. The whole elastic system changes in response to the shift in orientation.
Find the ground.
Find the space.
Make your whole self available!
I saw this springy toddler on a bulletin board at MSUM in Moorhead, advertising a music educator’s conference poster. Thanks to Dr. Terrie Manno for sending it to me!
Other photo credits: Pexels