I’ve been writing about the power of appreciation and for several weeks we have been exploring the power of focus to enhance appreciation. Two weeks ago I urged you to step back and broaden your focus to gain perspective on the good stuff. Last week I urged you zoom in and narrow your focus to gain engagement with the good stuff. This week I urge you to drop down and deepen your focus to gain wisdom about the good stuff. No matter what is going on, our focus determines what we appreciate. Go deep, and you’ll appreciate the mystery behind it all.
Lately I’ve been up to my eyeballs in deep thinking. The final draft of our book on coaching in schools (my wife and I are writing it together) is due at our publishers in one week and that means we are having to review and revise the entire project based upon the feedback we received from our reviewers and our continued exploration of the topic. Every time we look at the material, we see new ways to make it better. It is at once a joy and a labor of love. I’ve never worked so hard on a piece of writing and I think the final product shows.
We’ve been talking about the power of appreciation in this series and the topic parallels much of what we are writing about in our book. It is exhausting to think this deeply about a topic, but it is also exhilarating. That’s one more way appreciation works. We can step back and broaden the focus to gain perspective on the good stuff. We can zoom in and narrow the focus to gain engagement with the good stuff. Or we can drop down and deepen the focus to gain wisdom about the good stuff. With this book, I’ve been going deep and gaining wisdom.
The learning process is really quite amazing. Regardless of whether things are going well or going poorly, we can always appreciate learning. That is a universal truth. In all situations of life, people have gone deep and learned more. In even the most difficult and trying of situations, people have found things to celebrate and claim. Viktor Frankl celebrated and claimed his freedom to focus his attention and choose his responses while interred in a concentration camp.
I heard a similar story this past week from a WWII pilot who was shot down behind enemy lines in Germany. What a series of almost impossible to believe coincidences and tragedies! He once thought of shooting himself, only to lose his balance and fall down a mountain with a broken shoulder and no shoes in the dead of winter. “When I finally stopped falling,” he noted, “I was in no different shape than I was before, only now I no longer had my gun.” So he mustered the courage to walk in the sleeves of his jacket for more than 24 hours before getting captured and taken to a concentration camp himself.
What kept him going? Deepening the focus. He got an English Bible and read it religiously. He played mental games while locked in solitary confinement. He refused to cooperate. He ran away whenever he got the chance. He occasionally made friends along the way. He never stopped thinking about his crew. And he never gave up hope that the war would end before he would die. Those were some of his practices for deepening his focus. They were enough to keep him going until General Patton marched into his POW camp. Patton ordered donuts for everyone and, because of this pilot’s poor medical condition, he was among the first ones to be sent home. How’s that for appreciating illness and infirmity as gifts!
That’s the way deepening our focus works. It helps us to transcend the obvious problems and to see things anew. In doing research for our book, I bumped into the following description by the award winning biologist Edward O. Wilson in his book Biophilia: The Human Bond With Other Species. It describes his feelings regarding an inquiry he did near the Arawak village of Bernhardsdorp in the white-sand coastal forest of Surinam. Here are a few excerpts that wonderfully and poignantly capture the spirit of deepening our focus:
I walked into the forest, struck as always by the coolness of the shade beneath tropical vegetation, and continued until I came to a small glade that opened onto the sandy path. I narrowed the world down to the span of a few meters. Again I tried to compose the mental set • call it the naturalist’s trance, the hunter’s trance • by which biologists locate more elusive organisms. I imagined that this place and all its treasures were mine alone and might be so forever in memory…
I focused on a few centimeters of ground and vegetation. I willed animals to materialize, and they came erratically into view. Metallic blue mosquitoes floated down from the canopy in search of a bare patch of skin, cockroaches with their variegated wings perched butterfly-like on sun lit leaves, black carpenter ants sheathed in recumbent golden hairs filed in haste through moss on a rotting log. I turned my head slightly and all of them vanished. Together they composed only in an infinitesimal fraction of the life actually present•. The forest was a tangled bank tumbling down to the grassland’s border. Inside it was a living sea through which I moved like a diver groping across a littered floor. But I knew that all around me bits and pieces, the individual organisms and their populations, were working with extreme precision. A few of the species were locked together in forms of symbiosis so intricate that to pull out one would bring others spiraling to extinction. Such is the consequence of the adaptation by coevolution, the reciprocal genetic changes of species that interact with one another through many life cycles•.
After the sun’s energy is captured by the green plants, it flows through the chains of organisms dendritically, like blood spreading from the arteries into networks of microscopic capillaries. It is in such capillaries, in the life cycles of thousands of individual species, that life’s important work is done. Thus nothing in the whole system makes sense until the natural history of the constituent species becomes known•
As the light’s intensity rose and fell with the transit of the sun, silverfish, beetles, spiders, bark lice, and other creatures were summoned from their sanctuaries and retreated back in alternation… Now to the very heart of wonder. Because species diversity was created prior to humanity, and because we evolved within it, we have never fathomed its limits. As a consequence, the living world is the natural domain of the most restless and paradoxical part of the human spirit. Our sense of wonder grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery. This catalytic reaction, seemingly an inborn human trait, draws us perpetually forward in a search for new places and new life (pp. 6-10).
I have always loved the concept and the experience of the “naturalist’s trance” or the “hunter’s trance.” It totally changes my perception and appreciation of the forest. I live in a wooded area which happens to be a bird sanctuary. We have had visits from Audubon members who report they see more birds outside our windows than they sometimes see when they go on birding expeditions. With birds all around, it’s easy to become rather mindless about them. We kind of take them for granted.
Yet every once in a while I hear the sound of a bird I recognize: the Pileated Woodpecker. These are grand birds, about 18 inches in length, with a darting flight pattern and a distinctive, loud call. When I hear that call it often breaks my mindlessness and takes me into the “naturalist’s trance.” Everything is instantly transformed as I begin to look for that bird. Sights and sounds that were, a moment before, just a blur, now come into focus. I peer into the forest, up into the trees, around corners, until maybe, just maybe, I find it’s source.
That’s what E. O. Wilson experienced in Surinam. He called it a “sense of wonder” and “deep mystery.” It led him to abandon routine ways of knowing; he willed animals into existence. Everything looked different to him. The forest became a “living sea,” transformed into a magical unity of “extreme precision” filled with living, symbiotic, and intricate networks of relations. By deepening his focus he came to appreciate new meaning in what others saw as just a forest.
That’s what happens when we deepen our focus. We no longer take things for granted. We no longer go through the motions. We are no longer mindless. We are, instead, mindful of the best life has to offer. Life may be difficult, but going deep can assist us to see beauty beneath the difficulty. It can raise us up to unimaginable heights. It can make everything new. And, yes, it can help us find the woodpecker. ☺
Coaching Inquiries: What are you dealing with right now in life? How could you see it in new ways? Would you rather broaden your focus, narrow your focus, or deepen your focus? How could you best come to appreciate the fullness of life?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
It was great seeing you again in Boston, and chatting just a bit with you about your (amazing) LifeTrek Provisions and my challenging 8-year-old daughter. Wasn’t the Conference uplifting, exciting, and positive! Thank you so much for all your contributions. I really appreciate what you say (and write.) It always makes me think on a deeper level, and leaves me feeling hopeful. The conference filled me with a ton of ideas as well as the energy to bring them to fruition. But I specifically wanted to thank you, as our brief interaction, as well as your presentation the last day was very meaningful to me. I wish you the very best, and look forward to the next time we meet.
I want to let you know how much I admire your development, work, and refinement of what you do. I think of you as a model to move forward with my own coaching practice. I admired you when we took coach training together and I admire your work now. You are one of the most consistent coaching professionals I have seen in the field and I will use you as kind of role model. I may even use the services of your webhost. Thanks for the inspiration.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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