Focus, attention and feedback

Before I started to study Chado, I was a flighty person with a very small attention span.  So much so that my Sensei called me ‘the flying girl’ because I was so ungrounded.  I was great at starting things, but lousy at finishing them. I even had trouble making my bed because I would become distracted before I could finish it. I had closets of artwork, writing and studies.  When I began my tea study, friends laughed because they knew it wouldn’t last.  But for some reason, tea attracted me so much that I have stuck with it for many years.

In the beginning to sit through a two hour tea lesson was difficult for me.  That is not to say I haven’t started other things that I never finished, but for a while I didn’t start new things because tea showed me how unfocused and chaotic my life was.  Through the patience of my sensei and discipline of temae, I have learned to focus my attention.   The discipline of meditation has helped, as well as consciously learning to say no to  impluses that could take me away from what I am doing until I complete it.

And yet, I still find myself daydreaming when I should be paying attention.  I have a rich imagination and inner life.  Even when I am concentrating, I still have lapses of attention.  Besides tea and meditation, two things I have taken up have helped give me feedback on my lapses of attention:  calligraphy and archery.

Both of these studies have given me instant feedback on when I am not present in these endeavors.  You can see it in the ink, every hesitation, wrong direction,  loss of brush control, stopping short or continuing when I was not supposed to.  Starting in the wrong place, not controlling my breath, or getting lost in the strokes, each show up on the paper.

Archery too, is a sport of consistency and repetition. Controlling your breathing, doing it exactly the same way each time with the same body posture and same movements and being present shows up in your results.  The slightest movement of finger or tightness of grip will affect your shot.  The smallest loss of focus affects where the arrow goes.  Recently, I had my best round  where 5 arrows all landed in an area the size of the palm of my hand, with each shaft hitting the target at exactly the same angle.  I haven’t been able to do it again since.

But these instant feedback loops show me where I have work to do.  It shows how often my mind wanders and how I can pull it back to stay focused to complete my task and do my best.  And it has the added bonus of improving my temae and making me a better chajin.

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