If you have ever taken photography, you probably had a lesson in how dramatically different a scene can look, just by adjusting the focus of the camera. Even without a camera, you can shift your gaze from a tiny detail up close, to a panoramic view out to the horizon and see completely different things. Developing an ability to shift focus is highly useful in craft and art and life. A group of flowers in a garden is beautiful, but getting in really close, you might see a completely different world inside just one of them. Or turning your face to the sky, you might catch the clouds as they drift into a pattern never to be seen again. I try to do this when I am creatively stuck, and I challenge myself to do this when I am stuck in an emotion or a problem, or when a situation seems less than perfect.
On my recent trip to San Juan Island in Washington State, my friend Jan and I had a lovely dinner and then decided to check out a park on the Island – the American Camp (in case you know it). It is at the end of the island, and we arrived around 7:30 p.m. The park is open in the summer until 10, and it stays light out nearly that late, so we continued on into a mostly deserted parking lot. As we got out of the car, we noticed that there was a man getting out of his truck nearby. It was us and him, and it started to rain as we walked over to read the nearby trail map. This setup alone would be enough for some of my friends to jump back in the car and get out of that place. They would focus on a stranger with a pickup truck, the remote-feeling location, the fact that we did not know the area, and the rain that was starting up. Everything would start to look more and more dark and feel more and more scary.
We were aware of these factors, but decided to give it a little while, and see what we could see. The light was amazing, the rain was not heavy, and we had jackets and long pants. The trail begged us to come along and see where it led. After we were just a bit away from the parking lot, we did circle back to check on what the man was doing (we’re not stupid and wanted to be sure our rental car was intact), and that’s when the first miracle happened. The man had taken longer than us to start his walk because he changed his shoes. We got my umbrella out of the car, and as we started away down another trail away from the lot, he called out to us to look back in time to see a small black and white fox investigating our car. The three of us froze and watched as it meandered around both vehicles and back into the brush. The man was now one of us, just as excited as we were to be exploring this empty park at the perfect hour.
We only saw him from afar after that, but we did get a close up encounter with the fox. She came out and stopped right in front of us on the trail and gave us a long stare, as if to say “You are lucky to be here at this moment”. Or perhaps she simply wanted a snack. Either way it was amazing. We kept going and soon we were completely under the spell of it all - the landscape, the light, the scenery, the colors all around us. We didn’t notice that our pants were wet from the tall grasses along the paths, or that our hair was blown sideways and stuck to our heads. We became lost in the moment, the lit up yellow grasses against a steely sky, the sun behind trees and plants, the dark sea, the dramatic clouds, the beauty of a double rainbow that stayed for at least 45 minutes. I had no sense at all of time while we were there, so I made the time up afterwards based on when we got back. Our focus was so utterly shifted away from discomfort, fear, and normal daily life. None of it mattered. AT ALL. Even in my memory now, it is a golden time out of time. We took pictures, and as beautiful as they are, the experience was so much more vivid.
As we drove out of the park, the rain coming down even harder, the even more bright rainbow actually reflecting on the ocean, the road and trees all light all golden, the fox ran out in front of our car, stopped us, and bade us farewell. Because we had decided not to focus on practicality, staying dry, worry about a stranger, being full from dinner, the packing we needed to do, or any of a hundred other things we could have used to avoid that hike, we were gifted with a true, deep, lifetime memory and knowing of that place which we will never forget.
Every single day we have a choice about what we decide to focus on. We can look inward or outward, magnify or minimize. Sometimes especially when we are not in dramatic surroundings, when our normal lives feel weighted down or less than what we wanted, that is the exact time to ask yourself how you can shift your focus. Ask for input, look from another angle, just let it go and pick something else to focus on for a while. There is always something we are missing, something that might help, something beautiful just waiting to be seen. All you have to do is be willing to entertain the notion that other views, ideas, solutions, views and paths are out there and they can then appear to you. Sometimes you have to believe it to see it. Try it and let me know what magic happens for you. It really is always there just waiting for us to shift our focus.
Here's to seeing things differently,