Focussed as compared to scattered

Whole Being-Focussed as compared to scattered

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Whole Being


Focussed as com­pared to scat­tered  —  You ever watch peo­ple walk­ing along while tex­ting? That’s what scat­tered looks like. It’s a mir­a­cle they sur­vive. Being focussed takes discipline.

My first and most pop­u­lar book,

This End­less Moment.

Learn to live a full and sat­is­fy­ing life. 


Here’s a story from a couple of decades ago:

I’d been work­ing with a new client; the guy who has learned that his wife is hav­ing an affair. She was being pret­ty bla­tant about it  —  she’d even tak­en off to Europe with him, and had intro­duced “mis­ter won­der­ful” to her two grown children.

My client was all over the map with it  —  and I under­stand that  —  after all, he’d nev­er expe­ri­enced this before. He was a sci­en­tist, and he was used to pre­ci­sion, unemo­tion­al behav­iour and “things mak­ing sense.”

His approach has been quite scat­tered. He’d made demands, and then retract­ed them. He’d yelled and screamed… then tried tact and diplo­ma­cy. He’d wor­ried about los­ing the house, los­ing the kids. He’d talked to a slew of his friends, and of course kept get­ting con­flict­ing advice.

I don’t think he quite “got” me  —  because no mat­ter how com­plex he made the sit­u­a­tion, I kept sug­gest­ing that he say to her:

“I’m not hap­py with the present sit­u­a­tion. I need to know, by (3 weeks lat­er) whether you are will­ing to work on sav­ing the marriage.”

This approach cuts to the heart of what is actu­al­ly going on. It pulls all of the scat­tered pieces together.

He, how­ev­er, was­n’t buy­ing it. 

He was lost in his head, con­coct­ing all kinds of sce­nar­ios, involv­ing the kids, the com­mu­ni­ty. He spent his days scar­ing and con­fus­ing him­self, switch­ing between anger and act­ing kind and sweet. He hoped that “every­thing will just blow over.”

The problem with this approach is, it’s a waste of time.

His approach might have had a small chance of work­ing, but only if what she wanted was for the mar­riage to improve.

What he needed, I would argue, was focussed attention on one thing:
“What is my wife’s intent?”


We might define:

  • Scat­tered: being all over the place, whether phys­i­cal­ly, men­tal­ly, or emotionally.
  • Focussed: being of one “mind.” One self. It’s “being inte­grat­ed.”

There is noth­ing “wrong” with being scat­tered. We live in a chaot­ic, ran­dom uni­verse, and some­times, per­haps often, we need to let our hair down and let go of think­ing we can con­trol any of it.

I used to teach busi­ness­es and indi­vid­u­als lat­er­al think­ing; I don’t know a lot of peo­ple who are good at that. Basi­cal­ly, a free flow of ideas end up get­ting systematized.

The lat­er­al think­ing process might appear chaot­ic or scat­tered, but it isn’t. While there is an incred­i­bly free flow of ideas and a lot of look­ing at things from sev­er­al angles, what’s real­ly going on is what might be called focussed chaos. 

It’s not “out of con­trol”  —  there is struc­ture and mean­ing in the process. It’s a lot like mod­ern art.

Prob­lems occur when there is undis­ci­plined any­thing. So we pro­pose struc­tured chaos. In oth­er words, even chaos is ben­e­fi­cial when one remains focussed.

True chaos, on the other hand, often leads to hospitalization.

There is an implic­it order and direc­tion (a focus) beneath things that actu­al­ly accom­plish some­thing. Being scat­tered means yield­ing to whim.

Exam­ples of being scattered:

  • Run­ning blind­ly from one thing to anoth­er thing.
  • Not attend­ing to the present moment because of the appeal of your fan­tasies regard­ing the past, the future, or “what’s wrong.”
  • Not deal­ing ele­gant­ly and direct­ly with rela­tion­ships because what’s going on in your head does­n’t match what’s going on in the rela­tion­ship, and you opt for your head, there­by los­ing the relationship.

My pref­er­ence (nei­ther right nor wrong  —  just a pref­er­ence) is for focus. I pre­fer great flex­i­bil­i­ty in my think­ing and act­ing, with­out chaot­ic or scat­tered thought or action. 

My rea­son is sim­ple. I choose to be guid­ed by cer­tain flex­i­ble prin­ci­ples, not just do what­ev­er cross­es my mind.

While I agree with the writ­ers of “Lan­guage, Struc­ture and Change”– that “Life is a pur­pose­less drift,” I also agree with David Raithby  —  

We may not know where we are going, but we can choose to go in a group.” 

Or Ben Wong  — 

The facts of your life remain. What you do with those facts is up to you.”

My 42 year focus on grow­ing and deep­en­ing my rela­tion­ship with Dar­bel­la, for exam­ple, pre­cludes doing things that will com­pli­cate matters. 

There is great flex­i­bil­i­ty in our rela­tion­ship, but the bot­tom line is that we are com­mit­ted to a dai­ly walk togeth­er. So, I’m not going to pick a fight with her because I’m hav­ing a bad day or because I need to be right.

My focus on deepening the relationship precludes my being a jerk and demanding my own way.


Focussed atten­tion also applies in the “real world” of prob­lem solv­ing.

Dar and I once spent a day “sur­viv­ing.” We’d dri­ven north of Sud­bury, and stayed with a friend. The guy was a canoeist, and we had our kayaks along, so we’d asked him to set up a pad­dle for us.

He picked John’s Creek.

Fol­low­ing a hydro cor­ri­dor, he drove us into the bush in a Land Rover. We reached what I would call a riv­er, not a creek. But I don’t live in the North. The suck­er was 60 feet wide and rip­ping along. 

He says,

Hmm. I pad­dled this creek a month ago. Took me a cou­ple of hours to get to the lake, and then a cou­ple of hours across the lake. But a tor­na­do went through here a cou­ple of days ago. Looks like there’s more water in the sys­tem. Watch out for dead-fall from the tornado.”

Undaunt­ed, we pressed on.

Our kayaks are riv­er kayaks. We can’t pack much. We had a first aid kit, basic sur­vival gear, and two meals. And a tarp.

We pad­dled along, tak­ing in the wilder­ness. We looked at birds and ani­mals scur­ry­ing in the woods. We hit the first dead-fall 30 min­utes in. 

Last thing you want to do is get pinned to a dead-fall in a kayak in a run­ning riv­er. That will kill you, for sure. 

Took us 20 min­utes to care­ful­ly nav­i­gate around it; we man­aged to do it with­out leav­ing the boats.

The next dead-fall was dif­fer­ent. A huge tree was down across the whole “creek.” It was stick­ing out of the riv­er a cou­ple of feet for the entire width of the “creek.” The banks on both sides were not climbable, which meant we had to stay in the kayaks and get past the dead-fall.

I head­ed to a bank and had a look around. I dis­cov­ered three things.

1) There was a water­fall 100 feet past the dead-fall.
2) There was a spot after the dead-fall and above the water­fall to pull out the kayaks.
3) There was a huge, bloat­ed, dead moose caught in the dead-fall.

We decid­ed we’d have to crawl out of the kayaks, climb up onto the downed tree trunk, pick up the boats, swing them over the tree and get back in, all with­out touch­ing the moose.

We did a pile of think­ing and talk­ing, then fol­lowed through with our plan. (Dead moose smells nasty, in case any­one asks you.) 

We slith­ered out of our kayaks, picked them up, lift­ed them over the tree, and slith­ered back in.

We then pad­dled to the spot where we could get up the bank, got out of our boats, and then portaged the kayaks past what turned out to be a quite large water­fall, per­haps 50 feet high.

We got past the waterfall, but there was no path to take the boats back down. Just a steep embankment.

(By the bye, I hope you’re get­ting the point. What should have been an easy pad­dle turned into a dan­ger­ous obsta­cle course. While we had a pri­or plan, actu­al con­di­tions on the “creek” meant that we had to con­tin­u­al­ly go into lat­er­al think­ing to get home. Scat­tered pan­ic would­n’t do. Focussed, lat­er­al think­ing was a must.)

We sat there a few min­utes, weigh­ing our options, which ere limited. 

Our only “out” was the “creek”–there wa$no going back. 

So, one after anoth­er, we climbed into our kayaks, wig­gled our butts and got them to tip over the embank­ment. We slid down, through trees and brush, and crashed back into the creek. 

Nei­ther of us want­ed to cap­size and swim in water down­stream of the dead moose, so we man­aged to keep the boats upright.

I could go on and on, but we stopped for lunch, sev­er­al dead-falls and anoth­er water­fall. No more moose, though. It took us 8 hours just to pad­dle the “creek.”

Our sur­vival depend­ed, as it does in “real life,” on focus, deter­mi­na­tion and free thinking. 

We pad­dled anoth­er 3 hours across the lake, past the hydro dam, and got to a road. Our friends’ house was 3 kilo­me­ters down the road, which meant we had to car­ry our gear and the kayaks, after pad­dling 11 hours. 

We end­ed up car­ry­ing one togeth­er for 100 feet, going back and get­ting the oth­er, car­ry­ing it past the first by 100 feet, going back… you get it.

15 hours after we started, we made it back. Obviously.

The wilder­ness has taught us many lessons, chief of which is the need for focus and commitment.

This week, look at your focus. How often do you lose your focus regard­ing your rela­tion­ships, job, path, because your atten­tion wan­ders and you get “scat­tered?”

How often do you act rigid­ly, and miss the way out? How often are you stuck in being right, as opposed to hav­ing a flex­i­ble focus?

At the end of the day, life’s a pur­pose­less drift. Where you end up, and in what con­di­tion, is entire­ly up to you.


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