Mind Your Focus


I was moved by the recent video of a cello player who set up his instrument among the rubble of a bomb explosion. His neighborhood in Baghdad had suffered three car bombings in one day, and his anguish must have been colossal. Instead of staying home, angry and afraid, something moved him to offer up his art in the space of death and destruction.

It’s hard to watch the video and not feel the success of his initiative. I wondered how he chose which piece to play, or even if he gave it any thought at all. Perhaps he just started playing, focusing on what his music does for him. He played his own arrangement, the product of countless hours of daily practice, offered to the world in a few fleeting moments. Beauty composed and executed by human potential.

It’s easy in times of despair to decide that we can’t possibly do our work – because our ability to concentrate is diminished, our attention is required elsewhere, we need to shut down instead. These permissions are valid sometimes. But perhaps they’re not the best choice. What we focus on grows within us. If we focus on how scary and awful the dangers are, and how powerful the destructive forces might be, it’s easy to become immobilized and angry.

Anger is a pain-based response that limits our ability to think and act effectively. Studies have shown that when we’re angry, our peripheral vision actually blurs and our hearing falters. We focus on how wronged we are, instead of focusing on how to solve the problem, or what we might do to make things better.

In a war zone, these facts are useless. However, I watched this video and marveled at the humble gift an artist provided for his neighborhood, and, thanks to someone’s smartphone, for me. His focus was his music, his art, his work. And because he made that choice, he detonated the forces of beauty and hope, multiplying them exponentially.

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