Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/
I’ve long asked myself what people mean exactly when they use this word. It came up in a seminar recently. One of the participants was asking herself the same question out loud. It came up in the context of Multi-Tasking and “Uni-Tasking”. I told a story to the group, which I’d heard somewhere and modified. Consider a person learning to work with wood on a table saw. One false move and some body part gets sawed off. No one would doubt that this work requires enormous focus and concentration. Now imagine this person has so much talent and so much experience in working with the table saw that she now teaches classes. Now she’s not only working with her table saw, she is also supervising 10 others. Which “Focus” is greater, when she started out mastering the power tool and had relatively little to concentrate on, or when she began teaching and needed to concentrate not only on what she was doing, but on others as well?
As I hope I’ve made clear in this example, multi-tasking, concentrating on several focus points at once is not necessarily a reduction in focus. So when does multi-tasking constitute a lack of focus? How exactly do we determine that for ourselves? It’s clear that the balanced and appropriate number of focus points over time have much to do with context. While driving, for example, you wouldn’t dream of ONLY looking in the rear-view mirror. It’s just as clear that you cannot neglect looking in the rear-view mirror as a context-appropriate ‘task’ in the act of driving. Take singing opera, to use a favorite example of mine; what are the appropriate points of conscious concentration for singing masterfully in a performance? This will be different from singer to singer, of course, but consider just a short list of a singer’s possible multi-tasking focus points; legato, dynamics, harmony, melody, tempo, staging, The Conductor, The Orchestra, The Audience, Emotional Expression, The other Singers, subtle anatomical adjustments, acoustics, style, language, phrasing, breath, facial expression, body language, props, to mention just a few. How much is conscious, focused activity and how much goes on automatic pilot? In any complex activity like singing, making process automatic is part of operational procedure. Yet it’s always possible, even necessary, to call any automatic activity back into conscious and regulatory focus.
Another good example of the Uni— and Multi— styles in what we mean by “Focus” is found in the different traditions of contemplation and meditation. There are numerous forms in which the technique requires as narrow a ‘focus’ consciousness as possible. Mantra meditations, prayer beads, repetitive chanting, crystal gazing, focusing on the flame of a candle and many more are some examples of these. Then there are styles of meditation where the procedure is more to open the sensory focus lens as wide as possible, to become aware of more and more simultaneously. Vital meditative states are achieved by mastering both directions. This same phenomenon can be experienced during active listening. What exactly is your conscious focus when you’re listening well?… the words?…the vocal pressure?…the volume?…the face?….the hand gestures?….general body language? Neurological research has shown convincingly that we take in MUCH more than we can possible be conscious of. So what are we conscious of? When does multi-tasking turn into distraction? You know the phenomenon when one person says to another; “You’re not really LISTENING to me!”; …then the other person repeats back word for word what was said, only to hear; “That’s not what I mean!!!”?
I know I’ve asked more questions in this blog than I’ve answered. I hope one point is clear. When someone says: “FOCUS!”, they do not necessarily mean to reduce concentration onto a single, solitary point of consciousness (even if they THINK they do). Focus as a resource for mastery is something very fluid and it should be taught as such. Each of us has a different consciousness mix and this fluid mix changes from year to year, from day to day and from hour to hour. Crucial here as well is to know with a certainty that this ability to focus can be trained and optimized.
Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/