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"Man's mind stretched to a new idea,
never goes back to its original dimensions."

Oliver Wendell Holmes

The ability to direct your focus is an art. All creative work is the result of clarity and the expansion of focused intent. There are two kinds of focus: hard and soft.

Creative Focus

Hard focus is the willful concentration of attention on a single point or idea to the exclusion of all else. Soft focus is the purposeful expansion of awareness to include the whole environment, without singling out any one part, and being aware that you are aware.

Creative work is a combination of both kinds of focused attention. Hard, or singular focus, is necessary in the beginning to concentrate the mind and organize an idea, problem, or desire that you want to create. Most people are familiar with this kind of concentrated attention. In fact, we are all too familiar with this approach. We have assumed this is the only kind of useful focus to apply to any situation. Though it is useful, and necessary at some stage in creating our desires, without a soft focus we miss the subtle clues and opportunities that are part of the solution or final product.

Soft focus is best described as an expanded attention with conscious awareness. Essentially, you simply become aware that you are aware. You don't focus on any one thing. You become the act of awareness itself, without placing that awareness on any one thing. This is a powerful tool and heavily overlooked in western society. This is the heart of Zen practice initially. Soft focus is not the same as being "spaced out" since that frame of mind is really a kind of unconscious focus with the eyes open. Soft focus is not daydreaming, as you are focusing on one idea to the exclusion of others when you daydream.

Soft focus begins with a relaxation of the mind and visual field. You become aware of all that is around you simultaneously, but acutely aware that you are aware. This is Self watching Self. Pure observation of awareness itself. A bit of a paradox. Mediators can relate to this idea fairly quickly, as this is the purpose of many eastern meditations. This is what you find when you enter the Void. There is no-thing to place your focus on, but you are aware that you are aware and encircled with potential.


The value of soft focus is fairly obvious. In order to maintain an open mind about anything you are attempting to accomplish, you literally have to open your mind. Float away for a time from all your prejudices, assumptions, needs, and limitations towards the project or problem you are addressing. Without this emptying of the mind any hidden possibilities would be missed.

 Try this simple technique:

  • Relax the body wherever you are. This can be at work, home or traveling
    (though not advised when driving a car).
  • Neutralize your emotional state. Allow yourself to become passive to your environment.
  • Look out to something quite neutral in your environment.
        The sky is a good place.
        A white wall.
        Anything that won’t distract a passive focus.
  • Imagine the space that surrounds you.
  • Imagine that you are that space.
  • Imagine that you are expanding out into the empty space around you.
  • Allow a feeling of expansion to permeate your mind.
  • Allow yourself to become aware that you are aware, but without boundaries.
  • You can close your eyes if you need to, but after awhile you can do this with eyes open.

My favorite approach to this, and something I do everyday in meditation for a period of time, is the following: imagine yourself as a blue feather that is floating on the wind. There is no destination, no time, no obstacles, just a free floating feeling. You are aware that you are floating freely with no place to go and no time to be anywhere. Just be and enlarge into that sense of freedom and expansion.

Soft focus can be practiced almost anywhere and anytime. If you are struggling with a problem that needs immediate solution, after you have concentrated on what the problem is, and searched for known solutions, allow yourself the ability to do a soft focus before you determine a solution. If you have a vague idea of a creative project you want to start, after you have narrowed down your ideas and materials, allow a soft focus to keep your mind open to any possibilities that could improve its expression.

Allow the aspect of Self that is always aware of everything around you to come to the surface of your awareness. This is the same mind, or Self, that is regulating your body every second, keeping complete homeostasis present and alive, and in your dream state. There is an aspect of every human being that never sleeps and is ever alert and ready to maintain the life in it’s domain. Call this Self anything you want, the unconscious, higher self, spirit guide, whatever your religious and philosophical persuasion allows. Naming it doesn’t change its essence or its ability to aid you in everything you do. Learn to use Self as a tool for creative thought.

As the quote above states, a mind once stretched never returns to its former state. Expanding your mind literally by imagining it expanding without boundary, and allowing it to becomes aware of itself, will keep your mind ever elastic and receptive to creative ideas and approaches to life. This is the most simple and elegant exercise you can adopt every day to maintain an "open mind". It becomes easier to experience with practice and is a very refreshing break from normal thought.

© J.L. Read, 1998. All Rights Reserved.
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This site is dedicated in loving memory
to its creator, Janet L. Read
1949 — 2000


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