Where a right ability to focus comes from

A Christian Science perspective: On overcoming temptations to engage in mindless, distracting activity.

Have you ever noticed that it’s when you have the biggest deadlines that suddenly those sensational ads on the side or bottom of the computer screen become interesting? Normally I’d never take another look at anything that focuses on the star of the latest trendy TV show. But when I’m facing a big deadline and need every minute, even though I ultimately don't click on such ads, suddenly something suggests that they might be interesting.

Watching the Olympics these past weeks has reminded me of the kind of mental focus it takes to accomplish a task with success. Seeing a gymnast never take her eyes off the balance beam to execute a perfect back layout, or a swimmer pull ahead in the last length of the pool to win a relay for her team, is captivating.

The qualities we admire in Olympic athletes, such as mental discipline, are attributes we can all strive to demonstrate. Maybe we won’t be winning a gold medal, but we all have the ability to keep our thought turned in the right direction, letting God direct our thoughts as we pursue right endeavors. Where our thought is, that is where our experience will lead. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and founded the Monitor, wrote of a spiritual focus: “Fixing your gaze on the realities supernal, you will rise to the spiritual consciousness of being, even as the bird which has burst from the egg and preens its wings for a skyward flight” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 261).

And what are “the realities supernal”? Spiritual reality is the truth Christ Jesus taught and demonstrated about God, good, who is our creator (see Psalms 100:3), and about all of us as His spiritual children, naturally expressing spiritual qualities. To grow spiritually, to “rise to the spiritual consciousness of being,” takes an opening of our thought to God. In turn, as we strive to express spiritual ideals and qualities in our lives, we find ourselves less drawn in by unhelpful ways of thinking and acting.

At one of the busiest times in my life, where leadership opportunities overlapped with a full graduate school load, parenting responsibilities, and church volunteerism, I would consciously carve out time I didn’t feel I had to prayerfully consider the spiritual ideals I wanted to cultivate in my life. I remember vividly the initial struggle to put aside my mental list of to-dos and focus wholly on the spiritual qualities underlying all the activity. I was guided by this idea: “The devotion of thought to an honest achievement makes the achievement possible” (Science and Health, p. 199).

Praying to express spiritual qualities more fully, such as wisdom, purposefulness, strength, harmony, and goodness, helped my thinking progress. I was able to gain more of the higher “consciousness of being,” the understanding that these qualities are inherent in us. I was able to increasingly live them, which resulted in inspired activity that was in harmony with the real and enduring model of life as spiritual. It also had the happy side effect of bringing greater peace and calm to my whole day, and activities felt as if they were falling into place more naturally, rather than requiring an impossible human effort to achieve my goals. I found myself able to stay mentally focused on the higher goal of spiritual growth, rather than feeling blown about by the demands of the day.

Our ability to demonstrate a consistent mental focus in doing what we need to do is natural. It is the outcome of divine Principle, God, expressed in our lives through an understanding of God. Whatever tries to draw us in and compel us to turn to mindless activity that wastes our time and distracts us from being our best selves falls flat at the feet of this Principle, God.

Our work is discovering our true spiritual nature. We already possess the gold; as a ray of light reflects all the attributes and qualities of the sun, the God who designed each one of us created us with excellence and clarity. We don’t have to earn these qualities because they are already part of our true identity; but we do have to assimilate and demonstrate them. As we diligently turn our focus increasingly to God, we’ll find more and more that we can do this in everyday moments, and achieve in life what needs to be done.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

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