Have I found my new focal length?

By | April 16, 2021

When I picked up the metaphorical pen again last month, here on this blog, after almost a decade of silence, I discovered in the course of my writing that I must find a way to change the focal length of my mind’s eye. As I wrote on March 20th, only my second post in the new series:

That this orientation on far horizons of time, rather than space, has come to serve its purpose, and that a new orientation was now required for this later stage of my life.

While part of this transformation journey at this age has to do with coming to terms with the ending of a long phase of choosing to embrace liminality as the constant lived in experience, I cannot deny that this effort in itself is its own form of liminal space – defined as that between what is over and what is not yet. I wrote:

…without commitment, it would not be possible to gain clarity much less figure out where exactly to focus. That is, one can already see that the need to shorten focal length of my mind’s eye requires a commitment to the distance from the lenses based on which to calculate the curvature of the new lens.

Late last night, in that sleepless zone, it came to me that perhaps I had found the new distance for my focal length. On the necessary commitment required to gain clarity and focus, I have long turned to EM Forster’s words:

” … is not a matter of contract – that is the main difference between the world of personal relationships and the world of business relationships. It is a matter for the heart, which signs no documents.

And, if, going forward, matters are for the heart to decide, then one’s mind’s eye must necessarily then invert its viewpoint entirely, not simply change its focal length. That is, one must first look within, as I have been doing – hesitantly and with great effort – and then, and only then, turn one’s gaze outward to the world outside, contemplating the view from the inner directed perspective rather than being driven by the far sight that is by nature always externally focused, pulling us along towards the intensity of its visions of an emerging future.

That is the true reorientation I was seeking, not simply changing the focus point from far horizons to domestic concerns thus bringing it forward and closer in terms of time and space. For the latter would still imply one’s gaze being fixed to an external point – regardless of one’s distance from the horizon line – by which one was orienting oneself in directions to travel or decisions to make. Inverting the entire frame of reference positions the core of direction seeking and wayfinding within oneself – still positioning it on a human scale, thus itself implying that the focal length had necessarily been shortened.

I have been struggling with the words to craft this articulation, able to sense that I must pull the focal length back to human scale, for its the human to human bond that forms the building blocks of community and society, but it’s only now as I write and rewrite that I can see I was still positioning the viewpoint outside of my own senses and inner eye. I can see the rightness of the inversion as the key to reorientation as I look at the words I have now written out.

I suspect my surprise at my revelation comes from the unquestioned association of concepts such as ikigai, and all matters relating to life’s purpose and meaning, the engine that motivates you, the internal driver for your efforts and striving, as being some far grander purpose and meaning on a larger than life scale. Changing the world, impacting billions, transforming quality of life, and all that kind of thing… To focus within is the task of those who withdraw from life’s petty concerns to hermitages and monasteries and meditate on the infinite nothingness. The mundane is left behind, and rendered insignificant in comparison.

But inverting the focal point does not imply focusing inwards, to the exclusion of all else. Rather, it means that one’s inner eye is outwardly directed from an internal vantage point. It implies a shift in reliance on inner senses and sensemaking, as much as it does taking care of internal and domestic needs first, as the starting point; before looking up and outwards at the distant horizons of time and space.

From the perspective of living in liminality which I embraced 15 or 16 years ago after as much introspective writing on this blog, its a complete transformation in mindset and worldview. The transition zone in the middle is not the constant anymore, described often as “dancing in between” the past and present, the before and the after. The constant has moved out of neutral into the present, with all that it demands and describes, and that becomes the new constant to be protected and secured until it stabilizes as the lived experience.

The question that remains is how this shift affects one’s approach to innovation and design given that I’d originally embraced liminal space as my constant due its very nature as the rightful mode for creative conceptualization. And, whether its a question that remains as worth exploring is also up for contemplation.

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