This has been an important, ongoing shift for me.

And it’s one that has been accelerated during my big life change of moving to Italy.

There is nothing like throwing oneself out of the safety of the “known and predictable” to compel a person to open their eyes more widely. Maybe that was part of my motivation for moving here, to shake up the status quo.

I’ve realized, over these last pivotal years of change, how my usual MO (pre-Italy) was to attack everything with a laser-like focus. This is what I was taught as part of my go-get-’em American conditioning. I was so proud of what an achiever I’d become in my work life (even corporate testing confirmed this).

But when I arrived in Italy, this amazing country invited me to widen my view. I had to shift to more of an open focus to assimilate a brand new (and dramatically different) culture.

Still, I found myself still walking around and living life with blinders on. It was like I’d become so focused…and so in my head, labeling and analyzing the world around me, that I was missing life in its totality.

It’s not a realization and a switch that can be quickly flipped.

That’s what I’ve found out. Open focus has taken repetition, persistence, and patience. And Italy has been a great training ground for helping to rewire my know-it-all brain and relax into beingness. Such beingness keeps inviting me to swim in the broader expanse of life.

The real gift has been seeing, with greater clarity, those moments or spans of time (painful as they are) when I am lost in thought. I’m talking about those times when I walk or drive somewhere, and I find that I can’t recall the path I took getting there. Yikes.

When did I allow my thinking, left brain, to rule the roost?

Meditation and awareness, awareness, awareness…

Those have been my friends as I journey towards waking up. In fact, I utilize the Waking Up App on my iPhone. The meditation choices are plentiful, and I like that they invite an open-focus presence without any religious message or overtones. This widened aperture invites surrounding sounds, lights and colors, and bodily sensations to come and go.

“In meditation, we take our attention away from all objects, from all appearances. Don’t try to transform whatever appears. It is our very intention to change things that perpetuate them. Let everything blossom in presence. Surrender all appearances to this presence. Let this presence create the, maintain them, and allow them to disappear.”

The Perfume of Silence by Francis Lucille (find it here on Amazon)

And non-attachment…

I’ve also come to understand that attachment to anything is at odds with relaxing into a posture of open focus. Attachment IS zooming in and focusing in on one or fewer things to the exclusion of allowing the totality of life to unfold. For me, attachment is a demand that things go my way and deliver a certain result. It’s a lack of faith that all will work out even if things unfold differently from my expectations.

My ten years in Italy have shown me the importance of letting go of attachments and allowing new (and often better) things to show up.

Open focus in my art

I’m learning that not only in daily living but in my artistic expression, having an open focus invites me into a state of flow and non-thinking.

For me, the most daunting hurdle in creating art is ruminating about the task in front of me. Such thinking also seeks the perfection of the outcome in advance. So many times, that kind of narrow focus on the end result has kept me frozen and, at the very least, constricted. That kind of mindset is a sure-fire creativity killer, and the result can be technically accomplished but soulless art.

Knowing the above tendency in myself, I don’t fight those fixations. I acknowledge them and start creating while telling myself, “So what if you falter or screw up? Just get started and allow the process to unfold and guide you.” With my painting, I believe that’s why I love immersing myself (an unintentional pun) in my water series. I love that this subject matter, which features the human form in the Mediterranean Sea in Puglia, is a contrast of detailed focus and open-focus expressionism. I’m constantly zooming in and out, with more emphasis on the latter to take in the totality of the scene. When I’m painting water, its light, and movement, I have to do it from an open focus. And when I do, wow, I shift into that seemingly limitless expanse of my right, no-verbal, right brain.

Fluidity, Oil on Canavas, © Jed Smith

“Fluidity” is just one in my water series. Read about its creation and its theme here.

There are so many lessons for me in this experience. My brilliant mother, and my most important art teacher, always pointed me toward letting art inform life. I think she did this because she herself knew that the jewels residing in the deepest part of ourselves reveal themselves when they’re allowed to bypass the thinking, conscious mind. And this is where living and creating with an open focus lets that happen.