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  • Writer's picturegerpictus

Small can be useful

There’s a conference coming up in May called ‘Read for your Life’, investigating how reading can help wellbeing. It’s got me thinking about the ways reading and other activities help my mental wellbeing.

Reading was one of my chief hobbies before I became ill, but it is now quite often out of the question for me because I can’t ‘concentrate’ on large amounts of print. This doesn’t really help my wellbeing. If at such times I were able to do things with my hands, such as knit or crochet, it would be a real help, but I’m useless at it – I’ve tried! So at the times when concentration is a non-starter I try and do something which to me seems different: I try and ‘focus’ – I look at something small, and not for very long. Maybe this is an example of mindfulness, but it’s not the same to me as the relaxation, continuous concentration and breathing (among other things) that I understand it to be. I haven’t officially experienced mindfulness yet, this is just a vast simplification of the startling amount I found when I googled for it.

So when I can’t concentrate, the replacement for me is focus.

Besides reading I have two other main hobbies: learning languages and cooking. I apply focus to all three, just looking at one thing at a time. For reading, for example, I take a paragraph from a book I know and look at how it hangs together and adds to the background or moves the story on. For one of my languages I’ll pull out a grammatical point or some vocabulary and look at that. And for cooking I’ll focus on each stage of a meal as if it were the only one, sometimes sitting down for a while after each stage. Or focussing just on peeling a few carrots, and taking a little break between carrot. Of course this limits the amount of recipes you can cook, but there are still a surprising amount that come out well. Some people have said to me that this kind of cooking is Zen, but I’m not sure!

For me focussing on one little thing can be very helpful when concentration just isn’t available. It helps me feel as though I’m not as useless as I can think I am and end up plumbing the depths of daytime TV. Reading, languages, cooking, little bits of them all aid my self-esteem; a little knitting and so on would also help if I were capable of them. Small can be very useful indeed.

And for when my concentration comes back there are always new books to read …

How do you feel about this? Do you ‘focus’, or is this an example of something else? It would be great to hear your impressions and thoughts.


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