Follow the spiral

Listening to Cal Newport’s Deep Work on audible this week combined with the writing inspired by #bloginstead has confirmed something that has been forming for a good while. This something is the reason I started this blog and the MO behind much of the ethos in the way I think and live. If I had to choose a phrase to sum up my thoughts after this week it would likely be “depth not breadth.” I almost called this post “Follow the line,” but I realized that a spiral was a more accurate image.

I am going to provide a little bit of context here. When I chose the blog title “Just One Robin,” from a favorite poem by Emily Dickinson, it was for a number of reasons but primarily because I was inspired by the idea of “just one,” idea or focus at a time. It also eventually became an guiding phrase for my own journey in healing.

I have kept a running list in my journal of people I admired who had a focused commitment or theme in their lives and I will list a few here:

*Wilson Bentley (Snowflake) who is the reason we know what we know about the science of snowflakes. He lived in one area his entire life, devoting his energies to studying and photographing snowflakes.

* Basho, the Japanese haiku master. I learned about him years ago from a friend I taught with. She was a Basho scholar and had traveled to Japan on a Fulbright Scholarship to study haiku. I admired her knowledge and focus greatly.

*John Constable: he painted lots and lots of clouds which were turned into research by meteorologists studying clouds and weather patterns.

*Emily Dickinson: Is there a better example that a life can be productive and meaningful than this reclusive poet whose internal vision spawned almost 2,000 poems?

*Monastics(male and female) Where would we be without the constant prayers of those who have chosen to devote their lives to God and praying for the world?

*Frederich Froebel: one of my uber heroes and the inventor of what we now know as Kindergarten. He started his career as a crystallographer. His love of nature and patterns cemented in him the belief that there was an overarching unity in Nature and in Human Beings, which led to his creation of a revolutionary educational theory and practice.

*George Washington Carver: whose dedicated work in agricultural science and racial harmony added so much to both areas.

The list could go on, but I think the reader will get my point.

What if instead of dividing our attention among so many (even good) things we sharpened our focus to one or a few connected pursuits and committed to follow each one more deeply? What would that look like? What if we really became experts on what we loved, not to market ourselves, but just for the joy of knowledge and personal transformation?

Last May, I started an individual Emily Dickinson project (I have written about it in previous posts) not with the intention of becoming a Dickinson scholar, but just seeing what would happen when I took a person or topic more deeply. It has been fascinating. I have certainly read a good deal of her poetry as well as some biographical material and letters. But the connections that it has made in my heart and mind are more about how she “read” nature for meaning as well the fact that what many would consider a small life had such far reaching effects.

I have written already about what some of my focus will be for this year, but I am going to narrow it down a bit, choosing three main areas, knowing that like a mind map, there will be natural offshoots from each.

Creativity: block printing, Emily Dickinson, writing in this blog more regularly.

Education: Teaching my daughter, following my Froebelian spiral to see where it goes. Teaching art classes in our back yard studio. Reading whole books from beginning to end.

Health: (Spiritual, Emotional, Physical) Continuing to participate in parish life fully, follow through with 12 step healing process, keep learning about healthy eating and getting enough rest and exercise. Spending quality time with my family and a few friends that has me fully present and aware.

One of my guiding poems by Emily Dickinson poems says “The Soul Selects Her Society, and then Shuts the Door…” That sounds so unkind doesn’t it? But the reality is to focus well on a few things, it is critical to “shut the door,” on others. When we have our selected “society” of a few mindful interests then we can “open every door,”(another Emily poem) within those areas and plumb the depths to our hearts content.

Where will your spiral lead you? What doors will you open and close this year to go into another dimension?

19 thoughts on “Follow the spiral”

    1. Maybe thinking of the focus more as an overarching theme rather than isolated things would be a more helpful way to look at it. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Focus is so important in our lives; in fact, it is crucial for we cannot be all things to all people. Each person is uniquely gifted and it is our responsibility to use those God-given gifts in a way that gives us fulfillment and bring peace and joy to others. Thanks for drawing my attention to what my focus must be. Blessings!


    1. It is a lesson I keep learning. I just read in the Epistle reading for tomorrow that “after Christ ascended he gave gifts to men,” I am probably not quoting it right, but it is so neat to think that we each have something to offer that is unique from God.


  2. The spiral idea is fascinating to me. I’ve always had a brain that leaps on its horse and rides off in all directions. Social media makes it leap on three horses and ride of in all three sets of all directions. I want to meditate on the wisdom and possibilities of concentrating. An inch wide and a mile deep, instead of a mile wide and an inch deep.


    1. I understand as my brain is very much the same in terms of making all kinds of connections and wanting to pursue them all at once. But then I am tired before I even really start:) I love your “an inch wide and a mile deep.” Thank you.


  3. I understand so much what you’re saying here and have been feeling much the same way. I feel the urge to pare down, go more within, and focus on a few meaningful things without having to have a big game plan about what the end result should be. I love the tie-in you’ve got here to Emily Dickenson as well. There is so much to explore and discover, and sometimes it feels like we have so many choices of what to delve into, we freeze and panic and dont do any of it– or is that just me? lol!


    1. There are so many things to learn, and the older I get I realize that unless I choose a few, I will always be a jack of all trades…But I have to say that your work seems to have a unified theme, and I have loved seeing your latest Scandinavian designs. Thank you for your comment!


  4. You must have sent your vibes my way! šŸ˜„ That’s exactly what I prayed about last night when deciding whether or not to start my first blog. I have ADHD and it’s so easy to lose people when I talk, since I can be all over the map in my mind. Someone once compared it to sitting in a small room with 100 tv’s (or bouncy/super balls) on different channels/shows and being told to pay attention to only 5 of them (life). šŸ¤¦šŸ™„
    Your idea of the spiral really resonated with me. As an educator, I believe in spiraling lessons when educating children. They do so much better when they learn the hows and why’s of the way things are connected in the world. I look forward to reading more of your posts. šŸ™šŸ’•ā˜¦ļøšŸ•Š


    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I completely relate to the bouncy superballs in my mind. And I am also a teacher! I was a Montessori teacher for 23 years and am now homeschooling my daughter. I think a lot of my thoughts stem from my experience as an educator as well as reading lots of educational theory:) Looking forward to reading your posts as well.


      1. Terrific post here — I’ve definitely had to make tough choices in narrowing down what I spend my spare time on, over the last decade or so. Still have to pull back and re-evaluate from time to time, as I’m continuously accumulating new “Ooh, that’s neat!”s that need to be pruned, or to be prioritized at the expense of others.

        I very much like this image of the spiralling focus for this grown phase of life, where I’m delving deeply into things, having identified a number of creative outlets that speak strongly to me. However, education came to mind as needing to embody a different framing, at least in part. My wife and I are also homeschooling (by which I mean, *she* is, mostly) per the Charlotte Mason method, and the goal there is to present as rich an intellectual feast a child as possible–specifically *not* narrow in scope, but as broad, as wide as possible, to maximize their exposure to Creation, to ideas, to history. Only after such a broad introduction can they then be equipped to find their niches, to spiral down into as they grow into and live in adulthood.

        The image that comes to mind is taking an armload of maple-tree helicopters and flinging them into the air—seeding as many different potential spirals as possible—and then watching as they follow their tracks toward earth, helping to observe the pattern in their fall and to then guide the child toward what may be their eventual selected few final spirals, with the perspective gained from those observed patterns.


      2. Lots of good for thought here, Brian! I love the image of the maple tree helicopters and seeing their patterns as a metaphor for the direction a child’s (or our) lives can take. I know some about CM education, as many of the families we know use that approach. It varies slightly from the Montessori/Froebelian and some Waldorf thrown in that I am more familiar with, but there is a common theme of young children starting more broad and narrowing down as they get older, and this makes sense. For example, in Montessori education the world map and continents are always taught before individual continents or countries and with very little detail at first, adding a little bit each year. Sometimes my adult mind can get too detailed and I lose the childlike joy of a thing. Trying to learn that balance is a little tricky. Thank you for commenting!


  5. AS I read, I realized that I’ve been doing this, quite without knowing it, for the last few years. Even in my crafty life, I’ve been narrowing things down – I don’t do all the needlework anymore. I knit, mostly, tapestry work and some sewing (mostly for practical, household things.) My writing has narrowed down to one thing. I still do others, but on the side, for me, not for publication necessarily, and only once in a while. My walk with God – I’m focused on that of course, but even there, it’s narrowing down. Church, silence, prayer. Those are what I do now. I’m ultra focused on my parish, and my family, and that’s it. That’s my life. God, family, writing, woolwork. Those things and those only. And it’s slowing down. Don’t get as much done – that’s fine. I get done what I get done and that’s all I can do. We’ll see where it goes and how deep it goes and what kind of line/spiral, circle it produces!


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