On focusing

This morning I woke early, feeling a bit scattered. I sipped coffee, fed the cat; inevitably I pottered about the kitchen clearing dishes and wiping surfaces. But I felt unsettled, unfocused – I stood up, I sat down, I came into this room, I went back into the other, to where I’d just been. It was ridiculous. So I decided to go for a wandering walk under the fantastic clear sky of this beautiful spring day and allow my unfocus its own free rein.

It is my great good fortune to live in Edinburgh, a beautiful old city with a large wild park at its centre; the seaside nearby; scenic hills in the distance. You can walk along the narrow pavement of my tenemented street, with cars and large black rubbish bins clogging up the space, down to its cul-de-sac end. There you will find a hidden gap in the buildings, where the pavement will lead you around to a concealed passageway, and through an arched entrance into this wide expanse of green lawn, with a splendid view of Arthur’s Seat.

queens park

It was early Sunday morning, perhaps only an hour past sunrise, so very few other people were out and about just yet. My wandering led me to Salisbury Craigs, facing west over the city with this view of the castle:

edinburgh castle

I sat for a while in the sunshine, staring down at the city and across to the Pentlands in the southwest. There was birdsong around me and the occasional insect whirring past, and gradually I grew aware of a steady grinding hum in the background: traffic building up, a train rumbling on the tracks toward Waverley… mechanised sounds encroaching upon this retreat, even at eight o’clock of a Sunday morning.

When I turned around to face east I saw that a mallard drake had ventured out beyond the loch, and was standing alone in the grass as though waiting for something to happen. Sure enough, within moments his companions flew overhead and he took off to join them.


I began to focus on the rocky ground where I sat, and I realised I was sitting just beside a roly poly bug, scrambling along over the lichen…

roly poly

… and just further along from a stretch of dirt where slunk this lovely sticky-looking slug.


Isn’t it grounding, reassuring, to occasionally focus on something very small? This stretch of outcrop, with its textures of smooth rock and packed dirt and pebbly, scrubby grass, is a vast wide world to Roly Poly and Sticky Slug. Their respective journeys fit each one of them according to his size.

Eventually other people arrived – a couple joggers, a clutch of German tourists with a picnic breakfast – so I gathered myself together and wandered back down the path, returning home in focus.

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