From a Distance

By Scott Westerman
When I took the job in suburban Peoria, I knew it would be three months until Colleen and our then very young children could join me. I was house sitting in a cavernous home with just a TV, microwave and a mattress and had, as usual, jumped in way over my head. My days were 18 hours long and as I forced myself NOT to go into the office on weekends, I tried to discover something to take my mind off of how much I was missing my family.

I decided to learn to fly.

My little book, “Touch and Go” describes these adventures in greater detail, but my ah-ha moment came the first time I took my little Cessna up solo. As I left the runway at Charlie-15, the buildings, fields, rivers and my earthbound problems got smaller. The intensity of concentration on keeping my plane flying pushed all my worries out of my head. And the sensation of solitude, just me and my wings cutting through the mid winter morning brought on a feeling of total freedom.

After a time, ideas would begin to fire in my brain. Solutions to long studied problems came up, so many that I started carrying a small tape recorder with me so I could barf them out before forgetting them.

When I’d make my final approach and landing at our little country airport, I would ponder how this could happen. One moment, the my far-away family and thousands of demanding customers weighed heavily on my shoulders. The next moment it was gone and inspiration began to flow like whitewater.

The renowned publisher Robert G. Collier wrote many years ago about how he approached a challenge. He would write down every fact he could think of about the situation, read it back to himself and then find a quiet chair where he could empty his mind of all conscious thought and let his subconscious work on it. Invariably, an idea would pop out.

We often find ourselves so deep in the weeds of our day-to-day that we totally miss the big picture. The cliche, “missing the forest for the trees” applies here.

Achieving an overarching goal is the result of thousands of little activities and it’s easy to focus too intently on the mechanics and forget what you meant to do in the first place.

How, in this world of incredible change, can we make sure we’re executing the fundamentals without losing sight on the main objective? Here are some suggestions.

Think about why you’re doing all of this. Life is about seeking happiness through service to others. Keep pictures of your loved ones handy to reflect on when you need to get back to your center. Take a break from the day to call your kids, or someone under the age of ten. Youngsters have a way of seeing things as they really are. Listen to the questions they ask you. There is wisdom therein.

Schedule cardiovascular exercise on your calendar at least three times a week.. and do it! Runners often report that the singularity of focus on putting one foot in front of the other re-charges mind and spirit. The late running guru George Sheehan wrote that our body produces endorphins that are ten times as powerful as morphine. This “runners high” unleashes your mind. Just as he often wrote his columns in his head as he ran, you can take advantage of the extra mental horsepower that cardio provides to put the little behavioral puzzle pieces into the right mental places to keep you pointed toward your goal. “Everyone is an athlete,” Sheehan once wrote. “The only difference is that some of us are in training, and some are not.”

Empty your mind. Worry is a complete cycle of inefficient thought revolving about a pivot of fear. “Empty your mind of all thoughts. Let your heart be at peace,” wrote the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Easier said than done? One pathway to a less burdened brain is through mindfulness. The mindful approach to the simple tasks of your day, washing the dishes for example, can focus your consciousness on what’s going on in the present moment. When that happens, the rest of the world can fall into perspective. This can lead to a couple of positive outcomes. First, you’ll have some more bandwidth to concentrate effectively on the challenge at hand. Secondly and perhaps more profoundly, whatever the problem, it often becomes lighter. “No human thing is of serious importance,” wrote Plato. That might not feel like the truth when your boss is banging you for results. But it is.

When we knew that our time in New Mexico was coming to an end, Colleen and I drove to the top of Sandia Crest. At over eleven thousand feet, the views are staggering. The forest service installed small metal pipes that you could look through to focus on a landmark. The airport, the hospital, our neighborhood, Mount Taylor, the West Mesa, all of these were tiny little circles at the end of a black tunnel. But from a distance they are tiny dots in a beautiful water color painting. A painting that is at once breathtaking and simple, clear and confusing.

And so is life.

Julie Gold, a secretary at the HBO cable channel pondered all of this one day and wrote a song that we all know well. Bette Midler still sings it.

From a distance the world looks blue and green,
and the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream,
and the eagle takes to flight.

From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace,
it’s the voice of every man.

If your world seems troubling this week, take a look at it… from a distance.