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Tips from an MCC faculty member on how to find focus in this time of chaos

October 15, 2020
By Tim Engle

BJ Soloy, English Instructor, Metropolitan Community College

What's vying for your attention these days? Your classes. Your job. Family and friends. A deadly virus. The election. Racial injustice. And those are just the big things.

What we need are ways to find focus in this time of chaos. That was the subject of a recent "Wellness Wednesday" Zoom talk by BJ Soloy (pictured), an MCC-Blue River English instructor.

"The ability to choose what we pay attention to is more and more kind of a rarity and a privileged thing," Soloy says.

Like anything else, paying attention ("distinguishing the layers of the world") takes practice. Soloy offers these tips:

  • Make lists. Get tasks and worries out of your head and onto the page.
  • Find a space, even a tiny one, to call your own. Soloy mentions a guy with two roommates who retreated to a closet to write a book. ("I put on my headphones, and it was kind of like a cockpit, "Ocean Vuong said of penning his novel "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.") Even just simplifying a space by removing distractions can help you stay engaged, Soloy adds.
  • Work on self-awareness. What's easy for you? What's hard? When do you work best, and in what situations do you really struggle?
  • Spend 10 minutes a day being bored. Actually, do something you find boring, but strive to be fully present. "Some monks do walking meditations wherein they try to focus keen attention on each inch of pressure on the foot," Soloy says. Apply this type of hyper attention to sauteeing onions, washing dishes, looking out the window. Ignore texts and Twitter. Resist the urge to listen to music, a podcast, TV etc.
  • Take breaks. Plan them. Move around, breathe, stick your head in the freezer … or whatever.
  • Take notes. "I'm a writer, so this is where I fall," Soloy says. Make notes in books (your own, anyway), take notes in class, journal every day — jot down a couple of things that made it memorable.
  • Get enough sleep. And exercise. "It's something we tend to not do anyway, but especially during a pandemic."

None of this will solve the lunacy of 2020, but it may help you cut through some of the noise. When you do, "you'll start to see things you didn't know were there," Soloy says.

Why his interest in attention as an academic concern? It sprang from a class he took at Webster University more than 20 years ago, exposing him to a variety of writers, artists, musicians and thinkers. Even though Soloy has mostly strayed from painting (he was a visual arts major back then), attention has become a bigger and bigger part of his focus as a poet and musician.