Flexible Focus #61: The Art of Folding Time

by William Reed on July 14, 2011

Anatomy of a Fan

One of the best representations of flexible focus in Japanese culture is the folding fan, invented in Japan between the 6th and 8th centuries. The folding fan can open as a fan, or fold for easy storage. Its radial form is symbolic of opening out to new possibilities, of victory, and of good fortune. It is a product of the same culture which invented origami, the art of paper folding, the quintessential art of Folding the Square.

The anatomy of a folding fan is work of genius. It is both simple and complex, an enigma of Japanese design. It fits in the fingers as an organic extension of the hand. It was used in Japanese dance, and could double as a weapon for the samurai. The range of designs and materials available make it a perfect product for infinite variations on a common theme. Moreover, the art of folding has been applied in Japan to everything from umbrellas, bicycles, eyeglasses, to keyboards, as well as clothing, and even the joints of the human body in the martial arts.

Folding Time

The Mandala Chart can free you from the tyranny of living by the illusory objectivity of the clock and the calendar. While these devices are useful for organizing logistics in life, they serve as a poor measure of experience and imagination. One of the characteristics of the Wonderful World of Flow is a distorted sense of time.

Einstein explained the relativity of time in layman’s terms to a journalist saying, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour.”

While we experience the relativity of time, we seldom stop to think, what if it were possible to consciously fold or expand our experience of time through flexible focus, much in the way that we open or close a folding fan? This is not only possible with practice, but it is relatively easy to do. A good exercise for your eyes is to make a habit of looking at things far away, as well as up close. Many people settle into a myopic existence just for want of looking at things far away. The same thing can happen mentally if your mind’s eye settles for a fixed range of vision.

Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, tells the story of a Disney executive charged with revitalizing the Disney Stores, who asked Steve Jobs for advice. Jobs’ responded in two words, “Dream Bigger.” Many people leave their mental fan folded and tucked away, and seldom open it out to dream bigger.

It is better to broaden your experience through curiosity, than to fall into a dull routine. If you simply measure your life by the calendar, without exercising your mental flexibility, you may find that the decades fly by and leave you behind.

Magic of Mindfulness

Thinking that you know will take you out of flow. I wrote on the Magic of Mindfulness in my Creative Career Path column about the work of Harvard Psychologist, Dr. Ellen J. Langer on Mindfulness, who has studied the effects of Mindfulness, as well as Mindlessness on the quality of our lives. Dr. Langer attributes mindlessness to three habits of mind: stereotyping rather than experiencing, acting from a single perspective, and doing things on auto-pilot.

This is another way of describing a lack of flexible focus, and the consequences can range from low self-image to casual cruelty. Fortunately, the cure is close at hand. Awaken your spirit of curiosity. Practice mindfulness in your movements. Pay closer attention to your experience, and show greater appreciation for what you have. Lend a helping hand to others in need. Open the fan.

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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