Skip to main content

The Art of Focus

The title for this inspirational piece is a straight steal from the editorial in the New York Times by David Brooks.  Although I don’t always agree with Brooks, I find him a thoughtful, relevant writer.  Much of what he says is so open to spiritual interpretation and development.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy his challenges and contributions.  So when I read his title, “the Art of Focus,” I ploughed into the editorial.  I was not disappointed.

His opening sentence captivated me.  He confesses, “Like everyone else, I am losing the attention war.”  While Brooks is a bit younger than I am, he can remember the pre-social media days.  He knows life before Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.  Without putting a value judgment on these versions of social media, Brooks knows, as I do, that life was different then.  I certainly don’t look back to those times as “the good old days.”  In fact, I like the immediacy of interacting on Face Time with my distant kids.  But with Brooks, I realize there are claims on my attention that did not used to be there.

Brooks continues to confess that he has heard the sermons against multitasking, but acknowledges that he is unrepentant!  Then he nails it: “And, like everyone else, these sermons have had no effect. Many of us lead lives of distraction, unable to focus on what we know we should focus on.”  I resonated with his sentiments.  Then Brooks makes his clever move---and these are the reasons I like him.  He says, in effect, since we are no good at making changes and learning, let’s turn to the experts, namely, children!

The rest of Brooks’ thinking is influenced by an interview of Andrew Phillips, a child psychologist, in The Paris Review.  I would like to share the key points, because they seem so implicitly spiritual.  The first point, in Brooks’ words, is “children need a secure social base” to pursue their intellectual development.  When I think about this in terms of pursuing spiritual development, the same thing holds true.  In my own development, a community is a huge asset. 

We don’t need a community that dictates dogma to us.  But we do need a community that provides a secure social base.  We need a place that is loving---that teaches basic care, allows us to wander without direction or answers, and can be forgiving when we wander off the communal reservation.  Again in our technologically driven world, such communities are not a given.  Our options are to find one or to create one.

A second point Brooks make is that “children are propelled by desires so powerful that they can be frightening.”  To this Brooks added a stunning quotation from Phillips.  “Everybody is dealing with how much of their own alivenesss they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.”  That struck me as profoundly spiritual.  How much of my aliveness can I bear?  What a question.  And how much do I anesthetize?  Clearly this is an arena that spirituality takes head on and without spirituality, probably we are avoiding any heads on confrontation.  In fact, I have been with people who are dying while avoiding!

I really liked the next point: “children are not burdened by excessive self-consciousness.”  That makes me realize I am not a child anymore!  The upshot of this for children is this: “Their experience of life is more direct because they spend less time on interfering thoughts about themselves.”  Again, this seems profoundly spiritual to me.  One of the key aims of spirituality is to learn to get out of our own way.  In the old days I would hear the phrase, “let go and let God.”  While I don’t really like the phrasing, the idea is a good one.

So where does this leave us?  I like Brooks’ ending.  He talks about finding our “terrifying longing.”  In the world of innovation where I spend some of my time, the language is to find your passion.  Brooks’ final words can lead our final words.  “The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.”

I can’t imagine a better way to talk about the goal of spirituality than to talk about being “fully alive.”  To this end much of the social media, while nice, is superficial and often numbing.  To be spiritual does not mean I have to give it up.  But it does mean I will need to go deeper.  I will need to find my passion.  To discover the Holy One can even turn out to be a terrifying longing. 

But it is worth it.  To find that Divine One will be a different form of face time!  As Brooks says, it will lead to an experience that produces joy.  Joy is the fruit of the Spirit.  To pull this off will require that I learn the art of focus.

Popular posts from this blog

Inward Journey and Outward Pilgrimage

There are so many different ways to think about the spiritual life.And of course, in our country there are so many different variations of religious experiences.There are liberals and conservatives.There are fundamentalists and Pentecostals.Besides the dizzying variety of Christian traditions, there are many different non-Christian traditions.There are the major traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on.There are the slightly more obscure traditions, such as Sikhism, Jainism, etc.And then there are more fringe groups and, even, pseudo-religions. There are defining doctrines and religious practices.Some of these are specific to a particular tradition or a few traditions, such as the koan, which is used in Zen Buddhism for example.Other defining doctrines or practices are common across the religious board.Something like meditation would be a good example.Christians meditate; Buddhists meditate.And other groups practice this spiritual discipline. A favorite way I like to …

A Pain is not a Pain

A rose may be a rose, but a pain is not a pain.  Maybe somebody has said that before, but I have never heard it.  So I am assuming (for the moment) I made it up.  Of course, most of us have heard that line, “a rose is a rose.”  I don’t know who said it first or if I should give it a footnote, but I do know that I did not create that line.  Furthermore, we all could explain what the phrase, a rose is a rose, means.

However, if I say, “a pain is not a pain,” the reader may not be too sure what I mean by that.  And if the reader is unsure, he or she does not know whether to agree with me or say balderdash!  So let me explain it by some development.

For sure, every adult knows what pain means.  It is difficult to imagine living into adulthood and not experiencing some kind of pain.  There is physical pain; we all know this.  There is emotional pain----a pain many people know all too well…and others may barely know.  There may be something like spiritual pain, but this one is tricky.  Not …

Spiritual Commitment

I was reading along in a very nice little book and hit these lines about commitment.The author, Mitch Albom, uses the voice of one of the main characters of his nonfiction book about faith to reflect on commitment.The voice belongs to Albom’s old rabbi of the Jewish synagogue where he went until his college days.The old rabbi, Albert Lewis, says “the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.”
The rabbi continues in a way that surely would have many people saying, “Amen!”About commitment he says, “I’m old enough when it used to be a positive.A committed person was someone to be admired.He was loyal and steady.Now a commitment is something you avoid.You don’t want to tie yourself down.”I also think I am old enough to know that commitment was usually a positive word.I can think of a range of situations in which commitment would have been seen to be positive.
For example, growing up was full of sports for me.Commitment would have been presupposed to be part of a team. If you were going to pl…