That type of reflection comes with the logic that there forever remains things to think about - have you ever quite been able to put the questions of yourself to rest? So you can spend your whole life with your brain and your body and still not grasp them entirely. This is fine when we engage with life responsively. Why think when reaction takes care of the greater majority of our needs?
The problem arises when we need to focus. Let's accept for the sake of argument that the meme of us existing in an age of severely reduced attention spans is true. We lock into fluid streams of information but no longer are as inclined to derive context, express balanced criticism, analyze, sympathize and innovate upon. We need drugs for this or to be born with a genetic predisposition for obsession or stubbornness. We are driven constantly to consume rather than co-create.
Engaging the faculties of the mind needed to execute a vision and execute it consistently is a process that appears to me to be like Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. You consider something iconic and inhuman and utilize that form to disinherit your wayward nature (e.g. 'I'm indpendent,' 'I take care of myself,' 'I'm a hustler,' 'I'm positive,' 'no excuses,' etc.). You try to reclaim a more simplistic way of living - one that empowers the directive you've set for yourself. But really you are embellishing a narrative that you wish you could react to in only very few ways. You try to force the behavior by reading a book, or listening to a tape or criticizing and distancing yourself from others or reading your 10 steps of this or that to bind yourself to an ideal that is strict. You set standards that are restrictive and uninviting and you call it discipline. The trick is to collapse your range of responses and convince yourself it is good to freely remove your right to behave freely.
But the human mind is transcendent and our emotional range is vast. The minute you entertain an investigation of these depths, you gain a momentary perception of the void. Self-control, or lack of it, is the clue. Why are we tempted to do things we don't value? Why don't we value the things we know we must do? Why is freedom such a desperate nerve for us? Why are our emotions so much more influential than the thoughts that we can actually interpret properly? Could it be that denial of this expanse of meaning is not only unnatural but harmful? If we all thought and felt a little more and accepted what was there, what might be the exponential outcome?
Limiting is the first suggestion for those who attempt to use common language to teach success: "Don't think too much," "keep it simple stupid," "don't put the cart before the horse," "describe it in one sentence," "give me bullet points . . . "
Is that really what they did?
I believe they miss the point. These ideas try to encourage us not to confuse the issue. But it could be that the issue really is grand. Writing is not just about writing after all. It says something about who we are. Exercising or starting a business or taking up a musical instrument is a choice devised from a rainbow of influences rolling around deep within ourselves. These decisions are uniquely created, regardless of their outward similarities with others. Connecting with the spiritual history within inclinations is surely a route to true commitment because that effort requires self-acceptance and that requires forgiveness and that requires love.
You could do worse things than honor yourself when you commit to a practice. But how can you know it is an honor if focus is about eliminating what others will tell you confuses the issue? If the issue is really that deep, and you have taken the time to understand why, then conviction is yours.
I tried an experiment the other day when I was trying to get through page 3 of my first short story in this new chapter of my life. I was dealing with my pension for distraction. This takes the form of restlessness, talking to myself, pacing, sleepiness, and obviously the temptation to check my Twitter feed among other things. My interest and my focus kept being pulled away. When I began being reproachful, the anxiety poisoned the experience and creativity diminished. I had to do things the hard way and no shortcuts.
I first considered my surroundings. I took in my room. I took in the encroaching furniture and the clutter of papers and cameras and loose clothing. I took in the fact that this is the space I grew up in. I felt my shame and investigated it. What I found is that I actually had a great deal of options in which to determine the fault. I knew that accepting responsibility was the honorable choice but accepting myself was honestly the more nurturing. That's what I needed to work: I needed to understand I was still worth it.
This was a choice not to wallow in shame. It got in the way. The next step was to handle the aesthetic of my environment. It's one room for 30 years of child to man (I did move away for about 6 years and had to return after my last official employer laid off most of the staff in bankruptcy). I closed my eyes then and imagined each wall replaced with those of a sprawling loft looking upon the city skyline. I imagined the warmth of the uncluttered summer sky on my skin blasting through ceiling high windows and radiating off a minimalist and clean space ripe for serious work and social affairs. Most importantly I imagined it mine.
The funny thing about that dream: the new environment really didn't impact the nature of the work or the weight of its responsibility. As I turned my attention to the writing desk of my well-earned metropolitan palace, an old familiarity and perhaps an old ache returned and not much else mattered - not the sunlight and not the heights - just the page. The lesson there is that the craft of any great dream is elemental and indifferent to circumstance. That craft's relationship with focus is no less different.
Things are not inherently simple because we take in the entire universe with our eyes, imagine all the world's comfort in an instance and recoil at discomfort with every moment. Something important has to be at the root of labor and the return to the fields - something as vast as all the reasons to refuse the call. Sitting down to page 3 was all about remembering how much fun I thought this would be as a kid. Forming the world and a path through it was all about a character I was getting to know and had the freedom to know intimately up until the same forgiveness for her faults that I claim for myself. The healing soothed the effort.
Not breaking that connection was a matter of the consistent choices I made to stick with it. But here's how: all our interests and preoccupations divide a singular pool of energy that we distribute each day. Some distributions carry over and create stress for their stagnation. The discipline enacted here was the conscious emotional reclamation of other distributions of energy, other pools, and coursing them back toward the deepest well with whispers already commanding my attempt to try and urging me to succeed. Let's walk it through:
- At my laptop with the document open and my hands on the keys (getting here used to be the hardest part)
- My tablet alerts me to a Facebook update
- I catch the intrigue and wonder if I can create it within the next paragraph of my story
- I hit a wall and wonder if I can use that as a break to catch up on movie or industry news
- I use the desire to read and reapply it to reviewing my story so far
- My cat approaches with repeated requests for attention
- I gently remove him from my space and close my door realizing that all my children need love and in their appropriate time
I am a writer and that means accepting that I write when a non-writer would likely be doing something else. I write fiction and that means when I could be writing besides fiction (including this blog unfortunately) I find my home in developing a new world.
There are no immediately available comprehensive definitions for focus if you were to just look it up. But imagine the joining of several different rays of light into a powerful lazer. The lazer becomes stronger as the beam intensifies through its concentration. Likewise you must at first leech the emotional energy already existing in your roster of distractions to empower your cause. Turn the blade. Look at your distractions favorably as they indicate the other places where your energy has pooled and then become selfish with that energy for your goal in the moment. It's a deliberate process. Your mind must be awake and energize. You must have sleep for this and food in your stomach. And being conscious this way is exhausting by the end of the day but we all know that anything you do long enough appears to get easier.
The meditative practice for this is to swap your emotional relations around. Imagine feeling about work the way you feel about a lover. Imagine feeling the way you do about your living conditions, the way you do about a growing garden. You can swap anything you like. The imagination is your empire. Then take this practice into the moment of your execution and free the vastness of your mind to settle upon your determination without reservation. In this way everything you have is pulling for this one thing that you've decided to do over a long term. You'll know its working when the days fly and the work, and it's inevitable complications, become familiar and seemingly effortless.
The actual craft of writing itself is a muscle that gets good with practice and reflection. But the beginning is all about masterfully operating the energy with which you charge that practice. It is not simple and you must forgive yourself the complexity of a being that will never truly know itself. That takes an immense amount of compassion but the most courageous actions will grow from it. I believe this will prove the heart of my success and the same for all those who consider themselves sensitive people.