Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Coming into Focus


I chose today’s links because being aware of the need to step back and focus and actually focusing are two different things, and most of us need all the help we can get:

  • -This Green Living Web page offers 8 tips to focus your mind in a brief, digestible, and doable format.

  • -Bella Online has an article on keeping track of your focus over the longer term.

  • -Here’s a very pragmatic look at dealing with distractions, written for unfocused writers but probably helpful for anyone whose mind insists on straying from the project at hand.

  • -Duane Elgin’s article Garden of Simplicity in Yes magazine talks about avoiding distractions through a variety of simplified approaches. It gives me hope: so many ways to try simplicity—even reading about them has a calming and hopeful effect!


It’s been a thought-provoking week. I’ve been privileged to read the draft of Simple Living America's Get Satisfied: How Twenty People Like You Found the Satisfaction of Enough, which is coming out in October.

I am one of the twenty. Like the other authors in the book, I am not purporting to have all of the answers. My essay, like many others, is about the search for what is really important, the attempt to eliminate whatever is superfluous, whatever distracts or detracts from a thoughtful or meaningful life. I have managed to make some good decisions in this direction, but just as often I get caught up in the whirlpool that many describe: working too hard, overindulging when I do get a break, sacrificing rest to get things done, neglecting my health, not seeing a way out of the cycle.

Today, for example, I filled my day with errands. I ate too much for lunch. I made some reckless purchases. I did too much and wore myself out. Certainly not the end of the world (I consider myself lucky if this is my biggest complaint), and often this seems to me to be the American way. But when I stop to focus I know that this kind of mindless march through the weekend isn’t the best I can do. I can take a breath and make better decisions with my time. I can “neglect” tasks that add to my already heavy load, knowing that in truth most of them can wait. I can create the space to write my blog, and pause for a few moments to more thoughtfully schedule the rest of my weekend and the coming work week.

I think about the small conversations that spring up in the lounge at work, and so often the refrain about the weekend is, I have so much I have to get done (before the weekend), or I did a lot of running around (after the weekend). I ran into this quote by Florence King on a Google search on distractibility and stress:

The American way of stress is comparable to Freud's 'beloved symptom', his name for the cherished neurosis that a patient cultivates like the rarest of orchids and does not want to be cured of. Stress makes Americans feel busy, important, and in demand, and simultaneously deprived, ignored, and victimized. Stress makes them feel interesting and complex instead of boring and simple, and carries an assumption of sensitivity not unlike the Old World assumption that aristocrats were high-strung. In short, stress has become a status symbol." (from "The Misanthrope's Corner", May 2001)

Do you ever get the feeling that people would look at you oddly if you reported that your weekend entailed “just relaxing” or “doing some thinking”? Or if, around the holidays, you offered not one complaint because your holiday was deliberately understated, low key, and smartly planned to avoid any last-minute hassles? It is hard for me to picture, while living in the real world, to ever get to the point where I had no stress to report. But I am going to try to avoid the peer pressure, so embedded in our media and even our daily small talk to be busy, stay busy, and continue complaining about it! Busy is not a bad word, but the only way to stop the potentially endless, mindless race through mountains of tasks is to apply some mindfulness to the whole mess.

Here’s to the pause that refreshes—originally a 1929 slogan for Coca Cola, but also a great approach on a much deeper level.

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At 7/09/2007 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent essay. Thank you! I also loved the "pause that refreshes" at the end. My own "pause that refreshes" is morning "breathwork." I look out my picture window to the forest beyond. Then I do what I call a relaxing breath...a slow, deliberate, thankful breathing pattern. I clear my mind while doing this and only focus on each single, simple breath. This sets the tone for the day. When I don't do it, I see a huge difference.
A propos to the "American Way" of stress induced "running around" , my son just came back from a five month stay in Finland. Upon returning to the USA, he noticed such a difference. He saw Americans as high-pressure people, always venting about all the stuff they "must" do. Finland, it seems, had a much more laid back approach.


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