(And why I waited until the last minute to write this letter)
For a week I’ve been blowing my nose all the time. Coughing, spitting. I have but one desire: to take a bath. Then go back to bed. Then take another bath. And waste time surfing the Internet and buying more books than I have time to read.
You got it, Wonder, I have a big fat cold. This means that I’m feeling about as inspired as a worn out pair of pajamas. My zest for work is as weak as my brain, and as empty as my box of tissues.
But the time has come to write this letter, and I don’t want to miss the call (the current schedule is definitely not taxing) — and in any case this situation is a perfect opportunity to address an idea that could be useful to you:
There are only three fruitful places to focus your attention at any moment.
The rest are nothing but mental pollution. Noise, unnecessary distraction.
Here they are: Exploring. Helping. Self care.
Since right now I’m about as lively as a pierced accordian, I’ll be brief. We can discuss the subject more one of these days.
The first way to direct your attention is toward novelty. Being driven by curiosity leads to exploration, learning, interaction.
When you’re in this mode, You advance like a curious child ready to play and have fun with anything and everything. You look for adventure, you seek surprises. You discover, you create, you watch. You invent, you travel, you imagine.
When I’m writing a novel or traveling, I’m in this mode.
The second way to direct your attention is toward helping. Comes with it the desire to be useful, to contribute, to lend a hand.
When you’re in this mode, your concern for another person causes you to be interested in him, to listen, to try to understand… And then to do what you can to help. You pray, you fight, you act. Youre building, advising, supporting.
When I write this letter, I’m in that mode.
When I coach someone, I alternate between the first and second modes of attention.
The third and final way to direct your attention is toward healing and nurturing yourself. Taking care of yourself when it’s time to rest or recover.
When you’re in this mode, your attention is on your own needs: rest, variety, renewal, nutrition, movement, security. You care about your own needs, you take it easy, you take a pause. You pamper yourself, you sleep, you train, you agree to give yourself what you need. For a minute, or a day.
(Or, as in my case this week, you take baths, you blow your nose, and you watch TV.)
In the end it’s all about dosage, and timing. Spending most of your time taking care of yourself, for instance, makes for a narrow existence — but neglecting this aspect of your life leads to catastrophe.
The important thing is not to get stuck in one mode when the timing calls for something else.
I do my best to remember that blame, guilt, anxiety, worry about the past and obsession over the future — those modes are not invited to the very select club of the three things worthy of our attention during this short time we have here on earth.
Your (congested) ally,