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The Magic of Applied Attention

“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” — Charles Bukowski

There is a Persian lime tree growing in a large pot on the sunny deck behind my house. This spring there were more than a hundred blossoms on this tree, each developing into tiny fruit that promised a bumper crop of limes. But after a particularly angry thunder storm and torrential downpour dozens of those tiny fruits scattered the deck, their tart potential over before they really began. While mourning the loss of so may limes, I took solace in the dozens of fruit still developing on the tree. It seems the tree had culled itself that it might focus on the ripe potential of the fruit that remained.

We each bear so much in our lifetime, holding on to things we ought to shed to focus on the essential few. It’s okay to let go of the trivial, that we might nurture the truly important things in our lives. Letting go is painful, but not as painful as diminishing our best work by carrying more than we should.

Little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

— Mary Oliver, The Journey

The night after the thunderstorm, I spent an evening with friends, throwing axes at a target drawn on a wooden wall and building fragile wooden castles in the air (Jenga). There is a unique strategy for each, naturally, being so very different from each other in practice. But there are also similarities. Besides each pursuit using wood, it was the act of applied attention that is common to both. To be good at either you must simply get out of your own head and focus on successfully completing the task at hand. One might utilize this in every pursuit, from writing to navigating any of the essential tasks that fill one’s day.

We ought to cherish our time together, forgetting the trivial affronts that life throws at us. We ought to find our own voice in a world full of people waiting for us to shut up that they may say something clever. We ought to direct our attention inward, to the ripe potential of our own ideas, calling us to truth and clarity. We know, deep down, that we won’t survive this, but if we give ourselves the time to focus, we may just yet produce something substantial anyway.

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