There's no problem with juggling multiple balls, except when you don't know which balls you're juggling. Prioritize.
Its been a while since my last update to this journal. The monthly payment notifications that I receive from subscribers like you feel to me like little nudges, reminders that I haven't published anything in some time. I apologize for not keeping you as updated as I should be.
My life priorities have shifted a lot since the birth of my daughter, who, at three months old yesterday, is at this moment bundled in a soft pink blanket sound asleep in my left arm, my iPhone in my right hand typing this in between glancing out the airplane window at the Earth far below. We're somewhere over Delaware right now, en route back to Boston after spending two weeks in Florida. She has done amazingly well with flying and hasn’t cried at all. In fact, she does better flying than she does driving. Maybe it has something to do with how she flew fourteen times before she was born.
I say that my priorities have shifted, but maybe that's not true. I feel the weight of responsibility in my life has shifted dramatically, yes--suddenly it's no longer just me that I need to think about--but I still have the same personal goals and ambitions as I did before Ananda was born. I still want to write and publish. I still want to find a way to contribute to humanity. I still want to travel. I still want go to Mars.
Sure, I have family responsibilities now--father and spousal responsibilities--but everything else is still there, everything else is pretty much the same. None of it is number one of course, but it's not all irrelevant or unimportant either.
In many ways what has been the biggest challenge for me is finding a way to continue pursuing my personal goals--or for that matter, just finding the focus to work on something--while having someone else in my life to whom I am a father, someone who depends on me and who will, over the course of her life, look to me for wisdom, support, attention, and love.
I'm a big picture thinker. I’m always considering the long-term implications of a decision or an action, but since the day I learned that I was going to be a dad I've felt the need to stay away from the big picture, to not worry so much about the future. It feels too big now, too complex and blurry.
Yes, my decisions and choices will directly affect Ananda as she grows into her own person, but she will be her own person, someone who will make her own choices and blaze a path through life that is uniquely her own. I feel the best thing that I can do for her as a father is to provide her with what I feel are the best tools for trail blazing and to be there for her when she needs me, to be present when I’m present.
It's her future, not mine. It's her big picture and I'm just the lucky dad who gets to make sure that she has the best tools with which to create her life.
Urgency creates an attention poverty. It deprives us of the present moment and encourages us to make rash decisions, to act before thinking and to commit before considering.
Urgency disregards priorities and blatantly ignores what's important. It demands nothing short of immediate, unmindful action.
Things that are urgent are fleeting. They lose their value and their sense of importance with every passing moment and they feel important because they're fleeting.
We buy something because it's on sale or jump into a conversation so that we're heard; we stay on top of what's trending or keep up with our favorite shows, authors, or magazines; we stay with our job because it's a great opportunity or we indulge in the luxuries of life because, hey, life is short.
We chase these things because they're fleeting, because the unstoppable and relentless marching of time ensures that they will be gone, possibly forever, if we don't act now.
But what's important, what's truly important, remains important. It doesn't fade into the background when we ignore it. It doesn't disappear after a few days, weeks, or years.
It doesn't matter if we're rich or poor, if we're ten years old or a hundred years old, if it's Monday or Friday or if it's the weekend with a full moon: the important things remain important.
The important things are here to stay. They remain with us, patiently waiting until we're ready to sit quietly, bring our mind home, and give them the attention they deserve.
Urgency will never wait; you'll never catch it. Chasing what's urgent is a fools game. But embracing what's important, that's something that has meaning. That's something that has real value.
The urgent stuff will always be running away from us, but the important stuff -- the stuff that gives our life meaning -- is waiting patiently with open arms.
What's important? I've been asking myself that a lot lately. What is important to me and what am I doing with it? If being fully invested in present is important to me, where am I right now?
These questions weigh heavily on my mind after an unusually varied week, full of everything from writing, to answering an a high volume of emails, to strolling and running through a state forest, to completing freelance web development projects, to playing with my nephew and helping my brother-in-law fix home wiring issues (and getting electrocuted in the process; there's no room for pride in science).
The question of importance is inevitable when the demand on our attention (whether from others or from ourselves) exceeds what is available to us. But there really are no excuses to misdirected focus. As I wrote in my latest essay, our system of keeping time doesn't determine when we act; we determine when we act.
The concept of time is a subject I could talk about for hours. I could run circles around what it is and what it isn't, why it matters and why it doesn't. But one fact remains: I will die.
This physical body will eventually break down and stop functioning; it will eventually cease to act as a vehicle for life. My true self may be timeless and limitless, but this physical body definitely has limitations; its lifespan is restricted by the framework we call time.
How we spend our time and energy within those limitations is influenced by what is, or what isn't, important to us. We can take a reactionary approach to life and simply spend our time doing whatever calls our attention, or we can take a proactive approach and decide where that energy will be focused.
In reflecting on this for the past two weeks, I've found myself spending less time paying attention to my phone; less time checking and answering emails; less time on social media; less time worrying about how to respond to this person or that person; less time wondering what's next or where I should focus my energy tomorrow; less time reading; less time writing.
I find myself spending less time and conserving more.
Things that are not present don't receive as much attention because that attention is being redirected here, where I can be present. Instead of volunteering my time and attention to long elaborate email responses, never-ending to-do lists, phone calls, people, projects, and goals, I find myself reserving that precious commodity for here, right now.
I find myself holding depth in conversation as something worthy of great respect, an outpouring of energy that cannot simply be dumped into every email, comment, and conversation, but rather something that is reserved for special occasions where some passionate voice inside becomes inflamed and pushes that pent up reservoir over the edge.
A few days ago I began my morning playing with my nephew. When I'm visiting my parents I usually play for a minute or two before rushing off to start working on my laptop, catching up with emails, figuring out what project I need to complete for that day, and otherwise "spending my time and energy" doing whatever I think needs to be done.
About two minutes into playing with my nephew, I felt the pull of "this other stuff"; it was stronger than usual. I had stuff to do, things to finish. The morning was already getting late and there was so much to get done.
Instead of giving into this pull, I allowed myself to feel overwhelmed, to "fill up" with this sudden self-imposed surge of demand on my attention; I resisted the urge to get up and go (with lots of help from my 2-year-old nephew).
Instead of getting up and going, I got down on my hands and knees; my nephew climbed on my back.
Then the reservoir tipped.
Wrapping his arms around my neck, he tried to stay on my back as I marched around the room like a wild horse. Laugher spilled from the both of us as he repeatedly slipped off and then jumped back on.
This went on for more than 15 minutes until both of us were exhausted from laugher.
There will always be other stuff to do, people to meet, conversations to be had, stuff to learn, places to experience, work to be done.
But there will only be one now.
We need to be fully invested in that, in the present. Instead of letting it wander aimlessly, we need to bring our mind home.
What's here in this moment is gone in the next and unless we decide to experience life from that perspective, the perspective of the present, we cannot live a whole life.
We can invest in the future and even in the past, but we need to invest that energy carefully and with intent. Unless most of our energy is being invested in the present, where are we really?
I'm going to practice expending less energy in areas where energy easily dissipates. I'm going to practice more proactive conservation and focus, less reactionary and aimless expenditure. More here, less there; more now, less then.
The past and the future do not really exist; what exists is now.
If you set the wrong intention, you'll feel like you're going somewhere without actually going very far. Setting the wrong intention leads to unsustainable effort.
Without the right intention we won't be able to set the right priorities, and without the right priorities effort will be made in all the wrong places.
It's the reason why so many people set the intention to get in shape every year only to return to their old lifestyles within a few weeks or months.
It wasn't a lack of effort or inability to commit that eventually turned them away from getting in shape. It was that getting in shape was the wrong intention and as a result they set the wrong priorities. The thing they felt was so important quickly became not important enough.
Often something that we consider important becomes not important enough because we set the wrong intention. (It's not "get in shape" that we should be focusing on, but rather "change my lifestyle".)
Changing your lifestyle takes a bit more work than signing up for a gym membership, but that's why the former often results in transformation while the latter results in wasted time and money.
If we set the right intention, we'll set the right priorities and our time and effort will propel us towards our goals. But how do we set the right intention? I believe it starts with taking a look at the bigger picture and understanding the why. Why is this important to us?
My brother bought a motorcycle this past weekend (a black 1992 Honda Night Hawk 750cc) and after seeing him and my uncle riding together I suddenly had a huge desire to own a motorcycle. But this isn't the first time I've wanted to buy a motorcycle.
Last year when I got my motorcycle license I had planned on buying a bike shortly there after. I rode my brother-in-law's Honda CBR600RR a few times and went to a couple of Harley Davidson demo rides to compare sports bikes with the Harley's. I decided the Harley's were much nicer for long rides and since I expected to be doing a lot of riding, a Harley made the most sense. I quickly found the bike I liked the most: a 2008 HD 1200XL Sportster Nightster:
It's about $9,500 new, which isn't that bad for such a nice bike. However, due to financial constraints, I simply couldn't afford it at the time. I was still going through a bankruptcy and my bank accounts were empty. It was clearly more of a want than a need and even if I decided to buy one, I didn't have the money and I wouldn't be approved for financing. That made it pretty easy to dismiss the desire and bury it for future reconsideration.
After seeing my brother's bike this past weekend, the desire was unearthed and I found myself again wondering how I could buy a motorcycle. But I ran into the same problem: with my tight financial position it's hard to justify spending any amount of money on something that I only want and don't actually need. That's when I began subconsciously looking for ways to justify buying it: "I'll save money on gas!", "I'll save money on insurance!", "I'll be able to enjoy the open air!", "I can sell my truck and worry about winter and snow when it comes!", etc, etc. Inside, I knew I was trying to justify the desire for something that wasn't needed and I heard a tiny part of me quietly rebelling.
I felt a sense of déjà vu as I observed myself doing this and that's when I remembered going through the same exact same process of overcoming desire a few years earlier (in fact, almost exactly three years ago) when I wanted to sell my truck and buy a Jeep Wrangler. That got me thinking... what the hell would I really do with a motorcycle when the ground looks like this:
During the winter months, there would be absolutely no way to use the motorcycle and I'd need to spend more money storing it (or risk spending money on maintenance in the spring). I started thinking about the goals I set for this year and the things I've already decided I really want to do, all of which will require money: complete the AFF program, learn scuba diving (classes, gear, etc), spend lots of weekends camping (commuting gas money), plane tickets to fly to various fitness events, and of course simply saving some money!
It really comes down to priorities. When I stopped thinking about how cool it would be to ride around on a motorcycle and I started thinking about what my priorities were, overcoming the desire for a motorcycle became easier and easier. The motorcycle simply didn't fit anywhere within my priorities! This didn't obliterate the desire, but at least now I feel like I'm thinking more rationally.
"Maybe I can find a cheap $3,000 motorcycle that I won't be so worried about spending money on maintenance and that I would feel comfortable tinkering with (great learning experience!)." "Maybe if I find a good deal, I can resell it before winter." Suddenly my approach seems more practical and I don't feel this urge to just go out and spend money.
Three years ago, when I almost sold my truck a splurged on a Jeep Wrangler, my truck had 133,000 miles on it. Now it's got 190,000 miles and I've had it for 4 years 8 months. Here's to another 110,000 miles of overcoming unnecessary desires. 🙂