A few days into the new year, I am excited by all the signs of reinvigoration I see around me, and by the shoots in my own life trying to emerge as I clear space for the new.
- Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette introduces a new format where both print articles and blog posts will appear in a single, more streamlined place—this excites me, because I want to write more and to reinvigorate this space.
- High school classmates and other contemporaries with whom I’ve recently reconnected similarly feel we’ve reached a point in life where it’s time to reassess and refocus on what’s important and essential, meaning identifying our true priorities and what gives us joy, and eliminating the less important and nonessential.
- Stirrings of new beginnings—the excitement of a new semester of classes both to teach and to take, new projects to reorient toward.
Yet how many of us feel completely caught up and on top of things after the holidays? I empathize with those who feel swamped. It seems a combination of factors is at work. The tendency of life is to get only more complex, never less. Steadily increasing responsibilities may be an inevitable consequence of success. But the creep of complexity in our lives threatens to take over if we allow it. (Psychologist Brené Brown’s description this experience of midlife unraveling in the introduction to her book Wholehearted hits the mark.)
The other factor has been identified by many writers on the effect of technologies—email, social media, smart phones and other devices—on our cognitive capacities. Evolutionarily speaking, we are not at all cognitively adapted for the accelerating rush of information that now comes as us through these technologies, and most of us have not yet learned to manage it effectively. Trying to deal with it all can take up much of the day. The resulting fragmentation of attention, focus, and energy is dangerous to our wellbeing. Getting our lives back means learning how to restrict and control it so that it doesn’t take over.
Yesterday, moved by the spirit of Thoreau, I took a walk around my pond to inspect it and see what’s going on out there. Thoreau was renowned for his daily walks, and during his two years residing at Walden Pond recorded daily observations of the pond with exquisite scientific thoroughness. His most famous quote anticipates the realities of our 21st century hyper-connected life:
Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify!
Those 20 minutes circumnavigating my pond were well spent –
Some themes that emerge for me in this season for reflection, then:
DEFRAGMENT. REFOCUS on your true priorities.
Groundedness is a quality I greatly admire in others; being truly in touch with what is true and meaningful for you. A walk out in nature is a time-honored way to ground oneself, as is sitting meditation.
Make space to daydream about what makes us happy and what we want to create. In our busyness that space is lost in the crush; it is frightening how vanishingly swiftly the years can go by like that. In thinking about personal systems and life habits, I’ve realized that for me clearing the space for the imagination is the missing piece to navigating and directing our lives as we want them to be.
There it is—the exigencies of life as they look to me at this moment. I welcome your observations!