Deleting Distractions


If you have been following this blog, you know that I’ve been working on a collection of poems about water. I’ve written those poems, revised many of them as well, but I’m now going into deep revision.

I’m not going to go into how I make the choices I do. That’s personal and trivial. However, the hardest part of revision for me is putting myself in the state of mind I need to be to revise. The difference between one word and the next can make the poem, so I have to be in a place where that can happen.

Instead of writing about revision, I’m going to write about mindfulness and the steps I take to put me in a calm state of mind. I tend to work far too much. With the state of non-pay for professors in California, most of us are scrambling for extra income. I also help to run a non-profit and am trying to gather donations as much as I can. This creates a great deal of anxiety and often depression in my life, and since I tend to eat and drink my emotions, it’s led to weight gain.

I suppose there are any number of ways to define mindfulness, but I think the most important part of it is to be in the present, here at this moment. I began my quest for mindfulness years ago, not by doing anything, but by resisting certain things.

Most importantly, I’ve spent my adult life resisting multitasking. As far as I am concerned, multitasking is the fastest and easiest way to sink into a depressive state. It is the idea that nothing a person could possibly be doing at this moment is good enough and that the best we can possibly achieve is just to be done with our tasks. That’s a dangerous way to approach life. In fact, it is the opposite of the way that life should be approached. Each moment can be a blessing, a meditation, and a prayer. Each task should be approached with complete attention not only because we owe it to ourselves to do things well, but also because there is joy in the completion and in the action.

For me, this has meant resisting some of the pleasures of modern life, the first of which is the cell phone. I shouldn’t be dogmatic about that. I do have a flip phone. It’s a burner phone with no contract and no access to the Internet. Aside from the fact that my cell phone bill is at most $50 a year, I am also never tempted to spend time on the Internet when I am waiting in line or talking to other people. No one breaks my concentration while I am reading. When I am on a walk around the neighborhood, I am there completely.

I would never make the argument that cellphones are bad. People have children to take care of, and jobs with emergencies. That’s just not the reality of my life. I teach English, and I have found that it’s rare that there is a grammar emergency that needs to be taken care of immediately. My wife has my number, and I have no children. I would rather live in the moment than constantly wonder what is happening elsewhere. That way lies madness.

The Internet is a distraction as well. It used to be that I would wake up and immediately check my emails. I would check them before I went to bed at night, making sure that I answered all emails immediately. Most of them were from students. Although I try to return emails within 24 hours now, it’s important that I don’t fill every waking hour with them. Checking them as I did meant that I was effectively working every moment that I was awake including on weekends. That approach to life is insane.

These kinds of communication are distraction, and the kind of subtle approach to writing that I need during revision and really all of my life requires that I am not distracted. It’s impossible to be mindful when I am at work or dealing with other people all day long. Work is important, and other people are important of course, but I cannot be present for either effectively if I am not present for myself.