Touching the sacred (an essential condition)

Our brains […] construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.*
(Cal Newport)

Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.*
(Cal Newport)

In these two quotes, Cal Newport is reflecting on the work of Winifred Gallagher and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi when it comes to focusing our attention on deep work rather than shallow.

Gallagher focuses on the contents of our attention after she noticed how she felt better about her life when she didn’t dwell on her recent cancer diagnosis but on “movies, walks, and a 6.30 martini.”** Her interest aroused, she began a five year exploration of the science around this, concluding:

Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioural economics to family counselling, similarly suggest that the skilful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your life.**

Csikszentmihalyi emphasises that the very experience of going deep brings rewards that are satisfying to us.

We’re looking at the “inside and outside” of the same thing, a möbius strip helping us to see just how this can be. It’s M. C. Richards who helps us to see this when she ponders the “crossing point” of a carrot seed, able to push down the hard, orange root but also send up the green filigreed leaves:

we may think of the genius of the human being, earth oriented by gravity, with feet on the ground, and in consciousness a weightless being whose head is full of dreams and visions. We do not have to decide which we will be, practical or visionary, for we are both. And that is our genius.^

Gallagher had noticed:

when you lose focus, your mind tends to focus on what’s wrong with your life instead of what’s right”.**

Newport presses on because he wants to consider the sacredness of deep work and how this is absent in shallow work. We must become craftspeople again:

Craftsmanship […] provides a key to reopening a sense of sacredness in a responsible manner.*

You may have guessed this is why I sat up when reading this. It is my belief and work that everyone is a craftsperson – it is our absolutely necessary condition.

(*From Cal Newport’s Deep Work.)
(**Winifred Gallagher, quoted in Cal Newport’s Deep Work.)
(^From M. C. Richards’ Centering.)

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