If you want to win the war on attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.*
This is the main thing. This is what I care about, it is the person. This is the living vessel: person. This is what matters. This is our universe. This is the task, the joy and the dolour: to be born as a person, to live and love as a person, to dwell in the worlds in a Person. The living spirit, the moving form, the living word, life-death, art-life, corpus, body, being, all, persons.**
(M. C. Richards)
What does it mean to you to be human?
The question was raised by a student I was in conversation with yesterday, a timely reminder for me that it’s one of the most important questions of this century and, most poignantly, for these times.
I was swept before the words of M. C. Richards as one carried upon a mighty tide, thrilled at the possibility of what this adventure of human, of Person, will mean. Richards continues relentlessly, leaving me breathless:
Let no one think that the birth of man is to be felt without terror. The transformations that await us cost everything in the way of courage and sacrifice. Let no one be deluded that a knowledge of the path can substitute for putting one foot in front of the other. […] In my own efforts, I become weak, discouraged, exhausted, angry, frustrated, unhappy, and confused. But someone within me is resolute, and I try again. Within us lives a merciful being who helps us to our feet no matter how many times we fall.**
Here are echoes of David Brooks’ “terrifying longing” but also of the need this future will have for great compassion, towards ourselves and each other as everything we are will be tested.
Kelvy Bird both warns and exhorts us:
But happiness cannot come without sadness, the two equal all the hours.^
(*David Brooks, quoted in Cal Newport’s Deep Work, highlighting Newport’s first discipline for deep work: ‘Focus on the Wildly Important.’)
(**From M. C. Richards’ Centering.)
(^From Kelvy Bird’s Generative Scribing.)