The Write Reasons – #01

“A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating.” -Frank Herbert

I write in order to develop my powers of concentration.

Of course, each moment we’re alive presents us with an opportunity to practice developing our concentration and our ability to focus— every bite of every meal, every word of every conversation, every motion in every household chore or bit of yard work, every email written and read, every commute. Everything.

So what?

For me, it matters because I’m never happier than when I’m in a state of flow, and writing is one way I’m able to intentionally enter flow. Wikipedia explains flow as “The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.”

Wikipedia goes on to say, “In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task. Flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book about the flow state, appropriately titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In it, he writes, “Contrary to what we usually believe … the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

He goes on to say, “Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”

Another reason to consciously develop powers of concentration is that the ability to focus is very often foundational to success. Last year I completed a training with Jack Canfield in which he shared with me that during his research for the book The Power of Focus, he and his writing partners interviewed more than 2,000 successful entrepreneurs in order to find out what made them successful.

Almost without exception, Jack and his partners found, every successful entrepreneur possesses three attributes: 1) a high degree of clarity about what they want to accomplish; 2) powerful success habits (in the form of daily routines and disciplines); 3) a high degree of focus, or concentration.

My dad certainly possessed all three of these attributes. If he was in a meeting or on a phone call, especially if he was doing a mathematical calculation in his head, it was nearly impossible to distract him. I do remember him sometimes becoming irritated by background noise, or kids playing loudly outside (of whom I was often one).

If the sound of my playing managed to penetrate his concentration he would tell me to play somewhere else or simply to be quiet, and then he would go back to concentrating. His level of concentration was extraordinary, and it was a big part of what made him successful.

For me, understanding that we can develop our ability to concentrate feels a bit like “cracking the code” of success. I mean, it’s easy to look at people who are extraordinarily successful and simply attribute their success to natural talent, sheer luck or hard work. And in many cases, of course, all three of those things are true, but it’s also true that many of those phenomenally successful people have a great capacity for concentration that they have developed consciously or otherwise. And we can do the same.

But concentration matters for another reason too. The spiritual teacher Yogananda writes, “To be able to concentrate is essential for spiritual progress; without concentration you shall never find God.”

For me, each writing session provides an opportunity to consciously slow down and deliberately attempt to fully experience the present. I endeavor to carry this mindfulness into every aspect of my life, and those ephemeral moments when I succeed in this effort are always gratifying.

It’s not always easy, but it’s a challenge worthy of a lifetime of effort. This, I think, is what author Frank Herbert recognized when he wrote the words I opened with: “A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating.”

After all, our only point of power exists in the present.

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What a Corpse Taught Me about Living

“Everything else can wait, but your search for God cannot wait.” -Paramahansa Yogananda

I have been searching for God since before I knew I was. I think we all are, though we don’t all know it, and some of us who know it don’t always admit it, and even those who admit it sometimes forget it, intentionally or otherwise.

I think I came to Earth to find Him, which seems crazy because wherever I was before was probably closer to Him than here. Here I spend too much time looking under trash.

My work as an author might simply be more digging in the dirt, but in this moment it seems like a logical way to search. Read. Learn. Ponder. Discuss. Write. Share. Repeat. As Emerson reminds us, “The end of knowledge is action… but the end of that action again, is knowledge.” 

Writing is a way to make sense of existence, to establish my place in it, organize my thoughts and experiences, understand the past and shape the future—  after all, the best way to predict the future is to create it. Being an author creates the possibility for me to literally script my future.  

…  …

After my dad died, I was dumbfounded by the utter lifelessness of his corpse. It was odd to see his body so still. The energy and vitality it had possessed were gone— a reality I could feel as much as see. I was in awe with reverent appreciation for the precious, fleeting spark that animates each of us. 

I had seen corpses of people that I’d known before and it didn’t seem strange to me. But seeing my dad’s body absent its energy and vitality was particularly strange, not just because it was my dad, but because had been so powerful in life. He had been so passionate and intense about virtually everything he gave his attention to. He had been so alive. He had expressed his spark so fully.

I thought about my own life, and I realized that although we all have a spark of life, some of us possess a second spark. Seeing my dad’s corpse, it was clear to me that some people are more alive than others. In the words of William Wallace, “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” 

Some people live so fully and freely that their lives possess a character and quality as different from those of us who are merely alive as corpses are different from the living. When I understood that, I gained a desire to fully express the spark of life I’ve been blessed with, and if I can, to access and express this second spark.

Writing is the way I have chosen to attempt this. Writing is also a way I endeavor to find and understand God. I suspect that the effort to find and access my second spark is bound up with search to know God. And I know that it cannot wait.

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An Introvert Spills His Guts­

Our family business had grown quite sizeable by the time I was a teenager. My dad’s name was all ove­r town, literally, on cars’ license plate frames, in weekly newspaper, radio, and TV ads and on the signs and exteriors of some of Salt Lake’s most successful auto dealerships, which my parents owned.

Our family grew even more conspicuous after my mom and dad bought a professional basketball team.

I didn’t recognize it at the time, but as our family’s visibility in the community increased, my parents’ efforts to safeguard our privacy increased along with it. We lived in a private community. We weren’t listed in the phone book, and you couldn’t get our address by calling directory assistance. We were the first family I knew that had caller ID, and even after it became quite popular we were the only family I knew whose number was blocked.

… …

My dad often said, “The only stupid question is an unasked question,” but I’m not sure he ever heard the questions kids asked me at school. Things like, “What’s it like to see your dad on TV all the time?”, “Do the Jazz players come over to your house for dinner?” or “Can I have a car?”

It wasn’t until after I’d left high school that I heard my dad’s advice to try responding to the ever popular, “Will you give me free Jazz tickets?” with, “I’ll be glad to give you free Jazz tickets… when the players agree to play for free.”

… …

The point of telling you all this is to let you know that it doesn’t come naturally for me to share my thoughts, feelings and experiences online as I have been for the past twelve days in this blog. In addition to being an introvert by nature, I have inherited my parents’ tendency to be private. Maybe it’s due to all the inane questions I was so often asked growing up.

Or it could be that I understand that once something’s published online, it’s out there forever. And who hasn’t regretted something they once said?

My reluctance to share might stem from the fact that I’m a perfectionist and I know that eventually you’ll find a typo, more than a few poorly worded sentences, or any number of grammatical offenses. Or you might be the kind of reader who finds a typo and makes a point to let me know. Or worse yet, you might be the kind of reader who finds a typo and doesn’t let me know.

In any case, when I began this post, what I wanted to share is that blogging like this feels a bit upstream to me, but I’m grateful to you for reading my blog. I particularly want to thank those of you who have shared with me your comments, suggested links, videos, or asked questions. I am humbled by everyone who has shared with me the ways that things I have said have touched or lifted you. I am also grateful to everyone who has shared my blog with someone else.

I made a New Year’s resolution to post online every day in order to force myself outside my comfort zone. Thank you to everyone who has read what I’ve written- you’ve helped me to see that it’s nice out here.

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