Distraction from what?
I was watching Steve Colbert with his guest Rachel Maddow. What a powerful pair of cultural commentators, two people looking with a very clear vision at world and particularly US politics. Their reflections resonated with me on a large scale, but they also echoed something personal I’ve been recently contemplating at a coach’s urging.
Colbert and Maddow were speaking of the American president and the string of scandals following him, and Colbert asked Maddow what all of the president’s scandals, large and small, are hiding. What are we not focusing on, what is going on behind the scenes that we’re being distracted from by these antics?
Maddow had a long list of answers and also explained her approach, which is to never give in to the antics. She avoids reporting on everything the president says and focuses on the real issues rather than the distractions. It’s an admirable approach—one we can all learn from.
When we have a number of little dramas or medium dramas or even big dramas in our lives, of course we have to attend to them. But if we spend all our time focused on all the myriad things that require our attention, then where are we going? We’re losing our way. We’re losing track of our purpose. We’re no longer in touch with what brings us in joy. We don’t manifest or create, and we don’t engage passionately in life. Our lives become a long, tedious affair of reacting to and managing one crisis after another, rather than a vision-driven journey.
The great flood
I noticed myself going in that direction recently when my new home had major flooding and I incurred about $25,000 worth of damage. I believe this falls under at least medium and probably big drama, and of course I’m having to attend to it. But as plans progressed, I realized that while juggling the electrician, the plumber, the flooring and drywall folks, everyone was picking up on things that needed doing in my house, and the project is ballooning to at least a year. I could be stuck making decisions about all these little things, like appliances, flooring, lighting, for a year. I was feeling quite swept along, as though it was all out of my control, till the coach asked Colbert’s question: What is this a distraction from?
Those of you who read often may have guessed already, before I realized it myself: I was allowing a legitimate issue to grow exponentially in my life till it was distracting me from my grief and sorrow and some other, even bigger dramas happening in my life. It affected me in two ways, somewhat paradoxically: it was keeping me agitated about small stuff, my body constantly in a state of alert constantly; it was also making me paralyzed on a larger scale. I was procrastinating over other things in my life because I was allowing the small decisions about the renovation to become my entire focus.
Refusing the distractions
So I made a conscious decision to stop caring about the holes in the ceiling and the missing baseboards and the warped flooring. I decided to spent a few days just remembering my passion and my joy. I wanted to focus on the things that will still matter in five or ten years. Yes, fixing my house will up the resale value and make it more beautiful, but those are superficial things; what about the things that make a difference in my life? If I’m gone tomorrow, what do I want to have done or experienced that I’m not attending to right now because of those giant distractions?
It was quite amazing to realize that this issue I’d allowed to loom over everything, to dominate all my thoughts, could in fact fade to the background when I focused on what I really want to do with my life. What a relief. Of course, I couldn’t ignore the state of my house for more than a few days. So I decided to focus on making a master plan for the renovation, figuring out the order of operations and when I’ll have to move out, coordinating with my insurance company, all of those mundane things. Once that plan was in place, I decided to stop focusing on it at all. I’ll allow the plan to unfold and make sure the work is getting done, but I will be honest with myself about the importance of these tiny decisions in the context of my larger purpose. I want to get back to my reason for being on this planet! I want to get back to life and writing and sculpting and engaging with people who want to make a difference in their community on important national files. I want to get back outside and soak up this colourful fall. I want to connect with my friends and my family and focus on what really matters. Which, it turns out, is not baseboards.
That conversation between Colbert and Maddow was stimulating on a number of levels, and also held such a wonderful message for me personally. We all need to focus on the essentials and stop allowing the distractions to dominate our lives. When the distractions win, we’re the ones who lose out.
What are some of the dramas stealing your focus away from your larger purpose? How will you work to shift back to the things that matter?