How my 2-year-old son taught me to focus

I didn’t expect that having a toddler would improve my focus. After all, aren’t they supposed to be chaos embodied, a frenzy of activity, spraying attention in all directions? And certainly they take time and energy to raise, teach, and protect.

Yet toddlers also haven’t yet learned the cognitive mistake of trying to juggle more than one thing at once. Sure, my son plays with 20 different toys in 20 minutes. But he does so one at a time, first playing with a train, then putting it down and playing with a car, then putting that down to play with a different train. For him, attention moves smoothly between objects, without attachment and with total focus each time. While he is playing with a train, he has no thoughts or plans about the car right next to it. When he picks up the car, all thoughts of the train disappear.

He expects this of others, as well. My wife and I have been intentional about how we use technology around him, but sometimes the infinite abyss of a smartphone tempts me away for just a moment. My son has no tolerance for this split attention, and quickly corrects me: “Dada, will you put that down! Come sit right here!”

I’ve been working through the Focus series in my daily meditation this month. One of the key concepts introduced is that focus is not a static experience, but a dynamic one; moving from object to object, sensation to sensation. What matters most is not absolute sterility, but a robust and flexible flow that can adapt to changing circumstances.

What my 2-year-old son taught me about focus is that while the object of your focus might change, the quality and intensity shouldn’t. It is possible to focus completely on one thing at a time, and be completely present in each moment. It’s so easy, in fact, that a toddler can do it. What’s my excuse?

Fossil fuels, our starter engine

The fossil fuel deposits of our Spaceship Earth correspond to our automobile’s storage battery which must be conserved to turn over our main engine’s self-starter. Thereafter, our “main engine,” the life regenerating processes, must operate exclusively on our vast daily energy income from the powers of wind, tide, water, and the direct Sun radiation energy. – Buckminster Fuller

I reference this idea often but had forgotten the source. Buckminster Fuller, of course.

Five years ago this would be in a science fiction movie

The FAA has made a PSA about drones at the Super Bowl.

Calvin, rapid prototyper

Questions That Lead to Love

An interesting article has made the rounds recently, detailing the story of a couple who fell in love through answering a set of questions to each other.

The list of questions is now online and ranges from polite dinner conversation:

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

To deeply personal:

What is your most terrible memory?

And truly existential:

If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

Seems like a worthy, though intense, exercise!

Sending out the dogs

“Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey” – Werner Herzog

True of ideas and designs as well.

On surfboards and yachts

And being close to the water:

Baldwin: How many sitcoms could you have launched with the imprimatur of your name on it? You could have your own channel. The Jerry channel.

Seinfeld: Yeah. But I didn’t take that bait…because most of it is not creative work. And it’s not reaching an audience. You want to be on the water? How do you want to be on the water? You want to be on a yacht? You want to be on a surfboard? I want to be on a surfboard.

Let me tell you why my TV show in the ’90s was so good…In most TV series, 50% of the time is spent working on the show, 50% of the time is spent on dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99% of our time writing, me and Larry.

Why you feel so busy

A good argument for why our culture can feel so rushed, unifying individual perception, widening economic classes, new technologies, changes in parenting, politics, and more. Alas, no magic cure is mentioned.

Why the rich often feel busier than the poor:

Ever since a clock was first used to synchronise labour in the 18th century, time has been understood in relation to money. Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably. When economies grow and incomes rise, everyone’s time becomes more valuable. And the more valuable something becomes, the scarcer it seems…

While the wages of most workers, and particularly uneducated workers, have either remained stagnant or grown slowly, the incomes at the top—and those at the very top most of all—have been rising at a swift rate. This makes leisure time terribly expensive.

How the glut of “leisure” activities makes all of them less relaxing:

The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched, as the struggle to choose what to buy or watch or eat or do raises the opportunity cost of leisure (ie, choosing one thing comes at the expense of choosing another) and contributes to feelings of stress. The endless possibilities afforded by a simple internet connection boggle the mind. When there are so many ways to fill one’s time, it is only natural to crave more of it.

Parenting has become even more time-intensive as well, especially for those with the other time crunches:

American mothers with a college degree, for example, spend roughly 4.5 hours more per week on child care than mothers with no education beyond high school…As for fathers, those with a job and a college degree spend far more time with their children than fathers ever used to, and 105% more time than their less-educated male peers.

Sitting quietly

I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his own room. A man wealthy enough for life’s needs would never leave home to go to sea or besiege some fortress if he knew how to stay at home and enjoy it. – Blaise Pascal, Pensees, VIII, 136

Lying about the future

“Lying about the future produces history” – Umberto Eco, describing his book Baudolino