Find what is central to you, and begin to discard all that is not

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The thing that strikes me is that we are bombarded by so much information, so continually, that it is hard to keep track. It’s hard to stop that from happening. If there is a solution for it, I don’t know what it would be. I keep searching for some method of indexing.

Guys?

Discarding is as important as accumulating. Easier to see with others than with your own habits, but “easily seen” is at least a beginning.

Ruthless intelligent discarding is a form of indexing. It is a pre-sort. “Do I/will I need this?”

Everything you discard, focuses you. Everything you accumulate, to that extent, un-focuses you. Now, if you have patience for it, a little expansion, a little exposition, of our meaning.

Go ahead.

What is intellectual activity but an alternating focusing and unfocusing?

You gather. Perhaps you gather and gather and gather. It doesn’t matter how much gathering you do; that is a matter of personal taste and perhaps of width of interest and perhaps of genius. At some point, continued gathering without any focusing will be sterile.

It is in focusing that you learn (or impose) the meaning on what you have gathered. We mean this both literally and metaphorically. You may spend months or years reading in a certain subject area, say, or in two – or in what seems to you a random assortment of subject areas – and you may have no idea why or even if there be a why. You do many things without knowing the reason, or if there is a reason. That’s just the process of living.

But whenever you come to make sense of things – to summarize, or to index, or to cull, whatever the circumstances and form of the making sense – when you come to do that, it is as though you are sorting all that material to find certain threads or connections or affiliations.

This is pretty abstract and we can feel you falling asleep, so to speak. So – point us.

Well, I’m interested in where you seemed to be going about ingestion and digestion.

Yes – and excretion! What you have used up, what you have had the benefit of, what has nourished you but is no longer of service because it has nourished you – must you not eliminate it, if you are to function as an ongoing system rather than as a static momentary picture?

You know the new cliché about the beginner’s mind, the empty mind, being the best way to learn something new. It doesn’t apply only to learning the new. It applies to re-understanding the previously understood, which of course is to see it anew.

So – when overwhelmed by material, whether files, papers, e-mails, projects you want to start, old records of past projects finished or unfinished –

When you are overwhelmed, too much information is as bad as no information. You need to balance assimilation with ingestion. Could you read everything on the Internet? Could you read every magazine or book or newspaper? And, if you could, could you hold them, balance them, make sense of them?

Well, you can’t do it with your piles of gathered materials, either. No one could.

Now, each person, going through the same stack of materials, would cull and sort differently. For that matter, no two people will have the same stack. No two people ever could.

You remember Buckminster Fuller’s realization from the 1920s – that no two people see the world from the same place, and therefore no two have the same unique viewpoint, and so anyone may have insights that are obvious to him or her, but not at all obvious to most others, or perhaps to any others. It was this insight as much as any other that fueled Fuller’s career, providing him with the self confidence in his own way of seeing that led him to change the world rather than to wonder why his own vision was askew.

Find what is central to you, and begin to discard all that is not, and seek to attract more that is. You will find that this has a remarkable self adjusting effect on your focus.

Hard to know what does or doesn’t apply, though.

Hard primarily to know if you want to extend so far – as of course ultimately anything could connect with anything else. But the question is practicality. Is a given piece of paper or file or whatever useful to you? Does it help you to center? Will it help you focus on what you want to focus on?

Fortunately, you’re not going about it blind. Your guidance will give you nudges. “Save this, hang onto that. Think about this other in new contexts.” Listen.

Well – speaking of focus – this session has felt extraordinarily diffuse, as if you, or I, were having trouble staying on the beam. Of course, I know who you’re likely to blame for that! 🙂 but I’ve been drinking coffee. I don’t know what else to do.

We did all right. The point here was a practical one: How can you get out from under the clutter of things that fill your life? And our answer was, consciously decide what you want to focus on, and discard the rest. A natural caveat is – be a little careful that a fit of ruthlessness doesn’t lead you to discard things that later you’ll regret tossing over the side – but on the whole, discarding too much is probably preferable to keeping too much.

As a case in point – you have multiple print outs of past sessions in the black box. What will you ever use them for? You have stacks of old e-mails, many stacks sorted roughly by subject matter. But how likely is it that these will ever be useful? You keep endless e-mails on your computer, often sorted. Printed out or not, how likely are they to help you?

There is information to be saved for its beauty or peculiar nature – photographs, e-mails from friends, say. There is information that sparked an idea in you. Other information provided evidence you think you may someday use. You can see that these are three different things.

We can’t – and wouldn’t if we could – provide rules for keeping and discarding. We say only, when you feel the need for greater focus, one step to it is – discard. Sort, cull, discard, make sense of what you have. New material will come to you with every breeze; you needn’t worry that you will run out of material. You will run out of time, though, and we see no particular benefit to anyone in dying with bulging file cabinets and hard drives.

What you assimilate, you bring with you to the other side; that isn’t our point and isn’t for you to worry about. But if you want to function more consciously, to feel yourself and your life less cluttered, the process we’ve outlined is the only way we know to begin.

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