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Outsmarting Distraction

“The evolving text was never, for Murray, purely a creation of the writer—it was an active participant in the process itself. He would speak of ‘listening to the text,’ or ‘the informing line’; he would describe the thrill of writing outrunning intention and entering new territory….if the writer was alert to cues and possibilities, and not tied to an outline or a plan. ‘Be patient, listen quietly, the writing will come. The voice of the writing will tell you what to do.’ ”

– Introduction to The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher


To hear this voice, as Murray said, we must believe in it.

And it’s incredibly difficult when we’re constantly pulled away.

CSC_0024It can seem impossible these days, but if we’re to hear the voice, we have to fight for it.

But we won’t stop being so easily distracted and pay attention.

I believe it’s self-evident most people are chronically over-involved. In church and with friends and family. People have legitimate needs and we have ability to fill them.

We like people dependent on us so we don’t have to face ourselves.

But there are also entertainments and hugely involving activities. In the now-classic Amusing Ourselves to DeathNeil Postman wrote prophetically about the problem now rampant in so many creative people’s lives. We all tend to think we’re above the law–special, unusual, the exception to the universal rule that no one can produce consistently good work when being continually distracted.

With all the crazy modern influences our culture throws at us, we’ve got to realize we’re not an exception to how humans function. And it’s astounding to me how many people think they are! We think we can circumvent natural laws and never have to say no.

DSC_0006We never even consider that God’s law is higher than our limited perspective.

Why do we think our best intentions will escape the consequences of over-involvement?

Why do we trade our best for so little?

It isn’t rare–everyone seems to have a touch of this disease. But most ambitious writers I run into these days seem to be in advanced stages of disarray. They think they can do whatever they want, say yes to everything and never sleep, cut corners and cheat the system. Maybe they believe that’s what it takes to be successful.

And aren’t we all tempted to agree? Maybe we just need to learn to manage. Or maybe that’s our exceptionalism talking.

We’re too dang busy. And we’re distracting ourselves from noticing.

IMG_5944It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to realize we’re running from the truth about many things–situations, people, deeper emotions, issues, pain. We forget that people who run from pain are still being controlled by it. The proof is when their fragile sense of control slips, they become angry or depressed.

We get over-involved and call it normal in order not to face our pain and hide from fear. Pain always forces us to deal with it, one way or another.

And as we all know, with all the convenient distractions available these days, dealing with it head on is far easier said than done.

Yet is there anything more important than to get free of this?

Everyone has to face it or continue to struggle. The pain of life leaves us no choice. And our culture preys on this universal weakness. It’s a war for our attention and we give ours to whatever comes by. Anything flashy or convenient, and we don’t even notice we’re doing it.

Oh, hello beautiful, manipulative advertisement designed to sell me some IMG_5998expendable junk! You want some of my attention? Well, sure! It’s only my most precious possession…

You do this. I know because I do this. And what I’m saying now–in as sincere a way as I can muster–is you’ve got to pay attention!

The Opposition is winning.

So what’s your method to preserve your attention for your greater intention?

We each need a personal strategy, or we’ll end up dead before we get free. We’ve got to begin to fight.

We need a practice to get behind until it becomes effortless, even if initially it takes a lot of effort. Remember, everything worthwhile (like good writing) takes practice.

Everything worth doing is worth doing well. All it takes is patient persistence.

IMG_5988Pain, fear and the Opposition will conspire to keep you silent forever. You’ll only grow more self-centered and incapable of changing anyone, convinced you’re entitled to overindulging your numbing comfort of choice, and trading your dreams for panaceas. That is, if you don’t stop, pay attention, and commit yourself to a better way.

People make their own prisons. It happens. We’ve met them, known them.

Research shows many will choose addiction. They’ll coast through life and sample many things and never achieve what dreams God placed in them. We know about the “quiet lives of desperation” because we could so easily choose them too.

We all have to cut back and slow down even though we don’t want to.

IMG_5949And why? Because the world requires our attention. Practicing discernment and making time for what deserves our attention is the only way to escape the undue demands we face.

The tyrannical dictator of Urgencia tries to demand our allegiance. But we serve the Life-Giver, and our lives require us to learn to live for him and not be afraid.

Our collective destiny is just down the road in Futureland. But first we have to reclaim it from the stickle-backed demon Overwhelm.

In its grip, even heroes lose their minds, can’t think, can’t feel. We’re in the battle for our lives. It would kill our desire to contribute.

Do you truly realize the unlimited value of your Ruler’s gifts to you? You have been given all the power.

Simply decide you won’t allow it to be undermined. Don’t allow your contribution and output to be stolen by inattention.

Reclaim your freedom and breathe in the fresh air of your rekindled dream.

Too much busyness breaks anyone’s resolve.

Don’t go down without a fight.

And if we seem ascetic to some people and family members who don’t understand what we’re doing for the sake of the work, so be it. If we want to make room for the inspired words to become everything to us, it’s a small price to pay.

For until the Inspired Words do become our everything, no one else will see their eternal value either.

“I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
“If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
“Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.”
 – Maria Rainier Rilke
For the higher purpose,

8 Responses to “Outsmarting Distraction”

  1. kristenjoywilks says:

    Perhaps this is why we see such a deep connection to other believers at Bible Camp. My husband and I work at a Bible camp and what we hear the most is stuff like “This is my family” “This is the church for me” and we confiscate their cell phones and make them talk and walk in the woods and work things out. We get a lot of teenage glares, but then they come back, because they feel loved and noticed. It’s not perfect, but it is very real and refreshing, even just being out in the forest can do so much for a group of believers. The quiet…so good.

    • Mick says:

      I love that, Kristen. 50 points to you for all you do to help people remember their inner selves–and for living to tell about it!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. If we put down our technology toys for a few minutes, for example, sit down and look at each other as we talk or simply spend some quiet moments reflecting on that God has given us, life would take on a whole different perspective and dimension. We’d be focusing on those things that are eminently so much more important than all the distractions that bombard us every day.

    • Mick says:

      Ironically, I’m replying on my phone while waiting to pick up my kid at school. :) but yes. I hear you loud and clear, Marlene. That’s the thought that keeps coming back to me over and over these days.

  3. Terri Picone says:

    “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” — Dr. Johnson. C.S. Lewis quotes this and goes on to say, “The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles.”

    Since I struggle with Distractions, Fears, Overcommitment, Procrastination and feelings of being Overwhelmed (to name a few), I need posts like this which remind me I’m not — at least– Alone, too.

    And most of all, these words remind us that as long as I persevere, just around the corner, we’ll find Hope.

    So thank you for the reminders that go so well with all the instruction you give writers.

    • Mick says:

      Oh, I love this. Great quote and so true. I suppose I aspire to being one of those kind of teachers. Or even less than that–just a repetitive voice that says you can do it you can do it you can do it. :) thanks, Terri.

    • micksilva says:

      Terri, I went and found the rest of that quote: “As Dr. Johnson said, ‘People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.’ The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.”

      I guess I want to be that kind of writer. And I want my writers to be that kind of writer. So I keep saying it: *Don’t be afraid. You can do it. Don’t let yourself forget. Don’t be distracted. It’s safe here. Safe and simple and good.*

  4. One of the ironies I’ve experienced as a therapist is having people tell me that what was most helpful from “last week’s session” was not at all the carefully honed tidbit or “assignment” I suggested. Sometimes it was an aside or, still more humbling, something I had no memory of saying or even thinking about. Always praying for wisdom that was beyond me, I just showed up, listened, and cared. I am certain that my training was vital, and that prayer is vital, but there is mystery to just showing up, listening to what’s been said, and really caring that confounds me.

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