Relearning focus

“I have sought rest everywhere, and have found it nowhere, save in a little corner, with a little book.” ~Thomas à Kempis

This indeed is my experience of the world as well. There is nothing like a good book in a quiet corner on my own to bring rest to my often restless and anxious soul. There are many days that I find myself thinking that I have been born into the wrong era and would have been better served to have been born in the days when books and careful study of them was held in higher esteem.

A friend of mine recently recommended a fantasy series by Raymond E. Feist (the Riftwar series) that I’ve heard about before but finally decided to read. I’ve now finished the first two books in the series—each one read in a single sitting. Time melts away as I read, and I find myself returning to the “real” world at the end of each book in a kind of daze, caught between that world and this one. It’s a delicious feeling that I’ve had too little of in recent times.

I treasure the joy of reading something such concentration that I am oblivious to things around me. With the increasing time I spend surfing around the internet, it is rare anymore that I have times of such dedicated focus that I can delve deeply into anything. I mourn the loss of that ability to focus even as I enjoy the bounty that the internet offers.

Even conversation, though in some ways facilitated by the web to allow asynchronous and long-distance conversation, has become more disjointed and unfocused than it once was. I love the ability to converse with people I might not ordinarily get to talk to through Facebook and instant messaging, but no matter how deep the topic, the conversations wind up fractured and unfocused as each party is also doing a myriad of other things while “chatting.” Even face-to-face conversations anymore are often disrupted by constant checks of each party’s cell phone for text messages, phone calls, emails, and IMs.

All in all, I am finding my life enriched these days by the time I spend away from the computer in reading, writing, or simply puttering about the house.  I can’t imagine returning to life without a computer and internet access, but I do think that finding ways to limit my time online might serve me well.

I am weeding through my RSS feeds and the Facebook pages that I’ve fanned to reduce the amount of incoming information I get by deleting those that have less utility to me. I am carefully picking and choosing among the various email newsletter I receive to limit them only to the most useful. I have limited the amount of time I spend on several online forums I participate in even though it means that I am missing out on a lot of content (and probably very good and useful content).

And the more I remember my enjoyment of spending time reading, writing, and deeply pondering ideas, the more eager I am to limit the amount of incoming information from electronic sources so I can relearn how to focus. It does not feel a bit like sacrifice; it feels like relief.

After all, as Victor Hugo once said:

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”

There is nothing like solitude and the ability to focus on stories, people, or ideas that stir my heart and mind to help me find my way back into the interior of my own soul. Perhaps that is why concentration on a little book in a little corner brings me more rest and more contentment than anything else I know.