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Turning “tension” into “attention”


Some have called our time the Age of Anxiety. An age of heightened tensions. And I think we all feel it at times.

There’s past tense—the tension of living “If only” as in…

If only this had happened…or if only that hadn’t happened…then I could have been something.”

There’s future tense–the tense of living “Someday when” as in…

Someday when I get the education…or get the big promotion…or find the right partner…or find the right situation…then I can really start to live.”

But, of course, life only happens in the present.

James Thurber put it like this:

“Let us not look backward in regret or forward in fear but around us in awareness.”

Thurber is talking about turning “tension” into “attention”—paying closer attention to the people and situations and incredible life going on around us right here, right now.

He is talking about slowing down, quieting down, and investing a little time each day in what really matters—to do the little things that make today human, meaningful. To truly listen to someone. To take the time to care. To start building a bridge.

He is talking about the magical possibilities of me becoming a more aware person—not someday, but today.

In the Middle Ages, some people believed in alchemy: the dream of turning ordinary elements into gold. That dream, of course, was an illusion.

But the dream of turning “tension” into “attention” is very real. It can help us turn ordinary days into something extraordinary and precious.



To be nobody-but-yourself


The poet e. e. cummings wrote:

To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

If e. e. is at least close to being right, it raises a question: How do we get hold of this? How can we fight this battle?

Suppose, for example, there is someone in your life who is just a little too frustrating. You can respond to that person like everybody else would. Or you can get creative: find a way to respond like the one-of-a-kind human being you are.

Or, think of all the things we experience in a day: the routine, the problems at work, problems at home, successes and failures, dreams and frustrations, busyness and loneliness, and more.

We can handle these just like everybody else. Or we can seek to bring a sense of our whole, unique self to these experiences—which makes the day feel more purposeful.

I believe life calls us to that.

Life calls you to take your stand in the world-as-it-is—with your eyes and heart wide open—and affirm your life. It calls you to be alive where you are and be the person only you can be and fill the place that only you can fill in the way only you can fill it.

Really, that may be our only job. And it’s a good question for our quiet times.

Because I don’t think we want our epitaph to be: He/she was just like everybody else.