Friday, October 26, 2012

Focusing Curiosity

One day as a child, I was obediently vacuuming my room when I came to the under-the-bed part. We had one of those canister vacs that could reach really well into such spaces, and thoroughness was expected in our chores. I lifted the little bed skirt to slurp up whatever dust bunnies may have been breeding beneath and saw a book, open face-down to keep my place from the night before. Not wanting to lose my place, I turned it upright to glance at the page number before moving it.

...and I got distracted by the words.

I don't know how long, but apparently long enough for Mom to come check on me. By that time, I was leaning against the bed (which, at my size then, looked an awful lot like sitting on the bed), book in one hand and still-noisy vacuum in the other. Mom quite reasonably concluded that I was trying to be sneaky, pretending to vacuum while actually goofing off.

For the record, that wasn't true. I just hadn't noticed that I'd begun reading and had completely forgotten that I was in the middle of vacuuming.

Thirty years later, stuff like that still trips me up sometimes. It's not usually that I'm disinterested in whatever it is that I'm doing, but rather that so many other things are interesting, too. I could spend all day online looking at blogs and Facebook and everything else, attention pulled this way and that by information and ideas that aren't inherently bad -- except that they draw me away from what is more important. It is tempting to lose myself at work in gathering data and drawing up detailed plans, and some of that is certainly useful -- unless it hinders doing the work and engaging with others. It would be easy to enroll in an M.Div. program, an immersion Spanish class, music lessons, freefall instruction, swimming, and a psych degree -- easy, but not the right course of action. And, of course, entire shelves of written words still call to me.

Joshua Becker posted recently on the benefits of limited curiosity. "Our information age has made unbridled curiosity a constantly available distraction... [and] we lose all track of the immediate, beautiful world right in front of us." While respecting and enjoying a God-given desire to learn, I still want to keep growing beyond where I was as that kid, focusing my curiosity enough to develop it as a productive strength rather than a significant distraction.

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