Wednesday, 7:00 a.m.
Intention is easier than attention, and more fun. I am giving my
attention to this column, just as I intended an hour ago when I was
still in bed.
Lying half-awake before rising is something like attending a
convention; if you are a helping professional away from your work
place, you intend much that you will never do. By the time you
return to your job, you will have to back-burner your new
intentions because there is too much catching up to do.
This morning I am attending to what I intended, but I am not being
rewarded for it. The going is slow. Maybe I should have made the
coffee first, or cleared my head by scanning the morning paper, or
written my to-do list for the day, or completed a physically active
chore to boost my metabolism, or taken my morning meds first, or
gotten dressed for the day. They are all there to do, and none of
them a waste of time. They are not what I intended this morning,
however. Had I spent my time getting ready to write, I would
have been locked in "intention mode" rather than "attention mode."
Getting ready to write is not the same as writing. It counts as
work, but produces nothing.
Now my time is gone. A scheduled appointment is going to consume
the rest of the morning. I did write though: attention rather than
intention. What I wrote is not what I set out to say, and I may toss it --but at least I attended to what I intended. It may be good as a bad example.
That's better than producing pavement for the road to hell.
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
I did not plan this column as a bad example, however, so here I am,
back at it. The only way to write is to write, just as the only way
to begin is to begin. So I am again attending to what I intended, just
a bit later than expected. Okay, two days later.
Several other options were available, of course. I am not punching
a time clock or meeting a harsh deadline, so I could have postponed
it indefinitely, I could have lost interest, I could have found
something better to do, I could have allowed interruptions to pile up
for more than two days. I suppose every writer does some or all of
those sometime or other. If they become dominant, the writer has given up writing but hasn't caught on yet.
By the time a concept, dream, or fantasy rises to an intention,
it has come far; but it hasn't got to the hard part—and it's the hard
part that makes it work. I'm writing about writing, because that is
my immediate task; but I could be addressing any intention in any
field. When you attend to what you intend, you sweat—actually, in a
manual trade; metaphorically, when the labor is intellectual.
Paul Rees was a preacher of unusual gifts in the last century.
Once I heard him speak informally about it. I wish I could remember
the whole sentence exactly, but I can approximate it from the key
words. "You don't achieve anything worthwhile," he said, without
mental and spiritual sweat."
I suspect that worthwhile achievements are rarer than they might be
because we focus too soon on the outcome when we should be focused on
the effort--on the level of mental and spiritual sweat required as we
attend to what we intend.