Scott Berkun writes: What things in your life demand undivided attention?

Peace Corps Online: State: Maryland : Messages for Maryland Returned Peace corps Volunteers and Friends of Peace Corps Maryland: February 14, 2006: Headlines: Local Groups: PCOL Exclusive: Happy Valentines Day Sunday - We'll see you all at the Ethnic Dinner on Friday : Scott Berkun writes: What things in your life demand undivided attention?

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Scott Berkun writes: What things in your life demand undivided attention?

Scott Berkun writes: What things in your life demand undivided attention?

"The wise and happy throughout history have found ways to avoid situations that demand divided attention. They convert the fractured experience into the meaningful (and perhaps magical) by investing their attention wisely. And it’s up to us to choose how much of life is spent passively (consuming, waiting, watching) vs. actively (thinking, debating, feeling, doing, making). Whatever we choose, when we die, we have no one to blame but ourselves for where our time, and attention, went. "

Scott Berkun writes: What things in your life demand undivided attention?

Attention and Sex


What things in your life demand undivided attention? Whatever they are, I claim they define your life more than anything else you do. Your obituary will not list the hours you fought off boring meetings or ignored your friends by reading forgettable blurbs about forgettable things on your cell phone or laptop. Instead it’s the intimate, deep moments that refuse division that matter. The wise and happy throughout history have found ways to avoid situations that demand divided attention. They convert the fractured experience into the meaningful (and perhaps magical) by investing their attention wisely.

There isn’t a single great work in the history of civilization, no novel, symphony, film, or song that was completed as a 1/5th time-slice between e-mail, IM, cellphones and television. Despite the modern drive to consume things made by others, time will always be our most finite resource and it crumbles when split into tiny little pieces. And it’s up to us to choose how much of life is spent passively (consuming, waiting, watching) vs. actively (thinking, debating, feeling, doing, making). Whatever we choose, when we die, we have no one to blame but ourselves for where our time, and attention, went.

We’re told our senses bring us the world, but the opposite is more accurate: our senses filter the world down to what we’ve needed to survive. Our eyes see only a fraction of the kinds of light around us (e.g. ultraviolet, infra-red). We can only see 140 degrees of 360 meaning we see less than 50% of what is going on at any time around our bodies. The human range of hearing is comically bad compared to most house pets and insects. In short, our senses are designed to focus our attention on what matters for our survival. Our senses ignore many times more data than they bring to our brains. It’s knowing what to ignore that makes us successful, not how many volumes of data we can consume at the same time. Ask any successful athlete, performer, or writer about how they consistently perform at high levels and they’ll tell you about focus, and the discipline of centering their attention on what they’re doing. They practice and drill so that basic tasks become so familiar that they don’t have to think about them anymore, focusing instead on the details most of us miss.

Whenever someone is lost in waves of e-mail and information, they’re often oblivious to the deepest tragedy of their time. It’s not the stress of dealing with so many requests and obligations (as real and challenging as that stress might be). It’s that somewhere in the wash of interactions and split attentions is the missed possibility they’re looking for: Meaning. Depth of experience. Connection. To quote Pirsig, “The truth knocks on the door and we say, “Go away. I’m looking for the truth”. In the race to clean out inboxes and scratch items off the to-do list, we miss chances to find the thing we’ve created the inbox and to-do list for. Like an American tourist in Europe racing from site to site with barely a moment to take a picture or talk to someone not on their tour bus, we’re trapped in a quantity mentality, despite our quality based desires.

The danger of misguided attention is this: how we spend our attention changes the value of what we spend it on. If you participate in potentially intimate activities, like sports, conversation, or non-casual sex (meaning both emotionally and physically intimate), treating them with split attention, will inevitably make them non-intimate experiences. Like a flower that doesn’t get enough water, an intimate experience can only grow to the depth and quality of the time given to it. If you only spend a fast food amount of attention, you will never have a 5 star dining experience (See Slow food movement). The same applies to everything: relationships, talents, experiences. Fast food (and sex) can be fun, but they’re unlikely to be fulfilling if that’s all you have. They work best as counterpoints to deeper, slower, more wonderfully intimate things.

Reclaiming attention starts with a leap of faith in believing the following sentence: you do not need more than what you have. When you survive that leap, which you will, it’s easy to convince yourself that you need less of the attention consuming things in your life than you currently have. You’ll soon find that every important ambition for your life is best served by treating your attention with the conservation it deserves. Instead of splitting your mind to keep busy, move your body to somewhere worthy of all the attention you have.

When this story was posted in March 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
History of the Peace Corps Date: March 18 2006 No: 834 History of the Peace Corps
PCOL is proud to announce that Phase One of the "History of the Peace Corps" is now available online. This installment includes over 5,000 pages of primary source documents from the archives of the Peace Corps including every issue of "Peace Corps News," "Peace Corps Times," "Peace Corps Volunteer," "Action Update," and every annual report of the Peace Corps to Congress since 1961. "Ask Not" is an ongoing project. Read how you can help.

The Peace Corps Library Date: February 24 2006 No: 798 The Peace Corps Library
The Peace Corps Library is now available online with over 40,000 index entries in 500 categories. Looking for a Returned Volunteer? Check our RPCV Directory. New: Sign up to receive PCOL Magazine, our free Monthly Magazine by email. Like to keep up with Peace Corps news as it happens? Sign up to recieve a daily summary of Peace Corps stories from around the world.

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Peace Corps suspends program in Bangladesh Date: March 16 2006 No: 827 Peace Corps suspends program in Bangladesh
Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez announced the suspension of the Peace Corps program in Bangladesh on March 15. The safety and security of volunteers is the number one priority of the Peace Corps. Therefore, all Peace Corps volunteers serving in Bangladesh have safely left the country. More than 280 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Bangladesh since the program opened in November 1998. Latest: What other newspapers say.

Invitee re-assigned after inflammatory remarks Date: March 16 2006 No: 825 Invitee re-assigned after inflammatory remarks
The Peace Corps has pulled the invitation to Derek Volkart to join the Morocco Training Program and offered him a position in the Pacific instead after officials read an article in which he stated that his decision to join the Peace Corps was in "response to our current fascist government." RPCV Lew Nash says that "If Derek Volkart spoke his mind as freely in Morocco about the Moroccan monarchy it could cause major problems for himself and other Peace Corps volunteers." Latest: The Ashland Daily Tidings has issued a request for all Peace Corps communications on the case.

Re-envision Peace Corps Date: March 16 2006 No: 823 Re-envision Peace Corps
Nicholas J. Slabbert says in his article in the Harvard International Review that an imaginatively reinvented Peace Corps could powerfully promote US interests in a period when perceptions of American motives are increasingly relevant to global realignment. His study envisions a new role for the Peace Corps in five linked areas: (1) reinventing America's international profile via a new use of soft power; (2) moving from a war-defined, non-technological, reactive theory of peace to a theory of peace as a normal, proactive component of technologically advanced democracy; (3) reappraising Peace Corps as a national strategic asset whose value remains largely untapped; (4) Peace Corps as a model for the technological reinvention of government agencies for the 21st century; (5) redefining civil society as information technology society. Read the article and leave your comments.

March 1, 1961: Keeping Kennedy's Promise Date: February 27 2006 No: 800 March 1, 1961: Keeping Kennedy's Promise
On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order #10924, establishing the Peace Corps as a new agency: "Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed--doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps--who works in a foreign land--will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace. "

Top Stories: February 2, 2006 Date: February 4 2006 No: 783 Top Stories: February 2, 2006
Al Kamen writes: Rice to redeploy diplomats 20 Jan
Peace Corps mourns the Loss of Volunteer Tessa Horan 1 Feb
RPCV pursues dreams in America's Heartland 1 Feb
Sargent Shriver documentary to be shown in LA 30 Jan
W. Frank Fountain is new board chairman of Africare 27 Jan
Abbey Brown writes about acid attacks in Bangladesh 26 Jan
Christopher Hill Sees Ray of Hope in N.Korea Standoff 26 Jan
Jeffrey Smit writes on one man diplomatic outposts 25 Jan
Joe Blatchford's ACCION and microfinance 24 Jan
James Rupert writes: A calculated risk in Pakistan 23 Jan
Sam Farr rips conservative immigration bill 21 Jan
Americans campaign for PC to return to Sierra Leone 20 Jan
Kinky Friedman supports Gay Marriage 20 Jan
Margaret Krome writes on Women leaders 18 Jan
James Walsh leads bipartisan US delegation to Ireland 17 Jan
Mark Schneider writes on Elections and Beyond in Haiti 16 Jan
Robert Blackwill on a "serious setback" in US-India relations 13 Jan
Kevin Quigley writes on PC and U.S. Image Abroad 13 Jan
Emily Metzloff rides bicycle 3,100 miles from Honduras 9 Jan
Charles Brennick starts operation InterConnection 9 Jan
Lee Fisher tells story of Pablo Morillo 7 Jan
Nancy Wallace writes: Was PC a CIA front after all? 4 Jan

Paid Vacations in the Third World? Date: February 20 2006 No: 787 Paid Vacations in the Third World?
Retired diplomat Peter Rice has written a letter to the Wall Street Journal stating that Peace Corps "is really just a U.S. government program for paid vacations in the Third World." Director Vasquez has responded that "the small stipend volunteers receive during their two years of service is more than returned in the understanding fostered in communities throughout the world and here at home." What do RPCVs think?

RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps Date: February 3 2006 No: 780 RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps
Timothy Ronald Obert has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor in Costa Rica while serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer. "The Peace Corps has a zero tolerance policy for misconduct that violates the law or standards of conduct established by the Peace Corps," said Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez. Could inadequate screening have been partly to blame? Mr. Obert's resume, which he had submitted to the Peace Corps in support of his application to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, showed that he had repeatedly sought and obtained positions working with underprivileged children. Read what RPCVs have to say about this case.

Military Option sparks concerns Date: January 3 2006 No: 773 Military Option sparks concerns
The U.S. military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is allowing recruits to meet part of their reserve military obligations after active duty by serving in the Peace Corps. Read why there is opposition to the program among RPCVs. Director Vasquez says the agency has a long history of accepting qualified applicants who are in inactive military status. John Coyne says "Not only no, but hell no!" and RPCV Chris Matthews leads the debate on "Hardball." Avi Spiegel says Peace Corps is not the place for soldiers while Coleman McCarthy says to Welcome Soldiers to the Peace Corps. Read our poll results. Latest: Congress passed a bill on December 22 including language to remove Peace Corps from the National Call to Service (NCS) military recruitment program

Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger Date: October 22 2005 No: 738 Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger
When the National Call to Service legislation was amended to include Peace Corps in December of 2002, this country had not yet invaded Iraq and was not in prolonged military engagement in the Middle East, as it is now. Read the story of how one volunteer spent three years in captivity from 1976 to 1980 as the hostage of a insurrection group in Colombia in Joanne Marie Roll's op-ed on why this legislation may put soldier/PCVs in the same kind of danger. Latest: Read the ongoing dialog on the subject.

Friends of the Peace Corps 170,000  strong Date: April 2 2005 No: 543 Friends of the Peace Corps 170,000 strong
170,000 is a very special number for the RPCV community - it's the number of Volunteers who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961. It's also a number that is very special to us because March is the first month since our founding in January, 2001 that our readership has exceeded 170,000. And while we know that not everyone who comes to this site is an RPCV, they are all "Friends of the Peace Corps." Thanks everybody for making PCOL your source of news for the Returned Volunteer community.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Time; Attention; Philosophy; Accomplishment; Happiness


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