The coffee smells wonderful. George Harrison is singing “My Sweet Lord” from the speaker over my right shoulder. Civilization, my coffee shop of choice today, is packed with people, some on devices, some not.
It’s cold out today, and the skies are deep grey with the snow it will gift us with later tonight. It reminds me of pictures of noon in areas near the North Pole, where the sun never rises fully or for long.
I am thinking about the new year, as is my way (and likely many other people) at this time.
I’m thinking about mindful versus functional.
That’s a little abstract. Let me unpack that.
My house is filled with a hodge-podge of functional furniture. None if it is particularly beautiful or expressive…I have end tables that keep lamps off the floor, and those lamps were purchased at this thrift store or that “antique” barn less for their aesthetic than for their ability to fit in my car at the time. There’s nothing wrong with functional per se, but as my wife and I look around, we both agree that we could do better. We could make the space more us, and also minimize stuff that doesn’t add a lot of value to our lives. Mindful selections that add value beyond function, as opposed to things I have because they are things I have.
I’ve begun to use that lens to explore other areas of my life as well. What relationships are functional, and which add value? What parts of my job merely pay the bills, and which make me feel like I am spending my time in a meaningful way? What informational inputs enrich my life, and which are simply noise I read/watch out of habit?
The word I usually see used to describe the sorting of valued pieces and those that can be less go is “Curation.” That’s feeling more important right now. As we make selections of new furniture for the house, we’re asking questions that I, personally, have never asked before about feeling and aesthetics in room composition. As I review my digital habits over the last year, I’m asking similar questions. What am I putting out into the world? What am I taking in from it? How does it affect me?
Anyone who has known me for a while knows of my difficulty dealing with social media noise. I get overwhelmed, and that leads me to take extreme actions (I’ve quit and returned to Twitter three times now, and the same with Facebook). The only way I’ve found to deal with the volume of input is to unfollow a great many of the people I am friends with and check in on them when I feel the desire to do so, instead of having their updates pushed at me every single day. It keeps me sane.
Curating that input has become very important to me. I get more value from my old RSS feeds than I do from the never ending stream of tweets, however, using lists on twitter allows me to mindfully check in on specific groups. As a result, I’m no longer drowning.
Curation. Mindful vs functional. It makes the prospect of reserving more private, isolated time look more attractive. Cal Newport wrote recently that “many of the best uses of the online world support better living offline.” That line hit home with me: I tend to use online things as pacifiers instead of filling my time with mindful work. Both are functional ways of filling time, but the latter is definitely more mindful. This coming year, I want to curate my time more thoroughly.
We have so many pressures upon us: which can we shed, which can we minimize, and which do we embrace because they make us better human beings? How do we make more time for empathy, compassion, connection, health, and personal growth? When I look around at all the bullshit that society/culture/other people/businesses/politicians want to embrace as the Most Important Things, I am blown away by how misaligned they are with what traditions/stories/maxims/philosophy have taught me over the years. It is at this point that I am reminded that, in the greater scheme for these others, I am a cog in the machine, a wallet to be fleeced, a resource to be used and discarded. The older values I treasure enrich me, these other things beggar me and make me feel less human and humane.
I don’t merely want to be functional. I want to be mindful. I can do, and deserve better, than what I have allowed myself over the years. I feel like that’s something worth working on in the new year.
“Love people, use things. Because the opposite never works.” – Joshua Fields Millburn