Sunday, March 06, 2005

Laser-beam focus. Good or bad?

My dad has always told me to "lighten up" because I am too serious. Friends have told me to "loosen up" because I was too focused. I think they are right. I would probably say that if one could measure the intensity I give out as if it were a laser beam, there would be a giant hole in the wall in front of my desk... but there would also be a hole burned through the aluminum siding of my house fifty feet in front of me... and also through the building across the street.

Sometimes I focus on a topic so strongly that I get a headache from the intensity. Hindsight, I think it is funny because when I break myself away from what I am working on, I am literally sighing from relief. I am often literally out of energy from the experience. My mom used to laugh at the fact that I always sighed, *as if* my life were so burdensome.

I once heard a speaker discuss how she lives her life at a higher intensity level than most people, meaning that on a scale of 1 to 10 she lives live at the intensity of a 13. I couldn't explain why, but I have always felt exactly the same way. I learned in college from Tony Robbins that most people live blah lives, devoid of any real pleasure, energy, or excitement. He taught that one should always take hold of his emotional state, and raise the intensity to a very high level. This was easy for me, because I was already living at a heightened state of intensity. But how high can someone go before they burn out?

Torah teaches the importance of having a balanced life. Yet my idea of balancing is putting many burdens on my plate that is spinning in the air; I am balancing the plate by placing a thin rod beneath it and balancing the rod on the tip of my finger. Have you ever seen one of those balancing acts? If you haven't, just picture spinning a basketball and balancing the spinning ball on your finger. Ok, so I take on too much. It's certainly manageable, or else I wouldn't be able to balance everything. But I don't think this is living a balanced life because I am usually stressed out; even when I am relaxing, my mind is quick at work thinking of what needs to be done next. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed that I just sit down on a couch and fall deeply asleep. Ah, the pleasures of this world.

But how does one actually relax? Is there even merit in learning to let loose? I can easily get myself into a relaxed state by breathing slower or by focusing on my state, but the relaxation is only temporary. Relaxing for me is like squeezing a hose that is flowing with water to slow the flow... While the actual amount of water diminishes, the intensity builds up at the squeezing point.

I never understood how someone can just let loose and lighten up. It seems contrary to the belief that one should always be doing something of value to make the world a better place. I suppose I place value in production, regardless of whether the results are spiritual and unseen maybe through spiritual pursuits, or whether the results are physically being prepared for the week by pre-reading the required readings for my classes or by checking my weight after swimming laps at the pool. While I am calm on the surface, underneath I feel as if I am always huffing and puffing. Because of the momentum I build, when something goes wrong it doesn't faze me and I can blow through any problem like a running giant plowing through a wall of bricks. This is not to say that I am unaffected emotionally by the experience. Quite to the contrary.

But I can take myself away from it all and breathe. I do this every Shabbos, where I close the books and rip myself away from my busy life. And I do relax. Really. But the mountain of responsibilities never disappears -- it is still there, waiting for me to say havdallah at the end of the Sabbath. I take a deep breath, muster my strength, and re-enter the war zone, namely my busy life.

I don't wish life to be busy forever; this is an investment into the future. I made a conscious decision back in yeshiva that I would sacrifice a few years of my life to law school, but I would keep up all of the daily responsibilities of a Jew. This means putting on tefillin, praying three times each day (and then once before I go to sleep), keeping Shabbos and kosher, learning Chumash (Torah), saying Tehillim (psalms), and learning Tanya (Chassidus; Jewish mysticism), Rambam (Jewish law), and more if time permits.

Next year, as soon as law school is over, I anticipate a maximum of a few more years of hard work as I get initiated into the law field, and then I will be able to lighten the load and lead a more serene and peaceful lifestyle spending time following pursuits that are in line with my values. This involves smelling roses, building a greenhouse, and (although this is first priority and goes without saying,) settling down with a wife and building a family.

Even though I am not yet at that point of serenity, I am already looking to start a family because my opinion is that the high-pressured lifestyle is not something that is imposed on me, but is something I do to stay productive. Being single allows for this kind of lifestyle; upon getting married, it is just a matter or re-focusing my energy, giving more of it to my family and less of it to the pressures of law school life. I am already beyond the half-way point in law school, so grades no longer have much of an impact on my GPA. I just over focus because I am an overachiever and I want to guarantee my graduation. If my scenario would change, so too would I adjust to my surroundings.

Sometimes, I still think that I would love to walk away from it all and find a regular job with minimal requirements, so that I can focus my life on the things that matter. Can you ever imagine me as a farmer or a construction worker? It would be really cool to have a job that required the use of my strength rather than the strength and agility of my mental faculties. Then again, this was my goal; I wrote it down on paper during the summer when I rented a room in a house with no telephone. I set this goal on July of 1996, to have a job that requires "agility of mind" rather than the repetitive mindless actions of a burger-flipper. One thing I love about life is that from one moment to the next, the only continuity one has is the decision to continue the lifestyle from the minute before. Nothing stops us from making radical changes or shifts in our life path. While I like my path, it is relaxing to know that I can change it any time.

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