Bringing Intention to Intensity, One Word at a Time

notebook and penRecently I have resumed a habit I had started when our son was a baby, and it is helping me to bring a little focus and intention to my otherwise often scattered days and thoughts: I am keeping a quotation notebook.

Be assured that this is no Luddite impulse. I am simultaneously learning how to use my phone and email to bring more organization to my hours, inspired in part by my college-age son and students who adeptly and routinely add, refer to, revise, and click off palm-held tasks and reminders from dawn until dusk. Much to my surprise (I have come long and painfully to the realization that organization can, in fact, be learned), it works.

But organization is not intention. Organization may get things done, but it doesn’t provide a sense of intended purpose. To bring intention to my day and my life, I need notebooks, not so much to write down my own thoughts—although I use them for that, too—but to record, remember, and assimilate the wisdom of others.

Here are just three examples of articles and blog posts I have read recently that speak to a sense of purpose or intention, to something bigger than a to-do list, with passages I want to remember:

Tara Sophia Mohr’s “10 Rules for Brilliant Women“:

“1. Make a pact. No one else is going to build the life you want for you. No one else will even be able to completely understand it. The most amazing souls will show up to cheer you on along the way, but this is your game. Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul, as your own supportive friend at every step along the way.” Read More

Terri Taylor’s “Building a House of Brick ~ Respecting My Boundaries“:

“I hate confrontation. Which is the same thing as saying I hate standing up for myself. Wow. I’m sitting at my desk, typing these words as the realization of that filters through my being. I don’t like standing up for myself. No wonder my boundaries are being breached, even I don’t respect them!” Read More

Martha Beck’s “5 Ways to Bring Yourself Back from Burnout (linked to in Douglas Eby’s “Multiple Talents, Multiple Passions, Burnout, Part 2“):

“Unplug heaters, plug in coolers. Make a list of all the people with whom you regularly interact. Next, list environments you inhabit—your office, your car, rooms in your home. Finally, list your usual activities, from relaxation (ha-ha! just kidding!) to laundry to office meetings. Now imagine each item separately while noticing how your body reacts. Tension, jaw-clenching, or churning are signs you’re plugged into a heater. Muscle relaxation, spontaneous smiles, sighs of relief show you’re chilling.” Read More

Why not just bookmark these articles, or print them, or copy and paste excerpts into an email or Word document? I could even use a very cool free Moleskin app.

The act of transcribing quotations and passages longhand is part of the intention, part of the self-direction, as William Powers explains in Hamlet’s Blackberry:

“Unlike my screens, which thrust words, images, and sounds at me all day and night, my paper notebooks project no information at all. The pages are blank. They invite me to fill them with information, and when I do, it’s information of my own choosing that I write with my own hand…. When you’re used to clicking keys all day, shaping letters one by one feels exotically earthy, memorable just be contrast.

Digital screens are tools of selectivity, too, but using them is more reactive, a matter of fending off and filtering. Because a paper notebook isn’t connected to the grid, there’s no defensiveness. The selectivity is autonomous and entirely self-directed.” (p. 152)

The word “intensity,” after all, comes from the verb to intend, “to set out on one’s course.”

How do you bring intention to your intensity? What happens when you don’t?

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4 thoughts on “Bringing Intention to Intensity, One Word at a Time

  1. Thanks for this — LOVE the closing quote: “Unlike my screens, which thrust words, images, and sounds at me all day and night, my paper notebooks project no information at all. The pages are blank. They invite me to fill them with information, and when I do, it’s information of my own choosing that I write with my own hand…. When you’re used to clicking keys all day, shaping letters one by one feels exotically earthy, memorable just be contrast…..”

  2. If bringing intention to intensity means making something positive from something that can otherwise be negative, then creative writing is what helps me most. All the emotions of the day can then be channeled into a creative act of which I can be proud, or at least say, well there is something that I did with that jumble of feelings. Poetry is nice and short or I write a scene of my novel.

    If bringing intention to intensity means bringing focus to intellectual intensity, which often means there is some sort of non-fiction essay circulating in my mind, then I have a harder time because my enthusiasm for the topic sometimes runs out before I can extend an outline into a full essay. Not sure how to fix that. I have quite a few unfinished essays!

  3. When I don’t bring intention to my intensity, I tend to either spin my wheels (reading or ruminating without making forward progress in any direction) or spread myself too thin – committing to too many projects at once and not doing good work in any of them.

  4. Bringing intention to my intensity involves capturing the fleeting ideas in a brief note, letting my imagination run with it, then sleeping on it so that it can steep. Then sorting through the need, the passion, the purpose, the benefit, the delight (avoiding self doubt….) and consciously making the choice of expression and involvement. My intensity usually involves action – the reason for the steps – minimizing impulse and yet allowing spontaneity.

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