Way #43: Fascination With Living
Children live in a natural state of awe. To reclaim that energy, pursue your goals with relentless fascination.
We've all experienced fascination so great that we're sitting on the edge of our seat. It could be a rollercoaster ride, or a brilliant lecturer, or a breathtaking scene. At that moment we are totally engaged in the thrill of living.
That's why a crisis – though frightening – is so stimulating. It demands 100 percent attention, a full unison of heart and mind. Imagine if you can reproduce that sensation in everyday life – you'll be flying high! Way #43 is mit-yashev libo bi-talmudo – literally "settle studies in your heart." This means that when you begin any activity, don't just bring your body along. Make sure you mind and heart are there, too. Connect your emotional needs to your intellectual appreciation. Otherwise, life is only half an experience.
Be completely absorbed in whatever you're doing. Whether you're studying geometry, cooking dinner, or raising your children – be fascinated. Because when we're fascinated, we have a better attention span, greater retention – and in the end we'll do a better job.
The reason we often lack fascination is because we don't focus on the personal benefit involved.
Could you enjoy a lecture on automobile carburetors? A detailed description of how gasoline mixes with air to generate combustion? Maybe it's interesting for five minutes. Then zzzzz…
Now imagine being stuck in the desert with a broken carburetor. If somebody would give a detailed lecture about carburetors, you'll say, "Wow! Fascinating! Speak slowly because I want to take notes!"
What changed your perspective?
Carburetors suddenly became relevant. Something that's utterly boring one minute, can be totally fascinating the next – as long as we perceive its importance in our lives.
Notice how we'll stop to read an advertisement that claims: "Earn a million dollars. Guaranteed." We snap to attention. We're interested!
So the next time somebody presents you with a piece of information, don't say "Who cares?" Rather, connect it to your desires. Define: Why do I want to know this? How is this relevant to my life? How can I integrate the idea in a practical way?
Once you commit to applying the wisdom, you'll see how fascinating it can be.
The Fascination Formula
"Fascination" has hit you in the past. So learn from your success. Figure out why a dry subject like biology all of a sudden became fascinating. What triggered you to tap into the beauty of it?
The key is to discover how the intellectual idea speaks to your emotions. There are deep, spiritual truths in biology – e.g. the artistic symmetry of organisms, the holistic unity of the natural world, etc. So don't just limit yourself to intellectual information. Instead, take it one level beyond and discover the metaphysical realities paralleling your everyday world.
This works with even the most mundane things. Were you ever fascinated with mowing the lawn? All of a sudden you start making patterns in the grass! Figure out what happened. What caught you up in it? Were you in a particular state of mind that you felt like making a game out of it? Was there a basic meaning in living that you got out of it?
Instead of suffering, focus on this every time you mow the lawn.
As an exercise, think back to two instances where you became fascinated with something you're usually not interested in. Figure out what suddenly sparked your turnaround. Now abstract the lesson and use it for living. If you find life becoming stale and dull, this will get your creative juices flowing again. If it worked once, it can work again.
See What's Fascinating in Life
Children live in a natural state of awe. They think that everything is worth paying attention to and learning from. To reclaim that child-like awe, figure out what fascinates you most about life. Technology? Nature? Relationships? Society? Make a list of the top-10 most fascinating things in your life.
Pay attention to the world around you. Chances are that fascinating things are happening constantly. Try to identify those in your daily experience. Keep your top-10 list handy to "snap yourself into fascination."
Be proactive in seeking out fascinating situations. A person searching for gold is more likely to find it than someone who just happens to be hiking in the mountains. In any encounter, if you anticipate fascination, you're more likely to experience it.
We can learn a lot by observing what fasci¬nates others. What kind of movie is a guaranteed hit? Ninety murders packed into one film – wow! – a murder a minute! Why does everyone tune into CNN to see an airplane crash? Or a tornado – houses knocked down – wow! People love war stories, movie stars, and mystery thrillers. Why the fascination? What's the common denominator? What does this tell us about human nature?
This is not an endorsement, rather just an observation about what has captured the fascination of today's Western world.
Now compare this to your own list. In what ways are you missing out? And equally important, how can you turn your human nature on a positive course, to avoid traps that others might be falling into?
Fascination With Real People
For at least one moment, be fascinated by every human being. A thrilling mystery of life is walking right by you. Look closely.
Don't treat people like objects. If you regard the clerk at the store as a cog whose function is to facilitate a purchase, that won't inspire much interest. Instead, develop a curiosity and ask some friendly, non-threatening questions: How do you enjoy your job? How long have you worked here? Has it been a busy day? Are you at the beginning or the end of your shift?
If someone is more fascinated with movies and novels than with life itself, it's a sign that something is wrong. He's living vicariously, running away from himself and his potential. What a pity to be more fascinated by fictional characters than by real human beings. To make your life really count, be interested and open. This will fill your world with real and interesting characters.
Realize that most of the things we give our attention to are illusions. They don't really teach us anything about life. A TV show, a novel, or even a newspaper. What did you really learn? Can you apply it for living? You finish the novel and say, wow, those characters were fascinating. You think your life has changed. But how much did it really teach you about the meaning of existence? The book was fascinating, but did you learn wisdom for living? Not necessarily.
Try channeling your natural curiosity into a connection with real people. Life itself is more fascinating than any video game. You just need to learn how that gadget works!
Know What You Want From Life
A good way to be fascinated is by getting to know the most interesting person you could ever meet. Yourself! So sit down, have a nice little discussion, and ask: What am I really living for? Where am I going?
Many people lack fascination because they're not clear what they want out of life. If you have clear goals, you're much better equipped to see the value in each experience.
Imagine someone with a strong ambition to be a doctor. At university, he takes pre-med courses, reads medical journals, volunteers at a local hospital, and makes friends with doctors. He's focused and on target. When he graduates with a BA, he's already talking like a doctor, understands basic procedures, and has developed a bedside manner – all before he even gets to medical school.
If a human being knows what he really wants out of life, then he'll find the ways and means to get there. And he'll be fascinated by anything remotely related to that goal.
Be directed. Know what you want. Review your life's itinerary. Your desire is to master life, rather than to just bumble along. Remember: You're ambitious, you desire greatness. That's your inner longing. The hours you spend on diversions is robbing you of greatness. Sure it's fun… but you know it's not the way to become great.
Don't wait until you're bored with your job. Don't just "hang out," drifting through life's situations. Look to see where your life is heading, and chart yourself a course. Be fascinated and driven to achieve your goal.
Study What Your Heart Desires
Cultivate your natural interests. If you're undecided on a career, go with the option that strikes the most responsive chord.
The Sages say: "A person should always study what his heart desires." If you appreciate the topic, then learning becomes an en¬joyable experience. Plus, the enthusiasm for one topic spills into another – and helps make it easier to learn the less fascinating topics.
Having trouble cracking open a book? Go through the table of contents, and find a chapter that hits you. Use your natural desire as an entree to get involved with what might otherwise be an overly-intense subject.
The same applies to studying wisdom. Overwhelmed by the vastness of Torah? To get started, pick one aspect that fascinates you. It might be how to bake challah, how to pick a spouse, or how to love humanity. With 613 mitzvot to choose from, you're bound to find at least one!
To be fascinated with truth and wisdom, we have to realize that our essence is a soul, not a body. This realization keeps us from wasting time on the frivolities of life. Eating is fine – of course you've got to feed the body, and "taste" is a wonderful pleasure. But don't get lost in eating. You know you're a soul – fascinated with wisdom, fascinated with living, fascinated with the puzzle and mystery of existence. Open up the next installment. What's it going to be? You are a soul locked up in a body. What a situation! What a thrill!
Why is "Fascination With Living" a Way to Wisdom?
- When we're fascinated and absorbed, we do a better job.
- When we're fascinated, it's energizing rather than energy-draining.
- Connect your intellectual realization to your emotional hot-buttons.
- A real person is more fascinating than any TV character will ever be.
- Set goals for living and pursue them with relentless fascination.
- To become fascinated with truth and wisdom, remember that you're a soul, not a body.