A Deeper Life

Sierra above El Escorial, Sierra de Gredos
The Sierra above El Escorial, towards Gredos.

As mentioned in a recent newsletter, I’ve been listening to Cal Newport’s Deep Questions podcast. When I want to make changes in my life, I find appropriate allies, and he is a good one right now. His focus is on living and working more deeply, and he’s very good at articulating the value and methodology in achieving this.

Working deeply involves uninterrupted blocks of real concentrated work, that get valuable stuff done. For me that currently includes our work making Notes in Spanish podcasts (and maintaining that business in good shape), and writing this blog. Mainly creative work that requires lack of distraction, thinking, creating.

As for the deep life, most of it is summed up by the photo above. The chance to go for a walk somewhere beautiful in nature, and some days to make – and then share – a beautiful photograph of it. There is space, fresh air, contemplation, and craft. These things are all-important.

At the same time as I look after the deep, I’m interested in reducing the shallow – uses of my time that don’t forge a deep connection with life, that don’t add up to much. ‘Shallow‘ includes social media and other mindless web surfing, bad books, crappy TV. ‘Deep‘ means time with family and friends, reading good books, good films, walking, nature, writing, photography, art, eating well, valuable work.

Newport is a great ally at this moment, but if I had a hero in all this I’d have to go back further. To Thoreau, whose ‘Walden‘ epitomises all this, Gandhi (his autobiography is another incredible exploration of depth and experimental living), and the self-sufficient Harlan Hubbard, people who deliberately sought out, experimented with and cultivated a different, deeper, less distracted path.

All this can seem a bit over OTT, too regimented, no room for just being-a-bit-lazy-and-useless, but I’ve tried that too, many times over the years, and I’ve realised something important. When I intentionally work and live more deeply, using my brain, looking after the quality of my life, I’m happier, calmer, and saner, and I can’t argue with that.