When did pursuit of personal development become so entwined with doing?
We can spend our day searching, chatting, buying, swiping, scrolling but not touching. Not fully feeling. Not really connecting
Can we discriminate between needless frenzied action, and collapsing into hopeless, distracted inaction? If we can align ourselves with the middle place, which may take hours or even life-times of unobservable inner work, then perhaps we can just be
Be busy. Be creative. Read books. Pick up a guitar. Do more exercise. Learn how to cook. Take up a language. Start a blog. Do a course. Try online yoga, pilates, Joe Wicks. Eat healthy. Sort your wardrobe. Give away things. Don’t buy things. Buy more Irish things.
Have a Zoom coffee, Zoom parties, Zoom meetings. Design a Zoom quiz. Zoom zoom zoom.
Don’t waste this time! We might never have so much again!
If none of this resembles your inner thoughts, or those of the people you listen to, you’re lucky. Most of us know that there is joy and value to be gained from meaningful tasks, and that the benefits from routine and goals are plentiful. But since when did we use them to beat ourselves up with? To make ourselves feel worse? Since when did the competition of do more and be more begin? When did this pursuit of personal development become so deeply entwined with action and doing?
This desire for doing seems to feed off the “always-on” culture. Always connected. Always available. Always peeping voyeuristically into what other people are doing. Comparing our day to theirs.
And yet in this space we are physically distant. We see a version of what people are doing, but never really know how they are feeling.
Never has this distance been more apparent than over these last two months. Connected only by an invisible force; the glitch of a signal, and we’re disconnected.
We can spend our day searching, linking, chatting, buying, swiping, scrolling, but not touching. Not fully feeling. Not really connecting.
Despite this lack of connection, there is no real space for doing nothing. Limbo makes it difficult to just be. To accept the nothing. Yet it’s well researched that creativity blossoms in a void of boredom.
Most of us as children spent our time inventing garden games. Drinking pretend tea. Climbing things. Digging things. Putting our parents’ clothes on. Often we stumbled, with our mucky-nailed hands upon boredom. And digging deeper, found imagination. Filled with unknown worlds, colours and ideas.
In these spaces there can be stillness and slowness, which can be peaceful, rewarding. They can also elicit agitation and unease. At a time when the world is in turmoil, and nature appears to be choking, fighting to cough us out, it’s hard not to ask: what’s the point?
What does it all mean anyway? What makes our days worthwhile? Is time meaningful if I don’t complete the list? The goals? The jobs? Did it mean more when I did more? When I went more places? Or was it all a distraction? After all, time will pass no matter what you can or cannot squash into it.
Someone recently told me they are constantly asked what they did today. It brought them down, made them frustrated; they didn’t know how to respond.
But they told me they were busy trying to breath, survive, and trying to still their irrational thoughts. Stilling rational thoughts is already a life’s work.
And what about the hours of work and commitment it takes to stop, observe and appreciate. To appreciate every extra millimetre the new seedling grows. To notice the subtlest of seasonal changes; the brightening greens, the higher sun, the pollen-thick air.
What about the painful hours and work it takes to be really with yourself and know all the parts, the darkest parts. Does it mean anything, if you’ve nothing to show for it?
While Zooming in quarantine might be new these questions are not. Many philosophies and ancient texts have been exploring these ideas for thousands of years.
It seems the ancient wisdom was trying to teach us something different. The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text studied by scholars and yoga teachers alike, advises us accordingly: “You should never engage in action for the sake of reward. Or long for inaction” (2.47)
It begs the question: can we detach from the desire for things, for products, for output? But can we also detach from the lure and temptation of indulgence, “stuckness” and inertia?
Can we discriminate between needless frenzied action, and collapsing into hopeless, distracted inaction? If we can align ourselves with the middle place, which may take hours or even life-times of unobservable inner work, then perhaps we can just be.
And if we can just be, not only will we survive, we will grow, and evolve.