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About "Being Productive"

June 13, 2018




One of my coaching clients made this comment recently:


Its interesting when I think about this-before I started talking to you I would never think to sit outside and enjoy nature and do nothing. I guess I always felt I had to be doing something and being productive. When I think about it now I think this is way more productive than anything else I could do.



Isn't that great? Who is our society does not struggle with the pressure to be "productive"? Who does not sometimes sacrifice the joy of simply being in order to satisfy a craving for accomplishment? This whole drive towards "productivity" as an end goal is one of the biggest scams embedded in the fabric of our society, in my opinion; it's one of the best ways conditioned mind has to make us feel worthless, inadequate, and alone. We get nothing valuable from it--just the temporary feeling that we're the "right person" or something similar--and yet people are willing to trade their whole lives and the possibility that they may be at one with Life and at peace peace with themselves in order to have this tiny, worthless thing.


My hero the Peace Pilgrim used to say that in her experience, someone who is connected with God (in her language) will be given plenty of work to do, as there is always plenty to be done as we work towards a world worthy of our noble human character--but not too much. To be busy is good and natural, she often said, but If you're too busy then you are not following the will of God.


Another one of my heros, the Chinese Zen monk from the middle ages named Baizhang Huaihai, is famous for saying, "A day without work is a day without food." The story goes that he gardened and otherwise worked for many years to maintain the monastery he founded, in addition to his teaching and ceremonial duties. When he turned eighty his students decided he was too old to do physical labor any more, and so they hid his tools. Following his own teachings, Baizhang refused to eat until his tools returned to him and he could continue his work in the garden once again.


I can't know what was going on in the mind of either of these two beautiful people, but I certainly can project! My projection is that neither was concerned with the self-conscious need to be "productive". Both obviously had an excellent work ethic, but neither, I like to speculate, worked in order to satisfy an egotistical sense of inadequacy. They worked because we humans are on this earth, partly, to work; because work is one of the many ways in which we can actively participate with the life force that animates all. In our natural (i.e., unconditioned) state we work to serve Life, not to serve ego.


There is an objection I receive regularly from people that goes like this: if I let go of conditioned mind, with all the shoulds, the urgency, and the self-punishment that come along with it, where will I get the motivation to do anything? Won't I just become a lazy slug? The best reply I've found is to simply point to the birds, the deer and the squirrels, the fish, the great forests full of trees, and every other entity that lives in it's natural habitat. None of these experience self-consciousness; none imagine they need to be a better tree, or bird, or fish, or squirrel than they are. They need not produce beyond the work embedded within their natures, and they come equipped with the motivation to perform that work. They are just who they are, and the energy they display in that state is amazing. Last evening I watched a swarm of insects engaged in some sort of mating ritual around the top of a tree, each one moving so quickly I couldn't follow them with my eyes. Wow! Talk about energy! We do not need conditioned mind in order to be who we are and to do what we are here on this earth to do. If we allow ourselves to become dependent upon conditioned mind, then we will quickly find ourselves in a world where such illusions as "status" and "self-image" appear to be real, and where we are in danger of becoming enslaved to a fiction.


We believe we want a great many things, but when it comes down to it all we really want is to be happy in this life. The many things we believe we want are merely means to that simple end. Doing will not produce happiness: only being will. This is the reason why we can say that simply sitting still and enjoying nature is "productive". It is perhaps is the most productive thing we can do, because happiness can be found in that simple state of being. Conditioned mind resists simply being and every form of stillness, so it can be difficult to get past the resistance and just be with the wind, or the sunshine, or the leaves, but if you sit still long enough peace and joy will find you. Work is not satisfying or happiness-producing if we are doing work just to do it: because we must, or that's the thing that good/successful people do. Work that is approached from a state of being, however; that is a vehicle for presence and engagement with Life, is deeply nurturing.


Life is not about producing anything, at least from my point of view. As we do the work we are called to do we will produce a great many things, but that's not the point. The point, to the extent we can say there is a point, is to enthusiastically go wherever it is that Life carries us. That's where the real happiness is.

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