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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

In the Flow

Effortless Action

Best to live without controlling,
act without expecting,
perform well without dwelling on it.”
Laozi (Dao De Jing)

This little piece of wisdom from ancient China sounds so simple, but is anything but easy. There is something about being steeped in the Judeo-Christian work ethic that makes us feel as though great effort is required—hard work, and not just steady work. In our tradition, if one is not toiling away, one feels lazy and non-productive. When there are distractions, as there always are, frustration ensues.

Perhaps this is because we ascribe greater value to one thing over another. Work is important, distractions are not. Accomplishing the end result is important, but the process of getting to that end feels slow and frustrating. What if we were to value each step equally? Laozi would call that Wei Wu Wei, or effortless action, doing without doing, a foreign concept to Western ears. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi referred to it as Flow; “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.” (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience) Instead, we work preoccupied. I'm speaking for myself, of course. Our hands are doing one thing, while our minds are elsewhere, gnawing away on some past or future problem. No wonder we're exhausted at the end of the day.

The truth is, the quality of our work is equivalent to the presence we bring to it. Working steadily, but without pressure or hurry, being where we are in the process instead of forcing a conclusion, doing one thing at a time instead of multi-tasking, is the Zen way of being in the world. The more we fret and worry, push and pull, the further we are from being consciously present, and therefore, productive. In the words of Laozi:

Those who know
advise taking nothing as important.
That way
you can accomplish important things.”

                                                                 In the Spirit,


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