I often make as assessment at the end of my day. How productive was today? Did I add value enough? How did I contribute? One of my strongest personality patterns is an incessant need to be productive. It dominates most of my thoughts and actions.
This tendency has brought me a lot of progress and the ability to make an impact in the world that I feel content with. However, it also so often draws me away from the direct and rich in-the-moment experience of life.
Even though I’ve been systematically practicing mindfulness, the art of just being in-the-present-moment, for many years, I have to admit that most of my life and efforts are still incredibly goal-oriented.
And working with clients and in the facilitation of Triads, I realize that one of our most ingrained and unconscious psychological habits to treat almost everything we do as a means to an end. Like a small child in the back seat of a car on a long drive, we constantly want to know: “Are we there yet?”
Everything I do has a purpose, whether it’s to earn money, have a good time, or make a contribution to others. Everything I do can thus be judged on some scale of accomplishment. How am I doing?
And when goal-oriented become goal-obsessed it becomes really dangerous. It then draws in a need to control a certain outcome, which often goes at the expense of building connections or taking care of myself.
These are the moments where I become short and snappy in a meeting with one of my team members or react in a frustrated way to my wife when I couldn’t finish in a day what I set out to achieve.
Now I thought that at least I have my meditation practice! Well, goal-orientation even entered that part of my day. I caught myself the last weeks having a meditation practice where I would go through:
- Some minutes of mindfulness meditation focusing on my breath;
- Some Vipassana scanning of physical sensations in the body;
- Inviting my Big Mind (a specific Zen technique) to arise and share its perspective;
- Inviting my intuition to provide some insights on specific clients I coach;
- Close with some Loving Kindness meditation to myself and others
I would go through all of these valuable techniques in less than 45 minutes and would make a lot of ‘progress’. However, I realized how incredibly goal-oriented and in some ways outcome-focused I became in my meditation!
Since then, I practice one thing on the cushion in the morning for at least 20 minutes:
I practice what Zen calls ‘just sitting’. No goal, no need to improve anything. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. Nobody to be. Nothing to achieve. Nothing to be fixed. No insight to achieve. Not even using my sitting as a way to calm down or get less stressed. It’s accessing a mind that does not grasps to anything or not seeks anything. Just sitting and ‘hanging out with my breath’.
It really changed my morning practice and it’s been a delight (sometimes :)). It’s been fascinating to see my urge to be productive arise and just sit.
As Zen teacher Barry Magid says: When we practice real uselessness during our practice, we are instantaneously off the grid, so to speak, of means and ends, of progress and goals. We are in a whole new world where what we are doing is not, cannot, be justified by something outside of itself, by what it’s going to get us, or where it’s going to take us. We just sit. We just are.
It is difficult for us to step outside means-to-an-end thinking, but I invite you to explore some time the practice of uselessness and see how your personality reacts to that.
My intention is to practice more uselessness in 2016. What’s your New Year practice intention?
Co-founder of TeamUp