Stop Doing Things

May 17, 2012 § 7 Comments

The Master does nothing,

Yet he leaves nothing undone.

The ordinary man is always doing things,

Yet many more are left to be done.

Tao te Ching, Chap. 38 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

 

Our lives often seem like nothing but doing.  Making lists, moving from task to task.  Doing, doing, doing.  Worse yet, we are judged, and we judge ourselves, by what we get done- or fail to get done.  Relentlessly.

I used to be a very important person.  I knew this because I was so busy working on so many important deals.  My days were nothing but coffee, cigarettes, and doing.  Busy, busy in my head- thinking, thinking, thinking.  Knocking down the tasks, one after the other.

But here’s the problem.  The busier I got, the longer my list grew.  And my performance- when I was honest with myself- was often not so great.  I became what I called “the busiest and least productive person I know.”

The Tao lesson shows us the way out of this trap.  “Do nothing” does not mean go to some mountaintop and sit there.  It means that while you navigate your busy, engaged life, you must seek to move out of your dualistic way of thinking.  There is no you and the task.  Just one thing.

We each know what this feels like.  Immersed in reading or riding the exercise bike or designing the building, we can lose the conscious awareness of the activity.  We are just reading, just spinning, just creating.  These aren’t simply moments of immeasurable pleasure; they are also the times of our highest productivity.  Sadly, for most of us, those moments are too few and too far between.

So stop doing things.  Seek to immerse yourself in each moment and feel the weight of dualistic thinking fall away.  Do this and you will become the least busy, and the most productive, person you know.

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