“A Purposeful Purposelessness” – Transcript

Hey friends! This is the transcript from one of my most recent podcast episodes titled “A Purposeful Purposelessness“. If you’d like to listen to the episode you can click the link above, listen below,

or you can find “The Process & The Path” on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and any where else you get podcasts. Enjoy!

My favorite part of creating and sharing content are the conversations that follow. The conversations mean the most to me. Those conversations are where I learn the most. It’s that learning that is most important to me, it’s learning from those conversations that inspire me the most.

I was fortunate enough to receive some great feedback and some really interesting push-back from Jerome Shaw of The Open Palm Podcast.

He was struck by something I said in one of my previous podcast episodes titled “Something About Nothing“. I was talking about how I’m almost addicted to being busy, addicted to always doing something, or working on something. And, that sometimes I implicitly equate my worth and value as a person with my productivity. I almost instinctively tie my identity to what I “do”, to what I produce, and to what I create.  Because of this compulsion to be productive at all times, I feel anxious and uncomfortable whenever I’m not doing anything, and I almost never really allow myself to do ‘nothing’. The one exception is my meditation practice. I said that the 20 minutes a day I sit in meditation is the only time during the day that I give myself permission to be unproductive.

That last remark is what caught his attention. He said that he wouldn’t be able to produce on the level that he does without his meditation practice. He described it as a slowing down to speed up. And, he said he feels as though he is producing tons when he sits. He remarked that even though you seem to be doing nothing, you are doing something.

First off, I really appreciate the push back. I love the engagement of curious and respectful rebuttals. Not only does is create quality conversation, it also deepens the understanding of all parties involved. Sometimes due to the constraints of the platforms we create and communicate on, we offer fast and dirty remarks, we provide our “hot takes”, when we should be more thoughtful. I feel like these moments when I get to respond to probing questions provides me with the opportunity to examine things more fully.

When we talk about the productiveness or un-productiveness of meditation, I think its really more a difference of semantics rather than a point of outright disagreement.

(I probably should say before going any further that I am in now way a meditation expert or teacher. I’m just a guy trying his best to figure all this shit out, while trying to talk about his personal experiences in a clear and understandable way.)

I agree with the image of meditation as a “slowing down to speed up”. I was in a really bad place for a few years and I had let go of any and all of my creative aspirations. It was practice meditation that awoke the creativity that I had allowed to become latent and dormant. It actually sparked and ignited a depth of creativity that I didn’t realize I had. My deepening practice of meditation was and is the catalyst behind all of my current creative work.

My engagement with meditation has been primarily within the Zen tradition. The style of meditation I practice is called “shikantaza” which translates to mean “nothing but sitting” or “just sitting”. We don’t sit to achieve something, to gain something, to produce something, or to do something. It is sitting only for the sake of sitting. It is a goal-less endeavor, a purposeless practice. It is sitting with no ulterior motive beyond simply sitting.

In fact, the instant we introduce an ulterior motive to this practice of meditation, it ceases to be meditation. In his book The Way of Zen, Alan Watts writes that “it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.” He goes on to say that “The moment a goal is conceived it becomes impossible to practice the discipline of the art, to master the very rigor of its technique.” The discipline is the art. The practice is the goal. The process is the path…

Yet, meditation is an ambiguous exercise, a paradoxical practice. It’s an enacted contradiction. When we practice this kind of meditation we are “doing nothing”  and yet, somehow, in some strange way, “something happens”. It reminds me of something I read in Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. He writes that “Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying…Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.” He says that “When we sit…we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. insights accrete.” 

When we put in the reps and build the muscle memory, when we consistently show up, for the sake of the discipline, for the sake of the practice, and for the sake of the art alone, something shifts within us. We find a flow that feels both foreign and familiar. We have changed and yet we have never been more the same. Everything remains in its place and yet somehow everything has been dramatically altered.
So much of my time is spent striving towards a goal, pushing towards a desired end. I pray to more fully comprehend the practice of a purposeful purposelessness.  

A Blog About Nothing

I’ve made a few videos for my YouTube channel recently that are different from what I normally make. Maybe we could say they’re a bit more experimental, at least for me anyway. Whatever adjective is best suited to describe my burgeoning video work, its certainly been a departure and its certainly taken me out of my comfort zone.

I’ve come to realize that I’ve been taking myself and what I create too seriously, and I haven’t been giving myself room to experiment or space to play. So, I’ve been making it a point try to have a little more fun in the process.

In some ways, this realization, this shift, started when I watched a video on Daniel Pascual’s YouTube Channel. He made a vlog about nothing, purposefully and deliberately about nothing. He said he did it to take the pressure off and to kind of dumb things down a bit. That may not seem like much but, it really hit home for me.
It was oddly refreshing and it felt like exhaling. I came face to face with how much stress and strain I’ve been putting on myself and my creative process. It made me recognize how little breathing room I’ve been giving myself.

I commented on the video saying that I should really try to do a video like that. Daniel encouraged me to do it, or maybe its better to say he challenged me to do it, lol. I accepted. Even though he and I are on opposite ends of the country he still scares the fuck out of me.

I really struggled to get my head around how to do a vlog about nothing. Believe me I know how ridiculous that sounds. I made more than one attempt. I hit record and tried to just go, unfortunately nothing went, lol.

After the false starts and failed attempts at Daniel’s “nothing” challenge, I took the family on a weekend camping trip. I brought my cameras with me. I was thinking that maybe I could vlog, or maybe take some cool shots. In other words, I went to accomplish something, to produce something, to do something. I felt like I needed to. Internally, there was a pressure to use this trip as a means of creating content. It felt like if I didn’t create something then I wasn’t really a creative and I wasn’t really a creator.

I took some OK shots, got some OK footage but, I just wasn’t feeling it. It felt forced and uninspired. It just wasn’t working. I started to get really frustrated about it, and started judging myself kind of harshly about it as well. I felt as though I should have been able to create something brilliant and beautiful on command.

Slowly, I realized that I needed to just put the gear away and just be present. I needed to give myself permission to do “nothing”. I needed to enjoy just being there. This moment wasn’t about creating, producing, or doing. It was simply about being; being with my wife, being with my kids, being with our friends, being exactly where I was.

If I’m being honest, doing “nothing” is disconcerting. It makes me uncomfortable. I place an extremely high premium on productivity, on producing, on doing “something”. So much so that I almost never allow myself to really do nothing.

I’m addicted to “doing”. 

The addiction to doing came up when I Interviewed Stuart Carter from the Simply Mindfulness YouTube channel on an episode of my podcast.
Stuart reminded me that “we are not human doings, we are human beings“. He pointed out that “We so often get caught in ‘I must do this to have value, I must do this to have worth’, when actually just being is all we need.”

Intellectually, I know that my value isn’t predicated on what I produce or what I accomplish. But, I still fall into the trap of equating who I am with what I do. I attach my self-worth and my identity to what I create. Daniel’s exercise showed me how much of that desirous craving for production has invaded my creative endeavors.

I returned from our camping trip with a clearer head, a clearer view of my obsession with “doing something”. But, I had no clearer idea of what my “nothing vlog” would be.

Recently my wife started doing some wood-working projects and she decided to refinish our Corn-hole boards. As I sat frustrated and bewildered, I noticed her begin to set-up for this refinishing project. The thought occurred to me that it might be fun to film her working on it. I needed the break and she welcomed my company. I had no plans for the footage, no goal, no purpose, it was just about play. It was more fun than I even imagined it would be. Once I edited the footage I knew I had to share it. I had inadvertently stumbled upon my nothing vlog. You can watch it below:

This exercise taught me about myself and my creative process. It taught me to accept the opportunities that show up; whether it seems productive or not, and whether it seems purposeful or not.

There is a way of being creative that is more about probing than about producing. There is a way of creating that exposes the limits of what we can create. There is a way of ‘being’ that gives witness to the exceeding abundance of what we can experience.

Working with the medium of video is teaching me to document the dynamic discovery of every daily detail. It does not tell me to do something different or to be something different. Instead, it tells me to see differently, to “Be” differently. We are presented with the opportunity to begin seeing in a whole new way, an opportunity of “Being” in a whole new way.

Sometimes storytelling isn’t about creating a story but, about simply finding where we are in the midst of a much bigger story.

Maybe this wasn’t the vlog about nothing that Daniel would have wanted me to make but, it’s the one that represents where I am now.