The Compulsion to “DO”


Applying mindfulness to the thinking mind is incredibly revealing.  It allows me to observe my mind’s constant compulsion to “do,” to squeeze another activity into this moment, often without regard to whether or not the present moment actually calls for it.  This impulse will feed on just about anything, most often my cell phone or something electronic.  It would have me watching television with an iPad on my lap while I shove food into my mouth, oblivious to the presence of my children except for brief moments of chastisement for being too loud.  It seems as if its purpose is to maintain control and keep me on autopilot – unconscious and numb.

I’ve learned to observe this impulse and to question it.  Not ignore it, mistrust it.  Choosing simplicity helps me accomplish this.  Intentionally doing one thing at a time helps ensure that I’m actually here for it.  By doing this, I find that I am available and present for things that truly matter, and that my attending to these things is much more effective and appropriate.  In his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn explains the concept of voluntary simplicity:

“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.  It all ties in.  It’s not a real option for me as a father of young children, a breadwinner, a husband, an oldest son to my parents, a person who cares deeply about his work to go off to Walden Pond or another and sit under a tree for a few years, listening to the grass grow and the seasons change, much as the impulse beckons at times.  But within the organized chaos and complexity of family life and work, with all their demands and responsibilities, frustrations and unsurpassed gifts, there is ample opportunity for choosing simplicity in small ways.”

Practicing voluntary simplicity is extremely difficult to do in a Western society where achievement, financial gain and productivity are constantly celebrated and rewarded.  These ideals are worthy of celebration, but are also fraught with problems and dysfunction unless they are tempered with awareness and simplicity. Even activities and results that are “good,” are not fulfilling or ultimately rewarding unless they come from a place of mental stillness; a place that acknowledges what the present moment calls for and is void of self-interest and ego.

What happens now affects what happens next.  So, doesn’t it make sense to take a look around and pay more attention to what is happening right now?  I’ve found that practicing mindfulness and voluntary simplicity helps me minimize distractions, cultivate awareness, and mistrust the compulsion to do.  And the paradox of it all is that by mistrusting the compulsion to do, I get more done.

by Dr. Jason Pittser, friend and fellow Zen seeker


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