The practice of traveling to nowhere particular
Hello, friends. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about outputs and processes and what those concepts can teach me.
Outputs, sharing. Processes, practices.
I often long to share, but do not share. Why?
I found some clues for myself as I looked at the difference between outputs and processes.
A road, and Rome
I have historically thought of a process as basically a set of inputs used in the service of creating an output.
Process was writing so that I could have an essay, or painting so that I could have a painting. Always an action in service of an output. More or less mechanical steps towards a final holy destination of a completed work.
The output was Rome and all processes that I employed would ideally be roads getting me there. Nothing more. Almost something to be ignored or passed by quickly.
But I’ve struggled with creating outputs that feel satisfying and as honestly themselves as they need to be. A lot of writing so that I could have a finished essay rather than writing to learn more about my own thoughts.
Or, just a road
But what if process is an act of intentional entry into a mindspace, just active engagement with facets of consciousness? No outputs needed. Writing just to create awareness in a new way. Painting just to see in a new way.
What if process is indeed the path by which to move, but there is no Rome? Of course you’ve heard the adage “the journey is the destination.” I need to translate that platitude into something more intimately useful.
The desire for outputs is strong in this American culture in which I live. You can measure outputs. It shows productivity in a concrete way. See? I wrote 4k words. It shows ambition or seriousness or innovation: without outputs we cannot be achievers. And ok, outputs are totally useful. I eat them, read them, listen to them, blow my nose into them.
But this thrust to produce, thought of as the only thing to value or work towards: it stifles me. I seize up.
If I sit down to write so that I can have a book, or possibly even a decent book, or better yet a published awesome bestseller, that makes sitting down to write anything at all quite difficult.
This has happened to you, hasn’t it, and you felt the seizing-up in your body as you regarded the bigness of the task. The fear of being shitty or small or wrong or whatever it is you that fear. What’s the point of doing your small, wrong, shitty writing because you know it won’t be a bestseller.
That’s what I think happens when we are focused on outputs.
Process makes up the steps that get us to an outcome. Like painting: squeeze oil paints onto palette, dip brush into paint, dab dab swish dab on the canvas, etc. Process.
Practice is the act of repeatedly engaging in process.
When we are anchored instead on process, or really on practice, the book isn’t really a thing. Books exist, and we like books, but we also know that writing is, on its own, a valuable awareness tool. A thing to practice doing because it helps us learn how to think and deepen our understanding of our own selves, of other beings, and of all of our places in the world. The book will maybe happen or maybe not happen, but that output is a separate concern from the concerns of practice.
Practice cares about whether or not we show up. Sit down, hold your pen, think. Show up to the practice!
It cares what spirit we bring. Breathe, let the swirling details of your life settle a bit, get still and in your body. Bring a right spirit to the practice!
See what happens. See what comes up. Try different things. Feel great, feel frustrated, that’s just practicing. And then tomorrow, do all that again. That’s it! That’s practice.
Consistency is hope
Consistency: regularity, steadiness. A close cousin of practice. They aren’t the same thing, but practice is much richer when consistency plays a part. It’s better to practice your stuff regularly—you know this already, this isn’t news.
But it sets the stage for the thing I want to tell you:
When we practice consistently, we are telling ourselves that we have hope. We teach our bodies or our minds or whatever thing we are practicing with that we will be back again tomorrow.
So then the good news is that today we do not have do all of the work. We do not have to do our most amazing work either, because tomorrow we’ll be back to do just a little more practicing. This gives us space to be where we are at, and just show up as we are. Not concerned about writing a bestseller, but instead concerned with writing towards awareness today.
Maybe as we practice we create an output and that shows others where we are at in our practice. Yay, good for us! If no outputs come, also yay, good for us—we are still practitioners doing that unmeasurable work. That’s it!