Is it possible to be emotionally relaxed, yet highly productive?
Think of a martial arts master … you don’t see them fretting, tense, worried, or stressed out. They have a relaxed focus, a calm strength, an empowered composure.
Their face might seem emotion-less, yet their body has a wide range of powerful motion, able to accomplish a great deal with precision and flexibility.
Inside, they may be feeling clarity, confidence, and a deep joy.
I’m not a martial arts master. In the past few years, though, I seem to have developed a sort of calm, joyful productivity within my own sphere of content-creation, business coaching, and now, book writing.
So when a dear client asked me, during my recent book writing process:
“As the grand finale [of your book’s completion] is about there, what are you feelings at this moment? Soon is the moment of ‘letting go’… any thoughts on that?”
I have never really “held on” to what the book’s results would be, so there is no “letting go”.As for a “grand finale”… I don’t see it, since I am already planning my next book (on Joyful Productivity.)
I see every project as just a milestone on a lifelong marathon of ever-greater service and connection. Joy occurs throughout the process… at the beginning, throughout the middle, and at the “end” of a project… and then, onto the next, joyfully.
There’s no more gritting of teeth, no anxiety about the result, no failure or success.There’s only constant experimentation, the steady progress of learning, and a consistent joy of expression, connection, and service.
Recently I heard an Alan Watts lecture that summed this up beautifully:
What do you do if I say to you, “Look, take a hard look at me, take a real hard look.” Now what are you doing? What’s the difference between a hard look and a soft look?
Why, with your hard look, you are straining the muscles around your eyes, and you’re starting to stare. If you stare at a distant image far away from you, you’ll make it fuzzy. If you want to see it clearly you must close your eyes, imagine black for awhile, and then lazily and easily open them and you’ll see the image. The light will come to you.
And what do you do if I say, “Now, listen carefully, listen very carefully to what I’m saying.” You’ll find you’re beginning to strain yourself around the ears.Supposing somebody says, “O.K. now, you’ve got to use your will, you’ve got to exercise strong will.” That’s the ego, isn’t it?
What do you do when you exercise your will? You grit your teeth, you clench your fists. If you want to stop wayward emotions, you go uptight. You pull your stomach in, or hold your breath, or contract your rectal muscles. But all these activities have absolutely nothing to do with the efficient functioning of your nervous system.
Just as staring at images makes them fuzzy, listening hard with all this muscular tension distracts you from what you’re actually hearing; gritting your teeth has nothing to do with courage. All this is a total distraction.
And yet we do it all the time; we have a chronic sensation of muscular strain, the object of which is an attempt to make our nervous system, our brains, our sensitivity function properly — and it doesn’t work.
From the moment when we were little children, teachers in class screamed at us, “Pay Attention!” Either to see or hear more clearly, to concentrate, or to will something, which is supposed to be difficult to do. And that constitutes a habitual tension over the whole body…
That feeling of unnecessary tension is, as it were, the material on which we fashion this concept of “I”. We hang it onto that feeling. That concept is not us, the feeling of tension is completely phony. It has nothing to do with success, or seeing, or hearing, or acting.”
So let us question our “hard efforting”, “trying” to “make” things happen, and instead, relax into what we are to do in this moment.
It’s not that I don’t plan. I plan everyday.And then I simply do the plan with a inner calm of unattachment (if possible, a playfulness) rather than “trying hard.”
Here is an important nuance to all this — however badly I do the task is just fine.
“To action alone has thou a right and never at all to its fruits;
let not the fruits of action be thy motive;
neither let there be in thou any attachment to inaction….
Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty,
for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.”
— The Bhagavad Gita
What matters is not the result, as much as the action, the learning, and the inner composure and joy along the way.
Therefore: no performance anxiety.
As I take action, I might also update my system, my process, as I learn what might be more effective. I am open to change along the way, as long as it seems to work for the highest good.
I simple apply my current system, step by step, and enjoy the scene of productive actions.
This prevents strain, exhaustion, and burnout.
One can be active outside, yet, deeply relaxed inside.
Originally published at www.georgekao.com.