“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” —Zen Proverb
Recently, I became a full-time writer.
Since making the change, friends and acquaintances have asked often how I enjoy my new role in the world. I typically respond by saying, “Well, you know what they say… I hate writing, but I enjoy having written.” I’ll go on to describe the difficult and unsexy writing process. But then I’ll describe how wonderful it feels to finish something that will be read and will live on to be picked up by any person, anywhere, at any point in the future. It’s a wonderful feeling really. And the quote is actually a pretty good description of the process.
But there’s one problem with my response—it focuses all joy on the outcome rather than the journey. It finds fulfillment in the product, but not in the process. And this tendency to focus postively on the outcome while lamenting the journey is far too common.
We long for the house to be clean, but hate the steps to get there. We look forward to reaching a desired weight but suffer through the diet or the exercise. We desire the college degree, but despise the homework assignments along the way. We live for the weekend when our work will be done, but complain about the idea of Monday morning coming again so soon.
This approach of only appreciating joy in the outcome robs us of countless moments along the way. When joy is only found in the final product, the rest of our lives are experienced as something to be avoided, endured, or suffered through.
This approach has other short-sighted, negative effects:
- It discounts the role and importance of work and effort in our lives.
- It misses opportunity to celebrate the small steps we take along the way.
- It overlooks the value of exercising discipline.
- It fails to appreciate the value of discomfort in our growth.
There is a better way: Mindfulness. Mindfulness maintains a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surrounding environment. It does not delay joy until the finish line. Instead, it seeks meaning and intentionality throughout each step of the process.
I learned this practice when I first stopped using a dishwasher. While I used to view washing dishes as a chore to be dreaded, I suddenly began to view it as the final step in our meal and an act of service to my family. This new approach began to change the way I viewed this chore and many others.
For exercise, I run without music. As a result, because the distractions have been limited, I am better able to listen to my body. If it feels good, I am free to be alone with myself and my thoughts—not longing for the finish line, but finding joy in every step (or at least, most of them) along the way.
Mindfulness has also changed my view of work and employment. Work is no longer something to be avoided or removed as soon as possible. But work is about contribution. It is about adding value to society and the people around me in exchange for the value they are adding. And there is great joy to be found in it.
There is a Zen proverb quoted at the beginning of this post that often gets modified around my house. It starts to sound like this, “When washing the dishes, wash the dishes. When doing homework, do homework. When playing with your friends, play with your friends. When cleaning the bathroom, clean the bathroom.” Each time, it communicates the same meaning:
Recognize the importance and the joy in your present activity. Be mindful in every moment and each step of the journey. There is indeed great joy to be found in the process—not just in the outcome.
And that feels good to have written.