Pause: The Pathology of Productivity vs. the Power of Presence
Over Thanksgiving, I had the great fortune to spend 10 days at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin. I was privileged to be assistantâ€“teaching on a retreat which meant that, unlike the retreatants, I had access to reading and writing and the Interwebs and also had meetings and tasks. But I still had the space and time to practice for many hours a day and rediscover (once again) the power of presence.
It has taken me some time to send this out, my first newsletter. Many times over the past few months I tried to write something, anything, just so I could be productive. And then I heard the phrase the pathology of productivity, from coach Chela Davison. And I recognized in it the anxious fuel for so much in my life. I asked myself, How often do I access the deep wisdom of simply being? Or is there mostly a low buzz of resistance to this very moment? A grasping connected to worrying, changing, solving, fixing, planning, getting, achieving, attainingâ€¦?
The mind that races is a mind that demands certainty and security; if I plan it all out, everything will finally be okay. Besides being impossible, that demand makes it difficult to rest in the beauty and mystery of what simply is. This moment. Presence.
The first peoples of the San Geronimo Valley, where Spirit Rock is located, lived in peaceful communities interdependent with the rest of the natural world around them (the Miwok people are their descendants). They fished, hunted, gathered roots and herbs, collected acorns and mushrooms and in communication with other tribes took care to conserve the wellness of all beings. They â€œworkedâ€ 3â€”4 hours per day and spent the majority of their time in creativity, prayer, play, ceremony, and storytelling. Their conflicts were solved through council and consensus, sometimes taking hours and days of discussion and understanding. They did not believe themselves to be separate from each other or anything around, above, or below them.
Whenever I pause and allow myself to reconnect deeply to my heart-mind-body, I can also remember the truth of interconnection.
But this requires an intentional, sustained pause. Something we all seem less and less capable to allow.
Being at Spirit Rock, amidst the eucalyptus in the woods and the hawks in the sky (and away from the demands of constant communication and activity) gave easier access to this presence, but even in the busy city, all we need to do is slow down, stop, and look up or down between the cracks of the skyline or in the sidewalks and meet the wonder that awaits us. Mother Nature is here too. Internally and externally.
Yes, mother nature.
A wise male friend recently corrected me for pitting the masculine against the feminine, reminding me that itâ€™s patriarchy thatâ€™s the problem. Heâ€™s right; as bell hooks says: patriarchy has no gender. But one of the ways patriarchy operates is by suppressing the feminine/yin energy of presence and deep listening â€” dismissing it as passive, useless, unâ€“productive.
Presence is overrun by activity and overdoing. At this time of year, when everything in our natural world is asleep or dead except us, we insist on privileging action over rest. Movement is privileged over stillness â€” unless we are sitting at our computers all day, rapidly moving our eyes and fingers, and perpetually propelling data into the void.
Pausing into presence, sensing, feeling, knowing what Audre Lorde identifies as "the erotic," we come into contact with our power and creativity (stay tuned for Januaryâ€™s newsletter: The Erotic as Power: The Problem of Patriarchy and Feeling the Feminine).
Meditation is marketed these days as a cure for stress and anxiety and other ailments. So we can do more. It can be that. And it can be more.
The power of spiritual practice is a radical liberation into our creative power.
The first step. No step. Pause.