Practice: Learning to Be Nobody But Yourself


I‘ve been thinking more about my Mid-Year Intentions, the things I intend to get done in the next six months, and intentions I failed to realize in the last six months, in the context of some recent discussion about our obsession with doing rather than being. Viv McWaters said:

Iíve been pondering the need to be seen to be DOING, the need to produce OUTPUTS or PRODUCTS and the dilemma of the intrinsic worth of simply BEING with others and having conversations. This situation often arises when I talk about or facilitate open space meetings. ìIt was good to talk, to have some time to explore, to slow down, but what did we achieve?î I wonder why talking, exploring and slowing down are not generally seen as achievements in their own right?

I think this is what was wrong with my New Years’ Intentions list six months ago — I was totally fixated on measurable results and achievement, on Getting Things Done, on getting there, getting finished. Those intentions were very ambitious — lifelong goals that were, mostly goals of direction (love more, live simpler, converse better, be more present, move more, be more self-sufficient, be bolder, help entrepreneurs more, have more fun). These intentions were, in fact, not really about accomplishment or objectives. Rather than intentions to do, they are intentions to change the way I am (what I’ve called Let-Self-Change) — intentions to be something different. To be what I was intended to be, to be more authentically myself. To be nobody-but-myself.

In a remarkable synchronicity, Evelyn Rodriguez just twittered a link to her 2005 article about Conrad’s and Joyce’s comments on this same subject. She quotes Gandhi as saying “My life is my message.” (he also famously said “Be the change you want to see in the world” — Be, not Do). She quotes Joseph Conrad as saying that real art — infinitely present art, that is created for its own purpose, a simple representation of what is — has the enormous power to astonish, to extinguish the ego. By contrast, he says, ‘art’ that intends to persuade other people to feel or believe or do something is mere marketing, propaganda, pornography. Real artists, she quotes Tom Asacker as saying, “live worldview-disrupting lives”. And, she concludes, “if we draw from inspiration, our lives themselves can be works of art”.

Regular readers know I’ve been conversing with Siona and Patti about this whole issue of being vs doing and what we’re meant to do and our responsibility to the world, and to ourselves.

As I thought about all this, I suddenly had an Aha! moment: Is my Purpose, generalist that I am, to simply be a model for others of how to be, in this terrible world where there is only so much any one person can do? And if that’s so, I wondered, how can I be better?

Then I began to completely rethink my intentions list and put them in terms of getting better, of being better. This would require that I engage regularly in practice to move towards being better. For the most part these things can never be done — there is only the striving to get better at them, a bit at a time.

What’s more, practicing getting better at these things requires that I do less of something else (there are only so many hours in a day). So I decided to take a look at how I spend my time now, and how I would have to spend my time to allow myself enough regular practice to steadily get better at these things. When I realized that I currently spend almost no time practicing these things, and that my current workload almost precludes me finding time to practice these things, I realized why I have made so little progress in achieving these intentions.

The chart above shows how, on average, my day is spent. Much of my time is taken up in the activities shown in grey, activities that do not involve practicing the things I need to in order to achieve my intentions. Embarrassingly little is spent in the activities shown in red, yellow, orange, blue, green and purple — the six activities that I get greatest satisfaction from and which will best equip me, if practiced regularly, both to achieve my intentions and to be more useful to others and the world in the years ahead. And to be more authentically myself, to be nobody-but-myself.

My intention now is to increase the time I spend practicing these six activities from 5.6 hours a day to 11.6 hours a day, as illustrated in the chart above. Here’s how I might spend that time:

Practicing Being Better at Additional
Examples of Practices
Playing and Learning 0.7 hrs Creating my Centre for Sustainable Entrepreneurship;
Writing about why business should care about climate change;
Listing to, composing and playing music;
Exploring Intentional Community;
Drawing (take course);
Making furniture (get coach);
Subsistence forest permaculture (self-study)
Conversing 1.4 hrs Listening and speaking;
Story-telling (take course);
Improv (take course)
Giving 1.7 hrs Appreciation, love and attention, generously;
Provoking with Aha! ideas & insights through stories;
Facilitation (take another course);
Environmental activism?
Self-Discipline 0.3 hrs Meditation (guided);
Exercise (varied)
Writing 1.0 hrs More short stories & poetry;
Novel: The Only Life We Know
Reflection and Being Present 0.9 hrs Wilderness hikes;
Candles and aromatherapy;
Making vegan meals;
Attention skills (self-study)

In practicing these things, I intend to learn to be more myself. These are long-term intentions, totally unlike a Getting Things Done list, and I intend to practice from now on, just keep getting better. The only ‘results’ will be the self-change in me (greater competencies, self-sufficiency, self-knowledge, presence, and happiness) and being more useful (perhaps even a model) to others. The very thought of spending most of my waking hours practicing these things is exhilarating. This is what I used to be, when I was very young, naturally. This is what, I think, I am meant to be. How did I lose my way?

Category: Let-Self-Change
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8 Responses to Practice: Learning to Be Nobody But Yourself

  1. Jon Husband says:

    Your aha moment .. after all, all you really can be is who you are, and who you are becoming. You can be intentional and conscious about that, but all we can ever be and do , is model .. to ourselves and others.

  2. patti digh says:

    Maybe this is why I keep losing my copy of Getting Things Done. I’m thinking this is why.

  3. Sweet, sweet Dave. We are fellows in earnestness, we two!And since I am a kindred spirit, I think you will not mind me lobbing a philosophical softball over the net: what if you did this the Through the Looking-glass Way?What if, for example, you scrambled your categories: what if “Making Vegan Meals” became “Playing & Learning”? Or “Listening to, composing & playing music” became “Reflection & Being Present”?What if you gave yourself some freedom from discipline and structure as a discipline? Because, my friend, you are so very good at discipline and structure, I dare say you have them internalized.I like some of what David Allen has to offer; for planning my year, I tend to like more of what Ginny Ditzler (the “Your Best Year Yet” lady) has laid out.But ultimately, I find my own, crazy hodge-podge works best: my accountability partners (a.k.a., my like-minded friends). My six-month projects. My 21-Day Salutes. Etc.Most of us lose our way. It’s the nature of life, I think: the cost of getting on in the world means putting aside one’s childlike ways to acquire worldly skills and skin. But the synthesis is the point for some of us. To paraphrase you (and myself, elsewhere), to live out loud with commentary and analysis, so as to show some people the way, offer support to others, shield a few from unseen sinkholes.Still, I do love your list. I am such a one for lists.

  4. > How did I lose my way?By having to work for money, that’s how.

  5. Siona says:

    Aha! Oh, beautiful. Amd I’m with communicatrix… why follow the scheduling path? How is it even POSSIBLE to learn how to “be better”? Why the drive to movement? You wrote “This would require that I engage regularly in practice to move towards being better” but this to my mind seems positively contradictory. ;) What if instead of trying to “move toward” you practiced being HERE, and accepting what and where you ARE now, inclusive of whatever flaws and foibles you brain-space might cast upon you? Excuse the capitals. I just get a little impassioned about this. There’s no need to move toward some future (what does that even mean in Now time, anyway?). You’re bursting with being as is–just rest in that a bit. Try it out. THAT, to my mind, is practice. :)

  6. Simon Hazelton says:

    Dave, you have so many great ideas, so many passionate intentions!Just feel your way. If it feels right, enjoy it while the moment lasts. If it feels wrong, try and learn why it felt wrong.Not too much to think about though :)

  7. Tom Asacker says:

    “The royal road to mysticism and to Reality does not pass through the world of people. It passes through the world of actions that are engaged in for themselves without an eye to success or to gain – or profit actions.” – Anthony De Mello, The Way to LoveStay passionate Dave!

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Amazing comments thread here…thanks everyone. Jon, exactly, brilliantly put. Patti — I can’t find mine either (organizing my bookshelves is on my To Do list). C’trix, what a delightful and gentle way of pointing out how anal this article is! Nicola — yes of course, and the systems in which we live are so good at making us believe we have to do the things that end up costing our souls.Siona, I guess it’s just my nature to be dissatisfied with who I am, especially when I know that, as a young child, before I took on all this everybody-else gunk, I was better. My path there will be gentle, and fun, and won’t prevent me from being present here, now. But thanks for worrying.Simon, great advice. In all senses of the word “feels”. Tom, this is a great complement to the de Mello quotes in my Sept.29/07 article. And I love your idea of “living worldview disrupting lives”.

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