Summer Most Heat Moon
My favorite subscription e-mail is brain pickings. The creator and writer, Maria Popova, generates it through intense reading and intelligent choice of materials. Last year she wrote an essay outlining 7 things she’s learned in the 7 years of writing brain pickings. You can find the whole essay on her website, but I wanted to focus on one in particular because it reminds me of a lesson I’m learning from my friend, Tom Crane.
Being present, how he shows up in the moment, from moment to moment, is his top priority. I don’t know whether he would counterpoise it to productivity as Popova does here, but his business success in forensic engineering certainly suggests he’s no stranger to productivity. He is clear that he does not want to be measured by his efficiency, earnings or his ability to do this or that. Which is saying something since his company is very well-regarded, growing and prosperous.
- Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshiping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
And a bit more from an interview with a talented writer/observer:
“I think productivity, as we define it, is flawed to begin with, because it equates a process with a product. So, our purpose is to produce — as opposed to, our purpose is to understand and have the byproduct of that understanding be the “product.” For me, I read, and I hunger to know… I record, around that, my experience of understanding the world and understanding what it means to live a good life, to live a full life. Anything that I write is a byproduct of that — but that’s not the objective. So, even if it may have the appearance of “producing” something on a regular basis, it’s really about taking in, and what I put out is just … the byproduct.”
The moment and our questing in that moment for connection, for understanding, for clear seeing is all we have. Ever. Placing the moment and our immersion in it first swings us out of the past or the future, if we’re tempted to sojourn there, and back to the now.
I like Tom’s insistence on showing up and Popova’s emphasis on understanding as our purpose, and productivity as a byproduct of that process. When at a farmer’s market, it would be understandable to see the fruits and vegetables as a product of gardening, but in fact they are the byproduct of a person in love with the soil, with plants, with the changing seasons and the interplay of wind and rain and sun.
The main dilemmas of our current approach to agriculture can be tied to productivity oriented thinking. This way sees the fruits and the vegetables and the grains and the meats and dairy as the product of farming rather than its byproduct. What I mean is this, when we love the world in which we live, when we treat it with care and thoughtfulness, when we understand our needs and its needs, the world will produce what is necessary for our existence. That’s been the successful ongoing contract between living beings and the natural world of which they are apart since the first one-celled organism began to wiggle and move. It is no different today.
That’s what I understand right now.