Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Path of Doing

Yesterday I talked about what I call the Path of Having. Many people assess their happiness based on what they have, whether that means material possessions or job title or education or skills or experiences.

There is nothing wrong with having things. For most people, though, the happiness that results is fleeting at best.

Today, I'll explore another way, and tomorrow, a third.

I've written about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago before. He's written several books about what he calls flow, in which the sense of self is lost and we are completely engrossed in our work. It is here that we are most engaged in our lives and here where our creative energies are the strongest. An example of this might be the athlete who says, after the fact, that she was "in the zone," or that the game "played itself." This loss of the sense of self is the goal of many of the wisdom traditions as well. In fact, those who speak of enlightenment almost always use words like "the dropping of the self."

The second path, which I call "The Path of Doing," then, is not about doing a lot of different things, but about finding one or two things in which we consistently lose ourselves. The concept of flow gives us guidance on how to do that (and here are some other ideas in this guest post at Zen Habits). In essence, it's about finding something that challenges you but does not overwhelm you. This can be learning a new skill, or providing an additional challenge in a skill you have already mastered. The notion of focused practice is very strong here.

Unlike The Path of Having, which I wrote about yesterday, the satisfaction that comes from The Path of Doing is more than fleeting; in fact, it can be deeply satisfying. But it still requires conditions. It requires the right approach with the right activity. It requires a continual refining of the challenges that are presented. And it includes temptations--if some doing is good, how much is too much? How does the Path of Doing not turn into something darker, or even addictive? In that sense, the Path of Doing and the Path of Having are similar--the brief glimpses of peace we get can make us want more, and make us do more to get them.

It turns out there is still another way. We're already doing it. And I'll talk about it tomorrow.


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