Do something pointless for 20 minutes this week.
Do something devoid of meaning, devoid of effectiveness, something having little or no sense or purpose.
That may be tough for you to pull off. Our American culture has always been purposeful and effective. We pushed West to get more and more land. Manifest Destiny filled our scruffy settlers with meaning and they pushed. Full of purpose and meaning, we pushed for bigger and better and faster and more. We made cars. Then more cars and bigger cars. Rockets were even faster than cars. We shot upward full of purpose into space. We planted a flag on the land of the moon, that beckoning frontier. We have always been an active culture, pushing effectively for bigger-better-faster.
Our wages grew the whole time. Our success grew and grew, we were effective and purpose-filled. By the 1970s we led the world in many ways. We had more food, more money and more success than any other country. Our food and shelter was as big and grand and as fast as any culture in the history of mankind has ever known. And it showed. The 1976 Cadillac Sixty Special was 20 feet long.
And we kept growing. We began to grow in new ways. We’re still growing, pushing effectively, full of bigger and better and faster and more purpose. It means success. It means beating everybody else.
We now lead the world in obesity, pharmaceutical drug use and the percentage of our population with anxiety. We use more cocaine than any country in the world. We have complained of an obesity epidemic for a decade now, and fast food revenue has grown each and every year in that decade. We have bigger-better-faster food. Bigger people, better and faster at consuming more of everything. We have bigger-better-faster sex. We produce 89 percent of the world’s pornography. Our export is an effective and purposeful push for more and faster everything, because that means better living to us.
Imagine riding a bike. You push the pedals to move forward. If you don’t push, you don’t go anywhere. We’re all aware of that, and we think of riding a bike as being about effective effort against the pedals. Turning a wheel is a cycle, yet we tend to be aware of only half of what we’re doing. Allowing is part of that process, acceptance is part of that process, co-ordination is part of that process. Try pushing with both legs and pushing all the time. Give it all that you’ve got, when you feel the pedals push back against you push harder. What will happen? You’ll push off of your seat, standing tall and rigid as you coast to a stop, and tip over in the dirt.
Once upon a time, it made sense to push for bigger-better-faster food shelter and sex. That has been an effective “meaning of life” for maybe 83,000 generations, so it makes sense that it gives us purpose. It worked for our great-great-grandfathers, it worked for our fathers. We want to push west and up, and push forth into society for more of what sustains life.
Yet quite possibly for the very first time in any culture ever, pushing effectively towards more effectiveness and purpose and making bigger-better-faster food, shelter and sex at all times – is not enhancing our quality of life.
What if we learned to value other things as well?
Do something pointless. For 20 minutes this week, do something that means nothing at all. Get nothing done.
Turn your phone off. Find a quiet place to sit down, and make yourself comfortable. Don’t even think. Don’t even try not to think.
Thoughts will come. Let them pass you by. Imagine walking on the streets of Seattle as people pass you by. Do you grab them by the arm and find out where they’ll take you? Maybe you’ll go to Pike Place Market and they’ll buy you a paper sack full of hot fresh doughnuts. Maybe they’ll lead you down a dark alley if you follow them. Yes, you’ll be curious where your thoughts might lead. Don’t try and figure out if the thoughts are going somewhere good or bad, and don’t try shoving them out of the way. Let them walk on by you.
Count your breath. One, two, three, four, then repeat.
You will feel silly. You will feel as if you are getting nothing done. And you’re not. This is a pointless activity, as silly as picking up a heavy object and putting it down repeatedly..
Doing something pointless for no reason may be the most challenging 20 minutes of your week. Don’t do it because it will bring meaning and effectiveness and purpose to the rest of your week.
Do it for no reason at all.