Thursday, August 25, 2011

Another dance of contradictions

I’ve been reading—and enjoying—two books that might X each other out. They seem to say two opposite things. The title of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, actually embarrasses me. I don’t usually read this kind of book. The other, more my style, is Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. But I am finding value in both books. I love sorting through mixed messages and finding that it’s another both/and situation, rather than either/or. Since I’m having fun, I use the term “dance of contradictions.”

The Getting Things Done book came highly recommended, so I ordered it, thinking, “This might be good for Hal.” I should have learned by now not to think that way. While it might indeed be good for Hal, I’m finding it good for Nancy as well. Basically a system for time and task management, I’m finding Allen’s approach practical and doable, even if I choose to apply only parts of his system. The clutter on my desk top, in my files, and even in my mind is beginning to rearrange itself into orderly patterns. That’s good. Efficiency and productivity are good. North American culture certainly values them.
Actually, I’ve always rebelled at the emphasis on efficiency, although I’m told I’m very efficient myself, a good executive secretary type. The librarian in me smiles at this. But the poet scowls. I really prefer intuition, creativity, freedom. At least most of the time. Some of the time?
Well anyway, the other book appeals to my poetic and mystical self. In Falling Upward, Catholic priest and spirituality guru Richard Rohr claims that adult spiritual development falls into two phases of life (based partly on Jungian psychology). The tasks and values of the first phase include establishing one’s identity, climbing the ladder of success, hard work, productivity, achievement, and getting things done. Rohr sees this as a necessary stage.
In the second stage of spiritual development (which, the author claims, not everyone reaches), the person moves beyond the emphasis on doing to a focus on being. More than productivity, the person is content to live out his or her identity, to simply be the person God created her to be. Gratitude, harmony, relationship, wisdom are all values of this stage of life.
Sounds good. I’ve always been drawn to being above doing, even during my most productive years. At the same time, I’m addicted to lists and love crossing off items as the day moves forward. Getting stuff done feels really good. I’m told schizophrenia runs in the family. Is this evidence?
Probably not. It’s another Mary/Martha story. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, listening, being, “falling upward,” while Martha fusses and cooks and gets stuff done. Jesus praises Mary’s receptivity and rebukes Martha’s fussy anxiety, but I don’t think he makes this into an either/or choice: be or do. Following the story beyond this incident, we see Martha continuing to fix meals, but with a holy attitude. Apparently we can learn to be and do at the same time.
Are the “real” Quakers the silent, mystical contemplatives or the activists for mission and social justice? Or both at once? Or something beyond the stereotypes?
Even the word “poet” is helpful to me at this point. It comes from the Greek verb “poiew” which means “to make” or “to do.” I’ve always wondered how “poetry” came from this linguistic root, other than the fact that poets make poems. It’s an active, doing (literally) verb, and poetry has always fallen to me on the being side of the continuum. But, there you have it.
So I guess I can still be a poet and have my daily to-do list at the same time. I’d reflect further on this fascinating subject, but I need to draw this to a close. I’ve got way too much stuff to get done today.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, I need both of these books. I'm finishing your recent suggestion, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Kundera. Like you, the book is helping me understand the "eternal weight of glory" better. Thank you for being a reading guide who is always just a few steps ahead of me in my journey. I like that...a lot.