Time, Action and the Illusion of Effort

This is another repost from a while back for those who are new to the blog or who just want a refresher!

In my work I talk a lot about the clock, and the fact that it moves by itself, by virtue of the fact that our planet naturally rotates around itself and the sun, which is how we track time.  If we stare at the clock, or our watch, we can have proof of this by seeing that the numbers just change, and we don’t have to do anything (apply effort) to make that happen, similarly to the way our heart just beats, if we are alive.  I put these kinds of facts into a category I call involuntary functions, as they are things that happen by themselves, without our doing, even if it feels like we propel the behavior.

The importance for me about involuntary functions is that they remind us that we are not the doers of so many things our mind assumes we are.  The function I believe we are most programmed to believe we generate is action.  We naturally believe we are in control of our actions, as our thoughts convince us on a moment-to-moment basis that we are.   I am going to try to explain why it is apparent to me that action occurs involuntarily.

The reason that action is involuntary is because as the clock moves by itself, we are automatically present in the new time and by default involved in our next activity.  If we could keep our attention consistent on the clock’s involuntary progression, we would notice that our body was just continuously “there” in the space, engaged in some action.

Though this is a basic reality of nature, our minds are wired to believe things happen very differently.  We assume we are moving ourself forward, almost pushing time and our body ahead with our effort.   I call this type of effort, “inner doing” because it is only in our head that we are making our actions happen.  If we could truly leave ourself alone we would be able to sense more immediately that our body just exists in the next moment without any doing on our part.

I am certainly not an inventor of the belief that we are not the doers in our life, as many eastern practices, and the work of modern educator, Byron Katie all promote the same assertion.  I simply offer a way to “see” that our physical activity, what we call our doing or our action in the world, is simply a by-product of being alive, i.e., physically existing in time and space. Beyond that, the sensation of doing in our body is just effort, or in the opinion of F.M. Alexander, “tension.”

My practice that I call Mindful Reality incorporates this awareness as a way to realize that we do not need to effort up to make things happen.  One must get very grounded in the awareness, however, as the mind will very convincingly take over and make us believe we truly need to think up strategies to cause things to happen in our life.

To conclude this article, I find it a fascinating exercise to internalize the truth that the clock moves without our participation, and that as that is happening, our body comes along for the ride for free!  We are just there, in the new time and space, doing something.  My work goes on to explain that if we are in that activity, it means for that moment we cannot be in some other activity, which means that when our thoughts are telling us we should be spending our time differently, they are wrong, as that is physically impossible.


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