Posted on August 26, 2017
For two days we have been sitting at our desks, behind us a wonderful time out with nature, dancing and relaxation. "So much unplanned time, what a luxury!", was my first thought. "What a necessity!" my second.
Why necessity? Because lack of intentionality has side effects that make me come alive and which are important for future shaping: impartiality and free space for creativity.
The philosopher and mastermind Natalie Knapp, who has inspired me in recent years, writes in her book "Kompass neues Denken" that the challenges of an increasingly complex world cannot be mastered with even better and more accurate planning. Rather, it needs people who have the capacity to form a kind of social group improvisation in order to participate in a joint overall work of art, in which none of the participants surveys what it will look like. Consequently, no individual can know where it is going to. It needs fine antennas and openness to perceive the impulses of the others and to adjust ones own contribution to them. It is best to practice this necessary perception, if the purpose of the activity does not pre-filter which impulses are important and which are not. In spaces of impartiality, we are freer for the perception of what is.
Impartiality offers free spaces in which unexpected things can arise. If you observe children playing, you notice that it is mostly not the multifunctional doll that inspires the imagination, but often at first sight unspectacular objects. And brownfields in the city, which have lost their one-time use and have not yet found their new destination, are one of the most valuable areas in a city because of their immense habitat and biodiversity. Not to be missed are the numerous creative intermediate-use concepts, which in Berlin for example, enrich the cultural landscape.
Purposelessness is therefore worthwhile for many reasons. I know, I contradict myself: I have no intention, with the intention of achieving positive effects! With these thoughts, I only realize how deeply entangled I am in the ubiquitous paradigm of utility maximization. I am moving in a world of impact measurement, return on investment. I know a lot of idealists whose work I value very much, but via a ruthless "What counts is what comes out at the other end" attitude they often find themselves in self-exploitation, overwork and precarious living conditions, which are simply not sustainable. The area of gooders seems to be on the verge of pushing the values of our performance society to the top by being even more economical and efficient than a "normal" company. Donors, investors, sponsors want something presentable and measurable that can be seen in the end. They´re right. And yet a disturbing inner voice comes to me: Do I want to use these values of more quickly, further, higher, more efficiently for my social enterprise and, if only unintentionally, contribute to a world in which the value of a person is measured by its utility?
My desire for purposelessness becomes stronger. But how do I save the precious moments from the vacation that is now behind me into my daily life? Here are some thoughts and insights from my self-experiments:
My first attempt at freeing myself from this contradiction is to soothe my inner slave-driver by giving him the arguments of impartiality and free space for creativity, why it is so important to practice purposelessness. At some point I will get along without these arguments, but as a beginner in the matter of lack of purpose, they serve me as helpful training wheels.
In addition, the idea, that I do not have to fall from one extreme to the other helps. Not everything that has been super-performance-oriented has to be transformed into purposelessness. If I put the linear thinking of the higher-faster-further aside, and think in systems and circuits, more is no longer automatically better. It is clear that a forest is not healthier the more deer inhabit it. It needs to be balanced with other inhabitants of the forest. In the same way, I am looking for a balance between activities with clear intention and spaces of lack of intention. I think of a piece of music. I listen to the music and there are breaks. They underline the music. And they only unfold their magic, if there is sound before and after. I am able to create temporary rooms with lack of purpose. This limitation helps me to enjoy it and to surrender.
I learn that lack of intentionality is not arbitrariness. And it does not necessarily mean relaxation or less attention. I can play a musical instrument fully concentrated, or I can get deeply into a conversation. The difference is that I do not have to go anywhere with the music or the conversation. I allow myself to unfold what can develop in the interaction with my improvisational or conversation partner. This is particularly clear when dancing: I get in touch with my dance partner, the music, the floor and the other dance couples. I move. But it is not a question of moving forward, of turning a certain number of rounds, or covering a specific distance. I try to question my intentions: Do I go into the forest to relieve my stress, to stay fit, to think through a tricky problem, and reduce thereby the forest and myself to this limited use? Or do I manage to walk for the sake of walking. Here and there I replace an "in order to" with a "because I want to". It is good to do things for their own sake. I don't just want to act by implementing great projects with positive impact. In fact, this is becoming less important to me. But I want to think about the way of the way. I want to take responsibility for the values and statements that I make while projects are emerging, for the relationships with the people and things that I encounter.
There are moments that undoubtedly invite you to lose your sense of purpose. They are so useless that it is a spasm anyway, to give them purpose. This includes waiting situations, e.g. at the red traffic light or at the subway stop. For a while I have learned vocabulary or read books. It is also popular to check emails quickly on the mobile phone during the two minutes before the subway comes. It can be refreshing to just sit there and know that you just have to do nothing but to allow everything to happen as it happens and be a witness. Isn’t that great?!?
What are your experiences with lack of purpose? Experiment with me and share your experiences here in the comments :-)