Purposeless Action

IMG_0637This podcast touches upon a section in my book, “Be Nobody,” that explores what it looks like to lose yourself in action.

Selfless action is extolled in many religious traditions. In the Bhagavad Gita, for example, we are given instructions on “karma yoga” – action done without attention to the “fruits” of action. This is action done for its own sake and not for what you personally will get out of it.

We actually have various sorts of experiences of this in our everyday lives. When we really “get into the zone” in our work or hobbies we are absorbed fully into what we’re doing in the here and now. When we are similarly totally engaged in listening to or playing a favorite piece of music or dancing uninhibitedly, we are not thinking about anything else but what we’re actually doing.

This is pretty much exactly what the Gita means by “karma yoga.” Another way of putting it is that in such cases we are acting not to achieve a goal but fully concentrated on the action at hand. In that sense, the act is “purposeless,” but hardly “meaningless.”

Another example of this phenomenon of losing oneself in an activity is pure play. Kids can go for hours swinging, climbing the jungle gym, and teeter-tottering without much fatigue at all – and all such examples of play are purposeless. Or, you could say, have their own intrinsic purpose. They are done for their own sake because they are fun to do.

IMG_0638This is the secret of selfless action, of “karma yoga,” and it is important to notice that it is precisely when we can “get into the zone” and perform action unselfconsciously and for its own sake that we are happiest and truly fulfilled. It is in such times that we are totally integrated with our lives as they are unfolding, in real time, and not mediating our experience of life through the self-conscious inner voice.

It’s another example of the joys of being nobody.

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