These words may have been repeated a thousand times in a thousand different ways, but I’ve only recently really embodied these truths. It is ALL about the process, this life.
In the modern world, we’re taught to value end results over the processes which lead to them. Degree certificates and qualifications, instead of time spent in serious study.
The quality and appearance of an item of craft, not the labour and creativity that is spent in its creation.
Food which tastes good – regardless of who cooked it, what ingredients were used, where it was produced.
But what is the nature of this life? We are always ‘becoming’ in this world, and there is no end to change, learning and seeking.
In this life there are no ‘happy endings’. Not that I’m pessimistic, but there just aren’t any endings! Not when you graduate, not when you marry, not when you settle down, or buy a house.
Whether you accept it or not, you’ll be continually changing, moving and revising through the whole of this life. There really isn’t any rest.
This life isn’t designed to be a neat story with a linear narrative and a big finale. Our lives in this world are more like snapshots from allegories than complete fairytales.
It’s a winding path that revisits the same old stones over again until we finally get the message. It’s ultimately supposed to be a journey inwards.
So what’s the point in always focusing on ‘endings’?
It’s been a long journey, but I’m learning to focus on the process, not the result. It’s an immense lesson in presence and patience.
Here are a few of the things I’m (in the process) of learning.
Four Lessons Learnt on ‘Process’
- To value my time seeking, learning and growing.
It is so easy to look at all that we haven’t yet achieved, what we’re yet to accomplish, what work is waiting for us at home. As much as I value reaching my goals, I’m learning not to focus exclusively on them.
Why? Because a life spent focusing on achieving the next goal, isn’t one lived in presence or happiness.
I’ve learnt this particularly in the process of restoring our house. We’ve had to stop ourselves countless times, to practice conscious appreciation for all that we have in this moment, for the comfort our house is providing us in every instant. To be continually thankful.
The to-do list really is endless when you’re renovating or building a home, and if you don’t enjoy the process, you’ll drive yourself mad. Even if you do survive the process, what was the point of wasting all that time in stress, when you could have spent it in joy, thankfulness and wonder?
The same can be said for creative work. If all you value is publishing a bestselling novel, you can be fairly certain you won’t ever achieve it. You must love the process (which will be very long) to get there.
If you’re an artist who only gets a sense of satisfaction when you complete and sell a piece of work, you’ll spend your life striving, ‘hustling’, and burning yourself out for a few fleeting moments of satisfaction.
- To assess my success by different standards.
How else can we learn to evaluate our success, if not by end results? I’ve realised there are lots of other measures of success, including:
How happy am I? How much am I learning? What new connections am I making? How far have I come this month/year/decade?
This, of course, requires us NOT to compare ourselves to others. I tend to compare myself to people a few decades older than me, who don’t have kids, and who’ve gone through much more extensive training than I have. From that perspective, I do look a bit terrible, but when I recognise that I’m a 24 year old, mother to a 1 year old, whose recently discovered my trade – I think I’m doing just fine.
If you compare yourself to YOURSELF, you’ll probably want to give yourself a great big hug and an ice cream.
- To value the time I spend making, not just the end product.
My husband will confirm that when I cook food ‘because we need to eat’, it’s never half as good as when I cook for the pure joy of it, revelling in the beautiful vegetables, the sharp spices and the sizzle of the pan. Walking to the market, and coming back laden with bunches of herbs.
Of course, I still cook even when I’m tired and run down, so how can I do this with the same presence and love that I have when cooking at my best?
I try to thank, connect with and be present with my ingredients. How far have they come? Whose hands have touched them? I watch meditatively as the water washes over them.
I try to be embodied, and present. Not just to pick up the pan and stick it on the fire. Why not do a little waltz with that saucepan? Why not say thank you to the salt, aloud? Why not pray over the food?
One of the most effective methods for presence in the act of creation is the setting of intentions, and ablutions. This is traditional stuff. In the Islamic tradition, all actions begin with the conscious setting of an intention. Say it out loud. Hold space for it, before diving in.
We also traditionally ‘create’ whilst in ritual purity. This means we do our wudu, or ritual washing, before beginning a task, making intentions as we do so to be present in our task, to create something beautiful which is a reflection of the Divine, and to bless others with our work.
These are just a few of the things that can add presence, enchantment and light to our work. All this and more can help us love the process, which in turn will allow us to create much more beautiful end results (without thinking too much about it!). I suppose that’s the irony of the creative process – the less you focus on the end result, the better it will be.
- To seek out handmade, local products, whose ‘process’ is beautiful.
This is a really big one, and its completely revolutionary. We need to stop seeking the most expedient, the cheapest, the shiniest. We need to stop thinking that mass produced, industrialised processes are the only way.
I’ve lived life on the edge of financial margins, and I know how hard it is to choose organic, local and handmade when your bank balance is flashing red lights. But for many of us, there are changes we can make to our overall financial picture that can allow us to invest in the big things (read, FOOD) which are going to massively effect our everyday existence.
I’m so lucky to live five minutes walk from my local farmers’ market, full of local, seasonal food. It’s not even something I have to think about, its the easiest thing (whereas supermarkets are a long drive away), so the decision to shop local is easy.
I’m also surrounded by one of the most advanced craft communities in the world, and so shopping for handmade household items, gifts and clothes is also really easy for me.
But what if all you have is Tesco? What if it’s easier to go to IKEA than to your local carpenter? Financial decisions aside (space can often be made in a budget for something you really value, anyway), you need to commit to a life lived consciously.
Spend every penny with consciousness and wisdom. You don’t have to be stingy, but don’t live your life supporting organisations which fundamentally oppose your values and principles. It’s simple, really. As an aside, working towards debt-free living can also help us to live a ‘financially conscious’ existence.
Why does this all matter?
I’m not just saying this for you to all nod along. Change needs to start here, now.
This has been my personal journey with embracing process, and I’m sure you have your own. I do believe that a life lived in this way is completely counter-cultural, revolutionary and necessary. That’s why I call this a Call to Arms.
This isn’t just for the ‘enlightened’. It’s not just for practicing artists and creatives. It’s what we need to teach our children. It should be talked about in the workplace. It has to enter into a world which has become obsessed with BIGGEST, BEST AND QUICKEST. We need to slow down, be present and focus. There really isn’t ANY aspect of our societies that doesn’t need this message.
So, here’s our manifesto. The manifesto for a life lived in love for THE PROCESS.
- EMBRACE CHANGE. This life isn’t anything but a cycle of ever-changing states.
- EMBRACE MISTAKES. THIS is where you learn.
- CELEBRATE DIFFERENCE. You don’t need your carrots to all be straight! You don’t need each of your dining room chairs to be exactly the same! And I’m pretty sure you’ll live a more enchanted life if they’re not.
- DO MEANINGFUL WORK. If you don’t enjoy the process of the work you produce, you’ll never be able to live authentically. Meaningful work, at least something we enjoy, is fundamental to embracing THE PROCESS.
- EMBRACE SETBACKS. They’re an invitation to reflect.
- EMBRACE SLOWNESS. Work completely carefully, in your own time, is the work you need to be doing.
- EMBRACE STRUGGLE. If it’s easy, you’re probably not doing this life right.
I’d love it if you could get in touch to share your relationship with process, wherever you’re at in it. Help me add to this manifesto!