Friday, September 16, 2005

Practical Intentions

I have been thinking today about the difference between being practical and being effective. Often, we assume that they are the same thing. Maybe they are the same when we notice what actually makes us effective instead of what we think should be practical.

On a rainy fall day, it is practical to ignore the weather and get to work on some of the many things we need to do that have nothing at all to do with the weather. It is practical to do our chores, whether they are high-level management chores or the laundry. It is easy to fill all the hours in the day with chores: the nature of work is that there is always something left to do.

I wonder if that is effective. I comfort myself with being practical when I tell myself I cannot be inspired. The truth is that I could think of dozens of things to do on a rainy day that would be fun, be relaxing, be dreamy, be different. That does not seem very practical. Yet it might be very effective. Every major innovation comes from seeing the patterns of our daily lives in a different way. Perhaps the most effective thing I could do would be the one that changed the way I looked at the world, the one that allowed me to see difference where I had seen only more of the same.

As a professional, as a teacher, as a mom, I like practicality. I like the sense of wrestling the world into order and moving forward in measured steps. I like things that do work and I like to do work that feels productive. There is much to be said for being practical: it results in a great deal of what makes us comfortable and compassionate and even successful.

What happens if we collapse the two states and let whatever makes us most effective be what we see as being most practical? Maybe it is practical to eat ice cream or watch a silly movie or go for a walk in the rain. The proof is not in the logical connection between the activity and the work, but in what really happens. If breaking free of expectations allows me to see new connections or develop new ideas, it might be the most practical of activities.

What if I form an intent to be intensely practical and effective and then let myself pick an activity to support that intention, trusting that whatever I choose will give me the skills or strengths or perspective that is required to fulfill my intention?

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