Meditations on the Wisdom of Action

by | Aug 27, 2022 | Success

Meditations on the Wisdom of Action

by | Aug 27, 2022 | Success

“Precept is a very good thing, but to my thinking an ounce of practical energy is worth any amount of precept without action.” –Theodore Roosevelt

There’s a kind of listless, restless, low-grade anxiety permeating our society today. There are many causes from a culture-wide perspective: over-stimulation, declining levels of trust in those around us and our institutions, the displacement of human workers with machines at increasing speeds, lack of central values, proliferating lifestyle options (and social media to toggle through them all), collapsing narratives, and many, many more.

It seems impossible to have a worthwhile idea that others haven’t had already. It seems impossible to say something that hasn’t been said. It seems impossible to have a strong opinion on things that matter. It seems impossible to decide on which course to take. It seems impossible to find purpose — to find meaningful work and meaningful relationships. So we focus on TV shows and sporting events. (Or we turn our politics into something as trivial.)

The way out of this feeling of confusion and meaninglessness on a societal level is difficult. It involves shifts in our economics, collective narratives, and politics that are nearly impossible to envision, much less implement.

Luckily for us, individuals have a much simpler solution: action.

We’ve lost sight of what it means to take action. Not to mention what it means to take right action.

Taking action is not flailing around purposelessly or keeping yourself busy while avoiding the real problem.

What it is…well, that’s what the rest of this book will explore.

To begin reorienting to a life of action requires something which at first appears to be non-action: meditations. We have to contemplate what action is and understand how it plays out in our lives.

We have to learn not only its more direct, “blunt force” expressions with which we’re most familiar, but also the subtleties of action: imagination, reflection, and waiting can all be some of its most powerful forms. At the same time, we can appear to be doing all sorts of things externally without actually taking a meaningful action. As Thoreau asked, “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”

Action is the surest path not only to reaching goals, but to finding the kind of meaning and purpose we desire. It is a kind of back door to the promises of so many philosophies and religions. When we are action-oriented, we forget to notice the missing pieces of our modern world: anomie fades away, change doesn’t seem so wildly fast, the news becomes white noise.

I wrote these meditations on action for myself a couple years ago because I needed them. When I wrote them I was feeling stuck. Between projects, between relationships, between exercise regimens — nothing seemed worthwhile. I was facing a crippling existential crisis. The only relief came when I lowered my expectations for my abstract mind and focused on what was actually going on. This didn’t always mean doing different things (although often it did), it meant being in a more active way.

I have visited this book regularly since then to get recentered and reinvigorated — it works every time. I hope it will have the same effect on you.

If you’re experiencing crippling paralysis or acutely anxious restlessness, try reading the book all the way through to jumpstart movement with a new mindset and in a new direction.

Or feel free to pick this up whenever you need a kick in the pants. The passages are short and designed to spur you to powerful action.

I recommend picking up a paperback copy so you can open it up whenever you have a couple minutes to kill, and give it a read without the distractions you encounter when you start toggling through your phone.

A Note to the Reader: Defining Abstraction and Action

A quick note on words before we begin. I’ll use “abstraction” primarily to discuss “over abstraction.” Abstraction is useful but, as you will see, it’s less useful than it seems.

Abstraction is a type of thinking, the type that considers ideas more important than events.

“Action” is used here synonymously with “right action.”

Right actions are bold and deliberate. They carry the potential for flow and mindfulness. Right actions are virtuous. They bring us closer to understanding reality while bringing our imaginations to life.

Action is endlessly searching for the right lifehack to finally make you productive; right action is getting to work. Action is eating a Twinkie; right action is eating chicken breasts and broccoli. Action is punching someone because they root for a different sports team; right action is punching someone who’s beating up someone weaker.

Right actions aren’t usually grand. They can be small. Brushing your teeth is an action. Brushing your teeth mindfully is right action.


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