Means To An End

“Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in …” — David Whyte

In most every media image I see, or even conversation I hear on the topic: we tend to primarily talk about a movement practice as a means to an end.


Now, I’m not here to be on a high horse about this. I don’t want to make a case that anything’s wrong with starting a sport or fitness program to lose weight, feel better, sleep better, look a way that you more like, get better at a particular sport, live in less pain, training to help others, etc. Any of those ends are almost certainly at least some of what gets us involved in any program, the means.

But what do we lose if the program remains in our attention primarily a vehicle for these results, even very noble, non-superficial results like decreased pain?

I reckon we stand to lose a fair amount, especially if we’ve been training for awhile (and the program has lost its luster, its newness, its inherent “pay attention to the means because you don’t know anything yet so you have to”-ness).

My vote, recommendation even, would be to see what happens if you pay attention primarily to enjoying the process, the movement itself. Move to move! If you really don’t like it, do something else. (It’d be ironic, right? If we’ve been being force fed something as a society—”you should exercise and take good care of your body or else …”—that our bodies, our whole beings really, actually crave?)

The formula, if there is one: pay primary attention to what’s actually happening, all ten thousand faces of form and sensation, and experience the kind of attention that just flows naturally from joyful effort, we might even say love.

Yeah, I know this can border on cliché, but for good reason: it’s true. It does nothing to think about it, but everything to actually employ it. I have no more or less access to this truth than any of you; it’s only a question of where our attention is now. And the good news is: you can only change what you’re paying attention to, as we all know, right now.

Let’s also note that this end-driven trap can apply to someone in the weight room as much as the subtle-fluid-body-centered ecstatic dancer. No one movement is inherently more “now” by nature than another. The end goals of the lifter might be get big, get strong, etc., and the ecstatic dancer’s might be to be more free, more fluid, more “in the body” and less “in the head.”

These are all lovely goals. But where did those goals come from? What actually gets us up, off the couch? Maybe something different than society’s “exercise or else” messaging would have us believe.

And right now, both now now and your next workout, notice when you stop lifting, stop running, stop dancing, stop walking after dinner … and turn trying to get somewhere into the primary activity.

The somewhere will come, of course. This is one path to get there.

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