The Commune: On Productivity and Presence

Dear Friends,

Last week I received an SOS message from a friend. ‘Can we talk? I’m spiralling,’ it read. When we spoke later that afternoon, she said she’d missed a deadline for a fellowship application she’d been preparing for that she needed to support the last stage of her PhD. Following this was a withdrawal into a cauldron of anxiety, judgement and self blame, the voices in her head growing louder, saying: I’m not being productive, I have nothing to show for my time, I’m not successful. Listening to her, I found myself nodding along, recognising in her experience a story I often tell myself—of not being efficient enough, fast enough or productive enough. The constant measuring, calculating and quantifying self worth based on how much I have produced.

The dictionary defines ‘productivity’ as the ‘quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services’. It’s a definition with its foundations in economic theory. Yet, it has crept into the everyday to become a measure of efficiency and worth, with an expectation to squeeze as much as possible out of each day. The industry built around it points to just that, whether it’s self help books, apps or gurus promising to boost productivity by ‘doing more in less time’. Yet, even on days when I’ve had multiple ‘outputs’ to show for my time, the accompanying sensation has often been one of breathlessness. Of constantly running, much like a hamster on a wheel, never to reach that ideal of productivity. Days like that are also more often that not, when I forgo time to stare into the sky, to talk to my plants or wander the streets in my neighbourhood. Time to quieten and be still.

Alan Watts writes in The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety: ‘The working inhabitants of a modern city are people who live inside a machine to be batted around by its wheels. They spend their days in activities which largely boil down to counting and measuring, living in a world of rationalized abstraction which has little relation to or harmony with the great biological rhythms and processes.’ Disconnection and separation from these rhythms, he argues, keeps us from fully inhabiting the present, from recognising the value of the unseen, of what isn’t always tangible by way of ‘goods and services’. Watts urges, ‘Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence.’

As we begin year two of planning and shaping The CurioCity Collective’s journey, I want to remind myself to value presence and to bring it to what we are setting out to explore and do each day. To go past the many daily reminders of ‘how to be more productive in 10 steps’ and to live with what Watt describes as light: ‘Light, here, means awareness—to be aware of life, of experience as it is at this moment, without any judgments or ideas about it. In other words, you have to see and feel what you are experiencing as it is, and not as it is named. This very simple “opening of the eyes” brings about the most extraordinary transformation of understanding and living, and shows that many of our most baffling problems are pure illusion.’

We hope you choose presence in your day to day. Have a wonderful week, and as always, do feel free to write and share your thoughts with us.

Team TCC

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