The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost, 1923.
We hurtle faster and faster. To keep pace with a changing world, a morphing society. To keep up with the Joneses. All around us are triggers to keep us in action. Project deadlines at the workplace. To do lists stuck on the refrigerator door. Management seminars extolling the virtues of proactive action and business initiatives. Weekly coaching sessions empowering us to move towards the rainbow of purpose and goals.
As I watch the TV screen, I find more prejudices against inaction. As protests and deaths in the country continue unabated,Syria is warned of inaction by the Arab league, Americans say that they just cannot have any further inaction by Washington as health insurance costs skyrocket. In India, Anna Hazare and his team accuse the Government of inaction to introduce a strong anti-corruption legislation.
Awhile back, I had read about a little known but interesting incident of the Second World War in which afterFrance’s surrender to the German forces in June 1940, a large part of the French navy positioned elsewhere at Gibraltar remained frozen in inaction and refused to follow the Allies instructions. Till they were bombed and fired upon by the British navy!
So is inaction always bad? And why do we sometimes freeze up and halt all action as the French naval commander had done? I ponder as I try to find some answers. If action signifies moving forward towards light and a better future, does it imply that inaction means something backward and worse? Unfortunately, in today’s materialistic and achievement oriented world and society, this is the belief that stands constantly reinforced. So as we love to show our own “bias for action”, we lump all inaction with lethargy and vacuousness.
But does action always imply moving forward? Does it always demand achievement of discernible goals? Our perception, fed on a diet of instant gratification, equates action to goal achievement. But does this not detract from the importance of the action steps, the empowerment of the action journey? And does this not lead us to judge the other person by results rather than the path he follows?
And what about inaction? Does it always signify the stillness of the unborn, the slowing down of atoms, the dissipation of energy? What if there indeed be intrinsic positivity in the stillness of no action? In the Chinese Tao philosophy, wei wu wei means “action without action”. As we observe, we reflect. As we comprehend, we try to make sense of it all. As we strategise, we commit our intentions. Do we realise that goal achievement and critical perspective shifts usually flow from such moments of contemplative inaction?
I believe much of the world’s misconceptions arise due to a lack of understanding of what action truly signifies. And the news stories above underscore this point. So how do we differentiate between the inaction of no action and the stillness of “making sense of it all”?
Simply put, inaction occurs from a fear of the unknown, of leaving our comfort zone. From remaining stuck due to our underlying beliefs (UBs). So the sooner we get down to confronting our fears, unpacking the baggage of our UBs and letting them go, that much faster we regain our airy fairy childhood state of unhampered curiosity and motion.
But when we stand still to ‘make sense of it all”, we do not really choose to move. We seek instead the solace of something still, something changeless, something which will anchor us from the slippery slopes of uncertainty. Like a sheet of still water reflecting back and providing reassurance of our own inherent changelessness. As we visualise the road forward with intention to act and bring in the change.
So, as the world around us moves in an ever maddening whirl, do we retain the conviction to find the balance between the still and restful “woods” of our inner reflections and the “promises to keep’ of our societal actions? And the wonderment and pleasure of the “miles to go” journey itself?