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Fear & the Art of Nonfinishing: Tea with a Druid 31

July 9th, 2018

As a young person I developed a habit that became a significant handicap. I believed that if I started reading a book I should read it cover to cover. However boring or irrelevant it proved to be, I stoically ploughed on to the end, in the mistaken belief that it was the only way to truly appreciate the work and extract its full value. It was really only in my forties that I realised how foolish this was, and worked to cultivate the ability to ‘gut a book’ and to develop the art of nonfinishing.

But this ran deeper than just a reading style. I would never not finish a meal, not finish a conversation, not finish a relationship. I was the dumpee not the dumper. I treated life as if everything was equivalent to juice extraction. However much pain, however much ‘pulp’, was in this book, relationship, fruit, film, or spiritual exercise, if I just kept ‘grinding away’ at it, I would extract the maximum learning, nourishment, illumination from it. So in one way it was driven by greed, in another way by a sense of lack – I was always looking for more. But in another way, too, it was driven by certain ideas I had picked up. The obvious cultural ones were there: “Always finish your plate,” “Be ambitious, don’t be a quitter”. But then certain spiritual influences reinforced this idea: “perseverance furthers” the I-Ching constantly told me in my teens; the Path to Enlightenment involves surmounting obstacles, challenges, trials, was the message from reading spiritual biographies. “Carry On!” was the message everywhere in Britain: from the silly ‘Carry On’ films to the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ wartime posters with their endless variations (our fridge magnet says: “Keep Calm. I’ve got my wand!’)

And then, with an interest in psychotherapy, came the learning that our subconscious can try to sabotage us, that it’s precisely when we experience resistance to something that we should keep pushing for more insight. And so making oneself move out of the Comfort Zone became the way to go: “You’re finding this hard? Good, keep going! Break through! Don’t stop now! Don’t finish now! Just a little bit more effort and you’ll turn the corner. Redemption is just down the road. Keep walking!”

And of course this is true – sometimes, often even. But the opposite can be true too. Sometimes it makes sense to follow the opposite injuction: “Don’t go for victory, for conquest, every time. Try surrender! Stop now! Don’t complete it! Drop out! Lie down! Let go!”

When I went inside just now and asked where this drive to finish everything came from, I understood that it was often fear, and I thought of this track by Sarah McLachhlin:

6 Responses to “Fear & the Art of Nonfinishing: Tea with a Druid 31”

  1. I agree – this is one of the hardest issues. When Is the disinclination to continue a genuine indication that one should not continue – because it’s wrong, or a waste of time, or actually harmful – and when is it a neurotic impulse that should be overcome by an effort of will? Sometimes it’s one, sometimes the other — how to know??? Actually this is where the I Ching is very useful. You’re mistaken when you say it *always* says ‘perseverance furthers.’ Sometimes it says ‘perseverance does not further,’ That’s how you know!

    • Aha! But I never got that message, and I have to say with hindsight that perseverance has furthered for me…but yes I agree it’s one of the hardest issues to work out : when or whether to give up!

  2. Hi Philip,
    This really struck a chord with me. For example I’m determined to finish the Bardic grade! I’m also a classic VW beetle fan, and its that determination that drives me to finish my restoration projects. However, I see that it can often lead to a circular pattern, and I think this is where it gets really interesting. I see people restoring old cars, simply to sell it, and do it all over again, except….. this time even more perfect than before. The end result is cars that are so perfect they are unusable!! Which is madness. However there is one other thing that strikes me, and perhaps its something you may wish to explore. Consumerism, the disease of the modern age, at its heart is the belief that new is better, that the grass is greener. That the latest gadget must be better than before. But quite often it is not. Its less resilient, more bug prone, more irritating. In reality the grass is not greener, its just a different shade of green, and sometime worse!
    Keep it going Philip, I love the tea sessions, even though I have to watch them later after I put the kids to bed.

  3. Oh, and I have the same problem! But when I accidentally glance through the window, something in me says “stop, immerse yourself in the Light and its joy – there is nothing more to learn about life or to do for your growth here-now, except to enjoy this moment of awareness of the light and the joy “!

  4. Wonderfull,

    Not finishing is like letting yourSelf free…
    And then what is the point in starting something..: starting can be savouring… like a dish…and before you get indigestion , just do not finish it all…. just keep the wonderfull feeling of savouring and being free. …

  5. At first this blog scared me–was it a message that I should quit something I’ve been struggling with? But then I realized it was telling me the opposite. I think, instinctively or intuitively, we all know when to quit–if quitting lets us breathe and gives us relief, then yes. But if quitting simply leaves us with a hole, then even if the struggle is difficult, it is for me a message to continue. I’ve been writing for 20 years, and finally, in 2016 I was published! And now I’m working to get other books published. Friends and family cannot understand how I can continue with an endeavor that bears so little fruit, and I can’t explain it. I have quit a few times–enough! I say–and within 3 or 4 days, I’m back at the computer. I have a few things in my life where I just “carry on.” And many things where I can say it’s not working, and leave behind. I think the hardest thing–and maybe that pushes us to quit–is for those who are closest to us thinking we’re crazy for persevering. Where would we all be if people like Edison and the Wright brothers and Fleming–or the Beatles–hadn’t persevered? .

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