By Kate Bartolotta
In Praise of Preparation.
After reading it, I immediately (mentally) began a rebuttal to Robert Greene’s idea that we should move before we are ready.
In our drive for billion bits per second communication, we glorify this idea: faster is better; do it now. And I’ve done it. I’ve passed along those meme-spirational thoughts of “if not now, than when?” or “someday isn’t a day of the week”; there is a kernel of truth there, but it gets lost in our lightning speed transmission.
I will be the first to admit: I am an overthinker.
I consider the trait of being cerebral—of being a thinker—to be one of the utmost importance, and yet…to be an “overthinker” implies that one has taken this trait to an unnecessary extreme.
On a recent trip, I packed six pairs of shoes for a four-day visit. This would not be entirely unreasonable, if I had chosen shoes that might have served different purposes, rather than choosing shoes for my myriad potential moods.
-One pair of tan high heeled sandals that I love (and didn’t end up wearing, though true to overthinker form, I found myself thinking after I returned home that I should have worn them when I went out in my grey dress; they would have complemented it beautifully).
-One pair of strappy green flat sandals, which I wore often and matched many things I packed. One pair of black wedge sandals that I love the look of, but end up with regretful blisters if I wear for more than about an hour; didn’t wear them.
-One pair of metallic grey ballet flats: cute, cheap and practical; wore once (should have worn the heels).
-One pair of red matte satin ballet flats, which didn’t match any of the clothes I packed, but I love them because red shoes. And one pair of cork and basket-woven raffia wedge heeled sandals, which look like a fairytale story in their own right, would have gone nicely with the sundress I wore that last day, but I didn’t think of it until the plane ride home.
And what, Gentle Reader, is my point? My point is that preparation in and of itself is not a bad thing. Overthinking—checking once, twice, three times before letting go—is not problematic as a general rule.
Perhaps the problem with overthinking comes when it doesn’t actually prepare us for action.
Or then, on the other hand, maybe the preparation stands on its own merits; an art in its own right, apart from the value of the action. A better illustration might be found in two of my favorite artforms:
The Japanese Tea Ceremony and The Sonnet.
It is by no accident that most days I take time to enjoy both a sonnet and some Japanese tea. They are, to me, a portrait in miniature of this ideal of choosing patient craftsmanship over rapid action and immediate gratification. Both are ostensibly rigid in their structure; they have elaborate rules that must be followed in order to be carried out correctly.
As a language lover (and an overthinker), I love this. I love the attention to detail, the specificity, the delicate balance of all the parts to create the perfection that is the end result.
But then, the beauty of these forms isn’t strictly in the end result, but in the journey it takes to get there. To follow such a specific, even rigid, form to create art implies putting patience ahead of the creative impulse, restraint ahead of desire, humility—and bowing to tradition—ahead of that drive to finish, do, make, publish, faster, more…now. It is this slow waltz that makes it so special, this careful drawing back of the bow—checking once, twice, three times—before taking a breath and letting go to find the target that makes the aim worthwhile.
And then, on the other hand (and Gentle Reader, I am aware that we’ve already looked at this on both hands; lend me another) if we take up our bows, and return to that last analogy of archery, perhaps we find the most important part of all.
In Zen and the Art of Archery, Herrigel writes:
“The right art,” cried the Master, “is purposeless, aimless! The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.”
Perhaps both the overzealous, hastily inspired artist and the cautious overthinker have both lost sight of something important in their efforts to control.
“You have described only too well,” replied the Master, “where the difficulty lies…The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You…brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth something yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way–like the hand of a child.”
In the struggle to find the balance between these ornate, archaic artforms and lightning bolt-style bursts of inspiration, between “look before you leap,” and “he who hesitates is lost,” we’ve forgotten something important.
The end result is always the same.
The tea cups will eventually be empty; broken.
The sonnets, forgotten.
The waltz, ended.
The arrows and the target, both turned to dust.
The viral video and the classic cinematography, the spontaneous painting and the painstakingly-crafted china doll will all be broken, gone, forgotten.
When I take up a sonnet to read and start my day (reading it twice, aloud, because you have to read it twice; it should be a rule) it isn’t a ritual that gets me anything. When I end my day with Japanese tea, Genmaicha, (Genmaicha Sencha, or on occasion, Genmaicha Matcha; the difference between the two being a story for another day) it isn’t because it accomplishes some necessary function in my day or fulfills some aim (though it oft results in more vivid dreaming, in my experience anyways).
When we do these things: write a letter, craft a sonnet, prepare a tea, dance a waltz, take our time, overthink ourselves around and around in some never-ending labyrinth, it is only wasted if perfecting the end is our aim.
In the end, everything is already broken. All of it ends. This elaborate preparation isn’t so we can make the leap successfully—nor survive the fall; both are inevitable.
We take our time that we might better enjoy the dance.
So take your time. Check once, twice, three times. Take three times as long in edits as it took to initiate the idea. Allow a season for those retrogrades, where we measure every word and take extra care to complete the tasks. But don’t do it because the outcome will be better; do it for the sake of the dance.
Kate Bartolotta is the owner and editor-in-chief of Be You Media Group. Her book, Heart Medicine, is available on Amazon.com. She also writes for The Huffington Post, elephant journal and The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, Yoganonymous, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds. She facilitates writing workshops and retreats throughout North America. Connect with Kate on Twitter, Facebook and Google +.