‘Against Productivity’ – an essay by Quinn Norton

I get great pleasure when I find examples of mindfulness in places other than secular Buddhist explanations of the Buddhist tradition. As a European New Zealander who has left it far too late ever to be a serious student of Buddhism, texts that speak directly to me of what meditation is all about can easily be found in the secular and Western world. Believe me, when you start looking, perspectives that speak to a Buddhist sensibility [is that even a valid concept?] are everywhere.

Personally I find them useful as a kind of confirmation that what is in Buddhist mindfulness is in fact a universal experience and I sometimes use them in my teaching. The examples can be old, are sometimes contemporary and can be found in literature, poetry, Christian prayer and personal testimony. Even the Morning Report programme on Radio New Zealand provided a few recently.

During the week I came across a freshly minted article titled ‘Against Productivity’ by U.S. internet writer and activist Quinn Norton and I commend it to you. Quinn is a journalist who has written about computer hacking, the Occupy movement and Anonymous. She visited New Zealand in 2013 and spoke at NetHui – the Internet New Zealand conference – about the whistleblowers and hackers who have been imprisoned and pursued  by the US, comparing them to William Tyndale, translator of the Bible. This article isn’t about those issues directly or even about meditation per se but about the foolishness of always looking for greater efficiency and productivity.

Four years ago, Quinn went to Puerto Rico. Speaking no Spanish and with few contacts, she had the intent of focusing on her writing and learning to be more productive. She actually spent her time thinking, watching the rain, chatting with new friends, looking after the cats in her apartment and just moping around. But she gave herself quite a hard time.

In ‘Against Productivity,’ she recognises this unstructured and unproductive time as being the key to everything that she has written since. She explores feeling dislocated, the development of insight and the value of having time to reflect.

I won’t summarise it here any further, but one part of the essay which stuck out was what she had to say about thoughts, and it is below. I encourage you to read and to ponder the profound truth in what she writes.

QuinnNortonHow did you feel when you read what she wrote?

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