It’s not uncommon for me that I enter into a stall in action because I focus too deeply on the latter 2 words in the title rather than the first. Whether it’s 30 minutes or multiple hours, often carrying into my evening or until I go to sleep, there have been moments where I’m unable to choose a definitive course of action because I’m too distracted by the loop in my internal dialog asking myself what I am doing and why I am doing it. Instead, as I’ve been learning to condition myself over time, the question to prompt yourself to action should be questions that begin instead with how.
A series of content I’ve consumed over the last few weeks prompted me to think deeper on this concept that I read originally in The Bhagavad Gita. There, Krsna originally expresses the idea to Arjuna that one can more quickly find the path to doing His work by asking questions that begin with how rather than what or why. This theme is carried heavy throughout the book and eventually evolves into the Trichotomy of Nature, The Enjoyer and Consciousness which is the title of chapter 13.
Hovering for a moment here on what is meant by ‘His work’, this is something I think we read in many places under different words of choice depending on the medium. The Bible might call this ‘God’s work or following in his footsteps’, I interpret it as what Cal Newport calls ‘Deep Work’ or even what Steven Pressfield refers to in The War of Art as ‘Listening to his muse’. In the Articulate Ventures Network, we commonly refer to this as something along the lines of ‘Following the path of our Daemon’, a layering of Pattern Language on what Plato originally called the ‘daemonic’.
Back to Krsna’s instruction, again he suggests the asking of a how question as a means of hearing this call to one’s path. Pursuing a how question is similar to engaging in a novelty search. Put briefly, this means not to plan where you are going( what), but to instead follow what you find interesting. What you find interesting as the how in this example may be easy to confuse with framing a why, but the easy way to make that distinction is to properly identify the why trap as ‘why do you find it interesting?’
Having your what or why in mind is never a bad thing, but unless you engage the how, your pursuit as a whole will remain stagnant, regardless of the validity of the what or why. Alternatively put in The Bhagavad Gita is this idea as Knower, Knowledge < The process of knowing. Say you are a knower who has knowledge, if you don’t continue your pursuit for what’s unknown, even that unknown just to you, you will remain in a constant state for the rest of your life which is arguably equivalent to not being there at all. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the way Persig describes quality as the knife’s edge of experience is not unlike the view I’m proposing of how as a means of transcending what is an what ought and choosing the path to increased the whole.
What made me want to write this today was a No Country for Old Men Explained video from YouTube. In it, the narrator points out that the characters who rejected a coin flip put forth by the antagonist, whether it be on the premise of why they should answer or what they’d stand to gain if they did, were killed by default rather than having any chance at all.
The main idea here is that how is the only path forward. If you have a problem and you focus on what it is and why it is, then it won’t go anywhere. If you have a goal, and you know what that goal is and why you want to achieve it but don’t engage your how, you will never achieve it either.
I encourage you to look at a problem or a goal in your life right now & ask yourself,
How will I solve it or How will I achieve it?
Originally published at https://www.thebenjam.in on October 27, 2020.