What Has Value? / by Michelle Cowan

I have been out blowing and going, brewing and doing, rambling and racing. Now, it’s time for rest. Once again, I ask, “What nourishes me?” Today, that is sitting at the piano, relaxing into the music. No need for tangible results.

I tend to be so tied to doing things that can be measured or that result in a physical product. I am inclined to clean my bathroom or finish a home improvement project before I sit down to write, play, read, or think. In the midst of my errand running, with the satisfaction of a checked-off to-do list, I can miss the extreme value writing, playing, reading, and thinking hold. Even if I do not complete a song or an article, the time spent thinking and pondering IS worthwhile. People just can’t see it, and I tend to like things that I think will win me favor with people.

Over the years, however, I have learned that I can FEEL the value of abstract activity. My family never really valued intangibles; therefore, I became highly achievement-oriented, filling my life with goals like cross country race times, grades, levels of extracurricular involvement, and eventually numbers on a scale or calories eaten in a day. I am beginning to see that striving toward such targets may offer far fewer benefits than enjoying less concrete activities.

My brain needs imagination time to function properly and come up with new ideas when I eventually get to work or encounter a difficult project. Imagining during my free time prepares my mind for creative thinking in a product-driven environment. On my own, I can think and play without creating an end product.

When deciding not to work on another item on my task list, it can be very difficult to shirk old beliefs that shout, “Why are you sitting around doing this? Why are you walking around aimlessly at night or lying in the middle of the living room floor? Why are you not finishing up that song or cleaning the bookshelves or preparing lunch for tomorrow? What you’re doing now matters to NO ONE!”

“Well,” I reply, “this matters to me. And because I allow myself the freedom to spend time without goals, products, or measures, I feel less hemmed in by all the things in my life that require me to meet expectations and quotas. Participating in activities without goals enhances my positive emotions and creative ideas—a priceless result. I feel invigorated, rather than drained, by these pursuits. The fact that I am doing this now will matter to someone, someday. And even if that person is only me, that is enough.”

The value system for activity that I have in place is pretty hard-wired from childhood. But by experimenting with letting myself go and doing things that seemingly have no point, I can see if life gets better or worse when I shift my focus and priorities.

We can all afford to take a look at our fundamental beliefs. Are there things you believe and don’t know why? Examine those. Then, do something contrary to the belief. Does your belief still seem founded in truth?

As for me, I’m off to the piano. Maybe a song will come out of this. Maybe not. Maybe all that really matters is that I make music.