How You Do One Thing...

"How you do one thing is how you do everything..."

This famous Zen quote is everywhere. I've heard it at least four times in the last week. I've had this phrase directed at me in coaching to highlight the pervasive nature of my faults and, I am certain I've used it in coaching sessions to the same effect. (If I used it on you in a session, I hope you'll accept my apology.)

This statement is a lie (sorry Zen lovers) 

It's a blanket statement that cannot possibly be true. I would go so far as to say the way this statement is currently used in personal development is the antithesis of Zen. This phrase decreases people's awareness and appreciation of who they are in different situations and how they respond in each and every moment. Instead it implies the worst, "Gosh, you must have real issues if you are struggling with this one area... because how you do this one thing is how you do everything."   

Frankly, I'd like to see this phrase eradicated from the lexicon of spirituality and personal development. This phrase, in my experience, is used in a way that evokes shame and supports the continuation of people beating themselves with the stick of perfection. I've never heard it used to help people see their strengths, only weaknesses. 

How you do one thing is how you do that one thing.

That is not sexy (or judgmental) - but it's actually true. 

And how you do other things is how you do other things. We all have quirks. We are all human with incredible strengths as well as foibles. Which is what makes life interesting and beautiful. 

For instance, I (like many women I know) can be extremely hard on myself about my body. Hypercritical, sometimes my inner voice can even be cruel pointing out all the ways I'm not taking care of myself as well as I "should" to be healthier. 

If I were to look at all of this and say, "How I do one thing is how I do everything."  then the conclusion I would draw (and have beat myself with in the past) is that the way I take care of my body is a reflection of my capacity to be a good mother, to be a great coach and teacher, to be a friend, to have a great partnership with my husband. Because if I can't take care of my body 'perfectly', then I'm broken and the success or health of every other area of my life is suspect. 

But here is the truth: there is limited time in the day.

My priorities are my daughter, my husband and my work. I give zero fucks about eating "clean" or any such bullshit and I like to move my body in ways that are deeply pleasurable for me, not punishing. None of this reflects on other parts of my life. 

How I "do" my work is that I show up, I create, I serve and I love it. Sometimes I get caught up in being busy and overwork, whether it's from having too much fun or distracting myself from my husband's absence and then I get tired and need a break. 

How I "do" my family is that they are the most important part of my day. I schedule time in the middle of each day to talk to my husband via Skype and I stop work when I pick my daughter up from school to spend time with her. Sometimes both of those things annoy me, which doesn't mean anything about the overarching state of my family or my patience or love for them. 

How I "do" my friendships is that I set dates to talk with and play with my friends on a regular basis. As an introvert, I cherish the friends who will go deep and not be offended when I need space or say no to party invitations over and over. 

How I "do" my food is I'm relearning how to eat intuitively so I'm kind of all over the place right now with what I'm eating. Which doesn't mean anything about my business, my spiritual practices, my family or my organizational skills.

How I "do" moving my body right now is I do what feels good in my body each and every day be it hiking, yoga, dancing or nothing. I try not to sit too much because it hurts my bum. Otherwise I would unapologetically sit all day long.   

How I "do" my iPhone is a bit addictively. I get a little nervous when it's not close by or in my hand. 

So on and so forth. You get the point. There may be patterns worth observing, stories I tell myself, ways of being that are unique to me that I would love to shift. But under no circumstances is it helpful to believe that how I do one thing is how I do everything. To do so with either positive or negative qualities is delusional.

How you do one thing is how you do that thing. 

This bears repeating. No matter what "thing" you or I are doing, the only way we know how we are doing it and if it's aligned with our values and our deepest desires right now is by paying attention to how we do that one thing. Which isn't a representation of everything and it's also subject to change in any moment. 

Looking at anything as if it's static - especially human behavior and circumstance - is crazy. Yes, we humans definitely get into habits but blanket statements are an excuse to go to sleep and not pay attention to your experience, today. 

Compassion, not cruelty. 

My one desire is that I want to do everything I say "yes" to in my life is with as much presence and engagement as I can muster. I want to turn toward myself and my experience on any given day with compassion, not cruelty. Curiosity, not assumptions. I want to enjoy who I am and the life that I'm living without casting a shadow of judgment over my humanity. I want to celebrate the divine imperfection of who I am because how I do everything is as myself. Period.

Let's stop the judgment.

You are far more complex than your worst, or your best, behaviors, sister. My deepest wish is that you will cast aside any believe that your perceived flaws somehow indict you in All the Ways. That you will turn toward yourself with open arms and acceptance because that, not punishment or perfection, is the path to freedom. 

How you do everything is as you, beautiful sister. Celebrate all of it. 

xoxo.nona


8 comments

Thank you for this! I've been trying to make sense of this statement for a while now and wondering if I should be feeling guilty! ❤️

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I didn't know this phrase was supposed to be Zen. I just know it never resonated with me. It never really made sense to me. It never felt like truth to me. In fact, it seemed blatantly false since from one minute to the next we are not even the same human so how could the phrase be true? Thank you for putting this out into the world. Hope it goes viral :)

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victoria silva wilger Sep 10, 2016 02:42pm

Nona....such a beautiful post . Freedom...thank you!

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what a liberating post! and at the moment my only goal is to put down that stick. x

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Nona Jordan Sep 10, 2016 04:12am

Becky, I'm so glad my perspective resonates. No guilt here, sister. XO

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Nona Jordan Sep 10, 2016 09:04pm

That is a worthy goal, Shauna. Thank you for reading. May freedom be yours, sister. XO

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Nona Jordan Sep 10, 2016 03:08pm

Yes to freedom! Thank you for reading, sister!

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Nona Jordan Sep 10, 2016 03:14pm

Sarah- I love that you trusted your own perceptions and truth - I agree that it just doesn't make sense. Thank you for commenting. XO

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