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a colloquy on essentialism

The following conversation is a constructive dialogue between Moshe Feldenkrais and Greg McKeown. Both saw moderation and awareness as keys. This fictional discussion uncovered insight into cultivating growth without sacrificing spontaneity. Debating viewpoints, glimpses emerged of shared truths from difference.[^1]

Dear Greg,

I wanted to write to you regarding your perspective on complacency as expressed in your works “Essentialism” and “Effortless”. As someone who has dedicated his life’s work to empowering spontaneous self-organization and bodily autonomy, I have some concerns about how your encouragement of aggressive goal-setting and strict deadlines may undermine the natural tendencies of human development.

While avoiding idle distractibility does have benefits, pushing past one’s organic thresholds through externally imposed pressure risks compromising intrinsic motivation and spontaneity. As you know from your own research, intrinsic drives are far more conducive to sustained growth and well-being than extrinsic ones. Yet demanding constant achievement beyond one’s readiness seems to cultivate the latter at the expense of the former.

Complacency, in moderation, has its place. It allows the mind and body to integrate new patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving at their own organic pace. Forced acceleration may disrupt this integration, instead encouraging rote mimicry of imposed behaviors without true incorporation into one’s being. As we both know from experience, real mastery arises from within, not from without.

Perhaps a gentler approach, emphasizing patience with oneself and openness to ripening in one’s own time, would be more aligned with human nature. External prodding risks substituting temporary rises in productivity or performance for enduring habits of flourishing. I wonder if less emphasis on goals and timelines, and more on ongoing cultivation of intrinsic interest, connection and skill, might lead to healthier long-term results.

These are just some thoughts inspired by your work. I appreciate you taking the time to consider this perspective. Your openness to feedback will only enhance the value you provide to so many through your teachings. Thank you for all you contribute to empowering individuals and organizations.

Sincerely yours, Moshe Feldenkrais

Dear Moshe,

Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully consider the ideas in my book and share your perspective. I appreciate your willingness to engage in this discussion and your generally positive view of my work. While I can understand how some passages might give the impression that I overemphasize goals and timelines, I believe a closer examination would show that spontaneity and intrinsic motivation are fully compatible with the process of selection I describe. Allow me to address the key concerns you raised.

First, while I do advocate for setting goals, the intention is not to rigidly conform behavior but rather to identify what truly matters in order to focus effort accordingly. Goals provide direction, not diktat. Second, my advocacy of buffer time is meant precisely to support spontaneity by allowing room for organic transitions and uncertainties rather than rigidly filling all slots.

Third, I emphasize selectivity over obligation and extrinsic goals like bonuses or promotions. Intrinsic motives like interest, growth and contribution are central. Fourth, I make compliance with natural rhythms and limits a cardinal principle. And fifth, habits are meant to free will rather than restrict it by channeling energy productively.

I agree fully that imposed regimentation compromises well-being. My aim is to liberate effort by focusing it on personal priorities through attentiveness to natural processes and rhythms, not by coercive force. If any parts of my work give the unintended impression of advocating compulsion, please accept my apology. My deepest intention is fully aligned with cultivating spontaneous self-organization.

Thank you again for initiating this insightful exchange. I’m grateful for the opportunity to clarify and refine my perspectives. Please know I welcome any other thoughtful observations you may care to offer. Respectfully yours,

Greg McKeown