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Word of the Week: Rote

process not product

Word of the Week: Rote

In creating a blog, in performing a gong, in writing a book, in planting gardens, in the march of days, nights, seasons, there's repetition everywhere. What do you associate with repetition? 

  • "practice makes perfect"
  • conscious replacement of memes
  • focus, mindfulness, creation of second nature
  • "fake it till you make it"
  • tedium
  • "why do I have to sweep the floor/eat/pull weeds when I'll have to do it all again later?"
  • So many words I could pick for "word of the week" here ! To push against the negative aspects of repetition, I chose "rote."

"Rote" doesn't connote creativity or fun. When you're learning by rote, you're repeating parrot-fashion, mindless, unreflective, perhaps without even knowing what you're doing. And definitely, the tedium.

My current best example is that, as I've written about before, this website is on the Joomla platform, which I'm learning how to use as I go along. Some of this learning is part of my gong. "Learning how" involves repeating many small actions over and over, learning them by rote until I don't have to think about what I'm doing. Sourcing or creating images, editing them, making them the correct size (three sizes for each image) so that they'll look good whether you're reading this on a phone or a giant monitor.

As images accumulated, the image folder became unwieldy. I looked into creating subfolders, looking to build in another rote action that would become streamlined second nature. Come to find out, in order to put the images in their nice, organized folders, I need to relink every single image in the already existing posts so that they point to their new homes! Can we say tedious, frustrating, repetitious? Like the old-fashioned grade school punishment of writing out lines over and over ("I must not misbehave in art class" ad nauseam).

On the other hand, way to create a new furrow! I'll be so good at associating images between folders and posts by the time I'm done. Even though you won't see anything different "on the front end," the whole blog will be better organized. And thank good(n)ess I have fewer than forty posts yet, so it's less than two hundred images to be rehomed.

I used the metaphor of "creating a new furrow" on purpose, because the word "rote" comes from the Latin for "wheel." Consider "rotation," and of course "cycle" also has that connotation of circular recurrence.

If a wheel is true, circular, symmetrical, it's going to create an even furrow, a track that takes you where you want to go. And so we have roads, and so all the blog's images end up organized in folders, and so we have meditation practices that take us certain metaphorical places. 

That must be why people talk about a wheel of health habits, where spiritual/physical/emotional/mental all need to be trued, and diet/exercise/sleep/relationships likewise. "Symmetrical and true" means constantly attended to and maintained.

Perhaps that's why the Tibetan buddhists use prayer wheels, and the rosary or mala is ubiquitous across different religions. I've read stories from Sufi, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic teachers wherein a person who repeats a simple prayer with devotion and sincerity comes to a state of great clarity and enlightenment.

For learning and for creating good habits, "rote" is not just the wheel, it's the furrow the wheel creates, the thread that holds the rosary together; each bead of the rosary, each "rotation," shapes and builds the thread.

Here's the wonderful paradox, though: no two rotations are the same. No two blog images that I tediously relocate are the same image, or destined for the same folder. But the action is the common thread. Once again, "process, not product," yet the rotation creates the furrow.

About the Author

Ela Harrison

Ela is a wordsmith and herb lover who has lived in many places and currently resides in Tucson, AZ.

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