Chris Pearson has done it again.
Archives for February 2008
You want to talk productivity? Tim Ferriss is talking.
I know, I know, you’ve either absorbed Tim’s book already, or you’re resisting it out of complete stubbornness. But here’s the thing:
- if you’ve read his book, you’re already converted.
- if you haven’t (or if you’ve been living under a rock for the last year and haven’t heard of him yet), then go get his manifesto (it’s free) on ChangeThis on information overload.
If you don’t see yourself in the picture he paints in that 16-page pdf, I’ll eat my socks.
And here’s a talk that Tim Ferriss did at DivX, which is a great summary of the essential principles in his book… if you haven’t read it, this may whet your appetite enough to get off your hump and get it. And if you have read it, the video is a great refresher.
Image © Tim Ferriss.
Searching for meaning? Want to know what your purpose is?
Get in line.
– end of post –
It’s obvious that there’s no one answer to these kinds of questions. It’s a search, an exploration… one that we all take once bitten by the “significance” bug. It’s a part of living an examined, awake life.
The trick is this: it’s one thing to search… and it’s another to stay sane as you do.
Discovering your purpose isn’t a race.
Instead of adopting the attitude of, “I’ve gotta find it NOW, so I can get going and make it happen!”, with a drive for perfection and a now-I-can-stop-searching-and-just-be-happy attitude, you’ll be far better off taking a page from the book of Japanese aesthetics, and more specifically, the concept of wabi-sabi.
What’s known to millions as a philosophy of "imperfection, impermanence, and incompletion" can keep you from ripping the hair from your head as you walk your walk. (and if you’re curious, mine is shaved, not ripped.)
So, with help from Leonard Koren’s book, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, let’s take a look at some of the principles of wabi-sabi, “a nature-based aesthetic paradigm that restores a measure of sanity and proportion to the art of living,” and how they relate to the search for meaning and purpose.
Slow it down
To experience wabi-sabi means you have to slow down, be patient and look very closely.
In the search for purpose and meaning, I’ve seen an agitated frenzy erupt in some people. “I’ve gotta find my purpose! I don’t know what to do without it!”, or, "I can’t believe I’m x years old, and don’t know what my purpose is yet!" But discovering and living one’s purpose isn’t a pop-a-pill-and-be-done, download-it-now experience.
Just like wabi-sabi, your purpose is something that isn’t jumps up, does a dance, and hollers in your face. It’s often times a glacial process, where bits and pieces get uncovered as you go.
Because sometimes, when you stare at something, you miss it.
Instead, slow down, relax, and get in tune with your self — not the self that takes its cues from the world around it, but the you that you are in the absence of external input. The you that yearns to express itself in its own unique way.
Pare it back
Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.
Your purpose is most often simpler than you might think. It’s like a mission statement — the longer and more loquacious they are, the less they’re probably saying. Instead, seek simplicity, much like Guy Kawasaki talks about in reference to "making a mantra" in “Art of the Start” (you can download his manifesto which talks about this from ChangeThis). Rather than drone on endlessly about "adding value through optimized ventures and time-honored blah blah blah", the statement of your purpose can be simple and clear, like, “serving children,” or, “expressing uniqueness through design,” or, “creating beautiful moments.” Wabi-sabi speaks of the power of simplicity, and at its finest, so does your sense of purpose.
Simplicity is at the core of things wabi-sabi. The essence of wabi-sabi, as expressed in tea, is simplicity itself: fetch water, gather firewood, boil the water, prepare tea, and serve it to others.
Let it go
Wabi-sabi is exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom from things.
If your search for meaning is about getting something tangible, think again. While knowing your purpose and working from it can result in a more successful business (clarity attracts, if you catch my drift), the main reward of inner lucidity isn’t material, it’s spiritual. Fulfillment, more than fame and fortune, is the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
It’s your life, after all
Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
You are a work in progress. Your work is a work in progress. And no matter how good it looks, or how much you convince other people (and yourself) that you’ve "got it all together," the simple truth is that you can’t. And the good news is, you aren’t meant to.
Rather than rail against the messiness that continuous learning precipitates (you mean I have to re-write this ‘About Me’ page again?”), you’ll do far better to accept that you are always evolving. As Soren Kierkegaard said, we are “constantly in the process of becoming.” He also said, “Be that self which one truly is.” (Maybe I need to do a post on ‘The Kierkegaard Search For Purpose’…)
At its core, wabi-sabi is, to me, about recognizing the beauty in what is, so you can step back and appreciate what you have all around you. Not a bad prescription, I think.
By and large, we are chickens. If we had it our way, we’d prefer to know what to do before we start doing it.
Thank goodness, then, that life’s lessons show us what we need to learn, despite our preferences.
Over ten years ago, I began studying spiritual healing. A core part of the system I learned was the use of intuition, to show you what you (and your client) didn’t know was there, but was actually the source of the client’s complaint (and believe me, you can process, work on, and dissect issue after issue, but unless you’re getting to what matters, you can spin your wheels forever).
Fortunately for me, developing my intuition was something I became very good at. Soon, I became known as something of an expert at it. So when a student asked me once, in a gathering of over a hundred students, “How do I know what I’m getting intuitively is right?”, my answer was, “You can’t — “ (which made the jaw of the person I was teaching with drop to the floor), “until you trust it and act on it, that is.”
In intuition (as in all life), trust comes before knowledge. You have to trust that the path you’re on, the person you’re with, or the idea that just popped into your head is worth something, before you can actually find out whether it is or not.
It would be nice (you think) to know that a new flame is worth the cost of dinner and a movie before you fork out the dough, but the only way you’re going to find out is if you go for it.
It would be nice (you think) to know if an idea is worth its salt before you invest your resources in it (hence, the ubiquitous — and often wrong — focus group).
But the truth of it is, you often have to go on an unripe sense of whether or not something is “right”, and trust that your heart’s inklings are pointing you in the right direction.
Think about this: if Edison had tried to play it safe, we’d still be working by candlelight.
Here are some other examples of places where trust has to come before knowledge:
Relationships: trust the person has good intentions before you know for sure.
One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life.
– E.M. Forster
To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.
– George Macdonald
Expertise: trust that you know what you’re talking about even before you can find out through experience.
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Entrepreneurialism: trust that your passion will impact people, even before you know it for sure when they show up.
Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.
– Marie Curie
Trust the Universe. Trust and believe and have faith. I truly had no idea how I was going to bring the knowledge of The Secret onto the movie screen. I just held to the outcome of the vision, I saw the outcome clearly in my mind, I felt it with all my might, and everything that we needed to create The Secret came to us.
– Rhonda Byrne (creator of The Secret)
Management: trust that the person who you delegate a task to can do it before seeing that they can. Let them show you how they can shine.
Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.
– Booker T. Washington
Team building: as Peter Drucker says:
The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say "I." They don’t think "I." They think "we"; they think "team." They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but "we" gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.
And, last but certainly not least, enjoyment of life: trust expands your heart, and distrust closes it. It feels better to live a trusting life than a doubtful one. Whether you end up being right or wrong, it ultimately doesn’t matter as much as the quality of the moments you enjoy along the way. As the Irish say, “When mistrust comes in, love goes out.”
It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.
– Samuel Johnson
We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.
– Walter Anderson
Wouldn’t it be great (we think) to know, first, before we have to extend our trust.
And how lifeless, dull, and uninteresting life would be if we did.
Image by ishrona on Flickr.
Yesterday I talked about a system of fitness called CrossFit, to help make the point of General Work Preparedness (GWP). In a nutshell, you take a generalist’s view of what it takes to be successful at work, rather than a specialist’s, by not just focusing on improving your working skills, but by becoming a better all-around person (more details here).
Well, to be perfectly transparent, I’m a CrossFit addict now. I live and breathe all I can of it, because I find it more exciting than wearing a hand-buzzer at a networking convention. I’m subscribed to their journal, I frequent the message boards, and I work out (mostly) along with CrossFit’s 3-on-1-off schedule. It’s the bees knees, baby.
I read something on the CrossFit message board the other day that struck me as having great value, and not just in fitness terms. Damien Del Russo (one of the thousands of community members) wrote, on a thread about losing weight:
Keep in mind that CrossFit is not meant to be a weight loss plan. That is one of the effects of being fit, but not the point of the [program].
Because CrossFit is about creating a "broad, general, and inclusive fitness" (a hallmark tenet of CrossFit), it doesn’t focus on one particular result, but on the ability to get better across the board: speed, strength, agility, coordination, etc.
When you train this way, and follow balanced nutritional guidelines, your body finds its natural and optimal balance. If fat needs to come off of you, it will. If you need more muscle, it’ll grow. If your heart needs to be more fit, it gets stronger and more efficient. So, you train for inclusive fitness, and that’s exactly what you get.
Now, the "crossover" part…
It’s easy to get specialized when it comes to spirituality and personal development, and start compartmentalizing our goals, such as:
- "I want to work on my anger."
- "I want to be more patient."
- "I need to learn how to forgive myself."
- "I need to be better at managing stress."
And so, we launch ourselves into programs and initiatives to try to develop those aspects of ourselves. We read books and take classes to learn how to communicate from the heart, do mantras to help us become more compassionate or relaxed, do service projects to learn selflessness, and so on.And in the quest for the solitary examples of what we think will make us better at certain things, we lose sight of what we can do to make us better equipped to handle the multitudes of situations that come our way each day. We strive for compassion, for example, because we think that’s an element of being a better person. What about working on becoming a better person all-around?
Train for connection, end up compassionate
In all the spiritual paths I’ve learned about, the fundamental teaching is connection. The more you can connect to your inner self, the better off you are. The more you can connect to your fellow human being, the better off you are. The more connected you are to the natural world, to the spiritual world, to your thoughts, emotions, and body, the better off you are.Is that it, then?
Of course not; it’s way too simplistic (and wrong) to imply that one focus will do it all for you. In CrossFit, we run, because running builds one kind of endurance. But we also lift heavy weights, and do bodyweight exercises, and gymnastics, and on and on. Multiple points of focus to train your whole body. And the cool thing is, when you’re a better deadlifter, you’re a better runner. And jumper, and rower, and cyclist, and anything else you need to do.
In your spiritual/personal life, you’re also going to need to focus on a multitude of topics in order to best develop the whole of who you are. The better you are, for example, at tapping into your spiritual connection, the better you’ll be at all kinds of other personal skills.
The trick is to kick your spiritual couch-potato tendencies, and get going.
And how, pray tell, do you do this?
Well, in the words of Michael Valentine Smith (Robert Heinlein’s protagonist in Stranger In A Strange Land), "I am only an egg." I wouldn’t endeavor to be more inclusive, than say, Buddha, Lao Tzu, or any of the world’s Prophets.
Because even if you’re "spiritual, but not religious," you have to admit that the experience of thousands of years of spiritual practice and personal development can’t just be tossed aside because it doesn’t fit your paradigms.
Am I saying that you should adopt a formal religion? Heavens, no. I mean, go ahead if you want to; I’m not against them if your intentions are clean and your discernment strong. What I am saying, though, is that success leaves clues. There are teachings available from the spiritual and religious doctrines of the world that, when practiced with a certain degree of self-responsibility and awareness, can yield immense benefits in your personal development, and help you build a "broad, general, and inclusive spirit" — path or no path.
And if you don’t have a "path" already?
Then start simple: Get to know yourself. Spend time inside (your heart, not indoors). Connect; with yourself, with others, and with whatever sense of "Oneness" you perceive and/or believe in. Live responsibly. Act sincerely. Extend a hand graciously, and receive one just as amiably. Love. Love some more. Forgive. Be grateful. From there, follow your heart.
Is there more?
Of course there is. Keep watching this space!
If you’ve seen my kung fu movies page, you know I’ve got a thing for action movies. Well, let me qualify that: I like well-made action movies. And the more physical action in it, the better.
Really, it’s because I love human performance; I get the same rush out of Cirque du Soleil, gymastics competitions, and soccer/football games, for the same reason (action movies just add a little drama now and again, which is nice).
That’s a long way of introducing the idea that I watched the movie "300" a while ago (well, most of it; I skimmed through a few overly gory scenes). What impressed me the most was the actor’s physiques; these guys were chiseled. And not freakish, either; just balanced and buff.
A little Googling and YouTubeing later, and I was watching some videos online about how the actors got in shape for their roles… and lo and behold, they were following CrossFit routines — a system I’ve been following for the better part of this year, so I wasn’t really all that surprised. Haven’t heard of CrossFit? Maybe it’s because CrossFit is a far-cry from what goes on in 99% of the gyms across this country.
Rather than focus on individual muscles (the typical body-building, big-box-gym-circuit-training approach), CrossFit is all about what they call "General Physical Preparedness," or GPP. In Coach Glassman’s words (the founder of CrossFit):
From the beginning, the aim of CrossFit has been to forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness. We sought to build a program that would best prepare trainees for any physical contingency — prepare them not only for the unknown but for the unknowable… in sum, our specialty is not specializing.
Specialization has its price
A number of years ago I was training heavy; using large amounts of weight in a very small range of motion. Why? Because it builds size. I got to the point where I was lifting over 650 pounds on a leg press machine, and I was bench-pressing over 300 pounds.
But then, I went to put my then-two-year-old in her carseat, and almost threw out my back. I thought, "Huh?" That major disconnect taught me there was something seriously wrong about my methods.
GPP to the rescue
With GPP, you are training everything, for anything. And therein lies the beauty of CrossFit, in my opinion. By doing this kind of workout, you get in better shape, period. For anything. For any circumstance you need it for. For life.
GPP -> GWP
Lest you think this is just a promo for CrossFit, let me open this idea up a bit…
What are you interested in, for example, in your work? You’re probably interested in working at your best, with your heart and spirit in tact. It means you’re interested in HOW you work, not just WHAT you’re working at (although that matters, too). It means you want to express your purpose in this world, find meaning, and find peace and fulfillment in what you do.
Can you see how you have to go beyond just getting more done? Can you see how you need to focus not just on hours worked, widgets sold, clients served, or workshops taught? Can you see how efficiency, or communication, or intuition, or stress-reduction alone aren’t going to come close to giving you the kind of life you want?
In order to show up at your best, you need to adopt the GWP approach: General Work Preparedness. Generalize, not specialize.
That means finding a way to include such factors as:
- Productivity: organization, scheduling, eliminating distractions, etc.
- The ability to maintain your focus: a combination not just of "arranging your work", but the mental and spiritual aspects of clarity, passion, overcoming obstacles, etc.
- Confidence: cited as one of the top psychological factors in athletic performance, it holds true for work as well; without a positive self-image, your ability to present your best value — and stand in it with resolve — goes the way of the dodo.
- Health: if you aren’t physically up to the tasks you set for yourself, how can you achieve what your heart yearns to achieve? Whether you need to focus on drinking enough water, eating well, having core strength (it takes a toll on your body to sit at a desk all day, if that’s what you do), learning to type dvorak so you don’t get RSI, or whatever, taking care of your health is a foundational part of working at your best.
- Rejuvenation: don’t forget the value of off-time as well. No one can expect themselves to work at anything 10 hours (or more) a day, five (or more) days a week, week after week, and not burn out. Rest doesn’t just mean physical rest, either; you have to nurture the needs of your heart and your mind as well, which could include spiritual time, time with family and friends, you name it.
Is that it?
No, there’s certainly more. But this article is long enough as it is.
The soul of it is this: Whatever line of work you’re in, you are a human being. That means you have a heart, a mind, a body, and a spirit (the boundaries of all these are up for debate, of course… but that’s for another article). And it pays to pay attention to what all of your needs are, if you want to show up at your best.
If you’ve never heard of the TED conference before, you’re in for a treat.
Every presenter at the "Technology, Entertainment, and Design" conference (which happens yearly in Monterey, California) is a thought leader, inspirational figure, or leader in their field, so watching the videos of their presentations is a great way to catch a glimpse of some very influential figures about what’s on their cutting edge. And at about twenty minutes a piece, they make for great lunchtime viewing, too…
The other day I watched Mathieu Ricard’s talk (it’s well worth the time to watch it); Ricard is a Buddhist monk of French origin who has been living in the Himalayas for at least twenty years or so now, and has earned the moniker of "world’s happiest man."
As Ricard shared about cultivating happiness through "mind training", he mentioned, almost in passing, four characteristics that caught my attention: serenity, inner strength, inner freedom, and confidence. They jumped out at me, because I felt that they were four key qualities worth pursuing in the practice of living the Monkish lifestyle.
I’d define serenity as the experience of peace; a quietude in your being, as if you are, in body and mind, at complete rest. It doesn’t mean you aren’t in motion, it just means that whatever you’re engaged in, you’re 100% there, and not feeling pulled or pressured to be anywhere but in your moment.
Strength, in my opinion, is about both power and resiliency. Chapter 76 of the Tao Te Ching states:
…softness and tenderness are attributes of life,
And hardness and stiffness, attributes of death.
Just as a sapless tree will split and decay
So an inflexible force will meet defeat.
Having the ability to marshal your inner resources when needed is one aspect of strength, and so is sovereignty. But equally important is the ability to compromise, flex, and bend with the forces of nature that we are a part of, but often forget that we aren’t separate from.
A slave is one who must act not from her own will, but at the direction of another. And while we’d all like to think of ourselves as free, how free are we? Where do you get caught in the tides of popular opinion, culture, or just plain ol’ desire for something you don’t have? When you hand the reins of your self-determination over to anything outside you, no matter how subtly, you’re giving away your inner freedom. Living free means living by a deep, inner awareness of what’s right for you in every moment.
It doesn’t mean that you aren’t open to learning from others, of course. But it does mean that you take what you get from the world around you and trust your own heart’s determination about whether or not it’s right for you. Which leads us to…
Defined as, "belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities", the word "confidence" sources from the Latin roots con + fidere, or "with" + "trust."
Do you trust yourself? Do you trust in your own heart? Your resolve? Your commitments to the values you hold most dear, whether they’re values like compassion, love, honesty, and valor, or truth, virtue, service, and fairness?
When push comes to shove, can you rely on yourself to make the kinds of choices you know in your heart to be right?
Have you had moments like this? Would you like more of them?
With any of these characteristics, the way to cultivate them is two-fold:
- Pursue them directly, and
- Learn how to regain them when you lose them.
It’s great to be able to sit in a quiet place and be still; and yet, for those of us who have chosen to be a part of an active society on a daily basis, times of seclusion tend to be much less prevalent than times of immersion in the busy work-a-day world. In an environment rife with distractions, being able to regain your focus when you lose it is critical to your mental well-being.
There was a great line in Evan Almighty, where Morgan Freeman (reprising his role as God, from Bruce Almighty) said,
Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?
Having time in your day to devote to spiritual practices—time when you sit in meditation, for example, to cultivate awareness and inner quiet—is essential… and, so is the active practice of regaining your calm when life’s events draw you away from it.
For example, being able to stop your cycles of emotional over-reaction, and eventually diffuse them altogether, is just as important—or more important, some might say—as time spent in direct pursuit of serenity through sitting quietly and learning to quiet your thoughts.
How? Well, there are a lot of methods out there: EFT, Sedona method, the Work, Doyletics, NLP, Hypnosis, you name it… I’ve tried a bunch of them, and there are many I haven’t tried… but less important than having a multitude of methods, I believe, is to have one or two that you’re fluent in, and can use when you need them.
The trick, of course, is consistency in using them, though, isn’t it? How many methods of personal healing do you know or have you tried? And how often do you use them? My guess is that you’d agree that the more you practice, the easier it becomes, and, the more likely you are to use them to get you through the rough spots in your life.
Why not get (back) into the habit of cultivating Ricard’s four qualities in your life, starting today?
Image by by GNU license via Wikipedia
When I was in my early twenties, I was learning Chinese martial arts from a Taoist teacher (known as a "Shr Fu"). In addition to teaching us how to
seriously maim anyone who might want to mess with us defend ourselves, there were also some lesser publicized teachings available to the student who knew to ask.
One of those was in "bone setting", which is where I learned some very handy tricks, including how to set my (and other people’s) joints that have gotten out of whack (ankles, shoulders, wrists, fingers, etc.). Very handy to know in a pinch. Another was meditation.
Here (unlike bone setting), the instruction wasn’t all that detailed. Basically, I was told to sit, focus on a certain point in my body, and breathe. And, as best I could, empty myself of thought.
But, as anyone knows who has tried to meditate, it’s much easier said than done. I futzed through a few months of trying, but gave up not long afterward. Not surprisingly, most people I talk to about meditation have found themselves in the same boat.
Fast-forwarding a couple years, I got involved in energy healing and spiritual development, and in the school I went to, we meditated together every morning for about 45 minutes. Some were silent, and in others, we were guided through a process. And all of it was fantastic.
Having my teacher up in front of us all made it so easy to connect, to quieten, and to relax into the process.
But then, I went back home…
And again, I floundered.
Whenever we were at school, meditating became simple. On my own, though, it was a supreme challenge to stay with it for more than ten minutes.
Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only student in this situation, and we asked our teacher if we could record him leading us through a meditation session, so we could listen at home. He agreed, and the resulting tape became a well-worn favorite of mine for years. It helped me get and stay focused when I was on my own, and it made a world of difference in the depth of my meditation, and in the progress I made in developing my self-awareness.
Since that time, I’ve seen a number of "meditation aids" out there, and sampled a few myself. Once you get used to a particular audio recording, it can be a huge boon to your individual practice.
The moral of the story, of course, is to seek help when you need it. Also easier said than done at times, I realize, but consider the alternative.
Question for you: When have you tried something and floundered, and then found help from an unexpected hack? Leave a comment and share it with us.
(for those of you not-so-internet-lingo-savvy folks, a "hack" is a way of doing something that’s not typically known, or thought of, but saves your bacon big time once you’re shown what it is.)
Brand Spanking New:
I’ve just completed a set of helpful audio resources myself — but not just meditation-centered. Because there are times when meditation doesn’t float your boat, or scratch your itch; sometimes, your soul is needing a different kind of soothing. For example, you might be needing:
- a deeper sense of connection, of spiritual intimacy, of nurturing
- to clear an issue that has come up and is keeping you from feeling peaceful
- clarity about a decision you need to make, but can’t decide which path to take
- awareness about the kinds of signals you’re sending "under the radar" — but are dramatically affecting your life, your work, etc.
- to stop procrastinating and get back to productive work
- to relax, unwind, and let go of stress at the end of the day
Rather than turn to outside help, or pay for a healing/therapy session, you may want a solution that allows you to get through it on your own (and, for a lot cheaper, I might add).
Enter: Inner Peace Audio!
Inner Peace Audio is a set of seven recordings that can help you in a variety of situations… for more details about what’s included in Inner Peace Audio, click here to be taken to the just-unveiled website.
UPDATE: I’ve added (by popular request) an affiliate program to Inner Peace Audio, so if that’s your cup of tea, you’re on. The link to sign up is at the bottom of any page of the site.
Want a podcast of this? Press play, or click here to download.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, my buddy Alex Shalman, from AlexShalman.com (Practical Personal Development), recently launched his "Happiness Project." After hearing Tim Ferriss recommend Dan Gilbert’s book, "Stumbling On Happiness" (which I read, and whose TED video I’ve set up for you at the bottom of this post), I’m very, very curious about people’s findings about one of the most sought after prizes in life: good, old-fashioned happiness.
So, I’ve accepted Alex’s proposition, and here are my answers.