The grass grows all by itself

While sitting here with nothing to do—

Yet spring comes, and grass grows all

by itself.

-Zen Master So Sahn

Feel like you’re spinning your wheels, like your stuck or trapped? The modern world’s solution is usually to try harder, to move faster. Of course, pushing ahead when you’re stuck usually means you’re getting yourself even more stuck. Think of Pooh with his head in the honey jar.

It’s helpful to remember that spring always comes whether you’ve worked for it to happen or not. And the grass grows all by itself.

If you’re stuck, do less. 

Then keep doing less until, like So Sahn, you’re doing the most difficult work of all – sitting here with nothing to do.

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Bernard Malamud six steps to persisting and the real mystery to crack

Interviewer: What about work habits? Some writers, especially at the beginning, have problems settling how to do it.

Malamud: There’s no one way—there’s so much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time—not steal it—and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.

To sum up Malamud’s advice for persisting:

  1. There’s no one way to persist.
  2. You do what you want done…by sitting down and doing it.
  3. You know you best – pick when and where works for you.
  4. Discipline is key.
  5. Block off time. Don’t just try to stuff it in.
  6. You are the real mystery to crack. You.

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Bernard Malamud on what first drafts are for

“First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. D.H. Lawrence, for instance, did seven or eight drafts ofThe Rainbow. The first draft of a book is the most uncertain—where you need guts, the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. Revision is one of the true pleasures of writing. ‘The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow’s memory,’ Thoreau said.” – Bernard Malamud

After the first step of a project or fulfilling a passion, there’s a pause. And you either go on or you don’t. You either persist or you don’t. You need two things to begin: gutsand the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. The imperfect is where play lives. Failure is the only option here.

After you’ve begun, you either keep going…or you don’t. Continuing after the first initial burst of inspiration can be a slog – joyless persistence. 

Or not. 

Malamud obviously loved the rewriting process. He called revision “one of the true pleasures of writing”.I believe him. He only published eight novels. He wrotenine novels – he burned the manuscript of his first book in 1948. His first published novel came out four years later – it’s called The Natural. You may have seen the Robert Redford movie adaptation.

Passion sparks. Play welcomes the imperfect. And the joy that can be found in persistencelets us “enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it.” That certainly sounds like true pleasure.

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What to do if you’re not a genius (and what to do if you are)

The Pulitzer-prize winning writer Bernard Malamud, in an interview in The Paris Review, had some advice for writers. This advice applies to all of us.

First, for those of us who are non-geniuses. He said, “if you’re not a genius, imitate the daring.”

This is pretty specific. Artists of all kinds – painters, musicians, writers, etc. – are routinely advised to imitate the great artists in their field. Ironically, this imitation, when fully learned, provides the technical skills and foundation for real originality.

Malamud goes further. Don’t just imitate the great ones. Imitate the daring. Daring is what is required. Leaps into the unknown are not for the faint of heart. And leaps into the unknown are the only actions that can move your life closer to what you dream of. 

I’m endlessly inspired by people that are daring. They might be musicians or other types of artists, or they more likely are living a quixotic life. When in doubt, us non-geniuses could use more daring.

But what if you are a genius? Malamud has different advice for you. “Assert yourself, in art and humanity.” No need to imitate anyone or anything. Just assert yourself and your passion. Don’t hide any longer. That is of course its own form of daring. Assert yourself in your craft and your work. And assert yourself in your everyday life, your interactions at home, in the shop, everywhere. 

There you have it – two bits of advice for everyone – geniuses and non-geniuses alike. Although I suspect we all have parts of us in each category. So we might as well follow both pieces of advice. 

 “…if you’re not a genius, imitate the daring. If you are a genius, assert yourself, in art and humanity.” – Bernard Malamud, Paris Review interview

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Awkward in a hundred ways, clumsy in a thousand, still I go on

“Awkward in a hundred ways, clumsy in a thousand, still I go on.” 
-Chinese Zen master Yueh-shan  ?

The word humility comes from the root of humus or earth. When we play close to the ground, when we screw up, when we fail we’re ‘brought down back to earth’. 

The Zen teachers were good friends with failure. Failure was welcome in their homes. Imagine the puffed up presences dominating the news cycle admitting to being awkward or clumsy! This kind of lack of acceptance of being fundamentally human, and thus fundamentally imperfect shows the presence of a delicate ego that needs the constant bicycle pump of adulation to keep from landing.

Much better to play our way through life, experimenting, failing, and learning. Like the baby animal taking its first steps or first flight, the awkardness and clumsiness is essential for success. It’s welcomed. It’s the necessary ingredient. 

And when it’s welcomed, nothing can stop us. And still we can go on.

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What does Google sell?

Google is the search engine we all use. But we don’t pay each time we search something, right? And they have a ton of other widely used services, all free – Maps, YouTube, News, Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, Translate…it  goes on and on. It’s all free.

So what does Google sell? How do they make money?

To answer that, let’s try a different question.

Q: How much did Google earn from advertising in 2018?

A: Over $32.6 billion (Source)

So, what does Google sell? Google sells YOU. Your attention, your eyeballs, and your data.

It’s been said that when a service is “free”, then the product is you. Google sells “you” to anyone who will pay.

So, Google is in advertising primarily. The search thing is just a tool, like running a magazine. 

This is a slightly roundabout way to invite you to question WHY you’re doing something, and what’s the reason you’re doing something a particular way. Why are you working? Why are you buying that brand of beer? Why are you choosing to spend money or save? Why are you watching TV or why are you choosing to exercise or play a board game with the family?

The underlying purpose of Google is to make money advertising things. It’s not immediately apparent, but with just a few minutes of thinking about, it gets pretty clear.

What’s your underlying purpose? Why are you being the ‘you’ that you are?

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Fun Facts Q & A with Rob Fletcher – Part 2

If you missed it, you can catch Part 1 here!

What is a great memory from a program? 

There is a specific recurring moment that often – but not always – happens when I’m leading corporate trainings. I can feel lifted up inside somehow and speak what I feel are some deep truths without pre-thinking or analyzing what I’m saying, just letting it through. It’s especially powerful for me when I look around and see different people nodding in unconscious agreement – connection!

What fun activities make you happy?

Playing guitar, singing, listening to music, being outside in nature, exercise (especially skating, swimming, bushwhacking, paddle boarding), yoga, working on my wood pile, living from and listening to my heart’s desire.

What movies had the greatest impact on you?

Mary Poppins, Quadrophenia, Adventures of Baron Munchauson, Brazil, Highlander – in that order.

What was your favorite childhood meal?

Chicken breast with corn and apples

What historical time period would you like to visit?  Why?

The 70s. I grew up in the 70s and I always wished I could be an adult, or at least a teenager. The 70s had my favorite pop music, the best clothes and hair styles for men, and what appears in hindsight to be the last pure freedom before the Reagan era. And no email!

When you were young what did you want to be when you grew up?

In approximate order from very young to college age: a banker, someone rich and retired, a wanderer and lover of life, a musician, a poet. I did get to be a bank teller while I was in college!

What is one of your proudest accomplishments?

Every time I’ve listened to my heart instead of what my worried mind warned.

Which of your teachers had the greatest impact on you?

Professor Jim Carse at NYU. He taught my Hinduism, Buddhism and Taosim class. He inspired both me and my best friend Jerry to drop out of college and backpack around the South Pacific for half a year. A great decision! 

My life is still guided by what he taught. Two decades later I had the opportunity to thank him personally while we were both at a poetry workshop that Robert Bly was leading.

For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?

For having met Laura, the love of my life.

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Tolstoy shows us the difference between being civilized and a savage (hint: it’s not what you think)

“Why, of course,” objected Stepan Arkadyevitch. “But that’s just the aim of civilization—to make everything a source of enjoyment.” 

“Well, if that’s its aim, I’d rather be a savage.” – Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

We can see from this little quote how the dark side of civilization betrays itself and betrays us. We’re all trying to enjoy everything. 

What if that’s not the true aim? What if the hedonic treadmill that chasing after the pleasures plops us on isn’t the point? The Buddhists pinpoint that all suffering comes from trying to make everything a source of enjoyment.

What if the peak moments in our life aren’t ‘pleasant’? 

What if we’re at our best when we’re downright uncomfortable, a little scared even? 

And we welcome that experience in, become good friends with it? How might that revolutionize how we move through this precious life?

What if we stop trying to make everything a source of enjoyment and get a little more wild, a little more savage?

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Leo Tolstoy gives us the universal solution to all questions

“There was no solution, but that universal solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble. That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day—that is, forget oneself.” – Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

Tolstoy shows us the antidote to the misery that accompanies what David Hinton calls ‘the relentless industry of self’. There are two parts. 

First, live in the needs of the day. What is this day calling from us? This is a different question than asking ‘what can I get done today’ or ‘how can I have fun today’ or ‘how can I get away from what’s troubling me’. 

Second, forget oneself. One day alone is larger than our little ego could ever be. Forget yourself. Forget your plans, your worries, how you’re perceived, if you’re making the right moves or not. Passion helps with this – we can get lost in flow. And purpose helps with this – do what we do today for someone else’s benefit, not our own.

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Leo Tolstoy tells us how change happens

“In spite of the fact that science, art, and politics had no special interest for him, he firmly held those views on all these subjects which were held by the majority and by his paper, and he only changed them when the majority changed them—or, more strictly speaking, he did not change them, but they imperceptibly changed of themselves within him.” –  Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

Change is gradual. Usually so gradual it’s imperceptible. Our environment – both what we consciously chose and what we chose a long time ago and is now unconscious – shapes us, changes us. Like a seashell becoming sand, the exact moment can’t be pinpointed.

Two things to remember:

1 – Make your choices wisely and deliberately. We are what we repeatedly do, as Will Durant said. That includes the quality of food, news, interactions, exercise, everything.

2 – It’s pointless to be frustrated that a change you want to make isn’t noticeably happening. Whether it’s something you want to change about yourself, someone else, or a culture, Tolstoy reminds us “they imperceptably change of themselves.”

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