A couple of weeks ago I went to a lecture that attracted me through the name that the teacher gave it, he called the lecture “Developing Common Sense.” In this lecture, the teacher – Rik Vermuyten – compared intellect with intelligence. We went over the elements that make up more intellectual thinking and intelligent thinking. We talked about what was the oldest, more developed and more recent way of thinking.

Intuition and instinct were talked of as parts of intelligence or common sense – they work more expansive (‘more Yin’)- while ratio is part of intellectual thinking, and works more restrictive (‘more Yang’).

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At most schools the predominant way of education is developing intellect – or what the teacher called uncommon sense – which from being more restrictive, leads to a decline in creativity, growth and development of the student. If the student doesn’t complement his traditional school education with other things.

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Freehand drawing exercise, as reproduced in New Methods in Education (1899), through Stephen Ellcock’s excellent facebook page

 

The teacher used the imagery of intelligence thinking as seeing the unity in reality, while intellectual thinking is about dividing reality – putting it boxes. Both have their uses of course, and without the latter we would not have a scientific method. But he emphasized that if you do not return to seeing the unity – the whole – in things, you give value to the differences (the boxes) – and you take these differences seriously. And that is where it becomes dangerous.

In line of the above, a recent practical read on Gurdjieff’s exercises to develop self-observation and self-remembering compared knowing something with understanding something:

Understanding is defined as the resultant of knowledge ánd being.

When we begin to understand what we did not understand before, there is the chance of change precisely through the understanding.

Man is a self-developing organism which means that man cannot develop under compulsion but only through internal freedom, which is one’s understanding (knowledge + being) that a man can evolve.

And it is this internal freedom element that I feel is what is missing in most teaching. This teaching without telling, that attracted me towards certain people and has intuitively told me to keep away from others.

With this lecture in mind and the experiences I’ve had with my own teachers I started to ask myself a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now: which one of the teachers I’ve met had this ‘common sense?’ And subsequently,

What is a good teacher?

At the moment, I feel writer Henry Miller comes closest to defining the type of teacher who teaches (without realizing he is) teaching when describing an old friend his as a “Living Book”:

Without being in the least aware of it, I was receiving from this man my first real schooling. It was the indirect method of education. As with the ancients, his technique consisted in indicating that “it” was not this, not that. Whatever “it” was, and of course it was the all, he taught me never to approach it head on, never to name or define. The oblique method of art. First and last things. But no first and no last. Always from the center outward. Always the spiral motion: never the straight line, never sharp angles, never the impasse or cul-de-sac.
Yes, Lou Jabobs possesses a wisdom I am only beginning to acquire. He had the faculty of looking upon everything as an open book. He had ceased reading to discover the secrets of life: he read for sheer enjoyment. The essence of all he read had permeated his entire being, had become one with his total experience of life.”There are not more than a dozen basic themes in literature,” he once said to me. But then he quickly added that each man had his own story to tell, and that is was unique. I suspected that he, too, had once endeavored to write. Certainly no one could express himself better or more clearly.
His wisdom, however, was the sort that is not concerned with the imparting of it. Though he knew how to hold his tongue, no man enjoyed conversation more than he. Moreover, he had a way of never closing a subject. He was content to skirmish and reconnoiter, to throw out feelers, to dangle clues, to give hints, to suggest rather than inform. Whether one wished it or not, he compelled his listener to think for himself. I can’t recall ever once receiving advice or instruction from him, yet everything which issued from his mouth constituted advice and instruction … if one knew how to take it!
– Henry Miller, Chapter Living Books in The Books In My Life

What, in your experience, are the qualities of a good teacher?

Observing people has always been one of my favorite pastimes. I enjoy setting myself down with a book in a local café, pretend that I’m reading and then take a look at how the bartender is stressing out over clients, how people are enjoying or disliking listening to the story of a friend, people fighting verbally in cycling traffic, awkward situations of people meeting an old friend they would rather avoid today, other observers realizing you’re also observing, all of that… I love it and every time it teaches me something.

Recently, this fascination of observing people’s daily behavior has gotten a bit more specific through the stuff I’ve been reading and the teachers I’ve met formally and on the streets. My observation has shifted towards the physical behavior of people: the postures they hold, hand gestures they use, their facial expressions, what parts they are holding when walking, etc.

What I try to do often, is when a certain posture intrigues me is try to mimick it and observe how it makes me feel or what I associate with that posture.

I have been focusing my attention on different closed and open positions – both static and dynamic – and what they communicate to me, and maybe communicate in a universal way that everyone intuitively understands.

Better than to explain it, you can test for yourself with some of the artworks, pictures and videos by either putting yourself in these postures or observing your first associative thoughts with the postures. Observe some of these paintings for example:

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Nick Cave’s posture and facial expression during this song:

Compare this to what the following communicate:

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Or Jack Lalanne “working out his face” and Henry Miller’s general playful open posture and mannerisms all over his documentary:

Also, one example everyone probably has heard of, is the test of the ‘fake smile’ research where they showed that holding a stick between your teeth – creating a fake smile – showed “physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress.”

Further, one of my “street” teachers once shared with me that he used simple coordinative movements to relax people who were suffering form high stress and tension in a psychiatric hospital.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff in his “Work” spoke about his method of using movement as a way to bring about certain thoughts and feelings:

You ask about the aim of the movements. To each position of the body corresponds a certain inner state and, on the other hand, to each inner state corresponds a certain posture. A man, in his life, has a certain number of habitual postures and he passes from one to another without stopping at those between.

A student of Gurdjieff, Jerry Brewster, in his Loft Tapes of group work sessions, explains it in a compelling vicious cycle of our habits. He shares that

Our habitual postures are connected to habitual emotions and habitual thoughts in a strange dance – if you have a certain association, then you take a certain posture and have a certain feeling, so it’s very difficult to think anything new, to feel anything new, or to sense in a new way – if you try to change it’s impossible because each center is supported by the other two.

Further, if beyond the intuitive understanding of this you want a scientific backing of this subject, Stanley Keleman has spent a lot of research on this topic that he named Emotional Anatomy.

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Jerry Brewster talks about the importance of struggling with these habitual reactions physically, emotionally and mentally to make a change – to break this habit loop:

posture > emotion > thought

thought > posture > emotion

emotion > thought > posture

Brewster proposes that, “if I can interfere with a posture then I find I’m free of both the emotion and the thought tied to that posture.”

The first thing is to become aware of our postures we go back to when we have certain thoughts or emotions – this is where Gurdjieff claims that the problems lies because we do not know what our habits are but to me this is also where the fun part begins: from observation, you start to observe what your habitual postural habits are and start to play games with it.

Gurdjieff suggests that

Taking new, unaccustomed postures enables you to observe yourself inside differently from the way you usually do in ordinary conditions.

Therefore ways of using this knowledge in your daily life could be:

  1. to play through self-observation with your postural habits and the associations and identifications you make with these
  2. you can practice open static postures and dynamic movements to create the effect you’d like to evoke

For both of these it would mean that you will need to become aware (“to stop sleeping”) of your existing habits, and in best case that an honest and caring (group of) partner(s) helps you to become aware.

A couple of examples of the work of people I’ve met who promote this practice using movement as a tool I shared below.

 

A couple of weeks ago I went to a session that was named “nature as coach.” One of the interesting exercises the teacher did with our group, was the following:

the teacher had us state a question on a problem we had to deal with in our mind, then we had to take a stroll in the park and stop at the first thing we noticed that intuitively we felt could provide us of an answer.

One of the women in this group shared her experience. Her problem was that sometimes she had dark thoughts and her question was what she could do to deal with these. Her solution when taking a walk came in the form of a tree with a really big trunk and enormous set of roots.

She said that the sight of this tree signified grounding to her. The trunk told her to ground herself back to the earth instead of diving deeper into the problem.

The teacher thanked her for sharing her observation. The follow-up was what I liked most about this walk: she asked everyone in the group to share what they saw in the tree-trunk in relation to the problem.

One rather pessimistic woman told us she thought the roots gave her the feeling of getting strangled. I saw shadow and light in the tree which to me made clear that both are part of nature and by consequence part of life. As more people shared their interpretation, I realized something I had just read in a book by Jodorowsky:

“For me they are no different, reality and dreams.”

We noticed that each of us saw a different reality in the same tree or focused our attention on completely different aspects of the tree.

Contemplating on this story today, brought me back to the days when I was reading a lot of the stoic philosophers who have this exercise of objective representation to deal with a certain problem.

An example of this technique of Marcus Aurelius I still enjoy to not allow myself to be impressed by strong personalities (17):

“Think about what they are like when they’re eating, sleeping, copulating, defecating. Then think of what they’re like when they’re acting proud and important, when they get angry and upbraid their inferiors.”
– Marcus Aurelius

The stoics believed that people are not troubled by things that happen to them but by their judgements of what happened to them. This brings me to The Work of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff I have been researching on and off for the past year or so. g-i-gurdjieff

In the works I’ve read on Gurdjieff it seems to always come down to start with the exercise of constant self-observation.

Gurdjieff makes a distinction between Inner States and Outer Events. The exercise lies in making this distinction in ourselves at all times. This is the start of the personal work that he proposes.

By purifying our inner life, we kind of change the way we see our relationship with outer events that happen to us. And if we realize that a certain inner life attracts a certain outer life, we will change the nature of events that will come to us.

One way to do this is to define the nature of the Outer Event to make it more clear instead of going with your immediate emotion, similar to objective representation of the stoics.

For example when you lose your phone, you could say “This is called losing something.” Or when someone sends you a text with bad news “This is called receiving bad news.”

Define the Outer Event before it influences your Inner State. As a consequence, this implies that towards most events that happen to us, one has to react not at all. To let the Inner State stay unaffected, to learn to be passive.

“Oh, he’s very new.

“Welcome to the group!”

This was how a senior Malaysian lady — they called them “aunties” — greeted me when I arrived at my first meditation retreat in Taiping Malaysia, after I told her I had no experience with this whatsoever.

This one sentence kind of embodied the all-around feeling I had of the community I would be spending my next two weeks with: warmth and support in our common body/mind practice.

What I’m going to do in this post is share some of my notes of the Practice Workshops and Dhamma talks that were organized during the day. Raw from the notebook, not too much structure, without too much extras added and emphasis where and how I emphasized in by book.

Before I start I’d like to thank my teachers Kit Laughlin and Patrick Kearney for sharing their amazing knowledge and experiences with us. Every morning Kit taught a stretching & movement meditation class, followed by afternoon sessions of lying down meditation. Patrick taught us the basics concepts in Vipassana meditation through theoritical and practice sessions. Both of the teachers also made time for personal questions about the practice.

Looking back at this experience one year later, I now realize this retreat was a life-changing event for me so I’d like anyone who has any doubt about attending this type of events to get a clear view what goes on here. For more info about this retreat, look up the website here: http://www.sasanarakkha.org/

Finally, if I can share one personal thing about practicing the mind— especially for Westerners like me who focus on knowing everything before starting — is that intellectually understanding what it is about doesn’t change much, you just have to practice a lot.

Day 1

Today Kit taught us how to get into the sitting meditation posture:
– Sit down on the floor with your legs crossed and lean forward with an arch in your back
– Sit back again and keep the arch in your low back when sitting back down on your cushion until you’re settled
– Sit up straight and feel a kind of soft activation of the abs
– Lift your chest slightly up and forward
– Chin back (think “rope pulls your head up”)
– Hands can be placed in different positions: palms facing up/down on the knees, fingers crossed on your lap,… pick a position that feels right for you can that keeps your shoulders from moving forward

Day 2

First Lying Down Meditation today. As many of the retreatants did, I fell asleep.

We had an introduction session with the other “rookie meditators” today. A lot of the beginner questions were answered here, which really felt like a relief to me. Good to know I wasn’t the only one worrying about these things.

Some typical questions:
– Why do you guys bow three times before meditating? Is it necessary?
– Is it normal to feel pain during sitting meditation? Is it ok or should I stop meditating?
– What is the “best way” to meditate?

Basically the teachers explained that there was no dogma in their approach of teaching meditation. The goal at the retreat was for each of us to experiment, have fun with the different options you have within sitting, walking and lying meditation — and eventually leave the retreat with a meditation practice we can sustain and further develop at home.

One analogy that Patrick Kearney, our teacher, used was the following:

“Kids learn electronics by themselves because they make it a game, they make it fun.”


A quote that always got my attention when I entered the practice hall.

Day 3

Dhamma talk on the difference between doing something with awareness vs mindfulness.

Example:
Driving your car through a couple of streets and arriving at home without really remembering how you drove home. You did this with awareness (or else you would have probably killed someone), but not mindfulness (no remembrance of what you saw for example during you drive home).

Day 4

Introduction of different options for grounding objects during the morning Practice Workshop. The grounding object in meditation is the thing you focus on when you sit/walk/lie down/stand.

We played around with concentration on
– breath (rising and falling, counting breaths,…),
– sound,
– and feeling (soft/hard, dry/wet,…).

During the Dhamma Talk we went a bit deeper into the concept of the Grounding Object and the Secondary Object.

A quick definition:
Grounding object = the home base
Secondary object = where our mind goes if we lose attention on the grounding object

On the eventual goal of our meditation practice, Nirvana, Patrick said:

Nirvana is the end of the path where there is nothing more to gain. It’s a one way street.

On memories:

Memories are a fiction made in your mind. Within these fictions we find certainty.
But, ask yourself, without these series of stories,
Who would I be?

Another set of definitions of Nirvana that Patrick gave us:

Nirvana is complete spontaneity without any baggage from past experiences.
Life lived without the concepts of narrative.

By striving for this we find freedom of action that would otherwise be impossible.

Three fires that keeps us from attaining this are:
1. Attachment/desire/greed
2. Aversion/hatred
3. Delusion/ignorance

Fuel feeds the “fire.”
Our goal is to find the fuel — to find out what feeds our suffering — instead of just focusing on the fire, the suffering itself.

What is the source?
What are the attachments?
What do we cling to that feeds our desires, aversion and delusions?

Or,

What are attachments that could cool down the fire?

“Why do we meditate? What are we doing in meditation?”
We meditate to find out what the fuels are to feed the fire.
We are training to see this just as it is.

In life we’re are constantly creating stories/narrative to fit what happens to us, to our desires.

So the goal of the meditation technique is to see everything as it really is — to change our relationship to experience.

The type of meditation we were taught was called Satipatthana or Mindfulness Meditation, which consists of 4 aspects:
– Body
– Feeling
– Heart
– Mind

The interesting thing about this method is that it is not object-specific and not technique-specific, which basically means you can customize it towards your tendencies.

In contrast, when you’re doing Transcendental Meditation you have to focus on a certain mantra. If you lose the mantra, you’re not meditating. In visualization, you need to concentrate on a sight: lose it, and you are not meditating.

In Mindfulness Meditation, say you’re meditating for 30 minutes of which you were distracted for 25 and focused on your breathing for 5 — then you are still “meditating” if you were mindful of the fact that you were distracted. You kind of caught the distractions with your mind.

On this type of meditation not being technique-specific: you can do it anywere: you can walk, sit, or practice lying down.

They are all different exercises to attain the key of this practice: your re-education towards experience.

Satipatthana Meditation is meant to be lived.
Mindfulness is a daily activity, a habit that reminds you to be aware.

Day 5

We practiced awareness of a couple of different elements in using breathing as the grounding object in your meditation:
– Notice the length of breaths
– When does your breath start? When does it finish?
– What direction does the breath go? Vertical? Horizontal? Spiraling?
– Where do you feel the breath move in your body?

In this way, you learn that — if you’re really mindful about the breath — meditation will never be boring because it’s never the same. If it’s always the same, then you’re not mindful.

On Right Effort vs. Wrong Effort:

If there’s strain, then it’s wrong effort.
You should not try to make it happen, don’t force it.

If you’re straining, good you’re mindful of it — just stop the practice. No biggie:
“Sometimes breathing goes on a lunch break.”

Watch the movements, don’t do them.

In the Dhamma talk we went a bit deeper into how we react to what happens to us:

Normally our experience when something happens to us is:

“Did I win/lose/gain something?”

In mindfulness we learn to look at the situation as it is:
It doesn’t matter what happens.
It matters that you are aware of what happens.

We follow our experience wherever it takes us. Yes, it’s hard.
And it is hard exactly because we have a fixed idea of what should happen to us.

People have concinved themselves that they know what is supposed to happen to them while it would be better to learn to be open to unpredictability, be ready to adapt because that is how the world works.

Day 6

Practice on using the body as object vs feeling as object.

For example: watching the breathing vs feeling the breathing.

“Feeling is so obvious that we don’t notice it anymore.”

Our response — how we are moved by the experience:
– Pleasant: craving
– Painful: aversion
– Neutral: delusion

On the distinction of physical vs emotional/mental as a problem in Western culture vs Buddhism:

“Memories of past experiences are embodied in your physical body.”

“If I know that mindfulness is part of the body, then everything you do becomes part of mindfulness.”

The delusion of naming/labeling everything:

“As soon as the mind comes up with a name for it, the problem is we think we get it.”

“If we name things differently, we live in a different world.

Mindfulness meditation is like a new habit you put on top of everything you were already doing:

Continue what you’ve been doing in your life, but do it mindfully.

“It’s not about the thinking or no thinking.
It’s about the mindfulness of the thinking.
It’s not about the ‘something’ but
the awareness of the ‘something.’
Learn it as a new habit: the awareness of … .”

Day 7

Today we learned about how “when you are not mindful of the images the mind throws up, you allow it to develop into a story instead of being of ware of the thinking spark.”

The goal was to note these sparks: to become deliberately aware of them.

We were told that:

Thinking is not the problem.
Your relationship to thinking — the addiction — is the problem.

On the commitment principle:

We believe the stories
we tell ourselves.
And then we try to live
in a way
that makes these
STORIES
true to life.

Then we proceeded to do an experiment, on of my favorite exercises during the retreat: “Treat all your thoughts as lies. Treat them as not serious. Because the thoughts are not important, our relationship to the thoughts is. Try to objectify your thought stream, try to objectify your though subjectivity. Stand back and observe.”

This exercise reminded me of a quote on False Perceptions of Marcus Aurelius and taught me that there are a lot of parallels between all of the stoicism I had been reading and the theory I received during these talks, only the practice of the stoics and the buddhists seemed a bit different:

Your ability to control your thoughts — treat it with respect. It’s all that protects your mind from false perceptions — false to your nature, and that of all rational beings. It’s what makes thoughtfulness possible, and affection for other people, and submission to the divine.
– Marcus Aurelius, Book Three

A line from this exercise that’s in my notebook from this exercise that I think is pretty funny:

Hi False Perceptions!
I know what you came here for.
But what you are telling me
IS ALL A LIE!
SO, PLEASE GO AWAY!”

In the evening we had a Dhamma talk on Mindfulness as Memory and How That Connects with Wisdom.

  1. Mindfulness

Keeping in mind the present.
Remembering the present.

What happens NOW
contained what happened BEFORE.
What happens NOW
is constructing THE FUTURE.
This is how learning and understanding happens
OVER TIME.
In one moment
not much is happening,
things develop,
CULTIVATE
over time.

2. Retentiveness

The capacity to wait for something to emerge, which means
you must be willing to
LIVE
with
FAILURE.

3. Memory

The ability to bring out from
THE DEEP PLACES OF THE MIND
something that was stored there once.
By dealing with and going through
all these problems
we are developing a skill.

4. Lucidity of wisdom

To see patterns and directions.
How do I navigate this data?
How do I move with it?

Mindfulness practice is
being aware
in such a way that
WISDOM
can emerge.

Move smoothly.
Track it.
There’s a flavor to it. Notice it. How does it feel?
The present expands!
It takes time.
Old habits keep emerging.
We forget. We remember. We forget. Remember…
Just keep working on the skill.
Develop a curiosity for it.
Make it a craft.
Play. Experiment with it.
Modify it and over time
develop your creativy
and MOLD IT TO YOURSELF.


My favorite spot for lying meditation practice.

Day 8

In the practice workshop today we worked on the difference between:

to be aware of vs. to be aware in

A valuable lesson on practice I got today (especially being a person who put in a lot of time training) is that “in practice it’s impossible to fail because it’s practice.” Also a sign of progress in meditation was explained as “becoming aware of the fact that you’re distracted,” because there is a difference between “being distracted and knowing you are distracted and being distracted and not knowing you are distracted.”

The subject of the evening Dhamma talk was Vedanna or the affective aspect of experience, the aspect of an experience (for example eating and the flavour of the food) that we enjoy:

Vedanna is
the world as
we are given it
before we make
something out of it.

Day 9

Body, feeling, heart and mind — as meditation objects:

  1. Body – all physical experience

5 senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching

When using the body as a meditation object, you always come back to the body during your meditation and by doing that you come back to NOW. That’s why the body is a good meditation object to work with.

2. Feeling — that which has the capacity to move us

Beauty vs. ugliness
Where do my eyes linger vs. where do the eyes skip over?

It’s important to get sensitive to what it is I am doing to realize what is meaningful to me? What is my desire in a deep sense?

Superficial desires
What I want now?

Deep desires
What are my deepest aspirations or what do I want do accomplish before I die? What am I doing with my life? What is it for?

We want to LIVE BETTER
but in order to
DO THAT
we have to become sensitive to what
we’re doing
NOW.

3. Heart/Mind — our experience package

The aware-center.
What undergoes the experience
The Soul: the felt essence of a person.
One’s inner state: how I am at this present time.

For example:
“How are you?”
– “Good.”
vs.
“How are you?”
(you go into a meditative state, look deeply inside, and explain ‘how you are’ at this time)
– “I am … at this time.”

Awareness is like water: pure, transparent.
Meditation is about clarifying awareness.
To open this all up:
Where are my decisions coming from?
Why do I ‘got to do this?’
What’s going on?
What’s moving me?
How am I moved?
And how can I make better decisions?

Day 10

“What is the practice for?”

Think of painting.
It starts with a single dot.
Then one more,
one more,
one more,

And suddenly a pattern emerges.

The meaning is in the pattern because from the pattern an insight follows.

It’s the distractions in our practice where we get the eventual insight from:

We’re developing concentration,
but there’s value in the “cracks” of our concentration:
the cracks are packages of experiences we can learn from.
We have to ask ourselves: what is feeding this? what is the cause?
This is how we learn from the patterns.

“Settle into your pain, just as you would in your
FAVORITE EASY CHAIR.”

Patrick mentioned 5 obstacles that disturb our practice:

  1. Desire
  2. Hatred
  3. Stiffness and dullness: too little energy
  4. Restlessness and worry: too much energy
  5. Paralytic doubt “I can’t do anything”

We should note these in our meditation both in

  • presence: is the problem?
  • absence: is the problem not there? (was it there before?)

We need to familiarize ourselves with the patterns by asking ourselves questions:

  • What do I do that FEEDS these obstacles?
  • How can I abandon this, let it go?
  • How can this aspect of this problem be outgrown so it does not return?

What we need to do is to develop mindfulness so we learn to recognize this ‘presence or absence’: a continuity of awareness which has a smoothness to it, a smooth flow.

A clear perception stimulates mindfulness.
How do I make it stronger?
Encourage it?
Learn to live in it?
Through developing an understanding
based on seeing
experience as clearly
as it is.
A different way
of seeing the world.


The little tree and the big tree. I laughed at my over-obsession with progress.

Day 11

“The wise treasure the awareness they have cultivated as their most precious possession.”

Today, we talked about insight:
about training ourselves to

notice change

We learned that if you want to develop INSIGHT,
you need to become interested in CHANGE.

“The insight meditator becomes a ‘connoisseur of change.’”

One consequence of this, is that you can never get bored in your practice — and if you do get bored, it means you’re NOT seeing the change.

We were told to continually ask ourselves: “what’s new?” because

Wisdom is like a breeze flowing
through an open window.
You cannot control the breeze,
but you could open the window.

We make it complicated,
because we want something out of it.
It’s the consumer-mentality:
“What’s in this for me?”

The only thing you need to do is to be aware of the body
without wanting to get something out of it.
Without a sense of something to win or to lose.
It is just
WHAT IT IS.
Once we realize we don’t want something from it,
it’s great.
It is just what it is.

We need to cultivate a sense of PLAY with it:
to practice at this moment just for the sake of practice.
We work to get something, we play just for it’s own sake.
That is why you need to EXPERIMENT.
To get a sense of intimacy with the practice.
Experiment because it opens up RIGHT EFFORT.

At the end of the evening Patrick shared a story about a retreat he attended where it was constantly raining.
In short, the ‘tourists’ who were attending the retreat were complaining because of the constant rain. They said “the rain was bad!”
The teacher then went on sharing a story about the farmers outside the retreat location who were probably very happy right now because the rain gave them a nice harvest: they thought “the rain is good!”
Finally, the teacher concluded that both of them were looking at rain with wrong judgment:

The rain is not bad.
The rain is not good.
The rain is just wet.

Day 12

We talked about two phases of insight:

  1. Before independence: desire, aversion, delusion
  2. After independence

In phase 1 “we want something better than THIS, so we practice to get it.” The practice is instrumental.

We have ideas, fantasies about what we want in the future created by delusions.

In phase 2, independence, any alternative to THIS becomes really impossible because you became very intimate to THIS.

We realize that

everything that happens,
happens because of multiple
other things
out of my control.

Show me your current state of mind!
Show me who you are!

Who am I?

No description works.
No concepts work.

What is real is
WHAT WE DO.

Performance,
not description.
Not the stories others tell about us
No the stories we tell ourselves.

YOU can not be described.
I can not be described.

I live independently,
not clinging to anything
in the world.

How do you live independently?

  1. We uncover to what we cling, we uncover our distractions. That’s why knowing our distractions is so important: we learn form them.
  2. Relax
    If we relax — at some point — we let go.
    Clinging takes energy.

Doing the dishes is good practice.

Day 13

Today’s Dhamma subject was “How do you find The Truth?”

How do you find the truth, in a society where there are already many truths?

How do you live?
Greed.
Hatred.
Delusion.
The characteristics of The Unwholesome.
It means they are not whole.
Because they have something extra? or less?
They pursue a lifestyle that HARMS them.
Why would you go after something that’s hurting you?
BUT…
everyone is doing it!
AHAH!
Unwholesome or wholesome?
Blameless or blameful?
I don’t know,
what do you think?

Non-greed. Anti-greed.
Non-hatred. Anti-hatred.
Non-delusion. Anti-delusion.
=> Long-term welfare & happiness list of ingredients.

The four sublime states:
1. Love/loving kindness
2. Compassion
3. Joy
4. Equanimity

These are the universal values for a stable, civilized society.

If everything depends on
YOUR EXPERIENCE,
then isn’t it important
to train
to clarify
what is your experience?

Imagine you’re
always moved
in a smooth way.
Never in a hurry.
Calm.
Free in attitude.
Steady in his practice.

Day 14

Who/what is the Buddha?

One who knows,
One who has woken up.

A collection of qualities developed to the ultimate degree.
A posture that embodies these qualities.

Day 15

Our last full day today.

“It’s not for sure.”

Things that start, end.
Endings are bad.
Endings are good.
No, endings are just things that happen to things that start.

Kit and Patrick talked about most people have lost their connection with their body and the signals it gives you.

When the body is calm, the mind has more chance to become calm as well.
When the body is agitated, the mind has less chance to become calm.
So calming the body is a good first way to calm the mind.
“You need to prepare the instrument.”
When you are more comfortable, more relaxed in your body, your mind practice can develop faster.

Day 16

My last day at the retreat.

I talked a little to Kit Laughlin before leaving and he told me about the name of his company: Shoshin — Beginner’s Mind.

“At 29, 30 years old I came by this
and realized you can’t
really learn anything new
if you don’t have Beginner’s Mind.”
– Kit Laughlin

Words to live by

October 25, 2016 — Leave a comment

A lot of books read over the years condensed in a short set of words with deep meaning to me, as a daily reminder to myself.

10 words to live by

Antifragile

things that gain from disorder. trial and many small errors. de-centralize the trials.

Exemplar

embody what you’re trying to say so you don’t have to speak to say it.
learn to never compromise on your values. find your meaning in life and let it guide you.

Human

always choose the most human option. community, not business. human beings, not clients. doing and reacting, not planning. being, not working.

Eudaimonia

virtue. to consider what is really good and how to achieve it. human flourishing. practical and ethical wisdom.

Ataraxia

think of Seneca, Marcus, Epictetus, Montaigne. inner citadel. freedom from anxiety. objective representation. to see things as they really are. no false perceptions.

Prosoche

the art of attention. mindfulness. vipassana. breathing. remember yourself to be aware.

Memento Mori

remember you’re going to die. don’t live as if you have endless years in front of you. no such thing as down-time, no such thing as free-time — all you’ve got is lifetime.

Adaptive

nature is chaos. change the only constant. above all, be adaptive.

Erudite

develop knowledge/skills based on personal preference, intuition — not utility. take long walks and walk slow. use procrastination as a natural clock. become better at doing nothing, that’s where your mind goes to work. sprezzatura, style over efficiency, productivity.

Play

everything is an experiment. it’s all lighter than you think.

Three mental exercises of Stoic philosophy you can use to enjoy life.

How am I supposed to live?

No one ever teaches you that in school, right?

It’s too confrontational, too wide of a subject maybe — too hard. Our teachers probably didn’t have a clue either.

While actually, thought schools like Stoicism, Epicureanism and Scepticism in the 3rd century BC were founded to ask and research just that:

what’s a good way to live your life?

Their aim: reach a state of eudaimonia — or ‘human flourishing’, ‘happiness’, ‘joy’.

So basically these guys were trying to find the recipe to be happy — some even wrote what you could call a blueprint on how to live a good life.

One of the findings of the Stoics was that the best path to eudaimonia was ataraxia.

Ataraxia means ‘freedom from anxiety’, a state of equilibrium: the art of not getting too carried away when things go well, and not plunging into despair when things go bad. Not too up, not too down.

So in short, the first prerequisite is that you need to have control over your emotions; your emotions shouldn’t control you.

Their second finding was that one of the human weaknesses, that keeps us from enjoying life, is our ability to pay attention to the present.

Similar to Zen Buddhism, the Stoics emphasized the importance of ‘living in the now’.

The key here is to cultivate prosoche: the art of attention. Or mindfulness as we talk about it now.

As Seneca wrote:

“Anyone who clears their vision and lives in full awareness of the world as it is, can never be bored with life.”

Thus, these are the two findings of the Stoics for enjoying your life:

  • Learn to control your emotions
  • Prosoche: develop the art of attention

As always: Simple recipe. Not easy to execute.

That’s why the Stoics made a game out of it: they developed Mental Exercises or tricks to help you enjoy life more.

Here are three Mental Tricks that you can use in everyday life on your path towards eudaimonia:

1. Imagine you’re going to die

Imagine that today is the last day of your life.
Are you ready to face death?
Imagine, even, that this very instant — right now! — is the last moment of your existence.
What are you feeling?
Do you have regrets about not having done something?
Are there things you wish you had done differently?
Are you really alive right now? Or are you consumed with anxiety, panic, regret?

This type of mental exercise opens your eyes to what really matters to you and reminds you of how little time you actually have in this life, how much time is constantly slipping away.

As Marcus Aurelius wrote in his personal notebooks:

Think of yourself as dead.
You have lived your life.
Now take what’s left
and live it
properly.

I wrote a longer piece about people who actually did this here.

2. Practice Amor Fati: Love what happens to you, even if it sucks

You should be able to accept everything that happens to you as it happens to you — without always giving in to the useless desire to change the situation.

So instead of battling whatever happens to you, make it a habit of saying Yes to it. To move on, stronger.

Turn obstacles upside down so that setbacks are always expected, but never permanent. In this way what hinders you, empowers you.

Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish,
but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen,
and your life will be serene.
– Epictetus

3. Use the side-stepping technique: drop what’s bothering you and just look the other way

When Renaissance nobleman Michel de Montaigne felt afraid about dying in his later years, he knew he could not help Nature — but he also had a hard time facing reality.

That’s why he decided to just look the other way — literally. He calmed himself by looking back with pleasure over his childhood:

If I cannot combat it,
I escape it;
and in fleeing I dodge,
I am tricky.

At least once in my life I want to experience complete silence. Nothingness.

I remember one of my teachers in primary school claiming he found himself in a situation of complete silence when stuck in a desert somewhere — I don’t know if that’s true or if it can even be done but the thought of it never left me.

This attraction to silence lead me to Zen Buddhism — a subject I will start to explore more in the coming months.

I first read about it in one of the lesser known books of Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums:

“The silence was an intense roar.”
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Then through Bruce Lee’s works I went looking for a resource to get an introduction to Zen Buddhism.

It was on my reading list for three years or so but I finally started reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki is the person who brought Zen to San Francisco in the 60’s. You’ve probably seen this quote of him pass around somewhere online:

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

So I started reading the book and immediately realized that:

  1. I’m too goal-centered and that makes me nervous
  2. I should do less more often, without expecting something from it

Doing less, I will try to accomplish through sitting — Zazen.

Last year I took a class in meditation but never followed through so now I immediately put up this Habitforge-thing that sends me e-mails and asks me if I did my 5 minutes of meditation today.

The main thing I’m getting out of this book though is just to do — without constantly adding any additional results to it. I think this might be one big cause of unhappiness and stress in the Western world because I see it all around me and most of all in myself.

We’re always aiming for and keeping our eye on progress which makes us lose sight — and enjoyment — of the process.

As Robert Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

To live for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.

And that brings me to Shunryu Suzuki’s take on something we all want in some way — whether it’s in our careers, in sports, in social relationships,…- we crave progress.

Suzuki on finding progress frustrating because it’s slow:

After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little.

It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet.

Suzuki suggests you try this way of thinking and doing instead:

In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, “Oh, this pace is terrible!” But actually it is not.

When you get wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no need to worry about progress.

We can say either that we make progress little by little, or that we do not even expect to make progress. Just to be sincere and make our full effort in each moment is enough.

Therefore to continue should be more than enough. To continue should be your purpose.

Sincerely, with full effort.

When you practice, you should just practice.

If result comes, it comes.

Forget progress. Doing it should be your goal. That’s what you should attach to because that’s what you can control — true, god-honest, mindful action.

Forget progress.

Just practice.

And who knows — you might make some progress.


Charles Bukowksi is a nauseating creature.

He’s disgusting. Repugnant.

Charles Bukowski is the savage of American low-life.

These characteristics might not sound like the most uplifting reading experience, and you’re right — it isn’t.

It shouldn’t be either. That’s not life.

Realness is another word that comes to mind when describing Bukowski’s writing.

Bukowski is raw. He’s total emotion. And he delivers what he sees around him uncooked — with ZERO FILTER.

And that’s exactly why I’ve read a dozen of his works.

He writes about it all. Literally.

He elaborates extensively about his problems with women, his thoughts on taking a shit, alcoholism, his abusive father, his horrible acne during childhood, not fitting in anywhere as a teenager, the bosses he hates… he doesn’t miss a thing — he pukes it all out.

Bukowski writes about daily, ordinary life in a way only he could.

Through his style of writing he’s produced some of the most straightforward, direct — and certainly offensive — writing you will ever encounter.

Bukowski raises honesty to a level that might get too real for most. You either appreciate his stuff or choose to not tolerate the products of his mind. I don’t think there are many who kinda like Bukowksi. You either do or you don’t.

Similar to that other great in American lowlife writing, Henry Miller, Bukowksi chose a life of regress, not progress:

“What I want is to halt evolution, to go backward down the path we have taken, to back to the world before childhood, to regress, regress, regress, further and further, until we get to the place we have only lately left behind, where culture and civilization do not figure… It is time that we start to think, to feel, to see the universe in a way that is uncultivated, primitive — but this is also without doubt the most difficult thing in the world to do.” (as quoted by Brasaï in Henry Miller: The Paris Years)

Bukowski’s way of life, his books of literature and poetry have deeply influenced my thinking in the past couple years. Even though I don’t agree with everything he said or did, I do think there’s a lot of value in what he wrote.

Below I wrote down a couple of subjects he taught me about — along with a paragraph of his writing or poetry to state the point.

ALONE IS THE HUMAN DEFAULT, RELY ON YOURSELF
No one’s going to do anything for you. In the end, you’ve got to do it all yourself.

“to create art means
to be crazy alone
forever.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“What’d Picasso say?”
“Well, I asked him. I said, ‘Master, what can I do to make my work better?’”
“He said, ‘I can’t tell you anything about your work. You must do it all by yourself.’”
(Factotum)

“the price of creating
is never
too high.

the price of living
with other people
always
is.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

“there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to

watering a plant.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

THE OBSTACLE BECOMES THE WAY: TAKE IT AS IT IS & MOVE ON
Face the situation at hand as it is and work around it. Only your mind can make unbearable what happens to you—don’t be like that. Everyone has a hard time, not everyone feels the need to whine about it. Do what you can with what you have and keep moving towards what you want.

“contentment-
I wouldn’t call it
happiness –
it was more of an inner
balance
that settled for
whatever was occurring
[…]
what matters most is
how well you
walk through the fire.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

ON BOOKS
Bukowski frequently mentions the authors he read (Fante, Céline, Knut Hamsun, Hemingway,…) during childhood and how they found him/saved him at just the right time.

“To me, these men who had come into my life from nowhere were my only chance. They were the only voices that spoke to me.
[…]
“Turgenev was a very serious fellow but he could make me laugh because a truth first encountered can be very funny. When someone else’s truth is the same as your truth and he seems to be saying it just for you, that’s great.”
(Ham On Rye)

“I like to think about these people
they taught me so many things that I
never dreamed of before.
and they taught me well, very well
when it was so much needed
they showed me so many things
that I never knew were possible.
those friends
deep in my blood
who when there was no chance
gave me one.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

ON SOLITUDE
Solitude is ok. My first positive experience with solitude was when I read a quote by Picasso: “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
Before that I thought I was weird for enjoying time alone. Extroversion seemed to be a trait you needed to have to do something in this world — something I had to work on. But I didn’t like it — I’m an introvert and I got ok with that by finding out about authors like Bukowski, who became like companions in getting to know myself. I learned this thing that extroverts get energy by being around people. With introverts it’s the opposite: they stock up on energy by being alone. If you know who is you and what you need, acting upon this really helps a lot.

“I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it.”
(Factotum)

“I didn’t like parties. I didn’t know how to dance and people frightened me, especially people at parties. They attempted to be sexy and gay and witty and although they hoped they were good at it, they weren’t. They were bad at it. Their trying so hard only made it worse.”
(Factotum)

“people need me. I fill
them. if they can’t see me
for a while they get desperate, they get
sick.

but if I see them too often
I get sick. it’s hard to feed
without getting fed.”

(Live Is A Dog From Hell)

“the walls are your friends.
learn your walls.”
– What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

ON TRAVEL AS ESCAPISM
My first real thinking on the motivations behind travel came up after a quote I read of Emerson. Basically Emerson said that before you decide to travel, you should realize that you are taking YOURSELF on the holiday as well — it’s not like you’re leaving your problems all behind when leaving the country. Therefore mental clarity, clear reasoning should precede travel. Mindless traveling just because you don’t like your current situation isn’t going to fix a thing — thinking through your issues might not fix a thing either, but it’s what you should start with.

“my holiday is an
evasion, my reasoning
is not.”
(Live Is A Dog From Hell)

ON PEOPLE SEEING YOU AS THEY WISH YOU’D BE
Other people will often feel the need to expect you to become who they want you to become. Parents often do this for example. Most people don’t know what the hell they’re doing and often judge themselves unfavorably so don’t take note too much of what others tell you.

“you invented me
and I invented you
and that’s why we don’t
get along
on this bed
any longer.
you were the world’s
greatest invention
until you
flushed me
away.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

“I get too many
phone calls.
they seek the creature out.
they shouldn’t.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

“if you get married they think you’re
finished
and if you are without a woman they think you’re
incomplete.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

ON FEELING BAD ABOUT YOURSELF
Everyone has bad days. Some more than others. Bad days don’t matter, what matters is to how you react to the situation. Some people spend their whole life feeling bad about themselves: it’s their standard reaction to everything — everything that happens to them is an excuse to, again, feel miserable about themselves. Their drama is the only thing that keeps them alive, they actually crave it: it’s all they have, it’s their driving force. If you meet these people, you’ll know immediately because they love to tell you all about it, and would love it if you’d become part of their let’s-all-be-miserable-together gang. Murakami, in Norwegian Wood, wrote this about self-pity and he’s right: “Don’t feel bad for yourself, only assholes do that.”

“amazing, how grimly we hold onto our
misery,
[…]

not hours of this or days or
months or years of this
but decades, lifetimes
completely used up,
giver over
to the pettiest
rancor and
hatred.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“things get bad for all of
us, almost continually,
and what we do under the constant
stress
reveals
who/what we are.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“there’s no courage there, just the desire to
possess something — admiration, fame, lovers,
money, any damn thing
so long as it comes easy.
so long as they don’t have to do
what’s necessary.
and when they don’t succeed they
become embittered,
ugly,
they imagine that they have
been slighted, cheated,
demeaned.

then they concentrate upon their
unhappiness, their last
refuge.

and they’re good at that,
they are very good at that.
they have so much unhappiness
they insist upon your sharing it
too.

they bathe and splash in their
unhappiness,
they splash it upon you.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“I’m not a priest.
I’m not a guru.
I probably have more bad moments and self-
doubt than any of those who
phone me.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

“I have gotten so used to melancholia
that
I greet it like an old
friend.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

“Life’s as kind as you let it be.”
(Hot Water Music)


TO SEE PEOPLE AS THEY WERE, BEFORE LIFE DID IT’S MOLDING
We only see the results of people. They became the person you see in front of you by living their life. They didn’t start out this way, they became who they are now by going through the process of life. Everyone has a story. Don’t just judge the result.

“but, under all that, to me she’s the flower, I see her as she was
before she was ruined by the lies:
theirs and
hers.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

ON NOT DOING ANYTHING UNTIL IT HAS MEANING FOR YOU
Working just for working — because we like to be busy all the time — doesn’t add much value. Yes, that’s what people do. Work. Work. Work. But often it’s just senseless activity that pays the bills — or keeps you from getting bored. It doesn’t have any real value — either for you personally or for the people around you. What Bukowksi taught me is to look for meaning first, thén work at something that has meaning for you. Or if you don’t find it right away, to keep looking around ALL THE TIME. Whatever you do, never stop looking. As Steve Jobs said: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” If you don’t, you might become part of — what Bukowksi calls — the dead-before-death gang.

“The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst possible way, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.”
(Ham on Rye)

“the real miracles are the thousands of tiny
people who know exactly what they are doing.”
– What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

“Any damn fool can beg up some kind of job; it takes a wise man to make it without working.”
(Post Office)

“Only boring people get bored. They have to prod themselves continually in order to feel alive.”
(Hot Water Music)

ON NEVER COMPROMISING
Last week I read this interview with Nicholas Nassim Taleb. When asked about his greatest achievement in live he answered: “I learnt to never compromise.” From his writing — and basically the way he lived—Bukowski seems to have agreed.

“and you realized that the promises
you made yourself were
kept.
that’s plenty.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

ON FAILURE & REGRET
You can only really say it’s failure if you haven’t given it a fair try. Never bothering to try, will start eating your from the inside. Ignoring the voice inside will kill you eventually so when you start boiling — when the Beast of Intuition tells you you should do it—act upon it! As René Crevel said: “No daring is fatal!” If you fail, at least you get the lesson. Our time here is short. Memento Mori! Remind yourself often of the fact that you will be dead soon. If you realize this you’ve got nothing to lose. Don’t waste time being shy about what you want out of life.

“regret is mostly caused by not having
done anything.”
(You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense)

“I wanted the whole world or nothing.”
(Post Office)

“In the morning it was morning and I was still alive.”
(Post Office)

“and if you have the ability to love
love yourself first
but always be aware of the possibility of
total defeat
whether the reason for that defeat seems right or wrong –

an early taste of death is not necessarily
a bad thing.”
(Love Is A Dog From Hell)

And to finish up, one of my favorite Bukowski poems “Roll The Dice”:

“if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
mockery,
isolation.
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
fire.

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
there is.”
(What Matters Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire)

I’m a strong believer in doing less.

I’m always thinking about what else I can eliminate: “What’s going on around me that I can do without?”

The reason I do this is because I believe in “less is more.”

You call it corny, but most of us have it all wrong.

Some time ago this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh crossed by:

“Many people think excitement is happiness. When you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”

I believe there’s a really important message in that. One most of us could use.

Especially in this day and age where all of our senses are continually overloaded with low-value noise.

Everyone’s always looking around. Looking for the next exciting thing that happened, or might have happened. Most of the time nothing that actually matters happens happens.

We’re pushed towards this paranoid “what-is-everyone-else-doing?” thinking:

What did so-and-so post on Facebook, twitter, instagram,.. today?
What’s on the news this morning, afternoon, evening?
What’s on the blogs?
In the magazines?
Did I get any new e-mail?

And sure, we’re all supposed to keep ourselves informed on what’s going on in the world, right? But ask yourself honestly what the hell you are going to do with all of this information?

As sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld wrote:

“The interested and informed citizen can congratulate himself on his lofty state of interest and information and neglect to see that he has abstained from decision and action. In short, he takes his secondary contact with the world of political reality, his reading and listening and thinking, as a vicarious performance … He is concerned. He is informed. And he has all sorts of ideas as to what should be done. But, after he has gotten through his dinner and after he has listened to his favored radio programs and after he has read his second newspaper of the day, it is really time for bed.” 

The worth of information is in what you do with it, the action that sprouts out of it. You’re not going to get quizzed afterwards. And if it’s really that important, someone will eventually tell you.

There’s so much noise that demands we turn our view outward. At the other person. External.

The noise demands that we give it the one thing we have least of – our most valuable asset: time.

While, if happiness depends most on what’s inside us: our thinking, inner peace, tranquillity – we should be doing the opposite of looking for more and more outward noise.

We should turn to ourselves – inward.

Marcus Aurelius’ guidance on reaching tranquillity/happiness comes to mind:

If you seek tranquillity, do less.

Or (more accurately) do what’s essential.

Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.

Because most of what we say and do is not essential.

If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity.

Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”

Marcus Aurelius,
Meditations Book Four, Paragraph 24

“Is this necessary?” might be one the most important questions you can ask yourself.

Continually asking why you do or say something might be the most productive thing you can do. Because most of the time you will realize that you probably shouldn’t do it anymore.

It’s probably just best to skip it because it’s not meaningful. It has zero value.

Another take on this subject I got out of an old interview with Henry Miller. Henry, when asked about the value of work:

I don’t think what is called the work of the world – this everyday work – that gets glorified, I don’t think that it’s really so important.

I think it would be much much better if people were told to be lazy – to shake the job, to enjoy, to relax, not care, not worry. I think we would get all that work done in some other way.

We are creating this work – not because it has to be done – but because we are busybodies and we do not know how to swim on the river of life. And we prefer a kind of senseless insect-activity to a genuine activity which may often be no activity. 

I don’t say to be quiet, to do nothing, I don’t say that at all. But I do say it should have sense, it should have meaning – what we do.

And the greater part of what we do everyday has damn little meaning.

Henry Miller,
A Conversation With Henry Miller

This is also one of the reasons why I have discarded all the reading of productivity books. Reading these books is actually a paradoxical activity. It’s paranoia-inducing. These productivity gurus got it all wrong.

What they are about is fighting procrastination as if it were a bad thing. While procrastination is actually a good thing.

Procrastination is nature telling you that you don’t want to do this.

That’s why it should be used as a compass telling you that this thing you’re doing is not worthy of your time and you should get rid of it. It’s not essential. Not the other way around.

Nassim Taleb calls this feeling “the soul rebelling against entrapment.”

It is not doing more that we should be worrying about all the time, it’s doing less.

This is what Nassim Taleb feels is the meaning behind being a civilized person. From his book of aphorisms:

You will be civilized on the day you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt.

On Chance, Success, Happiness, And Stoicism
The Bed Of Procrustes

Then, more than the ability to always do more and say more, this might be the one thing we all struggle with – and therefore should ultimately strive for – the most:

To do nothing at all.

Bukowski in Love Is A Dog From Hell, his collection of poems from 1974-1977:

 

there is a loneliness in this world so great

that you can see it in the slow movement of

the hands of a clock.

 

people so tired

mutilated

either by love or no love.

 

people are just not good to each other

one on one.

 

the rich are not good to the rich

the poor are not good to the poor.

 

we are afraid.

 

our educational system tells us

that we can all be

big-ass winners.

 

it hasn’t told us

about the gutters

or the suicides.

 

or the terror of one person

aching in one place alone

 

untouched

unspoken to

 

watering a plant.