Since the beginning of time, different roles have been given to the unconscious in different cultures. Of course, all this changed with the advent of one coke sniffing therapist from Vienna, and suddenly the unconscious was bad, very bad indeed. Add another 80 years, and suddenly, we are told that the unconscious decides things for us a few milliseconds before we are consciously aware of it. Damn, does that mean that evil thing is now also running my life…RATS! Add another 5 years, and more research appears suggesting the opposite…that the unconscious only decides things for us in simple motor tests…phew! saved by the bell there. But hold on, there is another piece of research that might just blow your mind….
A friend sent me this image. Since my sister’s wedding, thoughts about Roman Catholic Symbolism and language in relation to hypnosis have not stopped pouring through my head. For now, let this picture speak for itself.
Thoughts. We all have them, most of the time at least. Monks and spiritual leaders train themselves to shut their thoughts up, and get into a state of not-thinking. A state Carlos Castaneda referred to as “Stop the World”. Yet, this is not what we are aiming for today. What has recently caught my interest is the process of thought that leads to innovation and progress. Caught somewhere between daydreaming and number crunching, so to speak, we find the pendulum of progress, swinging politely in the background of our culture.
When I was 12 years old, I remember looking around and being asked: “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” While I deeply love my family and friends where I was raised, I felt something deep inside me stir, as I responded: “I don’t know what I want to do, but I know where I want to be: Not here!” And so it was that at the age of 19, I moved out, of the house I was raised in, out of the country I grew up in. Nowadays, I tend to go back home for vacation every once in a while, and in doing so, I have noticed a disturbing tendency: at the same time as I am part of that place I call home, I am also just an outside observer looking in.
After centuries of presiding over the monastery, the zen master passed away. Upon his death, all his pupils, some had been there for their entire lives, convened to discuss who would follow him. Of course, the question who would become the new zen master, led to a discussion of what qualities make someone a master. Perseverance? Clarity of thought? Enlightenment? For days and days the monks discussed.
At one point, they were sitting at the dinner table. They had been stuck for days now, and desperation slowly made the rounds. While the cook walked in, they said: “Ha, why don’t ask the cook about what makes a zen master?!” They all laughed, and then one turned to the cook and said:” Cook, what makes a zen master?”. They laughed.
Upon hearing the question, the cook froze. In his hands, he held the full pot of soup that he made to feed the monks. As their laughter died down, he still stood looking at them. Once they were silent, and without a word coming out of his mouth, he just let go of the pot, and as it fell he turned and walked away. When it lay shattered on the ground, they knew what made a zen master, and the one who would lead them forward.
It is one of the most common activities around the world, and I can confidently say we have all done, are doing it, and probably will keep doing it for some time to come: breathe. Many different (interestingly enough, mostly Eastern) traditions have devoted considerable time of study to breathing, how it affects us, and what are the best ways to utilize it. “In-then-out” seems to be quite straightforward, yet the subtleties are actually quite amazing, and once you start to learn about them, things do change….
Over the last few years, I have made it a personal habit to look for new ways of doing things in strange places. This has led me, among other places, to the very interesting world of improvisational theatre, to learn about the way they codify and utilize their understanding of human interaction. Recently, I have noticed a tendency of some business publications to follow their own advice (look for innovation in places other than your business field!), and interview at least one “non-business” person. In the last issue of Harvard Business Review, this person was Twyla Tharp, the famous choreographer and author of 2 books. How could a choreographer possibly know something about business and change that could positively change the way we work?