she is present, and can welcome all things.” — Lao-Tzu
A friend sent me this a few days ago, and these words have been working within me since then.
There are moments in life where we feel as if we are swimming in muddy water. We can’t see clearly, and the more we move, the more the water becomes murky. It looks like everything we do, everything we say makes things worst. At the point that we begin wondering if there is a way out at all.
“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?”
To stop and wait seems counterintuitive. Yet, it’s only when you stop moving and agitating the water, that the mud starts to settle.
What does it mean to stay still in your situation? What would happen if you do nothing and say nothing for a while?
“Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?”
This is the tricky part for me. Because when you stop moving and the mud starts to settle, impatience grows. The more the water becomes clear, the more the desire to see through, to get the answer raises.
It is then that your inner strength is tested.
Can you resist the desire to act and wait for the right action to emerge?
How will you recognize it?
A good sign is the feeling of detachment from the outcome. When you’re not focused on anything but the present moment, that’s when the eyes of intuition will show you the way.
You’ve probably read about the famous “10,000-hour rule”. It is widely used by many speakers and motivators. This rule says that to achieve mastery in any field, you must be ready to commit to at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
Defined by the journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, the 10,000-hours rule is based on a study on violinists conducted in 1993. According to that study, the best artists had dedicated at least 10,000 hours to the relentless refinement of their talent.
Over the years the 10,000-hour rule has become very popular but has also received much criticism. In fact, it seems to suggest that practice and discipline are the only ways to reach excellence, placing the person’s talent and uniqueness in the background.
Recently, psychologist Brooke Macnamara of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland decided to repeat part of the 1993 study. Its results show that the 10,000 rule is quite an oversimplification.
In fact, among highly qualified performers, the amount of practice seems irrelevant. Every one of them has practised a lot and keep practising even once reached excellence. Therefore there must be other factors to explain why someone reaches higher levels of mastery.
Macnamara states that “When it comes to human skill, a complex combination of environmental factors, genetic factors and their interactions explains the performance differences across people.“
Therefore, discipline is fundamental, but not sufficient to determine the final result. It must be combined with some other factors that, through disciplined practice, unleash the full potential of a person.
Another study, done in the 90s, again in the field of music, can give us a hint on where we should look at.
In 1997, Professor Gary McPherson of the University of Melbourne decided to do an unconventional experiment to answer a simple question: Why do some children are quicker than others at learning an instrument?
For his study, he randomly picked 157 children between 7 and 9 years old. For years, he followed and monitored them, keeping track of their progress using biometric tests, recording their practice sessions and doing lots of interviews.
In particular, a question proved to be very insightful.
During the first interview, even before the begin of the first lesson, McPherson asked each child: “How long do you think you’ll play your new instrument?“
Based on the answers, the children were divided into three groups depending on the length of their commitment: short, medium and long term.
What surprised McPherson was that the students of the group that had foreseen a long-term commitment improved at speed four times higher than the children of the group who planned to engage only in the short term. Even if they were doing the same number of hours of practice with the same frequency.
There it was, the most decisive element in defining the speed of learning in the kids was not the IQ or the sense of rhythm, or any particular motor skills. None of that.
The defining element was the perception of themselves that each child had, even before starting to play any note.
According to McPherson’s study, what was making some students better at learning an instrument was a voice within them saying “I’m a musician” instead of just “I’ll learn to play an instrument“.
The learning here is that when our actions are an expression of our identity, they are much more powerful and sustainable in the long term. Even for 10,000 hours.
To achieve excellence and success, we must, therefore, combine identity and discipline. Identity to design the direction and discipline to pursue it until we reach the aspired success.
We must, hence, develop what Don Miguel Ruiz calls the discipline of the warrior in his book, “The Four Agreements”.
“The discipline of being ourselves, whatever happens.“
Maybe, for 10,000 hours until we fully realise who we are.
I remember driving in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia. We were the only one on the only visible road.
Around us, just nothing.
No buildings, no mountains, no people.
Nothing but the horizon.
And it felt so close.
Or when you climb up a mountain, and you get to the peak on a sunny, crisp autumn day. Your sight can get incredibly far, and you can see more.
And there is the autumn. With all the leaves falling on the grass, revealing the core structure of the trees and leaving space for the new sprout that will arrive in Spring.
Since yesterday, the word “subtraction” has been wandering in my mind.
Throughout our life, we accumulate layers and layers of structures, beliefs, assumptions and stories. And our soul, wrapped under all these tiers, loses the ability to see clearly.
I know I did.
The same way we take the time to clean our houses and throw away old stuff, we should do for our soul, mind, heart and body.
Find some time for subtraction, peeling away what we don’t need anymore, what fog our mind and clog our heart.
And rediscover the beauty of the horizon.
“When I shifted my attention from the change I wanted back to my identity, the change I was seeking just happened.”
This is a powerful insight that a dear friend gave me yesterday.
In the past, when I wanted to change something in my life, I put all my energy and focus on the change I wanted to make.
Too many times, however, I’ve lost myself in the changes I was seeking. I was so focused on changing something in my world that I forgot who I was in that world. When that happened, I find my self lost and disconnected within the same changes I was longing for.
It is only when I shift my focus inward, that I can root my life in who I am and navigate through changes without losing my centre.
While changes can depend on many factors. I’m the only one in the whole universe, who can be me.
“Know who you are because no one is better at being you than you are.” — David Droga
There is a question that has been spinning in my head for quite a while. Probably since a was a teenager even if only lately I’ve been able to shape it with words.
How can I navigate changes, inside and outside, without losing my identity?
I am well aware that change is a constant in nature. Everything, including me, goes through a never-ending and never-pausing sequence of changes and transformations.
Identity, on the other side, comes from the Latin word “identitas”, meaning “sameness, oneness, state of being the same”. In philosophy, identity is the relation each thing bears only to itself.
When we talk about human beings, my understanding is that with “identity” we refer to the aspects of a person that make her unique. A set of properties and attributes through which a person recognises herself.
It looks like change and identity are on the opposite side of the spectrum.
How can I change without losing my identity?
How can my identity help me navigate through changes?
When I was a teenager, I discover what became one of my favourite characters of all time; Captain Nemo from “20,000 leagues under the sea”. The word “Nemo” is a Latin word meaning “nobody”. Captain Nemo was a prince who gave up his identity to be free. The motto of his submarine, the Nautilus, was the Latin “Mobilis in mobili” which may translate as, “moving amidst mobility” or “changing in the changes”.
As you can see, even if I wasn’t aware, the relationship between identity and change was already there in my early teenage days.
All of this to say that I haven’t found, yet, an answer to the opening question. Maybe there is no answer but staying in that tension, in the space in-between identity and change. But if you have found one that works for you, I’d love to hear it.
Earlier this morning, I was sitting with my eyes closed.
I was trying to slow down my heartbeat after the morning exercises.
There was a lot of noise at the beginning, but not outside. It was inside my head.
Thoughts and images spinning around chasing each other.
And my heart pumping in my ears.
So, I shift my attention outwards.
The familiar sound of my dog barking to someone or something. The engine of a car, slowing pulling away taking someone to work. The birds singing, a choir of different voices that I can’t recognize but I felt some were saying hello to the new day and others were saying goodbye to the finishing night. A kid’s voice asking for something, maybe breakfast. The cat drinking from its bowl.
Then, all of a sudden, the silence.
As if the world pauses for a moment.
I couldn’t even hear my own breath.
My body felt light as if it was made of air.
I opened my eyes, and the world burst to life with all it sounds, voices, colours, light, and smells.
It felt so alive.
I felt so alive.
I want to do it more often.
Pause and listen.
Not to achieve something, not even peace.
Just to be.