Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In support of Not Knowing

Threads:                        Context, Learning
Relevant recent posts:     6/24/2011     Getting unstuck

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
             — Andre Gide

…but not always “for a very long time.”
   — JT


In the course of this blog, I am gradually making more suggestions on behalf of engaging your unconscious competence and abilities to learn what clarifies and promotes your interests and well-being.

In the previous entry I sketched a frame for how we continue to build on what we have already learned. I used improving at typing, baseball, golf, and guitar playing as examples. The process of refining what has already been learned seems to involve a period of disorientation—wherein the old no longer works and the new has not yet emerged.

Before going further, here is a collection of quotes (a few of which have appeared in previous posts) in support of allowing one’s self the space in which something new can emerge… the space in which you truly do not yet know what you are in the process of learning.

Time to Grow
You see, we don’t know what our goals are. We learn our goals only in the process of getting there… You don’t know what the baby is going to become. Therefore, you wait and take good care of it until it becomes what it will.
Let it develop
My learning over the years was that I tried to direct… too much. It took a long time to let things develop and make use of things as they developed.
Life delightful
Life isn’t something you can give an answer to today. You should enjoy the process of waiting, the process of becoming what you are. There is nothing more delightful than planting flower seeds and not knowing what kind of flowers are going to come up.
             — above three quotes: Milton H. Erickson

You can't connect the dots looking forward
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
            — Steve Jobs, 6/12/05 Stanford University Commencement address
Can’t organize my life! Let it ripen on its own
[Suzuki] was beginning to see that he couldn’t organize his practice, his life, the teachings he was receiving, and the lessons he was learning. He had to let go of all that and leave it to ripen on its own. He had to adjust minute by minute. He was getting a glimpse that the way is to have “a complete experience with full feeling in every moment,” not to use each moment to think about the past or future, trying to make sense of it all. What he was coming to was not some mushy all-is-one-let-it-be approach. It included a view of oneness, but it also included the opposite—that each moment, each thing, is distinct and must be addressed mindfully, not with some vague idea of universal significance.

             — David Chadwick,“Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teachings
                  of Shunryu Suzuki.

…And three quotes that, for me, have the flavor of allowing one’s self to develop, to find a way…
Sitting quietly,
doing nothing.
Spring comes,
and the grass grows by itself.
             — author unknown, from the "Collection of Sayings from the Zen Forest"

Ellen:    “I might go back to school for creative problem solving.”
Sister:    “What kind of a job can you get?”
Ellen:    “That would be a plan. I like to make judicious use of planning, so I
             don’t think I’ll make one for this.”

             — Ellen Schneider

Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.
             — Thomas Edison

David Chadwick (1999). “Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki.” Broadway Books, a division of Random House,1540 Broadway, NY, NY 10036. p83.

Shunryu Suzuki (1904 – 1971) was a Zen teacher who popularized Zen Buddhism in the United States. He founded the San Francisco Zen Center and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. See Wikipedia entry for more.

Milton H. Erickson quotes are from posters published by the Milton H. Erickson Foundation Press. See video about Erickson.

Ellen Schneider, personal communication, Rochester, NY 4/12/11

Collection of Sayings from the Zen Forest (Zenrin Kushu) compiled by Toyo Eicho (1429-1504). This particular saying/translation was given to me by Mark Bryant. A translation of this collection is in print and available: Shigematsu, Soiku (translator) (2004 ). “A Zen forest: Sayings of the Masters.” White Pine Press, Buffalo, NY.

1 comment:

Lisa Jadwin said...

John, I'm really enjoying your blog.

Your voice comes with me. . .