What is structure?  Things like going to bed and getting up at the same time every day; buying food that’s healthy, or not buying beer or candy; writing the first three hours of the day.

Just not buying beer to drink at home has been huge for me in making it possible to have productive evenings instead of crapping out in front of the tube.

Structure puts us in the right place at the right time.  Structure puts only healthy food before the elephant eyes of our appitite.  Structure makes it easy for us to build the kind of habits we want, and difficult to do the “bad” habits we don’t want.

Structure builds a shute around temptation to guide the elephant directly to the goal of practice.  It keeps us out of harms way, and puts us in the way of our practice, so that it’s easy to do the right thing at the right time. With time, we come to do those things almost automatically.  And this frees the energy of our minds to focus on our practice, rather than wrestle with a decision we shouldn’t have to make in the first place.

For example, I go to bed at 10 and get up at 5, whether I’m “ready” or not.  I write from 5 to 8 in the morning.  At 8 I practice yoga.  After yoga I eat breakfast, etc. 

Structure involves building riturals that correspond with the rhythms of the day so that we do our practice in time with the regular cycles of life.  This ritual cuts a channel through our brain as surely as running water cuts a channel through rock.

My Problem with Excellence

The problem for me with this whole “Wheel of Excellence” thing is that I’m more interested in non-attachment than I am in competition.

The idea of “mastery” appeals to me; the idea of “wisdom” appeals to me.  Is there a difference between these and excellence?

The end in view for the “Wheel of Excellence” appears to be peak performance; it appears to be winning some sort of competition.  But we can be “the best” and still be pretty lousy people, leading pretty miserable lives.

Mastery and wisdom feel less about peak performance and more about a way of life.

I want to live a good life.  I want to be happy.  I want to be a blessing to those around me.  I don’t want to be so consumed with being “the best” that I lose sight of everything else; that I lose my balance, my way.

Being “the best” feels one dimensional to me.  The focus is entirely upon one’s craft.  And it inherently involves comparing my own performance with that of everyone else I’m competing with.

Some other things grow out of that, of course.  The world’s best canoeist is undoubtedly disciplined, focused, and in top physical shape.  He is supremely confident.  He is committed.  He has a medal to hang on his wall, and validation of all his hard work.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with any of that.  I just wouldn’t be happy pursuing that kind of excellence, that peak performance.

I want my life to be meaningful.  I want to be competent, physically fit, and emotionally happy, with deep social connections.  I want understanding, and wisdom.

Peak performance doesn’t preclude any of those things I desire.

But when winning becomes the only thing, that light at the end of the tunnel just might be an oncoming train.

I’m OK with not being “the best.”  Maybe that makes me a “loser.”  But since I made peace with being ordinary, my life is a whole lot better.


My Lack of Commitment

I came across something called “The Wheel of Excellence” this morning, while I was reading Dan Brown’s “Mastery of the Mind East and West.”

I want to share a couple of quotes with you:

“Everything I do, whether it is weights, or running, or the normal training things, or the leisure activities I do, is all geared toward how it’s going to affect my performance. Everything is opportunity/cost. If I go out to a movie instead of going hiking as my leisure activity, what is the cost of that? If I go to the movies instead of a hike, does that help or hurt my performance. I’ve got to judge that. I’ve always thought this way. I have always dreamed about being the best in the world. Maybe that’s different from other people. ( Larry Cain – Olympic Champion – Canoeing)

You still have to be committed and still focused and still trying to win every race. I think the day that you let your commitment go is the day you don’t have a chance to win. ( Kerrin Lee Gartner -Olympic Champion -Alpine Skiing)

I don’t think like that.  I have thought that if I want to be an expert at something, that if I want to accomplish something significant, then I need to do the things Larry Cain talks about.  Everything I do should contribute to the accomplishment of my life’s vision.

But I don’t think about winning.  I can’t say whether that’s good or bad.  Maybe I don’t think about winning because I’ve been on the wrong side of so many beat downs it’s just too painful to think about.

Isn’t winning a zero-sum game?  If there’s a winner, isn’t there also a loser, that most pejorative of American slang?  Being the best, is an infinite process of making comparisons between yourself and others.  It never ends.  Even those champions will eventually have their records broken.

At what point does someone like Larry Cain do something like Lance Armstrong?  Armstrong was the epitome of a champion for so many…how many are like him I wonder?  What separates the bhikhu from the champion?  Can nonattachment make champions of people?

The Dilettante’s Tapestry

How does the dilettante compete with the expert?  How do we turn our depth of experience into something that might provide a viable alternative to a highly specialized and focused expertise?

I suspect that in order to compete with the experts we need to find a way to turn our multifarious interests into a unified whole.

Suppose we consider our dilettante from yesterday, who had 1,000 hours of deliberate practice in each of math, dance, drawing, history, and meditation.  If she tries to compete with say mathematicians on the same single axis who have maybe 5,000 to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, then she is going to have a tough time keeping up.

But if instead of competing with them directly, she combines her interest in math with her interest in drawing to help those other more specialized mathematicians in her department visualize their work, or turn their abstract concepts into a visual that lay people can understand, now she has a real value-added skill that bridges people who work in one domain with those who work in another.

She can use her interest in history to use examples from the past to deal with problems in the present, or use them as allegories that both technical and nontechnical people can relate to.

She could use her interest in dance to build the social capital of the groups with whom she works.  I mean let’s face it geeks don’t often dance.  But once they overcome their fear of dancing by someone teaching them how to dance in a safe place, not only will they find themselves having fun but will discover another avenue for relating with people.  It builds teamwork.

If she shares her interest in meditation with her group, she could both increase their collective ability to concentrate and to deal with stress, making her team much more happy and productive.

Just look at all the value our dilettante has added to her place of work!  And just by venturing out along each axis of her interests and finding ways to bring them into her work, she has taken leading roles in her company.  By looking for ways to weave the threads of our interests into a desirable and useful whole, we can satisfy the needs of others as well as our own.