Tag Archives: Eastern philosophy

Achieving Mastery in Creative Work

david-youngWhen I was a little boy about eight or nine, I was playing in front of the TV in our Chicago apartment when an old black and white English movie came on.  I knew nothing about acting, though I had once played a tree in a skit. But there was one actor on the screen who I could see was remarkable. He was just different, unlike any of the other actors, though I couldn’t say how. But I could see that something special right there on the screen.

What he was doing, how he was acting, the impression he was making made me feel a sensation which I now know was awe. I realized I was watching an extraordinary accomplishment I had never seen in movies before, in my life before. I pointed at the man and said, “Who is that, Mom?” She was a movie buff, so she knew. She said, “That’s Laurence Olivier. He’s the greatest actor in the world.” Even so young I had recognized supreme mastery, the highest attainment of any art.

As I grew older I began to notice examples of supreme mastery all around me: athletes, singers (In my family were many fine singers), pianists, violinists, and auto mechanics. And then, when I went into business and became a management consultant, executives, workers in offices, factories, and plants. And then when I became a professional speaker, spell-binding orators with supreme mastery who could inform you and teach you and move you in a way other speakers didn’t dare dream of.

About the people who perform best, whether actors, dancers,  accountants, ballerina-534356_640_copy2physicians, executives, sales people, mothers and fathers, chefs, carpenters, athletes, novelists, poets, and playwrights, etc., there’s  an ease, an effortlessness. They stand out. You notice them. You don’t forget them. They just do what they do so well and naturally, so charismatically, beautifully, confidently, and with what seems so little effort, that if you stand back and watch them, you have to marvel. You have no choice but to think, “What I am now watching is almost unreal. It is almost super-human.” They do it better and have more ability than just about anyone else you’ve ever seen—better than other actors, painters, or writers, etc.

It’s called yugen in Japanese. Yugen is the “highest principle” in Japanese art—in any country’s art, I think—and the most difficult term in Japanese flower-653710_640aesthetics to define. It’s the creation of grace and beauty–the mark of great ability of men and women who have reached highest attainment in their art, their craft, their occupation. There is “Grace of music,” “Grace of performance,” and “Grace of the dance.” There is the grace of any of the arts.

 Yugen is “the something behind the gesture” of a great craftsman.  It’s described poetically as the emotion you feel watching a bird slowly crossing the moon at night, or the ease with which a flower grows, or one of my favorite sensations which you might have experienced, that of wandering on and on in a deep forest with no fear and no worry and no thought of turning back.

No element of the yugen performance is wasted or done without purpose, and it’s something to behold. You can think right now of people you’ve seen, of people you might know, possibly you yourself, and be able to say something like, “If ever a person possessed yugen mastery it was Ms. Cartwright, my fourth grade teacher,” or Jessica Lange in Nobel Prize winner Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, or yourself, thinking, “When I directed that play,” “When I wrote that novel”   “When I danced Swan Lake,” “I had it.”

Everyone is—you are, I am, my wife is, my children and grandchildren are—potentially a yugen person. Aren’t we all more extraordinary than we realize?

If you ask yugen people, they won’t be able to explain exactly what it is they do that makes them different from others in their field because after long periods of practice and development they now do it intuitively, and what is done intuitively cannot completely be communicated to another person rationally. Oh, they have an idea, but can’t quite put their finger on what makes them able to leap up consistently in performance.

theatre-96714_640Olivier once finished a stage performance which he knew was perfect. Everyone in the company knew it was perfect and when he came off stage they asked, “Larry, how did you do that?”  He replied, “I wish I knew so I could do it again.”

If you have that special touch in the work you do, you would be hard put to tell someone who comes to you to be trained exactly what you put into your performance. You say, “I do the best I can.”  You’re not being modest. Just honest.

What’s known for sure is that mastery doesn’t happen overnight but is the result of long practice and absorption in the craft. Every person who reaches high achievement in a field will have spent much of his time trying to get better, and better still, and will have reached highest ability via a long process of learning and application while pushing himself upward to competence, then to expertise, then excellence, then greatness.

When you’re coming into your own artistically you are discovering in all its detail your most creative self of all the selves you might have been. Sometimes a person who one day will become a writer, artist, actor, or dancer doesn’t know himself what he might do. But he feels instinctively that he’s good for something and has some reason for existing. He has a hunch that there is something important in him that’s worth pursuing further. He finds that something in art. He makes himself into a writer, for example–an expert in expressing himself via written language.

Coming into your own, you are developing your skills and yourself to their peak. You are increasing the depth and breadth of your knowledge of your chosen field.  You are developing deep-felt, deeply-woven identity that everyone recognizes as the real you. You are on a creator’s Life Path.  Just imagine the fulfillments the Path will lead you to.

Mastery is revealed in everything the person does, down to the smallest detail. Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp said she could decide if a dancer was right for her company even by the way he came through the door of the studio and put down his bag. The opening scenes of a really skillfully-written play or the first leap of the dancer tell you right away if this artist has yugen.  If so, settle back, you’re in store for something marvelous.

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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Filed under Actors and Directors, Artistic Perfection, Becoming an Artist, creativity, Dancers, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Eastern Philosophy, High Achievement, Success, Writers

Samurai Concepts For Creators

A New Language For Creative People

A newspaper reviewer of my book Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life thought that a unique feature of the book is that it exposes the reader to an exciting new vocabulary–Asian terms for self-improvement for which there are no Western equivalents. The book begins with an example of what the book is about: the application of the psychological and spiritual insights of the samurai, the most remarkable warriors ever to walk the earth, to the everyday lives of ordinary working people—the most magnificent people of all.

samurai-161642_640It says: “The tramp of warriors sounded like a thousand convulsions of the earth. The shouts of warriors, the whistling of arrows, the thunder of the feet of foot soldiers and the hooves of chargers did not cease,” and tells the story of a sales woman who uses insights from the samurai Way to overcome her fear of an intimidating prospect and makes a sale.

I think it will be worthwhile to apply a select few of these terms to the lives of creative people–the Way of the artist, the Way of the writer, the Way of the composer, the architect, the performer–since so many creative people read my blog and the concepts will be so beneficial to them. As you read, think of the many applications there are to your creator’s life as so many people have.

Musha Shugyo: Samurai Training. Samurai were trained to fight in the service of a lord—with supreme self-confidence, courage, bravery, and superb samurai-67662_640skill with weapons.  Four things were especially important to samurai:

Duty—we must make good what we owe.

Self-Control—body, mind, spirit, emotions under control.

Commitment to Immediate Action—“The Way of the samurai is immediacy”—no delays.

Constant Self-Improvement—no resting on your laurels; always striving to do better; to develop your skills to the highest level you’re capable of. What creator is not trying to improve?

Ryuu: Dragons. For samurai warriors of feudal Japan all obstacles in a person’s mind, heart, and spirit were “dragons.”  A creator’s dragons are no longer of the fire-breathing variety that scared him or her as a child. They’re dragon-149393_150now a different species entirely, and to become all the creator you wish to become you will have to break completely free of them. When a samurai overcame a dragon he was “striking through the dragon’s mask.”

I arrived early at a conference room where I was to speak. Two men and a woman who’d come to hear me were early too and were at a table with their copies of Fighting To Win open. They seemed to be working hard and I asked “What are you working on?” The woman said, “We’re discussing our dragons.”  The main dragons the samurai faced and creative people face too are:

Fear: Creative women and men experience fear most every day. The samurai set out to master fear, to learn to be no more ruffled whatever he was facing—however terrible–than “someone sitting down for breakfast.”

Being Afraid to Take Risks: The desire for certainty, the sure thing, often makes us cowards. There’s no room for sure things in a creator’s world. Samurai were taught that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe’s blade—edge in close, take a chance. Why aren’t we more confident and bolder?

Thinking Too Much: To be creatively free creators have to learn to think much less about what might go wrong.

Doubting Yourself: The creator’s most powerful dragon is dwelling again and again and again on his shortcomings, on what he lacks.

Hesitating: Wanting to do something but stopping.

Cowardice: The Chinese language permeates the Japanese language. The Chinese character for “cowardice” is composed of two symbols, “meaning” and “mind.” Creators are often finding too much meaning in things—he or she thinks too much—often worrying and fretting and dissipating their creative energy, that fuel creators need so much of. If you believe you’re thinking too much and that it’s driving you away from instead of to your work, this could be a dragon you’ll want to get rid of.

Try to make it a point to remember the term tomaranu kokoro. No small thing in samurai fighting, it has been called “the secret essence” of the samurai martial-arts-291051_640Way. More important, it’s relevant to the Way of the Creator.  It means “a mind that knows no stopping.” If you have ever seen a master swordsman in action, you’ve witnessed tomaranu kokoro. Without once stopping he attacks, feints, cuts, slashes, turns, leaps, spins, and thrusts in a whirlwind of action.

The reason he is able to move so smoothly, effortlessly and quickly, his sword a blur, is that he is doing the same thing in his head. His body moves without stopping because his mind is tomaranu kokoro. His mind doesn’t stop to worry, to ask “what if”—“What if I lose?” “What if I die?”—or the creative person’s “What if I’m not good enough?” It doesn’t stop for anything. It keeps moving and facilitates the movement of his body.  You can see that tomaranu kokoro is an ideal state of mind for the creator–an uninhibited, free, fluent, effortless yet focused mind and body.

Toraware—its opposite–means “caught,” and tomaru means “stopping” or “abiding.” You might want to remember them too, because they help explain why so many exceptionally talented creators are not as successful as they have the potential to be. It’s when your thoughts get caught (toraware) or stopped (tomaru) that you have trouble executing a creative action. It’s when your mind doesn’t flow from one idea to another but gets hooked or snagged on self-doubt or worry or anger, etc.  that you are prevented from fully functioning  creatively. Recall the last time you had problems with a painting, sculptor, story, composition, or performance and you were upset or troubled. It was because your thoughts got caught or stopped; they didn’t flow.  You were all tied up—your mind, your body.

Whenever you find your thoughts getting caught or stopped, tell yourself to remember toraware, “caught,” and tomaru, “stopping.” More important, tell yourself to get back to tomaranu kokoro, the mind that knows no stopping, and return with confidence to your work. Let your mind be free to function according to its own natural free-flowing nature.

Fudoshin: The Skill of Making the Body Obey the Mind and Immovable Mind

Have you ever run in a marathon, felt pain, thought of stopping but refused to?  If so, you’ve tasted fudoshin, immovable mind. No matter what you were athletics-229808_6401going through your mind wouldn’t budge from the goal of finishing. The samurai spoke of iwoa no mi, “rock body” and wanted his commitments to be as immovable as a mountain. Why not yours?

The skill of making the body obey the mind is this: going into action—getting your work done, being creative, thriving, reaching success in spite of your dragons.  Not letting any dragon stop you. You needn’t go off to the top of a mountain to overcome a dragon.  You can say, “OK fear, come along if you want. “ Self-doubt, hesitation, thinking too much—you can’t stop me.” “Come on, tag along. But you cannot stop me. I’ve got a story to write, an etching to complete, a performance to give, a career to manage.”

Every day in studios, work rooms, and theatres some creators are thinking: “In order to do it (whatever it is) I’ve got to first overcome my problem—my fear (or shyness, lack of self-confidence, bad habits, indecisiveness, etc.). Once I get rid of that baby, I’ll be all right. Then I’ll be able to create my great work.” The real problem isn’t what they think it is. It is not the fear or lack of confidence. It’s their belief that the fear has the power to prevent them from doing what they should be doing.

If the creator forgets about himself and his dragons completely and focuses only on adapting to what his creative life path requires of him, no dragon will ever stop him. The dragon has no right to stop you. But your mind must be immovable. Keep your mind focused on the task. Put negative emotions out of the equation.

*******

In my next post, Part II of this topic, I’ll discuss more samurai concepts creative people can apply to improve their work and lives.

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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Joys Of A Workaholic Writer Wasting Time

I’ve been trumpeting to anyone within ear shot that workaholic artistic people frog-1339897_640with their powerful and constant and sometimes obsessive need to work at their craft so they might improve and be more successful are the hardest working and most productive individuals on this planet.

That’s all true, but today my plan is to not produce a thing.

Today I will explore the joys of wasting time.

When I was a business consultant giving presentations to executives I’d say “Ladies and gentlemen I have utmost respect for your capacity for work, and I know you think you’re a hard worker. But you should spend a day with a ballerina. Then you’ll see what it means to work hard.” I’d ask, “For example, how many of you feel so strongly about reaching excellence that you’d practice till your poor muscles screamed and your feet bled?”

But I’m going to waste time all day. I’ll just see what happens.

A number of studies comparing novices with experts in most fields support the idea that because of their great knowledge and skill, experts are able to accomplish with almost no effort what non-experts can accomplish only with difficulty or can’t accomplish at all. That’s just common sense, isn’t it?

But common sense or not, that’s not true of artistic work. In fact, the opposite is true. Expert artists of all sorts—you very well may be one–work harder, not less hard than non-experts.  So:

THE BETTER SCULPTOR, PAINTER, NOVELIST, ACTOR, OR POET WORKS HARDER.

But I’ve taken this Wednesday in August off and I’m not thinking of anything like that because rarity of rarities I don’t feel a bit like working and have frog-914522_640decided to play hooky. I’m playing over again and again Simply Red singing the exciting “Fairground” and I feel terrific.  I’m writing this and don’t have the faintest idea where I’m going with it, and that feels great. I feel free, as if I’m in a forest as the Zen people say sitting quietly under a tree, doing nothing, while the roses grow by themselves.

At the moment it’s 2:10 p.m. In a few hours my wife Diana will be coming home and we’ll go out to eat. But first I want to finish this, wherever it’s taking me.

My “Let’s accomplish absolutely nothing today” rebellious mood began this morning when I woke up in yesterday’s street clothes on the couch at five according to the TV I’d left on all night. I just lay there and thought of my goals for the day, the way I start every day—take a look at the long email an editor sent and write a response thanking him, and continue finishing up my book I’ve designed for those whom I call “Stage Three Creators” who are not Stage One or Stage Two creators.

(If you’re curious, according to me:

Stage I creators don’t know the first thing about their craft, but don’t know they don’t know

Stage II creators realize they don’t know the first thing about their craft. So they try to learn as much as they can about their craft

Stage III creators realize there’s a lot more to know about their craft than anyone told them)

But I could tell my goal-setting mind and my I’m-all-set-to- work-let’s-get-the-show-on-the-road mind weren’t synchronized today. So my normal write-read-study daily schedule was tossed out the window and I thought, “For today at least, good riddance.  I think I’ll just putter around the house without feeling guilty.”

I can’t be away from written words for more than a few hours. So I went downstairs to my bookcases and tried to find something that would make me

booksfeel I’d gotten something out of the day even if I didn’t write a word. I passed up Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway’s Death in The Afternoon, which I’d never read, and Flannery O’Connor whom I’ve never read, and John Cheever’s collected stories and Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, and so forth.

And there packed in among all my so-many books I saw that little paperback my father had bought me that early autumn afternoon he’d taken my older brother John and me for a commercial boat ride on Lake Michigan when I was eight or nine, I think—The Great Short Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson. Ten brilliant tales by the best-loved storyteller of all time, the book says. Dad had taken us to a book store in Chicago’s downtown (which we Chicagoans call The Loop) before the boat ride and told us completely by surprise that we could each pick out any book we wanted and he would give it to us. We weren’t rich. What a luxury for me to have my own book.

It was the first book I’d ever owned, that I’d taken my time going through the store and picked out myself. I can remember as though it is happening now looking over the racks for the right book—will it be this one or that one? I looked at the book’s price this morning—35 cents—and at the copyright date—so long ago. The pages are brown and the paper is brittle. The cover is bent but not torn. Through the years I’ve taken good care of it. Wherever I’ve moved, whatever heaven or hell I was going through, it’s come along. How could I possibly be without it?

What pleasure it gives me to see that little book again and to hold it in my hands. It meant so much to me that day. During the boat ride (the boat was named The Blue Dog) I remember that I could hardly take my eyes off the book though it was a lovely day, the sunlight reflected so brightly off the towering buildings along Chicago’s luscious skyline, the surface of the lake blue-gray and green. But it was my book, the first book that I alone had picked out and now could read as many times as I wanted and could keep.

It’s back to work tomorrow for me, but now I’m thinking I don’t know if my father giving me that book was in any way instrumental in setting me off in the direction of a writer’s life. But here I am thoroughly, completely, and irrevocably a writer. And I’ve never since childhood wanted to be anything but.

Writer's Block

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artists, Goals and Purposes, Personal Stories, Wasting Time, Work Production, Workaholic, Writers

Two Success Stories for Creative People

Why are so many writers and artists so scared? This morning I started reading the Weekly Digests of some of the blogs I subscribe to and decided this post I’m about to laptop-820274_640write needed to be written–and fast– because so many writers and artists seem to be living in fear and intimidation, and they needn’t. There is no reason that the processes that come after the exhilarating execution of the work—dealing with “gatekeepers”– agents and publishers, clients and galleries—need be dreadful.

The gist of many of the posts written by the more experienced writers in particular to less experienced writers is: “Here’s how to get your book published. I will be your wise guide.” I will not give you any advice like that today, but only tell you about my experiences and that of a friend in breaking into “big time” publishing. My experiences were quite different from what you find described in many intimidating blogs. I hope my experiences make you confident and sure of yourself, less fearful, and less intimidated. And bolder.

I’ll be talking about writing professionally in this post because writing professionally is what I’ve been doing—and thinking about– for the last few decades. But I’m sure there are painters, sculptors, actors, dancers—artists generally—who could tell the same story of how breaking into their field wasn’t as awful as they were told it would be, and in fact found it painless, exciting fun.

I had an idea for what I thought could be a really successful nonfiction book, just as you think your idea would make a successful book. Nothing like my book had ever been written before and it had potential, so I was confident that I had something. But I knew nothing about publishing. Oh, of course I’d heard the horror stories about the tremendous odds against getting any book published. Everybody on earth knows that—especially a first book, odds of five thousand to one and so forth.

But my exact thinking went like this: “Thousands of books are being published every year and I’m betting I’m more books-535352_640skilled than most authors of them (after all, in college a famous creative writing teacher had said teachers like her wait their “entire career for someone who can write like you.” And hadn’t I had a story published in a prestigious literary journal while just a student?) So why shouldn’t my book be published?”

Then I learned that you had to write a persuasive book proposal and get an agent who would contact editors on your behalf. I had written many, many proposals in business and so I wrote a six page double-spaced book proposal—a short proposal, not a long one, a plain, simple one, not a complex, elaborate, fancy one: short and I hoped, sweet.

I hadn’t written a sample of my writing other than the proposal itself and a cover letter that talked about my unique qualifications to write the book or a refined table of contents because I hadn’t completely fleshed out the book in my mind. (In fact, I wouldn’t know what I was really trying to write until I had been working on the book for 1300 hours. Then it hit me!) I just had this good idea for what I thought would be an exciting, profitable book someone would want to publish.

Now I needed an agent to send the proposal to. I looked at a directory of agents and sent the proposal to the first name on the agent’s list. Then if he didn’t pan out I would send the proposal to the second name on the list and work my way down. I wasn’t experienced enough to know then that some writers send their proposals out in batches to twenty or thirty agents at a time. I would send off my stuff to one agent at a time and wait to see what happened. I had no idea then that the agent I sent my little proposal to was one of the most highly regarded agents in the literary world—serendipity at work. (A reminder that a good amount of luck is involved in a writer’s life and you don’t want just any agent working for you, but a good one with a reputation above reproach whose tastes and judgment of talent editors respect very highly.)

Within three days he called me on the phone to tell me he would like to handle the book—he thought it was incredibly timely and he liked the way I wrote. And he liked short, sweet proposals. So now I had an agent. He pitched the book right away (a man of action; my kind of guy) to an editor he thought could very well be interested. And in a week and a half I had a publisher who was eager to put out the book—a top quality publisher. The advance I received was a good one, much better than I’d expected. I wrote the book in twelve grueling months as I was contracted for (be sure to establish a reputation for never exceeding a deadline) and then months passed while the book was being edited and published.

The pub date came and the book was given a promotional budget but not a big one—I was “unproven.” I appeared on a newspapers-33946_640few radio and TV shows, and then two important things happened: a freelance journalist fell in love with the book—Fighting to Win— and wrote a superb and flattering full page, multi-column piece on it in The Washington Post that drew a lot of attention, and the publisher’s sales rep in Chicago fell in love with it too and promoted it with book stores in Chicago’s large, good book-buying market and with the publisher’s other sales people working in other cities and marketing staff decision-makers. And the book became a best seller in Chicago and Washington. Then in San Francisco and Las Angeles and other cities.

Other syndicated journalists liked the book and started writing about it—articles appeared everywhere. It began popping up on college reading lists, and now there were foreign editions that were doing very well. There was a buzz about the book and I was sent off to other major cities for more interviews on bigger shows. I got to enjoying publicizing the book so much that I decided I would rather promote books than write them. In fact, the publisher asked me jokingly if I would go on shows and promote other of their books too.

I had a hit that went through ten printings. With each new printing the book’s cover price rose one dollar, so my royalties were climbing. Now I was no longer unproven and had a track record, and my proposal for my next book consisted of a total of four sentences spoken over coffee to the publisher. The advance for it was substantial. When that book was published the publisher said they would like another book from me. I asked what they wanted me to write about and they said, “Whatever you want.”

I know a man who wrote a book he thought had the potential to be published and be popular. His expectations high, he contacted a great number of agents and no one was interested in handling his book, telling him that in their judgment unfortunately it would be impossible for it to find a public. The agents’ tastes ran in other directions and based on their professional experiences over many years with many books they felt that this one just didn’t have that—that whatever it takes for people to want to buy a book.

He didn’t give up after he had exhausted his long list of agents, but contacted publisher after publisher himself, writing them, sending his manuscript, calling them up, making appointments, pitching the book on the phone and in their Being courageousoffices, expecting all the time that eventually he would succeed. He met nothing but failure—no one thought anything of the book—but he still believed in it and in himself. He still expected the book to be published and be successful. He had faith that one day he would see it in book store display windows.

Then an editor of a small specialty publisher he had contacted called him to come down and talk. When my friend entered the office his manuscript was spread out on the editor’s desk and the editor was bent over it, reading. The editor looked up and said, “Oh, good, you’re here” and with a smile on his face added, “I think your book will be the number one best seller in the country.”

That book became a publishing phenomenon—a cultural phenomenon–and sold an astonishing 25,000,000 copies in paperback alone. It became America’s—and the world’s–number one best seller. Within two months the author was famous and pretty soon he was rich. The book was When Bad Things Happen to Good People and the author was Harold Kushner.

Writers and artists who harbor deep and prolonged doubts about their capabilities are easily set back by obstacles and failures. But when confident self-directed  writers and artists encounter daunting obstacles, disappointments, and failures, they show courage, rally, and make a comeback, intensifying their efforts and persisting until they succeed.

So I’m saying what all my blogs say—be supremely confident, be non-attached and fearless. Don’t be scared. Persevere. Be indefatigable. Be committed to your work every moment of the day. Never let discouragement and negativity penetrate to your depths. No matter what happens, good fortune, bad fortune, keep your spirit light as a feather. Develop your skills to the highest possible level and become what I admire most—not just a writer, but a REAL writer; not just an artist, but a REAL artist.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Living with Commitment and Power

When I was writing Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your work and Life and getting ready to send the manuscript off to Doubleday, the publisher, a good friend with my best interests in mind made it a point to come over to my house one afternoon to warn me. He said, “You’re not going to talk about death are you, Dave? It will be too depressing for your readers because your writing is always so optimistic, hopeful, and inspiring, and that’s what readers will be expecting. No one wants to read about death. No one wants to be reminded they’re going to die. I know, I know very well you have this belief that a writer must always tell the truth and owes it to the reader to never not tell the truth, but leave that out of your book. Even your editor won’t like it.”

Fighting to Win shows how the wisdom and philosophy of the samurai, the greatest and most spiritual warriors who samurai-161642_640ever walked the earth, applies to the everyday lives of anyone who can read the book, and will help them—old people, young people, students, movie stars, writers, artists, business people, teachers—anyone–Americans, Frenchmen, Swedes, Russians. And since death was so ever-present in the lives of these samurai men and women whose role was to risk death in battle without flinching or running away, how could I ignore death?

Warriors are taught to act boldly and decisively in the face of inevitable fate. In his “Primer” for samurai, Shigesuke Daidoji says, “The idea most vital and essential to the samurai is that of death, which he ought to have before his mind day and night, night and day, from the dawn of the first day of the year till the last minute of the last day of it . . . Think what a frail thing life is, especially that of a samurai. This being so, you will come to consider every day of your life your last and dedicate it to the fulfillment of your obligations. Never let the thought of a long life seize upon you, for then you are apt to indulge in all kinds of dissipation.”

Hagakure, a famous samurai text, says, ‘Every morning make up your mind to die. Every evening freshen your mind with the thought of death.”

“Freshening” your mind with the thought of death might seem a grim way to spend time; on the contrary, it is anything but. Those who are totally aware of how short their life will be—and who can feel the importance of that fact in the deepest corners of themselves—live a completely different kind and quality of life than the people who drift mindlessly along, never letting the thought sink in that in a relatively short time they will be gone.

All truly living things–creators in particular–have an urge to grow, to continue growing til the end of their lives.

In Japan the samurai is likened to the delicate cherry blossom which doesn’t last long in the wind that blows it from the japanese-cherry-trees-324175_640tree. One moment it is there and the next it’s gone. The same is true of the samurai and you and me. You are a cherry blossom and I am a cherry blossom too.

Every person with vitality and spirit chooses to die hard; to not go gentle into that good night and to fight against the dying of the light. If you’re a person with spirit, you’re no fool. You know death is going to get you, but it’s going to have a battle on its hands. While alive, you’re going to live without wasting your limited time being worried, cowardly, tentative, or putting things off for a tomorrow that might not come.

When you live with the full knowledge that death is always stalking you, you feel a quick surge of powerful energy, a sudden spark that overcomes you. When you live in the samurai style—as if you are already dead—you operate even more vitally. You acquire extraordinary courage, boldness, and decisiveness. You’re not timid any more, not about anything, any task, any impediment. You “go beyond the trifles of the world.” You fear nothing; you are fearless.

You reach a state of seishi o choetsu, “beyond life and death,” where even the knowledge of your death no longer frightens you. All that matters now is making use of the tremendous power you suddenly feel inside to accomplish all you set your mind to and to find your true destiny, a power strong enough, says the samurai “to bring down walls of iron.” And then your every act takes on an intensity that you have never known before. You live with commitment and power, two feet higher and  three steps faster than everyone else. And you find that you have incredible control over the conduct of your life. You find that there is not a single obstacle you cannot overcome.

The Rabbit and the Fox

A wise master and one of his students went for a walk through the countryside. The student pointed to a fox chasing a rabbit and said, “Oh, the poor rabbit.”

cottontail-rabbit-938478_640The master said, “The rabbit will elude the fox.”

The student was surprised. Maybe the old man’s mind wasn’t so sharp anymore. He said, “No, you see, the fox is faster.”

“The rabbit will get away,” repeated the master.

“What makes you think so?” asked the student.

“Because the fox is running for his dinner, but the rabbit is running for his life.”

The first step in living at the gut-level is understanding that we are all running for our lives.

An Exercise

The exercise is a short one. Read this . . .

The first man asked, “How do you feel?”

“Like one who has risen in the morning and doesn’t know whether he will be dead in the evening.”

“But this is the situation of all men.”

“Yes, but how many of them feel it?”

. . . and feel it.

I sent the manuscript off and ten days later my editor called to talk about it. He started by saying, “We love that section about the samurai and death. I was worried about how you would handle that. You made a potentially depressing subject inspiring. One editor would read those pages and pass them on to another editor and say ‘Look at this’ and now we can’t imagine the book without them.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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The Inner Skills of Creative People

I’ve been writing blog posts for writers and artists for sixteen months and over that time have published about 120,000 words. And though I’ve been a professional writer for many years, have written national and international best-sellers, startup-594126_640 (1)been contributing editor to popular magazines, have had published non-fiction, poetry, and prose, have advanced degrees, have taught in graduate schools, and have been studying, reading, and researching about the arts all my adult life, very rarely will you find me writing anything about how to write or paint better because that is not my main interest.

I will not tell a painter how to paint because I don’t know enough about that. But even if I did I probably wouldn’t talk about good technique or good use of color except to say I recognize them when I see them. I will talk about what made great artists tick and why they’re so special. And I will say that people who do great things are great in themselves.

I know enough about writing to have taught serious writers and found great pleasure in that and discovered I have a lot to say. I’ve written about extraordinary writers—the most extraordinary ever to write. But you won’t hear from me these days anything about developing characters, scenes, conflicts, and episodes, or how to write dialogue, or generate a mood, or structure a plot, or that kind of thing. There’re plenty of books, magazines, web sites, classes, and blogs for that. People have been writing about those things for 2,000 years.

My interest—the territory I have staked out for myself—are The Inner Skills of Creative People, for there, I think, inside, in your spirit, will be found the magical difference between adequate creators and great ones.

ballerina-534356_640_copy2I write freely, unabashedly, happily of human qualities that distinguish one creative person from another such as strength (suggesting that every day it’s worth a creator asking, “Am I strong today? Will I be strong?”) And I write about courage, persistence, tenacity, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, discipline, good writing moods and bad writing mood, and ideal writing moods. And self-resilience, enthusiasm, guts, self-motivation, energy and your capacity for work, sacrificing for the sake of your craft, boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, resilience, maintaining at all times a high hope of succeeding, and other spiritual dimensions of you. I teach Buddhist and Hindu non-attachment so that the writer or artist might become selfless and dispassionate, and free himself from debilitating envy and worry that so recklessly destroy talented people.

I write about self-doubt, the creator’s curse, and I write about creator’s confidence because confidence may be the most important factor of all. Creative people fail because: (a) they lack the necessary skill, or (b) they have the skill but don’t have the confidence to use that skill well. More fail because they lack the confidence and not because they lack the skill. If you have confidence and faith in yourself you’ll reach higher levels of success than other creators of equal ability who lack them. So much of realizing your long-held hopes—possibly you’ve had them since childhood–is a result of knowing exactly what they are, wanting badly to achieve them, and believing that you can. Confidence precedes success. All great creators are confident.

A poet who lived several hundred years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high Gods have placed sweat.” No outstanding creative achievement has ever been produced without a lot of effort on the part of the creator, however much natural ability or how many technical skills he/she possesses. So I write about sweat.

I write about creative patience because patience makes artists and writers more successful.

martial-arts-291051_640I write about warrior artists and writers—and warrior actors and ballet dancers—because warriors know things and possess skills that enable them to go through life 18 inches off the ground and to move faster and live more intensely, with stronger commitments and greater seriousness, than everyone else.

I write about production because to produce a work—a painting a sculpture, a poem, a stage performance—is the reason for being of a creator. Everything—all the creator’s training and education, habits and routines, dreams and hopes—are aimed at that central goal: no matter what is happening around you, to get the work out. Some writers and some artists are 25 times more productive than others.

Out of the mass of experiences of a life, you (1) must somehow or other settle on the creator’s way of life, which is a distinct way of being; (2) must have the personal makeup necessary to excel as a creator; must possess the (3) knowledge, (4) persistence, (5) confidence, and (6) complement of skills necessary to excel, and must (7) minimize your weaknesses and develop your strengths.

The creator who has technical skills, but lacks these spiritual inner skills will not go as far as he could, or may not go far at all. What you are—what you are made of, what constitutes you, what you stand for—is so important.

Your technique and your spirit must be united. Creators grow from within.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

 

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Writer and Artist Warriors

sunset-190922_640My younger sister Sharon died of bone cancer at the age of thirty-seven in a hospital in Honolulu, where she lived. She was a small, delicate woman who had the will of a warrior. When a doctor came to see her as she lay in her bed, he jumped back as though he had been pushed. He said to her, “I feel your power coming out to me.” But she was dying. There was no hope. Once she had been beautiful. I prayed, “Dear God, give me her pain so she will be free of it.”

I told her that I’d had writing a book in mind for a long time, but that I was very busy running the business I had started and really had no time, and that even if I did write it, it would take years to research and more years to write, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be published—the odds were against that as they are against any book being published–and I had a wife and four children to support and couldn’t afford to take a chance. And I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed, that I didn’t have what it took. But I didn’t tell her that.

She was in such pain that even the slightest, even the lightest, touch of another person on her was agony. So when I left to fly back home, knowing I would never see her again, I couldn’t kiss her. The pressure of my lips would bring her pain. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. She whispered in my ear, “Dave, you write that book. I have faith in you. Write it for me.”

I returned home and organized my work space and set to work, thinking of her “Write it for me.” I told my wife, “I’ll close the business and I’ll finish the book in one year, and during that year we will have no income.” My wife said, “I understand. Go ahead. It’s important.” Nothing could stop me. What before had been a vague dream now became a purpose to devote myself to, to write a book, a good book for my little sister. It became my wife’s purpose and my children’s too. Whenever I was discouraged that purpose made me return to the book and to work till dawn, to sleep a few hours and get back to work for a year until the book was done. While I was working on it I thought, “I’m making a book Sharon would be proud of.”

I dedicated it to her with the inscription: “In memory of my sister Sharon. Just one word—courage,” and that word meant a lot to me because in this life everyday courage is so important.

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My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life came out and has been called “an underground bestseller” because with almost no advertising it swept the country and my life was changed in so many ways. The book became known in my family as FTW. It went through multiple printings, and appeared on bestseller lists; the cover price rose and rose. FTW discussion groups took shape in big cities and remote towns in America and Europe. Articles about this strange book with the Japanese symbol “spirit” on its cover appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines alike. The book was read by generals, governors, and dancers, writers, artists, and riveters, heart surgeons, business executives, retirees, and sales clerks. It began being included on university required reading lists. It was not about Anthropology, Physics, or Botany, but about how to live. This little book is about musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship.” It teaches the skills and passes on the insights of samurai warriors adapted to everyday life.

It is an optimistic and encouraging book. That’s how I intended it. It is full of promise, full of hope. It teaches strength and makes you strong. It says we have but one life, but this one life can be changed in an instant. It can become two lives. The life before the changes and the richer, more fulfilled and stunning life after them. We can renew ourselves and start fresh at will on a new creative course, a more fruitful course, a better course any moment we wish, putting aside disappointments, discouragements, false starts, and failures and emerging as full-blown, skilled, exceptional artists or writers. Every living thing, every artist, every writer, has an urge to grow, to realize its full potential. My life tells me that. I believe it more every day.

Warrior symbol

“Warrior” by tiseb

The book teaches us to persevere, to be brave and not hide from difficulties, but to race forward to meet them so we may overcome them all the more quickly, maintaining high spirits and complete faith in ourselves. It teaches that we must never be stationary, but must be always moving at a good clip toward a better life, never slowing down because we’re too lazy, or afraid, or self-doubting, or discouraged, or have been set back by circumstances. “When you meet calamities and rough situations, it isn’t enough simply to say you’re not flustered. Whenever you meet difficult situations dash forward bravely and joyfully.”

Readers started contacting me, and I was happy to get to know them and listen to the stories they told me. In the revised E-book edition I mention a few of their stories.

A Hollywood movie director called me and said he felt that people in that aggressive film industry had been “eating him alive.” A successful opera singer wrote me and told me she had been overwhelmed by a sudden and inexplicable fear of performing. She felt helpless. She didn’t know what to do and stopped singing. They read FTW. He became more assertive, self-confident, and successful; she overcame her fear and went back on stage and resumed her career.

A newspaper was having serious financial problems. Its existence was in jeopardy. And so the publisher was going to launch a five-day intense telephone subscription sales campaign using 100 sales people. The publisher, who was also a playwright, was confident that exposure to FTW ideas would inspire them, and had me speak to them for an hour. Following the campaign, he called me and said that the campaign had been a huge success–the staff was fired up and the result was thousands of new subscriptions. He said, “You and FTW saved the paper.”

The book teaches us the samurai concept of mo chih ch’u, “going ahead without hesitation.” It’s not looking back once you have decided on your course of action. Once you can say to yourself “This is what I want to do”—“Write the novel I’ve been talking about so long;” “Rent a studio;” “Move”– then be on your way immediately, mo chih ch ’u. Why delay when life is so brief and the most important time of your entire life is this present moment?

I shouldn’t have to ask where you intend to go in your career. I should be able to tell by watching you and hearing and reading about you. Your undeviating aim should be to reach the fulfillment of the creator’s life you can envision, letting no impediments keep you from it. You know that in this life you’ve chosen rather than the other 5,000 easier lives you could have chosen, courage is a necessity, that there really is nothing to be afraid of and no reason to hold anything back in reserve, and that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Getting closer each day to a more fulfilled creator’s life, becoming extraordinary, your energy and strength will be boundless. Others will let go of their dreams, but you never will. You’ll draw from deeper inside and be willing to exhaust yourself for the sake of your happiness.

You must never lose the expectation that no matter what, you will succeed. Your art will work out. Your book will be published. Your skills will get better and better, equipping you for your craft in ways you haven’t dreamed of yet. Knocked down, maintain your confidence that all will go well as long as you get up. Knocked down seven times, get up eight. For that is how a better creator’s life is reached. Like a warrior, you must only “take care that your spirit is never broken.” Never let disappointment and discouragement “penetrate to the depths.” “Wear your existence light as a feather.”

The samurai warrior spoke of internal “dragons” and “striking through the dragon’s mask.” The samurai was taught what we should take to heart: “When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.” When your blocks are removed you will write, paint, sculpt, or perform without conscious effort. “Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’” After reading the book people ask themselves, or ask their friends, “What is holding me back? What are my dragons? How can I overcome them?”

dragon-149393_150Ask any small child what a dragon is and you’ll get an earful of terror and horror. You and I both believed in fire-breathing dragons until we discovered that the only place they existed was in our minds, that they were merely products of our imagination. They only “lived” and had the power to frighten us because we granted them license to. They died and no longer troubled us when we revoked their license. All obstacles inside us—in our minds–are dragons. They are no longer of the fire-breathing variety. They are now a different species entirely. But the effect of scaring us and making us draw back in horror is precisely the same. The goal of the warrior writer and artist is to strike through dragon’s masks and free himself/herself of obstacles so the mind is “free to function according to its own true nature.”

The five most powerful dragons samurai—there were women samurai too–were trained to strike through, and artists, writers and performers must train themselves to strike through, are any kind of fear, the fear of taking risks, thinking too much of what might go wrong, doubting yourself, and hesitating, particularly when that golden but fleeting opportunity appears. If the samurai was afraid, didn’t take risks, thought too much, doubted himself, or hesitated, he would lose—possibly his life–because of fear most of all. A creative person must be bold; fear cripples her: “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy. Overcome fear and nothing can stop you.”

The one constant factor in warfare as well as a writer’s and artist’s life is uncertainty. Half the things you try to accomplish are obscured by it. Risk and danger and fear and self-doubt are always partners. You do not go into the arts if you want a secure, uneventful life of ease. In samurai swordsmanship there is a move that requires you to take two leaping steps forward and to come within a hairsbreadth of your opponent’s sword. It is not a difficult move and can bring quick and total victory, but it is rarely used. Why? Because taking the risk of coming so close to the foes blade terrifies most swordsmen. In a creator’s life, as with that sword move, it is only by edging yourself in close to danger and living more dangerously that you approach great success. Who are those artists and writers who are least satisfied with their lives? Precisely those gloomy writers and artists—and actors and dancers– who regret, now when it’s too late, being timid and playing it safe all their lives.

bird-226700_640As an artist or writer, you must have an immovable mind—a mind totally committed to facing with calmness and composure any fate, circumstance, or challenge a creator’s life throws at you. An artist’s or writer’s life is often filled with troubles. But you must never let them disable you: “Forget about death, forget about the enemy, forget about yourself, keep your thoughts motionless.” Then you will “flow with whatever may happen.” Then your craft will blossom and you will reach your destiny.

Unless you have mastered your mind and body, you cannot beat your enemies on the battlefield.” Take up one idea. Make that idea your life, recalling,  “No matter what it is, there is no hardship you can’t overcome.” Like a warrior “When crossing marshes, your only concern should be to get over them quickly.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Non-Attachment: The Solution to an Artist’s or Writer’s Problem

It’s a paradox that when we detach ourselves from thoughts of ourselves and how we’re coming across and do with concentration solely what’s necessary to do to create good art, many obstacles disappear and no longer trouble us. Then the work we do is infinitely better and the artist’s life we lead is infinitely happier. We just do our work as well as we can and live our life as well as we can because that’s how work should be done and an artist’s life should be lived.

“Victory goes to the one who has no thought of himself.” (Chozan Shissai, The Way of the Sword)

 Archers and Artists

bows-and-arrows-650474_640(1)Two thousand years ago Chuang Tzu wrote a description of a situation so relevant to painters, writers, dancers, and other artists of today that he could have written it this morning. He wrote that when an archer is shooting and no external prize is at stake he possesses all his skill. The moment a prize is riding on the shot, even a brass buckle, the archer becomes nervous and loses confidence. If the prize is more valuable, as a quantity of gold, “he shoots as if he were blind.”

Describe that situation to archers today and they will tell you what they tell me: “That’s exactly what happens.”

The archer’s skill hasn’t changed, but the importance the archer has attached to the prize has made him care too much. Because he is thinking more about winning the prize than simply shooting the arrow he becomes anxious and his performance suffers.

When realizing that a critic, an editor, an agent, a reviewer, a gallery owner, a potential buyer, an audience will soon be evaluating the work, for most artists, even the best and most highly regarded, the self-conscious uneasiness begins.

Crippling self-doubt and fear of not succeeding and falling in someone’s estimation are not only the archer’s, but the artist’s, major internal obstacles, haunting many artists, writers, composers, and performers, replacing self-confidence with discouragement at the first hint of possible failure, and making many magnificently talented people give up and quit their art rather than endure them.

So the question is: How can artists keep from going blind?

 What is Non-Attachment?

On the one hand, making a painting or story should be its own reward. The artist should be happy just because of the fulfillment inherent in the artistic work itself. He shouldn’t care whether the work will be liked by others, or whether he will receive public recognition and possibly wealth. But he does care, and the conflicting motivations of art for its own sake on the one hand and art for profit or other external signs of success on the other put the artist in a quandary, particularly if to achieve success he is asked to make compromises and do things he does not want to do. Is there a way to solve this quandary?

misty-364498_640To non-attach means to be totally engrossed, completely absorbed in the fulfillment of the task before you, whatever it is, and the full realization of your art and your potential, giving everything to them and nothing but them, forgetting everything else. Bullfighter Juan Belmonte, the greatest torero of his era, an artist of the bullring, wrote, “I forget the public, the bullfighters, myself, even the bull.” Japanese samurai, the most action-oriented and decisive people ever to live, were advised that to be effective in action they must “forget life in the face of an opponent, forget death, forget the enemy, forget yourself.” Free yourself from any preoccupation with yourself—your fame, your wealth– and you’ll overcome impediments to your best work because your focus will be on the work 100%, nothing left over for anything else. All your attention will be brought to bear on the one thing to be written, painted, composed, or performed.

The non-attached artist is the most conscientious of people. All actions are equally important to him or her. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to be indifferent to the results of your efforts, or not to be ambitious. Be active, be industrious, like a sculptor, make chips, be ambitious, accomplish goals, emphasize actions, get things done.

If fame or fortune, success, honors, and achievement come your way, that’s fine, that’s wonderful, that’s something to be happy about. But the mistake we make is getting caught up in them, hungering for them, clinging to them, needing them desperately and, measuring our self-worth against our ability to achieve them. If we make that mistake and don’t achieve them, we’ll feel we’re failures. Just put your mind, your spirit, your energy–your whole being–into the action at hand, the person at hand, the life at hand, the writing or painting or dancing at hand, and forget everything else.

 The Woodworker and “Outward Considerations”

woodwork-166695_640There was a master woodworker who made such beautiful works that the king himself demanded to know the secret of his art.

“Your highness,” said the woodworker, “there is no secret. It’s all very simple. When I set out to make a chair I enter the forest and look for the right tree, the tree that is waiting there to become my chair. I cut it down and set to work. I clear my mind of everything else. I become oblivious to any reward to be gained or fame I might acquire. When I’m free from such outward considerations I just do exactly what I have to do, using all my skill.”

When you free yourself from everything else, and again and again bring your concentration back to what you have yet to do, you’re at your best. The woodworker produced masterpieces, but didn’t worry about producing a masterpiece. The highest performers in field after field—business and industry and the arts–are motivated by the work itself—to do the best job possible–and not by external rewards. Even though they are more successful and receive those rewards more than other people, they aren’t driven by them.

When you work best you accept yourself with no strings attached. Finally, at last, you don’t have to prove yourself. You just do whatever is there for you to do. If you’re a woodworker you absorb yourself in creating the finest chair you can, never stopping to think of what glories will be yours when you produce a masterpiece. If you’re a baseball player you don’t worry about how cheered you’ll be if you get a hit, or what a goat you’ll be if you don’t. You just step up to the plate, keep your eye on the ball, and when it gets close you swing the bat. If you step to the podium and worry about what the audience is thinking of you, you won’t be totally focused on what you have to say, and you’ll fumble and stumble. But if you just concentrate on the words you’re speaking and speak with sincerity, you should do well.

cabbage-flower-204087_640Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, a Nobel Prize winner, wrote, “I was not born happy….In adolescence, I hated my life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more about mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more. Very largely it is due to diminishing the preoccupation with myself.”

 The Process of Brushing Off

One person may be 25% taller than another or 25% more intelligent. We think that’s pretty significant. Yet some people are 50 or 100 times more creative than others. Creative artists are the best workers in the world. They are models of human motivation and productivity. They will work alone long hours for years, without feedback, without recognition, without praise, overcoming hardships and setbacks without flinching, always returning with high energy to the work which life has equipped them with a talent for, often producing a vast output. Yet they often meet hostility from critics of all sorts unparalleled in other fields.

English writer Rudyard Kipling would go on to establish himself as a master stylist with a staggering ability with words and to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But early in his career a publisher wrote him: “I’m sorry, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Vladimir Nabokov, also a dazzling stylist, received this message from a publisher in response to Lolita: “I recommend that you bury this under a stone for a thousand years.” Many successful writers, artists, and actors, like painter Jackson Pollock, who revolutionized painting, have been told, “You haven’t an ounce of talent.”

When you non-attach you brush off such attacks, insults, and unfair criticisms because you’re not seeking anyone’s approval. If there is one thing famous artists will tell you it is that you work best and are most powerfully motivated to create and will surmount even major obstacles when you’re not thinking of anyone’s liking but your own.

Such a confident attitude gives you courage. In response to so many heartless rejection letters from editors, novelist Henry Miller, who was not one to suffer fools, said, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off telling me these things?” It is often the artist who’s not seeking approval who receives it.

 Not So Eccentric After All

Many creative people are considered eccentric when they aren’t eccentric at all. They just non-attach and are less at the mercy of people’s opinions. They genuinely don’t give a hoot what others think. Independence is a cornerstone of the creator’s personality.

Composer Igor Stravinsky was doted on by people who knew of his greatness. But he enjoyed himself more when in the company of people who’d never heard of him. Maurice Ravel, possibly the greatest piano composer of the twentieth century, was always averse to writing and talking about himself. When complimented for his creative ideas, Thomas Edison, as creative a human being as ever lived, declined credit. He said that ideas were “in the air,” and that if he hadn’t discovered them someone else would have. Of the handful of Emily Dickinson’s poems published in her lifetime, not one bore her name.

 Strategies

Practice letting go of any preoccupation with yourself. Nudge your attention away from yourself and back to the work at hand and the actions the art calls on you to perform, and you will excel. Just render the drawing; just write the novel, just perform the dance, just market your work.

  • Whatever task you’re performing say to yourself, “This one thing I’m going to do as well as I’m able. I am not concerned with myself. I am indifferent to everything but the quality of my work.”
  • Refuse to frighten yourself with anxious thoughts of all that’s riding on your success, of the honors that may be yours if you succeed, or of the horrors if you fail. Just bring your focus back to the objective at hand and watch obstacles dissolve. If wealth, fame, or accolades come your way, they will without your worrying about them.
  • Be bold in the face of harsh criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground. Be unruffled under fire—cool and calm, unintimidated. Never let undeserved criticism weaken your confidence. They are wrong; you are right! We remember Rembrandt and Michelangelo; no one remembers their critics. You must never lose unshakeable confidence that you have the ability to produce quality art and will succeed sooner or later.
  • Always try to improve, but never dwell on your imperfections.
  • Place your emphasis on developing your skills to the highest possible level above everything else. The higher your skills, the higher the goals you’ll achieve and the more clearly you’ll express yourself, your vision, your voice.
  • Do what your life calls on you to do for its own sake. Engross yourself in it–big job or small job, important or unimportant, praiseworthy or not, paid or unpaid. Give freely of your talent without expecting anything in return.

CalderArtist Alexander Calder was asked why sculptors like to produce large works. He answered, “It’s more exhilarating…and then one can think he’s a big shot.” Rare are the people who can live five days without getting caught up in themselves–or five minutes. Ninety percent of what we talk about is ourselves and 95% of what we think about is ourselves. Our preoccupation with ourselves creates many of our miseries.

But when we become non-attached and focus on our work and the steady development of our talents to the exclusion of every other concern, we stop worrying about being big shots and talking and thinking so much about ourselves.

Then our work leaps up and becomes exceptional.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Setting Your Artistic Potential Free

 “Think differently about yourself today than you did yesterday.”

“We should weave more of the actor into our lives.”

tool-210385_640A sculptor told me that for most of her life she considered herself average in every way. She was never the worst in anything, and never the best either. But when she stopped conceiving of herself as an average sculptor and conceived of herself as exceptional, she became exceptional and met one goal after another and had success after success. No longer considering herself average, she did what exceptional artists do–she took her art more seriously, became more ambitious and more conscientious, worked harder and learned all she could about sculpting and sculptors—took more classes, went to workshops, read. She made it a point to develop relationships with other artists and people in the field. And no longer average, her art quickly became less inhibited and freer and bolder. Her confidence grew every day, and her art came out of her more effortlessly and was of a higher quality. She gained the reputation as the hardest worker among her artist friends, and as a very bright and determined, successful woman. No one thinks of her as average.

When I was a business consultant, I once consulted with a company that had a rule that no one from one unit was to visit another unit during working hours. Signs to that effect were posted everywhere. Faced with such a ridiculous rule, the first thing people with any imagination will do is what you would do if you are an artist—they break it. But in this company you had to be very careful. Wherever you went you heard people whispering, “Whatever you do, don’t get caught out of your unit.”

Your self-concept is lot like that rule. It is like a miniature judge sitting vigilantly and unforgivingly on your shoulder, its eyes wide open, continually telling you like that company rule: “Be careful. Don’t get caught out of my definition of the kind of person you are, the kind of artist or writer you are, and of what you’re capable of and what you aren’t.” If you’re living inside a self-concept that limits your art because it is the wrong self-concept (“you’re average, not exceptional”), you’re up against a major inner obstacle that directly affects the quality of your work—your paintings, your stories, your poetry–and your ability to produce it. When you rid yourself of a limiting self-concept you’ll see other obstacles in you disappear. They will melt away.

We don’t just hold our inner views of ourselves in our mind as if they are some kind of internal ornament. No, we act as if they really are not just an opinion we’ve formed of ourselves, but the Gods-honest truth, as if they are accurate representations of ourselves. That’s the law of consistency–our self-concept and our actions are ordinarily consistent. All of your actions, and even your abilities in any area, including your art, tend to be consistent with it. We do what it tells us we can do, and shy away from what it tells us we can’t. The sculptor fashioned a new “exceptional” concept of herself and her exceptional actions became consistent with it.

The Ubiquitous “I Ams,” “I’m Nots,” and “I Can’ts”

You create and then maintain your self-concept by characterizing yourself in particular ways. You do that in the “I ams” you use when thinking or talking about yourself–“I am a generous person,’ or “I am clumsy.” And you shape it also by the “I am nots” you habitually use: “I’m not an affectionate person.” And there are “I cans” that you use when thinking or talking about your capabilities: “I can ride a bike, drive a car, and draw a lovely landscape.”

“I’m nots” lead to “I can’ts.” “Since I’m not A, I’ll never be able to do B.” “Since I’m not X, naturally I can’t do Y.” “I’m not a person who’s good with numbers, so I can’t help my daughter with her math.”

De-hypnotize Yourself

oil-painting-571164_640When under hypnosis, a timid man who’s afraid of public speaking is told and believes that he’s a confident public speaker, he is changed instantly. He speaks like an orator. He becomes what he’s told he is. His “I can’ts” disappear. Now he can. Under hypnosis we can do amazing things. We can become convinced we’re powerful and strong. Then we are able to lift heavy objects that we normally couldn’t lift. But what has really happened? Our physical strength hasn’t increased. We have merely lifted the limits we had been placing on that ability. In essence the hypnosis did not take place when we were told we could do things we didn’t believe we could. The hypnosis was taking place all the time that we believed that we did not have these abilities.

We have hypnotized ourselves into believing our self-concept—this inaudible voice in us–is reality. We’ve hypnotized ourselves into believing that we are like this when we could have been something else all along, could have been a thousand other types of persons all along, had we hypnotized ourselves differently. We created a fictional idea of ourselves, and then came to believe that idea, and then acted as if it were true when all along it was just an idea, just a notion. If we’ve hypnotized ourselves into a limiting self-concept, it’s our job now is to de-hypnotize ourselves. And that we can do.

The moment you de-hypnotize yourself and think of yourself as being something else is the moment you’re on your way to being it. A woman I know never thought of herself as a particularly good mother, but one day at the playground a woman she didn’t know said to her, “I’ve been watching you playing with your children these last weeks and wanted to tell you what a perfect mother you are.” That changed her concept of herself; “I am a good mother after all.”

Research demonstrates that as soon as people start thinking, “I am creative” instead of “I’m not creative” their creativity increases, even in a matter of minutes, and sometimes phenomenally. I’ve seen that happen hundreds of times with people of all ages from all walks of life. A group of people are given a problem to solve. They are graded and the person who graded them expresses disappointment, and says, “I really thought you’d come up with more creative solutions because I know you are very, very creative people.” Then they are asked to work on the problem again, this time developing solutions that are creative, being reminded that “My expectations of you are high because you are very creative people.”

A few minutes later they turn in their solutions and the solutions are more creative. Something miraculous has happened. The problem-solvers have abandoned their old self-concept that they hypnotized themselves into believing and have taken another which they needed in order to solve the problem creatively. The creativity that was in them all along waiting to be ignited shined through once they changed their self-concept. They have learned that they are creative after all. When an artist reaches a plateau, and doesn’t progress, it may be because his self-concept needs to be changed.

Two Strategies for Overcoming a Limiting Self-Concept

There are two methods you can use to free yourself from a limiting self-concept. One, you can change it. You can do that by trading it for another that you intentionally create that’s more beneficial, more to your liking, and that serves you better. Or, two, you can do without any self-concept at all. You do that by attending solely to the actions that life presents to you which are right there, right in front of you at every moment that need attending to. You pay no attention to this concept of yourself or that one. You pay no attention to yourself at all, but only to what needs to be done right now.

 Strategy I–The Storekeeper and the Thief: Trading in your Old Self-Concept

samurai-41200_640In Japan in the nineteenth century, storekeepers were considered lily-livered cowards and weaklings. One storekeeper became sick and tired of that reputation. To prove that it was totally false he took lessons at a martial arts dojo. He devoted himself religiously and after some years he became an expert.

After closing his shop late one night, the storekeeper and his wife started home down the dark streets. They had just turned a corner when a man holding a knife stepped out of the shadows and ordered the storekeeper to hand over his money.

At first he refused, but when the thief charged him, growling, “You miserable merchant, I’ll cut you to pieces,” the storekeeper lost his courage, fell to his knees, and began to tremble with fear.

Suddenly his wife cried out, “You’re not a storekeeper, you’re an expert in the martial arts.”

The storekeeper turned his head and looked at his wife. “Yes,” he said, “I am.”

He stood, a warrior now, totally fearless, completely calm. He let out a powerful katzu, “battle shout,” and leaped at the thief. He defeated him easily in a matter of seconds.

 Strategy II–The Teaman and the Ronin: Doing Without a Self-Concept

In feudal Japan, a servant, a poor practitioner of chado, the Way of tea, unwittingly insulted a ronin, a masterless samurai. Outraged, the ronin challenged the servant to a duel.

“I’m not a warrior,” the teaman said, “and I’m very sorry if I offended you. I certainly didn’t mean to. Please accept my apology.”

But the ronin would have none of it. “We meet at dawn tomorrow,” he said, and as was customary he handed the terrified teaman a sword. “Go practice,” said the ronin.

The teaman ran to the home of a famous sword master and told him the terrible thing that had happened.

“A unique situation,” the sword master said. “For you will surely die. The thing I might be able to help you with is isagi-yoku, the art of dying well.”

While they talked, the teaman prepared and poured tea. The masterful way he did it caught the eye of the sword master. He slapped his knee and said, “Forget what I just told you. Put yourself into the state of mind you were in as you prepared the tea and you can win this fight.”

The teaman was shocked. The sword the ronin had given him was the first he had ever held. “What state of mind?”

“Were you thinking ‘I’m a teaman?’ ” asked the master.

“No. I wasn’t thinking at all.”

“That’s it!” The sword master laughed. “Tomorrow draw your sword and hold it high over your head, ready to cut your opponent down. Don’t think you’re a teaman or that you’re a swordsman. Just listen. When you hear him shout, strike him down.”

The next morning the ronin appeared on the field and the teaman immediately raised his sword overhead, his eyes on the ronin, his ears waiting for the battle cry.

The ronin too raised his sword and stood staring at the teaman. Then he saw the determination in the teaman’s eyes and said, “I cannot beat you.” He sheathed his sword and walked away.

The teaman had taken an alternative to changing his self-concept. He didn’t exchange one concept of himself for another. He didn’t change, “I’m just a teaman and not a warrior, so how can I hope to beat this trained ronin?” to “I am a good fighter.” He forgot about having any self-concept at all. He just did what life called on him to do—be prepared to strike the ronin down.

If I am a painter applying Strategy II, I do not replace the thought, “I’m an average painter” with “I’m a great painter.” I just pick up the brush and without any self-concept at all, just use all my skill and paint.

Strategies: Change or Do Without

  • Define your artist or writer current self-concept. What is it? It’s helpful to write an essay titled, “My Current Self-Concept.” It can be a paragraph or twenty or more pages–as long as you want. What do you say and think about yourself that begins, “I am,” “I’m not,” “I can,” and “I can’t”?
  • Design a more beneficial self-concept to your own specifications. Describe in writing what you want it to be. If you want to change it you should have in mind what you want to change it to.
  • Start with the realization that you don’t have to be any particular way. You don’t have to have the opinion of yourself that you do now. You can change it, and by changing it you will change your entire life. Or you can force it to change by stepping out of it and acting differently, even in a way it would never expect you to.
  • Wholeheartedly believe in your new opinion of yourself. As soon as you see yourself in a different light and believe completely what you now see, you instantly change.
  • Remember that all behavior is an act, a performance, and you can learn to be a good actor. You can author a new play with a new part for yourself. The first part of the word “action” is “act.” We should weave more of the actor into our lives. Act as if you can and you are when you feel you can’t and you’re not. Do that for an “I can’t” and “I’m not” and you’ll prove to yourself that you can and you are. Do that time and again.
  • Be careful what you say to yourself. You are what you are because you keep telling yourself you are. When you stop telling yourself you are, you change.
  • Replace every “I just can’t” that is holding you back with a determined, “I can.” Stop telling yourself nonsense. Don’t tell yourself that you’re fated to be in the future what you’ve been in the past. Don’t think so much and tell yourself that there are forty-four things–or one hundred and forty- four things– that could go wrong. Think differently about yourself today than you did yesterday.

lotus-214619_640Strategy II

  • Do what you want to do without any self-concept at all. Just turn your attention outward. Act as if you already are the way you want to be. Act as if you’re brave and you are brave, act as if you are a person of action and you are, act decisively and you are, act confidently and you’re confident, etc. Act that way consistently, at every opportunity, without any exceptions, moment by moment. Become what you want to be.
  • Absorb yourself in the action and not in yourself. Don’t think of anything else but the action. Don’t say to yourself that you are one way or the other, a good artist or a bad artist, courageous when facing life’s setbacks or cowardly, shy or outgoing, self-doubting or confident, happy or unhappy, discouraged or confident. Just put all concepts of yourself aside with no thoughts whatsoever of yourself and do what at every moment is right there in front of you to be done. Let no inner view of yourself get in the way.
  • Take no thought of any “I am,” or “I cant’s,” or “I’m nots,” and don’t concern yourself with “What great things will happen if I succeed,” or worry about, “What bad things will happen if I fail.” Don’t worry about anything. Don’t struggle to protect your inner view of yourself: “Oh, no, I could never do that. I’m not good at that kind of thing. I would be embarrassed if I tried and failed.” Every moment and every day and all lifelong just turn your thoughts away from yourself and back to the matter at hand.
  • Bloom like a flower. A flower is not a flower all its life. It starts as a seed and becomes a flower. Every moment affords you the opportunity to set your life out in a new direction and grow into the artist you have the potential to be.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Vivekananda: Practical Thoughts of an Exceptional Man

(Born 152 Years ago today, January 12, 2015)

swami-vivekanand-390778_640

 Focus

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; think of it; dream of it; live on that one idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success. Hold to the ideal a thousand times, and if you fail a thousand times, make the attempt once more.”

Adversity

“Blows are what awaken us. In the majority of cases it is misery that teaches more than happiness. It is the heroic endeavor to subdue adverse circumstances that carries our spirit upward.”

Joy

“This world is just a gymnasium in which we play; our life is an eternal holiday.”

Fearlessness

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you.”

Strength

“This is the question I put to every man, woman or child: Are you strong? Do you feel strong? Are you getting stronger? We suffer because we are weak.”

Freedom

“Man has freedom already; but he will have to discover it. He has it but every moment he forgets it.”

My admiration for Vivekananda (1863-1902) began many years ago with my reading a tiny paperback booklet on his teachings that I happened to pick up while in a used bookstore somewhere in the Dakotas desperately searching for something—anything—to read between flights. At that time I was experiencing great outward success in every material way, but was dissatisfied and did not know why. That magical little booklet came to mean a great deal to me, and from it I progressed to a reading of all the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words spoken by this mesmerizing orator with a gleam in his eye who possessed “a quiet but assured air of command.”

When I find myself going astray (as I too often do) and wandering away from the deep down fundamental things, his words come to mind to rescue me, particularly, be fearless; have no fear, and “Go beyond the trifles of the world. Know that nothing can affect you. It is liberty to be affected by nothing. Be perfectly resigned, perfectly unconcerned.” In other words—if other words are needed—keep your bearings; don’t lose yourself craving what is inessential to you; don’t let superficial things and pettiness touch you; find that your life is more composed of meaningless nonsense than you have ever imagined. I think that if truly understood and taken to heart, these are among the most profound and therapeutic words ever spoken. If you and I were to “go beyond the trifles of the world” most of our worries, anxieties, fears, and doubts would fly out the window. So when things are pressing in on you from all sides and you wish them to stop, say to yourself, “Go beyond the trifles of the world” and watch what happens.

Unlike his mentor Ramakrishna, Vivekananda (born Narendranath Datta in Calcutta, India) was not a mystic. He was a spiritual man and fundamentally a teacher of how to live sincerely and honestly in this real world of work and family without losing sight our spiritual nature. The prophet of self-reliance, he was a person whose words expressed exactly who he was without phoniness, fakery, or pretense. When he died at the age of thirty-nine, the world from beggars to statesmen mourned.

“By means of the constant effort to do good to others we are trying to forget ourselves; this forgetfulness of self is the one great lesson we have to learn in life. Every act of charity, every thought of sympathy, every action of help, every good deed, is taking so much of self-importance away from our little selves.”

”Always keep your mind joyful; if melancholy thoughts come, kick them out.”

“We are responsible for what we are; and whatever we wish ourselves to be we have the power to make ourselves.”

“It is selfishness we should eliminate. I find that whenever I made a mistake in my life, it has always been because self entered into the calculation. Where self has not been involved, my judgment has gone straight to the mark.”

“It is thought which is the propelling force in us. Fill the mind with the highest thoughts, hear them day after day, think them month after month. Never mind failures…they are the beauty of life, these failures.”

“The one way out is through ourselves.

“Almost all suffering is caused by our not having the power of detachment. We must learn not only to attach the mind to one thing exclusively, but also to detach it at a moment’s notice.”

“In all these little roughnesses that we meet with in life, the highest expression of freedom is to forbear.”

“The goal of all nature is freedom and freedom is to be attained only by perfect unselfishness: every thought, word, or deed, takes us toward the goal. Have no thought for yourself, no word for yourself”

“There is no limit to the powers of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point; that is the secret. In making money, or in worshiping God, or in doing anything, the stronger the power of concentration, the better will that thing be done.”

 

Vivekananda was little known outside a small circle in India when he appeared at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893—the first time the leaders of all the world’s major religions were brought together to talk to the public about their religions. Vivekananda had a handsome face and striking appearance and drew attention the morning before he was to speak for the first time. His turn to speak came, but he excused himself and asked for more time. Later he confessed that he had stage fright: the other speakers were prestigious religious leaders who had come prepared. He had arrived with no formal credentials, unknown, with no money, no resources, no place to stay, and hadn’t prepared a speech.

Such was the overwhelming impact of his mere presence on an audience that when in the afternoon he rose to his feet at the podium and began speaking with that extraordinarily deep bell-like voice, saying “Sisters and Brothers of America,” the reaction was astonishing. Instantly the entire audience—many hundreds of people— clapped and cheered wildly. Nothing like that had occurred at the conference though all the other speakers were better known. The audience must have sensed they were about to hear the most valuable words of a most exceptional human being.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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