Books I have finished recently:

On The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russel: The message is simple, clear, and eminently sensible. Focusing outwards on things, causes, family, others leads to happiness; focusing inwards on yourself leads to unhappiness.

How can meditation lead to happiness, given that it seems to be a focus inwards? The answer is that it is an inward focus using the same type of perception with which one focuses outwards. I’ll change my wording now, because I realize that “focus” does not capture what should be going on. Instead of “focus” we can use “concern for.” In meditation we are not concerned with the self as self, as in, “I have a concern for myself,” but rather there is looking-inwards while specifically cultivating an attitude of unconcern, of detached yet alert observation. So this is something else entirely, and I would not say that meditation is really concerned directly with happiness but rather something else; as a consequence it is a practice which facilitates one’s becoming more free from concern for the self so that concern can be directed outwards towards the causes and things in the world which one has the power to influence.

The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley: I anticipate a hard time expressing what this is about because it centers around something which I imagine to be foreign to most people, which are the experiential truths behind the world’s religions, in our time almost completely covered up by rituals, politics, symbols and social drama. What is “faith”? What is “spirituality”? Who was Jesus and what did he experience, what did he really teach? I use Jesus to pick on one particular avatar, but in reality, there are many; this one created a particularly powerful ripple in the pond, even though Christianity as practiced in recent times seems mere lip service to the actual experience and the actual teachings as I am understanding them in bits and pieces; also, great harm and suffering has been caused in its name. Some spiritual teachers get the real meaning behind the words and try to translate them so as to be relevant to our own times and our own experiences, because they are universally relevant.

Central to all religions is the so-called “mystical experience” whereby an ordinary human being becomes transfigured, changed; God or greater reality as it exists beyond words and concepts is perceived directly. Huxley describes faith as being a vehicle towards forms of this experience and not an endpoint; it is on this foundation of direct communion with God that religions were built up, becoming containers and step-down transformers for the knowledge which was obtained such as to make it understandable, applicable and beneficial to the majority.

This book is a collection of quotations from great mystics of the past interspersed with Huxley’s insightful analysis and commentary. He ties together Christianity, Sufism (a mystical branch of Islam), Hinduism and Buddhism, showing that these are merely culturally-derived sets of clothing for the same thing. Notably absent is any mention of Judaism besides Christian biblical reference to “pharisees;” I understand this to be a derisive term for a form of Judaism practiced at the time which was looked upon to be full of ritual and practice concerned with the letter of the law to a degree such that its spirit was completely eclipsed and was therefore empty; this was in contrast to a competing branch of Judaism at the time whose adherents were called “sadducees” and who were either more friendly to or ancestors of early Christians. [ My only knowledge here comes from a vaguely remembered elementary school lesson in a religious class where I was taught that sadducees had been an enemy of sorts and that pharisees were the ancestors of the practices of modern Judaism; this was taught with overtones of being as a kind of inoculation against “secular” culture with its emptiness and lack of discipline and the allure of not having to conform to potentially burdensome-seeming (particularly for kids) rules and rituals. ] I wish Huxley had directed his discerning mind and awareness of mystical experience towards this “ancient” religion, perhaps via quotes from scholars of the mystical bent themselves such as Maimonides; what I am left with is a slight feeling that Judaism is “different” somehow from the other religions as communicated via this treatment, perhaps in that it has no avatars or spokesmen as “likable” or iconic in our imaginations as Jesus and Buddha. There is a certain humbleness where any particular character we might pick is merely human, perhaps noble for some reason but in merely human terms, and where God gets all the credit; neither Abraham nor Moses are adored for having had much charisma or flawlessness of character and there are no saints or process of beatification and little centralized organization in this respect. Rather everyone is human and equal; there are biblical prophets and modern-day geniuses but no concept of sainthood which comes to mind. This distinction is interesting to me. Judaism seems to be concerned with protecting itself somewhat from what it believes to be a possible trap, based on a conviction that the worship or sanctification of a person, no matter how much of a channel for God he may have been, or how much mystical awareness she may have possessed, distracts from attention towards God. At the same time, with respect to the nonexistent role of Judaism in The Perennial Philosophy, I think there are other possible explanations or factors active at the time the book was written: (a) it was perceived as a minority religion; (b) the contrails of anti-semitism persisted more strongly then; (c) Christianity is perceived as an evolution of Judaism with respect to such treatment and is thus the same thing; (d) there just aren’t many powerful quotes by well-known Jewish mystics. And finally, it is possible that (e) Jewish mysticism was of a different kind for some reason and didn’t fit in with the kind of analysis and exposition which was the author’s intent.

I also read Huxley’s 60’s classic The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. I confess that I have never read Brave New World, yet I have put Island on my reading list ahead of it.

The End of Faith CoverOn The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris. I wrote this in response to a discussion with my friend Keith Cascio, and some comments he had made after watching Harris’ TED talk, when I was midway through the book.

What strikes me is the absolute desperation, the deep frustration that Harris injects into his text, in trying to get his points across. He’s peered long and deep into the tortured and bloody paths of history, at the chain of effects that faith-based thinking has had on U.S. policy, and seen the sheer magnitude of the utter waste of human potential, destroyed lives, misery and retarded progress across entire cultures which pervades the world (and our own culture) as consequences of ideas coming to us from our great religions– the “how could people possible be so absolutely dumb” exasperation, outrage and empathy with the victims of this machine is apparent.

I just finished the chapter on drug policy: We spend $4 billion a year prosecuting marijuana cases (at one end of a slippery slope); 50% of all U.S. court time is tied up in drug cases. …Which might seem somewhat tangential, except when we look at the parallels– it is a sort of pervasive religious type of thinking that continues to criminalize marijuana, both from refusal to rationally look at scientific facts, and, coming from Christianity, a puritanical national obsession with “sin” and the idea that other people might be enjoying themselves somewhere inappropriately (fornicating, smoking dope, seeking “alternative” spiritual experiences, et cetera). This is (mostly) nothing new to us liberal west-coasters, though, but it’s “fun” in a perverse way to see such idiocy taken on, while simultaneously sobering: this is the state of our world, and we’re in a somewhat more enlightened part of it.

Now, your concerns [about sloppy metaphors]. I conjecture that Harris has been so long steeped in his (justified) outrage towards the illogic of the world, so frustrated by the dimness and stupidity of those around him who “do not see” and either intentionally or not cause great human suffering, that he has become a little bit “tainted” by it. He has come to use hyperbole for emotional impact, because he has made a (probably subconscious) calculation that no progress will be made if he does not beat the sheep around him over the head a little bit with talk of wolves. His deepest fears (e.g., a nuclear-armed Islamic state, which he argues will show little restraint) lend a sense of urgency to his arguments: “they must be made to be able to see; I will reach for and use sensationalized (and even iffy) metaphors in the service of my argument because it is the only way it is going to get across and have some sort of agency in the world.”

[The following is regarding a statement Harris made in his TED talk: “The distinction between a healthy person and a dead one is about as clear and consequential as any we make in science.” Keith took objection to this, arguing that the comment represented sloppy thinking because the precise point of death is in actuality not at all clear-cut.]

We draw lines everywhere: between life and death, between being a child and being an adult, between sanity and insanity. Sometimes we know the lines are artificial, but they’re based on easy measurements, and so we accept them. E.g., you become an adult legally at 18. Same with life and death. There is the reality (some state of the body) and the definition (alive or dead, according to some guidelines, which we are apparently trying to make as precise as possible, erring to the side of caution). It’s nothing new that defining death is messy. E.g., I don’t remember if I shared an article I read recently about new techniques for reviving patients in cases of drowning along with hypothermia (where cold had preserved tissue and prevented oxygen-starvation damage), something that had not previously been thought possible. New medical technologies will keep pushing back the threshold of death’s door until someday, only the brain’s health will matter.

(Also, the definition seems to imply that if you are “potentially revivable” [with complex current technology] then you are not “dead”. What if said technology couldn’t revive you? Then do we move the time of “death” backwards to some newly determined point? Is a cryogenically preserved body alive in the face of potential future technology, or dead because it can’t be revived now? Messy.)

To Harris’s imprecise statement to which you take objection, I am willing to write it off as hyperbole. At the same time, though, note that he’s not comparing a living person to a dead one, rather a healthy person. I’m having a hard time thinking of an example where the line is blurred, since presumably we would need to create a definition of “health”, and it would include criteria which unambiguously classify persons into “healthy”, and once there, they could logically not be classified as “dead”.

What if the statement were: “the distinction between day and night is about as clear and consequential as any we make in science”? Or “solid” and “liquid”? Are there cases where we’re not sure if something is one or the other? Sure. We tighten the definitions as much as we can so we can operate using logic, but in reality there are ambiguous cases along the edges, everywhere. Any scientific field is full of them (e.g., classifying animals into species, physical effects into mathematical laws which mostly describe them, etc). So I don’t see the problem with the statement, other than reliance on the fuzzy term “healthy” (which is just hard to define, but conveys a strong image, thus: rhetoric).

After completing the book, I wrote this follow-up:

There is a chapter on torture about which I’m not sure how I feel. Something feels incomplete about its conclusion, but I need to think about it more, because Harris himself warned that the chapter’s conclusions will not feel right, rather that logic demands a scientific yardstick for assessing and decreasing human suffering and in this, explicit torture in rare cases might be justified (e.g., to prevent war and dropping bombs which will with certainty kill and maim large numbers of noncombatants). I sense the empathy which led to his conclusions, and I appreciate the sharp outlines of the position he’s willing to stake, but I do not have faith that there is not a corner of the argument that he has not missed. [And note that this is not the kind of faith that Harris attacks in the book.]

The final chapter is about Eastern religious traditions (their relative value), and shows an open-minded rigorousness of thought which I appreciate.

It’s hard to quantify what people know, but I think it’s safe to say that some fraction of the public are profoundly ignorant across multiple dimensions. I think we have a particular failing with respect to the public’s knowing what science is and what it isn’t, what it’s for, etc. Like the Christian preoccupation with sin, there’s also a general deep religious fear of science, and therefore a certain way that it is cast (e.g., there’s that old anxiety that science is somehow antagonistic to beauty), so as in effect to discourage genuine inquiry and understanding in many areas– a problem in practice, probably more than in principle, of faith in its most general.

Book CoverThis book examines, from a scientific point of view, the neural mechanisms which support attention and the sense of self, and how meditation harnesses those mechanisms to change the brain, slowly, over time. What I learned fills in a piece of a puzzle I’ve been working on, lately, and I’m still refining my understanding of how all the pieces fit. The book starts with the idea that we have two ways of focusing on things, in general; these correspond to different styles of meditation, or two “schools” in the Zen tradition:

(1) “Top-down”: We pick something to focus on, like a small object or spot, and can put varying degrees of attentiveness towards that spot. One style of Zen meditation involves training that focusing-in ability. The book looks at what structures in the brain are responsible for focus and which allow us to move our focus around, at will; to willfully narrow focus on something we select. This top-down kind of meditation is one in which that focus-muscle is exercised by holding focus on a chosen spot (or even something non-physical, like an idea or concept) for long periods of time.

In my own words, I observe something interesting happen when I do this: The more intently I focus on one thing, the more the background fades out. Those “word thoughts” which happen all the time start to come up as usual, but then are quickly washed away by the flood of my attention towards this one thing. For example, I was looking out the picture-window in the living room, focusing on the top of a tree. I looked at its shape, its color, its form. I didn’t consider any particular aspect of it, just made the top of that tree the spot I was focusing on attentively. I noticed how my thoughts stopped being able to bubble up, how that tree became all-consuming to my mind and almost completely blocked out other thoughts. After some amount of time had passed, I began to feel very comfortable, and I believe this is because my mind had let go of any negative emotions or discomforts related to a typical smorgasbord of thoughts, which had been percolating subconsciously. By placing my focus onto the top of this tree, after a while I had let go of most everything except… the top of the tree.

I noticed that for some time after this, and after having exercised my focus-ability similarly for just a short duration (less than 15 minutes) the day before, I was able to be much more present to the people around me. I could apply my focus to a person’s face, while listening to them, if I chose. I observe in general that other people seem almost pleasantly surprised, and may think very kindly towards, someone who pays them such full attention. Others are usually not used to this kind of non-mind-wandering attentiveness towards them and on what they are communicating. Further, although admittedly this could have all been “in my head”, I felt a subtle mental “tiredness” after practicing focus in this way the first few times, as if my ability to do so had been so weak that these short practices had strained (and strengthened) it.

(2) The other “school” of meditative training in Zen, which is initially a harder path, relates to “bottom-up” focus. This is the background awareness which causes us to turn involuntarily towards a noise, or towards something that moves in our otherwise-still visual field. Or to simply “notice” something in our peripheral vision. What part is paying attention to the larger visual field, and understanding what is happening in it? It is some part of us that is subconsciously aware. And further, beyond mere visual changes that we notice, some part of the mind is actively processing, in parallel, the entire scene. It is subconsciously drawing inferences and creating insights, each of which might call our attention and awareness in a given direction. Because the part of the brain which does this processing and associating is not dominant (our symbolic, language-processing half is dominant, as well as our Self-related, “I am here” -type of thinking, and connected with those the explicit “sharp” attention which we can consciously direct), we are generally cut off from these wordless insights (about what is happening around us; about what might be worth turning to look at) without becoming ever aware of them. Or else, the insights are stored, but generally don’t bubble up into conscious awareness. (Something may even call our attention in a given direction, but we may not yet “know” why.) A bottom-up meditative style means casting focus on the whole picture, and being receptive to what that massively more parallel kind of awareness is ascertaining. We’re used to that awareness “firing” (triggering us to look at something), but we don’t spend time strengthening that awareness of “everything” or being “in” it. It’s hard to learn how to “look at everything all at once” explicitly, let alone remain in that state for an appreciable period of time, but this is what the bottom-up style of training requires.

An eventual goal of meditative training, or perhaps a side-effect, or a marker of progress along the path, is the achievement of a momentary state of consciousness where attention itself becomes so saturated with insight and input and meaning that awareness relating back to the ego-based Self– to the idea that “I” am here– drops out completely, leaving a direct and vivid awareness of the world, in the “language” of the non-dominant parts of the mind we don’t get to experience by themselves. In Zen, this is called “kensho” or “satori”, although the two mean slightly different things. These states are usually not encountered during meditation itself; meditation merely is the “weight-training” that strengthens the mind’s attentional systems so that they can be more present to the world around us, to the present moment, and not stuck in cycles of thought; these peak experiences are usually triggered by natural scenes of beauty and sublimity, and are very rare.

The book describes the rough neurological basis for how the two attention systems work. It talks about neuroplasticity and how meditative training actually alters the structure of the brain, so that practice is accumulative over a lifetime. It emphasizes that although there are different schools of Zen, those that emphasize top-down attention; and those that emphasize bottom-up attention, that a balanced approach, training both methods of focus, is most productive. The everyday benefits of meditative practice are a decreased Self-centered-ness, and consequently a greater awareness of what one is doing, what one is casting attention towards and engaging in, with less fear, worry, et cetera, and more confidence stemming from greater understanding of reality. Learned tasks which should remain on autopilot can more easily remain such, allowing us to appreciate what is actually around us. (As in: “I will let me body take care of this, and I will watch and appreciate what it is doing.”) By focusing what comes into our awareness, then, we become more interested in others and in the world itself than on how the world relates directly back to the ego-based Self, and on our momentary thoughts (especially those we unnecessarily put into words, mentally) which give us little insight. In general by being able to examine our own thoughts we can recognize that the “I” is something separate from the thought: we are not our thoughts. What is doing the thinking? Why does this thought cause this emotion? What is experiencing the emotion? Oftentimes the cause of the emotion is Self-centered; it is then possible to objectively decide that some attachment which generally leads to that emotion is not useful, and because we have increasing power over what we decide to pay attention to, it’s possible to let the thoughts which bring about negative feelings dissolve, or be understood within a sandbox that allows us to not have to suffer and be servants to them. Rather than “detachment” from life (it’s difficulties and joys), meditative training allows us to be far more involved, far more intimate with it– but in an examined, intentional, increasingly wise and aware way– rather than a blind, uncontrolled, unengaged or absent way, or where one is present mainly just to one’s own Self-related thoughts, or thoughts that come from the ego. Detachment does not mean disengagement– on the contrary, it allows deeper, wiser, more productive and satisfying engagement.

“Zen” has many meanings; at its most basic, it’s simply a form of meditation (that’s what the word literally means), but I believe there’s a popular misconception about what meditation is. I used to think it was just mental relaxation. Or visualization, which the aim of relaxation. I didn’t expect to get much out of it, and I already felt like a pretty calm, relaxed person. That was before taking a basic meditation class, where I realized that the calm one feels in an ordinary mindset (with thoughts wandering, even if one doesn’t feel like these are emotionally-heavy ruminations) does not compare to the magical “empty, clear and light” state which descends during basic meditation. Even that takes patience and self-discipline. What this book argues, though, is that meditation is much more than even that (a temporary mental state, which may leave one feeling refreshed or renewed). It is rather a sort of weight-training regimen for the attentional systems of the mind, which trains both the narrow and the wide systems, and which influences detectable changes in the physical brain as long-term practice proceeds. Further, because meditative training also trains the habit systems which control how we re-focus and re-adjust our attention, it brings us the ability to tune ourselves (largely our reactions, regarding which we were less consciously aware) voluntarily to be in greater accordance with our values. This in turn accelerates a general lessening of fear and an increase in confidence in all areas of life.

Cover PhotoThe solution to writer’s block? Lower your standards. I read that on the Web somewhere, and followed a series of links to a particular book on productivity at Amazon. The reviews for that book were lauding this one, by the same author, saying it should be read first. I was intrigued and ordered The War of Art.

It was a fast read; I completed it in a couple days. Very poetically written and rang true. A book about the nature of art, and about the nature of the mind when that mind’s owner desires to create art: To write a book; to undertake any endeavor which represents an expenditure of creative energy.

The author, Steven Pressfield, claims that the most important thing to overcome is one’s own internal resistance. And that this is a natural feeling, a reaction of the mind when confronted with something that is difficult for it. It is the self-doubt, the nagging thought that “maybe I should be doing something different”, the desire for procrastination.

The book opens with a powerful example. Hitler himself went to art school, but he didn’t / couldn’t paint because he experienced resistance towards it. Maybe he thought he had nothing to paint. Maybe he saw himself as a failure as a painter, and could not envision a future in which he was respected for the craft. And so he turned to politics instead.

As I write this, I am experiencing resistance. I just woke up; I’m a little sleep deprived; my mind is cloudy. “Go get some breakfast, first!” my mind says. “You’ll be able to write this much more effectively later.” There may be truth in that. But if I stop now, then who’s to say I’ll come back and finish this later? This essay may turn out like almost everything else I’ve had the initial impulse to write: I “never got around to” finishing it, or “never had the time”, or some such. So I lower my standards and push on.

The War of Art (I have to think of “The Art of War” and flip the words, every time I want to state the book’s name) calls out this internal resistance, defines it. Why is art so difficult? Why do we become “stuck”? Why do we give up on those creative endeavors, in the name of something practical? The answer is simple but nuanced.

Pressfield describes an internal conflict between the “self” and the “I”. The former is the entire mind, that which strives for something greater, something more divine, artistic, self-realized. More animalistic. More “real”. The latter is the ego, the experience of the self, which is concerned with the practical, with keeping the mind in check, with making us self-conscious and concerned for our physical safety and basic needs, among other things. The ego makes us doubt. “Is this the best thing for me? Is this the best way to be spending my time?” Ego says: The best way to spend my day is not to waste time doing something “artistic” (writing, dancing, composing, painting…) but rather to get a well-paying job, to fit in with society’s ideals, to contribute to society, to be safe, secure and successful (but by others’ standards). To be respected. Perhaps an artistic pursuit can lead to that kind of success. “But it is unlikely to be able to sustain me”, the ego says. “Earn money first, then pursue your art as a hobby; it’s unlikely you can become successful as a _____”.

What is a hobby? What distinguishes a professional from an amateur? Pressfield writes about this. The mark of a professional is that he has a craft. He doesn’t need to love it; that is irrelevant. What matters is that it is his craft, what he defines himself by. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not love working out; that is irrelevant to him. But he still (let’s rewind time quite a bit) clocks in his time at the gym. When he’s feeling down (the book had a better word, here), he deals with it by going to the gym. If he doesn’t feel like working out on a given day, he works out anyway. I’m losing this train of thought.

I continue to experience resistance as I write this. My writing is choppy; I’m having trouble finding the words to express myself. Yet, I push on. Let this be a draft. Then I’ll revise it, polish it a bit more. But let me not sit here and be stuck, feeling like I don’t know the words to write next, or give up in the middle.

Creativity is a different part of the self, which we need to invite in if we wish to let her use us to produce art. We need to give this internal muse free reign to use us, to not suppress her. Perhaps my muse is foggy, now? But that’s okay, I don’t mind if what she produces isn’t particularly polished. I still value the output. I’m not going to say, “not now, maybe later…” to her because she might not come back, later.

There will always be something that is hard to do, for which you experience resistance. You want to do it, but something inside says “not now…” This happens all through life. It applies to dating… if you’re in a coffee shop and see a cute girl, you’re probably not going to talk to her. “She probably has a boyfriend…” or “she’s probably not interested in me…” or “I don’t have time…” Your mind (the “I”) invents a million excuses. Reverse the genders, of course, if that works better for you. The self feels the pull of something greater and urges you to talk to her. But the mind usually wins. (This example did not come from the book, but it is very illustrative.) I should also point out that the ego has a stake in talking with this theoretical girl, too, and to talk to her for reasons of satisfying the ego would not result in satisfying something of the self. (Or perhaps there are darker aspects of the self?) And yet, this is another trick the ego plays. It makes us consider itself, the ego, as a line of defense. The ego says: “Don’t do this, because if you did, you’d just be feeding your own ego…” That is a trap, and giving in to it feeds the ego.

Do those things which are hard. Which your mind rebels at. That is The War of Art. An internal war, between two opposing concerns. Between the mundane and practical, and the artistic and divine.

And now, I have to polish this up. But first, I’m going to have breakfast.

Wait! I’m not. There is more that I want to say. There are nagging thoughts in my mind, and I want to give them a chance to be expressed. Yet a part of me actively suppresses those. “You should get your day started, already!”. Wait. Not yet.

Another mark of the professional is that he shows up for work, day in and day out. Whether he feels like it or not. When art is your work, you have to do it even when you don’t feel like it. Those difficult times are when you truly battle your resistance. Then that resistance starts to melt away.

But when something becomes easy, there is probably little growth left in it. Art is the struggle. If the struggle doesn’t exist, then the art will become routine, will not advance. Others may like it; you have have developed “your style”, but you will not be working at the level of your potential. You can always improve, but you will feel resistance to improving. Your ego wants you to stay comfortable.

So the exercise of identifying things which are “hard”, for which we experience the greatest psychological resistance, is important. Think of those things which are difficult for you to do, over which you are drawn to procrastinate the most, and among those things are those which are most important to do, for your growth. I was thinking of a silly example of this in relation to my desk. Why? It’s too much work to clean it up, to file everything away, to figure out where all these little bits and pieces go. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a clean desk surface? Yes… But I experience resistance towards even starting, and clutter remains. “There are other, more important things to do…” And so this one never gets done. Prioritize the things you most want to procrastinate over. Get over that resistance. Then your mind will be free. Free to experience and conquer resistance over greater challenges.

What would happen if I kept writing? What if I wrote all day? I’d probably “become” a writer. I also probably wouldn’t be paid for it. Or perhaps I would, eventually. But those thoughts are irrelevant towards the task of writing, itself. I do it because I want to do it, not because it has some practical value (despite the fact that the my ego chimes in every once in a while and proposes a practical value; that doesn’t matter, though).

I had a very rudimentary form of this idea back in college. I thought about the way that I wrote, how I would constantly re-read everything I’d written so far in trying to figure out the best way to attach the next sentence and retain the “polished jewel” which existed thus far. I would write as if I had no way of changing a sentence after finishing it (beyond correcting the most rudimentary of errors in a proofread), and I would get stuck, reading and re-reading, waiting for inspiration to come, for an idea. What should I say next? Sometimes I’d have to get up and pace around the room, trying to think of some idea. Especially when writing an academic essay. We all talked about “b.s.” as a running joke; how it was a skill. How being a good “b.s.-er” was invaluable in college. What is the hallmark of a good b.s.-er? Does not get stuck. Is able to spew forth streams of thought/writing which make no sense, which seem logical on the surface until someone reads a little more into them and realizes that there is nothing worthwhile, that it is random babbling that gives an impression of having communicated something worthwhile. Perfect for test graders who would rather be doing something else. But within the bullshit, perhaps there are seeds of ideas. And it’s something you produced. It’s a start. Better to start from somewhere, then trim it down. Make your block of stone first, then carve off the unwanted pieces until you have a sculpture.

Anyway, my thought was, that there’s another way to write. To write without pause, almost as a stream of consciousness. To write fast, without over-thinking. Letting the thinking take place in the text. Writing as if style doesn’t matter, using one’s natural style. Letting the muse do her work, even though she may be extremely rusty. Even for a highly polished piece, a one-page essay, why not babble on for 20 pages, capturing every last nuance of thought, and then trim it down? Or write it out all over again, after gathering the key ideas out of the longer piece? Writing then becomes a process. It disengages the ego, the constant self-checking, the high standards which block progress. There is no resistance, because the bar has been lowered. The solution to writer’s block was to lower the standards, to think, I’m just going to write whatever comes to mind. To not self-analyze or think about the way it is being expressed; simply to express it in the way that it comes. Or to express something, if nothing comes. Just write. To try and center thoughts around the desired topic, but then even write down those mundane thoughts which don’t seem to be related. Because perhaps they are. Or perhaps they are not. But staring at the wall blankly, waiting for a thought to come, is probably the least effective way of inviting thoughts in. Lower your standards.

You can always revise. But you can’t get back time lost to paralysis.