Students are attracted to design in the first place because they see the world in a different way, slightly askew. They are weird. Most of them have heard this many times in their lives-and it was not intended as a compliment. But Weird is good; it’s an anomaly and it’s unique. I teach on the simple premise that the things that made you weird as a kid make you great as an adult-but only if you pay attention to them. If you look at any “successful” person, they are probably being paid to play out the goofiness or athleticism or nerdiness or curiosity they already possessed as a child. Unfortunately for most people, somewhere along the road their weirdness was taught out of them or, worse, shamed out of them. Crushed by the need to “fit in,” they left their quirks and special powers behind. But it is our flaws that make us interesting. We need to not only hang on to them, but hone them. I don’t try to make my students “Designers.” I want to make them “free-er.” It’s my job to teach them to look inside, to covet their weirdness, to help them direct it and take the rough edges off-or even add a few new ones. It’s my job to help students understand and cultivate their individuality and innate weirdness and turn them into a powerful tool. Weird is good, but only if we put it in your work.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Bought at Chapters on Robson.
Read in November 2013.
I can’t remember where I saw this mentioned, but I’m on the lookout for interesting books about running (which seem to be few and far between as discussed in my post about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running). The problem is most runners aren’t writers so most writing-about-running is a snore. If you’ve ever perused a running forum or blog, most posts about running are race reports that go something like this: “I got up at 3am, put on my clothes that I laid out the night before (detailed list of chosen clothing), ate (something icky), used the bathroom (tmi), left the hotel at 5am, blah blah blah transport to the start, congregated in a sea of humanity, last-minute portapotty break (tmi), mile by mile or km by km reports of condition of feet/legs/stomach, what types of fake food were ingested at what times, how many pitstops were made (tmi) and on and on and on. Finally (you’re asleep, aren’t you?) concluding with time splits for each mile or km, depending on preference, and chip time (woo if PB, sadface if not). The End.”
So yeah. That’s not what I’m looking for. But this book sounded like it might be, so I decided to check it out.
I didn’t know anything about the author, but the cover identifies him as a Tibetan lama. So, when I started reading, I was thrown by the author’s voice. At first I wondered if it was ghostwritten because the voice is so generic North American. My curiosity eventually got the better of me and I hit up Wikipedia (where else?) for a bio. Turns out he lived in the US for the majority of his childhood/young adulthood. Ah. On his YouTube channel, I found a video about the topic of this book:
I thought it was going to be more about running as a form of meditation, but he dispels that idea almost immediately:
People sometimes say, ‘Running is my meditation.’ Even though I know what they mean, in reality, running is running and meditation is meditation. (19)
Basically, his take is that running is for the body; meditation is for the mind. The premise of this book is that running complements meditation (or vice versa), that running is not incompatible with meditation (which I guess some people think). The book is organized in four phases or stages of running proficiency represented by the tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon.
In the Shambala tradition of warriorship, these creatures are called the “four dignities.” They represent the inner development of a courageous individual. The idea is to develop balance and integrity. The result is strong windhorse, lungta—the ability to bring about long life, good health, success, and happiness. (57)
Each phase has a different focus of contemplation:
- tiger = motivation;
- lion = good fortune;
- garuda = love and kindness;
- dragon = compassion and selflessness;
- windhorse = basic goodness.
The writing is serviceable, if a bit choppy. The chapters are blog-post short and there’s quite a bit of repetition. All of this made me wonder if it was a blog-to-book. It reads like that, anyway. While each chapter was fine on its own, as a book, it never really feels like it gets into a flow.
He always refers to people by their full names (and often job description) no matter how many times he’s mentioned them previously. Writing Tip: this is very annoying for readers. As a writer, you must make your characters (even if your characters are real people) memorable enough that you don’t have to re-introduce them every time they reappear.
One of his refrains is friendliness/gentleness, as in being kind to yourself / not beating yourself up for not running or not meditating, but at the same time not letting yourself slack off completely either. As a moderator, I appreciated this:
The wise are balanced, and the foolish are extreme. (82)
Yeah! Have to remember that one the next time someone goes on a “I quit TV/the internet/social media/blogging/vice-du-jour” jag. Foolishness! 😉
On gentleness vs. aggression:
Aggression is a short-term solution for a long-term problem. Gentleness is persistent. Gentleness is therefore a sign of strength, while aggression is often a sign of weakness. Aggression is often a last resort. Where do you go from there? If you become more aggressive, you seem insane, whereas if you have gentleness, you are like a great ocean holding a lot of power. (85)
He touches briefly (very briefly) on walking and yoga. “We should all enjoy a good walk, incorporating the qualities of mindfulness and gentleness.” (90) I love walking (may have mentioned that once or twice), so yes to this. And he says “practicing yoga has provided an excellent balance to running.” (91) Which of course I already know. Running + yoga = the best. But there’s not much more to this chapter than that, unfortunately.
One could say that life is at least 50 percent pain. If we do not relate to pain, we are not relating to half our life. Everything is fine when we are happy, but when we are in pain, we become petrified. The inability to relate to pain narrows our playing field. When we are able to work with pain and understand it, life becomes twice as interesting. Relating to pain makes us more fearless and happy. (113)
So what makes this interesting is that while I was reading the book, I ran across this quote about creativity and pain:
Studies on the nature of creativity have shown that people who consistently come up with more inventive and creative ideas are not necessarily innately gifted, nor are they necessarily more intelligent than other people. They are however capable of tolerating a certain level of mental discomfort.
It works something like this:
When our brains are presented with a problem- any problem- we feel slightly anxious. When we solve a problem, our brains release endorphins that make us feel good. So, we have a problem to solve, we often run with the first answer we come up with because it feels good (literally) to find a solution!
But people who are willing to see that first solution, and then set it aside- delaying that endorphin high- while they continue to search for another answer, and another, and another… until they have compared all possible solutions and then chose the best option- and run with it- consistently come up with much more interesting, creative solutions.
in an interview at Inkygirl
Takeaway: embrace your pain!
[H]appiness is not a goal, but a by-product of mentally and physically healthy activities. If we engage in these, happiness of mind and body will ensue.
Letting yourself become genuinely connected with happiness allows you to also deal with sadness. If your mind is obsessed with happiness, you might react to sadness by getting depressed and angry. I’ve learned that the best way to be happy is not to have happiness as your objective. If you crave personal happiness, it only becomes more elusive. (123-4)
On boredom (which relates to pain, and reminds me of what I wrote about boredom in my post on Eating Dirt):
In relating to pain, it is not so much the pain that is difficult—it is the inability of the mind to handle the pain. In meditation, people are often unable to handle the pain of the posture, disturbing thoughts, or boredom. It is not the boredom itself that is painful but the mind’s inability to handle it. Often, what exasperates the mind is the mind itself becoming hysterical: we are unable to handle both the pain and a hysterical mind. So when pain arises in either meditation or running, we need to feel the difference between the pain itself and the mind’s inability to handle the pain—or, in the case of a trained mind—our ability to handle it. (141)
This was maybe the most valuable section in the book for me. When I wrote about boredom in my Eating Dirt post, I knew perhaps I sounded like I was being melodramatic. I don’t think I was though. Younger-me was terrified of boredom, and I think my ability to cope with boredom (or, really, to not even go there) is a major difference between grownup-me and younger-me. (It’s all a matter of perspective. For me, everything changed when I declared to myself, “I am a writer.” Not the “I want to be” moment but the “I am” moment, which came later. Because if I am a writer, how can anything be boring? Everything is material.)
Anyway, there are some interesting ideas in this book but they’re not explored in a lot of depth. It might be more revelatory to people who’ve never considered running/meditation together before. Or running or meditation at all? I was a little puzzled as to the intended audience for the book. It was shelved in the sports section of the bookstore so I assumed going in it was aimed at runners with the idea of adding meditation to their running practice. But much of the time it seems like he’s explaining the running as much as or more than the meditation, which wouldn’t be necessary if runners were the intended audience. And he does say his impetus for writing it was that some people thought it was odd that he was a runner. So it’s for non-runners and non-meditators? How likely is it that someone who’s not into either thing picks up this book? Not very. So I’m not sure.
In the end, still on quest for the perfect book about running 🙂
So what it’s telling you here is that obviously this automatic, spontaneous process that he’s describing can only happen to someone who is very well trained and who has developed technique. And it has become a kind of a truism in the study of creativity that you can’t be creating anything with less than 10 years of technical-knowledge immersion in a particular field. Whether it’s mathematics or music, it takes that long to be able to begin to change something in a way that it’s better than what was there before. Now, when that happens, he says the music just flows out. And because all of these people I started interviewing — this was an interview which is over 30 years old — so many of the people described this as a spontaneous flow that I called this type of experience the “flow experience.” And it happens in different realms.
[B]efore you can be good at something, you’ll almost certainly be bad to mediocre at it.
—Katie of Foxflat
in a guest post at Whip Up
And I came to writing fiction, in the first place, out of being an art student. From the beginning, I wanted to make stuff. I wanted to make paintings and sculptures. And so the idea of artifice and craft and artificiality seemed really like the baseline condition of my gesture to begin with. The idea of verifiability or objectivity-these characteristics that writing inherits not from the arts but from journalism or scholarship-those weren’t native to me in any way. I was a failed student. I had never written a thesis, let alone a dissertation. I’d never done any journalism. I wasn’t even a person who kept a journal. I just wanted to make stories.
All those years ago, I didn’t think it unusual to spend so much time making stuff. This had a lot to do with my grandmother, a woman who, when she was not preserving produce, was ceaselessly creating other kinds of goods. She spent her evenings at her handwork: The needlepoint and cross-stitch samplers she’d frame and hang on walls; she hooked rugs and sewed the odd quilt, made Christmas ornaments and wine cozies and doorstop covers. As a little kid, I followed her lead, pulling thick yarn through big-holed plastic patterns of butterflies and strawberries, later graduating to friendship bracelets, some small needlepoint and, briefly, origami.
There’s something about the creative exercise of putting images together that helps my brain work; to notice relationships, make connections, think about composition or mood, invent a narrative perhaps, and hopefully gain new ideas.
[I]n the arts, there’s no guarantee for success. Even if you’re working at Wal-Mart, if you show up, you get paid. In the studio, you don’t. It’s very risky business. You have to create your own life and have a very strong understanding about what your have to offer. There will be a lot of people telling you that you’re just fooling around. Society just doesn’t consider an artist’s work as “work” — just like motherhood isn’t often acknowledged as being real work. One learns an awful lot about being human when they put themselves out there in song or in story, but we just relegate it to “entertainment.”
It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or a tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.
in Georgia O’Keeffe (1976)