“Passion” became fashionable in business at around the time other forms of emotional overshoot were hot, like “delighting customers.” While there may have been earlier efforts by Tom Peters and other corporate
quacks gurus to infuse staid, supposedly rational business behavior with more pizzaz, the passion fashion seemed to take hold in the dot-com era. And that in a perverse way makes perfect sense.
Even though the Internet has proven to be transformative, the Internet bubble was, as Greenspan noted in one of his most acute moments, irrational exuberance. You were a hopeless dinosaur if you dared question the logic of investing in companies run by 22 year olds who admitted their business would never show a profit but were still hugely valuable because they had a lot of eyeballs. Those who timed this momentum trade correctly did spectacularly well, but most investors were left holding the bag.
Weirdly, the passion fashion persists. It’s an odd exhortation of Dionysian impulses when management (at least the professionalized sort) is usually presented as Apollonian: business leaders as creators of order out of chaos, able stewards of large enterprises. Now one might argue that this is all hogwash, that Keynes was closer to the truth when he talked about animal sprits. He came pretty close to saying if someone was rational, they’d never invest or start a business.
But the real question is who this vogue for romantic attachment to one’s work really serves. Faking passion in job interviews seems to be as necessary as faking orgasms is in some relationships. On the surface, this long-lived fas appeals to the narcissistic tendencies that are ever more common in American society, that we all have some special talent or destiny and we are supposed to go forth and, to use that horrible New Age turn of phrase, manifest it.
But being emotionally invested in career success as the proof of one’s worth makes people exploitable. That’s the secret of elite firms like Goldman and McKinsey, which hire people who were not simply bright, but have a record of achievements that shows that they care deeply about external validation. When an organizational guru came in to give a look over McKinsey in the 1980s, he was famously told by the head of the firm, “Don’t mess with the insecurity.”
Now that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t care about your work, but there is a difference in degree, and I’d hazard it is actually a difference in kind, between seeking to achieve a level of competence or mastery versus the bizarrely idealized passion. That’s a good old fashioned sense of satisfaction in doing a good job, and that can operate at any level, from being a house cleaner or store clerk to someone in a much loftier position. And the idea of valuing. Yet as we’ve become a winner-take-all society, we’ve tended to devalue competence, even though jobs competently done are what keeps the system running. Instead, we’ve created more and more steep payoff curves, with the most extreme being in fields like acting and professional sports, where a very few people do egregiously well, and a lot of people have a go at it for very modest or no pay, because they think they have (or actually may have) some talent, but also do love the process.
What bothers me is that the human potential movement (est and its many derivatives) tended to equate following your dreams with achieving happiness. This is a dangerous formulation; in fact, the Buddhists would likely see this as another version of samsara or suffering (Buddhists welcome to correct me). Wanting something is setting yourself up to be disappointed, either by not getting what you sought, or attaining it and finding the achievement to be less satisfying than you’d envisaged, and most liked supplanted by a new set of wants that you start pursuing.
With this as prologue, I wanted to turn to a post from the Harvard Business Review’s blog, “To Find Happiness, Forget Passion,” that Lambert liked, but I found less than satisfying:
Several years ago, a friend decided she wanted to follow her passion. She loved the liberal arts and academe….So she spent seven years getting a PhD, writing an award-winning dissertation in the process. It was a wonderful ride while it lasted, and she was among the happiest people I knew.
Then the recession hit. The value of university endowments crashed. Teaching and research positions were cut. She moved back in with her family, stopped paying off her student loans, and waited two years before getting a minor teaching role in a small research center. Throughout this time, she suffered the anguish of an uncertain future, became socially withdrawn, and felt a sense of betrayal.
It’s a poster tale for our times. Was following her passion worth it?
Like myself, today’s twentysomethings were raised to find our dreams and follow them. But it’s a different world. And as the jobless generation grows up, we realize the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion. This philosophy no longer works for us, or at most, feels incomplete. So what do we do? I propose a different frame of reference: Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems.
Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don’t mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense. For one, it shifts your attention from you to others and the wider world. You stop dwelling. You become less self-absorbed. Ironically, we become happier if we worry less about what makes us happy.
The good thing is that there are a lot of big problems to go by: climate change, sustainability, poverty, education, health care, technology, and urbanization in emerging markets. What big problem serves as your compass? If you’re a young leader and you haven’t articulated this yet, here are some things you can do.
Develop situational awareness. There’s too much focus on knowing the self. Balance this with knowing the world. Stay in touch. Be sensitive to the problems faced by the unfortunate and marginalized. Get out of the office and volunteer. If you’re in school, get out of the classroom. It’s been a long time coming, but business schools are finally instituting changes that put the real world at the center of their programs.
Look into problems that affect you in a very personal way. We’re more likely to be motivated by problems we can relate to on a personal level. In Passion & Purpose, Umaimah Mendhro recounts her story fleeing a war-torn Pakistan with her family and how the experience of dodging bullets to escape helped her summon the wherewithal to found thedreamfly.org, an initiative that helps create connections across communities in conflict.
Connect with people working on big problems. In a world where problems are by their very nature interdisciplinary, just getting to know people who are passionate about one problem leads to discussions on how other problems can be solved. When Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala helped reinvent Manila Water to better provide for the Philippines’ capital, he had to deal not only with the typical issues a public utility had to face, but also with problems related to climate change, technology, and community development.
Take time off and travel. Forget about traveling as a tourist. Instead, structure a trip that takes you off the beaten path. Go to an unconventional place. Backpack and get lost. The broader and richer experience pays dividends down the line. Steve Jobs described his time living in India as one of the most enriching and mind-opening phases of his life, and this undoubtedly helped him develop the intuition to solve the big problem of making lives simpler through technology.
We don’t find happiness by looking within. We go outside and immerse in the world. We are called to a higher purpose by the inescapable circumstances that are laid out on our path. It’s our daily struggles that define us and bring out the best in us, and this lays down the foundation to continuously find fulfillment in what we do even when times get tough.
Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. We’ve been told time and again to keep finding the first. Our schools helped developed the second. It’s time we put more thought on the third.
What big problems are you trying to solve?
It may sound churlish to take issue with this prescription. It sounds like a long overdue rebellion against the breakdown of communities, both the physical kind and the sort you’d find in the workplace when businesses offered long term employment. And the world has no shortage of urgent problems that would benefit greatly from more sincere people putting shoulder to wheel to try to remedy them.
What bothers me is anchoring this orientation as as new prescription for happiness. Now it is indeed true that people with more extensive and numerous social networks are healthier; ironically, that’s one of the reasons unequal societies are less healthy. The sort of people you associate with is very much class/income related, so if you lose your perch, you lose most if not all of your putative friends. That in turn produces even more pressure to keep your foothold on the economic ladder.
Go again and read the featured post more carefully. The author hasn’t freed himself of the passion paradigm; notice how he urges readers to find people who are “passionate about problems.” And it’s also hard to put aside the HBS ego orientation: positing his audience to be “young leaders” and urging them to get involved in big problems.
If happiness is the aim, research points to other routes. Altruism lights up the pleasure centers of the brain, supposedly (it never seems to work for me, I just think about how inadequate what I have done or given is relative to the scale of the problem). But I’m not sure “doing altruism” works, if you get the distinction. If you do something generous, you might get a boost from helping other people, but I’m not certain self motivated altruism would produce the same results.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues that people are happy when they are in a state he calls “flow” which is being fully engaged in the activity at hand. He describes it in an interview in Wired as:
being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.
That can happen when you are “in the zone” when playing a sport, engaged in problem solving (sudoku and crossword puzzle junkies seem to exhibit this sort of concentration) or engrossed in a really good book. One has to note that multitasking would seem to train people out of being able to attain that level of involvement.
But even then I’m not certain Csikszentmihalyi is right about happiness so much as onto a much better approximation. His thesis is that individuals attain a state of flow when they are faced with a task that is demanding enough that it takes their full attention, but not so hard that they cannot succeed at it. How do you regularly find this level of challenge?
By contrast, Buddhists accept the inevitability of suffering and don’t seek happiness, yet they are studied by brain researchers for their equanimity. That in turn results from meditation, which is a form of mental discipline, and appears to create an ability to approach more activities with the sort of prized mindfulness (lack of ego and full engagement) that normal people achieve only by happenstance (or perhaps by luck, by finding or falling into a career that provides them with the sort of tasks that can put them in a state of flow). I’m told a Buddhist saying is “Before I was enlightened, I carried water and chopped wood. Now that I am enlightened, I carry water and chop wood.” In other words, your circumstances do not create your mental state. You do. But few of us are skilled enough to have mastered this faculty.
I wish there were a way for Americans to get over their fixation with happiness and try to use the inevitable pain of the human condition to come to grips with more fundamental questions of meaning. The fact that the HBR is raising the issue of failure as a spur to action is a promising sign, but its readers probably need to be willing to step further outside cultural assumptions to have a real impact on their own psyches, and potentially, the communities they inhabit.
Thanks for this excellent meditation, Yves, no pun intended. Another reminder that your site is uniquely far-ranging and valuable (especially to us insomniacs).
Would suggest this post indicates a misunderstanding around the core teachings of Buddhism. A better description in that area might be the quote from the sage Adyashanti: “The hallmark of spiritual awakening is a fundamental shift of identification”. I would suggest that the identification shift referenced is away from the belief in the separate self and do not feel comfortable attempting to describe what the identification shift is towards. I would also suggest that considering meditation to be fundamentally associated with mental discipline is a misunderstanding. My opinion is that the successful/unsuccessful attempt to create a “state of mind”, with a necessary beginning and an end, is typically of limited value. I do want to say that I think Yves is wonderful.
would suggest that the identification shift referenced is away from the belief in the separate self and do not feel comfortable attempting to describe what the identification shift is towards.
What ‘it’ is, we can not say.
What ‘it’ is not, we can spiel much.
Remember, writing, for the most part, is just re-arranging words, not much different from interior decoration.
This is, for example, not a happy experience – I write in N words when I could have done it in N-1 words.
Here is another unhappy one – I say it with one word when I could have communicated without any.
thanks for that, John…well said..could also be said for Taoism.
Jonathan Dean: “I would suggest that the identification shift referenced is away from the belief in the separate self and do not feel comfortable attempting to describe what the identification shift is towards….”
very well said
Whatever the shift is towards, it’s not happiness. That would be a typically American misunderstanding, at least of Zen (I’m unfamiliar with other forms of Buddhism)
One of Suzuki’s books ends with the poetic text of a Japanese monk describing his attainment of enlightenment.
The final poem says now that I’m enlightened, I’m just as miserable as ever.
“What bothers me is that the human potential movement (est and its many derivatives) tended to equate following your dreams with achieving happiness.”
I like to say, that mixing dreams and reality is good neither for dreams nor reality. Reality inevitably falls short of dreams and trying to realise dreams guarantees frustration. Either that or you have to take limit your dreams to what reality can accomodate. Is that what dreams are for?
there is availability to the area mind and experience cross over..a matter of “self-discipline”. Coming to raging winter river ice flow, inhibiting passage
to destination, before one can cross, one must completely put destination out of mind…such abstraction must cease. Separating oneself from experience, as an observer, also will inhibit ability..which exists only in present context.
When sitting for days, forgetting the distinction of self from present context,
leaping from ice flow to ice flow, the crossing is accomplished. This required becoming the ice…rather than “self”, separate from experience.
now we have bridges to cross..such discipline goes uncultivated…
This sounds all very Zen, but what has it got to do with what I wrote?
while there is a “way” to make use of “dreams”, it is best to express physical reality…stay away from abstraction..which is entirely too represented in most examples-thoughts herein…
I guess have to accept that this makes sense in other mode of thought than mine.
It doesn’t work the way suggested by the Review.They just give more formulaic nonsense… like How to Write a Bestseller. In fact, I see the prescription as just more short term thinking.
I can’t begin to describe the passion I have for the work I’m doing right now. I’m thrilled that I have a stake in it, but what keeps me working 100 hours a week are, in order:
Revolutionizing product design and manufacturing
Leveling the playing field with China
Delivering the goods for the other stakeholders
Enthusiasm can be manufactured or faked, but not passion. Passion burns. It rounds up capital, it makes people believe, it turns ideas into actions, and gets products to the finish line. In our case, it’s signed up a string of large companies – none of which we had any inside contacts with.
I’m writing this at 1:30am having napped 3 hours. I’ll nap again in 18 hours when my productivity begins to ebb.
The Review doesn’t know what they are talking about.
” Passion burns. It rounds up capital, it makes people believe, it turns ideas into actions, and gets products to the finish line. In our case, it’s signed up a string of large companies – none of which we had any inside contacts with.”
And leads to burnout and despair (not inevitably but often)?
Only upon failure. If despair is thought to be insurmountable, then everything should be done to avoid it. At the risk of regret, of course.
K does not yet understand that the disillusionment can also come with success.
And more so and such other types of things.
Meaningful work and reward tied directly to actions is just about enough and all one can ask for.
“His thesis is that individuals attain a state of flow when they are faced with a task that is demanding enough that it takes their full attention, but not so hard that they cannot succeed at it. How do you regularly find this level of challenge?”
isn’t this asking the question the wrong way around. Shouldn’t we be asking how we can build a society where the opportunities for this are common?
With your Australian connections, you will be aware that Ross Gittins like to speculate in this direction sometimes.
Content people (and passion for something means you’re seldom content) are generaly happier. But the content almost by definition avoid change (why change if you’re content?), and a drive to change, discontent with the situation as is, is what drives innovation (please note that I use the words in a neutral way – change and innovation are not innately good or evil).
So pick your poison..
Or pick your joy. I think it is possible that there is no one answer. I used to be in the “all human beings have the same nature, so if we just figured out what it was we’d all be happy 24 hours a day” camp, but I’m more in the “people are driven by at least partially by conflicting desires” camp now. Who is to say that Ackermann’s camp above are just working out their neuroses by 100 hour weeks, while someone doing 20 and just looking forward to his garden is where it’s at? Or vice versa. It is a common mistake to view yourself, right now, as the measure for all humanity, or to think the lessons you’ve learned in life are the most important. And thus apply to everyone else and all stages of life.
Oh, omnipotent being, I don’t know. Nice post though, Yves.
I think it really depends on what type of person you are. Those who are content are not active. They are at rest because they have found contentment.
For people who thrive on problem solving and can’t leave things alone because there’s always a better way…you can’t really call them content because they every thing they see they look for a better way to accomplish the task.
The problem solvers are agititors. They constantly upset the apple cart of contentment with the way things are for others. They bring creative energies into all aspects of society and they drive progress.
I submit that there is nothing wrong with looking for a revenue stream (work) that fits like a glove. One that forms natural talents and interests into a living wage. The question is always how does one monetize their interests (not passions, passions fade) into a living.
Just to make clear – I do not believe that one is better than the other. What I DO believe is that you need both types of people.
My own happiness recipe is quite simple. Walk into the office of your boss at the giant corporation (or the mega law, accounting or consulting firm) and quit. Find some way (any way) to avoid ever doing business with these omnivores again. I did this 35 years ago and have never regretted it for five minutes. Although it did take several years to earn a decent living, even the poverty was bracing. Unless you are a psycopath, it is simply impossible to surround yourself with corporate lies, bullshit and platitudes, screwing everyone in sight night and day, and expect to find happiness.
I know quite a few small business owners who are hugely passionate about their business. Yet, if you’d ask them whether they are happy, they would likely say no.
On the other side, most of the happy people I know or ever knew were content, taking life as it came with little or no complaints (and there was one or two who swung between these two extremes…).
That said, thinking about it a bit more, I wonder how much of that is “remembering” self vs. “experiencing” self (as per Kahneman & co.).
..”change and innovation are not inherently good or evil-so pick your poison”
or, find your “way”…then make use of it to experience others…which precludes
My big problem is how to get a two bagger in the stock market without taking any capital risk.
Passion? I don’t know, it sounds like something from a Valentine’s Day card.
I have to work. Mostly with uncooperative assholes who don’t hate me, personally, but either hate themselves or float like dust on the sunbeams of their own narcissism.
We all work behind closed doors.
What’s there, there, to be passionate about? There are a few things, but not many — getting through a week without ripping somebody’s head off, maybe, a saintly achievement of discipline over instinct. LOL. I’ve thought about making myself a martyr, and giving all I have to the poor, but then I’d be poor and what then? I could be Mother Teresa someplace, but I’m not wired like that. So I’d have to find a job and it would start all over again.
It’s never easy, no matter what. You see it in the papers every day. But that’s the point, I guess, of being here. You have to figure it out for yourself, no matter what horseshit you read in books, and especially when it’s about finding your passion.
I became a lot happier when I focused my attention exclusively on those things that meet this simple criterion:
Don’t love anything that can’t love you back.
That goes double for corporate employers (as distinct from human employers who might like your passion for work, or be at most indifferent to it). A corporate employer will be not just indifferent to your passion, but will actively adjust to worsen your experience of the work place to compensate.
Companies often conduct low cost campaigns to increase “passion” in their workforce, to achieve what would otherwise take more expensive methods like raising pay. But because the equilibrium turnover is set by the surrounding environment, it’s inevitable that a successful passion campaign will be accompanied by an actual deterioration of conditions. It’s almost an accounting identity. If their workers aren’t leaving in sufficent numbers, they’re not screwing down hard enough.
So you’re not a cat person? I kid, I kid.
I think it goes a lot deeper into our intellectual framework. Light, life and currencies are essentially holographic, rather than digital, but that would require reframing the entire western object oriented way of thinking, to a more eastern, context oriented way. Unfortunately object orientation is far more effective in goal seeking.
Mark Cuban also wrote on this topic on his blog…
Yves, are you not “passionate” about your blog?
I know lots of people who are very, very “passionate” about their work and it has nothing to do with career success or external validation – its just that they are fortunate enough to be doing what they love to do. What’s wrong with that?
I am constitutionally incapable of doing anything halfway. I have only two speeds: overdrive and off.
Well, Yves, whatever it is that drives you, we are grateful.
“Don’t sign your name / between worlds,
surmount the manifold of meanings /
trust the tearstain / learn to live.” (Paul Celan)
Biutiful Official Trailer English
Did you see Adam Curtis’ latest post?
It shows how Westerners sought out yoga and transformed it from something similar to Buddhist meditation into something geared toward pushing yourself to the extreme. Quite hilarious really.
As I commented at the end, if all the yoga-types — who engage in it as exercise and essentially a point of entry (excuse the pun) into sexual activity — realised that the real thing is actually about meditation that seeks sexual repression, they’d be horrified! Another bloody religion trying to usurp their sexual activity! Is there anything that makes liberals more livid?
But then that might lead you to ask if all of what they call sexual activity is really about sex at all — or if, in fact, its a narcissistic device deployed to advance the egoistic needs of the All Encompassing Self…
But it’s the same thing – There is no spoon.
The actual act of sex requires so much effort that nature had to arrange a reward for having it, and that’s why if feels so good.
We are slaves to the biosphere. We’re enticed to have sex, and then because child rearing is so lengthy, we are tricked into staying put through the use of chemicals such as oxytocin.
Will is less free than we think, hence the trickery.
..when teaching 40 or so young women to run, a certain % will find their bodies
sending them the message, “I don’t like this”..
I offer, “For a time, you must take control of mind, to discipline messages your body is sending..” (nearly anyone can)
After 3-6 months, the body sends a different message-“when are we going running??”
TRUTH=the motivation-feeling for DOING does not come BEfore doing, rather FROM doing…no doing, no “satisfaction” from….the same can be applied to sex..
Ken-are you an aircraft co. employee?
Well yes, I agree inertia and habituation are important issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the zen idea of neither leading or following, being part of what you are doing and not being seperate. But dreams and ultimate aims are something else. You still have to decide somewhere along the line WHAT you want to do. How you go about it, is another issue.
“passion” is huge in the corporate world becasue it is the impulse behind spending money. there, solved it.
Yves, great note. A lot of management culture is increasingly intrusive in terms of telling people what to think and to be; and most of us fall into the trap, partly because of econominc necessity, partly because we have been trained from school-days to compete, succeed and do better. And, as a consequence, we constantly compare ourselves against others around us, to get self-validation / ego reinforcement.
Buddhism / advaita vedanta (philosophy underpinning hinduism), basically argues that a separate ego is an illusion. Our thoughts, which are simply a function of our conditioning, imply to us a separate self, separate from the rest of the world, that has to compete and succeed (relative to others) to achieve happiness. So we take the world and societal values as a given, rather than ever questioning the validity of these – or the very idea of the ego / self. Consequently we suffer. If however we deeply understand that there is no separation – non-duality – then there is nothing to achieve, just being mindful in the present, and acting impersonally, ie doing what’s right without regard for the personal fruit of one’s endeavours. Hence the Buddhist equanimity and joy in simple things, without striving for leadership, fame, wealth, etc
Einstein put it succinctly: “A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.”
Seems to me you are doing a pretty well in this regard!
Ven, great comment!
Take THAT, Paul Ryan.
Rare to see a blog on economics and society take up with the meaning of human suffering, though the question is the cornerstone of every serious reflection on human life and activity. During this Holy Week I would add that Christianity not only does not deny the reality of suffering, but embraces it as a paradoxical “birthright” of human existence. Of course Christians are enjoined to alleviate suffering both in individuals and in the world. But there is no principle in Christianity by which to escape from suffering, and “escape” as such is not the goal. Instead “Take up your cross” is the injunction. The embrace is a “solution” to an intractable issue — intractable, that is, so long as we remain human. Everyday we renew our embrace of pain that is impossible to erase, and everyday we lay it prayerfully at the foot of our Redeemer, by whose example we intuit the meaning of the Cross. Those for whom human suffering represents nothing more than failure will find little by way of comfort here. For them, more satisfying responses may be found in manifestations as diverse as “scientific” materialism, samadhi, or the singularity. But the compelling strength of the Christian response to suffering is that it does not seek to drive man out of humanity, nor does it seek to destroy the human personality in order to save it.
Odd you used Christianity and not religion. Nobody has a lock on suffering – not even Jesus.
Anyway… this is a great blog.
Exactly. Too many people, especially Christians, have blinders on to the fact that there are hundreds of other spiritual paths to the same place. Nobody has a lock on the true path, it’s whatever works for you.
There is not only just one.
Certainly didn’t mean to imply Christianity had a “lock” on suffering. Neither would I claim that there’s only “one true path” as another poster seemed to think I was saying. (Obviously some Christians believe there is only one way. I’m not one of them, and I’m not alone.) My only observation (or claim) was that Christianity has a unique (I think) perspective on the meaning of human suffering. I don’t think that’s too controversial.
Why is Christian suffering unique? If you are referring to Jesus, did he suffer more than the two thieves nailed next to him?
What about the 6 million Jews exterminated in WWII? Or the endless slaughter of Muslims by invaders, not to mention what they have done to themselves?
Everyone suffers. It makes us appreciate the times we aren’t suffering.
“Why is Christiananity unique..”?
answer-guilt. Milton Friedman and “Chicago Boys” didn’t experience any…
One wonders if the ability to embrace and endure suffering is part of the mechanism whereby the owners and managers of contemporary businesses can systematically drive down wages and benefits, and extract an ever-increasing share of the wealth generated by labor.
See Milton Friedman.
I have this theory that positive experiences are the basic building blocks for the capacity for happiness, love, facing challenges, personal growth, dealing with adversity, stress and the like. (positivepsychology.net)
Facing and overcoming challenges is a major category of positive experiences. Creating something that makes a difference, doing a small kindness– they’re all positive experiences.
The challenge, in deciding on a career or work, is to put yourself in a situation that gives you positive experiences. Thoreau wrote of the people who live lives of quiet desperation.
You don’t have to be passionate about your work to have a work that produces positive experiences. You DO have to work to find that kind of work, or create it. And there is no reason to assume that if you find or create that kind of work it will be well paying.
Csikszentmihalyi’s study’s have found that people sacrifice while they are in the flow state or on the way to it. People who find or create jobs that pay back with positive experiences may sacrifice big bucks. That’s a problem if huge college loans were required to get there. The current cost of financing college in the US is not sustainable. I don’t believe a college education should cost years of income to pay off. There has to be a better way. But for now I think your article is dead on. A job that produces meaningful positive experiences is a solid path to a happy life. With the current student loan situation, seeking the job where the passion is may lead to unrequited love and a life of indebtedness that makes the American dream, like having a family, a out of reach disappointment.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12
“Go again and read the featured post more carefully. The author hasn’t freed himself of the passion paradigm…”
That, Yves, is where you see more than many monks. The only passion someone on the Buddhist path should have is the passion towards getting rid of all attachments. The origin of all our suffering is attachment to our desires and all this gentleman does is harden out attachments by making appear that our desires are just out of reach.
The article “To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion” is preying on peoples attachment to money, success, and security. It was written by someone who was has read a book about Buddhism, not by someone who has practiced and studied Buddhism. (http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/fourtruths.html)
When the Buddha spoke of happiness he was not speaking of an ordinary happiness, he was speaking of a perfect happiness. And I can say, only after practicing Theravada Buddhism for 15 years, that perfect happiness is not what most people are looking for.
But the line that gave me the biggest chuckle: “We don’t find happiness by looking within.” HA! The entire Buddhist path and the point of meditation is looking within! Even the Taoists say you can see the world without leaving your room! Maybe he did not run across this: http://read.goodweb.cn/news/news_view.asp?newsid=58741
If you want to learn about Buddhism it is best to not learn it from the Harvard Business Review. Try here instead: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/teachings.htm
Also Yves, I know you are busy, but I think this text will explain why everything in the economy is happening right now:
it is difficult to extrapolate “benevolent dictator”=Chuang-Tzu system with what we currently perceive…as some may not be aware, over 300 philosophies were in practice, at the time..
Well, let’s see, capitalism is one great big problem to be resolved. Then there is the transition to a solar energy economy, let’s call that the dawn of the photonic era. There, that should keep us all busy for a while.
Already being worked on. Progress is going fine.
More practice and less theory.
Is that so?
wonderful, precious words. getting to the nub of things here. thanks
Notice that the now stale business-mouth virus
“excited” has worked its way down to the 7-11 manager around the corner.
He was preaching to his seemingly deaf and dumb employees about the necessity to be “excited” about the latest HFC slush slop that they were selling.
Your most humanizing and insightful posting ever. It touchs what I believe to be the unformulated single largest issue of the coming decade:Is it allowed to NOT be working? Is it still possible for an individual to be a specifically identifiable personality with values, time for personal development and pleasure, and self administereds agenda within the flow of a society/world where profit is law? Or are we merely ‘shadows’ of vampire squids performing mainly as sock puppets for the gains of others? Is it possible that freedom of choice is actually now freedom to live live on the sidewalk if one is ‘un-borged’? Can one hold operational opinions that one can act upon without being cast into the out box? This is getting NO press, and consideration in even the hipest media is lacking. MC excepted.
Narrowly there are at least four things individuals need to be doing to achieve some balance in this situation: First we need to obtain legislation against uncompensated overtime. I know this seems primitive, but it is an absolute necessity. We sell ourselves too cheaply. Second, we have to get national single payer health insurance. This is becoming an issue of autonomy as far as I see. It(healthcare) is now one of the primary mechanisms of social control and stratification.Third,Yves is precisely right:We have to study and practice methods of internal control such as biofeedback and meditation, perhaps autogenic training. The Western method know as ‘Focusing’ by the shrink Gendlin, is old but seems quite Buddhist in its mechanisms. Finally we should all spend at least a decade as involved volunteers in the local community for SOMETHING. This works and can be enlightening/alarming as we witness the first hand erosion of what we thought was America. This is a real and sobering effect. The problem here is that the probable necessity of relocation mitigates against obtaining the local roots and community spirit that is needed. we loose all the way around.
The bottom line is getting to be you have to expect to live with less, earn less, and work harder if you want to be ‘yourself’. In life everything has its cost.Too many of us operate on what I still call the DLC style model:You can dip your foot in it to the ankle and if everyone else is waist deep they will not know you smell as bad as they do. This dosent work.
A Brilliant post.
I am a Buddhist who has practiced on Wall St. since 1988
(my teacher sent me to Wall St. to learn practice.)
As a Tantric Practioner (Vajrajana):
1) through meditation you learn to find the ‘deeper states of mind’ within. These states of mind are beyond the ones that everyone experiences at surface of life. These are the states of mind which are deeper and do not change.
These states of mind are beyond duality, beyond self-reflection, beyond emotions. These states of mind are beyond the conditioned mind we learned at ages 2-4. You have to learn to focus on them through meditation, just like you learned to focus on reading, riding a bicycle, etc.
2) Next, in Tantric Practice, you learn to ‘weave’ (Tantra means to weave in Sanskrit) these unchanging States of Mind, into the actions of your life (in this case running a business).
3) these states of mind awaken intuition, energy, creativity, sensitivity, mental clarity, efficiency, balance and doing what’s right (what Lao Tsu would call following the Way of Life.
4) we find that living this way makes us happy!
From my perspective, many people aren’t happy because the are just focused on using power to get what they want. I am surrounded by millionares who need another house, car, lover, vacation, toy, drink, drug, etc. to feel good. Most have 3 or 4 houses. It’s never enough. It’s not just the consumer mentality that limits them. By focusing only on using power to acquire things, they have conditioned their awareness so powerfully, that they have cut themselves off from the higher states of mind which are the source of happiness. The higher states of mind ‘vibrate’ faster. That’s what makes us happy. Of course, my words can’t possible explain this, words never explain what’s beyond the surface of life. However, the words can point a direction.
Yes, personal achievement, career success, love, relationships, can all bring happiness. But, how long does it last? Everything the conditioned mind focuses on changes. Using power to succeed can be the ultimate drug. If you have to keep using it to feel happy, when it’s clear that the 99% doesn’t have enough to live, to eat, go to school or to work, then this use of
power is quite possibly an addiction.
Finally, there are many practices which lead to the deeper states of mind:
Zen focus, Karma Yoga (the Yoga of Work without being attached to the results), Bhakti Yoga, music, art, dance, martial arts training (emptiness and not thought or strategy) which leads to victory, etc.
that’s thoughtful stuff, but it always makes me wonder.
the societies where this sort of thinking arose seem the most repugnant from the standpoint of “western” values of the sanctity of the individual. Or at least idealized western values.
Such transcendant other-worldliness becomes a philosophical excuse for the total negation of our physical reality. And if circumstances in our physical reality don’t matter, then all sorts of pradations and abuse don’t matter.
Because it’s all an illusion we have to overcome.
I can see how a multi-millionaire might find value in such transcendence, to escape the roar of their addictions. But I don’t see how someone striving for survival as an individual can find any value in it at all. Unless they are already so enlightened they feel little difference between repression and liberty. And I wonder whether that is a form of truth or psychosis.
It all seems like a form of philosophical perfume — like high priced bottled water from the Swiss Alps — when what most need is food.
Have you read the Bhagavad Gita?
Krishna taught Arjuna this practice on a battle field when Arjuna became despondent and refused to fight.
In any case, everyone must solve this mystery in her/his own way. Everyone is different. From what I’ve learned, what matters is whether you are happy and free of blame.
not at all..in fact, Tao, or Buddhism elevate the individual to the top of the hierarchy…the opposite was Confucius…whose hierarchy considered top down,
and was reason Confucians ran Imperial Palace politics…BUT many villages downtrodden, revolted. In order to maintain peace, delegates were sent from villages to palace, to plead the issues of the people. To the degree Emperor could-would evaluate such fairly, he was “benevolent” or not. These delegates were quite often Taoist monks, who refused to reside at court.
It would also be best to note influence of Eunuchs at palace court; most trusted
designates of, during Ming Dynasty..political tensions were played against one another, and also involved Imperial wives and concubines…
“(my teacher sent me to Wall St. to learn practice.)”
Based on this post, Yves, I’m going to wager a guess that you’re an INTJ personality type.
Um, yes, but why is that obvious?
Perhaps it wasn’t obvious solely from this post (I’ve long suspected that you’re an INTJ, and as an individual of the same typology I feel somewhat qualified to make that supposition).
That said, the title of the post and the following paragraph just scream classic INTJ: “But the real question is who this vogue for romantic attachment to one’s work really serves. Faking passion in job interviews seems to be as necessary as faking orgasms is in some relationships. On the surface, this long-lived fas appeals to the narcissistic tendencies that are ever more common in American society, that we all have some special talent or destiny and we are supposed to go forth and, to use that horrible New Age turn of phrase, manifest it.”
It lacks empathy, is bitingly skeptical, and just all around cuts the reader down to size with no deference to rank or accomplishment. (In other words, it’s brilliant.)
I would actually be quite curious for you you write a piece on challenges you’ve encountered / how you’ve overcome them, specifically in terms of having an INTJ typology and dealing with non-INTJ types. From experience, it can be difficult to deal with the world when you think everyone else is a complete idiot.
You seem to assume that INTJs see other people as idiots and lack empathy.
I don’t see that as native to the typology. I got on very well with the Japanese, who see their culture as very emotional (“wet” versus the Western “dry”). You do have to be willing to try to understand where they are coming from, rather than imposing Western viewpoints and behaviors on them.
The section you singled out is simply a statement about how we and others can be manipulated emotionally. Most people don’t like to look at situations through that frame because they don’t like to see themselves as manipulators (unless they are psychopaths) or the manipulated (which we all are to greater or lesser degrees).
I will admit I have a strong preference for working with smart people but a lot of people have great observational abilities and common sense, which make them functionally smart, and a lot of intellectually bright people are functional morons because they’ve bought into a bad rule set. And sometimes that is due to personal corruption (one of my favorite sayings is the old Upton Sinclair “It is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on not understanding it”). So I care more about openmindedness than “smartness” per se.
Loved this post! This falls in line with other books and articles I have been reading lately. Thanks, Yves, for sharing.
When I think of how America will pass through this winter of privation and pain, I am reminded as all gardeners are, that winter has its own value. If you use winter to plan, prune and position, spring is all the more glorious when it arrives.
The ending comment, “But few of us are skilled enough to have mastered this faculty.” is a cop out from starting the discipline of meditation.
A recent link from Science Daily pertaining to meditation strengthening the brain: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120314170647.htm, indicates that the folds are actually deeper and more delieanated as compared to non-meditators. They found this in long term meditators of over 20 years. Similar to a muscle you have worked out over time ~ it (the brain) is toned and it brings benefits.
If you search science daily, it contains a wealth of research indication that this is quite good for you. It may not give you passion or take it away, but it does help to balance and strengthen areas of the brain. In the end, that may help you no matter what you aim for. So as far as the dismissive “But few of us are skilled enough to have mastered this faculty”, the answer is this: as in the Nike ad, “Just do it”. The beginning may be confusing or less than rewarding, but as in achieving an orgasm, once you do, you figure out if “the work” to get one is worth it. For the rest of you, you can wait till the brain “vibrator”, aka Orgasmatron/Meditative Payoff-a-tron is invented on the beltway for military and commercial purposes. Or, you can learn to do it yourself. OM.
Go reread the post. My comment was not anti meditation.
I’ve been meditating for over 10 years and I have a friend who was one of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the father of TM’s pets (he’d single my buddy out before the Beatles, which he thought was weird and so he quit working with the Maharishi). He’s been meditating for over 40 years reliqiously. I have no doubt it has helped him but he most assuredly has not attained a monk level of equipoise.
So stop shooting the messenger. Getting to where monks get is really really hard. For people to think they are suddenly going to get calm and balanced from regular meditation is unrealistic.
and I have a fried Yves Smith
Supplementing your meditation practice with Tai Chi can
speed up your mastery of balance and equipoise.
Can’t do Tai Chi or any one legged balance postures without doing serious damage to my knees. Too much instability in my feet and ankles, made worse by a zillion ankle sprains.
Just curious – did you actually try Tai Chi with someone who understood your injuries?
I ruined my knees after running 5-10 miles a day for 25+ years.
However, I regenerated my knees throught Tai Chi and I’m back to running 2.5 miles/day.
One mistake beginners make in Tai Chi is that when they step, they lean too far and bend their knees past their toes. This puts the knee at angle beyond what it can support.
My stability issues are not primarily a result of injuries. I was seeing orthopedists as soon as I could walk. Trying to do “normal” activities results in injuries pronto (as in exercising has made matters much worse than if I had remained a couch potato). Even standing (as in like normal people, two legged) now leads to knee inflamation. I start feeling discomfort in less than a minute of standing. Forget one legged anything, I limit that to a few proprioception exercises. For some weird reason walking is OK, perhaps because walking is a actually a controlled fall.
My feet are not stable and don’t take shock properly either, and on top of that I have a lot of laxity in my joints. As a result, everything above them (first the ankles, now the knees, and it is starting to go into my hips) has become compromised. My experience is people who don’t have unstable feet and ankles can’t begin to relate to the issue. And there is nothing you can do about it, there isn’t remotely enough muscle in your feet and ankles to compensate for compromised tendons and ligaments.
At a guess, you might be talking collagen problems, much as I have. Genetics, with a whole raft of conditions including brittle bone diseases to connective tissue issues.
There are a few nutrition paths out there. Don’t give up.
As my chiropractor commented, “I’ve treated a lot of yoga injuries, but never treated a tai chi injury.” Find an old guy who loves it for form and not a pain princess. Or whatever pain princess translates to in Mandrin.
Erm, I know you mean well but your problem is not my problem.
I had this from when I could walk, as in one year old. And this isn’t a bone problem, in fact I grew so much bone with a recent laser implant that it caused trouble. And I’ve eaten a very good diet and tons of dietary supplements for a very long time. This isn’t a disease, I have lax joints (not as bad as Marfans but not good) and bad alignment, and that is a very bad combination.
It’s even more important when “connected” to another…you are describing self-control=self discipline…the force between practitioners is what actually dictates. (chi-sau)
One additional comment:
in Buddhist practice balance and equipose are learned through a combination of meditation and mindfulness. Medition (done properly) generates enough energy a the begining of the day so you are charged up with energy stored for the ‘shields’
(think Star Trek). Meditation also creates the ‘Witness’ perspective in your awareness, so that part of your awarness is conditioned to be a detached observer (above the emotions, internal dialog, self reflections, etc.).
Then mindfulness practice is your psychic immune system.
Mindfulness practice teaches you to discriminate whether
an experience, energy, person, etc. is nourishing, neutral or toxic. Mindfulness practice also teaches you where the ‘brake and the accelerator’ pedal are.
Combined, when you sense a toxic situation or experience,
you can avoid it, deflect it, or not empower it (with your own energy).
When I think of meditation, I think of letting go…letting go of the struggle to empty the mind.
It prepares one for letting go in other areas of life.
“When I think of meditation, I think of letting go…letting go of the struggle to empty the mind.”
Nicely put. I am impressed with the amount of not directly economic wisdom surfacing today.
Oh, Yves, I laughed at your reply, ’cause I adore you so. Not shooting any messenger! That was never intended! Clearly, being connected to meditation at all, then hats off, and of course, the Maharishi cred is impressive. I was only making the point so that anyone who might say…well, sure, but it’s HARD!
Yes, it CAN be hard to sit still and grapple with a perpetual thought stream. “Especially for anyone with ADD and trouble controlling an impossibly active mind. The only way around that is to practice letting go. One minute at a time, or 5 minutes or whatever the butt allows you to do (as you well know).
As a wife of a psychologist who meditates FAITHFULLY, as a heart patient who is encouraged to meditate (and my cardiologist is conducting an NIH study on heart symptoms and meditation (which the benefits are pretty well established), and as an attendee at a meditation church/center, I am well aware of the rationalizations we all apply. That’s why I drilled in on the ending comment that seemed to dismiss that effort. As in exercise, as you well know, even housework, walking, using the stairs pays dividends…even if we are not entering the Olympic events. :-) The mastery is in the practice..at least that’s what they tell us amateurs.
meditation is valid to the degree it develops physical manifestation…
I have long wondered at the reliance on “passion” as a business motivator, as though if you feel deeply enough the hard work will take care of itself. You are right, it is deeply related to the talent myth. I have just finished reading Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” about fixed versus learning mindsets, which also helps expose the talent myth. This is such a demotivator for the person who relies on reason and growth. Thank you for your continuous efforts to debunk popular wisdom.
Are happy (via lack of attachment) people as productive as passionate people at modern work? I can see how detachment is consistent with chopping wood and hauling water. Speaking personally, I’ve become better at doing simple things in life as I learn to detach myself from things I used to think of as necessary. But is there such a thing as a Buddhist banker? A detached salesperson? Can someone who is immune to the fears of shame, poverty, isolation, and the inevitability of death going to be as productive as someone who desperately longs for stuff, prestige, and surrogates of immortality? To the extent that productive people generate surpluses captured by others, via taxes, inheritances, public goods, rents to employers and costumers, etc. it is not surprising our social norms seem to encourage passion and consumption and ambition. The norms don’t facilitate happiness; they facilitate productivity at modern tasks.
Of course, perhaps as natural resources dwindle, what we may need more is easily satisfied, low-consumption citizens. But even if that’s true, the necessary changes in social norms will be slow and sporadic.
A good friend of mine works as a rental broker. He also studied Zen meditation at a convent, and continues to meditate and practice mindful living. He loves selling in a Zen way.
Yves – you are priceless, Faking passion in job interviews seems to be as necessary as faking orgasms is in some relationships. good stuff
And I won’t critique your dip into the Buddhist turf – because that would require too much effort and not make me happy. My particular happiness lies in your effort to demonstrate the ridiculous construct of what I called in one of my poems post industrial work identification neurosis- we are supposed to be so excited about working and being passionate about jobs that for the most part do nothing to contribute to the human condition or anything personally satisfying. I for one have met a ton of lefties who also expect us to be so damned excited for their latest campaign, and well measure your commitment by your demeanor.
Its just nice to read this – Thanks for being interested in many things and perspectives, that is my mo and I respect you greatly for that.
Gregory Bateson: “First of all, let me stress what happens when one becomes aware that there is much that is our own contribution to our own perception. Of course I am no more aware of the processes of my own perception than anybody else is. But I am aware that there are such processes, and this awareness means that when I look out through my eyes and see the redwoods or the yellow flowering acacia of California roadsides, I know that I am doing all sorts of things to my percept in order to make sense of that percept. Of course I always did this, and everybody does it. We work hard to make sense, according to our epistemology, of the world which we think we see….”
“….But most people are not aware that they do this, and as you become aware that you are doing it, you become in a curious way much closer to the world around you. The word “objective” becomes, of course, quite quietly obsolete; and at the same time the word “subjective,” which normally confines “you” within your skin, disappears as well. It is, I think, the debunking of the objective that is the important change. The world is no longer “out there” in quite the same way that it used to seem to be…”
“Consider for a moment the phrase, the opposite of solipsism. In solipsism, you are ultimately isolated and alone, isolated by the premise “I make it all up.” But at the other extreme, the opposite of solipsism, you would cease to exist, becoming nothing but a metaphoric feather blown by the winds of external “reality.” (But in that region there are no metaphors!) Somewhere between these two is a region where you are partly blown by the winds of reality and partly an artist creating a composite out of the inner and outer events.
A smoke ring is, literally and etymologically, introverted. It is endlessly turning upon itself, a torus, a doughnut, spinning on the axis of the circular cylinder that is the doughnut. And this turning upon its own in-turned axis is what gives separable existence to the smoke ring. It is, after all, made of nothing but air marked with a little smoke. It is of the same substance as its “environment.” But it has duration and location and a certain degree of separation by virtue of its in-turned motion. In a sense, the smoke ring stands as a very primitive, oversimplified paradigm for all recursive systems that contain the beginnings of self-reference, or, shall we say, selfhood.
But if you ask me, “Do you feel like a smoke ring all the time?” of course my answer is no. Only at very brief moments, in flashes of awareness, am I that realistic. Most of the time I still see the world, feel it, the way I always did. Only at certain moments am I aware of my own introversion. But these are enlightening moments that demonstrate the irrelevance of intervening states…”
TVO ran a Daniel Kahneman talk on the weekend — an easy summary of research that outlined the making sense of percepts. (MP4, about 1/2 hour.)
I’m sorry Yves, did you say something?
I must have dosed.
Buddhism, like all religions, really bother me. What is it with denial of the world? This earth is gorgeous. It is amazing. There are so many wonderful animals, plants, lifeforms, people. We are surrounded by the incredible every day. In Buddhism, this is “illusion”? NO! This is reality. It is freaking beautiful and it is freaking scary, especially right now. Sadness is as much a part of life as compassion. They are both real and they both are important. There is no need to hide from the full set of human emotions and experience, even the dreaded anger. Anger is essential in cases of injustice. It tells us something is wrong and needs to be rectified. There is no need to deny any quality of human existence.
As to passion. Our society represses real passion so it can harness the neutered version for very bad uses; ie: corporate new age bull shit, sports teams and political cult campaigns. Real passion is being fully engaged with the world. It means caring about others, it means honesty. Real passion would preclude Wal Mart cheers and cheers for war criminals giving speeches!
The world is not an illusion. Honoring our experience, having passion for the world and all that is in it is a wonderful choice in life!
What Jill said!
When Buddhists say that the world is Illusion we mean
that ‘it changes’. The implication is that there is a ‘still center’ which is beyond the surface changes.
Finally, have you read any of the latest neuro science books? Synapes in the neocortex are arranged hierarchically (Jeff Hawkins uses 6 layers). Many of the synapes are connected to internal higher layers of the brain and not only the lowest V1 input layer. The implication is that world you perceive is learned ‘conditioned awareness’. Another example is that there’s a gap in the visual rod/cone cells where the retina connects, however, you do not have gaps in your vision because the brain generates what you see.
The illusory nature of reality isn’t so much a matter of birds and trees and flowers and dogshit not being real as it is of one’s perceptions being faulty. The persistent sense of being fundamentally different from these things being one popular example.
To continue, imagine the Universe as a vast perceptual matrix, where each sentient being conceives themselves (self-awareness) as an independent perceiver.
From the side of the individual, awareness is filtered by a sense of self, with history, the senses, emotions and thoughts, etc.
From the other side, however, reality, is not seperated.
What we mean when we say Life is Illusory, is
that someone’s experience is limited [generally] to their perspective from their tiny cell.
Exactly. It’s a way of seeing things. Buddhists believe that it is an illusion that we’re all separate things, but it’s also a game we’re playing. You can still appreciate it and enjoy it – that’s the whole POINT of the game. But ultimately it’s all you. And in a logical way you can see that – it doesn’t stop existing when you walk away from it, you take it with you because it IS you.
Hmmm, I don’t know – sounds perilously close to eternalism to me.
“When you are freed from birth and death, then you will know where you are going. When the elements disintegate, where do you go?”
I’d say the perception of unity as opposed to duality was as faulty as any other, but that would even get other Mahayana types riled up at me. So I’ll stick with “Nirvana and Samsara are one” which mostly just annoys Theravadans
Yves mentioned that her TM meditation mentor [of 40 years] hasn’t (in her opinion) mastered equipoise and balance.
Explanations and labels are only conceptual tools.
Classification and discussion is not the same as merging with the Reality.
To master all these arts you have to immerse yourself in practice in the middle of life.
This is the lesson of the Mahasiddhis in Mahamudra Tantric Practice.
For _you_, the beauty of the world is truer than anything Buddhist you have run across.
I say that as a Buddhist.
Buddhism has had a strong transcendent tendency. (Beam me up, Scotty.) Some of us are trying to overcome that.
…buddhism is not a “religion”…no deity. Buddha was only a man and says so..
“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”…
I know a lot of Nepalis who would disagree with you. From much first hand experience of traditionally buddhist cultures, I can tell you that most of the world’s budddhists are just as mechanical and superstitious in the practice of their religion as most christians are here in the US. Westerners have adopted/created a super-heady philosophical version, but it certainly isn’t the only type existent.
The life of a monk is simple.
Living as a householder…..THAT is where the real work is.
You know who really scorched the earth for me in regard to all this “happiness” shit?
Gretchen Rubin, who kinda forgot to tell us she was MRS. ROBERT RUBIN and was worth umpteen billion dollars, when she launched her (apparently non-ironic) “Happiness Project”.
It’s deeply nauseating to read: “Take Yourself Less Seriously—and Take Yourself More Seriously. —Gretchen Rubin” … like this is up there with a quote from Ghandi.
or how about today’s: “Good-bye! I’m off for a week’s vacation. Do you ever feel as if it’s more work to take a holiday than it would be just to stay home in your usual routine? I’m in that stage right now, but I know I’ll be happy once vacation starts.”
Well allrighty, then!
This chick is like the Mitt Romney of pop psychology.
“Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)”
She has to remind herself to WHAT!?!?… gaaaaaah!!!!
And if it weren’t appalling enough already, the “Be Gretchen.” quote comes from where she’s interviewing a woman who has been disfigured in a horrible plane crash, having suffered burns over 80% of her body.
There are mountain top gurus.
The real teachers, you will find them in noisy marketplaces.
Actually, my guru does happen to live on a mountain top (okay, a hilltop, but it’s about 10,000 ft. above sea-level). He’s an old hindu saddhu, Kalinath Agori Baba, resident of Challing, Nepal. Funny guy, very clever, very compassionate, meditates every day, still occasionally displays a temper and signs of discontent.
My practice with him has consisted of helping him and the locals build a community school. He also gave me a mantra and suggested regular meditation, but working on the “problem” (no affordable school) has been the real meat of my study with him. It’s been a long process and I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world at large. The school will (Sarswati willing) open this month. I’m very excited.
Much of what I’ve learned is that we as Americans have much more ability to create change in this world (especially the third world) than we give ourselves credit for. See that school? I paid for that while making no more than $13,000/yr. If I ever land a middle-class job, I’ll build a hospital. Seriously. We think we need more than we do. We don’t think we can do nearly as much as we can. If we could deal with our personal greed issues (and yes, wanting to be always happy is a form of greed), astounding things would become possible. Sadly, nearly all the Buddhists and Hindus and Taoists and Unitarian-Universalists I meet have yet to figure that out. They want equanimity, you see, but they also want a mercedes. sigh…
And you decided to find a guru.
Oh the turning of the life
No, I didn’t decide to find a guru, I wasn’t even looking. That’s not how these things generally work :)
Perhaps at some level you did “decide”?
Just saying….many look for one and never decide on one but you….?
Yves I suspect you’re going to get a taste of Buddhist factionalism, with a little Vedanta thrown in for good measure.
The “chop wood carry water” quote is typically seen as a Zen aphorism, one in a rather large genre of the “Okay you’re enlightened, get over it.” type. Another famous one goes “Before I was enlightened mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers. Upon attaining enlightenment mountains were no longer mountains and rivers were no longer rivers. Now mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.” I wish I could remember the attribution.
I find that one useful way of viewing Zen stories and proverbs is that roughly one half of them are antidotes to the others, and visa-versa.
That was the purpose – to annihilate words in those Zen anecdotes, and thereby those anecdotes themselves.
Lots of people think that. But tell me, once you’ve slain the Buddha, how are you free?
ray-you might mention “Vedanta” is hinduism…
Honestly, I was hoping people would Google it, broaden their horizons a little.
Anyone know any modern day T S Eliots or Wallace Stevens’?
view the 1983 Ojai talks- videos of J.Krishnamurti..
I wouldn’t compare him to T.S. Eliot or Wallace Stevens, but if want you an American poet who really understands Buddhism, then read Gary Snyder.
Were any of the above guys bankers or insurance execs?
Not Gary Snyder, before studying Buddhism in Japan, he mostly worked at jobs such as logging as a chokersetter (fastening cables to logs), etc…
“In other words, your circumstances do not create your mental state. You do.” — Yves Smith
“…a separate ego is an illusion” — Ven
“Is it still possible for an individual to be a specifically identifiable personality with values, time for personal development and pleasure, and self administereds agenda within the flow of a society/world where profit is law?” — El Snarko
“We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest” — Einstein
“ …’western’ values of the sanctity of the individual” — crazyman
“Consider for a moment the phrase, the opposite of solipsism. In solipsism, you are ultimately isolated and alone, isolated by the premise “I make it all up.” But at the other extreme, the opposite of solipsism, you would cease to exist, becoming nothing but a metaphoric feather blown by the winds of external “reality.” —number 9
We must stop trying to put primary emphasis on only one of the two: individual or community. It is not one or the other. It is both. It’s not *or*. It’s *and*. But this is not enough. We need to go further. It’s not two things: individual and community. It’s one thing. To even think of it as two things is wrong because two implies separateness. And individual and community are not separate or separable. We are social creatures. A human being totally isolated from any contact or communication with any other human would cease to be human. Almost everything we know and are comes from the community we are raised in. And if we are lucky we may build upon the knowledge and work accumulated by all those who came before us and we might make some individual contribution to our community. Not only are individual and community inseparable in practice — in our actual lives —, but they simply cannot be separated conceptually. It is absurd to try to separate them. When you try to separate them, when you try to understand one without the other, you cannot understand either one.
“metaphysics” (“Heisenberg on Metaphysics”)
scientists attempt to comprehend what it is to BE a whale, by cutting it apart..
I should say why the HBR “passion” post appealed to me. First, “I have a passion for….” is one of those NEON SIGN phrases for me, at least on an About page, or a resume, or in a presentation. It’s corrupt language. It tells me that the person or the company using it is full of it. You want passion? “With his venom Irresistible and bittersweet that loosener of limbs, / love reptile-like strikes me down….” That’s passion. An affliction, a gift from The God(ess)(e)(s) Of Your Choice, If Any, and not a bullet point in some marketing weasel’s PowerPoint deck.
Second, the idea of the writer’s friend (presumably from the realm of high flyers that the writer inhabits) who returned to the world of the liberal arts to do work that she loves really resonates with me, because through a more accidental process, that’s what I and many of the rest of us up here on the margins have ended up doing. (Before I hear any snorts about pragmatism and wasting money, I’d remind people that the number one donor to the University of Maine for many years was…. Stephen King, from the English Department, of all places, who’s also done immense good, mostly by stealth, all around the state. IOW, the hard-headed “pragmatists” who want to make sure that the university helps their business are really just protecting their rental streams from challenge by limiting creativity. You really can’t pick winners.)
I’d argue that if encouraging people to do what they love were the norm, instead of the exception, not only would human happiness be greatly increased, but productivity in conventional terms would be increased as well. (Again, rentiers are in the business of destroying value, not creating it.) I don’t know how to prove this, but I’m sure there are people smarter than me who can prove or disprove this idea.
However, doing what you love now involves immense risk: I’m sure, for example, that the writer’s friend was in no danger of dying for lack of health care because she had to sacrifice her health insurance. (James Rittenhouse is the first blogger I’m aware of who died for that reason, but there are certainly others.
In concrete policy terms, wouldn’t it be a lot easier for people to leave their cubes and become entrepreners if we had, say, single payer? So people who wanted to make that jump and had families didn’t have to put their children at risk to do what they loved?
(I know there are some who say that suffering in the cause of doing what you love is good, and that it builds character — by which they mean it built their character — but I’ve never understood the argument.)
“I’d argue that if encouraging people to do what they love were the norm, instead of the exception, not only would human happiness be greatly increased, but productivity in conventional terms would be increased as well.”
A society that let people fully develop their minds and heart, then let them do work that fully engaged their capacities would be productive beyond all imagining.
Of course, we would have to completely reorganize most work because most work is designed for unfree people in order to keep them unfree and diminished and/or morally bad.
The only restriction we would need to place is that what you are passionate about can not be based on forcing others to be stage props for your drama. We all do what we love.
(The undecided question for the emergent knowledge producer class is whether they will be the new elite or the end of elites.)
This restriction was left out when America was founded. It is why the originally liberating notion that you didn’t have to be born into “nobility” to try to make something of yourself has now been turned into its exact opposite.
You are exactly right that doing what you love is very risky in our current society. This aspect often goes unmentioned – funny how so many basically good ideas are expressed in ways that overlook the toxic social structure.
I was in Copenhagen for a month last summer. People there are much freer, in a way that can be felt clearly in day-to-day life. The difference is intensely noticeable among the young adults. Reminded me of the 60s. Not the drugs and politics, but a certain sense of possibility and feeling that their society is basically humane. And the freedom to explore that comes from that.
It made me hopeful, nostalgic, and sad.
Denmark is not a society based on individual first-rather on group…SOCIAL democracy…
Yes, but oddly enough, Danes felt more individualized. Insecurity and fear in the US have a way of reducing us to lesser common denominators.
I agree that northern European social democracies are based on and require a kind of social cohesion that has never existed in the US and is rare elsewhere too. This means that it could be hard to scale up – something extra would have to be added to allow hundreds of millions of people to consider each other as a “We” the same way that a few million do.
These social democracies also were created based on homogenous populations and have trouble integrating newcomers in large numbers, particularly if those newcomers are from places where tribal or clan loyalty is more important than the mutual trust and shaming of Lutheranism.
A socially generous country will have more freeloaders at the bottom (who are more visible than the ones at the top because they don’t have glorified lackeys to normalize their freeloading).
Scandinavia works because enough people care about their neighbors opinion of them to hold the freeloading to a low enough level that everyone else can put up with.
Curtis’, “THe Power Of Nightmares”…
“I’d argue that if encouraging people to do what they love were the norm, instead of the exception, not only would human happiness be greatly increased, but productivity in conventional terms would be increased as well.”
The problem with this is that no one (or very few) love cleaning toilets, and yet we have much need of toilet cleaning in our society, not to mention senior diaper-changing, gas-station attending, and jiz-mopping (I’ve actually done three of those jobs since graduating from college…I’ll let you guess which ones). It’s great to do what you love, if there are jobs available that allow you to do that. The problem is that many jobs are just plain crappy, no matter how you slice it, and somebody has to do them. It almost seems cruel to tell people they should be doing something they love when that is probably not possible for everyone, or even a majority.
I don’t suggest people try to do what they love (at least not for pay), but rather whatever they can figure out to pay the bills. If it’s something they love, great. If not, oh well, join the club. Try to take comfort in the fact that you are being socially useful and maybe consider taking up some spiritual practices that will help you not get depressed about cleaning toilets, waiting tables, whatever. That’s what i do.
Even if every single person passionately pursued the utmost realization of their potential, somebody would still have to clean the toilets and collect the garbage.
That’s why I sometimes think that every occupation ought to be equally compensated. That way, those who are stuck with cleaning up the inevitable crap of existence at least don’t also have to be made to live as inferiors.
“Now when Solon came before him, and seemed not at all surprised, nor gave Croesus those compliments he expected, but showed himself to all discerning eyes to be a man that despised the gaudiness and petty ostentation of it, he commanded them to open all his treasure houses, and carry him to see his sumptuous furniture and luxuries, though he did not wish it; Solon could judge of him well enough by the first sight of him; and, when he returned from viewing all, Croesus asked him if ever he had known a happier man than he. And when Solon answered that he had known one Tellus, a fellow-citizen of his own, and told him that this Tellus had been an honest man, had had good children, a competent estate, and died bravely in battle for his country, Croesus took him for an ill-bred fellow and a fool, for not measuring happiness by the abundance of gold and silver, and preferring the life and death of a private and mean man before so much power and empire. He asked him, however, again, if, besides Tellus, he knew any other man more happy. And Solon replying, Yes, Cleobis and Biton, who were loving brothers, and extremely dutiful sons to their mother, and, when the oxen delayed her, harnessed themselves to the wagon, and drew her to Juno’s temple, her neighbours all calling her happy, and she herself rejoicing; then, after sacrificing and feasting, they went to rest, and never rose again, but died in the midst of their honour a painless and tranquil death. “What,” said Croesus, angrily, “and dost not thou reckon us amongst the happy men at all?” Solon, unwilling either to flatter or exasperate him more, replied, “The gods, O king, have given the Greeks all other gifts in moderate degree; and so our wisdom, too, is a cheerful and a homely, not a noble and kingly wisdom; and this, observing the numerous misfortunes that attend all conditions, forbids us to grow insolent upon our present enjoyments, or to admire any man’s happiness that may yet, in course of time, suffer change. For the uncertain future has yet to come, with every possible variety of fortune; and him only to whom the divinity has continued happiness unto the end we call happy; to salute as happy one that is still in the midst of life and hazard, we think as little safe and conclusive as to crown and proclaim as victorious the wrestler that is yet in the ring.” After this, he was dismissed, having given Croesus some pain, but no instruction.”
(a) I don’t know how you can make rules about any of this.
(b) i don’t know how you can make an objective standard about any of this.
Not through empirical data. Empirical data can only tell us about external manifestation, not about internal experience.
What validation is possible is from people engaged in similar practices comparing their results.
The truth is that all people seek happiness; they are, if you will, “fixated” on it. And it is the soundest of instincts. It is absurd to want to eliminate this from human nature. All beings want to be happy–this should be obvious. The Buddhists pray: “may all beings be happy.”
So the question is–since humans are equipped with an intelligence–where is true, duraable, essential and intrinsic happiness to be found? In other words, everyone looks for happiness, but not everyone by any means knows where it is to be found. They tend to look in relation to individual realities rather than universal ones.
“There is, O monks, a state where there is neither earth, nor water, nor heat, nor air; neither infinity of space nor infinity of consciousness, nor nothingness, nor perception nor non-perception; neither this world nor that world, neither sun nor moon. It is the uncreate. That O monks, I term neither coming nor going nor standing; neither death nor birth. It is without stability, without change; it is the eternal which never originates and never passes away. There is the end of sorrow.
It is hard to realize the essential, the truth is not easily perceived; desire is mastered by him who knows, and to him who sees aright all things are naught. There is, O monks, an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed. Were there not, O monks, this unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed. Since, O monks, there is an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated and unformed, therefore is there an escape from the born, originated, created, formed.”
~ Udana, 80-81
The outward man is the swinging door; the inner man is the still hinge. –Miester Eckhart
One person who has mastered life is better than a thousand persons who have mastered only the contents of books, but no one can get anything out of life without God. –Miester Eckhart
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matt. 6:33
“Being in the zone” is a very useful step. It is not actually the balance of concentration that feels so right. It is that by balancing concentration, we shift from the currently normal separate-self state into a state of self+Existence. Something very similar can be achieved (with lots of practice; good guidance helps hugely) through meditation.
With enough practice, one can enter the Zone or a meditative state even while multi-tasking or while the mind is racing along. Although at first, the right balance of concentration in activity or sitting and letting the mind quiet can be very helpful techniques.
I am just mentioning this because there is a strong and natural tendency to conflate the technique with the result, to value the means even when it eventually becomes an obstacle to a yet higher end.
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered. Proverbs 28:26
Sorry, that should be Meister Eckhart.
Your instincts are good. I trust you a great deal. I was thinking that it was your sincerity in real life that had taught you some of the same lessons that meditation does. That happens. Then it turns out you also meditate.
Your presentation of Buddhism is valid. So are the others. As another poster pointed out, there are many variants of Buddhism. Sometimes we Buddhists are not so equipoised when we explain our Buddhism.
I can’t think of any way to say this without sounding arrogant, so I will just say it anyway. I think there are teachings that have more power than TM, that touch more of the bases. Especially some of the Tibetan Buddhist schools. (Now I’ll go all the way off the high board. The Dalai Lama himself is a true sage and saint, but it is the other schools that are more focused on the powerful meditative teachings. His school is more intellectual so progress is slower.) Of course, much depends on the character of the student and with the Tibetan teachings in particular, the quality of the teacher.
I hope that we can eventually evolve to something less feudal and more democratic than lama-centered practices, but it does work.
You may not need anything more than TM. The sincerity with which you engage your life will provide some of the extra elements needed.
In discussions of ego and altruism, two different dimensions are often confused. One is the question of how generous or predatory we are. The second is the dimension of identification with a separate-self. One can shift from being selfish to being “selfless” and actually become more solidly identified with one’s separate-self.
I have two other qualms about selflessness. One, a substantial minority of people by their nature put others needs first. They still are identified with their separate-self, but they identify with that self as being generous. Ultimately, we mature and broaden into being more than a separate-self by understanding that we are not different from others.
Two, if we are selfless that still leaves the matter of who we are being selfless for. If we selflessly help beings who are themselves selfish, then for the collective, it is selfishness that is strenghtened.
Hi Jessica. I always like to wave at other Buddhists, from passing trains as it were.
In my youth I had contact with a number of fervent leftists. I noticed that the ones most hell-bent on saving the world also seemed to be the ones who were most self-involved. That was one of those little karmic nudges for me.
Have fun liberating sentient beings!
“Have fun liberating sentient beings!”
Nice sentiment. As long as I remember that they are liberating me too, I do.
Yes, more cross-pollination between those working for outer change and those working for inner change would definitely help.
I thought it was, “Have fun being sentient beings.”
Yves is an example of mental chi-sau..
FWIW, I don’† do TM any more, I do a progressive meditation with headphones. Sort of a lazy way to do it, I must confess.
…which is why you still bother writing this blog. Practice more, write less.
If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.
The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.
and everything will fall into place.
Please don’t dictate your priorities to others.
That was a weird thing to say, being that this blogs sole purpose is dictating what people should do about the economy.
Bernake has his priorities as well, yes?
The moment I think people are close is when I usually find out how far they so have to go.
If a new technology or a new technique helps, great.
There are new technology and techniques (including preparatory sequences) that make meditation easier. I love that and am glad that there are inquisitive people who try out the new stuff and keep what works.
I don’t think of that as lazy at all.
“I have no doubt it has helped him but he most assuredly has not attained a monk level of equipoise.”
There are plenty of monks out there with decades of time on the sitting cushion who have equipoise only on a closed track with a professional driver. The ones – and the lay practitioners – who can hold that in the real world are precious models.
“For people to think they are suddenly going to get calm and balanced from regular meditation is unrealistic.”
In a time and place where people think they can get equanimity from a prescription bottle, this is an important truth.
But I think that it is also true that the techniques brought to us from Asia, mostly since the end of WW2, are held back by characteristics they inherited from their social context. I think a lot more of us could get to what you call “where monks are” quicker with the right practice and guidance.
How much happier would we all be if our faith in society were restored by aggressive prosecution of our tormentors?
The US Government Accountability Office explained the power of passion very succinctly in a report that came out in April 2010 (GAO-10-423):
“A […] decline in industry profitability might not hurt artistic production [or] artist motivations. The remuneration of artistic talent differs from other types of labor….[Artists] might continue being creative even when the monetary incentives to do so become weaker [because] many of them enjoy fame, admiration, social status, and free beer in bars – suggesting a reduction in monetary incentives might possibly have a reduced impact on the quantity and quality of artistic production.”
Or, more simply, if someone is passionate about what they do, you can pay them less — or not even pay them at all.
A few posters here — and more elsewhere — have made the same basic argument whenever the subject of piracy comes up.
Thanks for this! I thought I was the only person out there who saw red every time this word came up.
Right on target as far as Buddhism is concerned.
Passion may be even more insidious that simple buffoonery.
Much of the otherwise unbelievable oppression by the managerial ranks and violence occupations began with a distance between “the creative classes” or “the good people” and “the left-behinds” or “the dirty hippies.” This isn’t a logical division, it’s an emotional judgement. It isn’t a natural, normal viewpoint, it’s a prepared text drummed into their heads. It may appeal mostly to the weak, but weaklings who’d otherwise stay with their fellows.
Like a lot of sales jobs, the point is not to let the customer think too much. Passion is just noise, noise, noise to drown out the recognition of yourself in another, in this case. There’s a reason the followers of Faux News always answer questions with a louder voice. There’s a reason Amway meetings are always chanting and cheering. Noise, passion, covers up doubts.
What will the creative classes do, what will the loyal retainers do, when they figure out they’re just marks to be rolled, just like the muppets they’ve been pounding on?
nothing in est ever said anything about following your dreams equating to happiness. you have no idea what you are talking about.
Anyone who defends est is by definition not worth listening to. It’s a cult.
And I know lots of people who did the est training and its derivatives and even some who developed their own courses using elements of est. They use language differently, but cut to the chase, and that actually is what they are selling. What do you think “empowering” and “causing life instead of just living it” means? Please. You just don’t like how it looks when some describes what the message really is, rather than the bullshit you bought.
Damn, if we are looking at the really big pictures for our country then changing the makeup of the Supreme Court ranks #1 since Citizens United and the new ruling overturning our first real healthcare reform are the most central solveable problems.
Having an elected Fed would probably place second on the list–the entire idea of the Fed being made up of the consensus choices of Regional Banks is just nauseating.
Any ideas short of violence to achieve these ends?
Today I worked retail. On Thursday I sawed a 3×3′ hole in someone’s basement floor, then spent 2 days digging 5 feet down through rocky soil and carrying the dirt upstairs. Sometimes I get to do better work. I suspect that the spores of job satisfaction are borne by the wind and reach everywhere, capable of growing in even the most challenging environments. There are also toxins which kill satisfaction, sometimes quickly. One of my faves is inattention during the planning stage that results in work having to be redone or abandoned. For instance: “Dig 30 post holes for our fence here. Don’t rent an auger.” For two days I dug, next to their house. Someone was home all day. After completion: “That’s where the fence is going to be? I don’t like it. I want the fence over there. Fill in those holes, and dig new ones.”
There are many ways to convince someone that it doesn’t matter whether they do their job or not. There’s also the personal version: your job matters, but you don’t. Those two account for much of the demotivation I’ve experienced.
Having written this much, I’m less critical of Oliver Segovia’s HBS post. If you share his cultural assumptions and follow his advice, you’ll have strong faith that your field is important, and your coworkers and superiors will be so similar to you that you’ll feel part of the group and be treated as one. Both of these will help repel the who cares toxin. But if you question any of his assumptions, run from his advice.
This essay just racheted up my like of this blog another 100 times. Thank you for a thought-provoking and important essay.
As a person who has followed her passions her entire life, which has included moving into new (for me) countries (a couple of times) to be with particular objects of my passions, and sitting at erupting volcanoes while under the stars (combinining _several_ passions at once), I’ve also followed a career path that addresses fundamental questions of the existence of our world and the human condition. These have not proven as financially supportive as I might have wished. Evidence of the science salaries offered in Italy, which among other various lack of support, caused me to leave a permanent job, and of the condition of workplace high overhead and lean funding times plus cost of living for my daughter which forced me to make the changes that I’m making now (moving from the US to Latvia with my science soft money grants). Some might argue that I am setting up myself yet another lose-lose situation to keep trying to make a living in the sciences, but they ignore that I have already made a living in the sciences, successfully. For thirty years. And with contracts that only run a few years at a time. Yes, I’ve seen the absorption and identification with one’s job that is very common in my field, but I never went in that direction, because I also have a large number of hobbies which, before my daughter was born, occupied half of my time. I suggest that having any job which forces one to abandon all of the other aspects of yourself is not a good idea. And that weekends and holidays, alot of holidays, are a good thing to go after with gusto to necessarily nurture those other parts of yourself.
I think this article ties-in nicely to your buddhism point:
Interesting read…why the slam on the Christian poster? He was just expressing his opinion like the rest. Jesus is unique to suffering in that after paying the ultimate price…death for the sins of the world…he is no longer in the grave. Just as he said….destroy this temple and three days it will be raised up. Happy Easter!