At age 21, Ryan Holiday became Director of Marketing at American Apparel, the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States, and he recently guest-blogged at Tim Ferriss' Four-Hour Work Week blog about one of his guiding mentors, Michel de Montaigne.
What impressed me was that Ryan clearly knows how contrarian his hero is in today's "I have the answer" expert/guru cult(ure) and boldly forged ahead with his praise. This is the tiniest sliver from the well worth reading post, The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne.
"In late 1569, Michel de Montaigne was given up as dead after being flung from a galloping horse.
As his friends carried his limp and bloodied body home, he watched life slip away from his physical self, not traumatically but almost flimsily, like some dancing spirit on the “tip of his lips,” and then return. This sublime experience marked the moment Montaigne began a uniquely playful relationship with his existence and was a sense clarity and euphoria about life that he carried with him from that point forwards. Shortly thereafter he took a bold step, retiring from a promising public career—retired to himself, so to speak—and made self-study his official occupation.
3) Que sais je? (Don’t take yourself too seriously)
You’d think that Montaigne, as he grew older and more practiced, would have become more certain, more sure of himself. In fact, the more he studied, the more frequently he found himself asking his most famous question: “Que sais je?” or “What do I know?” The answer to the rhetorical question is, “Nothing.” Montaigne practiced the Skeptic’s notion of questioning what he “knew” and deliberately threw his assumptions into doubt.
By building up tolerance to uncertainty, he not only better suited himself for life in chaotic civil war-era France but primed his mind for tackling the big questions that don’t have easy answers. For a second, consider of all our major public thinkers today. They do the opposite, constantly telling how sure they are of their beliefs and criticizing their “opponents” for changing their minds. Changing your mind is a good thing, Montaigne would say. It means you’ve resisted the impulse to think you’re infallible. He wrote that as part of his profession of getting to know himself he found such “boundless depths and variety that [his] apprenticeship bears no other fruit than to make me know much there remains to learn.” If only we could internalize that attitude—instead of feeling cocky when we learn something, acknowledge that it really just taught us how much more we need to learn." - Ryan Holiday
One of my guiding, but alas dead, mentors is Buckminster Fuller. He was prepared to drown himself and was standing on the brink of one of the Great Lakes (after the death of his daughter, followed by a business bankruptcy) when he realized that he didn't belong to himself, but was part and parcel of the Universe--and, instead of wading in, he vowed to participate fully in the universe. Right after that epiphany, he went through a silent period to purge everything thing he'd learned from others that he didn't know to be absolutely true; basically, questioning all second-hand knowledge and adopted beliefs that he'd assumed were his own.
His clearing period lasted about 2 years. (Some folks call it Bucky's "gestation period.")
"I live on Earth at present, and I don't know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe." - Buckminster Fuller
My spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, shares that one of the best things he did to get really clear was to keep a journal where he only wrote something down if it were true. (Interestingly, Steven Johnson mentioned the "commonplace book"--a journal--in Where Do Good Ideas Come From? and Montaigne kept one too.) He'd ask himself, What do I know for sure is true? He speaks of this journalling often, but this interview is the only instance I've found readily online where he talks of the value of self-inquiry and why writing it down the questions and answers worked for him. I particularly mention my teacher precisely because he's one of the clearest, shining people I've ever yet met (Miguel Ruiz and Byron Katie are two others, and you won't know the others as they're not online much); he charts into the Unknown moment by moment.
"The valuable part was not only what I found, but was really also that it showed me what I didn’t know, which is really valuable. It’s extraordinarily important. It’s kind of like a spring-cleaning, you know? You just dust out your consciousness–you go, “Wow, 99% of the things that I think I know, when I really examine them honestly…” You’re all of a sudden not so sure if it’s really true or not. And it’s really valuable to empty out the mind in that way, and to empty out the old belief system." - Adyashanti, "I'm Not Babysitting Your Ego," Buddhist Geeks interview
I've had the privilege (at first it didn't feel like a privilege, but more like a dot-bomb and divorce catastrophe) of having much more than 30 hours a week for past 9 years devoted to contemplation and self-study ala Montaigne, Bucky and Adya.
I happened to be looking for an attachment in an email on an incubator/hunch hub idea I had back in 2007 (yes, the Pooh tea party illustration is the right mood for said hunch hub/ serendipity Salon) when I happened upon a long, lost (or so I thought) 46-page retreat program I'd designed for an intimate group of folks that usually attended the Daring to Live an Authentic Life weekly gatherings that my housemates and I hosted when I lived in San Jose, CA. I called the retreat an "Advance" and it was held in spring 2005--two months after I vowed to quest for "What is Deathless?" post-tsunami.
I was surprised reading it how much I focused on self-contemplation (I was much more brute-force goal-oriented back then). The hypothesis was all the answers to the new, never-ending questions you're asking are already being presented to you within and in your unfolding life.
Here are the first two pages of the section ETHOS OF AN ADVANCE for your pleasure:
“Maybe your next vacation should be a journey inward,” read this month’s Body + Soul magazine.
This is a journey without a distance. It is not horizontal, but vertical.
“Buddha is a scientist of the inner world. Meditation is his basic contribution – turning the horizontal consciousness into a vertical consciousness.” – Osho, "Buddha: His Life and Teachings"
If we could take a journey, make a pilgrimage together, without any intent or purpose, without seeking anything, perhaps on returning we might find that our hearts had unknowingly been changed. I think it worth trying. Any intent or purpose, any motive or goal, implies effort -- a conscious or unconscious endeavor to arrive, to achieve. I would like to suggest that we take a journey together in which none of these elements exist.
If we can take such a journey, and if we are alert enough to observe what lies along the way, perhaps when we return, as all pilgrims must, we shall find that there has been a change of heart; and I think this would be much more significant than inundating the mind with ideas, because ideas do not fundamentally change human beings at all. Beliefs, ideas, influences may cause the mind superficially to adjust itself to a pattern; but, if we can take the journey together without any purpose and simply observe as we go along the extraordinary width and depth and beauty of life, then out of this observation may come a love that is not merely social, environmental, a love in which there is not the giver and the taker, but which is a state of being, free of all demand.
This journey I am proposing that we take together, is not to the moon, or even to the stars. The distance to the stars is much less than the distance within ourselves. The discovery of ourselves is endless, and it requires constant inquiry, a perception which is total, an awareness in which there is no choice. This journey is really an opening of the door to the individual in relationship with the world. So, the understanding of ourselves is not to the end of individual salvation, it is not the means of attaining a private heaven, an ivory tower into which to retire with our own illusions, beliefs, gods. On the contrary, if we are able to understand ourselves, we shall be at peace, and then we shall know how to live rightly. -J. Krishnamurti
There are no gurus "out there", but simply people whom reflect and mirror our highest selves and/or our shadow selves. In the yogic sense, a guru merely mirrors your innate but unawakened potential back to you.
Look within for answers. But note your blind spots in the mirrors (i.e. "other people") surrounding you.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Not I - not anyone else, can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself.” - Walt Whitman
“You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him find it within himself.” - Galileo
This story is very illustrative of our own capacities when we are still and listen. In fact, it’s illustrative of the ethos of the Advance. You may come in feeling thoroughly lost as well:
“You may remember A.A. Milne’s story about Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, and Rabbit getting lost in the Hundred Acre Wood. Under Rabbit’s bossy, officious guidance, the three go around and around until they’re thoroughly lost and terrified of lurking Heffalumps. Eventually, a disgusted Rabbit leaves Pooh and Piglet and goes to find the way home. He never returns. After a while, Pooh turns to Piglet:
“Come on, Piglet. Let’s go home.”
“But we’re lost,” said Piglet.
“Yes,” said Pooh, “but there are twelve pots of honey in my cupboard at home, and they are calling to my tummy. I couldn’t hear them before, because Rabbit would talk.”
This is what happens to someone who settles into the threshold of Square One [Square One's similar to what Joseph Campbell calls the ‘Initiation’], stops fighting the process, and accepts the strange formlessness of the situation. The chattering, Rabbit-like social self gets so frustrated and disoriented that it finally wanders away. Then something else comes through: a silent sweetness that resonates deep in your essential self, your pots of honey calling to your tummy.” – Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star
WHAT TO EXPECT
“I don’t know in advance what I am going to put on canvas any more than I decide beforehand what colors I am going to use.” – Pablo Picasso
Everything happens after the Advance. And even then, expect nothing for optimal results.
Okay, okay. You can expect clarity, insights, and a desire to commit and focus – but the what’s and how’s are not known yet. Don’t worry about them now.
art credits: Just Walk Away by Dasha Denger; journal page Will I Ever Find An Answer? by Hannah of Spans Stitches blog (p.s. yes + yet more infuriating questions galore after that one--enjoy the unfurling infinite mystery!); A.A. Milne illustration via Mystery of Existence (how apropos!) blog; last photo of journaler via She Knows blog.