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    From the Back Cover:
    Marc Lesser provides clear guidance and simple practices for embracing and navigating five central paradoxes in life to increase our effectiveness and happiness. Influenced by the revolutionary trainings he helped develop at Google, Know Yourself, Forget Yourself is a profound book about cultivating emotional skills through difficulties and challenges. More

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Our Guides Along The Journey

I’ve been enjoying re-reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell, published in 1949, describing the similar archetypal path of humans, throughout time and across cultures.  The first three parts of this path are named as:

–       the call to adventure

–       refusing the call

–       supernatural aid

The first part of the human journey is to be called, usually unexpectedly to do something, find something, or achieve something.

The second part, is refusing the call. Often, we don’t want to answer the call – we are too busy, or it’s too dangerous, or we have other things to do.

The third step along the way, as described by Campbell is supernatural aid.  He uses this term to describe our guides along the way; the people that seem to almost “magically” appear to help us.

I’ve had so much help, from so many people. I don’t generally think of it as being supernatural, but this help and guidance is certainly usually unexpected and surprising.   “Even to those who apparently have hardened their hearts, the supernatural guardian may appear.”

This is an excellent topic to think about or write about. Who have your guides been?  And, who are you guides now, in your life?  In what way is your heart hardened, and in what way is your heart open?

Seven factors of cultivating freedom

The Buddhist tradition names what are called the seven factors of enlightenment.  Enlightenment is a fancy word for finding more freedom, real confidence, and emotional flexibility. These factors are meant to be practiced, not just during meditation practice but throughout daily life:

1. Mindfulness – awareness practice is the basis for cultivating more freedom

2. Discernment – this is the practice of seeing more clearly

3. Energy – making just the right amount of effort

4. Joy – cultivating an open, uplifting state of mind

5. Relaxation – staying calm in the midst of activity

6. Concentration – the ability to stay engaged, present, and focused

7. Tranquility – skillful engagement

Choose one of these practices and try it on this week.  How does it show up in your life? What is the resistance or difficulty? What supports you in this practice?

Practicing With Paradox

I have come to believe that embracing and responding to paradox — turning our assumptions upside down, expecting the unexpected, comfortably holding two opposing viewpoints at the same time, resolving conflicting requirements, and so on — is the key to waking up to ourselves and the present moment and discovering the right thing to do. Paradox is the doorway to insight, just as falling is necessary for learning how to balance on a tightrope. We all want more clarity, more ease, more connectedness, more possibilities, more compassion, more kindness. We want healthy relationships in order to thrive at our work and to be effective in all areas of our life. What is hard is knowing in any given situation what the appropriate action or response should be. We want the insight to know how to achieve all these things, but our vision and experience are limited.

There is an expression from the Zen tradition, “Don’t be a board-carrying fellow.” This refers to the image of a carpenter carrying a wide wooden board on his or her shoulder. The board blocks and limits vision, allowing the carpenter to see only one side of things. This expression is meant to caution us from thinking we see fully and clearly, when we see only partially. We are all board-carrying fellows. We usually just see the world from our ordinary, habitual viewpoint and neglect the mysterious, the profound, the obvious. If we don’t know or acknowledge that our viewpoint is limited, we will find it virtually impossible to gain the insight that allows us to respond in new, more successful ways. To become aware of our limitations, to achieve the insights we crave, we need to wake up.

Accepting the power of paradox is one of life’s ways of waking us up, shocking us into awareness, so we can find our balance again. Waking up can be cultivated, practiced, so that it becomes a way of life, so that it becomes our habitual approach to life. Then we may become as skillful as a tightrope walker, who lives on the edge of falling and yet (almost) always catches him- or herself in time.

Paradox means many things and can be worked with and utilized in our lives in many ways. Many Zen stories embody or are steeped in paradox, and I use them often in my work, as I do in this book. Yet paradox can also simply be a startling, peculiar, playful, or unexpected observation that challenges our habitual way of thinking. It is asking, “What is this rhinoceros doing in my office?” It is the late anthropologist Gregory Bateson observing that spaceship Earth is so well designed that we have no idea we are on one. Here we are, hurtling through space at a million miles per hour with no need for seatbelts, plenty of room in coach, and excellent food. Imagine. Paradox is anytime you hear that whisper in your ear, “Wake up, the world is extraordinary. This life you take for granted isn’t what you think!”

(From Know Yourself, Forget Yourself)