Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to do better according to a Zen master

I love Virgin Airlines. Richard Branson has made flying for me a treat. Not only has he created an airline that looks modern and feels fresh but it delivers a congruent message from start to finish. You fly fresh and get more than what you pay for. Here is why:

When I fly Virgin I get more than just great movies and additional leg room. I get friendly staff, unlimited booze, the seat I like and (best of all) I always get put next to interesting people that tell me the craziest stories. I leave the plane smiling, relaxed and full of wisdom. Virgin has got me hooked on flying with them because of their customers!

There is nothing better than the concept of seat allocation to illustrate the synchronicity of life. Believe me from 13 years of flying that there is no such thing as random coincidence when it comes to the person you get a seat next to on a plane.

There is something special about flying solo and sharing a flight journey with an unknown random. You're ever so slightly risking your life to travel with someone you may not ever see again. Its vulnerable when you think about it, to sign up to get in a flimsy box that man created years ago with a propellor that now uses jet power to go up in 20,000ft in the air and transport you to a destination sometimes unreachable by car. You and the person you sit next to both silently agree to a certain level of trust during vulnerable conditions the moment you arrive at your seat. You know that this person may be someone you might have to share an air mask with and they hope you feel the same way.

I sat next to a Zen master on the way to Los Angeles. Yes. A Zen master who was fascinated by integrating martial arts principals into the daily grind. He told me all sorts of interesting things about the exercises he learned and their useful application. I asked him a question that led to a conversation about achieving goals. I want to share a little about his thoughts...

There is this philosophy in life that if you want something you have to go after it. There is the opposite belief that you should let things go when you want them to come back to you. I have always been interested in finding out which principle is more effective. I have also wanted to know what to do when you cannot get something right that is something you want badly. This could be a mental, relational or physical task. My question for the Zen master was how do you teach yourself to do better at "life" with practice?

The man on the plane illustrated how he learns to do his exercises to answer my question.

He began with the very basics of the importance of focus in getting simple things right. His theory was that you learn to master something at the base level and build confidence from that point forth. You cannot skip the basics. I am someone that likes to skip basics such as reading the fine print in manuals before I use digital equipment. That is why I do not know how to use my TV remote control to its fullest capacity.

Mister Zen then told me about star throwing. Since I would like to play a ninja in a movie one day I listened closely to his story. He told me that when you throw a star at a target you begin by throwing it at a very close proximity so that you get a higher ratio of hits and not misses. Only when your hits are perfected at that distance you take a step back. Then you repeat. If you notice you are missing more than hitting you have to return to a closer distance. The aim is to get good at further distances through repetition. He said to me that the most important thing to achieve during this whole process is to get confidence in your skill through hits and to choose distances that minimize misses. He thinks the psychology of hitting more than missing makes you think yourself into getting better. He illustrated how powerful his practice was in transforming his life in many areas from the affirmation he received from mastery in martial arts.

I know if I want to be a ninja I would need to be completely deserved of it both psychologically and physically. I imagine that even if God gave me "natural ability" I could only feign a ninja for so long before a seasoned opponent would pull out a move that I hadn't experience mastering and I would be revealed as a "poser" plus be beat.

Its my belief that there are no flukes in life that last and having the luck doesn't make you a master. I think a person wears their mastery on the outside because it comes from the inside. Sure God gives us gifts but he also seasons us with experience where we get to test them. Like there is a difference between a person who stands tall in a job interview because he knows he has earned the position. Just like a person who has lots of smiling lines on their face in old age - you know they let a lot into their hearts in their lifetime that made them laugh. I like these people especially.

Mastering the simplest effort in small things can make others seem possible too. I think when we master the little things we learn to become confident in our ability and this then bleeds into other areas of our lives. We have seen and now know with a little effort we can indeed make anything happen. Im starting study at some point this year to go back to learning basics and its going to be a freaking challenge but I think the discipline just might pay off in more than one area. I will complain but I wont relent.

"The closest distance between two points is always the longest way around"

Thank you V Australia aka Virgin Airlines. Richard Branson you rock my world.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read your blog in a while, looks like I have some catching up to do. This entry came at just the right time - I'm reluctant to fly an American airline atm (been v.paranoid lately) & my two choices are Air New Zealand and (slightly more) Virgin - both of whom I've never travelled with before :) I usually fly alone & never really end up sitting next to anyone interesting though. Hmm, maybe I just sleep too much!