Goya, The Forge, 1812-1816 Oil on linen The Frick Collection, New York City
Mechanical Resistance Matrix
© 2006, 2008 Jonathan Zap
Edited by Austin Iredale
Mired in details, details, details
Mired in this holy human conundrum
The power of embracing the totality of this
Beyond these petty little hobgoblin trivialities
Glowing like furious embers with their little pitchforks
But how small they are, how utterly helpless,
How sad they seem, how lonesome they must be,
To demand such frantic attention.
Two excerpts from the poems of Jack Savage. See Savage Reflections—The Soulful Poems of Jack Savage
Mechanical resistance is one of the great defining aspects of the matrix in which we are presently incarnated. It is a force in our lives as powerful as gravity or mortality, and it overlaps and influences almost any area or parameter of our incarnation we can possibly think of—corporeality, illness, aging, money, sexuality, time, objects, consumerism, computers, technology, art, travel, etc. I’m trying right now to think of an area of my life that does not involve mechanical resistance, and I can’t think of a single one. If instead I try to think of areas of my life where there is mechanical resistance and where I wish there was less, the list that populates itself in my mind is so numerous and detailed that it starts scrolling off the mental desktop.
The list is not quite infinite in a technical sense, but might as well be. It would be akin to typing “sex” into google and trying to scroll through every result. I just did that and got 413,000,000 results. And if I scrolled through all of them, I would probably find a little button on the bottom of the final screen that reads, “Show the next 413,000,000 results.” Similarly, when I do an intra psychic search, a wet drive search, on “mechanical resistance,” and click on the “search my entire life history” and “search all areas of my personality” options, I get a scrolling list of just over eleven trillion files, and I know that this is just the first page of results. Or at least these are approximately the search results I would get if I had a brain/computer interface chip implanted in my cortex, which, to the best of my knowledge, has not yet occurred.
I decided to create a bit of mechanical resistance for you, the reader, by not defining mechanical resistance in the introductory paragraph. Mechanical resistance is as easy to recognize as a stubbed toe, but it is also as hard to define as life itself, because there are trillions of subspecies of mechanical resistance. For example, your computer loses its ability to play MP3s, a subspecies of mechanical resistance, so you go to the help screen to look for a number for tech support, but they hide those live contact phone numbers near the bottom of an obscure menu you can’t find, because they want to discourage you from using phone tech support. This is just one of the numberless subspecies of mechanical resistance—intentional obfuscation in voice jails or websites to keep you from interacting with a live person. Since you can’t find the tech support number, you instead go to where they want you to go: the friendly link to an “Online Troubleshooter.” You click on the link but get a “Cannot display this page” warning. Something has caused your internet connection to go down. You check for loose connections, do the Windows internet connection troubleshooter, neither of which work, so you restart your computer, which solves the connection problem that happened for reasons you don’t understand, and never will understand, but that will almost certainly cause more connection problems in the future. This is the denial of internet service subspecies of mechanical resistance. Now your connection is back up and you type, “MP3s won’t play,” into the search window of the online troubleshooter. “Zero results found” is the infuriating result. Another subspecies of mechanical resistance—the outrageous and nonsensical failed search return. You know that you are not the first person in the universe to have a computer that failed to play MP3s, so you type in variations like, “No audio MP3, MP3 failure, MP3 trouble, MP3 player problems.” Zero results for any of these, so then you just type in “MP3,” and now a whole set of results comes up, and right near the top of the list is “MP3s won’t play.” So now you click on that, and a beautiful window pops up, it says “MP3 Won’t Play Problem Solving Wizard.” This is more than you even dared to hope for, some sort of digital avatar designed exactly for the sort of problem you are having.
Your hunched-over posture of defeat shifts, and you sit up straighter and stretch, your body relaxing from the frustration of dealing with several subspecies from the vast phylum of computer-based mechanical resistance, a major branch of the mechanical resistance tree of life. But when you stretch you inadvertently knock your cell phone off the table and engage another vast phylum of the mechanical resistance tree of life—the unintended gravitational effects pertaining to small and valuable objects phylum. Now you have to undo all the effects of stretching because you have to bend down and reach under the table to the cell phone, which you can’t quite reach with your fingers. You use your right leg and foot to reach toward the cell and sort of rake it over to your hand, which is then able to grasp it by stretching to your furthest limits and wrenching your neck and back in the process. You succeed in grasping the cell and bringing it back to the table, what an astronaut doing an EVA would call a “positive capture.” But the weight of the cell phone doesn’t feel right, there is a weird hollowness and you investigate, turning it over, and discover that both the plastic cover that holds the battery in and the all-important battery itself were ejected by the fall, rendering the all-important cell phone as dead as a person would be if they had suffered a fall that resulted in the ejection of one or more major organs. You can’t even see those missing organs, so the hand grasping with foot raking assist capture protocol is absolutely not going to create a positive capture. Meanwhile, the all-important cell phone is flat lined, your most important link to the outside world has gone dead and will remain so until its major organs are restored. This calls for drastic action, and drastic action always means deeper descent into mechanical resistance.
You are forced to leave your swivel chair, and with it all illusion that problems can be solved instrument-cockpit style, with you comfortably seated while troubleshooting problems with mouse and keyboard and so forth. Like a groveling animal, or crawling infant, you search the hideous tangle of wires beneath your desk to find the cell’s missing organs and . . . success: positive capture. You find both the battery and the battery gate, and are ready to return to the cockpit, but as you transition from all fours back to the flight deck your knee inadvertently hits that glowing red rocker switch on the all-important surge protector, which is the crucial link, the absolute link, between your computer and the power grid. You turn the switch back on, but of course your computer has crashed because of the momentary interruption of power.
You are back on the flight deck now staring at a blank screen, your back and neck feeling tight, and the slow dull ache of neck pain due to herniated discs in your neck—C5 and C6—is creeping up, and you sense the morning slipping away, like so much of your life, into the gaping, thorny pit of mechanical resistance. You press the power button on your computer so it can reboot. Next in the hierarchy of necessary actions, you put the battery and plastic battery cover back on your cell phone, restoring its viability as an electronic organism. There is a tiny feeling of satisfaction when the plastic battery gate clicks shut, but you are so seduced by that momentary victory, while still feeling oppressed by the thought that the morning is slipping away, that you fail to recall a key cell phone restart protocol. When power is interrupted to your cell phone and the power is then restored, the device comes back on, the screen lights up, but the phone function is actually off and needs to be turned back on. But this crucial restart cell protocol falls between the cracks of your attention, because when you snapped that battery gate back into place and you heard that positive clicking sound, you had a tiny moment of vanity, false pride, confidence that you were getting back on track. Instead of being in the moment, you were already thinking ahead to when the computer would finish booting up, at which point you could open a browser, at which point you could go back to online troubleshooting, at which point you could search for “MP3,” at which point you could find the link to restore the “MP3 Won’t Play Problem Solving Wizard.” Following this future timeline in your mind’s eye, you are now blissfully ignorant of the fact that your cell is still, from an operational point of view—at least as related to its telephonic functionality—a corpse. It looks perfectly intact sitting there beside you on the desk, but in actuality it is effectively decapitated, the all-important link to the outside world is dead and you don’t know it, and this means that you will miss a number of crucial phone calls this morning, and the loss of these all-important phone calls will create mechanically resistant suffering and problems that will continue to affect your life in the days and weeks to come. Later you will realize that although the dead phone looked perfectly intact, you should have noticed that the light flashing every three seconds on the phone to indicate that it is in service was not flashing. This failure, the grievous human error of not noticing that flashing light, is the close analog of rescuing someone from a serious fall, restoring any ejected organs they may have lost, feeling even a sense of personal triumph in this rescue and organ restoration, and then failing to notice that the rescued person was not breathing, a crucial detail that if omitted defeats the whole point of the rescue.
But you don’t notice that your fallen companion has not drawn breath since the fall. In a state of glib ignorance, you assume that your cell is alive and linking you to the outside world, you assume that it is a living and active transceiver, a functioning telephonic interface, while in actuality it is a plastic corpse lying inert by your side. You don’t notice its inert status; don’t notice that you are making dangerous and naïve assumptions, because you are in a state of blissful ignorance due to the fact that finally, triumphantly, you have restored your connection to the MP3 Won’t Play Problem Solving Wizard. This Wizard generates an all-American aura of can-do problem-solving confidence. It stands amidst the wreckage and multiple frustrations of your morning like an astronaut with that right-stuff glint in the eyes, ready to take charge of your Apollo 13-like computer and keep working the problems until they are solved one by one. Probably this wizard will link you to other problem solving wizards, which will fix all the troubled areas of your life, step by step.
Your relationship to the MP3 Won’t Play Problem Solving Wizard involves neediness, high expectations, and idealization. This sets you up for painful shock and disillusion when you click next and the MP3 Won’t Play Problem Solving Wizard states, “First check and see if your USBN Driver Ports Access Processor is enabled, then click next.” This is not all what you expected or wanted. For one thing, you don’t have the slightest idea what a “USBN Driver Ports Access Processor” is. More importantly, you don’t have a clue where it is and how to check if it is enabled, and the Wizard doesn’t tell you, it just assumes, it makes an ass out of “u” and “me” by assuming you are as familiar with the USBN Driver Ports Access Processor as you are with the front door of your house. You could ignore this step and click next, but in so doing you would completely invalidate your entire relationship to the Wizard, because it told you very specifically to check on the enablement status of your USBN Driver Ports Access Processor “first,” meaning that this check must precede any other steps leading toward solving your entire MP3 won’t play problem.
Faith in your relationship to the Wizard has been shattered, and now you realize a critical mistake you made that led to the unraveling of your whole morning. You realize that when you couldn’t find the hidden tech support phone number you should never have put up with that, should never have let yourself be suckered into the online troubleshooting program. You should have stood up for yourself, should have found the number and then added it to the contacts file in your cell phone for future reference, should have been talking to the outsourced tech support people in India, should have gotten to the bottom of the MP3 problem with a live human contact. And if you had taken that critical step you would also have discovered that the cell phone service had not been turned back on. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. You realize these regrets are taking you nowhere, you need to bite the bullet, you need to go back to the original help page and look for that hidden contact tech support menu. You need to . . .
—OK, I’m going to break in here, because if I were to continue the narrative of mechanical resistance that this hypothetical “you” is facing, I would have to continue right up to the point where you are leaving your body at death, the system restore point, where at least potentially you could reboot into a different matrix, one that was not based on the mechanical resistance operating system.
I went into the narrative above to create some mechanical resistance, to draw you into the world of mechanical resistance in a way that I couldn’t if I gave a concise definition in the intro paragraph and then listed the ten steps to solve mechanical resistance through the power of positive thinking and that whole Dr. Phil approach to the crucifixion of human incarnation. The concise, glib approach would be a massive disservice to victims of mechanical resistance . . . sorry, a disservice to mechanical resistance survivors everywhere, rising to the special challenges of the Mechanical Resistance Matrix.
To be perfectly honest, I also went into the narrative because I wanted to, still want to, punish mechanical resistance itself. Before I go into my philosophy of how to deal with mechanical resistance, I want to disrespect and degrade it, pay it back for all its petty humiliations; I want to make it feel powerless and pathologized, want to make it feel like a petty health problem that will one day be obliterated by a tiny little pill. In short, I want to make it into an acronym. I will make it into an acronym. From this point forward, I will refer to mechanical resistance as “MR.”
I just noticed something about this devastatingly short acronym, MR, which makes it even more appropriate. It looks just like “Mr,” as in “Mr. Jones.” And since “Mr.” denotes a formal masculine salutation, it strongly connotes the whole patriarchal age, an age of suits and faceless bureaucrats, the perfect degrading connotation for this acronym, and the perfect means of disrespecting MR and the whole corporeal incarnation horse it rode in on.
Now I know what at least some of you are thinking: “This spoiled, over-privileged, yuppie Westerner and his gadget woes, what a whiner. What about Rhaj Patel, the 39-year-old rickshaw driver and father of eight who lives an impoverished life of hardships in Bangladesh, who, although half-starved, has to run through the crowded streets of Bangladesh on his blistered feet dragging his rickshaw, trying to find a customer, trying to make a few rupees to feed his starving family. That’s real mechanical resistance, computer problems don’t even count; most of the world doesn’t even own a computer.”
OK, fine. Some people have it harder. From a politically correct point of view, what Mr. Patel has to go through is probably ten to fifteen percent more mechanically resistant than what I have to deal with most days. But from another point of view, the technology-spoiled Westerner is the one much more likely to locate the problem of mechanical resistance and seek encompassing solutions to it. Only the person who has been fully initiated into the world of high-tech gadgets knows what MR really is. Only a baby boomer raised on the Jetsons, and the belief that middle-age would bring a world of gleaming control panels in an immaculate smart home filled with helpful robots catering to my every need, and a two space-car garage, only such a person is able to realize just how much this phase of reality and its ubiquitous MR really sucks. Only those who have owned computerized gadgets that—on the occasions when they actually work—really do create temporary remissions of MR, know just how much suffering there is when all the MR symptomology comes crashing back. Sure, it says in the Bible, in Ecclesiastes 3:
9 What profit remains for the worker from his toil?
10 I have seen the painful labor and exertion and miserable business which God has given to the sons of men with which to exercise and busy themselves.
16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice there was wickedness, and that in the place of righteousness wickedness was there also
19 For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even [in the end] one thing befalls them both. As the one dies, so dies the other. Yes, they all have one breath and spirit, so that a man has no preeminence over a beast; for all is vanity (emptiness, falsity, and futility)!
20 All go to one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
21 Who knows the spirit of man, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goes downward to the earth?
OK, I can understand that: what befalls the beast befalls the man. I just didn’t think that what befalls the man applied to a baby boomer growing up at the dawn of the space age, where technology was supposed to get us light years past what befalls the beast. But now, in middle age, my baby-boomer belief that we would triumph over MR into a techno utopia has crashed. Now I live in a universe where I realize that what befalls the beast befalls the shiny new gadget, and therefore befalls the person who owns the shiny new gadget, and therefore there is absolutely no escape from MR while we live in the MR matrix, the MRM. Ultimately, we will solve this, probably by some baby-boomer messiah tapping into the source code of the MRM and teaching us to fulfill the promise of the New Age and to truly create our own realities. Meanwhile we need, I need, a philosophy, a practical philosophy for dealing with MR.
“MR: can’t live with it, can’t live in the MRM without out it.” That’s almost a philosophy, but it is annoyingly existential and fatalistic. I know I can’t live without it, but I need to know how to live with it without getting overwhelmed by stress.
The first step in creating such a practical philosophy is for me to switch off the over-the-top, gadget-crazed, mutant baby boomer voice, which is starting to exhaust me, and seems more like MR rather than the rebellion from MR it started as.
Taking a break from my voice, I just did an I Ching reading on how to handle MR. Since the I Ching doesn’t have an ego, and since it probably does not own a computer, it didn’t have to vent and rant for many pages as I just did. Instead, it offered an appropriate stance toward the problem in calm and concise words.
The main hexagram I got was #62, usually called “Preponderance of the Small.” I particularly like the general text on this hexagram in Sarah Dening’s The Everyday I Ching, and I very particularly like her name for this hexagram: “Attention to Detail.” These three words encapsulate a practical, warrior-like stance for dealing with MR; they are a very helpful reminder to me, because I have never been a good detail person. This was apparent from early childhood, even from psychological tests. I was good at high-level pattern recognition, but not good at noticing off details. I am an introvert, and so much of my attention is going into my inner world that I lose track of details happening in the outer 3-D world. Small object tracking is a problem, when I transition from one place to another I tend to leave things behind. This relates to what used to be called the “absent minded professor syndrome.” Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, who had one of the richer inner lives of any human being, is an example. According to his son Michael, whenever he went to the bank they would give him back the gloves, umbrella, or other items he left previously. One time he put his deposit in his mouth and passed his false teeth across to the teller.
It’s easy for me to be all the way into my inner world, but it is hard for me to be all the way out in the 3-D physical world, unless it is some special circumstance like mountain climbing. So much of what I have to do in the outer, physical world seems boring and mechanical to me, and meanwhile there is so much interesting content going on inside my psyche. Lots of people want to do anything to get outside of themselves, to distract or focus themselves on anything but the tape loops and psychic entropy in their heads. But this has not been the case for me in many years. Inside my psyche, intuitions are in constant birth, images and thoughts appear, realizations, Socratic dialogues, and much of this content is highly interesting and entertaining. Meanwhile, so much of what I have to do in the outer physical 3-D world seems boring and mechanical—cleaning, laundry, going here and there doing errands, and so forth. While I go about these tasks, I am usually not completely focused on them. I am largely in my inner world, and headphones and radio show interviews, spoken books, etc. on my tiny MP3 player very often supplement that inner world. This audio track is often so entertaining and interesting that I look forward to doing the most completely mechanical tasks, like laundry, so I can focus in on the audio content. Most of the novels I take in are on tape/CD/MP3. Some tasks, like laundry, are so mechanical that this is perfectly appropriate. I don’t need to think about folding shirts, my automated kinesthetic memory knows how to do it, and I can be in the world of a novel, for example, and do the job just fine. But there are other external jobs and activities that involve details that require more than automated attention. Some of them, like troubleshooting a computer problem, demand all my focus and need great attention to detail. Also, if your inner world is not so entertaining, if it is oppressing you with psychic entropy and tape loops, then follow the principle coined by the self-help movement: If in doubt, focus out. Shift your focus from inner chaos to acute attention to the details of the outer world. We can start to enumerate specific and practical principles for dealing with MR:
1. Pay attention to detail.
2. If you neglect, ignore, or unconsciously presume upon details, those
details will most likely bite you in the ass.
3. If in doubt, focus out.
The Everyday I Ching begins its general text on #62 with a quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
The general text describes a situation where great undertakings may not be possible, and thereby the small preponderates. Ms. Dening writes:
“Go calmly about your daily routine. Occupy yourself with ordinary, everyday matters. Do not consider any task as being beneath you. You cannot be too thorough in your attention to detail. Know your limitations. Do not over-extend yourself or try to take on more than you are truly capable of.”
These are almost deceptively simple sentences because they are loaded with crucial insights expressed in everyday language. “Go calmly about your daily routine.” Calm, attentive patience is the most effect way to deal with MR. If I’m not calm, if I let frustration get to me and I become frantic, compulsive, or angry in response to MR, then I am likely to force progress—the key won’t turn in the lock, so I force it and it breaks off in the lock, necessitating a repair by a locksmith. But if I patiently, and with great attention to detail, jiggle the key in the lock, I may find just the right way to open it. Knowing my limitations is another key for me to improve my stance toward MR. A stereotyped example is that I gauge time based on how long I think it should take me to do various things, not on how long it actually does take, and not allowing for the MR that inevitably makes things take longer than I think they should.
4. Go about your day with calm, humble precision, considering no task beneath you. Be realistic about what you can accomplish and how long it will take.
Many of my Zap Oracle cards make the statement, “Don’t do anything you won’t remember well on your death bed.” A more practical version of this would be to ask yourself the following question throughout the day: “What’s the best use of my time right now?” Yes, you should prioritize doing the highest value, most meaningful life tasks. That’s why I get up in the very early morning. Having just awoken from my dreams, I am in my best state to be creative. “Peak time” is the time of day when you are most alert and energetic. My strategy for most days is to use the morning, usually my peak time, for my highest value tasks—writing, research, working on the Zap Oracle, counseling people—then after a few hours of that, I tend in the early afternoon to have a bit of an energy slump, and I use that less alert time for more mundane tasks. I have to be careful not to neglect the high value activities, or the necessary mundane ones. The computer is a good example, because most of my high value activities, like the writing I am doing right now, require, or are greatly facilitated by, the computer. Working on computer problems cannot be neglected because it will directly undermine the high value creative tasks. A crucial insight is contained in the sentence, “Do not consider any task beneath you.” I would like to have a personal staff, or at least a couple of artificially intelligent robots that could take care of mundane details for me, but I don’t. I need to know how to make my computer work, and as frustrating and inane as many computer glitches turn out to be, there is a computer literacy training happening as well; I am learning how to live with a computer at this phase of technology, where computers don’t have enough artificial intelligence to recognize their own problems or listen to a verbal description and set to work fixing themselves.
About a year before he died, I met Joseph Campbell at a Jungian conference on Long Island. He mentioned that he had just gotten his first personal computer, and as soon as he took it out of the box he knew it was a god, but wasn’t sure which one. After interacting with it for a while he realized it was Yahweh, the god of the Hebrew Bible, “All rules and no mercy.” If that’s the nature of the god, then it is true, “You cannot be too thorough in your attention to detail.” Similarly, when you interact with the moving physical world—driving, biking, skiing, whatever—it is important to recognize that you are bound by the merciless rules of macro objects and Newtonian physics.
5. Ask yourself, “What is the best use of my time right now?”
6. Try to preserve peak time to work on the highest value tasks.
7. Many mundane tasks are crucial and require complete focus.
There is a whole other level of meaning to not seeing any part of the work beneath you. Many people, probably most people, are ambivalent about having a corporeal incarnation. Some thinking types seem to be a bit disembodied, they seem to be hovering just above their body and reluctantly and inattentively interfacing with it when necessary. (See The Glorified Body for more about our transforming relationship to body.) This dualism and understandable disidentification with the body increases the suffering of MR and intensifies various forms of MR through neglect. Some people treat their body as a kind of portable shopping bag. They throw things in it, and if those things cause MR symptoms, they just throw in more things to compensate.
8. The body deserves great—but maybe not obsessive and all-consuming—attention to detail. Neglect it, and the MR of corporeality only intensifies.
Ms. Dening continues: “If you fly too high, you will lose control. Keep your feet on the ground and enjoy the simple things of life . . . Do not be too proud or ambitious.” Our spirit body would like to fly high above MR. I want the computer to do what I want when I want it. Most of the time it does. But if I am on a roll with some creative writing, and feel too above the mundane to continually back up my work, well we all know how that story ends. Jung felt that the crucifixion was the central metaphor for the human condition; we are caught between the vertical axis of the spirit and transcendence and the horizontal axis of the grounded life, which also includes the dark side of our personalities. Easterners and New Agers, and others that tend to focus on vertical transcendence, tend to neglect the difficult horizontal work of integrating their own personal shadow, and therefore they end up acting it out unconsciously on everyone. Google “Andrew Cohen” for a classic example. If I neglect the details of the horizontal plane of existence—what’s happening with my body, emotions, relationships, objects, finances, time, etc—then those neglected areas will uncooperatively act out, like autonomous complexes, rubbing my face in whatever I neglected.
Ms. Dening continues: “Your challenge is to accept the current situation with grace and a spirit of humility.” It is humility that eases the self-importance that generates the anger and stress when the ego confronts MR. Encounter MR with humble acceptance, but don’t get self-important about your humility, and especially don’t start thinking you are more humble than I am. Remember that humility is not masochism, it doesn’t mean you should put up with MR that can be fixed, it means that you are in a better state to fix it—if it can be fixed—when you attend to it with humble precision.
Brian Browne Walker, author of an amazingly concise, precise I Ching, writes in his general text on hexagram 62:
You should not be seduced into struggling, striving, or seeking solutions through aggressive action. Success is met only by waiting modestly for the guidance of the creative… Trying times are a test of our integrity and commitment to proper principles. The ordinary person reacts to challenges with fear, anger, mistrust of fate, and as stubborn desire to strike out and eliminate difficulty once and for all. While the temptation to act in this way can be great, to do so can only lead to misfortune… she retreats into her center and cultivates humility, patience and conscientiousness.
The healthy way to react to most situations is to interpret them in some sort of positive frame. B.B.W. implies that trying times should be viewed as a test, and Ms. Dening also suggests viewing the hardships as a test. She writes: “Do not make unreasonable demands or allow frustration to cause you to over-react . . . The situation is a test of your patience and stability.”
Another positive frame is to see the MR situation as a learning experience, a challenge, etc. Most of the time this is the way to approach MR, but there would be an element of shadow denial if we always tried to put a positive perspective on everything. Sometimes you may need to grieve, may need to go into a less interpreted acceptance of the painfulness of a particular case of MR.
One of the best positive frames is appreciation of the moment, even if the moment has mundane and/or frustrating aspects. Let’s say I’m having a stressful phone call with tech support. But I am also interacting with a pleasant, conscientious person from another culture. There are nuances to this human transaction, as well as the content about the computer problem. Immerse yourself in the mundane moment and you may discover layers, textures, and sensations of interest that easily get overlooked.
The I Ching reading I had after an intense bout with MR earlier this morning helped bring the creative muse forward, and invited me into the present writing session, a massive one sitting writing session. If the computer problem had an easy resolution, I wouldn’t have written this, I would have been scanning in 35 mm negatives to store future images for the Zap Oracle, etc. Useful work, but very mechanical compared to a muse-inspired writing session. The MR got reinterpreted into an opportunity for creativity.
Race car drivers are trained that if they are heading toward the wall they should avoid looking at it. They should look at where they want to go. In other words, it is more effective to shift your focus from obstacles to the open avenues of possibility.
9. Interpret MR and other frustrations as challenges, tests and learning experiences. Avoid victim mentality.
10. Shift focus from obstacles to open avenues of possibility.
The MR-inspired reading I gave myself led to a passage from the classic Wilhelm/Baynes I Ching, which states:
Thus the superior man . . . must always fix his eyes more closely and more directly on duty than does the ordinary man, even though this might make his behavior seem petty to the outside world. He is exceptionally conscientious in his actions. In bereavement emotion means more to him than ceremoniousness. In all his personal expenditures he is extremely simple and unpretentious. In comparison with the man of the masses, all this makes him stand out as exceptional. But the essential significance of his attitude lies in the fact that in external matters he is on the side of the lowly.
Similarly, the classic Taoist I Ching states:
“When one acts yet is able to be still, being active in the midst of stillness, stopping in the appropriate place and acting on that, even as one acts one does not go beyond the appropriate position.”
In other words, you don’t let resistant passages altogether break your rhythm. When appropriate, back off and recognize that there are open avenues of possibility elsewhere. This Taoist attitude contrasts the naïve ego that will tend to meet resistance with a frantic, angry, overly aggressive attitude, or, conversely, collapse into lethargy and defeatism.
All of the I Ching quotes so far have been from general commentary about the hexagram, but now we move to the first changing line I got, which funnels the general meaning into something more specific about my relationship to MR. The Wilhem/Baynes defines the line as follows:
Nine in the third place means:
If one is not extremely careful,
Somebody may come up from behind and strike him.
At certain times, extraordinary caution is absolutely necessary. But it is just in such life situations that we find upright and strong personalities who, conscious of being in the right, disdain to hold themselves on guard, because they consider it petty. Instead, they go their way proud and unconcerned. But this self-confidence deludes them. There are dangers lurking for which they are unprepared. Yet such danger is not unavoidable; one can escape it if he understands that the time demands that he pay especial attention to small and insignificant things.
This line reinforces many of the themes we have already discussed. Ignore details of MR and you get blind-sided by them: this is what is meant by, “Somebody may come up from behind and strike him.” Ignore that little sound from your brakes or transmission and a small repair may become a very expensive one or even a car accident. Ignore bodily symptoms and likewise. There is a principle in the I Ching of catching things before they exit the gate of change. For example, you notice the first tiny signs of a developing problem and you nip it in the bud. A skilled martial artist slows down time to perceive the first signals of movement and direction of an opponent to catch him before a successful strike. But if you are overconfident and neglect the details, they bite you in the ass.
The Taoist I Ching says, “If you do not overcome and forestall it, indulgence will cause harm, which would be unfortunate.”
The next changing line involves similar cautions. The Taoist I Ching says, “Stop when you should stop, rest and stop the work; act when you should act . . .” Timing, as we all know, is critical to success. We need minute attunement to the vicissitudes of the moment to know whether to go forward or to withdraw. Ms Dening writes: “Take care not to be over-confident. Unexpected difficulties could catch you unawares. Pay great attention to detail. Be very cautious and exercise good judgment”
When an I Ching reading involves changing lines there is also a secondary hexagram indicated. In this case it is #2, “The Receptive.” This hexagram is also about being guided by the needs of the moment, and not trying to be ambitious or force progress. The Wilhelm/Baynes states:
What the hexagram indicates is action in conformity with the situation . . . If he knows how to meet fate with an attitude of acceptance, he is sure to find the right guidance. The superior man lets himself be guided; he does not go ahead blindly, but learns from the situation what is demanded of him and then follows this intimation from fate . . . The time of toil and effort is indicated . . . If in that situation one does not mobilize all one’s powers, the work to be accomplished will not be done . . . In addition to the time of toil and effort, there is also a time of planning, and for this we need solitude . . . At that time he must be alone and objective.
Planning is another key strategy for dealing with mechanical resistance, but here we need to draw an important distinction. Planning does not mean egoistic prestructuring of the future, a brittle lattice of expectations of what will happen and when. This would be completely contrary to the Taoist approach, which recognizes the future as the unknown and emphasizes intuitive, creative adaptation to the moment. But emphasis on the now does not replace the need for planning. This brings us to our next principle:
11. Employ planning as a strategic activity engaged in the present with the full awareness that future developments may require that the plans be changed.
In other words: The plan proposes, but the Tao disposes.
12. The more you are spontaneous, creative, or rebellious, the more you need some structures of discipline, organization, and even scheduling, so that MR doesn’t rule your life.
Not bothering with those structures usually means inefficiency, which is another way of saying MR. Since my essence predisposes me to neglect detail, I must compensate by employing systems to help keep me on track. If I don’t do this, then the ensuing chaos causes my life to be unpleasantly dominated by the details I neglected.
My personality tends to favor philosophy over practical technique. But since I have pointed out the need to compensate for one-sided tendencies, I’m going to describe some practical techniques that are crucial for me, and that might be useful for you, or might give you ideas for your own approach.
13. Keep a list-making device within hands reach almost all the time. Neglected details almost always begin as something you notice and register as a thought, “I really should look into that noise in the transmission.” When the thought emerges, there are usually four things you can do in response:
1. You have the thought, and then forget about it.
2. You try to hold onto the thought, try to remember, remind yourself.
3. You record the item in your list-making device.
4. You take immediate action.
Response 1 doesn’t work well in most cases. Response 2 may or may not work and is stressful and exhausting. This approach has been compared to carrying a rock around in your hand, and depending on constant muscle tension to keep from losing it. Response 3 works really well for me, because much of the time it is neither convenient nor efficient nor possible to take immediate action. If it is, then of course Response 4 is the best response.
Crucial for using Response 3 is that the list-making device be able to store an item with the least possible MR. Some people go low tech and write things down on little pieces of paper. This doesn’t work for me because I always lose little pieces of paper, my handwriting sucks, deleting items means crossing them out, and besides I am a gadget person, I would much rather interact with a reliable gadget than paper. If you are not a gadget person, then a small notebook and a pen may be perfect for you. For me, I carry one of those little, inexpensive digital voice recorders. It weighs very little and is half the size of the smallest cell phone. Recording an item means pressing one button. This is the least MR list-making device I know. Sound quality is not that great with these things, so I always say the item twice to be sure I can recognize what I said when I review the items. I also use the same device to record psychological observations, intuitions, and realizations throughout the day. I also keep the recorder by my bed to record dreams without having to turn on a light. Sometimes I may have trouble falling asleep, and neglected details may come to mind and I can immediately dispose of these into the recorder and get them off my mind.
Instead of processing the different items I record at multiple times of the day, I wait till the morning after I have finished my creative work session and am ready to shift into organizing mode.
14. A key principle for dealing with MR efficiently is to group similar tasks together.
When I do make the shift into organizing mode, I use an organizer program on my computer, something like Palm Desktop or Outlook. They all have calendars, daily schedules, contacts, memos, and task lists, and most of what I record fits into one of these features. For example, under memos, I have a video list and a book list. So if someone tells me about a DVD I should get, I make a voice note and then add it to my video list, which I can refer to when I am in the video store. Another list is my pack list. I’m leaving for NYC in two days, so I have a NYC pack list as a memo. As I think of things I need to bring to NYC I make voice memos, and in my morning organizational session add those to the NYC pack list. I also don’t like writing in a messy checkbook register, so I voice memo the checks I write and put them in a memo file till they clear.
After I review and sort my voice memos, which only takes a few minutes, I delete them. Next I look at the task list.
15. Task lists, or to do lists, should always be prioritized.
I go through all the higher ranked items on the list, and then leave the really low ranked items—like a website to look at eventually—to be reviewed once or twice a month. As I go through the list, I consider which few items I need, and am willing and able to do, today. Those items, I record on the daily schedule at roughly the time they need to happen. Let’s say I am going to leave the house at 2 p.m. All the chores that I need to do outside the house I will record for 2 p.m. This doesn’t mean I will do them all at that time, it means I will be working on them after 2 p.m. and before the appointment I have at 5 p.m. If I am doing the planning at noon, under 1 p.m. I will list all the things I need to get done while I am home before I go out. Then there may be one or two items to do when I get home for the evening, and I’ll list those for 9 p.m. When I get done making this simple and flexible plan for the day, I synch my computer with my cell phone PDA so I have all the information with me. Again, I like the gadget approach; someone else could do the same system with a little Day Runner type book.
The need for creative spontaneity and following the muse means I may drop many of those task items if some really high value opportunity comes up. I had a list of things to do today, but I am choosing to put them off because I’m on a roll with writing this in one massive session that started early this morning.
Sometimes what the body needs, and what creativity needs, may pull in different directions. The body is more conservative and benefits from routine much more than the psyche. The routine schedule—going to sleep at the same time every day, eating at the same time, etc. is better for the body, but may be oppressive to creativity. That’s why some basic planning and structure, but also the flexibility to deviate from it, is the best approach for me.
Since early morning is my prime time, this is the time of day, and usually the only time of day, when I indulge stimulants—yerba maté, sipped slowly for the first three hours.
Also, the time before most people are awake, the time before the sounds of garbage trucks backing up and people commuting to work, is a magical time for me. Most people in the community are asleep and dreaming. he psychic atmosphere of people awake and struggling with morning drudgery is largely absent. The predawn is a very liminal time, a time that still has a connection to the dreamtime.
Am I saying you should get the same brand of voice recorder I use and wake up at four in the morning? Hell no. That’s what works for me at this time. I hate the one-size-fits-all approach you find everywhere, including in “spiritual groups.” Remember Tommy, the rock opera by the Who? It was about a British kid named Tommy Walker. Tommy witnessed a murder and became hysterically blind, deaf, and mute, and playing pinball was a big part of the quirky path that led him to enlightenment. But then Tommy’s unique path gets turned into a commercialized, one-size-fits-all template:
“Welcome to the camp!
I guess you all know why we’re here.
My name is Tommy, and I became aware this year.
If you want to follow me,
You’ve got to play pinball.
So put in your earplugs,
Put on your eyeshades,
You know where to put the cork!”
I’m not running a camp. I’m telling you what I do to deal with MR, so that it may stimulate your mind and aid you in the creation of your own approach.
Finally, to paraphrase FDR:
“There is nothing to fear, but the fear of MR itself.”
See also: Pathfinding/Daymapping