in inspiration, writing

The Zen of Zen

I have tried, many, many times, to read books on self-help, management, zen and “How to Keep on Writing” topics. But except for the wisdom I found in the stories in books like Shiv Khera’s ‘You Can Win’ or in ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ and the one immensely powerful book – ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield – which was more of a conversation with a fellow writer than the inept preachings of a management ‘guru’, I have never been able to finish one of these so-called ‘life altering’ guides.

This fact should be corroborated by the one where I threw out Robin Sharma’s ‘The Monk Who sold his Ferrari’ after reading exactly three pages of the book. I cannot tolerate a dreary manual about how to fix a hypothetical situation. But here’s what I realized after recently trying to read through ‘The Mindful Writer’ by Dinty Moore (of which, I have read exactly one page) – that all of these books are not essentially nonsense. There is a fundamental truth in them which is true. Of course, it is the author’s own inability to express themselves well in writing or to find enough examples to support and explain their hypotheses which leads to dreadfully boring tomes about their beloved topic. But the fact remains – in their own situations, the concepts that these authors extol, do in fact, apply and work very well.

But then, why do we have so many of these books? Why not just one method, one single, simple solution? That reminds of the Standards joke by XKCD, as displayed here –

Standards by XKCD


The fact is, there’s one simple formula – “Just do the right thing” (or something like that). But it has to be explained in a way that fits both the needs of the audience and the abilities and the experience of the author. A room full of Aviation experts might not be the best people to talk to about Winnie the Pooh and a Grade 5 assignment cannot truthfully involve Sun Tzu’s preachings. Incidentally, how they fitted The Art of War into management lessons is anyone’s guess, since I’m sure never going to pick up that book to read.

What do I mean by the Author’s abilities and experience? I mean that when the author is writing down her own teachings, it will all be in first hand. The author will not generalize in any way, for fear or straying off the topic or not being able to explain it correctly, since a single person’s field of view can only go so far as their understanding takes them. Those who try to generalize such ideas either get into long discussions with their co-authors or do a lot of back and forth with their editors, or simply fail in evoking any emotion in their readers. All others stick to the thing they know best. Therefore, what is the one single truth in these books, that teach you efficiency, better management, better writing, better weight loss, or better self-realization? The one single truth is that they’re all going to tell you their own single truth, in their own way. One may talk about motorcycle maintenance to teach you about meditation, or meditation to talk about working harder, or working harder to help you finish that manuscript or painting you’ve got hidden somewhere, but no one is going to give you a gem that will cover everything, because we’re humans, we cannot generalize beyond our perceptions when working alone.

Then how does one go about writing such things or becoming a guru? One goes about by looking into oneself. Look at your own journey, look at your own achievements and think about how you’ve gotten to this state. Think about what you did right or wrong and what drove you? If you’re old enough, or simply experienced enough (MBA grads and High School Students need not apply), you’ll have some nuggets of your own, from your personal archive of “Good and Bad things that happened to Me and How I reacted to them”, which you can form into a good story to tell the world how you reacted in that specific situation using your specific learning. That is all. That is the way to write about such things. Oh and remember, write a story, don’t bore us with a lecture. We got out of college just to avoid those. Plus, everyone likes a good story.


p.s. This post is a response to @barmstrong’s challenge to “hack hacking” here.