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More on Polymathics

straightforward and liking balance

In Idries Shah's The Dermis Probe he mentions the need of sincerity in the student. Many may have heard of such a requirement before. But here he goes further and unpacks this technical term for us: sincerity- which many mistake for heartfelt desire- in in fact being straightforward and having an instinct or liking for balance. And a big part of balance is the ability to REGAIN ones balance after a fall. (People who make a fetish of saying they are balanced can often simply be control freaks who dislike novelty and change.) 

These two requirements- straightforwardness and a liking for balance- work just as well in the lower sphere of ordinary learning as they do with higher studies. When I was at university the student who got the highest marks used to ask the questions we were all too scared to ask because they made you look stupid. However there also exists a kind of bogus straightforwardness "I just don't get it" which conceals laziness and a desire to abolish- which can confuse. But most of us have a nose for real straighforwardness- it is open, interested, not into point scoring, not trying to shut down things that are new or unusual, eager to learn without being taken in.

And this is where the instinct for balance comes in. We can all get a bit obsessive from time to time. When that happens we usually notice and pull back, do something else. But some people are wired strangely. They note the obsession- and do MORE of the thing. They enter on that dry downward spiral that engages and provides a kind of meaning, but somehow in a dulling way. The bore- an obsessive is always a bore eventually- lacks the necessary sense of humour to see the dry well he has fallen down.

Straightforward; a sense of humour when applied to self (always rather easier to laugh at others); an instinct for turning off the tap that is overflowing and threatening to drown oneself- to do less of what makes us mad, not more.


The real deal

A welcome re-issue of idries Shah's The Dermis Probe- a great deal of insight to be gained from reading this:



The Japanese approach to learning martial arts, the tea ceremony and calligraphy is different to Western methods of teaching subjects regarded as ‘talent’ based. In the West the tacit assumption is you either start very young, possibly driven by obsessive parents, or you have an innate talent. Teaching is conceived as a kind of coaching. And if haven’t got the talent you’re considered a lost cause.

The Japanese know that talent is rather over-rated. More important is your attitude to learning. So their method of teaching assumes that everyone can learn- whatever their initial talent. Instead of hoping that students ‘pick it up’ by osmosis- as in the West- micromastery routines are devised so that everyone, even the apparently talentless, can learn.

A micromastery can be anything from spinning a basketball on your finger, doing an eskimo roll, or making a perfect daiquiri- it is a small, contained and perfectable thing, an activity in a box that nevertheless points to greater masteries out there.

I am currently writing a book for Penguin about micromastery- if you have a something you think is a good example of a micromastery let me know.


simple but not simplistic

Now and again I am drawn to things that are over-complicated. I revel, for a while, in their overcomplicatedness and then I find myself thinking: this is bullshit! Simplify your life!

I realised there was a connection between meaning and simplicity. The simpler things are the more the meaning shines through. You can connect to excitement and nature with a motor boat; or you can surf in the sea, or swim. But when your motor boat breaks down you have nothing- you may even have to swim for it to save your own life. Simpler things require less maintainence. In the long run it is maintainence 'costs' that kill us.

Here are a few principles:

1. When it comes to making a decision automatically make the simpler choice.

2. Simplify your immediate living space- and store everything you don't use everyday or for a current project. Things you 'might need' should probably be binned.

3. Simplify your food to that which is in season.

4. Use simplicity as a powerful problem solver- just ask yourself how you can solve the problem at hand RIGHT NOW with whatever is to hand. It may throw up some interesting routes to a solution.

5. Imagine completing the project in just one day- see what ideas crop up as a result of this thought experiment.

6. Simplify your interaction with people by just paying attention to what they say. Try to suspend inference and habitual judgement.

7. Simplify your emotional responses to the world. Suspend taking an emotional stance on things. See if you gain in available energy.

I have always found that on a hike or expedition when I have only a few things I am very well organised and tidy...but put me back in a house or apartment! Of course some people can tolerate more stuff than others. Find your own simplicity level- the point at which you begin to get messy and disorganised. It might be quite low. Cut out things/people/events until you find yourself living at this point.

When you cut things out of your life it is easier to see what is meaningful to you and what isn't. When meaning increases in your life so does motivation- you do more because you want to, not because you are forcing yourself.

I think we'll begin to see that making life simpler, restricting information gluttony and 'stuff', will be the 21st century equivilent of the 20th century discovery that most sugar was poison rather than nutrition.


higher intelligence

It seems to me that higher intelligence is more likely to reside in curiousity and flexibility than in ability to reason and see the flaws in another's argument, if only because we will wish to continue the conversation with someone who is at least interested in what we have to say.


get the right head on first

if you want to write, get your writer's head on. If you want to take pictures get your photographers head on. Effort spent in being able to quickly and efficiently get the 'right head on' for the task is effort well spent. When you have the right head on you see endless possibilities in that area...feeling barren is a sure sign you are approaching something with the wrong head on. One way to get the right head on is to leap in head first with no thought of quality, only reacting to every creative impulse however weak, never saying 'no' to any idea. This naturally becomes refined once you get the right head on. Taking a break when you'd normally work is another way, so is travel; but these methods have thier own dangers in terms of providing opportunities to bunk off and consume rather than produce. The key, I suppose, is in planned use of breaks and travel.


bikewalking #2

Next bikewalk I decided to tackle the network of holloways in this area. These are deep runnels, shallow canyons if you like, carved by millennia of carts, horses and people trudging up and down their overshadowed depths. Some are fifty feet deep, but average around 20-30 feet, worn through the very soft sandstone. Some you can get a small 4x4 up, and the churned surface shows this. Many you can bike down but to cycle up is a nightmare slog through mud and loose gravel- perfect bikewalk country! If you didn't read the previous post bikewalking is walking with a bike modified with an extendable handlebar so you can push the bike very easily. The bar retracts in when you want to ride. 

The mud would be very slippy if you were simply walking, but the bike works as a support or walking aid; brakes on the bike grips better than any walking pole.

There is lots of carving into the soft sandy walls, so soft that even deep carvings don't last more than a few years. There are also a few niches and mini-caves- here's one that has been turned into a shrine for travelers...

I headed up more hills, walking all the way. Finally I got to go downhill at last, with mud in the brakes it was a fast ride.

Thalassa, thalassa I get a glimpse of the sea. Now I was able to ride downhill back to town, along roads that were idyllic to freewheel along but would have been a drag to walk.