Micromastery - learn small, learn fast and find the hidden path to happiness will be published by Penguin books (UK) in May 2017. It will be published in China, Taiwan, USA, Germany and South Korea in the months after that.
The Sixth Law: set out without knowing where you will sleep that night.
In keeping with the somewhat carefree nature of my choice of seven laws of adventure- the sixth is the most important law of all and a direct steal from Reinhold Messner who considered, after a lifetime of arguably unparalled adventure that it took him thirty years to realise the essence of adventure was exchanging the familiar hearth for a sleeping place that was unknown at the day's start. This is why hitching can be the ultimate adventure and an ascent of Everest not be. On Everest every camp site- if things go well- is preprogrammed. With a hitching trip - nothing is programmed. On well organised expeditions the adventure starts when there is a cock-up or accident. A good expedition is fun alright but it may lack...adventure.
To set off, knapsack on back, no money in the pocket and no knowledge of where you will kip that night- but a goal of sorts in mind- now that is an adventure!
Of course, the remoter the spot, the more 'unknown' the sleeping site will be. I have found that there is nothing quite like being super remote from the rest of humanity. Sleeping rough on the edge of civilisation has its own feral charm and edginess, but choosing a campsite in a place where the next human is 200km away, that is special indeed.
There is much misinformation about what a koan is for- it is never meant to be 'solved'. It is designed to build awareness of incongruity, of a disconnect, of living with contradiction. They were originally used in a quick fire fashion and quickly forgotten or passed on from or handed around in a neutral fashion- otherwise obsession would develop. The only remnant of this is the vague knowledge that a lot of laughing is usually involved- this is the remains of what was used to neutralise obsession. The teacher never required a response from the student- the whole point was for the student to become of aware of ALL his responses.
People clamour for exercises. It's no good in a martial art telling folk it's all about stance- they want exercises. So they get them. Exercises exist to build awareness. The exerise may look like something else- an attack, a punch, a throw- and it may 'work'- but it exists to build awareness- so that you may become your own teacher. A teacher is someone who helps build awareness. They direct you to activities that shift you up the neural ladder- by this I mean you become aware of greater subtleties, broader connections. When you become your own teacher- you already are- this is more about a shift in emphasis, in dependency, you actively seek out that which increases awareness. You might even invent your own exercises.
In many mystical traditions they also have exercises. These have several functions including providing a teaching matrix in a culture which outlaws the verbal expression of certain ideas. But if people get verbal about exercises they miss the chance it offers- to build awareness. You can also easily become obsessed by certain exercises- yoga offers plenty of examples of that. Because the body and mind are so interlinked physical exercises are a convenient way of shifting one's attention. Becoming aware of this, of both the body and the mind and the ability to shift attention, is the important thing- not the mental 'experience' of calm or feeling good. Talk of centres is a way of shifting attention and building awareness. Centres tend to coincide with places with the most nerve endings - making the acquisition of subtler circuitry easier- but you could have a centre in your big toe if you wanted.
Thick skinned people are good at business. They don't take no for an answer and they keep soldiering on. Little things don't bother them or throw them off course. They are tough, and lacking imagination, find it easy to accept the importance of courage. Thin skinned people are more sensitive- to everything. Which is why they have the best ideas, see things coming sooner than anyone else, and are much more creative all round. But being thin sknned they get easily spooked and thrown off course. Thick skinned people cannot see any reason to grow a thinner skin- they lack the sensitivity to know that it has many advantages in improving awareness. Thin skinned people can't bear the idea of growing a thicker skin. They see it as becoming less human. In fact both operations are possible. Many successful enterprises are the result of a happy mix of thick and thin skinned people- both accepting the other's qualities- as long as everyone is prospering. There's a saying- 'through thick and thin'- which could be said to sum up this kind of partnership. Of course there are natural proclivities which get exaggerated by living, but most people can alter the thickness of their skin by shifting where they chose to put their attention. The hard part is to decide to start choosing.
The great literary agent Bruce Hunter had one piece of advice to struggling authors; Just Keep Typing.
It's what you do if you're a writer. If you find you can't, get a better typer, a new keyboard, a new computer- whatever it takes to get you back in the slot- typing.
Stop complaining: you chose it. You could have been a fireman, a doctor, an artist a composer- but you had to chose being a writer didn't you?
So shut up and just keep typing.
I used to dislike the word composition. We did essays at school when I was quite young called compositions. I quite liked them but they were very mechanical. Whenever I read the word later, where it was associated with art, I thought of the academy, of young ladies trying to draw; it was no use to me. Later, doing photography I met people I respected who talked about composition and ‘good composition’. It had no meaning for me beyond getting some interesting elements in the frame in a harmonious way, probably a bit cheesy looking. I mean some of Cartier-Bresson’s shots are only an inch away from cheese and some of his Indian shots are cheesy- and he was the master of composition. I preferred the seeming chaos of New World photographers Friedlander and Winogrand. And all of this was because I had the wrong association with the word composition. But I kept the word in mind. It rattled around, homeless, no meaning, no use, but hopeful, ready at hand if a use could be found for it. And after a year or two I started all of a sudden, taking more care in the framing of my shots- not in a 2D way but in my point of view, my angle of attack- a combination of where I stood, the angle of the camera, how everything balanced up in three dimensions not two. Suddenly I got this whole composition thing. Before I had a 2-D sort of graphic design idea of simply moving stuff around in the frame. But instead of thinking about that think of circumnavigating your subject looking for the right slant, the right way in, the right balance. And not just a planetary circumnavigation, zooming in and out as you circle it too. Zooming by moving bodily I mean rather than using a camera zoom which puts you back in the 2 D world I feel. I used to think light was everything, now I think composition is everything- I’ll recover.