A Zen Parable + A Life Lesson to Remember

4 min read

Education & Career Trends: April 23, 2024
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

The sweet spot is somewhere between active participation and surrender.

Article by Andy Murphy, published on medium.com.

In a world that often praises hustle and relentless effort, there’s a Zen parable that challenges our conventional wisdom. It goes like this:

A martial arts student, eager to master his craft, asks his teacher how long it will take. The teacher responds, “10 years.” Unsatisfied, the student vows to work harder, “I want to master it faster than that. I will work harder than anyone else. I will push myself to practice for many hours every single day and I won’t stop until I’m done. How long will it take me then?”

The teacher considers this new information, smiles, and answers, “20 years.”

This parable beautifully illustrates a profound truth: More effort doesn’t always lead to greater success. Often it can be the opposite.

Sam Ewing summed it up best when he said:

“It’s not the hours you put in your work that counts, it’s the work you put in the hours.”

His words echo a concept Aldous Huxley once coined and it’s called the Law of Reversed Effort.

“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and results come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity.” — Aldous Huxley

This is one of the great paradoxes in life and something hard to wrap your head around. However, there are a few examples that make it real.

  • When I try and force myself to write, I often write less.
  • When I try and find the perfect partner, I never find them.
  • When I try and force myself to sleep, I end up staring at the ceiling.

“When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float” — Alan Watts

The sweet spot is somewhere between active participation and surrender.

There’s an 85% rule that elite sprinters follow and it goes like this: They try to run at 85% intensity because it keeps them loose, fluid, and effortless. When they try to run at 100%, their body tenses up and they slow down.

Nature does this too. It goes through all four seasons because if it were always summer, plants would dry out, soils would harden, and life would perish.

The author’s journey of teaching scuba diving provides a tangible example of this paradox. There isn’t another sport in the world that requires less active participation than scuba diving. The breath should be the most active part and even then it should be as slow and as deep as possible.

Newbies, however, swim harder, breathe deeper, and run out of air much faster. Doing more underwater is counterintuitive.

This idea of “less is more” sums up Aldous Huxley’s theory in a nutshell.

In the scuba diving world, this translates to longer dives and more marine life. But it’s everywhere. Holding well-performing stocks over time has tremendous upsides. Having a daily meditation practice deepens the experience with the divine. And on and on it goes.

So, the lesson here is simple: When we adopt a mindset of balanced effort — of doing and not doing — we achieve greater heights.

Life is not about pushing to the max all the time. It’s about having a balanced mindset that gives us room to breathe. Whenever I remember this I have the headspace to think, space to move, and time to adapt.

Things flow more easily too. So, as cheesy as it sounds, “Good things come to those who wait.”

Who are we rushing for, anyway?

Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?

Why cyber forensics courses can give you lucrative career options

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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