July 17, 2023

A Zen Story for Entrepreneurs

Hey there. It’s Michael from amazing FBA welcome to mindset moments, a little bite-sized chunks of thoughts and hopefully wisdom about business and life from my wanderings around London, and other parts of Europe.

Hey there folks, you find me today in green and sunny Broxbourne, which is in Hertfordshire, in England, just northeast of London. And this tranquil surroundings made me think of something I wanted to share with you, which is a Zen story, a koan, as it’s called, K O A N. I’m not a practitioner of Zen or something, but I’m, I’m a big, big fan of the thinking.

and philosophy and a whole way of life really that’s put forth by a lot of Zen practitioners. So anyway, here’s the story. There was a Zen master once called Anshin, probably I’m guessing from the name in Japan, doesn’t matter really. Anshin had a student he wanted to teach a lesson to in this female student was sitting there in hut one day and Anshin said to her, okay, I’m going to put a box in my hand.

And he put a box in his hand. And I was like, just on his palm. Nothing special. And he said to the student, Okay, now I want you to try to take the box out of my hand. And bear in mind, he wasn’t gripping the box, he was just holding it. The student looked a bit puzzled, reached out, and took the box out of the master’s hand.

Anshin smiled a bit, and he said, No, no, I want you to try to take the box out of my hand. The student frowned a bit, reached out, and took the box out of her hand again. It was just resting on the master’s hand.

And then, Anshin smiled a bit more, and he said, No, no, I want you to try to take the box out of my hand and then the student hesitated this time and looked at the master, looked at the box and thought a bit and then reached out and took the box out of the master’s hand .

And Anshin smiled at her and said you see there is no such thing as try. There is only do or not do.

Now ,this was made very famous as a quote by Yoda in Star Wars and I looked it up because I don’t want to be quoting star wars like that’s a source of great wisdom i enjoyed the movie by the way, but people always quoting some American movie is if it’s a great source of wisdom, newsflash Americans, people in East Asia have been coming up with wisdom for 2000 years before the Europeans even encountered America. So they’ve had a bit of time to work out what really, really makes sense in life and what doesn’t, in my opinion.

So what does that mean in practice? Well, I want to think about this from a point of view of a small business owner, which I suppose I am, or a freelance musician, which I still do.

Or, indeed a husband or anything else a couple of implications. The first one is, trying hard doesn’t work very well. Now that, that’s sort of got a bit of a bad press because of their mindset, I suppose.

But, I know that when I was a piano teacher or before that, anything else, really, conducting a choir I’d say something like Hello, pupil I would like you to practise because you’re not getting any better otherwise, and I would like you to practise, five times a week for 20 minutes, 20 minutes a day, which is for me very minimal.

But you know, these are busy people. Normally, the sons and daughters of middle class parents and they’re at prep school. So they are doing way, way, way too many things. to do any of them properly.

There’s a hint there, isn’t there? That’s not what Zen and the art of archery is. Not Zen and the art of archery and ballet lessons and piano, all of which you do badly because New Flash as well. That isn’t Zen. That’s not going to improve your kid’s concentration or self esteem.

Anyway, so you know what? These guys normally say something like, well, I’ll try. And I look at them. If I’m feeling playful, I say, there’s no such thing as try. As Yoda said, there’s only do or not do. I think that’s true. However, it does get very hard if you are overly busy for that to be the case.

By the way, these coins and Zen thoughts very deep.

I don’t, I don’t claim to got all the meaning of this at all yet. I mean, maybe I never will, but here’s a couple of thoughts of what that might mean.

The first one is this: don’t try and set too many goals because you’re either going to do them or you’re not. But if you have many goals, and I know I’m totally guilty of this one myself, you’re unlikely to achieve a lot of them and it’s slightly randomized.

So trying means you’re just probably setting yourself up for failure because try probably means at some level, you know that you’re not going to do half of this, which gets probably better to you. Figure that out in advance and go, yeah, you know what, I’m not going to play the piano as well as the trumpet, as well as the violin and ballet and chess club and all this other stuff.

And by the way, kids don’t get to choose this stuff. The parents do it for them, I guess. But if you’re an adult, you may be doing the same thing to yourself. In which case I sympathize. I totally get it. But, but cut that out. Cause it’s going to lead to success.

I guess the other more subtle thing is this, what if, what if Anshin, the Zen master, had held tightly onto the box and said, okay, take the box from me, or try to take the box. Wouldn’t the word try make more sense there?

Well for me, intuitively, yeah, it does make more sense. That actually, you wouldn’t necessarily… succeed in taking the box. So I suppose the way I’d square that circle, assuming that what Anshin said is true, there is no such thing as try this, only do not do. Let’s assume that’s true. And these guys have great wisdom, so I’m inclined to take that as a serious starting point.

Well, what if the objective of taking the box were absolutely clear? The goal. But the action you could take wasn’t actually taking the box, because that implies you know you can get it. And in some situations in life, as we know, there is uncertainty. What if it were the case that you would move your hand and hold on to the box and pull it? That’s an action you could just take, just do not try.

Okay, you may or may not succeed, and I’m going outside of the original story, so I don’t know how this is, but

Perhaps we need to separate goals, which are things that happen as a result of our actions. And I suppose then there is do and not do applies to actions and not goals, which brings me to another thought. And this comes from a slightly different place.

Being a sort of semi, so a part time musician these days and definitely musician background.

I know a lot of musicians and a lot of them sadly, like a lot of actors, suffer from alcoholism because I don’t know what it is. The artistic temperament meets a job which leaves you hanging around bars with a lot of time on your hands. I don’t know, but anyway, they are a lot of them are. Luckily quite a few of my friends are recovered, alcoholics or recovering, whatever the distinction means. They’re in alcoholics anonymous and things like that. And a friend of mine I was speaking to is that position said

to me recently, you know what my take on results and achieving things I want in life is this the outcomes are none of my business. They’re God’s business. Which I thought was very, very interesting.

Now, I don’t happen to believe in God. I know some of my friends and many people watching do,

For that substitute the universe or even just take it out of the equation. Maybe it doesn’t matter if anyone’s looking after outcomes, but it certainly isn’t my business. I thought that was a very interesting philosophy.

Because what that implies is, it’s not my business to worry about whether I get the results I’m after.

Doesn’t mean you can’t set goals. Doesn’t mean you can’t work on actions that are likely to lead to those goals. But I guess whether you get them or not is out of your hands.

I thought that was very profound and actually if you combine that with the, there’s no such thing as try, there’s only do not do maybe what it means is :

You can have goals. And by the way, I’m a big believer in setting goals and you can work towards them. And I’m a big believer in that. But you’re either going to do the work or you’re not. There’s no such thing as try. You do or not do and you may not get the goal and that’s okay because you don’t have to worry about that.

I guess if that’s the universe’s slash God’s slash whatever your philosophy is. Somebody else’s business not yours. You don’t have to worry about that in a way, which is kind of freeing. And so I think This is really profound stuff. I hope you find this useful. I didn’t come up with any of this stuff. I’m just relaying wisdom.

I think that I’ve come across in different places and then taking my own spin on it. You’ve got to make your own mind up about this, obviously your own spin on it, your own way of integration these truths into your life. If you indeed perceive them as truths and maybe you don’t, in which case, I hope this has been thought provoking few minutes.

I’m Michael Veazey. I am a businessman and a musician, an artist and a sort of hard nosed person, funny combination. Not that unusual these days perhaps and, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Hope you found that thought provoking. Cheers.

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