How Can You Be Good At The Things That Are Important?


Sunday, 9.39pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The ultimate test’s always your own serenity – Robert Pirsig

I came across spider diagrams several years ago when doing consulting work.

That has always seemed like an odd description. They are web-like, I suppose, but they also create ugly images that don’t seem to really convey much that is useful.

You score better on some spokes than others. So what?

Then, when reading a book on neuro-linguistic programming, I saw the same diagram referred to as a wheel.

Now that made more sense. If you’re doing well on all counts then you have a circle. A wheel. Life rolls along nicely. But if you’re not scoring well on some of the axes you end up with a misshapen wheel that will bump and rattle along the road.

So what?

The wheel tells us that there are things that are equally important. There isn’t much point doing well at work if your family falls apart because they don’t see you enough. You could have lots of fun going out every night with friends but end up sick.

Still, you probably don’t need a diagram to tell you that. If you’re not doing well at the important things in life you probably already know that.

Perhaps you’re even choosing to focus on the things that are important to you, at the expense of the other things.

You can, after all, get to them later.

Or… can you?

There is a painted stone in front of me, on my desk. The colour has been splashed on, organic and natural and perfect.

It’s paint on a stone, green and pink and yellow, with a dash of black and a streak of blue, done unselfconsciously by a child.

The fact is the only thing that matters is what you are doing right now.

The only test of whether you are doing things right or doing the right things is how you feel.

Are you at peace? Or not?

The wheel that I’ve drawn is not a good wheel. It’s a blotch of dark pink on a backdrop of light pink. Because I’m not trying to draw a wheel. Because you and I already know that the wheel is not the point.

The point is whether you have peace of mind.

Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance writes about this state of mind.

People who are immersed in their work do it unselfconsciously like a child painting a stone.

They do it, not until closing time or until someone says they are done, but until they are done. Until they are satisfied with what they have done.

Pirsig writes: “Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.”

That is how you produce something that lasts, whether it is your work, family, health, relationships or having fun.

Sounds simple, but it’s not easy.

That’s what people across the ages have tried to achieve.

And we should also remember the words of Ram Dass who said “If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family.”

But what we can do is try.


Karthik Suresh

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