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177. Development (V)

When I was at school there were two careers for me: to be an academic or a journalist. Now, by my early-twenties, both these objectives slipped so far from my grasp that I had given up the possibility of either. For starters, I fell into such a deep depression in my second year at university that I did not turn in a single essay and so flunked the course. So I changed discipline to a simpler subject that I knew I could pass without effort, since effort seemed impossible. I was now far from the discipline I had any real interest in—eventually I went to work in a call centre. Then, shortly after I completed my degree, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “It’s quite treatable,” said the Sikh doctor on the edge of my bed; but I knew “treatable” meant “incurable”—even morphine is a treatment as you die. The whole affair was meant to take two years to play to conclusion.

I no longer had an aspiration to be an academic—or anything—given that my time horizon was short. As it happened, one day the doctors said in a letter: “The scan is clear. There is no problem after all.” A mistake. I went back to the call centre; but I hated the job, so I quit and, in another month, found a job at a university in a support role. I had no intention to take—nor qualifications for—an academic post, I just wanted to get out of the call centre. Within a year, I had submitted a proposal, received funding, and taken a position that usually requires a PhD—it was outside my discipline, but I arrived as an academic in the end.

It was only when I stopped “trying” to become an academic that I became one—indeed, I was at my most depressed when I “tried” desperately to do well. I had abandoned the “try”—quite completely, given that I thought I would die—when I achieved the position. Similarly, after splitting up with my first girlfriend, after many years together, I desperately wanted a new girlfriend but had no idea how to go about it. I tried many things, but one night I went out with friends and, after dinner, a girl I had not noticed seized my arm. Women are attracted by indifference, but yet again what I wanted only occurred without “try”—when I had no thoughts of romance at all.

“Try” means “sit in judgement, evaluate”: the judge tries a case. Yet when we speak of trying we lose this meaning, we mean “effort”. Hence people struggle with God: “I really try to believe.” But the person who “tries” to believe in God judges God—by definition, a profane act. To know God depends on a person who abandons evaluation; they accept, offer no resistance. In a mundane way people struggle with many things—love, work, marriage—due to the idea that they must try. I say there is a destiny to life; and destiny is frustrated by conscious effort: destiny unfolds when a person does not try. There is no try, only knowledge and action.

Beginner’s luck: the beginner in archery sometimes hits the target first time. When they train, begin evaluation and judgement, they lose beginner’s luck; they ask: “How can I try harder?” The master returns to beginner’s luck; he hits the target without thought, embodies years of practice—masterful naïvety. Spiritual macrocosm and microcosm: the smallest in the largest and the largest in the smallest—the grandparent and the child against the parent. Zen mind, beginner’s mind: the master sees no target, only the joy of process—just as the beginner has no preconceptions; they “give it a go”.

“Wonderful! All I need to do now is not try. How do I try not to try?” The great difficulty; if you try not to try—to get ahead, to be a master—you will not; you will try. Ah.


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