The Zen of Intuition as Understood by Steve Jobs

I started reading Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Job two days ago and, like many have said before, it is a fascinating story. There are so many interesting quotes from Jobs himself about his past experiences that seem to be more revealing for a man who was famously guarded about his personal life and philosophies. And so far, I have only reached page 49. People often talk about how intuitive Apple products are and how he had a powerful sense of  what is natural to people’s emotions. His affiliations to Hinduism and Zen Buddhism are well-known and they are often reflected in the aesthetically minimal products that he allowed to come out of Apple’s production lines. In his teenage years, young Steve travelled to India in search of a spiritual guru, only to find out upon his arrival that the guru he sought had died. Without money, the starving teenager walked to many remote spiritual places in the northern states of India, where he learned something about intuition.

“Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India.  The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world.  Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion.  That’s had a big impact on my work.

Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic; it is learned and it is a great achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else which is in some ways just as valuable, but in other ways is not. That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.Coming back after seven months in Indian villages, I saw the craziness of the western world and its capacity for rational thought. If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is.  If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more.  Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment.  You see so much more than you could see before.  It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.

Zen has been a deep influence in my life ever since. At one point I was thinking of going to Japan and trying to get into the Eihei-Ji monastery but my spiritual advisor urged me to stay here. He said there is nothing over there that isn’t here, and he was right. I learned the truth of the Zen saying that if you are willing to travel around the world to meet a teacher, one will appear next door.” – Steve Jobs

It is a telling quote from a man who was so famously adamant about what is and what is not right for products that would be shipped to millions around the world. While so many companies strived to design for the lowest common denominator, Apple always had one choice to make – Did Steve Jobs like it ? Only with a clear understanding of his own mind and the confidence that his intuition will lead him to the right answers, he was able to command such compliance from his company men and deliver such massive successes. This explains his seemingly magical power: To be able to predict what his customers wanted before they knew what they wanted.

Richard Feynman Explains How Fire Comes From “Jiggling”

Celebrated theoretical physicist and a pioneering researcher in quantum computing and nano-technology – the late Richard Feynman – was also a champion of logical reasoning and a true believer of an intellectually curious lifestyle. His lectures on the laws of physical phenomenon, like gravity and light, that govern everything from the tiniest sub-atomic particles to the entire f*cking universe are considered to be some of the most enlightening and entertaining explanations on the subject. He was a life long learner which gave him a focus that was fine-tuned for every aspect of information he received and he had the skill and enthusiasm to explain complex ideas and concepts in ways that transmitted that enthusiasm to the listener.

Here is he is explaining how and why carbon atoms, fire, trees and the sun ‘jiggle’ around us.

via Brain Picker

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The Prayer

O Great Spirit

whose voice I hear in the winds, and
whose breath give the life to all the world, hear me !

I am small and weak.

I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy – myself.

Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to without shame.

— a prayer song from the Lakota Indian tribes who lived in the plains of North and South Dakota.

Found this one at the souvenir shop inside the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. Since the memorial does not accept any form of federal funding, the entire budget for the memorial and the Crazy Horse monument comes from charities and donations from visitors and the public. I am not a fan of prayer stuff, but this one seems peculiar in that it is very simple and bare. There are no Gods to revere and there are no sins to repent. All good and evil are within and around us. It comes from the firm belief that nature is where we all came from and, in the end, that is where we are all headed. We get everything we need from it and anything we take will be eventually returned. Most of us know these things of course, at least in the abstract.

This prayer song just makes it an utterly clear realization.

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All is Well in the Land of Crickets

Just wanted to share this timely quote. I am aware that the word ‘timely’ may not make sense to you, but trust me. The word fits, snugly.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, wakes up in the middle of the night with the feeling that they are all alone in the world, and that nobody loves them now and that nobody will ever love them, and that they will never have a decent night’s sleep again and will spend their lives wandering blearily around a loveless landscape, hoping desperately that their circumstances will improve, but suspecting, in their heart of hearts, that they will remain unloved forever. The best thing to do in these circumstances is to wake somebody else up, so that they can feel this way, too.
– Lemony Snicket

Found it in Brain Picker’s Literary Jukebox project. Click the link and read with heart pleasing the music.
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A Bit of Wisdom from Stephen Fry

For anyone familiar with the hilarious TV sketch series ‘A bit of Fry and Laurie‘ the name Stephen Fry does not need an introduction. For the rest of the population, you really don’t know what you have been missing. Seriously, go to YouTube and check out all the very funny and smart sketches performed by Fry and his comic partner Hugh Laurie (yes, he of the Dr.Gregory House fame).
Stephen Fry is a British intellectual who is widely-known as an actor, author, journalist, poet, comedian and a television personality. He personifies the dry and almost dismissive British wit but underneath that he is a man of deep understanding of the world around us. He is well-known for his atheist beliefs, a big promoter of scientific research and a technology evangelist. He had a troubled childhood, spent time in prison for credit card fraud and as an adult even had prolonged bout with manic depression but through it all he has emerged as one of the great thinkers in British media.
When someone goes through these wild ups and downs they tend to get a unique perspective on life. Such experiences facilitate great moments of learning and realizations that help them see past the general fluff of everyday life, purported by the people and institutions that stand to gain with the spread of that fluff, and get a greater understanding of what is really important for a fulfilling stint on earth.
In this interview, Mr.Fry imparts some of the things he has learnt over the course of his life which spans more than five decades and, as one might expect from anyone with a well-developed sense of introspection, they are some of the most basic but crucial pieces of advice one could give to others.

1. Keep your ego in check. You’ll be better liked, and more opportunities will come your way.
2. Get outside your comfort zone by traveling to distant lands and reading books in a serendipitous way.
3. Be a giver, not a taker. It’s more rewarding.
4. Learn with friends.
5. Have heroes.
6. Always think for yourself.

Via Open Culture

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Ten Rules to Achieve Greater Learning

A new workweek is upon us and it is essential that we start the Monday with the right mindset. We don’t have control over whether good things or bad things happen to us, but what we can control is how we perceive the situation. No matter what the outcome is there is always something to learn from the situation which, may be a nuanced observation or an epiphany, could turn into a valuable piece of information for life. To learn well is to be a good student and being a good student takes constant effort. Here are 10 rules attributed to John Cage, a pioneering musician, composer and writer, and his sister Corita Kent, who is also a well-known artist and educator. The rules were constructed with the conventional teacher and student in mind, but as you read it, I am sure you will agree that it can easily be expanded to apply for human kind’s longest class in session – life.

1. Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

2. General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

3. General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

4. Consider everything an experiment.

5. Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

6. Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

7. The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

8. Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

9. Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

10. [We’re] breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do [we] do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

General Strategies: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

Via Brain Pickings

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Waiting For Superman

Did you like going to school ? Ok, you don’t have to answer that. When I was young, school was the daily routine that happened whether I liked it or not and, for all intentions, I hated it. There were exceptionally few days when I would wake up in the morning and felt good about going to school. I liked that school put me and my friends in one place allowing us to have fun during short recesses but the fact that those few moments of enjoyment were interrupted by almost hour-long, mind numbing classes meant that the fun vs mind numbing-ness ratio was a negative million.The point of learning was lost and it was more like memorizing enough context-free statements to pass the exam with minimum marks so that one only gets mild to medium scolding from one’s parents. Sometime between standing on the bench for talking during the class and kneeling on the floor for not completing homework (again!) the basic goal of going to school became moot. I did not see that the time spent in the classroom were the hours to learn how to learn for the rest of my life.

As it is always the case, the adults were totally responsible for this. Studying was not fun and as a kid there was no reason to spend time on anything that is not fun. Very quickly, me and my friends along with many of my classmates worked out this simple equation: School equals Not Fun, and Not Fun equals Hate It and therefore, School equals Hate It. (You probably noticed already that the equation is flawed since I am equating items of different units, School being a place and Fun/Hate being emotion, but like I said earlier, I was a terrible student.)

I was a terrible student, but I did not drop out because –  this is actually the main reason – my parents would have killed me. Not metaphorically, but quite literally. For me, like many students in India, parents were the reason we went to school, stayed in school and finished school. But the story is different for lots of under privileged kids who came from poor and uneducated parents who work for meager wages everyday, those who did not see the value of a complete school education, those who didn’t have the impetus to keep their children in school. As much as the parents are to be blamed for taking their children out of the schools, the schools themselves must also bear responsibility for not motivating the students enough, for not using proper teaching techniques to reach the students and make sure they understand what they are taught instead of just focusing ont he exams. This is not the case of children failing the schools, but it is the school, its teachers and its administrators who fail the students by not paying attention to the kids’ needs.

The documentary ‘Waiting For Superman‘, which follows the lives of three kids at different rungs in the education ladder – early education and middle school shows the exact plight prevailing in the American public school system. The kids along with their parents are stuck with the limited choice of public schools that are available to them and these schools are what the administrators call “Dropout Factories” meaning a big percentage of students who go to these schools do not go to a four-year college and in many cases do not graduate school at all. This causes a huge drag in the local neighborhood, since without a college level education upward mobility is almost impossible. Not surprisingly these dropout factories are at the center of some of the poorest neighborhoods, but alarmingly enough, such schools are prevalent in almost every county in the US of A. The parents can’t afford to send their children to private schools, and are aware that the available public schools do nothing but destroy their kids chances of having a good education. Filling the gap are the relatively new establishments called Public Charter Schools which like public schools offer free education but is not bound by same rules as public schools, which allows the administrators to try different things to teach the students better, reward good teachers and mor importantly punish bad teachers. As you might expect in such schools, the demand is way more than the supply, resulting in a lottery which determines if a student can get into these much sought after schools. The title refers to the kids’ and the parents’ predicament as they wait for the bolt of lightning to decide their future.

The documentary makes an excellent case for strong administrators who can challenge and bring down the status quo. We have arrived at this stage not by chance, but through years of deliberate choices where the decisions did not take into account the lives and future of the school children which has a dramatic effect on the future of the country itself. Although the charter schools are not a cure-all, they point a direction that leads to a better education system that focuses on real learning for the children and expanding their minds for the challenging future they will eventually face.

Here is the full documentary Waiting For Superman in YouTube

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