Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on January 2, 2015

This is bit of a ramble, so you have been warned.

How to spend my time? I think about this a lot and I always have. For me it amounts to something like the economics of time, my time. How can I best use my energy to benefit both myself and other people? It is actually kind of an art, but one that I have not yet fully mastered; I'm still working on it. It can be painful.

One thing I have learned is not to bite off more than I can chew or, if I choose to tackle a really large task, to approach it in way that might actually work. I try to tailor my meal to my appetite. The secret of working large undertakings is to not choke on the task so that you give up and abandon it. I tend to take it in small bites and make sure each bite is delicious-enough so that I stay hungry. The process itself has to be self-encouraging if I want to go a long way. For me it can't just be one bitter pill after another. Yet, bitterness to some degree is probably somewhat in the eye of the beholder. That's a wrinkle.

Having undertaken to document all recorded music, all recorded film, all major rock-concert posters, a major astrological library, and many other topics, I believe I know something about what big tasks require of me, if only in hindsight.

Let's say I want to count the number of grains of sand on a beach. I could start at one end of the beach and begin, one grain at a time. However, the sheer task may not only be physically overpowering, but mentally and emotionally too. IMO that is not how to approach it. Linear solutions are not the only useful ones; approximations may be good enough for most work. That is what estimates are all about. Choose your poison wisely.

My point here is that I have to weigh the end result I am trying to achieve against the physical, emotional, and mental cost of getting there. i.e. "how" I get there. If that first approach, serially counting every last grain of sand, is obviously going to break me down so that I never finish, it is better to find another way or move on to other projects. I must factor discouragement into the process. And will any of these many solutions affect the final result? Does the "kind" of result really matter? Is the result more important than how we arrive at it?

In other words, doing things in serial fashion, linearly, is seldom the way-to-go in my case, especially if the task is huge. I tend to process large undertakings by iteration, one phase at a time, not one grain at a time. I could go on, but if you are following me, you can extrapolate from what I have pointed out here, which brings me back to my theme.

I somehow must gauge how to approach a task so that it gets done (AND in a manner that I can do it), not so that it gets started, but never finished. And getting a task done in a hurry is like rushing to reach the end of life. What's the point? It is one thing to persevere (and to not be discouraged by adversity), but quite another to ignore or put up with an uncomfortable process for the sake of some imagined result. Like the Heisenberg principle, the process itself affects the result. In that case, the process should be reexamined, and made more comfortable, especially if it is a long ride.

If my appetite for results is larger than what I can stomach, that is a recipe for failure. And there is another factor that may be peculiar to me personally, and that is: working with other people, although I feel I am probably not alone here.

We all know that too many cooks spoil the broth, but more troublesome yet is working with a group that is incoherent. And by "incoherent" I mean several things. If your group partners don't know how to do things, and yet don't know they don't know, then that is usually a problem. The team members have to dovetail together somehow. It is often easier for me to do everything than hobble myself by marching folks through the process each step of the way against their will, that is, unless I intend to be their teacher. I tend to lead by example and like to point something out just once, not repeatedly; unfortunately today, teaching has become a form of therapy for many people.

For better or for worse, therapy is not something I relegate to others, but rather I do it myself when I have realized that I am doing something incorrectly. Getting to the point of that realization is what I work on. Unfortunately, many professional therapists I have met could use the same advice. As the Bible (Matthew 6:22) says "Why worry about a speck of sawdust in your friend's eye, when you have a plank in your own."

More difficult yet is when I find myself in a group project with people who are unable or unwilling to maintain a certain code of ethics and work habits. For example, they are not really serious about the task or perhaps don't know what "serious" is. Or worse, group members actually compete negatively with or sabotage one another. I have built some very good teams, but I have also ended up stuck with teams where it would have been better to just do it all myself -- easier and faster. And, as an aside, serving on a board of directors (in my experience) is an exercise in futility.

For me, the worst of all is finding that the people I am working with, often middlemen, are ethically challenged and, in the end, are just not people I want to spend my life with -- period. I have quit huge projects just because I didn't want to be around the kind of people involved. "Why bother!" was my comment, which leads me back to my main point: we each have to feel our way along in what we do.

And something else that I have been slow to learn is to reevaluate a situation as I go along. Things change every moment. It seems I can't just set my sights on a target and plow ahead. Instead, I have to continually adjust my sights as I move forward, not so much based on where my imagined targeted-result is, but more often how I feel about the process of reaching it. I need to be comfortable with the process. Of course, this "process" thing has its limits too.

If the process becomes so slow that there can be no perceivable result, that doesn't do it for me either. Or, if a project turns into one of those where you have to "go along to get along," then I tend to abandon it. In that case I have been known to upset the apple cart. That is a problem I have. Those kind of things are unrealistic for me, which means that (in my case) a career in politics would have been out of the question.

If the coat fits me, I tend to put it on. If it does not, I usually take another route. Ideally, teamwork, as in assembling a good team, is the best way to go. If one can direct a really good team, there is no need to micromanage. Each member of the team has his or her job to do. Teamwork is best, but a good team is also hard to put together. Many people don't understand that a finely-tuned team is worth more than any amount of the physical assets involved. Expert employees are always the greatest expenditure in the budget, but worth it every time. The reverse is also true.

Perhaps it is just because I am getting older, but lately I am less willing to squander time on projects that we used to call "Charlie Foxtrot," a term similar to FUBAR or the more toned-down SNAFU. My BS-detector must be getting more sensitive; I often find myself realizing I have been there, done that. When this happens, I try to pull in the reins a bit, restrict my scope, and drop the culls. Years ago I would try to bite my tongue and wade on through the muck, but not much was ever accomplished. This I believe is what is called "a lost cause."

I learned long ago that, as the old song says, "I want to be in that number when the saints come marching in." I have to consider myself (along with others) as one part of the whole, not as an exception, either way, not first or last. In other words, I am one among a million, not one in a million, meaning that if I go against myself, that is counterproductive. I always do my best to bring my "self" along. As the Tibetan Buddhists point out, we have to first enlighten ourselves before we can help to enlighten others.

However, since the Self is not a "being," but rather a collage of our personal attachments, it is better that we learn to understand just what our self is and see through that mirror rather that gaze at our reflection in it. If there is one thing "worse" than being selfish, it is persecuting or getting down on our own self. That would be like beating a dog or like destroying our own car instead of learning to drive it properly.

I am happiest when I am busy on some project, but picking the project and the proper approach is what I am writing about here. Ultimately, what is proper use of my time? It is partly the product, but also very much the process involved. And I have written many times here that, in the end, the product is the process for many of us, i.e. where we are going and how we get there are the same thing.

Perhaps my greatest problem is that I tend to assume that others have the same intent and motivation that I do. No offense, but this is not always the case. My first true dharma teacher would often say to me that at some point we have to stop just reproducing our "kind" and, instead, start reproducing our self, and by "self, he meant our spiritual orientation and dharma (methods).