Monday Zen: The Man Who Can't Be Moved

A foreigner came to the monastery. He asked for an audience with the master. The man had traveled far, and so the master granted him one question.

The man asked:

“How can I find peace?”

The master said:

“I can’t answer your question, but if you meditate atop the mountain nearby, maybe, tomorrow I can.”

The man did as he was told. He climbed the mountain, sat at the peak, and meditated. The next morning, he returned to the master, but he received the same answer.

“Meditate on the mountain and come back to me tomorrow.”

Once again, the man did as he was told. The next morning, he returned - and still got the same answer. The man became angry, but he went to the mountain regardless. On the next day, he thought to himself:

“The master won’t to tell me anything new today. I will just stay on the mountain.”

So he stayed on the mountain and meditated. The next morning, the man didn’t feel as if anything about the master had changed, so he stayed on the mountain that day too. The next day came and went. So did the one after that.

After a week, a villager came to the top of the mountain and said:

“I heard you’ve been here all week, are you okay?”

The man nodded and continued to meditate.

After a month, the whole village was talking. Six months passed, then 12, then 18. In the second year, a reporter came by. She interviewed all the villagers and wrote a story about “the man who can’t be moved.” Now, the man was world-famous. But he kept meditating.

Another year later, everyone had forgotten the man on the mountain. One morning, he got up and made his way down. As he reached the foot of the mountain, he passed the villager who had come to see him after the first week.

The villager greeted him with big eyes.

“You’re back!”

The man said:

“I am.”

Curious, the villager asked:

“What did you learn?”

The man said:

“That it was time to get up.”

With those words, he turned to the road and walked away. None of the villagers saw him again.


Last summer, my friends invited me to play volleyball one day. I hadn’t played volleyball in ages. I’m not exercising much as it is. So I decided to go.

There was only one problem: For the past four years, I had been wearing a wristband from a special event. It was a symbol, a memory, but it also would’ve hurt me while playing. So I cut it off and went to play volleyball and that was that.

My friend Zat Rana wrote that, “sometimes the answer isn’t a solution. Rather, it’s a punchline.”

I don’t know if the man ever realized that the master had sent him in the right direction. But he did learn that peace is nothing you can ask for. Not even the wisest man can give it to you.

Peace is something we choose to give to ourselves.

As soon as you do, everything else falls away. You still won’t have perfect answers to all your questions, but you can stop meditating, stop searching, and move on with your day.

Sometimes, you’re on a mission. When you are, have your principles. Be the man who can’t be moved. But when the mission’s over, stop sitting. Don’t hold on just because.

Cut the wristband. Go play volleyball. You just learned something. You deserve peace.

-Nik


About Monday Zen: Most people hate Monday. Why? In a good life, it’s a day like any other. At the very least, it shouldn’t be worse by default. That’s what Monday Zen is for: To make sure you start the week with calm, poise, and determination.

Let’s not derail our trains of thought before they leave the station. Let’s enjoy the journey.


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We're Going To 5 Posts Per Week

A little update on Emptying Your Cup

Heyo, it’s Nik from Empty Your Cup.

I’d like to try making a change: Instead of sending 7 posts per week, I’ll send 5.

The themes will stay the same, we’ll just drop the weekends, so posts will come to you every day from Monday to Friday.

Three reasons why:

  1. A balanced life requires breaks from even the best of things. Your spouse, technology, your favorite dessert, if you’re in touch with these 24/7, you’ll soon crave time away from them. It’s how humans function - and part of the definition of ‘balance.’ Chances are, you’ll enjoy our weekly posts even more if I leave you alone on weekends, not less.

  2. Breaks inspire creativity. I recommend any artist commit to delivering 7 days a week on a project at least once. It changes your entire understanding of discipline and being a pro. But it also means that, inevitably, on some days, you’ll ship less than optimal work. Because you didn’t have enough time to process, to filter for your best ideas. Breaks allow creatives to let their subconscious get to work, and I know giving mine some space over the weekend will lead to better results during the week.

  3. I don’t want to force work on weekends. Having done the ship-7-days-a-week thing for multiple years across several projects, I’m now in the lucky position that, financially, I don’t have to do it anymore. And since I’m enough of a workaholic as is, I’d now rather try to create some truly empty space in my calendar each week. So in a way, this’ll help me find balance too.

Let’s see how it goes, and, if it doesn’t work, we can always go back to the way things were.

Thanks for doing this experiment with me and have a wonderful weekend!

-Nik


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Don't Let Feature Creep Clutter Your Life

No Sense Friday

When I was eight years old, my neighbor’s dad gave me a Swiss Army knife.

He was a metal worker, and he told me it contains all the essential tools a man needs to do his work. I was obsessed with it. All day, I would run around outside, carving sticks, trying to build different shapes and make something useful.

If you don’t know, this is what a Swiss Army Knife looks like:

Image result for swiss army knife

It contains everything a soldier might need for the non-fighting parts of a mission: several knives, a saw, a can opener, corkscrew, a nail pick, and a pair of scissors.

The Swiss Army knife was first made in 1891, and, for almost 100 years, two companies split the contract to equip every Swiss soldier with such a knife. It has become a cultural icon of Switzerland and is world-famous for its versatility and simplicity. It’s effective, efficient, and brilliant.

Now this, on the other hand, is not a Swiss Army knife:

It may look like a Swiss Army knife, even carry the name Swiss Army knife, even be manufactured by the same company - but it misses everything this tool stands for.

It’s meant to be a light companion you can carry in your pocket with nothing but the absolute survival essentials, and this monster serves none of those goals. Whoever designed this second knife fell victim to an entrepreneur’s worst disease: feature creep.

Feature creep is when a company keeps adding features to their product that don’t serve the main use case.

A smartphone with a laser pointer is the result of feature creep. So is a lawnmower with a cupholder. Or the draw-by-hand tool in Apple’s iMessage.

These features just…creep in. And then they’re there. But instead of making your life better, they make it worse. Because they clutter what wasn’t cluttered before.

In our lives, we often succumb to feature creep and its many variations. There’s project creep. People creep. Habit creep.

  • We start a new hobby, and then another one, and another one, and, suddenly, we’re running around, trying to catch the clock.

  • We meet someone new, and then their friends, and their friends, and, before we know it, we spend our Friday night with a group of strangers we don’t like.

  • We have a cigarette, just once, at the party, and then another time, and three months later, we smoke a pack a day.

Life is expansive. We have to try and do many things. It’s our duty. But it’s on us to do the expanding, not on our lives to stretch so they can accommodate everything. They won’t and never will. They’re Swiss Army knives, and we’re the ones wielding them.

Don’t let feature creep clutter your life. Think carefully about what you add, and what you want to keep. Take stock regularly. And if you don’t like something, remove it.

You’ve been given a wonderful tool. It carries all the essentials you need to do your work. It’s called your mind, and it’s the sharpest knife in the world.

Now get out there and carve some sticks.

-Nik


About No Sense Friday: Most people live for Friday. Relaxing on the weekend is fine, but we can’t just waste it away every time. That’s why Friday is the most important day to call out things that make no sense. Because in a way, the concept of ‘Friday’ itself makes no sense.

A good life is lived every day, not just once a week.


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Everybody Can Be Rich

Thought Experiment Thursday

One out of every 183 people in this world is a millionaire. Are you surprised? I am.

It’s more than I thought. Feels…doable. That’s one person out of 4, 5 high school classes. One person out of each 200-people college year. Why shouldn’t that be you? I can’t think of a good reason.

But I can think of a reason why the other 182 won’t make it. It won’t be for lack of trying. Everybody wants to be rich. Sure, there are those who denounce money and fall for the belief that it’s evil.

But I think most of those 99.5% who don’t make it self-sabotage. They don’t want to get stuck in these self-defeating patterns, but they can’t shake them. They never develop a mindset of abundance. They never replace their beliefs with better ones.

Here is a better one: Everybody can be rich.

I know. It feels almost frivolous to think it. Do it again. “Everybody can be rich.”

I’m not smart enough to explain why and how that’s possible, but Naval is:

“Let me give you a thought exercise. Imagine tomorrow we could wave a wand and everybody was trained as a scientist or an engineer. Everybody. Even if you weren’t very good, you’d have enough understanding of computers, you could write some code, you could build some hardware.

And don’t tell me people can’t do it - because they can. That’s just a tyranny of soft expectations. That’s just you looking down on somebody else. They can do it, they just have to be educated.

Now, if they’re educated, all these hardware and software engineers, scientists, biologists, technicians, we would all be done within five years. Robots would be doing everything. From cleaning toilets to cooking food to flying airplanes and driving ubers.

And what would we be doing? We would all be doing creative jobs to entertain each other and research science and technology. We would have wonderful lives. So it is really just a question of education. Nothing else.”

If we had perfect education, everybody would be rich. Of course, you can now keep asking follow-up questions: How do we do that? How do we educate ten billion people? Where do we get the resources to build all this stuff?

It’s a hard problem. But - and this is the point - it’s a solvable problem.

Envy makes the world go round. At some level, we don’t want to believe everyone can be rich. It’d make us less special if we are. It’d take away too many excuses.

But it would also make it easier for us to make decisions that help us get there. No need to compete so fiercely. No need to be suspicious. Just help those you can with your unique skill set, and let the world reward you.

Everybody can be rich. All 100%. The only question is will you choose to be?

-Nik


About Thought Experiment Thursday: Einstein said we can’t solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. Science estimates we have about 35 thoughts per minute. That’s a lot of chances to change our thinking. So on Thursdays, that’s what we’ll practice.

A question opens the mind. A statement closes it. Let’s keep ours wide open.


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You Can't Escape Time, But You Can Ditch Your Clock

Forgiveness Wednesday

“Time makes us all a prisoner of the present, forever transitioning from our own past into an unknown future.”

That’s Neil deGrasse Tyson, talking about time. It’s true. In the spacetime model of physics, we can move freely across three out of four coordinates: up or down, left or right, forward or back. But we can’t jump around in time.

We’re forced to hover along, forever hurtling from one second to the next towards our only finish line in life: death. No. You can’t escape time. But you can escape the clock.

This morning, I woke up without an alarm. I didn’t check my phone. I just got up, exercised, showered, and got ready. I put on my watch - but I didn’t check it. I left the house. The sun was shining. People were moving. Commuting.

How late was it? 8? 9? I had no idea. I got breakfast and coffee and showed up at school. I greeted my friends and unpacked my things. When I finally opened my laptop, I first saw the numbers: 9:21 AM. Okay. Cool. And? Now, I work anyway.

I know not everyone has the freedom to design their every day like that. But everyone has the freedom to design some of their days like that. Because, as Neil also observed, we may be stuck in time, but we’re not stuck with our clocks:

“You can keep track of time even though you have no frickin’ idea what’s going on. Because all that matters to you is that things repeat. If you have something that repeats predictably, you then have created a timekeeping mechanism.”

We all live by the clock. Chances are, you could use a day off. Track time like our ancestors did. Cut yourself some slack.

Life is in your hands. Not the ones on your watch.

-Nik


About Forgiveness Wednesday: No matter how the week starts, by Wednesday, we’ve had enough time to kick ourselves. We’re human. We make mistakes, we regret them, and we blame ourselves. But the only way we can keep moving on is if we forgive ourselves and those around us. So every Wednesday, forgiveness is what we’ll practice.

Let’s be kind to ourselves so we can succeed.


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