Unbreakable Self

The Nature of David

Posted in Character, Daily, Wisdom by Ahmed on June 11, 2010

This comes from the Social Man blog, a great piece on the understanding of human nature through the work of Michelangelo. Enjoy, Godspeed 🙂

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It was on one brilliantly perfect afternoon in mid-July that Michaelangelo found himself sitting in a courtyard in Rome, enjoying the sun in the sky, the crunch of pebbles beneath the feet of passersby, and the breezy summer air. Eventually, he became lost in his thoughts. He’d just completed his work on the Sistine Chapel – truly a testament to God’s greatness – and he felt at a loss for how he may next share his gifts with the world.

So wrapped up was he in his own mind, it was not until the sun began to set that he came to notice the massive slab of marble that had miraculously appeared only twenty feet away, in the enter of the courtyard. He looked around furtively; some strange guilt had visited upon him, as if this gift was to be neither trusted nor accepted. But the passersby continued on their way and around the slab with nothing more than a sidelong glance.

This struck him – “how strange that these people – going about their days and on their merry ways – would pay so little heed to such an anomaly.” And yet the paradox struck him, and he understood the purpose of this marble. He would create something perfectly human, yet divinely inspired. The best that man could be, despite his flaws. A sculpture so well-realized that it would inspire all those who would be exposed to it.

The next day, Michaelangelo erected a scaffolding around the marble, and set to work. Over the first few months, progress was slow. It took patience and time for the general shape to begin to form, and Michaelangelo was not without his doubts. The final vision of what this would become was still unclear, and this work came at the expense of other, more profitable projects. Several dukes had contacted him, offering handsome commissions for murals and paintings. And while those offers nagged him, he couldn’t help but go with the feeling in his heart that this was the right work to be doing at the right time.

After considerable time, a definite human shape began to form, and the crowds began to take notice. Strangely, this bothered Michaelangelo; this work was meant to be between he and his God, and while he knew the crowds would eventually come, he somehow wasn’t prepared for it when it happened.

There were all sorts. As the head and the face of the sculpture took shape, a group of Spaniards appeared who sought wisdom. They asked Michaelangelo for permission to look into the eyes of this sculpture, and as they did so, they solicited it with questions about the nature of the world. One asked how his trading goods company could expand it’s territories. Another wondered about how to better teach her students. A third asked how he could channel his creative energies into something of value to others. Michaelangelo was pleased that in the eyes of his work, each wisdom seeker found an answer that helped him or her grow.

Word of this sculpture began to spread further, and soon more and more people were coming to see it. Michaelangelo had now begun to work on the torso – strong and proud – and a group of healers from Persia appeared. They put their hands on the heart of this sculpture, and looked for the answers to their questions thereupon. “How much is too much to give?” asked one. Another asked for the strength to be a more consistent and committed healer, despite the wrongs incurred upon her in the past. A third asked for assistance in connecting the heart and the soul in his own healing efforts. And these answers were less clear than those that the wisdom seekers had found, for matters of the heart always are. But the healers took faith in the emergent strength and beauty of this sculpture, and Michaelangelo was inspired to continue with his work.

It was not long before word of the sculpture had reached far and distant lands. And as Michaelangelo began work on the pelvis, a group of hedonists appeared from the Orient. Admiring, then touching the beautiful reproductive organs with which the sculpture had been gifted, they made their requests. One asked how he could better please his lover, penetrating her more deeply in heart, body and soul. Another asked how to responsibly satiate her cravings and desires. A third took a photo in front of it, flashing a peace sign with one hand and rubbing it for good luck with the other. Slightly annoyed, but ultimately amused, Michaelangelo knew that his work was beginning to touch people on many different levels.

However, trouble was soon visited upon this great work. A group of vandals approached it one night, attempting to sabotage it. Michaelangelo was just around the corner at the time, cleaning his chisels in the river, and fortunately, chased them off before they could do it significant damage. But this incident cast him into a spiral of doubt. Other works of his had been vandalized and even destroyed in the past – twice by the men who’d commissioned them to be
made. And Michaelangelo was a person who put all of his heart into his work; while he felt it right to continue, he was so wracked with doubt that he hired a security detail for the unfinished piece, erected a wall around it, and went on hiatus.

He thought long and hard about this work. It was not his first sculpture, and he was still unclear if it would be his last. And now on holiday, he realized that the incident with the vandals had upset him more than he had even initially been able to accept. He considered that this sculpture was perhaps not even the right project; maybe he should reconnect with the dukes who were seeking to commission him.

Or perhaps he should merely return and finish one part of the sculpture; if he scaled back his own expectations for what this could be, perhaps others would stop placing such significance on it as well. Unclear and leaving it up to God’s will, he realized that the nature of this sculpture and it’s significance would only reveal themselves if he allowed himself to be open to any possibilities – from destruction to perfection.

And he realized that as the project had evolved, his own efforts had inexorably led to what it had become. It had begun to touch the lives of many people in wonderful ways, and try as he might to escape the responsibility he now faced, he knew that to fight the direction this had taken would be a disservice to everything it could be. Uncertain in his direction, but certain in Divine guidance, Michaelangelo put the outcome in the hands of a Higher Being.

When he returned to the site of the sculpture, he was at first shocked, then alarmed, to find the chaos surrounding it. Three camps had been set up – one of wisdom seekers, one of healers, and one of hedonists – and they were each making a claim on the nature of the work.

The wisdom seekers had learned so much from the sculpture, and thought it to be an oracle of sorts. They petitioned Michaelangelo to finish his work on the head, and to release it to them that they may use it exclusively for matters of knowledge and learning.

The healers had their own opinion. They beseeched Michaelangelo to complete his work on the torso, that they could use it as a sort of storehouse for all of the wrongs of the world that they had extracted from those they healed.

And the hedonists urged Michaelangelo to complete his work on the pelvis. They had grand aspirations of casting it as a mold – both in it’s complete form, and as it’s symmetric reciprocal – that would be revered and fantasized about within their clan.

For weeks, the artist found himself vacillating between the groups. The wisdom seekers had used what they’d learned from the work for good purposes, and he could not deny that their intended use would be for the betterment of mankind. The healers, though, also had good petition. Michaelangelo recognized that many in the world were damaged, and the healers had made it a mission to take on their pain. As for the hedonists, Michaelangelo could not deny that their claims arose from a genuine, and beautiful, humanistic desire – perhaps the most easily corrupted desire, but also the most sublimely deep and profound desire when expressed with a pure heart.

After weeks of hearing their petitions, Michaelangelo cast the applicants out of the courtyard and set to finish what he had started. And as it continued to evolve, he was not without his doubts. The work itself came naturally – almost too naturally – and the details of the sculpture emerged as if guided by providence. But from time to time, the petitioners returned, asking him to cast his efforts in one particular area. And from time to time, attempts were made to vandalize the piece, and Michaelangelo was struck with memories of works past, and how devastated he would be if the piece were destroyed – not only out of despair for himself, but also for the countless people who were counting on him and his work to provide a bit more happiness in their own lives.

This project, though, now had a momentum of it’s own, and was carried forward as a if a skiff on the Tiber. As the artist cast his doubt aside, and allowed his hands and his heart to guide his efforts, the sculpture grew into something more and more beautiful with every passing day.

And one fine evening, as the sun cast it’s last rays over Rome’s hills and valleys, Michaelangelo chiseled the final detail out of the sculpture’s left baby toe. A bit large for a baby toe – in fact, the hands and the feet were both disproportionately large – but despite these minor imperfections, the work was as perfect as a sculpture could be.

During these last few months of construction, Michaelangelo had kept everyone out of the courtyard. So it was with great anticipation from the crowd, and great trepidation from the artist, that a date was revealed for a public unveiling. It was determined that the statue would be revealed for the first time in Florence, a quaint, classically European town to the north of Italy’s capital.

The statue was boxed, and the throng of followers journeyed along with it for many miles, through a countryside that was just beginning to wane with the onset of fall. Along their journey, members of the various camps began to learn of each other. They began to realize that the thing that brought them all together was all of their’s to share. And by the time they had reached their destination, there was general agreement that amongst the wisdom seekers, the healers, and the hedonists, there was no higher value or virtue – only different expressions of man’s desires and capabilities.

Michaelangelo had picked the time of 7 pm for his public revealing. The early fall sun would be orange in the sky, casting it’s saturated rays on his masterpiece. As the crowd gathered in the courtyard of the Ufizzi, buzzing with anticipation, and late afternoon became early evening, a strange thing happened…

Silence. With a quarter hour to seven, as if commanded by some force beyond, a tranquility settled over the crowd. So in awe of this moment was the crowd – a crowd which had followed this sculpture since it’s genesis, which had influenced it’s direction, but which had ultimately been forced to abscond it’s will to the Creator of the statue – that a sort of communion was visited upon them. In this moment, a common humanity was felt, unlike anything the crowd’s members had ever experienced before.

A woman began to quietly cry. She so wanted to believe in the authenticity of this moment, but doubt and apprehension spoke to her. What if this thing that she’d been following for so long was fraudulent? What if it failed to live up to her expectations? And what if this moment of peace, a moment gifted with the anticipation of the revealing, was not to last? If only she’d known that at that very moment, the artist was alone in his private quarters, experiencing the same thoughts and emotions. As he prayed for comfort with his Neighbor, this woman’s neighbor reached out to her to hold her hand.

Seven minutes before the hour, Michaelangelo emerged into the crowd, and the silence became chaos. The crowd erupted into cheers, for here was the man who would reveal to them, in art, the nature of their own humanity. As he took to the stage where the statue was covered, and waiting, he cleared his throat and silently asked for guidance. Then he spoke.

“Ladies and gentlemen… I come before you today not of my own accord, but of a force much greater than I. What began as an inspired moment has become something which has given more meaning to all of our lives… to find common ground and a common sense of who we are. And what began with uncertainty continues with uncertainty; one of a different variety, but uncertainty nonetheless. We all have our expectations for what this can be for each of us, but until we experience it and come to live with it, we are only united in our hope and in our doubt.”

A woman yelled from the crowd. “Michaelangelo – please assuage my concerns! Have you given adequate attention to the statue’s head?! In those eyes I have found much wisdom, and in my future I hope to find more!”

Michaelangelo looked at the woman – a good and honest woman, with wide eyes that revealed a deep well of intelligence – and answered her. “Ma’am, I have done my very best to gift this sculpture with eyes that will reflect back to you all the answers you seek. But look not to this sculpture alone, for the eyes I have given it are merely the most accurate representation I could provide of the honesty and truth that flows through our world.”

A man then raised his voice. “Michaelangelo – I cannot stand the wait! How is the torso of this sculpture? Does it reflect a heart that is strong and courageous?”

The artist considered this man, with his strong physique and tender presence, and responded. “Sir, in this man’s torso, I have endeavored to capture the pride of a man who has taken on the weight of the world, and the humility of one who is inspired by his heart and his genuine love for mankind.”

And a third voice emerged from the crowd, a woman’s again. “Michaelangelo, you must not delay, but tell me if this sculpture will arouse passion and excitement in it’s representation of man’s most private, but precious, physical form.”

Michaelangelo regarded this woman, held securely in the arms of a man who smiled warmly down upon her, and replied. “My dear, I could do no injustice to that which provides us with so much pleasure here on earth, and which allows for our continued growth – as couples, and as a species.”

With these words, the town bells began to ring, and seven o’clock was upon the crowd.

Summoning all the confidence with which the moment had to offer, the artist grasped the linens which covered the statue, and drew hard. “Ladies and gentleman, I give to you, our David.”

At just that moment, the setting sun dipped below the crown of the statue’s head; an eclipse… a halo? The crowd would never know. Silence, again.

After seconds that seemed like hours, a woman’s voice emerged from the stillness. “His eyes are so sad, yet so attentive… Michaelangelo, you have captured the wisdom of one who truly knows of the world and of mankind! It is perfect!”

A man’s voice followed. “His chest is so broad, yet poised so humbly… Michaelangelo, you have captured the heart of a man who truly gives and receives love with every breath! It is perfect!”

A woman’s voice followed. “His pelvis is so well erected, but not perverse… Michaelangelo, you have truly captured the form of a man who penetrates the world with his very essence! It is perfect!”

“Yes, I have done all those things,” responded the artist, finally allowing himself to once again take in deep breaths. “But the nature of this man – of this thing we have created together and with help from the Above – is much more than any of that.”

“Were any one of these pieces left out, or were any one of these pieces given undue favor, it would be a disservice to the nature of what we have. And as my work evolved, and as I considered your petitions, I realized that for this work to appropriately represent the true nature of David… ‘beloved’ in Scripture… to represent the soul’s form in flesh or in marble… I was not to stand between or selectively accept or reject any of the three elements, and their purpose in this creation.”

“And yes, they evolved in phases; the head came before the heart, which came before the pelvis. And there were many false starts, and doubts that I had along the way. But it is complete, and the perfection that you see is born of the whole… of the soul of the piece… given life by the completeness of it’s humanity. Yet I humbly submit to you that this work is not perfect.”

A gasp went up among the crowd.

“You must understand… the imperfection of this work… man’s flesh and soul in marble… lies in it’s nature; it is our own experiences that make it perfect. To me, this work is as imperfect as a child’s first pottery piece… a piece whose perfection will only be realized in the eyes of his adoring parents. It is as imperfect as the clumsy sonnets of a teenager in love, verses whose perfection will only be felt by his innocent beloved. Our creations are as imperfect as our abilities to create. And with these hands I have, I could do no less than to give you this, David. And I could give you no more.”

“But I do pray that you will consider this thing we’ve created together, and accept it for the entirety of what it is. I pray that we can enjoy what little wisdom it can provide for us, what little strength it can be for us, and what little pleasures it can give us, while our little hearts still beat.”

10 Tips for Living a Better Life, One Day at a Time — From Pope John XXIII

Posted in Daily, Lists, Wisdom by Ahmed on June 10, 2010

From the brilliant Happiness Project Blog

10 Tips for Living a Better Life, One Day at a Time–from Pope John XXIII.
Sunrisevatican

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 10 tips for living a better life, one day at a time — from Pope John XXIII.

One of the most important strategies of my Happiness Project has been keeping my Resolutions Chart. It provides accountability, it prompts me to review all my resolutions once a day, it gives me the gold stars I crave — when I manage to follow my resolutions. (If you’d like to see a copy of my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com].)

I love reading other people’s resolutions and their personal commandments, and I was very interested to read the daily decalogue of Pope John XXIII (a “decalogue” is a set of rules having authoritative weight). Pope John XXIII was pope from 1958-1963 and was known as “The Good Pope.”

One aspect of the list that’s worth noting is the emphasis on taking each day as it comes. This mindset is hugely helpful to me. Instead of allowing myself to become overwhelmed and discouraged by imagining how hard it would be to keep my resolutions for the rest of my life, I just take it day by day (or Bird by Bird for you Anne Lamott fans). Alcoholics Anonymous follows this same approach – emphasizing “one day at a time” to keep a difficult change manageable.

So here are ten tips from Pope John XXIII about how to live a better life, day to day:

1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

5. Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

7. Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

9. Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

I’ve read this decalogue several times over the years, and every time I read it, a different admonition catches my attention. Today I found myself mulling over #2: “I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.” That’s a good resolution for a happiness project. It often seems as though I’d be happy if only other people would behave properly! But the truth is, the only person I can really “improve or discipline” is myself.

Which of the ten rang most true for you?

Bruce Lee on Limits

Posted in Quotes, Wisdom by Ahmed on June 4, 2010

“Bruce had me up to three miles a day, really at a good pace. We’d run the three miles in twenty-one or twenty-two minutes. Just under eight minutes a mile [Note: when running on his own in 1968, Lee would get his time down to six-and-a half minutes per mile]. So this morning he said to me “We’re going to go five.” I said, “Bruce, I can’t go five. I’m a helluva lot older than you are, and I can’t do five.” He said, “When we get to three, we’ll shift gears and it’s only two more and you’ll do it.” I said “Okay, hell, I’ll go for it.” So we get to three, we go into the fourth mile and I’m okay for three or four minutes, and then I really begin to give out. I’m tired, my heart’s pounding, I can’t go any more and so I say to him, “Bruce if I run any more,” –and we’re still running-”if I run any more I’m liable to have a heart attack and die.” He said, “Then die.” It made me so mad that I went the full five miles. Afterward I went to the shower and then I wanted to talk to him about it. I said, you know, “Why did you say that?” He said, “Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”

22 Reasons to Never Give Up

Posted in Lists, Wisdom by Ahmed on May 20, 2010

From the Pick the Brain site, post by Diggy. This is a solid list, especially Muhammad Ali, Family, and Get Rich or Die Trying.

At some point in the various journeys we embark on in our lives, we get to a part where we feel like giving up. Sometimes we give up before we even start and other times we give up just before we are about to make that huge break-through that we have been putting so much effort in to achieve.

I have created this list of 22 reasons why you should never give up and I hope that you will find it before you give up, so that I can inspire you to keep going!

1- As Long As You Are Alive Anything Is Possible
The only valid excuse you have to give up is if you are dead. As long as you are alive (and healthy and free) you have the choice to keep trying until you finally succeed.

2- Be Realistic
The chance of mastering something the first time you do it is almost non-existent. Everything takes time to learn and you will make mistakes. Learn from them.

3- Michael Jordan
Arguably the best basketball player of all time. He attributes his success to all his failures. He just never gave up even when he knew he had missed over 300 shots and had missed the  winning shot of the game many times. Every time he got knocked down he got back up again.

4- Lance Armstrong
Lance was diagnosed with serious cancer that had spread throughout his entire body. He had cancer cells the size of golf balls in his lungs. Despite all odds he overcame the cancer and set out to win the Tour de France 6 Consecutive years in a row.

5- Muhammad Ali
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. Muhammad Ali is one of the best boxers the world has ever known. He suffered only 5 losses while having 56 wins and was the first boxer to win the lineal heavyweight championship three times. This is a guy who literally knows how to get knocked down and get back up.

6- The Man Who Created The Marathon
Very long ago an Athenian herald was sent to Sparta to get help when the Persians landed in Greece. It was said that he ran 240km in 2 days and after that he ran 40km to announce the victory of the Greeks only to collapse and die on the spot from exhaustion. If you ever feel like things are difficult, imagine what it would be like to run 240km in 2 days. (Don’t try that because you might die from it, but use it as an inspiration).

7- Chris Gardner – The Pursuit of Happiness
Have you seen the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness”? It is based on the life story of Chris Gardener, a man who went for the lowest of the lows in an environment where most people would give up (no money, no job) to the highest of the highs (A millionaire with his own investment firm). If you ever think about giving up, watch this movie!

8- Kanye West
I’m pretty sure you have heard of the rapper Kanye West. Read his story. He is a big inspiration for me and proves that you can go from having very little to being among the most famous and respected people in the world.

9- Nelson Mandela
Campaigned for justice and freedom in his South Africa. Spent 20 years in jail for his opposition to apartheid. On release he healed the wounds of apartheid by his magnanimous attitude toward his former political enemies.

10- You Are Strong
You are stronger than you think. One little setback is not enough to stop you from achieving your goals. Neither are 10 or 100 or 1000 setbacks.

11- Prove Yourself
You don’t want to be known as someone that is weak and gives up. Go out there and prove yourself to the world and to yourself. You CAN and WILL achieve what you set out to do. The only time you fail is when you give up.

12- Has It Been Done Before?
If someone else can do it then so can you. Even if it is only one other person in the world that has achieved what you have set out to achieve, that should be reason enough for you to never give up.

13- Believe In Your Dreams
Don’t sell yourself short. In life there are going to be many people who will try to bring you down and tell you what you want to achieve is not possible. Don’t let anyone destroy your dreams.

14- Your Family and Friends.
Let the people you love and who mean the world to you be your inspiration to persist and persevere. Maybe you need to try a different angle, study more or practice more but don’t give up!

15- Because I Tell You To.
Not that I am any sort of guru or Godly figure, but if you want to give up then don’t. Just because I’m telling you not to.

16- There Are People Worse-Off
Right now there are many people who are in a worse situation and environment than you are right now. Are you thinking about giving up running 5 miles a week? Think about the people who are unable to even walk and how much they would give to be able to run 5 miles every day.

17- Improve Our World
When you achieve whatever you set out to achieve you can use your success to make a difference to the world or other peoples lives.

18- Get Rich or Die Trying
Like Fiddy (50 cent) says, “Get rich or die trying”. 50 Cent is rich, he made it (although he did get shot 9 times). Face your fears and don’t take the easy way out by giving up.

19- Let The Haters Hate
There will always be haters. There will always be plenty of naysayers  and people who try to tear you down. Don’t pay attention to them and don’t take what they say to heart. Let the haters hate and you keep believing in yourself.

20- You Deserve To Be Happy
Don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise. You deserve to be happy and you deserve to have success. Keep that mindset and never give up until you reach your destination!

21- Inspire Others
Be an inspiration to others by refusing to give up. Who knows what someone else can achieve because you never gave up and in turn inspired them not to give up.

22- You Are So Close
Often when you feel like you want to give up and you are about to give up you are so close to making a huge break-thru. Seth Godin has written an awesome book about this called “The Dip” – a riveting read that teaches that at any given time you are always just a heartbeat away from success.

P.S. NEVER GIVE UP!

Focus and Self-Control at the Heart of Uncluttering and Productivity

Posted in Quotes, Wisdom by Ahmed on May 20, 2010

To increase your effectiveness, make your emotions subordinate to your commitments -Brian Koslow

Link via Unclutterer

Making the Most Out of Any Situation

Posted in Daily, Wisdom by Ahmed on May 19, 2010

Link via Robbie Kramer’s awesome Inner Confidence blog. The guy combines mad pickup talents with really solid inner game advice. This article brings us to staying focused in the moment and Robbie’s observations.

A solid reminder to appreciate, not player hate 😉

Godspeed,

Ahmed

On Killer Instinct

Posted in Goals, Wisdom by Ahmed on May 18, 2010

Killer instinct. Some have it, some don’t. Look at Kobe Bryant. The guy is so ruthlessly dedicated to winning and loves the game so much that he’ll do whatever it takes to get his team to the championships, year after year.

Killer instinct is the definitive male trait imo. It’s the trait that tells a man to go after what he wants, despite any fear or trepidation of the consequences of failure. A true man see his objective and fights at all costs to get it. Why?

Because he wants it, it’s his goal. And unbreakable people stick to their goals. They don’t get broken along the way when failure shows it’s face. To the unbreakable self, failure is not only part of the journey, but a necessary element for growth and reflection as we strive to manifest what it is we want.

Keep fighting. Godspeed.

-Ahmed

Focus on what you want, not what you don’t

Posted in Wisdom by Ahmed on May 18, 2010

When we think of failure; Failure will be ours. If we remain undecided; Nothing will ever change. All we need to do is want to achieve something great and then simply to do it. Never think of failure. For what we think, will come about.

-Maharishi Mahesh Yogi