10,000 Hours

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, puts forth the proposition that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.  This was based on studies by psychologists of people who had achieved such mastery.  A direct statistical relationship was found between hours of practice and achievement.  There were no shortcuts.  Also, surprisingly, there were no “naturals”.  Everything was based on time and practice, that is, effort spent in preparation so that when opportunities arise, one is ready.  There is something else—those who excelled didn’t just work harder.  They fall in love with practice to the point that they wanted to do little else.  Not that they may have had to balance this love between the necessities of supporting themselves or their families, but the drive, the ambition, was still there. Now of course there are exceptions—the quality and focus of practice must be taken into account.  A chimpanzee with 10,000 hours in front of a computer keyboard will most likely not develop any particular area of expertise or create any lasting literary work—there is quality of time spent as well as quality.

There are studies which affirm, modify, or refute what has just been said.  But this post is not really about that.  In thinking about what I have done, what I am doing now, and why, it has occurred to me to trace the path of where these interests and actions came from.  It is not a big story, only a little one because it concerns only me and the wanderings of my internal reality—no earth shaking events here.  Using Gladstone’s criterion, I can see why I am not an expert.  This has been because there has not been one path, but several interconnected but distinct paths, and with that my own limitations.  One thing is sure: at this point I am not an expert at anything, though like Hansel and Gretel I have tried to be diligent in following the bread crumbs to wherever they have led.  (As Hansel said to Gretel, “Let us drop these bread crumbs so that together we find our way home…because losing our way would be the most cruel thing.”) What is important is that I count the opportunity what I have been called to do as one of the great blessings of life, for there are those for many reasons who are unable to do so.  Again, no crowning achievements, only the story of what has driven my attention.  If it causes you to make a similar inquiry on your part, then I will have fulfilled this task and this post will have been useful.

BUILDING A PHILOSOPHY

Sometime in my youth I came to the decision that I had to have a philosophy, and I am not really sure why.  Not being well versed in the subject at that time, I just started to think and write.  Maybe it was an attempt to put some orderliness into existence.  Maybe it was the search for inner peace.  Maybe it was, as Will Durant called it, “the consolation of philosophy”.  Thoughts ranged from the purpose of life, meaning, the nature of consciousness, ethical principles, and what I call “the fields”: the field of thought, the field of action, the field of sense, and the field to where all of these lead, for in reality there are not several fields but one.  The writing process was (and is) what I have done with students over the years—write, rewrite, rewrite, constantly improving and refining.  I have taken my own advice, for the manuscript still gets additions and revisions.  At one time I wanted to publish it as a book, but the potential of the internet changed all that.  I would rather sell you ideas than books.  There is an arbitrary point not too soon in the future when I will wrap it up, and at that point it will be offered here as a separate file, The One and the Fields of Consciousness to anyone who wishes to have it.  The beauty of keeping the document online is that, if I choose, it can be amended or corrected, for in truth, the work of philosophy does not have an end.

My writing continued, ranging over many topics, including Bible commentary.  I believe the encouragement came from a Billy Graham crusade where each attendee who came forward received a Bible study guide.  From that time forward I filled at least three Bibles with tightly spaced marginal notes, writing whatever came to mind.  The record of this scribbling is now somewhat embarrassing to read, but there it is as a document of my early journey and so it must be.  Except for a much later attempt at constructing a plan of scriptural themes (in yet another Bible), these notes are mostly unusable.  In many cases the notes are so illegible as to be indecipherable, but the attempt at expression was there and, like the writing process itself, would hopefully improve over time.  

WANDERING IN A WORLD OF BOOKS

I befriended bookstores and libraries, or, should I say, they befriended me. Wandering through bookstores, both new and especially used, became a form of recreation, like hiking or playing golf.  Many an enjoyable afternoon or evening was spent going from shelf to shelf selecting and paging through volumes on all topics and usually going home with at least one or two acquisitions.  The word, like that used for animals, is browsing.  I love the resources of the internet and the incredible reach I have to locate virtually any book in which I have an interest.  And, not only here but anywhere in the world.  It is truly incredible.  Yet, nothing replaces the joy of the physical search, for in bookstores it is not only what you find that you are looking for, it is finding what you are not looking for. 

It is here that I must mention the legendary Southern California bookstore, Acres of Books.  It was founded by bookseller Bertrand Smith, who moved to Long Beach in 1934.  Jumping back into the used book business he started in Cincinnati, he snapped up public and private libraries and amassed more volumes on his frequent trips to Europe.  It was truly unlike any bookstore I have seen before or since.  Hundreds of thousands of books on every conceivable subject  covered 6.5 miles of shelving built from apple crates, box upon box nailed together, with various supports to keep them from collapsing.  The path through the shelves included dead ends and side passages, twisting like a labyrinth through the length of the building.  The word “fascinating” does not describe it adequately.  Its mazelike sturcture had a way of drawing the visitor in, overwhelming him or her by the sheer volume and variety.  Simply to be exposed to this monument to the intellectual heritage of the past could not help but open the mind of anyone who went there.  Like no other bookstore, it was truly an important element of my education.  I was occasionally honored on my visits there to catch a glimpse of the man himself, standing like a guru by the front counter, directing the proceedings.

THE LIBRARY AS UNIVERSITY

Education is acquired in many ways other than attending a class.  Inspiring stories abound of those with limited backgrounds and/or limited means accessing the world of knowledge through public libraries, borrowed books, or finding a teacher, among other means.  I was not impoverished or underprivileged, but while attending college I worked to support myself.  In a fortuitous turn of events, working in the University Library became the key to jumpstarting my acquisition of knowledge and refining the intellectual tasks which upon which I would embark.  I am not exaggerating when I say that library work was more important to me than any single class I ever took.  Intimately knowing the Library of Congress classification system, using the catalog and helping others to do so, and having a daily opportunity to view the extensive holdings (+/-380,000 volumes at the time) became the key to unlocking true power and an opportunity to survey many finely divided fields of knowledge and key works the library contained.  It became “an education within an education”.  I returned to the library often to check out several of the books I viewed in the course of my daily work.  These were occasionally related to my courses of study, but usually were not.  Some of the titles from that period reveal my potpourri of selections: Ann Quin’s Passages, Frank J. Warne’s American Metaphysical Poetry, John Milton’s Areopagitica, Swami Vivekananda’s Complete Works, Okakura Kakuzo’s The Art of Tea, Jean Michaud’s Occult Enigmas, Alan Watts’ Behold the Spirit, Joel Goldsmith’s The Art of Meditation, Lincoln Durst’s The Language of Mathematics, Sarvapalli Radhakrisnan’s Problems of Faith, Friedrich Nietzche’s Thus Spake Zarathusta, Edward Weston’s The Flame of Recognition, even The U.S. Department of the Army manual Survival (because you never can tell).

One summer my relationship to the library holdings assumed a distinctly physical nature.  The bookstack areas for each of the library’s three floors (at that time) were expanded, necessitating the moving and spacing of each and every volume in the collection.  If I had been somewhat unfamiliar with certain sections or subjects, this was no longer true.  By the end of the move I had seen it all.  Try shifting 380,000 volumes without running out of space.  I was relieved that at the end of August the task had been successfully completed.

On a side note, these were the last days of the venerable card catalog.  Its replacement by computer databases was not a completely happy event.  During these years (1966-1970) it became impossible for libraries to keep up with the explosion in knowledge and publishing.  Clearly, other means were necessary.  During these years I witnessed large piles of books growing ever larger in the back rooms of the Accessions and Cataloging departments as the work fell further and further behind.  The first attempt to manage the work load came from pre-classified cards from the Library of Congress.  These were printed from a sort of tape or magnetic card—I forget the technology—spinning off finished catalog cards at dizzying speed from Library of Congress MARC records (which grew to 25 million before the program was discontinued).  These were then inserted into the new books as their processing was completed.  For those who are interested, a poignant essay on the demise of the card catalog, “Discards”, appears in Russell Baker’s book The Size of Thoughts (Vintage Books, 1997).

To sum up, the discovery of “what I was not looking for” in the library (as in bookstores) radically opened my view of what knowledge existed and what there was to know; my knowledge of the classification system became a tool for unlocking these fields of inquiry; the intellectual environment of my workplace (and study place) provided an environment where I could focus my inquiries and where reading and written expression could grow.  For this, as with preceding events, I was fortunate indeed.

AN EASTERN WINDOW

The ambience of eastern philosophy and religion holds a special attraction for me.  You could say that during my time in school eastern thought was “in the air”, as many people of my generation became seekers of new ways of understanding.  The college campus was visited by representatives of the Transcendental Meditation movement, which had a tremendous attraction for students due to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s simple and non-technical meditation methods, making them accessible to westerners.  On another memorable occasion, Swami Prabupadha (who will be mentioned later) appeared at a huge outdoor gathering, with poet Alan Ginsberg accompanying his chanting on harmonium.  My extra-curricular reading of eastern wisdom began in earnest at this point and broadened its scope during the coming years.  The only offering by the Philosophy Department at the time was Philosophy of China and Japan (a course I eagerly took), but which has naturally broadened through the years.   Fortunately, the University Library was rich in resources, and of these I availed myself.

CHAIN REFERENCES AND LINKS

I am amazed at how many fortuitous events occur in one’s life, seemingly by accident, but having an importance that directs future events and progress.  Among these was the “accident” of finding the J. Gilchrist Lawson (no relation) edition of the Bible “marked with the best methods of Bible marking on all subjects connected with the themes of Salvation, the Holy Spirit, Temporal Blessings, [and] Prophetic Subjects” in a department store book sale.  As unique and helpful as the color markings were, the Bible’s most important feature was its chain references.  For those unaware of them, the “chain” guides the reader to a related verse or verses, which in turn are linked with further verses, themselves having links, and so on.  I liken it to the manual version of our digital hypertext system, in which the online reader can instantly view related information by clicking on the highlighted item.  I was to encounter chain references again in the Jerusalem Bible, which also included an extensive set of scholarly notes relating to selected passages.  I have described a method for using chain reference in my previous post Clues to the Study of Scripture, but briefly what is required is a good supply of scratch paper and periods of uninterrupted time to follow the references to where they lead.  The scratch paper comes in handy to mark the page of the next reference and record its chapter and verse(s) for future reference.  This is because the reader is still following the first chain.  A bible full of marked slips of paper is the result, but there is a point at which either the relevance fades and signals a halt to further checking, or the references begin to duplicate themselves, indicating that the process is coming full circle.  When the references on all the slips of paper have been checked, the process is at an end.  The result is that a theme has suggested itself  and the references can be recorded as a manual or computerized document. I have, in addition, marked my Bible with small adhesive notes at the point of the original verse and other key verses to document the theme being followed.  My apologies for this detour, but the method is highly profitable to anyone who wishes to pursue it. 

It is with chain references that my research work during the next several years kicked into high gear.  It started while reading the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads.  It was simply not possible to access their teachings without knowledge of the numerous Sanskrit terms they contained.  So, I began a glossary.  In so doing I discovered that most of these terms were related to other terms and, in chain reference fashion, links were made, not only within the glossary but to others as well.  Now my glossaries of Sanskrit terms, Buddhist terms, and Judeo-Christian terms all have cross-references which amplify their understanding.  How did this proceed?  The early morning has been referred to as the “nectar hours”, and for me they contain the potential for the most energy and focus.  This became the time for study and reflection, before any other tasks of the day could interfere and sap my energy.  The result was that I eagerly awoke each day to begin, a practice which continues to this day and for me has yielded the most progress.  I commend it to you if your situation permits.                     

THE KRISHNA CONNECTION

Coming later in my scriptural studies, I was drawn to several books by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabupadha, founder of the Krishna Consciousness Movement.  Of these, one stands out as an essential document which serves as a supreme example of the philosophy of Divine Personhood to which my site is dedicated.  This may seem odd coming from one who proclaims Christ as Savior, but I must remind my readers and myself that if a principle, especially a spiritual one, is true, it must be universally true.  So if the Krishna doctrine illustrates it most explicitly, I would be foolish and ignorant not to learn from it.  Yes, the Krishna scriptures are full of mythology but so are the scriptures of other traditions, and at the base there is always spiritual truth.  Prabupadha’s translation of Śri Isopanisad: Discovering the Original Person expounds the nature and primacy of Divine Personhood, what Divine Personhood is and does.   Its mantras direct our attention toward the Supreme Person as “the complete whole of existence, and that all manifestations emanating from Him—including our bodies and the world we inhabit—are also complete in and of themselves.”  This has become the goal of the work here.  The notes on the reverse cover of the book state its purpose (and my purpose) well: “Impersonalism has robbed our lives of dimension.  Biochemists calmly inform us that our thoughts, feelings, and our very consciousness are simply patterns of electronic impulses that flash briefly in the vast world of space and time.  But something deep within us refuses to be analyzed into lifeless displays of energy.  At the center of our being is a focus of consciousness that is itself evidence of a higher reality.  Personality is the solid foundation and unifying principle of our existence.  The Vedic philosophy of ancient India strongly proclaims the primacy of personality in every sphere of life and knowledge.  And the most essential Vedic teachings on the universal nature of personality are summarized in Śri Isopanisad, the most confidential of the 106 [the exact number is open to discussion] Upanisads.”  This would direct the focus of what I will study and write until the time comes that I can do no more. 

CASTING THE SEED

I love growing annual flowers.  It is not only their display of beauty through the season and the joy of gardening—there is an important life message as well.  The annual plant comes to the time when it must focus on producing the seed, seeing it to maturity to insure that life will carry on.  For me this time has come, and it is this spirit in which I have established this website.  What I have learned and what I have expressed should not be kept to myself and does not exist for my benefit alone.  If others can profit from these posts, or from the documents which I will later share, I would be honored if they can use them.

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