The power of saying ‘I don’t know’

There is much we don’t know about.  While we may know about our own lives and that of close family and friends, our area of work or what is happening near where we live, there is much going on that we don’t know about.  It is good to be curious, good to listen to others and good to learn about new things.  Recently I have become a convert to saying, ‘I don’t know’ after years of saying, ‘I know’.

The reason comes from a childhood incident when a teacher told me I was stupid because I confessed that I did not know the words to a Christmas carol by heart.  I was being truthful but was upset when this woman declared that I was stupid in front of all my classmates.  So I started saying ‘I know’ to everything and saying ‘Yes’ to everything.  Both are stupid reactions but how is a child to know?  I carried this shame and reaction in my heart for many decades although I had long left that school and teacher.  It is only now that I realise that saying ‘I know’ is actually stupid.  There is very little we know and most of what we know is of little importance. It is better to be humble and look at the world with new eyes of learning and gratitude.  It is also such a release. When you say, ‘I know’, you are also waiting to be found out that you actually don’t know. So less stressful!

It is also so powerful to say this because you open your heart to new experiences, to be able to listen and to gain knowledge.  Even if you find out later that you knew something, it still adds to your skill and knowledge to hear it from someone else.  Most people are keen to talk and tell you something.  So the ‘I don’t know, please tell me’ has actually increased my knowledge and I have made more friends by being able to listen.  It doesn’t sound unprofessional at all- in fact it makes you look more professional by wanting to listen and understand colleagues.  Social media wants you to look like an all-knowing clever (and barbed) quip-a-dozen personality.  But opting out of that restriction is always an improvement to one’s life!  Be simple, be ignorant- or to follow the quote beloved of Steve Jobs, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’.

Brain power

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This is a sketch I made of my son aged 4.  The drawing was made using my left hand- I am right handed.  Apart from the facial features, all the other lines were drawn continuously without lifting the pen.

Using your less dominant hand and drawing in a different style boosts your creativity. It also lets you look at the world differently.  All the ‘mistakes’ in the drawing lend it a special touch and bring a portrait to life, as seen by another side of your brain.

17 minutes

17 minutes are what is needed for your brain to completely focus on something or relax- our brain works in 17 minute cycles.  This summer, my sons and I went on 17 minute breaks during our trip to Venice to either pause and reflect on what we had seen or experienced or to take a ‘sketching break’.  This is one of my 17 minutes sketches from Murano-

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Tourists busy taking selfies, stopped to watch us sketching. In this harried world where photographing oneself is more important than observing things, they were perhaps surprised to see two boys (one in his late teens), sketching.  Bad moods and waiting times were happily passed by these moments.  Below is another one from Torcello, done while waiting for a boat to take us back to the hotel.  People were respectful and thoughtful.  One of them even started ‘crowd control’,  to make sure that I had a clear view- this without saying even one word!  How powerful is that?!

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My sketch book has been travelling with me and my children since then.  I think we have learnt a powerful lesson- that creativity is power!  You don’t have to sketch but you can write or even relax.  In the corporate world, people are taking 17 minutes breaks after working for 52 minutes (not sure where that comes from!).  Ted talks are also that length so that people focus.

The mirror

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How we see ourselves is very different from how others see us- this continually surprises me.  Do we really see ourselves as we are or see ourselves as powerless, ugly or even useless?  Or, do we see ourselves as powerful, beautiful and creative?

This week I have been down with several health problems to add to my chronic illness.  I have felt let down by the medical system which prescribes drugs without checking the effect on a patient with long term conditions.  And I have been angry and felt useless- unable to work.   I felt ugly too.  At times I sat and stared at the screen, or at a piece of paper without as much as typing or writing a single word.  To inspire myself, I wrote to a colleague who is struggling with cancer which seems to come back again and again.  She has to wear a ‘bag’ to drain liquids and go for chemotherapy at least once a week.  Yet to me, she looks lovely and elegant.  I asked to interview her about how she balances work and health and looks so fabulous. I thought this might inspire ( or even kick) me back into work.

My jaw dropped when she wrote back to me, ‘One of the things that I would love to talk to you about is how you balance being a high-achieving woman with your health issues.’ What, me?!  Was she really talking about me?  It took me some time for this to sink in.  I wanted to protest- ‘No that is not me, you’ve got it all wrong!’  Then it occurred to me that perhaps she might have thought the same way about herself when she got my email.  That she looked at me very differently from how I saw myself.  That we might be seeing mirror images of each other- each person thinking that the other was somehow better or more fortunate.  Yet we are both powerful, beautiful and creative.  That I had done for her what she had done for me.

So this is what I now do.  I keep a small pocket mirror near me and whenever I feel down, I look at my reflection say,  ‘You are powerful, beautiful and creative!’  This is very powerful and magical!  As Nichiren says, “When you bow to a mirror, the reflected image bows back”.

how to channel your creativity

I had heard a Tedx talk sometime back from Elizabeth Gilbert, the best selling author of ‘Eat Pray, love’ about ego and creativity.  After the runaway success of her first book, she had many doubts about herself and her creativity when her second book did not do so well.  In the end, she decided to remove her ego from the equation, and thought of herself instead as a channel of universal creativity and power.

When one starts to think about praise, failure, prizes or those sorts of external motivations in connection with creativity, one can become disheartened and fearful.  Today, while at a restaurant that keeps books for browsing, I discovered that Turner made 19,000 drawings in a lifetime of 76 years- a massive output.  He wasn’t thinking of fame or longevity when he was painting- he was only channelling a huge creative power and displaying it to the world.

Creativity is about overcoming the terrible barriers that not only ego and fear place before us but also of those that our unique life places before us.  An exhibition featuring new works by the American artist, Dale Chihuly, opened this week in London.  Dale works with glass but now is working with acrylic with great swirls of paint, displaying his inner spirit and resilience.  Dale is partially sighted, having lost one of his eyes in a car accident and also has a shoulder injury.  He lost his only brother in childhood and a year later, his father.  But he carried on searching for a way to express his creative power and found that with the medium of glass.  Dale describes his role as an artist as “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.” Below is one of his new works.

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These words from Dale really moved me and I share these with you all kindred creative spirits! You all have the access to the same power once you let go of the ego.

‘Somebody said that people become artists because they have a certain kind of energy to release.  That rings true of me. It must have an outlet. That is why I draw!’

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The power of No

We are living longer and there are more old people than there were before. However, our perception of a youthful culture is a vision distorted by advertising and media. Sometimes, one can look at these images and imagine that one can do anything. In fact you are even told that one can and should try to do everything even though one is older. I was looking at my photos of youth and compared them to what I look like now. Although I love myself- young and old and have no regrets about how I have lived my life, I definitely know that I have less energy than I had 20 years ago. My time has become very valuable and this is now the time for the most powerful word that I can use. Yesterday, I had stupidly made an arrangement for entertaining someone. I felt dreadfully tired. I know that 20 years ago, I would have gone to the opening of an envelope but now saying ‘No’ is the best thing I can do. So reluctantly I rang up and cancelled the arrangement after apologising. I realise that what I could do years ago is not the reality now and now the best word I can use for respecting myself and my body is a ‘No’.

Three easy ways of Brain training

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Summer is here and we feel quite lazy, looking forward to holidays and quality time.  But summer can be the ideal time to do brain training, along with physical training.  Here are three easy ways-

1. Use the hand that you don’t write with- so if you are right handed, use your left one to do tasks that you might do with your right, even writing.  This helps the brain to make new connections and think differently.

2. Learn another language- if you are travelling somewhere, try to learn and speak at least some of the words and phrases that you may hear.  Try to speak it too. Again, it has been shown that learning languages helps you become smarter.

3. Sleep more- Sleeping rejuvenates our brains and body.  It has not been found out exactly why we dream but some say that it helps to process our thoughts, questions and emotional issues.  You may find that you can work better with a short siesta of 20 minutes in the afternoon- many eminent scientists have used this technique.

three secrets of a successful micro-business

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As a self employed creative, I have been reading business books on creativity and business for many years.  Through these years I became aware that I did not wish to create a business empire but do what I do efficiently and productively; that I did not mean to mass produce but only produce something that was well designed and beautifully made; and not be a mad bad crazy person that creatives are thought to be but live a balanced, joyful and creative life.  I am sure that many of you also wish to live like that- we are not all Warren Buffet, Richard Branson or Bill Gates or even Steve Jobs (notice all are men which I am not!)

Most of the advice I read or listened to was not about small or micro- businesses- but about how to mass produce, how to make huge profits and how to influence widely.  There was not much advice if you just want to live a simple, creative, healthy and joyful life- following your heart- and making enough money to achieve all this.  I wanted to distill all the stuff I had read and listened to, in to some essential aspects which could apply equally to any scale of business.  What could I distill out of all that I had read and give back to you?  I found that essentially it boils down to three lives we lead- the contributive life,  the balanced life and the joyful life.

1. The contributive life:  This term was coined by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese educator and philosopher.  He said that our life should be about contributing to the whole of which we are en essential and creative part.  So if you are doing work that contributes to society, that work will be naturally meaningful and productive.  As part of cause and effect, you will find that your needs are satisfied in the most amazing ways- I have had people helping me out on things without asking for money because I helped them before.

The contributive life is an anti-dote to the monetary life.

2. The balanced life:  Contrary to what many people think, Yoga is not a series of stretching exercises or a type of mediation.  Yoga is about the balanced life- where you r health matters as much as anybody else’s, where you eat and sleep in moderation and where your work and personal lives balance.  This is the middle way- not extremes and our task is to find a middle way every day.  Sometimes, it may mean we do more work, sometimes it means we take more rest- everyday is a day of finding a balance for our physical needs and creativity.

The balanced life is our everyday practice of living.

3. The joyful life: Finally, if your work or business does not give joy to you, is not contributive or balanced, then let go of it.  Find something that tugs at your heart strings, pulls you towards it and asks you play the music of life.  If you are not smiling and forgetting the time, than it is not a work that you love.  For seven years, I was doing teaching that I thought was a contributive work but it was not a balanced life I was leading nor was it making me happy.  I finally left it and now I find myself doing similar work but on my own terms.  I have set up a charity for this and use my lectures, teaching and work to improve the lives of others.  The joy I feel out of this, is immeasurable and priceless.

Find your joy, follow your heart!

+ vs –

Joseph Conrad asked us to run towards something we love, rather than run away from something we hated.  The difference is very important for our life energy and direction.

Running away from negativity is a panic reaction- we simply run without knowing where we are going and mostly we end up being in the fire right from the frying pan.  Recently I had many people were asking me for help in resolving a negative situation created by someone else.  Although I had some interest in this and usually I would have jumped right in bursting with righteous anger and wanting ‘justice’, this I time I felt a different approach was needed.

I felt that rather than getting involved in denials, accusations and bad mouthing that others were in, it was more productive to be silent and just do something positive instead.  This has saved me from being implicated in slandering and negativity while I have continued to be engaged creatively and constructively.  I am sure this situation will resolve soon and I wish everyone happiness.  I have run to happiness and creativity myself and feel at peace.  I have not let the negativity of others affect my own creativity.  I feel I am doing good by being creative and peaceful.  This is my conviction.  Justice comes in different forms and not at the time when we may want to see it.  But it does come and we don’t have to spend our life energy all the time on dispensing ‘justice’ to others. We must trust that the universal law of cause and effect will work.  In the meanwhile, ‘Do good, be good and think good’ and spread positive energy ourselves.

I don’t remember where I got this from but this sums it up-

An important feature of conviction is that it’s for something, e.g., the wellbeing of loved ones, justice, fair treatment, or equality, while resentment (derived from feelings of certainty) is against something – mistreatment of loved ones, injustice, or unfairness. The distinction may seem subtle, but it’s crucial. Those who hate injustice want retribution and triumph, not fairness. They fantasize about punishment of their unjust opponents, who stir “justifiable” contempt.  Being for something creates positive feelings of interest, passion, or joy, which tend to improve health and relationships. 

The eight winds

In today’s world of selfies and instant fame, it is easy to be swayed into doing and saying things that might bring us into the lime light.  It may be easy not to listen our ‘gut feelings’.  Women have a stronger sense of intuition than men but only because women use it more and are in touch with their emotions.  Doe Zantamata says, “We ALL have intuition. Some of us have better hearing than others, some can see better, some can smell a hotdog a mile away. Some people have a naturally very strong sense of intuition, and some do not. But even the ones who do not but who train themselves to improve their sense of intuition will be better off than the natural ones who do no training at all.”

We always have the barometer of our sixth sense, our intuition, to help us make our judgements- this is the most powerful thing that we have.  However, we may forget to use it.  And like any other thing, ‘use it or lose it’ holds for intuition too.  We need to remind ourselves to use it when confronted by big things, even when everyone else is doing it.  I always remember the ‘Crazy ones’ video from Steve Jobs when I face decisions about what I need to do.  Watch it here (You will have to do cut and paste if the link does not work)-

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Recently I was asked to support something quite controversial.  Although the reasons behind this action were good and correct, I did not agree with the action suggested- I had another way of achieving the same goal, via peace and engagement and not through confrontation that this action wanted.  Now although I find myself heavily criticised for not supporting this action, I know that I have done the right thing.  Time may prove me right or wrong but for now, I am happy and proud that I followed my own voice, not of others.  I feel peaceful.  Peace comes from following our inner voice which tells us the right action to take for our humanity and our sense of natural connectivity to others.  If we followed our inner voice, I am sure there would be less violence and more good. We have inner strength and it is more important than ever to use it in order not to do things that don’t feel right to us.

This piece of advice given to a hot-headed samurai warrior by Nichiren in the 13th century is still relevant for us today- “Worthy persons deserve to be called so because they are not carried away by the eight winds: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honour, praise, censure, suffering and pleasure. They are neither elated by prosperity nor grieved by decline. The heavenly gods will surely protect one who is unbending before the eight winds.”