Clearing the fog from your orientation

George Weber developed an interesting talent:

“No one noticed. I’d go into a meeting with nothing prepared, no list of points in my head. I’d just sit there and wait to see what came up. And what came up when I opened my mouth were solutions to problems smarter, and more elegant than any I could have developed on my own.” Jeff Warren, The neuroscience of spiritual awakening.

In other words, actions flowing directly from orientation via the IG&C link. Fingerspitzengefühl. But he didn’t develop it in the usual way, via long hours of practice. Or perhaps I should say “just in the usual way” because he did have a Ph.D. and spent years working his way up the corporate ladder ending as head of R&D for a major manufacturing operation.

Weber combined that experience with an intense meditation practice that he began even before he got his Ph.D. Although he had no previous experience in meditation, an incident triggered a first awakening, a kensho, that was so wonderful that he spent the next 25 years trying to get the state to last. This experience is not uncommon and occasionally ends up in literature. Fans of Trevanian may recall his particularly vivid descriptions of Nicholai Hel’s mystical experiences in Shibumi.

Then one day, the chatter in his mind stopped, and he achieved what you saw in the opening quote.

Whether you’re into mystical spiritual experiences or not, it’s important to consider what Weber went through before he reached this level of intuitive competence:

  • It was an inward practice. He “practiced what is known in Vedic philosophy as ‘self-enquiry’ – a way of directing attention backwards into the center of the mind.”
  • He practiced for two hours every morning, plus sessions with his teachers and lots of yoga.
  • It took him 25 years.

You might object that Boyd recommends against trying to “determine the character or nature of a system from within that system.” He suggested that even attempting to do so will generate confusion and disorder.  My guess is that what made this work in Weber’s case was that the rest of the day, he was immersed in corporate life. In other words, lots of external focus. Same way you build race cars: Hours of work under the hood, followed by hours on the track, followed by more work on the car, etc.

This idea of “chatter in the mind” is ancient — the Buddha refers to the “monkey mind,” a description often used by yogis today.  In fact, the oldest known yoga texts state that its entire purpose is to still this chatter via an increasingly intense meditation practice. Another way to describe this is “eliminating the noise in your orientation.”  As an aside, the iconic poses we associate with yoga today came in much later.

You might expect that something this dramatic could be detected by imaging the brain, particularly with the new techniques we have today. Indeed it can, and the rest of the article describes some of this research.

The article does note that classical Buddhism doesn’t concentrate on stilling the flow of conscious thoughts as much as detaching from them. As the article puts it:

They just weren’t attached to their ruminations. One subject described watching his thoughts “flow by.” As Buddhists have long argued, you don’t need to eliminate the self-thinking process, you just need to change your relationship to it.

To get back to Boyd, this seems to be what the Zen samurai of Japan were describing in one of his favorite books, Thomas Cleary’s The Japanese Art of War. They insisted that warriors must “empty their minds” and so avoid attachment to passing thoughts that could distract them at precisely the wrong moment. They achieve “the mind that does not stick,” which might have been an inspiration for Boyd and why he added Behendigkeit or “mental agility” to his organizational climate.

Should you begin a yoga and meditation practice? Up to you. Modern medical technology is confirming their benefits, so you don’t need to belong to any particular religion. We should, though, give a nod to the ancient Indians who evolved these practices with no knowledge of the inner workings of the brain.

Although I can easily imagine Boyd in yoga’s Warrior I posture, there’s no evidence that I know of suggesting he ever indulged in yoga or meditation. When I visited him a few years before his death, he did talk about the long walks he was taking by himself on the trails near his apartment in Delray Beach. Maybe these served some of the same purpose for him.

 

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3 thoughts on “Clearing the fog from your orientation

    • Steve Jobs was another well-known practitioner of meditation. He followed the practice of the Soto Zen school, and here’s their advice on “chatter”:

      When various thoughts arise in your mind, do not become caught up by them or struggle with them; neither pursue nor try to escape from them. Just leave thoughts alone, allowing them to come up and go away freely. The essential thing in doing zazen is to awaken (kakusoku) from distraction and dullness, and return to the right posture moment by moment.

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