In times of reflection I sometimes turn to the Tao Te Ching (the book of The Way), written by Lao-Tzu, for guidance. Over these past several days my thinking has taken several synchronistic turns and I realize that the path I chose to walk several years ago is still the path I am on. It seems though that over the past 10 months I haven’t been walking the path, that I had rejected that which I had once embraced. But this morning I realized that I have just been taking a break, that I had only momentarily set my backpack aside to rest for a moment on the trail. And now I feel ready to continue on with a clearer sense of purpose and thought.

I opened the book of The Way and the passage I settled on was this:

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

And even as I reflect on these words I can feel the weight of my pack settle on my shoulders, hips and back, and it feels good and right.

(This translation of the Tao Te Ching was taken from Stephen Mitchell.)

My wife thinks I’m crazy. My friends shake their heads in bewilderment. Even the cats look at me funny.

Why?

Because I get up in the morning between 4:00 – 4:30am each day apart from the weekends when I generally get up between 5:30 – 6:00am.

Getting up at such a crazy hour for me is the best time of the day because nobody wants anything from you at 4 o’clock in the morning. The phone is not ringing. The kids are not fighting. The wife is not reminding me to do something I’ve forgotten to do around the house. Yes. 4 o’clock in the morning is a brilliant time. It’s “Clay” time. And it allows me to spend two to three hours reading, thinking, and/or writing.

I am not alone in this sentiment. George Berkeley, the English empiricist philosopher, proposed the same idea. He suggested that a person who wants to obtain self-knowledge should “spend regularly and constantly two or three hours of the morning in study and retirement.” He emphasized that spending two or three hours out of 24 in private is minimal.

In a letter he wrote to John Percival. He wrote: “there is a person whose acquaintance and conversation I do earnestly recommend unto you as a thing of greatest advantage: you will be surprised when I tell you it is yourself.”

If you want to obtain self-knowledge, you have to spend time with yourself. It’s not enough to be good at perceiving and imaging and making observations about the world. To be of value to others, you must turn inward.

Now I know I have some friends who are terrified with the thought of spending time with themselves, but that is another story. And I have another lot of friends who are quick to say that they don’t have time to spend on themselves. Well to that group I say try getting up an hour or two earlier each day. You’ll be amazed at how much you get done for yourself and how connected you’ll feel. Once I’ve had my “Clay” time then I don’t mind what the busy world has in store for me for the rest of the day.

The Merovingian
said it best when he said: “How can you ever have time, if never make time?”

Many months have pasted since my last trip to the hills.  My work schedule hasn’t been that permissible this year.  It’s kind of a hard sell to the wife to be away all week only to come home unpack your suitcase and then pack your rucksack and head back out the door.  That doesn’t tend to go down well.  But as it happens, the project I’ve been working on has come to an end, so I now have some time to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

I spent the day out in the peak district with a couple of mates.  We decided we’d do a 12 mile hike to take in some of the various scenery the peak district has to offer, from dales to Jurassic Park style river valleys.  We couldn’t have asked for a better day – blue sky, sun, very warm with a cooling breeze.  And because we left early, we had the trails to ourselves for most of the day.

Now I am back home.  My muscles ache and my bones are tired.  I have missed the outdoors and the hills and mountains specifically.  I feel inspired to do more hiking and get back into my outdoor routine.

It amazes me the tiny towns literary festivals tend to pop up in.  I spent the afternoon at the Woodstock Literary Festival.  Woodstock, of course, conjures up in my mind thoughts of the Woodstock of 1960’s fame where the iconic images of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll revolution were born.  The Woodstock I found myself in today is a small town near Oxford.

I only came to the festival to sit in on one event.  Over the past several weeks, I have rekindled my interest in online poker.  I’ve begun playing in the Saturday 14.15 (U.S. Time) poker tournament on PokerStars.com. Some way or another, I came across the name of Victoria Coren.  A trip to Google sent me over to her website.  Her beauty, words, and poker prowess immediately caught my attention.  A few more searches and I found her on YouTube. I ended up liking her enough to buy both of her books – Once More with Feeling (which is about her attempts to make the world’s greatest porn movie) and her latest book, For Richer or For Poorer which is her poker memoir and the reason for her being at the Woodstock litfest). When I read on her blog that she was going to be here, I thought, ah, a chance to meet her in the flesh, so to speak.

I was shocked when I walked into her presentation room at the Oxfordshire Museum. I had imagined that she would have drawn a younger crowd.  I guess because of her affiliation with online poker, so when I walked into a room full of distinguished looking older men and women, I had to raise a MR Spoke eyebrow of interest.  But then again, I was just reading in the press about Russia’s decision to reclassify poker as gambling because as the Russian government put, poker seems to draw in the very old.

Victoria’s talk was captivating.  She told many personal stories, stories I’m sure must appear in her book.  Although she did not look as glamorous in person as she does on the screen and in print, she came across as very down to earth, someone who would be easy to make friends with.  I also picked up a few poker tips from her, which I hope will help my game.

I felt a bit grumpy afterward, so I stopped at a motorway service station to have a cup of coffee and people watch.  You see the strangest of characters in the service stations.  It was a good 30 min distraction before heading back home.

Create some space right here right now that you can step into right now and be who you want to be and do what that person would be doing right now…let go of any mind made pressures or obstacles…

Who would you be?  And what would you be doing?

Who you are is who you are right now.  And in accordance with Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence thought experiment, would you be happy to repeat this moment for all of eternity?

Marc and Angel of Hack Life fame, have created a new website called Makes Me Think.  If you are looking for a change in perspective about life, it’s worth a visit.  Most of the entries, a sampling of which I’ve included below, really make you go hmmm.

“Today, at my grandmother’s funeral, I met the guy that volunteered as her fulltime caretaker during the last few months of her life. He knew more about her than I ever did. And as he shared my grandmother’s stories, I couldn’t help but wish that I had been there to experience some of these stories with her.”

“Today, my boss told me ‘If you wouldn’t stake your life on the quality of your work, you shouldn’t even bother.’”

“Today, I dropped my mom off at work. She had a government job for 18 years, but lost it due to health issues and now works as a fork lift driver 12 hours a day. At home she takes care of her elderly mother. I asked her, “Where do you find the strength to keep going?” She hugged me and responded, ‘My family’.”

“Today, I saw a man in a business suit sleeping at a table in Starbucks with several ‘help wanted’ ads spread out in front of him.”

“Today, I overheard one of my two coworkers teasing the other for riding the bus to work and choosing not to drive his car. I later overheard a coworker dealing with a credit collector who was asking for a payment. It wasn’t the one who rode the bus.”

“Today, after being insulted by a guy I work with, I walked out of the office with a heavy heart only to find a note card on my car’s windshield. It was from my ex-boyfriend of 2 years who is simply my best friend now. It said, “Would it be okay if I sorta had a little crush on you forever?” ”

As a writer, I have often come up against the brick wall of creativity.  And no matter how hard I bang my head against it, sometimes I just can’t seem to get the words to flow.  I watched a great clip on creativity on the website, Closer to the Truth.  At the end of the segment, the host Robert Lawrence Kuhn lays out some simple thoughts for getting the creative juices flowing, and here they are:

1.    Don’t get to smart to quickly:  expert opinions stall the creative engine.  Often times it’s our own voice that we need to listen to first.
2.    Cogitate.
3.    Meditate.
4.    Brood.
5.    Agonize.
6.    Oddly enough uncertainty, ambiguity, and doubt are all friends of the creative process.
7.    Lose yourself.
8.    Feel the flow.
9.    Suffer with humor to get closer to truth

I came up with a few more to help me with my own battle against stalled creativity:

1.    Eradicate fear.
2.    Let go of attachment to outcome.
3.    Don’t look for assurance before beginning.

Watch the full episode here.