Highest Goal

Lisa Kimball sent an invitation yesterday for a new Virtual Chautauqua event, September 15 (now) though the 30th, with author and teacher Michael Ray. I”m finding his book, Highest Goal, to be both brilliant and helpful. Some of my favorite bits from Jim Collins’ foreword:

…the story of a businessman who visited a Zen master seeking enlightenment. They sat down for tea, the businessman blabbering on about all the issues and challenges in his life, and his quest for achievement and direction and meaning and purpose and . . . the master said nothing, pouring tea. With the cup full, the master kept pouring, the tea flowing into the saucer, onto the table, and finally into the man’s lap.

“Hey! What are you doing?” yelped the businessman, leaping up as the scalding hot water seeped into his pants.

“Your cup is too full,” said the master. “You add and add and add and add and add and add to your life. There is no room for enlightenment until you empty your cup.”

…I’ve come to believe that there are two approaches to life. The first, followed by most, is the “paint by numbers kit” approach to life. You do what other people say. You follow a well-traveled path. You stay within the lines. And you end up with a nice, pretty—and unimaginative—picture. The second, followed by few, is to start with a blank canvas and try to paint a masterpiece. It is a riskier path, a harder path, a path filled with ambiguity and creative choice. But it is the only way to make your life itself a creative work of art. To paint a masterpiece requires a concept, a place to begin, a guiding context in the absence of the comforting numbers and lines in the premade kit. That guiding frame of reference is the highest goal, and bringing it into your life with the help of Michael’s discoveries is what this book is all about.

…A core process—both in the course and in this book—is the idea of “live-with” heuristics. These are mantras of living that you implement for a period of time (usually a week or more), and reflect on the experience. At Stanford, we were challenged with such livewith assignments as: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Surrender. Pay Attention! Ask Dumb Questions. Destroy Judgment, Create Curiosity. Don’t Think About It. Be Ordinary. And the hardest livewith of all: Do Only What Is Easy, Effortless and Enjoyable.

You can join, or just read through, the two-week conversation with Michael at the VirtualChautauqua.