Cheap turpentine encyclopedia

“When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.”

As a founder, speaking to other startup founders is always special. After "make mistakes and learn from them", if I were to pick one other source of consistently accurate and useful advice it would be from fellow founders. 

The advice a fellow founder can give you is qualitatively different from what get from books or experts who are not on the frontline, with a few exceptions. It does not stand on ceremony or discuss mere "strategy", and is centered around logistics. It is very direct, containing empirical evidence that may be counter-intuitive. It keeps in mind that you do not have unlimited time, resources, or knowledge. 

Founders (or ex-founders) are able to give you the benefit of their learnings in a way nobody else can. 

Mind monkey, will horse

At first, meditation uncovered how little I could control the things that my mind prioritized for me and then went on to expose the brittle nature of focus itself. 

When seen through the prism of the Buddhist  "mind monkey, will horse" metaphor, the value of meditation is a lot more tangible. Loosely, this metaphor compares the mind to a fickle, fidgety, easily-distracted yet pure-hearted monkey. The monkey is at the reins of a horse, who himself is powerful but also impulsive and prone to poor judgment. 

Taking a step back — these are metaphors for the mind and the will respectively. In this model, trying to focus is a lot like trying to ride the horse (or "steer the will") except you cannot directly grab the horse by the reins. Instead, you have to relay all instructions to the horse via the monkey. 

The monkey has great cognitive flexibility (the ability to switch between thinking about two different things) which is a superpower that gets in the way of the horse's knack for picking a direction and sticking to it without much thought. While meditating, I'd often try and brute force my way to getting my mind to settle. Either by trying hard to think about "nothing" or by partaking in breathing rituals that worked, but only partially. 

On understanding that we are tied to reality by delicate and taut strings of consciousness, I learned not to fight the nature of consciousness. By trying to change the shape of a string under tension, we only put it in an unnatural and unsustainable position which is bound to fail. 

Instead, going back to the mind-monkey-will-horse metaphor, as opposed to trying to "cure" the monkey's superpowers or scare him into obedience—make friends with the monkey. The mind monkey is scared, optimistic, raw, and sometimes naive, but the will (the horse) only listens to him. Without restraint, the monkey causes mayhem (procrastination, lack of productivity, etc) and the horse causes havoc (haste, poorly thought-out decisions, etc). The two (the mind/will or the monkey/horse) have their shortcomings but must work together if one is to get anywhere. 

Meditation was never the same when I sought to get closer to the "mind monkey", first through playful deception and then through a deep understanding of how to incentivize him to be productive, empathize with him, and ultimately trust him to make (roughly) responsible decisions on how to commandeer the spirit.