July 6, 2019

The Buddhist view on Comfort Zones.


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When the writing on the wall is all too familiar, it is time for a change.

A friend recently told me to get an iPhone, not because it is the best phone, but because I have been using an Android forever. He is a professor of Buddhist philosophy, so I knew he wasn’t talking about phones, but saying something about living life.

Our “comfort zone” can easily become a rut. People tend to like the “familiar,” but sticking with the familiar, makes us ill-prepared for the challenges life inevitably brings our way. The unexpected can intrude into even the most calculated person’s life, and the more calculated that person is, the less adept he is for dealing with change effectively.

Anyone can stagnate. Stagnation is not only for those who are leading “oh, so ordinary,” lives but for anyone who does not challenge their routine.

When I lived on Maui, I swam daily at Makena Beach for one hour, maybe a little more, up and back the stretch of beach. I did this for years until the dream-swim became something of a routine that I dragged myself through. Then, I met a fellow named Barry, and he moved a few stagnation blocks for me when he suggested we swim together.

Barry, like myself, had been swimming every day for years, but unlike myself, he always swam a different beach. Suddenly, swimming with sharks was a regular occurrence—something that only occurred at the old beach I swam at once.

Barry and I often swam with whales and dolphins, too, and I learned to interact with them. While we were both equally adept at swimming, Barry was the one that taught me how to enjoy it—and get over my fear.

I’m getting back to the phone. I still have my Android, an ancient Samsung Note 4, but my next phone will be the latest iPhone because a challenge is a good thing. Because waste isn’t a good thing, I will use my clunker phone until it goes on strike and stops working.

In the meantime, I’m challenging myself to use my Note 4 in different ways, for example, keeping it removed from my presence when not necessary. Finding new creative uses, apps, and avoiding frivolous ones. Turning it off when speaking with friends and so forth.

Still, I look forward to the challenge of an entirely new operating system and feeling clumsy as hell for a while until I master it.

Familiarity is the bane of true creativity. Getting good at something teases us into remaining within the context of whatever it is.

Many athletes now recognize this and cross train to become more malleable athletes. In other words, rather than be great in one sport, they prefer being good at many. There is something virtuous in being humbled.

There are many lessons to learn from what we do, and recognizing when we need to pack up those lessons and adapt them to a new context is a challenge—knowing when to quit while ahead isn’t easy and has fooled many gamblers into staying in the game too long. When the writing on the wall becomes too familiar, and we have a precognition of what is up next, we better move on to something else.

When the great computer scientist Seymore Cray, became stumped over a problem while designing mainframes, he didn’t study more, but went into his backyard and dug a hole. I should say a tunnel, for when he passed away a tunnel big enough to drive a vehicle through was found in his backyard, supported by wooden beams every six feet.

When we are up against a wall in life, the solution is often far removed from what we are doing. The door through the wall may be in some unexpected place, and we should find it and enjoy the treasure hunt. We cannot expect it to be here or there. It is probably in a place that we would least expect.

It is inspiring to think that a shovel and dirt enabled Cray to disentangle himself completely from the task at hand, and consequently, solve it.

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