The 100 Club
In a far away land, a remarkable king of the largest empire was taking rounds of the gardens with his advisor. The king was tensed, unsure of whether his strategy to usurp the neighbouring land would be successful or not.
Strained and deep in discussion with the advisor, his eyes lay on the elated gardener – he looked perpetually happy, singing to his flowers all day long. His constant state of joy made the king wonder, almost with a tinge of jealousy, “How is this man, in spite of being so poor, so happy all the time?!” Sharing his dilemma out loud, he demanded of his advisor to find out the secret to the gardener’s blissful and peaceful mind. The advisor smiled and said, “My lord, I request you to come back tomorrow to the gardens to know the answer.”
Next day, the king woke with anticipation. He ate in a haste and hurried to see his advisor at the garden, who stood waiting with a gloating smile.
As the king dashed to the advisor, he caught a glimpse of his gardener and was shocked to a halt. For the first time, the gardener looked tense, worried, distracted! He wasn’t singing as usual to his flowers but was rather frantically pruning and snipping the weeds haphazardly. “What happened?!” The king exclaimed.
“The gardener has joined you in the 100 Club, my lord,” replied the advisor wittily. “You see,” he continued, “I placed a bag of 99 gold coins in the gardener’s cottage last night. Seeing the bag, the gardener was overjoyed. But as he counted and counted again, he realised that there were only 99 coins and not a complete 100.”
“Surely there has to be a mistake,” thought the agitated gardener on seeing the 99 coins. “Why would anyone leave me a bag of 99 coins and not a complete 100. Perhaps, a coin has fallen somewhere along the way. Or, did someone steal?!”
The advisor went on to explain, “My lord, when the gardener didn’t have the gold coins, he was not attached to anything, any object or any goals. He simply did what he loved doing best – gardening – and continued doing that with joy and sincerity, without any expectations. But as soon as he received all this wealth, he got sucked into the 100 Club trap, i.e. the ‘attachment’ Club. This filled his mind with questions and concerns and doubts, thus distracting him from the task that he actually loved doing so much.”
I wish I knew this fable when I used to find it particularly difficult to concentrate on my writing assignments. Every single day, I would diligently go to my favourite cafe, of course pre-COVID, walk-up to my usual spot, order my beloved smooth cappuccino, open my MacBook and begin to write. And yet, in spite of following this lengthy routine at the same time everyday, I would find myself unable to focus – at all! My mind would be distracted by my long to-do list. I would be filled with anxiety, reprimanding myself for not doing what my mind would brand as tougher and more important tasks than the one that I had taken in hand. I would be overwhelmed by the mountain of goals that I had obsessively planned and replanned and that I saw ahead of me with a daunting feeling that I was just at the start. I would, in essence, be overcome with thoughts of expectations, judgement and obsessive planning by my frenzied mind.
The book Deep Work by Cal Newport would have helped if the challenge was merely learning how to focus the mind. It shows you how to set aside time and create an environment that aids getting into a deep state of concentration. But what if, I had the perfect to-do list broken down into achievable tasks alongside a pragmatic schedule, the perfect work environment, such as a peaceful cafe in my case, the perfect routine, a disciplined Pomodoro routine of working, and zero distractions, i.e. all email and social media notifications switched off and phone locked up somewhere out of my reach and yet, I was unable to focus my mind on the task?!
I felt that.
It was only through learning to quiet my fuzzy mind with the help of meditation that I was able to distance myself from the real issue. I realised that my true hurdle to getting into a state of focused work was my attachment to goals, my attachment to what my mind perceived as success, and my attachment to the belief that things had to happen a certain way. Rather than surrendering to the process, I let the goals set by my fickle mind that is so easily swayed by norms of society, guide me and pull me in different directions. And, rather than losing myself in the task of writing that I actually enjoyed doing, I let the perceptions of work, systems and conventional ways of doing things overwhelm me. All this because I was second guessing myself. I kept questioning if I was indeed doing what I meant to be doing. And, would following this path bring me success?
In the Indian Vedic Literature, Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna speaks of the idea of Svadharma, which means that every single one of us has a path to follow that is in our highest good. We must do our utmost to walk that path. If, because of responsibilities we are unable to fully surrender to it, then we must not beat ourselves for it. But if we choose to walk a path other than the path of our calling for reasons of immediate and grosser fulfilment such as material gratification, we are setting us up for a life of constant insecurity, fear, self doubt, worry and anxiety, which ultimately takes the peace away from the mind, resulting is lower levels of focus.
The only way to regain that peace of mind is through the realisation that some paths are not meant for us. It is through the acceptance that there is already a path for you that is in your highest good. This path may or may not fulfil your dreams of material gratification or goals as you have set, as influenced by current society, but that path will give you something subtle, that is deeper and more everlasting than anything else. It will bring you inner peace, security, happiness and joy. And then, when you embark on this path with a newfound sense of inner knowing, you will find yourself in a state of deep, unwavering concentration and focus, which is actually the byproduct of your peaceful state of being.
For me, the key to calming my frenzied mind and thus, flowing into a state of unwavering concentration lies in knowing that I’m on the path that is for my highest good and then, fully surrendering to that path. Centering myself on this universality is what actually grounds me in reality and helps me enjoy my work without a distracting mind. Adyashanti puts it beautifully, “we all have our dance to dance in life and the whole point is to dance it all the way out.” I would add to that, don’t try to choreograph that dance to a T, don’t judge the dance and don’t question the dance, just surrender to the dance and that is where the magic will happen. Yes, it is easier said than done. But till you don’t devote at least a part of you, and a portion of your time, energy and effort to your path, you will have to put up with a nagging feeling that will translate into a distracting, overthinking mind.
For you, on the other hand, the key to completing tasks with the highest levels of attention may lie in Steven Kotler’s bio-technology solution to hack the mind. Steven Kotler, a NewYork Times bestseller and author of multiple articles on achieving high-performance, describes flow state as the optimal state of consciousness, one where we feel our best and where we perform our best. Pushing the boundaries of human performance, he advocates the use of biotechnology to drive attention, which helps you get in the flow state.
Interestingly, Steven mentions, “In flow state, we are not using more of our brain, but we are actually using less of our brain.” Be it with the use of bio-technology hacks or through connecting with our higher self, the key to completing tasks at hand with ease is to quiet our frenzied mind. Once you feel that sense of inner peace, you will, without additional effort, have more control over your mind, thus allowing you to focus more and fluidly dance through your to-do list.
I write about self growth and living from your true self in my blog called Source-Driven. Do give it a read and subscribe for a weekly dose of positive pick-me-up.