Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
Dogen, the founder of the Soto school of Zen in Japan, once said:

Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.

Or if you'd like a more pop culture reference, take this meme, which roughly follows the same arc as the quote above:
This is called the "bell curve meme" and although it has several ways in which you can use it, this is my favorite one: pointing out the almost glaring simplicity of some things in life, in this case, creating a product.

I've mulled over this idea for a long time, piecing together observations and thoughts from different domains and applications and I've come to realize that it's a universal framework on which we can map the evolution of our skills, ideas or philosophies about life.

Although it may seem that the amateur and the expert (represented at the extreme ends) have the same mindset, they differ in one critical detail: the expert has gone through the middle stage of the bell curve, and has come the other side with a polished understanding of his domain. The simplicity of the "amateur" differs from the one of the "master." The novice's ideas are unripe and naïve, while the master's are enriched with insight.

The stages could be characterized as such:
  1. First simplicity - Belonging to the beginner: the naïve thinking of the "uninitiated," beginner mind, fresh perspective, not cluttered with thoughts and presuppositions
  2. Complexity - Belonging to the expert: realizing that matters are a bit more elaborate than we first thought
  3. Second Simplicity - Belonging to the master: return to the basics, after distilling all the information learned in the first 2 phases, but with more wisdom
As Nassim Nicholas Taleb is known for saying, things always become obvious after the fact. We first need to go through the stages of uncertainty and iteration, before we can settle on a refined way of doing things, that perfectly captures the essence of the activity.

This framework or unfolding of events can be found in many instances:
  • when writing a book
  • when trying to build muscle
  • when building an app
  • when designing a house
  • even when relating to the whole life itself
So how can we apply this in our lives?

First, I think we should acknowledge that each of the three phases are valid and valuable in their own way. The innocence of the beginner regarding a subject can propel him or her into exploring more about it, unaware of the myriad of complexities that lie ahead. Then, we have the rich understanding of the expert, who can juggle multiple variables and think in 360°. Ultimately, there's the master, who embodies a more sophisticated simplicity, saturated with his or her experience. It's just that his or her wisdom lies in the ability to separate what is truly necessary versus what's superfluous. It's a returning to basics without the naïveté of the novice.

Then, we can take advantage of the specific phase we're in:
  • if you're a beginner, it's natural to embrace simplicity, learn from first principles and explore minimally viable ways to accomplish the desired result (like building an app or learning a new language); this stage is all about imperfect action.
  • if you're more knowledgeable (or even an expert), it's a good time to expand your understanding and go deep into the weeds; this stage is about honing your skill.
  • if you've reached the level of master*, you can let go of any aspirations and just enjoy the process (that isn't to say that you couldn't do that before), but now you're perhaps more free; there's nothing more to prove to anyone.
*master = I realize that this is a heavy duty word that can be simultaneously intimidating and pretentious. I define someone as a master when their skill matches their wisdom in a certain domain.

Timeless Content

You've been getting self-care all wrong
Chris Taylor | 6 minute read
If you're tired of reading fluff pieces on how to practice self-care, with advice consisting of cliches and platitudes, then you will enjoy this article on Mashable. It goes past the surface-level arguments and dives deep into the history of self-care and its inextricable link to political action. Self-care is also not about indulging in selfish acts, but a foundational ritual that catalyzes important activism in the world.

Picture of the Week

City Shapes (1922-23)
Author: Louis Lozowick (1892-1973)

Quote I'm Reflecting On

Essayist and risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb on going against the crowd:

It has been more profitable for us to bind together in the wrong direction than to be alone in the right one. Those who have followed the assertive idiot rather than the introspective wise person have passed us some of their genes. This is apparent from a social pathology: psychopaths rally followers.

Source: The Black Swan

Questions For You To Ponder

Can you find one area in your life where you've gone through the simplicity-complexity cycle? Or is there one to which you can apply it now?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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