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Excerpted from Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence Boldt. Copyright 1999 by Laurence Boldt. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"The problem-solving approach to life generates feelings of fear and anxiety."

Laurence Boldt,  
Zen and the Art of Making a Living

Part 4

An exclusive emphasis on facts limits creativity. While a hard-headed, nothing-but-the-facts approach is often touted as an objective or scientific approach to reality, modern physics understands the limitations and fallacy of this view. As physicist Werner Hiesenbierg put it, "the mere act of observing something changes the nature of the thing observed." This statement, called the uncertainty principle, means, in essence, that there is no objective reality we can discern with our senses. In our relationship to reality, a hard head is of less use than an open mind. The truly creative people, whether in science or art, would agree with Albert Einstein's assertion that "imagination is more important than knowledge" or that "the only really valuable thing is intuition." Intuitions, and not facts imaginations, and not data banks, are the beginnings of creations.

The problem-solving approach to life generates feelings of fear and anxiety. But, as Rollo May put it, "what the artist or creative scientist feels is not anxiety or fear; it is joy. The artist, at the moment of creating, does not experience gratification or satisfaction as one might at solving a problem but ... joy." He defines joy "the emotion that goes with heightened consciousness, the mood that accompanies the experience of actualizing one's own potentialities." This gets to the crux of it creating the joyous life or struggling from fear and powerlessness.

Since our problem-solving efforts are always tail-chasing and do not resolve, we soon tire of them and seek relief in escape. From a problem-solving approach, escape is what passes for joy. It is not the true joy of "heightened consciousness," but the limited pleasure of diminished awareness. Many social critics have pointed out the escapism of modern life and its many manifestations. There are the individual manifestations seen in narcissism, alcohol and drug abuse, compulsive consumption, and addiction to television and entertainments. There are the collective manifestations of war, environmental destruction, national debt, and the like. As long as we seek to defend against problems, we try to escape from them. As long as we view work as a means of solving problems, we "live for the weekends."

Escapism generates still more problems, which in turn we seek to defend against and ultimately to escape from. This is the vicious cycle of modern life. Of course, the tendency to escape from life is hardly a modern invention. (The Buddha gave his Four Noble Truths over two thousand years ago as a strategy for creative living beyond escape.) Yet our modem world view encourages a problem-solving approach that leads inevitably to escapism.

Learning to approach life creatively is the challenge before us as individuals and as the human race. Man's innate creativity holds a powerful key to the transformation of reality. Lewis Mumford wrote, "Every transformation of man ... has rested on a new image of the cosmos and the nature of man." Indeed, these images are how we mark history into eras: The Classical Era, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Modern Age, etc. Our hostile-world, rational, problem-solving approach evolved over time into an image of the world, indeed of the universe, as a giant machine. The conception of the universe as a machine marks the Modern Age.

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