“Gaining enlightenment is an accident. Spiritual practice simply makes us accident-prone.” – Suzuki Roshi
There’s a famous story in the world of Zen Buddhism where the Zen master says to the student “Enlightenment is an accident.”
To this the student stands up and yells in frustration, “Accident! You’re telling me that it’s all an accident?! If that’s the case why did you have me sitting in meditation for 10 hours a day, cutting the grass, cooking our food, and talking through all of our long discourses? If it’s all an accident, what’s the point?”
“To make you more accident prone.”
Ahhhhhhh. To make you more likely to have an accident. To set the conditions so that an “accident” becomes more likely to happen.
I love this story because it illustrates an important principle in life. That getting lucky takes practice.
I believe that you could take out the word “enlightenment” and replace it with anything really.
“Gaining success is an accident…”
“Getting lucky is an accident…”
“Falling in love is an accident…”
While the final outcome genuinely is an accident that we have little control over, we can put ourselves in the right environment and create the right conditions to make something happen.
Hard work doesn’t guarantee success. It helps, but it won’t get you all the way.
Being a “good catch” doesn’t guarantee love. It helps, but it won’t get you all the way.
Having good genetics doesn’t guarantee an athletic career. It helps but…you get the point.
If you want to do anything worthwhile in life, you have to put in the reps. You have to put in the consistent effort of daily committed practice over an extended period of time.
Again, these reps don’t guarantee that you will reach your goals. You very well may fall short.
But by showing up every day, you make it more likely to happen. By intentionally cultivating the circumstances that lead to success, we can reverse engineer it.
I believe that this mindset also takes the pressure off of us. When you realize that everything is an accident, you let go and surrender to the process. You begin to care less whether it takes 2, 5, 10, 25 years…as long as you get there.
It detaches us from the ups and downs of each small experiment that we run. Gives us perspective on our perceived “setbacks”, and how they are actually moving us at an accelerated pace.
One of my favorite examples of this is the 1/10 rule – Tim Ferriss discusses how he needs to write 9 pages of garbage in order to get 1 page of gold. 9 crappy chapters to get 1 chapter of gold. 9 blog posts to have 1 that explodes. etc. etc.
Every time you put in 10 reps, you make the 1 accident more likely to happen. Instead of hoping that every shot you take is a home run, you instead can say you want to try something 10 times.
It’s a mindset that has helped me in various areas of my life.
When I sit down to meditate I know that 1 out of every 10 a strange experience might happen, but I don’t expect it every time.
When I write a blog post I expect that 9 will flop and then I’ll have one that explodes.
When I jump on the Slackline I aim for 1 solid run of 5+ minutes instead of setting that expectation on every run.
I can now relax into each rep. Enjoy it. Detach from the results and do it for the fun of the process instead of hoping to achieve some result out of it.
For example, if you want to be successful in work create the pre-existing conditions. Network, meet people, put in the hours, learn new skills, cultivate your craft.
If you want to fall in love create the pre-existing conditions. Go out and meet people. Expose yourself. Go on dates. Strike up conversations with random people. Explore your inner world.
If you want to do anything, think about the conditions that lead to success. In order to accomplish _____, what are the things that might help me achieve that goal? Who should I talk to? Where can I go? What can I learn?
_________ is not guaranteed. There’s no exact formula. It’s a balance that is unique to each individual. You can do everything right and still not reach it. Or you can do everything wrong and still reach it.
The importance is in the repetitions. Making yourself more prone to accident. Putting in the daily work of understanding the pre-requisites to accidents.
We can make ourselves accident prone by intentionally creating conditions to making accidents happen.
Now get out there and cause some accidents!
Also published on Medium.