The ZEN of Steve
Q : Steve, can you tell us how did you implement elements of ZEN in your life and work?
SJ: For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Q: Would you agree with Yamamoto Tsunetomo, who wrote the following words in Hagakure, the Book of Samurai: “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.”
SJ: Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Q: Tsunetomo also writes: “Every morning a warrior should recommit himself to death. In morning meditation, see yourself killed in various ways, such as being shredded by arrows, bullets, swords, and spears, being swept away by a tidal wave, burned by fire, struck by lightening, dieing in a earthquake, falling from a great height, or succumbing to overwhelming sickness”. Isn’t it a bit too heavy shadow to live under?
SJ: No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
Q: The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself?
SJ: Things don’t have to change the world to be important
Q: What is important?
SJ: Focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
Q: The beauty of Zen is also found in simplicity, tranquility and harmony. Meditation could be said to be the Art of Simplicity – simply sitting, simply breathing and simply being, says Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Is this all what is needed?
SJ: If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much. We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? So this is what we’ve chosen to do with our life.
Q: Not everybody can be so focused and single minded as you.
SJ: You’ve got to find what you love and that is true for works as it is for lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t find it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you’ve found it.
Q: It reminds me what ZEN master Dogen said: “If you can not find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?. Do you agree?
SJ: Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
Q. Simplicity, heart and intuition. Is this a base of your personal system?
SJ: The system is that there is no system. That doesn’t mean we don’t have process. Process makes you more efficient.
Q: Do you believe in linear progress based on process?
SJ: I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.
Q: How can you maintain such an attitude when everyone says that you failed?
SJ: You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Q: ZEN master Shunryu Suzuki said, that in Japan they use phrase shoshin, which means ”beginners mind”. The goal of practice is always to keep our beginners mind. Do you agree?
SJ: The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again — less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
Q: To be a beginner is the secret of all arts, but it seems to be against work based on skill and experience.
SJ: I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next. Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.