Posts Tagged ‘manga’

Flexible Focus #75: Tofu Wars and the Art of Abundance

by William Reed on October 27, 2011

Tofu Wars: Battle of the Bean Curd

In the current crisis people in Japan are actually fighting over Tofu, one of Japan’s premier soybean products, in what might be called the Battle of the Bean Curd.

A search in Japanese for the words 豆腐激安 (tofu gekiyasu, or drastically discounted tofu) brings up nearly 350,000 sites!

Tofu comes in various price ranges, a small block retailing for 160 yen might be a typical price, but some supermarkets are offering Tofu blocks for as low as 29 yen.

Since they are estimated to be purchasing the product for around 36 yen wholesale, this is clearly a loss leader, designed to draw customers into the store.

And it works, according to interviews featured on a recent newscast, as shoppers get more and more price conscious to save money wherever they can. This is great news for consumers, but it is killing the specialist Tofu producers, who depend on this single product and its variations for their livelihood.

Tofu makers pride themselves on maintaining quality, and also producing original tofu products through variations on a theme.

But the price difference between the Tofu specialty shops, and the supermarkets who are almost giving it away, is so significant that it has decimated the specialty shops. In some areas, the number of specialty shops surviving is down to one in ten from its former level, a disaster by any measure.

The character above is the word for Abundance (豊 yutaka), and interestingly is made of two radicals, the upper radical meaning melody (曲) and the lower radical meaning bean (豆).

It may take a stretch of the imagination to connect melodious beans to abundance, wealth, and richness, but it is a happy image, and abundance is different from the scarcity mentality which leads to winner-takes-all competition.

If you live in Japan, it might be worth visiting a Tofu Specialty Shop, and ask them the difference that makes their products better than the discounted Tofu slabs sold at supermarkets.

There is even a Japan Tofu Association which is dedicated to educating people about how to enjoy and benefit from this healthy food.

Supermarkets need to attract customers too, but do they need to focus on a single product as a loss leader, to the point where they decimate the neighborhood specialty shops?

  • Why not rotate among different products to reduce the damage, and still provide consumers with an incentive to shop for bargains?
  • Specialty shops for their part, would do well to educate consumers online about what makes their products special, and worth the difference in price.
  • Can you think of other examples where superstores are flattening local producers because of a similar price war?
  • As a consumer, do you think about the consequences of your purchases when you fill your cart with low-priced items?

Food for thought.

Enough for everybody

The interesting thing about scarcity is that it surfaces the underlying mentality that was there all the time. Scarcity can bring out patience and the spirit of community, as it did following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that shook Japan at the roots; or it can trigger riots and panic in the spirit of every man for himself.

This is not something that you cultivate at the last minute, but rather the result of the culture, or the cultivation that precedes the occurrence. It is in fact the fruits of the underlying mentality, not the outward conditions that we see. Abundance vs Scarcity. Enough for everybody, or get yours while you can.

We see this played out in the world’s economies. It is precisely the scarcity mentality which causes even the very wealthy to play a stingy and greedy game. And it is also the abundance mentality which enables truly wealthy people to be generous and leave a legacy that helps others. The former suffer from tunnel vision (either/or), while the latter see the world in full surround (both/and). A broad field of vision is characteristic of flexible focus, and is the best way we can be open to creative solutions that help everyone, rather than just the self-serving.

Use the Mandala Chart to open your mind to the mentality of abundance, and demonstrate what you know through what you do.

Flexible Focus #73: The Power of Ritual!

by William Reed on October 13, 2011

Ritual Enhances Engagment

There is an energy crisis that rarely makes the front page, yet affects you each and every day. That is the internal energy crisis that comes from lack of full engagement in what you do.

Energy is a combination of spirit and vigor, which determines how much you enjoy your work, contributes to your staying power, and improves your performance. The crisis occurs when you do not have enough energy to meet and surpass expectations.

If your energy is not up to the task, then you are likely to perform poorly or put it off until later, neither way a productive strategy. Continuing to work like this will lead to burnout, or put you in the cue for the exit door.

If you feel out of synch like this, it is easy to blame the boss, complain about your colleagues, or decide that you deserve better. And perhaps you do. The problem is that entitlement has never been a ticket to empowerment.

The superior strategy is to navigate with full engagement, because its energy empowers you to enjoy and accomplish more, and actually increases your options on the path.

One of the most useful ways to generate energy is the power of ritual, developing a personal power routine. Institutionalized ritual is nothing new. It has been practiced for centuries as a means of cultivating energy in groups. It has also proved effective in enhancing performance in sports, and many top athletes stick to their rituals religiously.

In the martial arts and calligraphy, the power of ritual is self-evident. Training itself is a ritual, and the cumulative power of practice leads to improvement at all levels.

Part of the power of ritual is in repetition, where intentional effort gradually turns into automatic ability. The power of ritual is the power of habit. We are ruled by our habits, good and bad, as Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) said:

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt, until they are too strong to be broken.”

There is a Japanese proverb which advises to sit 3 years on a stone (Ishi no ue ni mo san nen). The implication is that it takes 3 years of effort, engagement, or sometimes endurance for something to take effect. Although this seems counter-intuitive in a world brimming with promises of instant results, patience and perseverance were once considered to be the secret to success.

In fact, if you engage in a regular ritual, you can break bad habits and form good ones in a matter of weeks or months, not years. But you need to start, and you need to stay with it. A good place to start is with a morning power ritual, which you design yourself and make a personal priority to practice.

Have fun designing a ritual that works for you. Your rituals must have flexibility, or they will not last. My personal rituals are phrased in such a way that they are easy to practice and allow for variety. For example, to spend some time on my feet every day can be achieved by walking, running, Aikido, or dance. I commit to daily work on my Mandala Diary, Idea Marathon, and create at least one sketch-poem a day.

Food rituals are important too. You cannot deny the effect of food on your physical energy. Choose fresh ingredients, chew your food well, don’t overeat. Take responsibility in what you eat, so you don’t have to suffer for it later in life.

The coolest thing that I have discovered about ritual is that the more you engage with it, the more it transforms from a routine into a journey of discovery. The 30 to 90 minutes that you invest at the start of your day will set the tone for the entire day, help you stay focused and strong, and build momentum that makes you more productive.

Develop Your Talent

If you have an interest in improving your skills in any area, particularly performance, you owe it to yourself to read The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle.

Written by an award-winning sports journalist who turned his own talents toward investigating the process of talent itself, what it is, how it develops, what is universal. The subtitle offers the promise: unlocking the secret of skill in math, art, sport, and just about anything else.

He breaks the code into 3 essential parts: Deep Practice, Ignition (Passion), and Master Coaching, and ties it together with a biological key that could revolutionize the entire field of learning and teaching. In a word: Myelin, the insulating sheath of protein that forms protective layers around the axons of neurons.

The author’s metaphor for a well-formed myelin sheath is extra bandwidth, formed through repetition and particularly deep practice, which increases the speed, accuracy, and frequency of nerve impulses which result in the performance of a particular skill.

He traveled around the world to visit the “talent hotbeds,” places which produced an extraordinary number of world class performers in music or sports, and came back with some surprising findings. Regardless of how different the language, the culture, or the field of play, there were surprising consistencies which the author describes as the Talent Code. Slow, deliberate mindful practice over thousands of hours made all the difference.

This is actually the power of navigating your way steadily over a period of years to achieve outstanding results. Whether your goal is to boost your energy, achieve something you want, or develop your talent, you can only benefit by employing the power of ritual!

Note by Will Reed

A few weeks ago, Roger sent me an email telling me he was adapting my One-Year Planning MandalaChart, described in Flexible Focus #64: The One-Year Plan, into a writing and marketing tool for authors. I immediately asked Roger to share his ideas as an ActiveGarage guest post, and he agreed. His post appears below. I think you’ll agree it’s a great example of “tinkering” with an idea and putting it to work in new ways.

Why author’s need an Author MandalaChart


I’ve been following, and learning from, William Reed for most of the last decade. I tend to listen when he speaks. He’s introduced me to numerous creativity ideas and resources, including mind mapping.

I’ve been reading, and saving, his Flexible Focus series since it began. But, I knew that Will had really outdone himself when I saw his One-Year Plan MandalaChart.

The One-Year Plan MandalaChart resonated with me because it addressed several of the most important challenges authors face when planning, writing, promoting, and profiting from a brand-building book: book, including:

  • There’s more to book publishing success than simply “writing.” It’s not enough to provide a clearly and concisely written advice; the advice has to be relevant, and the book has to be visible to its intended readers.
  • Publishing success involves simultaneously addressing multiple tasks. Publishing is not a linear process. Success requires addressing multiple issues at the same time. For example, how authors intend to profit from their book should influence their choice of publishing options.
  • Success requires goals, priorities, and deadlines. In a time-strapped world, it’s more important than ever that goals and tasks be accompanied with deadlines. Without deadlines, days, weeks, months, and years can go by without progress, resulting in a terrible waste of opportunities..

Modeled on, and inspired by, Will’s One-Year Plan MandalaChart, my Author’s MandalaChart provides a visual way to create goals, prioritize tasks, and measure your progress as you move forward.

Author’s MandalaChart matrix

The starting point was to adapt the 8 topics Will addressed in his original One-Year Plan MandalaChart to the specific needs of authors.

Will’s original matrix was addressed the following spheres, or activities, of an individual’s life:

  1. Personal
  2. Financial
  3. Study
  4. Business
  5. Home
  6. Society
  7. Health
  8. Leisure

When adapting the One-Year Plan to my Author’s MandalaChart, I included the following activity areas that authors must address:


  1. Goals. Goals involves answering questions like, Why are you writing a book? and How do you intend to profit from your book? As publishing has changed during the past few years, it’s become more and more important for authors to view their books as new business ventures. Books have to generate income beyond that which comes from book sales. 
  2. Readers. Reader topics include answering questions like Who are your ideal readers?, Why should they read your book?, What do they need to know?, and How will they benefit from your book? Nonfiction publishing success isn’t about how much you know; success is determined by offering the information that your ideal readers need to know.
  3. Competition. Books are not self-contained islands; new books must offer something better than what’s already available. Success requires identifying existing books and analyzing their pros and cons, so you can answer the question, What’s the “missing book” my ideal readers are waiting for?
  4. Message. From analyzing your goals, readers, and competition, you should be able to position your book and organize your ideas into chapters and subtopics within chapters. Your book proposal and press releases must be able to quickly answer questions like, What’s your book’s big idea? and What will readers take away from your book?  
  5. Format. Information can be communicated in lots of different ways, for example, step-by-step procedurals, case studies, personal experiences, question and answer, etc. You can also publish a big book or a small book. Format questions include, How much of a book do you need to write? and How can you simplify your book so you can get it into your reader’s hands as soon as possible?
  6. Awareness. Books are not magnetic, they don’t attract readers like a magnet attracts steel filings. You have to help your reader find you, answering questions like, How can I get my book reviewed? and How can I share my ideas while writing my book?
  7. Demand. Awareness has to be converted into demand, demand must stimulate purchases. Questions to address include, How can I stimulate pre-orders for my book? How can I sell as many books as possible when it’s available? and Where can I sell my book outside ofnormal bookstore channels?
  8. Profit. Finally, authors must leverage books into back-end information products or coaching, consulting, or paid speaking and presenting events. Questions include, How can I help readers implement my ideas? and What kind of marketing materials are speaker bureaus and event planners looking for?

Setting and attracting goals

The most important part of Will’s original One-Year Plan MandalaChart was the way it encouraged users to address each topic in matrix from four perspectives:

  • Current status. Where are we now? What are the strengths and weaknesses of our current position? What are the forces we have to deal with?
  • By December. What are our goals for the remainder of the calendar year? What do we want to accomplish by the end of the year?
  • Image for the end of a year. How can we visually communicate our accomplishments after 12 months?
  • Steps to reach this. What do we have to do to achieve our December and our One-Year goals?

In my version, I made a few simple changes, as follows:

  • Situation. (the same)
  • 90-days. This addresses the fact that “By December” implied an August starting date.
  • 1-year. Rather than a visual image, I felt a description of accomplishments during the past 12 months would be most helpful.
  • Steps to success. (Simple wording change.)

Author’s MandalaChart benefits

Writing and self-publishing involve a curious blend of creativity and self-discipline. Success requires a flexible perspective that combines long-term vision and consistent action in 8 different activity areas.

Although all projects are a work in progress, I feel the Author’s MandalaChart achieves its primary goal of helping authors avoid the common myopia of focusing entirely on writing and makes it easy to maintain a “big picture” view that encourages action in all 8 areas. The Author’s MandalaChart makes it easy to describe short term and long-goals in each area.

In addition, it creates an engaging visual to display on your wall as well as share with co-authors, agents, editors, and—when appropriate—your blog and social market community.

Conclusion

In addition to building on Will Reed’s already strong framework and adapting it for a specific vertical market, the Author’s MandalaChart shows the importance of constantly being on the lookout for ideas and tools that you can put to use in new ways.

The power of idea-sharing venues like the ActiveGarage is that it creates a community of achievers, constantly looking for ways to do a better job to address the challenges we all face, including the need to get more done in less time.

Editor’s NoteRoger C. Parker 37-part ActiveGarage Author’s Journey series offers practical advice for writing a book. He invites you to visit Published & Profitable and download a free proof of his do-it-yourself guide to developmental editing, 99 Questions to Ask Before You Write or Self-Publlish a Brand-building Book

Flexible Focus #71: The 3rd Mandala Chart Festival 2011

by William Reed on September 29, 2011

A day of dedication

The 3rd Annual MANDALA CHART FESTIVAL was held in Tokyo on Saturday 24 November 2011. With over 100 attendees, participants enjoyed presentations, recognition of contest winners, a experts panel discussion, introduction of new Mandala products, and a party to meet and make new friends. The Festival Keynote was delivered  by the founder of the Mandala Chart method, Matsumura Yasuo, with presentation from one of the directors of the Mandala Chart Association, a presentation on how to study Peter Drucker’s philosophy with the Mandala Chart, as well as celebration of success stories using the Mandala Chart method.

This was the 3rd year for the festival to be held, and it was with some reservations with the mood in the wake of the March 11 Earthquake and Tsunami disaster. However, the Association decided to hold the festival because of the importance of Mandala Chart education and applications to Japanese society, and to support those who are already dedicated to its practice.

Participants each received a full color copy of the 41 Mandala Chart Contest entries, from which 13 prizes were awarded for excellence and originality, as well as for effectiveness in applications ranging from business management to personal growth. Each entry was in the form of an A-Chart or a B-Chart, featured on the right hand page opposite an explanation of the Chart on the facing page. The explanation itself was in the format of an A-Chart, with the Theme in the center, surrounded by A) Profile, B) Overview, C) Application, D) Benefits, E) Recommended for, F) Why now?, G) Future Projects, and H) In a Word.

Serving as one of the directors of the Mandala Chart Association, I also made an entry in Japanese, the English translation of which appeared in an earlier article in this series, Flexible Focus #63: SAMURAI WALK.

There were also announcements of new Mandala Chart Products, including the annual 2012 Mandala Business Diary, as well as inserts that are created in the same format, Magic Questions for Coaching by Matsuda Hiromi, Wish List by Takezawa Shingō, and 22 Steps to Tarot by Ōhara Sumika, offering people imaginative ways of further engaging in the process.

 

But the best part of participating in the festival was the opportunity to meet and greet like-minded people, and to discover the wide range of creative and passionate applications which they have developed for the Mandala Chart in their business and personal lives.

Vision for the future

Of course the festival and all of its publications were conducted in Japanese. Part of my role is to take this message outside of Japan to the English-speaking world, both through this column The Art of Flexible Focus, and through upcoming publications and applications in English, to be released within the 2011 calendar year.

The vision for the future is to make the Mandala Chart Method widely available in analog and digital form, so that people may practice and benefit from it wherever they be. It would be impossible to translate the volume of information available in Japanese, although there is much to learn from it in digested form. It is also important to create templates and guides to this marvelous process in English, so that people outside of Japan can begin making their own discoveries and applications.

Perhaps you have seen a juggler in a park juggling 3 to 5 balls without dropping one? It is exceedingly difficult even for a professional juggler to go beyond this number, and yet with the Mandala Chart Method it is possible to juggle dozens, if not hundreds of items in 8 areas of life. Like juggling, there is a knack to this which you can pick up from someone who has mastered it. It requires practice and the inner motivation to engage with it, and with life itself at a deeper level. Peter Drucker described it like a unity of thought and action, in which you can learn from effective action and reflection in an ongoing pursuit of perfection.

The Mandala Chart Festival was enormously stimulating as an opportunity to engage with so many people effectively applying the Mandala Chart in so many walks of life, some for many years. What I found most inspiring was to see how well people have customized their Mandala Business Diaries to their own style of thinking and acting, down to the content, color and style of entries, creating a kind of magic book in which they could reflect on their past and project their future. It was a wonderful reminder of how important it is to fully engage your senses and your body in the process of realizing your dreams, and the added inspiration and assistance you get when you share your dreams with others.

As we approach a New Year in 2012 the world is reeling from uncertainty. With the world in flux we need more than ever to learn the art of flexible focus, and how to achieve balance in the 8 areas of life. The Mandala Chart method is an excellent way to get your bearings, and to develop these very skills. While this column will wind to an end within the 2011 calendar year, it will transform into new products and strategies, soon to be announced. We hope that it will bring you many blessings and abundance.

Flexible Focus #70: The Carp of Creativity

by William Reed on September 22, 2011

If you have ever been in Japan in early May then you will remember how the landscape is covered with carp streamer kites (koinobori), suspended on high poles and streaming in the wind. These are to celebrate Children’s Day (Boy’s Day) on May 5th, and are flown in hopes that boys will grow up strong and healthy. This national holiday follows the Girl’s Day Japanese Doll Festival on March 3rd. The symbolism of the koinobori is based on the legend that the carp swims against the stream, climbs a waterfall, and becomes a dragon. It is a powerful picture of the power of swimming against the stream, the very opposite of going with the flow.

Author Steven Pressfield wrote a book called The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, which describes a process by which writers, artists, musicians, and anyone engaged in a creative endeavor can overcome the internal and external resistance which comes of swimming upstream to create something new. In some ways, the stream acts and filters out all of those who lack the resolve to press through and create something new. After all, it is much easier to simply allow yourself to be swept along with whatever else goes downstream. As Pressfield says, it takes a special mindset to overcome resistance and achieve the unlived life within.

You need something other than sheer will power to help you navigate against the stream. You need fins and a strong tail to weave your way against the current and overcome gravity. When it comes to publishing and presenting, the Mandala Chart can give you an added advantage in this process. There are 8 key words that can help you see it through.

  • Passion. This is the driving force, the tail of the carp. Without passion your project hasn’t any hope of meeting or overcoming resistance. People without passion are mentally and physically set adrift in the stream, and subject to its whimsical nature. However, if you know what you want and are driven to achieve it, you have what is called a “fighting chance”. If you don’t yet know what you want, look deeper to see what drives you.
  • Perspective. This is the eye of the carp, which provides a sense of direction and helps stay the course. Any creative person must have a vision, a point of view, a perspective. The creative task of the artists is to give shape to what he or she has seen, and thereby transport others to it. The witnessing precedes the rendering. If you lack a clear perspective, you can deepen what you have by exploring the perspectives which other artists have rendered, and then search for your own.
  • Preparation. These are the muscle fibers of the carp which strengthen from use. It is the daily search and struggle which builds creative staying power. Because creativity rarely proceeds in straight lines, it is the muscular zig zag which finesses the current and allows the carp to swim against it. It is like this in the creative process, which is constantly in search of ways to weave its way back to the source. If you lack ideas and inspiration, you can more easily find it by keeping a daily log of your ideas of insights, which will develop your creative muscles and keep your thoughts in flow.
  • Pressure. This the current of resistance against which creative people must swim to create anything new. It comes in all kinds of forms physical and mental, and is the undoing of all who give into its subtle force. The current is actually not strong enough to stop you, if you manage to master the creative process. But if you yield to it and surrender your creative spirit, it can cause you to procrastinate, compromise, or even give up. If you feel you are weakening to the pressure, think of the resistance as your ally and don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Think of it instead as the rope ladder which will help you to climb higher.
  • Platform. This is the riverbed, which supports the stream and provides all kinds of interesting shapes and variations in the current. It is in these that you can find opportunities to express your ideas and develop your creativity. It is also the media through which you publish and present. Today there are many options and formats for a personal platform, either in print or online. You may start with a blog or Facebook account, or you may wish to create works in tangible form that you can share with others. A platform is a place where people can find you, experience and enjoy your work, as well as comment on it. Using such platforms to talk about what you had for lunch will only interest a very small audience. Why not use it as a means of practicing and improving the way you express ideas, the way you capture them in titles, the way you express them in visual or auditory form?
  • Productivity. These are your writing tools and techniques, the fins of the carp that steer and shape your path. Every artist, every writer, every musician, and every creative person has discovered ways to be productive, to give more fidelity to their message, to express the finer nuances. If you follow or befriend a creative person, you will find that they are often more than happy to share their secrets, as others have done for them. To be productive is to produce, to continuously create and give shape to your ideas and insights. It is an essential part of the process, and that which gives you momentum for the big leaps ahead.
  • Presentation. This is the carp climbing the waterfall, the thrilling leap that transcends the limits thought impossible. It is the goal of swimming upstream, and represents the performance, the big stage, the formation that precedes the transformation. It is not a single event, because truly creative people continue this process as long as they live, and leave behind a creative legacy that in some cases is treasured for generations to come. Not everyone can be a Picasso, but each person can achieve something of creative value, if you overcome resistance and bring to life that which is inside struggling to come out.
  • Payoff. The character for Carp 鯉 consists of two radicals, that of fish 魚 and that meaning home or place of origin 里. In a sense the payoff for the Carp is returning to its original form, freedom achieved after persistent creative efforts to overcome resistance, to climb the waterfall, and to transform into a Dragon. For many artists, this is enough, although they may and should also be able to earn a living, gain recognition, and help spark the creative spirit in others through their work.

As a reminder of the elements of the creative process, you can download here a Mandala Chart entitled The Carp of Creativity. Whatever your media or message, a wonderful way to ensure your creative growth is to overcome resistance and find ways to publish and present your ideas and insights. When you awaken your creative spirit, you will find all kinds of resources and resourceful people come out to support you on your path. In time the resistance you felt in front of you seems to be replaced by a counter current pushing from behind which drives you forward and keeps you in creative flow.

Flexible Focus #69: The 8 Frames of Life – Leisure

by William Reed on September 16, 2011

Children laugh between 300~400 times a day, whereas in adults the number drops to less than 20. What happened to them?!

According to Dr. Madan Kataria, Founder of the Laughter Yoga Movement, adults need a reason to laugh, whereas children laugh for laughter’s sake, as the sun shines and water flows. One characteristic of children’s laughter is that it always come with active play. Perhaps adults laugh little because by comparison they are relatively sedentary.

In Aikido training we frequently laugh as we throw and and are thrown on the mat. The humor is not like slapstick comedy, as when somebody slips on a banana peel. Nor is from an intellectual play on words, nor a twist in an improbable situation, nor is it disrespectful. The laughter in Aikido is similar to the laughter of child’s play. It simply can’t be helped.

Find something that you can engage with in such a way that it makes you laugh! In Japanese this kind of activity is known as a shumi (趣味)often translated as a hobby or pastime, but the etymology of the characters (走 (run) + 取 (take) = to go towards. 味 = to taste) show it to mean a joyful pursuit. To run after, to taste, and to enjoy!

Laughter is at the core of Leisure, the 8th Frame of Life in the Mandala Chart. No matter how much money you spend on leisure, without laughter it is all a grim business. Store bought pleasure doesn’t dig as deep, or last as long as the enjoyment that wells up from inside. Leisure should be rejuvenating, invigorating, delighting, yet when forced it can be draining, damaging, debauching.

Leisure is not just for weekends and holiday vacations. It is something that you can enjoy all year round, even as you work, if you approach it with the right spirit, that of enjoying what you do. Perhaps the 8th category could be renamed Laughter, the royal road to enjoyment.

Write Your Wish List

Takezawa Shingō, a fellow Director of the Mandala Chart Association, bestselling author and consultant of Ganbare Shachō, suggests a great list for Leisure in his booklet Mandala Wishlist (published in Japanese). With permission, here is a portion translated from the Leisure list to get you started.

  • To have a secret pleasure
  • See a favorite movie or play
  • Hold or participate in a special event
  • Engage in an adventure
  • Experience something that makes you excited
  • Challenge to get in the Guinness Book of Records
  • Enjoy a special food or drink
  • Visit a famous restaurant or cafe
  • Have a secret place, room, or library
  • Buy a special stone or accessory
  • A favorite brand of clothing, shoes, bag, or watch
  • Start a collection of favorite items
  • Visit foreign countries or tourist spots
  • Participate in festivals or historic spots
  • Stay at hot springs and famous inns
  • Visit art museums and exhibitions
  • Enjoy nature and natural scenery

You see that these range from passive to active, from free to expensive, but all suggest a sense of excitement, of something beyond the daily grind. Moreover, the Wish List is just to get you started. You may create your own, or adapt this one to see how accessible it might be.

These can also make great starting points for conversations with a friend or partner. Perhaps you have recently had such an experience that you would like to share. Or maybe it could become the focus of something that you could plan together. Give it a try, whether it ends up as an enjoyable conversation or as a real venture, you will definitely enjoy exploring the world of Leisure. Remember that it was intended to be one of the eight fields of life, and not to be ignored or overdone.

The Whole in the Part, the Part in the Whole

Another way to view the frame of Leisure is not as a separate compartment, but as an element of each and every frame. Can you find an element of Leisure in Health, Business, Finance, Home, Society, Personal, Study, and Leisure itself? The Mandala Chart makes no separation. Nor should we.

One way to do this is to allow an element of Play, and element of Fun in everything that you do. Don’t take yourself too seriously. A twinkle in your eye, a mouth that easily breaks into a smile, and a ready laugh in any situation can do wonders to keep spirits bright.

People will still drench you with their complaints, trying to cast a negative pall on life itself. Let it run off your back, and show them a better way. Ask yourself at the end of each encounter, was their an energy gain or an energy drain?

If your positive presence is not appreciated, find yourself some better company.

Flexible Focus #68: The Principle of Improvisation

by William Reed on September 8, 2011

The 8th Principle of the Mandala Chart is the Principle of Improvisation. This is the spirit of continuous improvement, the promise of ongoing renewal. Everyone encounters obstacles in life. How you face and overcome them is the key to your character, and ultimately to what you experience in life.

Why do people resist change, when it is the only constant in life? One reason is the fear of loss of control, even though the degree of control itself is dubious from the start. The Mandala Chart reminds us that our world is complexly constructed, and that it appears very differently depending on how we frame it. So many factors are beyond our direct control that the only real control that we may have is in how we look at and engage with it.

Rather than wrestling with things over which you have little or no control, why not master your mind through the Mandala?

The Juggler’s Art

The juggler maintains control by letting go. The only way to maintain the juggling pattern, or any other improvisation, is to continually catch and release. The moment you hold on to one of the balls, the others fall to the ground. Michael J. Gelb explores this process in an excellent book called, More Balls than Hands: Juggling Your Way to Success by Learning to Love Your Mistakes. Whereas a juggler may juggle 3 to 5 balls, in life we must juggle far more, at least in 8 major areas of life! As in juggling, it takes practice, and along the way we end up dropping more balls than we catch.

Whether you experience this process as fun or as frustrating depends on your attitude. The Mandala Chart gives you leverage over your attitude because it helps you reframe the process to see the big picture, the small detail, and the connectedness with flexible focus.

The illustration shows the characters for continuity (継続 keizoku), written in a stylized fashion, as the backdrop for the main theme, ongoing renewal. This is a very positive way to engage with the inevitable element of change. One of the best ways to gain energy for this lifelong marathon is to look at the big picture, something we have already done in the 100 Year Lifespan. The average person sweats the small stuff, makes mountains out of molehills. With flexible focus you are able to stay calm in a crisis, and to make molehills out of mountains.

Lessons from Jazz

In Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life, Wynton Marsalis defines the ability to improvise as the ability to make things up that could get you out of a tight spot. He grew up with great Jazz musicians, who told great stories and knew how to listen. What gives them this ability is a magic blend of perception, perspective, and participation. Jazz has been many things to many people, but it has defined the art of improvisation in music and modern life.

If you want to taste the power of Jazz then you should listen to the best selling Jazz album in history, Kind of Blue, a masterpiece of Jazz improvisation featuring Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb, all at the peak of their prowess. Bill Evans writes on the album jacket that Jazz improvisation is like Japanese ink painting, which forces the artist to be spontaneous, making erasures and changes impossible. You only get one take. Moreover, on this album one take was all that was needed. Each of the pieces was conceived by Miles Davis only hours before the recording, and none were rehearsed. Listen closely, and let it take you to higher heights, deeper depths, and broader bridges.

Getting There

A story has it that a violinist in New York City asked a cab driver, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The cabbie told him plainly, “Practice!

You don’t need to be a juggler or a musician to get the full meaning of the metaphor. But you do need to practice living, to practice the balancing act as long as you live. Put your thoughts on paper. See your life in perspective. The better you get, the more you appreciate the process.

Give it a try: 3 x 3 and your mind is free!

Flexible Focus #65: Shaping Your Future

by William Reed on August 11, 2011

What is the secret to a life of abundance, and is there a simple method for approaching it?

We have seen how abundance, as well as lack, can be experienced in each of the 8 fields of life: Health, Business, Finance, Home, Society, Personal, Learning, and Leisure. The Mandala Chart can help you gain perspective in each of these areas, as well as in how they enhance and complement each other. In effect, we tell our life story in the way in which we integrate and excel in each of these areas. Without a tool such as the Mandala Chart for viewing and balancing our life, it is all too easy to get caught up in the challenges of one or two areas, at the expense of the others. No wonder it takes a lifetime, maybe several, to get it right.

The first step is to seek continuous improvement, not perfection. Living is a dynamic process, and balance is achieved by continual adjustment, not holding on to a status quo. Think of how you keep your balance on a bicycle. At first you wobble, but gradually your adjustments become so smooth that the wobble seems to disappear. Balance is easier to maintain in motion than in standing still. After you learn to steer, the next question is where do you want to go?

What you see is what you get

A story tells of a family driving through a small town to which they were considering settling in. They passed a home where a local resident was sitting on the porch and asked him, “Say, what are the people like in this town?” He replied by asking back, “What were they like where you came from?” The traveler said that they were mean-spirited and closed-minded. The resident told them, “That’s pretty much the way they are here too.” And so the traveler moved on. Later another family passing through asked the resident the same question, and he asked them what the people were like where they came from. This family replied that they were such nice people, so friendly and helpful. He responded, “That’s pretty much the way they are here too.” And so the family settled there.

So much of our experience is conditioned by our expectations, that we sometimes mistake them for reality itself. The first step to leading a life of abundance starts with your mental outlook. The way our expectations condition our experience is known as the Pygmalion Effect. Pygmalion was a Greek sculptor from Cyprus who carved a statue of a woman from ivory, and fell in love with the sculpture. Through the graces of Venus, in time his adoration brought the statue to life. In educational psychology the Pygmalion Effect refers to how the teacher’s expectations can condition a child’s performance in school, and the teacher’s attitude has been proven in numerous studies to be a significant force.

Take a look at yourself as you could be

The same can be said for what we expect of ourselves, as has also been shown in studies where self-esteem and self-image can be the most significant determining factor in performance. This was discovered by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a cosmetic surgeon who found that self-image had a far more lasting and determining effect on a person’s appearance than the temporary changes rendered by plastic surgery. Dr. Maltz is considered the originator of self-image psychology, and his classic book Psycho-Cybernetics sold over 30 million copies since it was originally published in 1960. It was updated in 2002 in the author’s voice, but with more contemporary examples, in an edition called New Psycho-Cybernetics.

While self-image has a powerful determining effect on your performance, it is partially submerged in your subconscious mind, and its shadowy nature makes it difficult to grasp. This is why psychology approaches it indirectly through suggestion and affirmations. If we use positive language, that helps create positive expectations, and improves your self-image. Life is a canvas upon which we paint with our mind’s eye, and which we can modify by our speech and actions.

In addition to this, there is another step we can take to gain greater clarity and leverage in each of the 8 fields of life, using the Mandala Chart. It provides a useful structure for a diary, which might otherwise simply be a journal or personal record of impressions. It serves as a mirror, and doubles as a lens for flexible focus. It can put the past in perspective, and shape the future by setting your expectations in advance. It rescues the self-image from its shadowy existence, and puts your expectations in plain view. With this in mind you begin to change the way you make entries in your Mandala Chart. Instead of simply reporting on the way things are or were, you actually begin to sculpt them into the way things could be. This sets the Pygmalion Effect in motion, and accelerates the rate of positive change.

Therefore why not create images of beauty and abundance in your mind’s eye, awaken the sleeping statue, and see your dreams come to life?

Flexible Focus #64: The One Year Plan

by William Reed on August 4, 2011

The Mandala Chart can be used to help you focus on your priorities for the current year, regardless of how many months remain in it. Using a template adapted from the original developed by Matsumura Yasuo, the founder of the Mandala Chart method, you can get a picture of your status in the current month, where you want to be by December of the current year, draw an image representing the achievement of your goal, and write down specific steps you need to take to reach your goal. Moreover, you can do this for not just one, but for all 8 of the major fields of life, Health, Business, Finances, Home, Society, Personal, Study, and Leisure, all on a single sheet of paper.

The format for the template is shown in the illustration, but it should be copied and handwritten, preferably on B4 or A3 sized paper to give you room to write. The process is the same for each category. Write a brief description or list of points describing 1) Your current status, 2) Results by December, 3) A sketch or image for the end of the year, and 4) Steps you need to take to reach this

You may only need to do this once every quarter, but you should check your progress at the beginning of each month, and reflect on what you need to do to stay on track. This is far superior to a To Do List, because it takes into account the whole picture, the details, and how everything is connected.

Using a traditional linear To Do List puts you at risk of achieving one set of goals at the expense of another, succeeding in your job, only to ruin your health. Or you might set yourself an unrealistic task list, and end up giving up before you make progress on your truly significant goals. In other words, this format gives you perspective as well a focus, something not easy to achieve with traditional goal setting tools. You may also wish to set a theme for each of the 8 fields, a short phrase or key words which helps you focus on the big picture for that field.

Ideally you do this at the beginning of each year, but even if you start late in the calendar year you can still use it, though your focus may be on a more immediate set of objectives. It is still worthwhile, because it gives you practice in thinking in this way, and each year you will get better at it.

The image in Step 3 is quite important as well, because it gives you a visual anchor, a point of mental focus. It also breaks the monotony of pure text. When you create your One Year Template, be sure to leave enough room to list 5 to 8 phrases, as well as to illustrate your goal. You can write small, but you don’t want to feel cramped in when thinking about your future.

You might also score yourself in your current status on a scale of up to 100 points in each field, indicating where you stand over all, as well as where you need to focus your efforts and time. Once you complete the exercise, you will be ready to transfer your action steps to your Mandala Diary or Day Planner. This would also be a good place to store your One Year Plan, so that you can take it out and look at it from time to time.

Again the steps in filling out the template are:

  1. Take an assessment of your situation in the current month. Score yourself on a scale up to 100 points.
  2. Describe as specifically as you can what you would like your situation to be in December of the current year.
  3. Blend steps 1 and 2 into an image that represents achievement of your goal, and how you will feel.
  4. Write a specific action plan of what you need to do between now and then to make it happen.

Taking care of what is important in one area can make life easier in another. Likewise, neglecting one area can negatively affect another. When you experience this for yourself, you will better understand the principles in the Framework of Wisdom, such as the Principle of Interdependence, and other principles which we have covered in this series.

The more you appreciate how each area is connected, the better you will understand how success in one area can positively affect the others. This will alter your thinking, and improve your action steps to keep everything in balance. Taking action steps in one area which simultaneously contribute to other areas in your life is working smarter, rather than harder.

For most people it isn’t easy to get perspective on life. Nor is it easy to set goals, create a specific action plan, and stay motivated to take the action steps required. However, all of this becomes easier once you get it on paper, where you can see the big picture, focus on the details, and appreciate how each part is connected. The One Year Plan is one of many templates available for the Mandala Chart, and it is one of the best ways to make sure that you are attending to everything that is important, without losing sight of the whole.

Flexible Focus #62: Discipline your Thinking

by William Reed on July 21, 2011

Monkey Mind

One of the most delightful, and most confounding aspects of our mind is that it is undisciplined. The mind is so susceptible to distraction, so easily seduced by its surroundings, that this aspect of the mind is referred to in Zen as the monkey mind. While it is very much a part of our everyday experience, we rarely sit down to confront and discipline this creature of consciousness. Try sitting still for even 10 minutes without any purpose other than to sit, and you may come face to face with the monkey, who will try to distract, persuade, or plead with you to let it run free.

However, this freedom is an illusion, because the monkey is in fact bound and attached to anything and everything that comes along. One purpose of Zazen, or Zen meditation, is to discipline the mind so that you actually realize more by thinking less. This seems counter-intuitive when convention dictates that you have to think more to understand more, and do more to achieve more. However, you can set that concern aside by realizing that much of what we call thinking, is actually mental flotsam and jetsam, unoriginal and unproductive. It is worthwhile to spend some time each day freeing yourself from this by entering a deeper level of mindfulness.

The Roots of Zen

As you engage in the practice of Zen meditation, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of its roots. Many books have been written on the subject, but I particularly recommend starting with Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. This is a remarkable book and a perennial classic of Zen writings, including 101 parables of Chinese and Japanese Zen Masters over 5 centuries, the 13th century Gateless Gate collection of Zen Koans, the 12th century commentary on the Ten Ox Pictures depicting stages of awareness on the path to enlightenment, and a 4,000 year old teaching from India on Centering, which may be considered the roots of Zen meditation.

This was the book that got me started on Zen in my teenage years, and I still refer to it today as an ageless resource. On revisiting this book, I found such fresh inspiration in the Ten Ox Pictures that I reviewed the book in a six video series, adding my own commentary. These videos are posted on YouTube at:

Zen Flesh Zen Bones I

Ten Ox Pictures II-a (1~3)

Ten Ox Pictures II-b (4~5)

Ten Ox Pictures III-a (6~8)

Ten Ox Pictures III-b (9~10)

Zen Flesh Zen Bones Summary IV

Zen Flesh Zen Bones is available on Amazon.

The Practice of Zazen

Ultimately however, Zen is about practice. It is a place to be, not just to visit. It won’t do you much good if you dive into it, and then quit because you find it too difficult, or you give in to the monkey. Keep it simple, and practice in such a way that it easily becomes a part of your daily practice. Of course you will face hurdles, as people have over the centuries in reaching deeper levels of mindfulness.

An excellent invitation in how to practice Zazen is through Higanji’s Zazen Application, an iPhone App called Undo (雲堂, meaning Cloud Hall). The App is free and available in the iTunes Store, and explained on the Higan website at: http://budurl.com/adj5

There is also a video in English showing a simple and sustainable way to integrate Zazen practice into your daily life at: http://budurl.com/pr4d

Zen is described as a direct transmission beyond words. It can be experienced, but not adequately described. At the very least, you will find that 20 to 30 minutes of daily practice can be wonderfully refreshing, and will clear your mind of mental cobwebs.

The Circle of Ensō

A symbol used to express the process of enlightenment is called the Ensō, or form of a circle. The circle is painted with a brush, is actually the form of a circle rather than a perfect geometrical circle, and is only somewhat connected at the end of the stroke. These elements of imperfection suggest openness and discovery, which is organic rather than idealistic.

The circle represents the universe, and this brings us full circle, for Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle. Try drawing such circles yourself, on various surfaces, and using various materials. Even drawing the form of circle in the air with your finger can give you a sense for all that it includes.

The practice of Zazen is a discipline for mind and body, but one which joins them in a higher degree of freedom. As you develop deeper mindfulness, the monkey mind will become servant rather than master, and you will become the creator rather than the victim of circumstance.