Zen & the Art of Work – review part 3

This is the third part of an in-depth review of Kourosh Dini’s “Zen & the Art of Work”, which you can find out more about here.


This video chapter, the third one of Kourosh Dini's epic "Zen & the Art of Work" is aptly titled "Taking a step". After having settled on what project to be with in the previous step, he now takes us through how to make progress on that specific chosen activity.

What is this video chapter all about

Although, when I consider it more, the chapter is perhaps not about that … it may even actually be about exactly the opposite. Let me explain.

Kourosh stresses that in order to “do” the work, to evolve the work, you need to be with the work. You need to spend time on it, with the intent to spend time, not with the intent to realise something. Within that frame of reference, this chapter is really all about about being with work you have deliberately chosen to work on. It is not just a strong call for single tasking, it explains at an almost subconscious level why multi tasking does not work. Kourosh explains why it is essential that you make the effort of doing nothing else but the work.

My interpretation of this chapter

One of the first things Kourosh stresses is that the step forward is an option, not an explicit goal. He guides us towards an approach where there is no pressure on the end product or on the process. It is fundamentally, and that is very zen, about being (in) this very moment. About being fully aware, and in order to do that, neither expectations (future) or preconceptions (past) should get in the way. Because these create pressures that may undermine the quality of the result.

Reading Alan Watts

When I was listening to Kourosh explaining this, it felt like I was reading Alan Watts’ “Wisdom of insecurity” in which he states pretty much the same thing. One other parallel between Watts’ work and what Kourosh makes clear in this chapter is that most of us are not automatically ready to do this. Whenever we start a project, we have expectations. We even define expectations. I for one have always worked on projects where the end was clear in my mind, applying some of the key learnings of the late Stephen Covey: begin with the end in mind.

Pressure is not the answer

The point of course is that you need to be clear on what a project is all about. But during the execution, you need to allow for optimal work conditions to arise. These will not come about whenever you put the process under pressure. Again a concept that may be alien to most of us: our multi-tasking addicted selves are focused on putting as much pressure on processes as we can, in order for these to function more effectively and more efficiently.

Permission to do nothing

There is of course a problem with that: your expectations and the related pressures will determine what you get out of the session. They will act as a filter that will ultimately hinder you in seeing all work possibilities. We need to dare to let the white space, the blank space act. We need to let our minds fill in what is empty, instead of consciously steering towards a predetermined result which may eventually turn out to be a lot less relevant than we initially thought it would be. This is of course an issue in an environment where “horror vacui” reigns supreme. We are afraid of doing nothing or of appearing to do nothing.

Kourosh helps us in granting ourselves the permission to do nothing during a work session and thus allowing a lot to happen. Doing this, being strong enough to allow this to occur is fundamentally all about trust in self, about confidence in that our minds will come up with extremely creative solutions to problems we may have approached from multiple angles and preconceived notions before.

Doing nothing is not about relinquishing control … on the contrary

It may appear that Kourosh teaches us to grant ourselves some slack. And it is, just not in the traditional sense of spacing out and doing nothing. He teaches us to create an environment in which our self dares to come out and play. But that play happens in a controlled setting, not in a context which is out of control.

We are in control, also about ending such a session in which we may take a step. Ending a session should be a clear decision, a decision taken after we have allowed all relevant play to occur, a settled decision to end, just like the start of the work. Flow is about a controlled step forward.

What I took away from this chapter

This chapter was a validation of something I’ve been aware of, but was never able to formulate adequately: it pays to take the time to be here, now. To be the present moment. Things may occur that you never would have anticipated. This is not about eureka moments all the time. This is about kindlings of ideas starting to grow on fertile ground which we provide.

No matter how much we would like to, there are no shortcuts. You just need to be there, and create the environment for creativity, for flow to occur. Getting to that point can become a process, as Kourosh describes. The outcome … that is entirely up to you.