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Mr Mojo Risin

by Mark Peres

May 8,2009

On a recent trip to Anaheim, California, accompanying college students at a marketing, management and entrepreneurship convention, I had a few hours to myself. I had already taken in Disneyland (‘the happiest place on earth,’ and it was much fun), the cavernous, slick bar/lounge of the Anaheim Hilton Hotel where the NFL draft was playing into the evening (panthers at the bar beside cougars), and the local concentration of shops and restaurants (at least one of which I had never seen before). I avoided the hot tub where dozens of collegians managed to squeeze in and became best friends forever for a night (or so I heard). Restless for purpose and anxious for something true to me, I called a cab and asked the driver to take me to the nearest bookstore. 

My hope for a small locally-owned place with quirky titles was dashed as my cabdriver dropped me off at a huge Borders at an aging, sun-bleached outdoor mall. But all was not lost. Ideas are ideas. Once inside among the shelves, I knew I could lose an afternoon. 

With several cross-currents in play, I found my way to book after book (art, anatomy, history, superhero graphic novels), taking many, returning a few, building a pile, reducing them down, and finally I was left with two: Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, and The Vigorous Mind by Ingrid Cummings. 

I had not read Frankl’s work since my own days in college. I was told then that it was a masterpiece, and I believed it; not having lived enough to declare it so myself. I remember that it rang true to me then, but all these years later I couldn’t have told you why. Standing there in Anaheim, as a professor with an interest in the choices students make, and reflective of turns in my own journey, I was drawn to read what Frankl had to say about authenticity and fulfillment. 

In Part I, he told the story of laboring in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, where his parents, brother and pregnant wife perished, and how he rewrote a lost manuscript on bits of scrap paper to redeem the suffering. In Part II, he explained how our search for meaning is our primary motivation in life; not secondary to the satiation of instinctual drives. We are fulfilled in purpose; and existential frustration is often a sign of health: a desire for meaning in one’s life – knowing one’s why to live that allows one to bear any how. Meaning ultimately comes in self-transcendence – being responsible (not in one’s psyche, but in the world) to something, or someone, other than oneself, by creating, doing, experiencing, or encountering with the attention and intention of love. 

Ingrid Cummings is a first-time author whose work is newly published this year. In The Vigorous Mind, she argues that over-specialization and intense career focus has led to mental malnourishment, distress and ennui. Cummings advocates a return to generalist thinking, to a ‘cross-trained’ brain and wide-ranging personal activities, so that we may realize our full Renaissance capability. In Part I (even for a generalist it seems, things come in parts), she suggests a Japanese belief system of improvement called kaizen. Kaizen is a Zen-infused approach to actualization. Kaizen teaches small steps. It is the fine art of taking grand goals and approaching them mindfully in intimate increments. Laboring lovingly over time on any idea brings it into reality.

Cummings suggests that we identify interests – playing a blues guitar, learning a new language, becoming physically fit – and devoting a few minutes a few times a week to each task. The accumulation of patient ‘devotion’ over time brings mastery. In Part II, she advances seven imperatives (all editors knows any list of virtues come in seven): curiosity, individuality, selectivity, empathy, stretch, spirituality and courage. The book is a left brain/right brain, East/West manifesto on the liberally engaged mind and how enriching our life can be. 

I took a cab back to the hotel. I told one of my students that the bookstore had done me good – that I was feeling my Mojo. She said, “as in Austin Powers?” I said, “more like Jim Morrison.”

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