Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.

—Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

By coincidence, yesterday I saw two complementary and intriguing notions.

First, from Alain de Botton:

We are continuously challenged to discover new works of culture—and, in the process, we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds. We leave a movie theater vowing to reconsider our lives in the light of a film’s values. Yet by the following evening, our experience is well on the way to dissolution, like so much of what once impressed us: the ruins of Ephesus, the view from Mount Sinai, the feelings after finishing Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich.

The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.

Second, via Paul B. Kennedy, is Mike Rowe’s TED Talk: 

It is pretty easy for lawyers, particularly litigators who must follow cases for years, to get caught up in thinking about their work, to alternate between thinking too much and thinking too little about each case.

For most lawyers, who are paid by the hour, thinking about cases is the bulk of what they’re paid to do, regardless of the merits or utility of the thoughts themselves, and regardless of the case’s outcome. Mark Bennett explains the problem:

I do my best work when I’m thinking about something else; I solve my clients’ toughest problems by putting them in the back of my mind and letting the answers come to me while I’m thinking about something non-law-related. I don’t imagine that many clients would be thrilled to be billed 12 hours for motorcycle maintenance and dog walks, even though it was the act of using a different part of my brain that allowed me to find the keys to their problems.

Law, unlike genius, isn’t 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. It’s more perspiration than inspiration, but all the elbow grease and shoe leather in the world won’t make a bad argument into a good one.

I generally find time-spent-thinking inverse to the quality of the thoughts produced. In some cases, I obsess about specific issues for dozens or hundreds of hours, including at home and while half-asleep, with little or no success. In others, I need only review the materials and let them sit in the back of my mind for a few hours or days before the obvious solution becomes apparent the next time I pick up the file.

But lawyers aren’t allowed the luxury of philosophers to think as fits their schedule. They are presented a problem and asked to deliver a solution. The trick isn’t figuring out the solutions themselves; the trick to getting the thoughts out of your mind so that your mind can do the work on its own.

Maybe, to clear our heads, we should all schedule regular trips out to the sheep farm. I’ll let Mike Rowe explain why.