Sunday, February 21, 2010

Problem Solving, Spring Cleaning and Meditation


We were in a sticky-wicket. The business wasn't going as planned, and an unanticipated barrier arose which threatened to ruin everything. My colleague and team leader was about to surrender, and so we prepared. Then, when the 'night seemed darkest,' my colleague emailed me: Laura, I've been cleaning -- I think I understand and have a plan to overcome the problem. And so it began: a glimmer of hope, a solution, a 'rabbit-out-of-a hat.'

I am not surprised the beginning of the solution came while my colleague was scouring his bathtub. I, too, have found contemplation and meditation in the repetitive time consuming tasks of cleaning. Other activities conducive to problem solving for me have been gardening, writing responses to discovery in litigation and prayer.

The simple repetitive tasks that require some thinking, that also result in some satisfying achievement stirs the soul and the mind to solve problems. I think Camus' interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus captures some of this idea.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Sisyphus was a very crafty king who defied the gods and tried to elude death. Sisyphus is condemned for eternity to roll a rock up a hill, but he is cursed, for when he reaches the summit, the rock will roll to the bottom again. Albert Camus' famous essay discussing the myth rejects the futility and desperation of the sentence, but instead find contentment in the work itself. The essay concludes, "The struggle itself...is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

In my view, Sisyphus achieved his goal, but knew he had to perform it again and again. This left him free for more noble thoughtful pursuits. My mundane parallel is cleaning: you achieve which is satisfying, but you know you have to do it again and again. This leaves your mind free to not worry about the task at hand, but rather solve deeper more complicated puzzles through contemplation and meditation.

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