The Trick

Somebody asked me today how I’ve been managing to write a blog entry every day, and I started to answer by describing my favorite moment in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. And then I realized that it was one of those key moments of the sort I was describing yesterday, a moment that encapsulates the essence of the entire story.

It occurs near the beginning, before T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole in the film) has gone off to don Arab clothes, endure unimaginable hardships, lead a bloody revolution and transform the political landscape of the Middle East.

He’s still a young man back in England, and one of his fellow students is fascinated by a trick Lawrence does with a match. The trick is simple: Lawrence holds the match between his thumb and forefinger and lets it burn down completely. The other student, full of bluff and swagger, insists on trying the trick, and succeeds only in burning his hand and dropping the match. Whereupon the other student asks what the bloody trick is. Lawrence calmly replies: “The trick is not to mind it.”

And that’s pretty much the key to getting anything done, isn’t it? Don’t even engage with the possibility that you might not do it, and it gets done. In the scheme of things, posting to a blog every day is a pretty easy one. 🙂

Something along these lines happened when I was working on my doctoral dissertation. I have a vague memory of intense bleary-eyed effort and catching catnaps under the desk for months at a time. But because, for some mysterious reason, I never entertained the possibility that I might not complete the Ph.D., it all pretty much just happened, without a real feeling of effort.

Have you ever had that sense of utter inevitability, of getting something done by simply refusing to mind it?

2 thoughts on “The Trick”

  1. Not by refusing to mind it–but by refusing to not mind it.

    I know, it sounds like a koan….

    What I’m getting at is that whether or not I minded it, I got it done because it needed to get done and I sort of absorbed and repelled the minding at the same time in order to get it done…

  2. Well, not that convinced about that trick … I have 3 hours left to prepare two graduate lectures and here I am, blogging 😉 I obviously won’t have time to prepare everything I would like to prepare, but I will prepare something, as it has to be done …

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