“Hacks” are Not the Way

My daughter is a surrealist artist. I often sit and admire how good she is at capturing emotional states in faces, and making something that has never existed seem believable. Though, I recall in her early years that she was frustrated over hands. She struggled to make them look like she wished, so she had me pick her up a sketchpad and she drew hands, watched videos about anatomy, drew more hands, watched videos of hands and how to place them in perspective, and drew so-very-many hands.

She does it easily now. The hands look like hands, but if those need to be altered for the sake of the work, then it approaches the “uncanny valley” quickly. You know that they’re supposed to be hands, but they’re wrong. It is intentionally used for effect because she understands how to draw hands well enough to make you feel that they’re wrong.

I kept lots of her early art when she moved out, and from time to time, I review the pages and pages of learning going on. The amount of work that has been put in bewilders me.

I will say that I this leads to the point of today, there’s often tons and tons of work to meet with success at anything. Ours has slowly become a “hack” culture, and one of the things that made me think of my daughter is that one of the things we share back and forth are “hack videos” that are so absurd as to cause us to laugh. Using a 3D pen to create a basket to put flower buds in? Why would you not just use a random container that already existed rather than spending hours making one that in the end was pretty shabby?

Leading into our own practices, there is often a very real desire to focus on minutia. The same psychology of being specific about our morning supplements and then drinking a 6-pack of beer nightly is there when we work on any process of self-improvement as well. Don’t even start on “overnight miracle” workouts and such. Snake-oil, practically all of it.

So, as we approach neidan (內丹術), we likely should be careful to understand that the process will take both time and effort, lots and lots of it.

Create for yourself a morning ritual. I personally do a variation on the 8-pieces of brocade (八段錦) and a few minutes of Taoist meditation. This is possibly my habit alone, but there’s a thing that’s important. Make it simple enough that you can stick to it. It takes repeated effort to achieve, and if it’s too complicated or long, we cannot find the time to make it happen regularly enough. If you are making a custard, you will not be happy with the results of stirring one batch 300 times only to make the next batch with no stirring at all. Being consistent is more important than how much effort is put in sporadically.

There are no real hacks to leaning an art.

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