Archive for September, 2011

“In the past, a high tolerance for uncertainty was a quality to be found only in great geniuses like Leonardo.  As change accelerates, we now find that ambiguity multiplies, and illusions of certainty become more difficult to maintain.  The ability to thrive with ambiguity must become part of our everyday lives.  Poise in the face of paradox is a key not only to effectiveness, but to sanity in a rapidly changing world.”
~Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

I came across a book recently, entitled “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci”.  As I perused it in the used bookstore near my house I noticed a chapter on the importance of… sitting with ambiguity!   The author argued how important this trait of Da Vinci’s was (referring to as “sfumato”) in contributing to the genius of his work.

I thought I would share a sort of quick summary of the book in the hopes that you, my faithful readers, will either pick up the book yourselves or perhaps benefit in some small way upon learning the seven Da Vincian principles for enhancing ones life.

The author, Michael Gelb, is a businessman interested in how Da Vinci’s way of thinking might be applied to the business world.  He warns that though perhaps we cannot all be geniuses of Da Vinci’s stature we can work to apply a “Da Vincian” approach to learning and cultivate intelligence, thereby guiding one toward the realization of one’s true potential.  Sounds right up the Soft Animal Wisdom alley, right?  Let’s DO this.

The Seven Da Vincian Principles (or ways to be awesome, like Da Vinci!)

1.  Curiosita– An insatiable curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

2.  Dimostrazione– A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.  A desire to free your mind from limiting habits and preconceptions; questioning traditional wisdom; learning through practical experience.
3.  Sensazione– The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.  Think of times in the past year you’ve been most vividly alive… chances are, your senses were heightened.  Sharpening our senses will enrich our experiences.
4.  Sfumato (literally “Going up in Smoke”)- A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty. Learning to be ok with and endure confusion can be key to allowing yourself to make new discoveries.  Da Vinci evidenced a “phenomenal ability to hold the tension of opposites and embrace uncertainty”, a critical characteristic of his genius.  Just think of the ambiguity inherent in Mona Lisa’s smile.
5.  Arte/ Scienza– The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination.  “Whole brain” thinking.  Balancing mind with body.
6.  Corporalita– The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise.  Balancing body with mind.
7.  Connessione– The recognition and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena.  Systems thinking.  Learning to see and appreciate patterns, relationships, connections; understanding how your dreams, goals, values and aspirations can be integrated into daily life.

Gelb goes on to offer examples of how Da Vinci incorporated these ways of thinking into his art and daily life.  The book offers helpful self-assessments for readers to examine how they currently fare in each area and then application exercises to strengthen yourself in particular areas if you wish.

Sfumato-Strengthening Exercises

1.  Specifically regarding the principle of Sfumato, Gelb suggests ways to make friends with ambiguity.  He suggests starting with examining three situations from your life, past or present, where ambiguity reigns.  Describe the feeling of ambiguity.  Where in your body do you experience it?  If ambiguity had a shape, a color, a sound, a taste, a smell, what would they be?  How do you respond to feelings of ambiguity?

2.  Most of us are not fully aware when we are anxious.  For many people ambiguity equals anxiety.  To thrive with uncertainty and ambiguity, Gelb urges, we must learn to recognize when we are anxious.  When we become more conscious of our anxiety we can learn to experience it, accept it and free ourselves from it.  Describe the feeling of anxiety?  Where in your body do you experience anxiety?  How do you respond to feelings of anxiety?

3.  Note the words you use when saying goodbye in conversation.  Are you ending with a statement or a question?  Notice the words you tend to use that are overly-absolutist:  “always”, “never”, “must”, etc.  Monitor your intolerance for ambiguity in your daily life.

4.  However you can sharpen your senses in the face of paradox or embrace creative tension will enhance your Sfumato skill.  Contemplating the relationship between opposites is a great way to strength and cultivate what Gelb calls “confusion endurance” (thinking of joy and sorrow, intimacy and independence, strength and weakness, good and evil, etc.).

How would you rate yourself on the seven principles?  What is the area that poses the greatest challenge for you?  How might strengthening that area benefit you in your life?

current music faves:  new tori, school of seven bells

current show faves:  up all night, project runway

breakfast today:  blueberry bagel with sausage patty, “cup egg“, cheddar cheese and trader joe’s chili pepper sauce.  yum!


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Yes, months later we’re still discussing Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Hunger Games.  Well, technically, the main characters:  Lisbeth Salander and Katniss Everdeen.  Each story is coming out as a movie-adaptation in the next year, so it’s timely to re-post on this topic.  I also wanted to tie up loose ends of discussing these archetypes and how when they come together they can tell us something useful and intriguing about the books and perhaps about ourselves.

I think it’s clear that Lisbeth and Katniss meet various criteria of the Warrior and Trickster archetypes, respectively.  The question is:  so what?  What does it possibly matter that these characters can be seen in through the lens of Jungian archetype-ology?

I believe understanding more deeply the character of Lisbeth and the character of Katniss can enrich our lives as readers, for one.  I think it enriches the soul to notice the archetypal content around us and make deeper sense and meaning of what we read and consume in our culture.  As a feminist, I feel strongly that it is important to identify and celebrate complex female heroines in our pop culture landscape, and that includes literature.  Maybe readers see a bit of themselves in one or both of these characters.  Maybe seeing the Warrior or Trickster in these characters might help one to see the Warrior or Trickster in oneself… and be stronger for it.

Katniss, Lisbeth, you, me… we are all more than just Warrior women, more than just a Trickster, Virgin or Whore.  As women (and men) we are complex, full of shadow and light.  It is helpful to see the wholeness in ourselves, the multi-dimensionality in each of us, the capacity for goodness and evil all coexisting inside each and every one of us.  I chose Warrior-Trickster characteristics to examine because I thought these were interesting, curious aspects each character had in common.  I was interested in studying these archetypes through the fascinating stories of Lisbeth and Katniss; interested in studying these archetypes in myself.

What about the Warrior or Trickster archetypes speaks to you?  What is it about channeling your inner Warrior that scares you?  Interests you?  What about the Trickster feels exciting?  Feels… icky, perhaps?

I would love to know how you notice aspects of Warrior or Trickster archetypes in yourselves.

current music faves:  gaga, bjork, fleet foxes

current show faves:  tabatha’s salon take-over, true blood, the big c

breakfast today:  dunkin’ donuts wake-up wrap and trader joe’s iced latte

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