I bought a book on the Kindle the other day. It's called "Thinkertoys - A Handbook Of Creative Thinking Techniques."
Tell me, should I have actually put the title of the book within speech marks? I never know what's the correct form there.
Anyhow, it's pretty much what it says on the tin, though I haven't read it fully yet. The blurb on Amazon says things like:
"With hundreds of hints, tricks, tips, tales and puzzles, Thinkertoys will open your mind to a world of everyday solutions to everyday and not so everyday problems."
"Michalko's techniques show you how to look at the same information as everybody else and see something different."
I liked the look of it, the things it promised and, you know me, I read self help books like they're going out of fashion anyhow. If someone brought out a book called "How to stop reading self help books" I'd probably buy it.
The first exercise I came across was one called Tiny Truths. Mr Michalko, our esteemed author starts off with the following:
"This exercise is designed to help you pay pure attention to the world around you. It was developed by Minor White, who taught photography and MIT."
At first I was immediately suspicious. Suspicious of an exercise developed by someone called Minor. I ask you, what sort of a name is that? Well I guess the answer is that it's an American one, which tells us all we need to know. Still, I don't want to be seen as shallow, so I delved a bit deeper and figured that it would be worth a shot.
The exercise consists of finding a photograph that's quite detailed and spending ten minutes staring intently at the thing. I used the one above. The instructions are quite firm about not moving a muscle for the ten minutes, but I cheated, using whatever muscles it takes to move a finger on a MacBook mousepad and also I'm pretty sure I adjusted my balls a few times too. For a man though, I kept pretty still.
We're told to stay focused on the image, not to free associate and that after the ten minutes is up we should turn away from the image and recall the experience visually rather than with words.
I did it all, though I didn't have a clue what "free associate" means, assuming it means letting your thoughts wander and making associations with things seen.
Then it gets complicated.
"After your review and your experience becomes kind of a flavour, go about your everyday work, trying to recall the experience whenever you can."
Well I pondered on this. "A flavour"? WTF? I've never really tasted a picture and even though this one had paddy fields in it I was pretty sure he wasn't talking about tasting rice. I figured that I'd ignore that bit, instead recalling random bits of the image throughout the rest of the day, even now, the day after.
More instructions say:
"You'll begin to experience tiny truths that you can find only by paying pure attention. Recall the experience frequently and recall it visually. Some think these tiny truths are the voice of God."
Again this confused and scared me. What a tiny truth is is beyond me and any mention of God brings on the hebeejeebees like there's no tomorrow.
But, the fact is, I've been recalling tiny details from the picture. Things like the whisps of cloud, the texture of the trees in the foreground and how they look a bit like brocolli, the way the trees at the very top are highlighted by the sunlight and the way the whole picture seems to bask in that very delicious warm Sri Lankan evening glow.
So I'm still unsure about tiny truths and the voice of God. But undoubtedly I'm recalling and appreciating details and subtleties that I hadn't before.
I'm going to try and do this with a different picture every so often. Even after one attempt the results feel good.
God may be scary but he certainly is in the detail.