Resonant Thoughts: Adam Gopnik’s “The Real Work: The Mystery Of Mastery” (2023)

“At the core of the mystery is a lesson we can too easily miss. It has to do with the way one time talks to another. We talk about things we prize, art above all, as ‘timeless.’ It’s the most familiar generalization we make: it’s a timeless picture, a timeless melody, or even a timeless card move. It’s the highest praise we have. But if we think about it, what we actually mean is not that something is ‘timeless’ in the sense of transcendentally outside time. We mean just the opposite. We mean it’s so deeply lodged within a time, and yet still so capable of speaking to our needs and experience, that there’s something, well, masterly, not to say magical, about it.

What makes something interesting to do is that—through repetition, coordination, perseverance—it stretches time.

The experience of mastery lengthens time: by making each step fully self-conscious, we live within the moment as we otherwise rarely do. The attempt to banish distraction, which we try and fail to achieve in meditation, for instance, happens unbidden in kneading dough or practicing scales or making tilts in time. Our interiority is stretched like silly putty. We become hummingbirds with heartbeats that, however rapid, can only be experienced by the bird as the natural flow of life, neither fast nor slow, just normal to the task at hand, or beak.”

Adam Gopnik, The Real Work

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