More Like Working Out

More Like Working Out

“When people go to the gym, for example, they know pretty much what’s going to happen, and how it’s going to happen. Lifting weights causes muscles to stretch and even tear a little, causing lactic acid to build up, causing the muscles to rebuild themselves bigger and with more capacity than they had before. It’s a physical process, and while trainers will debate the best methods until the end of time, the basic operation is clearly understood.

Meditation is similar. If you do the work, predictable changes in the mind and the brain tend to result, in a fairly reliable way. This, in a sense, is the very opposite of spirituality—and it’s certainly not religion either. It’s more like working out: Each time I come back to the breath, I’m strengthening very specific neural networks.”

~ Jay Michaelson

A Marriage of Marriages

Un mundo (A World), Ángeles Santos Torroella, 1911

The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way. These hidden human dynamics of integration are more of a conversation, more of a synthesis and more of an almost religious and sometimes almost delirious quest for meaning than a simple attempt at daily ease and contentment.

Human beings are creatures of belonging, though they may come to that sense of belonging only through long periods of exile and loneliness. Interestingly, we belong to life as much through our sense that it is all impossible, as we do through the sense that we will accomplish everything we set out to do. This sense of belonging and not belonging is lived out by most people through three principal dynamics: first, through relationship to other people and other living things (particularly and very personally, to one other living, breathing person in relationship or marriage); second, through work; and third, through an understanding of what it means to be themselves, discrete individuals alive and seemingly separate from everyone and everything else.

These are the three marriages, of Work, Self, and Other. 

A word about this word marriage: Despite our use of the word only for a committed relationship between two people, in reality this book looks at the way everyone is committed, consciously or unconsciously, to three marriages. There is that first marriage, the one we usually mean, to another; that second marriage, which can so often seem like a burden, to a work or vocation; and that third and most likely hidden marriage to a core conversation inside ourselves. We can call these three separate commitments marriages because at their core they are usually lifelong commitments and, as I wish to illustrate, they involve vows made either consciously or unconsciously. 

Why put them together? To neglect any one of the three marriages is to impoverish them all, because they are not actually separate commitments but different expressions of the way each individual belongs to the world.

This book looks at the dynamics common to all three marriages: first the recognition of what an individual wants, then a pursuit, then the hope to circumvent the difficult but necessary disappointments, and ultimately, in the face of that disappointment, the full recommitment to the vows we have made in each of the three areas, spoken or unspoken.

The Three Marriages looks at the way each marriage involves a separate form of courtship and commitment, each almost a world unto itself that then must be rejoined together. The end goal: In these pages I am looking for a marriage of marriages.

The main premise of the book becomes also its final conclusion: We should stop thinking in terms of work-life balance. Work-life balance is a concept that has us simply lashing ourselves on the back and working too hard in each of the three commitments. In the ensuing exhaustion we ultimately give up on one or more of them to gain an easier life.

I especially want to look at the way that each of these marriages is, at its heart, nonnegotiable; that we should give up the attempt to balance one marriage against another, of, for instance, taking away from work to give more time to a partner, or vice versa, and start thinking of each marriage conversing with, questioning or emboldening the other two. As we discover, through the lives and biographies I follow in this book, how each one of the three marriages is nonnegotiable at its core, we can start to realign our understanding and our efforts away from trading and bartering parts of ourselves as if they were salable commodities and more toward finding a central conversation that can hold all of these three marriages together.

The understanding of this book is that the deeper, unspoken realms of the human psyche, work and life are not separate things and therefore cannot be balanced against each other except to create further trouble. The book most especially tries to dispel the myth that we are predominantly thinking creatures, who can, if we put our feet in all the right places, develop strategies that will make us the paragon of perfection we want to be, and instead, looks to a deeper, almost poetic perspective, a moving, more untouchable identity, a slightly more dangerous but more satisfying sense of self than one defined by ideas of balance.

The Three Marriages looks at the way we actually seem to function – as a kind of movable conversational frontier, an edge between what we think is us and what we think is not us…it tries to illustrate the way we can still make a real life even when crowded by other identities, or even when unbalanced and intoxicated with desire, or even when we are disappointed in work or love, and perhaps the way, at the center of all this deep love of belonging and this deep exhaustion of belonging, we may have waiting for us, at the end of the tunnel, a marriage of marriages, a life worth living, and one we can call, despite all the difficulties and imperfections, our very own.

~ David Whyte, from The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship

See also:

Breaking through the Illusion of Transparency

Breaking through the Illusion of Transparency

"You're sort of in this three-dimensional landscape of sound and that's where I really like to be with my music. Like when I'm on stage, that's where I am. I'm not on stage in front of you, I'm in this landscape of sound. I can almost see the way the music happens, but that's not seeing people playing and it's not seeing somebody conducting.

It's not seeing an audience watching it. It's very much like this feeling of, What does the sound look like?  The sweep of the sound, the way it moves up and down, or rushing forward." 

~ Zoë Keating

The Uninvited Ache

Excerpt from Tinkers by Paul Harding:

Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty, as your own father always said in his sermons and to you at home. And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.

Howard resented the ache in his heart. He resented that it was there every morning when he woke up, that it remained at least until he had dressed and had some hot coffee, if not until he had taken stock of the goods in his brush cart, and fed and hitched Prince Edward, if not until his rounds were done, if not until he fell asleep that night, and if his dreams were not tormented by it. He resented equally the ache and the resentment itself. He resented his resentment because it was a sign of his own limitations of spirit and humility, no matter that he understood that such was each man’s burden. He resented the ache because it was uninvited, seemed imposed, a sentence, and, despite the encouragement he gave himself each morning, it baffled him because it was there whether the day was good or bad, whether he witnessed major kindness or minor transgression, suffered sourceless grief or spontaneous joy.

To Understand the Meek

A poem and an excerpt from an essay by Mary Karr from Sinners Welcome:

Who the Meek are Not

          Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent

under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep

          in the rice paddy muck,

not the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles

          make the wheat fall in waves

they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan

          nun says we misread

the word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.

          To understand the meek

(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop

          in a meadow, who—

at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned

          but instant halt.

So with the strain of holding that great power

          in check, the muscles

along the arched neck eddying,

          and only the velvet ears

prick forward, awaiting the next order.

Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer 

To confess my unlikely Catholicism in Poetry—the journal that first published some of the godless twentieth-century disillusionaries of J. Alfred Prufrock and his pals—feels like an act of perversion kinkier than any dildo-wielding dominatrix could manage on HBO’s Real Sex Extra. I can’t even blame it on my being a cradle Catholic, some brainwashed escapee of the pleated skirt and communion veil who—after a misspent youth and facing an Eleanor Rigby-like dotage—plodded back into the confession booth some rainy Saturday.

Not victim but volunteer, I converted in 1996 after a lifetime of undiluted agnosticism. Hearing about my baptism, a friend sent me a postcard that read, “Not you on the Pope’s team. Say it ain’t so!” Well, while probably not the late Pope’s favorite Catholic (nor he my favorite Pope), I took the blessing and ate the broken bread. And just as I continue to live in America and vote despite my revulsion for many U.S. policies, I continue to take the sacraments despite my fervent aversion to certain doctrines. Call me a cafeteria Catholic if you like, but to that I’d say, Who isn’t?

Simple Principles that Guide a System

Excerpt from “Complexity Used to Be So Simple. It Meant Progress,” by David Segal, New York Times, April 30, 2010:

Preparing for the launch of Apollo 11. (NASA)What we need, suggests Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at Schulich School of Business in Ontario, is a distinction between the complicated and the complex. It’s complicated, she says, to send a rocket to the moon — it requires blueprints, math and a lot of carefully calibrated hardware and expertly written software. Raising a child, on the  other hand, is complex. It is an enormous challenge, but math and blueprints  won’t help. Alex's first day of school. Performing hip replacement surgery, she says, is complicated. It takes well-trained personnel, precision and carefully calibrated equipment. Running a health care system, on the other hand, is complex. It’s filled with thousands of parts and players, all of whom must act within a fluid, unpredictable environment. To run a system that is complex, it’s not enough to get the right people and the ideal equipment. It takes a set of simple principles that guide and shape the system. For instance: Teach everyone the best practices of doctors who are really good at hip replacement surgery.

“We get seduced by the complicated in Western society,” Ms. Zimmerman says. “We’re in awe of it and we pull away from the duty to ask simple questions, which we do whenever we deal with matters that are complex.”

Become What You Are

Excerpt from the introduction of Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up by Norman Fischer:

Time is strange. We live within it, depend on it, take it for granted, yet it relentlessly passes, and our lives slip through our fingers moment by moment. Where does time come from, and where does it go? How is it that every moment we are different, we grow, we develop, we are born, we die? What are we supposed to be doing with this life?

After many years of grappling with these questions during the course of my long spiritual journey, I have come to have a feeling for their answers. We don’t really know what appears, what time is, where it goes. But we are here to try to understand. And we all have our own way of understanding, and of expressing that understanding through the living of our lives.

Each of us has a place in this world. Taking that place, I have come to feel, is our real job as human beings. We are not generic people, we are individuals, and when we appreciate that fact completely and allow ourselves to embrace it and grow into it fully, we see that taking our unique place in this world is the one thing that gives us a sense of ultimate fulfillment.

Bantu tribesmen, it is said, sneak into the rooms of their children as they sleep and whisper in their ears, “Become what you are.”

To take our place is to mature, to grow into what we are. Mostly we take maturity for granted, as if it were something that comes quite naturally and completely as our bodies grow and our minds and hearts fill up with life experience. In fact, however, few of us are truly mature individuals; few of us really occupy our places. We are merely living out a dream of maturity, a set of received notions and images that passes for adulthood. What does it really mean to grow up? How do we do the work that will nurture a truly mature heart from which can flow healing words and deeds? Each of our lives depends on our undertaking the exploration that these questions urge us toward. And the mystery is that the whole world depends on each of us to take this human journey.

Willing to Think Little

Excerpt from Think Little by Wendell Berry from A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural (1972):

Wendell Berry For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. I have come to believe that a better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work. Thinking Big has led us to the two biggest and cheapest political dodges of our time: plan-making and law-making. The lotus-eaters of this era are in Washington, D.C., Thinking Big. Somebody comes up with a problem, and somebody in the government comes up with a plan or a law. The result, mostly, has been the persistence of the problem, and the enlargement and enrichment of the government.

But the discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal behavior. While the government is "studying" and funding and organizing its Big Thought, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem. A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and let there be no mistake about it — he is doing that work. A couple who make a good marriage, and raise healthy, morally competent children, are serving the world's future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word. A good farmer who is dealing with the problem of soil erosion on an acre of ground has a sounder grasp of that problem and cares more about it and is probably doing more to solve it than any bureaucrat who is talking about it in general. A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.

In the Light of this New Idea

Excerpt from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller:

Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan vacationing at Cape Cod in July 1888. I remember the morning that I first asked the meaning of the word, "love." This was before I knew many words. I had found a few early violets in the garden and brought them to my teacher. She tried to kiss me; but at that time I did not like to have any one kiss me except my mother. Miss Sullivan put her arm gently round me and spelled into my hand, "I love Helen."

"What is love?" I asked.

She drew me closer to her and said, "It is here," pointing to my heart, whose beats I was conscious of for the first time. Her words puzzled me very much because I did not then understand anything unless I touched it.

I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words, half in signs, a question which meant, "Is love the sweetness of flowers?"

"No," said my teacher.

Again I thought. The warm sun was shining onus.

"Is this not love?" I asked, pointing in the direction—from which the heat came, "Is this not love?"

It seemed to me that there could be nothing more beautiful than the sun, whose warmth makes all things grow. But Miss Sullivan shook her head, and I was greatly puzzled and disappointed. I thought it strange that my teacher could not show me love.

A day or two afterward I was stringing beads of different sizes in symmetrical groups—two large beads, three small ones, and so on. I had made many mistakes, and Miss Sullivan had pointed them out again and again with gentle patience. Finally I noticed a very obvious error in the sequence and for an instant I concentrated my attention on the lesson and tried to think how I should have arranged the beads. Miss Sullivan touched my forehead and spelled with decided emphasis, "Think."

In a flash I knew that the word was the name of the process that was going on in my head. This was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea.

For a long time I was still—I was not thinking of the beads in my lap, but trying to find a meaning for "love" in the light of this new idea. The sun had been under a cloud all day, and there had been brief showers; but suddenly the sun broke forth in all its southern splendour.

Again I asked my teacher, "Is this not love ?"

"Love is something like the clouds that were in the sky before the sun came out," she replied. Then in simpler words than these, which at that time I could not have understood, she explained: "You cannot touch the clouds, you know; but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and the thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love either; but you feel the sweetness that it pours into everything. Without love you would not be happy or want to play."

The beautiful truth burst upon my mind—I felt that there were invisible lines stretched between my spirit and the spirits of others.

Facsimile of the braille manuscript of The Story of My Life

Waiting on a Different Time Scale

From “A Test of Patience,” by Mats Bigert, Cabinet Magazine, Issue 34, Summer 2009:

Pitch Drop Experiment The Pitch Drop Experiment was initiated in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, to demonstrate for his ­students that some substances that appear to be solid are actually fluid. A heated sample of pitch, a naturally occurring petroleum substance, was poured into a funnel-shaped glass container and sealed. After three years, the sample had apparently coagulated and it was time to kick-start what is now the longest-running, and what must surely be one of the slowest, laboratory experiments in history. Parnell unsealed the funnel and the pitch was free to flow. After a couple of years, a drop began to form, but it took eight years for it finally to fall, the student audience of the experiment having long since graduated. The experiment continued, nevertheless, since it required no maintenance, and every eight or so years, a little baby drop left the nest of mama pitch for the growing expanse of papa pitch below. Eventually, after the eighth, and most recent, drop fell on 28 November 2000, the viscosity of pitch was finally calculated to be roughly one hundred billion times that of water.

To date, no one has ever witnessed an actual drop fall and there is no visual documentation of the dramatic event. The closest anyone has ever come was in April 1979 when Professor John Mainstone, who now maintains the experiment, came­ to work on a Sunday afternoon. He noted that the pitch drop was just about to touch down, but he did not have time to stay and watch. On returning the following morning, Mainstone saw, much to his chagrin, that the drop had fallen. Even modern technology has been foiled in its attempt to capture direct evidence of the pitch’s clandestine maneuvers; a video camera placed to monitor the experiment happened to fail at the very moment the eighth drop fell.






Experiment set up



The stem was cut


December 1938

1st drop fell


February 1947

2nd drop fell


April 1954

3rd drop fell


May 1962

4th drop fell


August 1970

5th drop fell


April 1979

6th drop fell


July 1988

7th drop fell


28 November 2000

8th drop fell


Turning Sadness into Compassion

From “When Does Death Start?” by Darshak Sanghavi, New York Times, December 16, 2009:

Holleigh and Paul Tlapa with their children (Alexeigh, Aspen and Gage) at a shrine to their daughter Jaiden, who died at age 8.  (Photo by Lydia Panas for The New York Times)Over time Holleigh Tlapa and her husband, Paul, realized Jaiden wouldn’t get better, and they asked about organ donation. Because she wasn’t brain-dead, D.C.D. [donation after cardiac death] was the only option. Although the task force at Children’s disagreed about D.C.D., the hospital drafted a protocol. The Tlapas were told about the disagreement, but they chose to proceed. On Jan. 13, 2008, a dying but not dead organ donor was brought to the operating room and prepped for withdrawal of support for the first time in the hospital’s history. Holleigh and Paul lay in their daughter’s bed and played Jaiden’s favorite Miley Cyrus song as the breathing tube was removed. They held their daughter and waited.

There’s something remarkable about such families. I’ve known hundreds of parents whose children are stricken by terrible diseases. For many, the gravity of the situation is so overwhelming that they withdraw into themselves, letting no emotion escape, and then suddenly explode into a supernova of blame and anger. But there are others on whom this terrible pressure exerts a metamorphic power that turns some of their sadness into a compassion that is strong and diamond-brilliant. [More…]

It’s Less the Device than the Devices

From “Over 60, and Proud to Join the Digerati,” by James R. Gaines, New York Times, November 28, 2009:

Yes, the world of print publishing is going through a fundamental disruption brought about by the Internet. People are being laid off left and right, newspapers and magazines are folding, the book business is floundering.

In the digital world, though, social networks are now bigger than most national populations, more people are consuming more news and information than ever before, and an archive of all the world’s knowledge is being built and streamed to your favorite device. This new world brings with it as much promise as pain. It’s like youth that way.

Media will change as radically as technology allows, and right now the Internet is moving over the media landscape like a tsunami. But the job I learned to love when young was to tell stories, and the story has lost nothing in this transition. It is as elemental and as riveting as ever.

Everybody’s worried about the device. Could Microsoft’s Courier be the answer, or the iTablet? Good question, but not the most important one. It’s less the device than the devices — the crafts and the art of storytelling — that need updating most urgently for the digital world.

The young people I work with now will be the settlers of that frontier, and I can’t think of anything I would rather do than help them get there.


What Was There All Along

What Was There All Along

"Though we think of metaphor as a mere figure of speech, something poetic and decorative, in fact metaphors abound in our lives, underlying many concepts that we take for granted. And metaphors condition, far more than we realize, the way we think about ourselves and our world, and therefore the way we are and act." ~ Norman Fischer

Transforming Abstract Space into a Place

From “Global Impositioning Systems,” by Alex Hutchinson, The Walrus (November 2009):

Like any other human trait, navigational skill varies widely — some people crow about their abilities, while others lament their ineptitude…

We’re now on the cusp of an even more dramatic change, as we enter the age of the Global Positioning System, which is well on its way to being a standard feature in every car and on every cellphone.

At the same time, neuroscientists are starting to uncover a two-way street: our brains determine how we navigate, but our navigational efforts also shape our brains. The experts are picking up some worrying signs about the changes that will occur as we grow accustomed to the brain-free navigation of the GPS era…

To many, the beauty of the devices is precisely that we no longer have any need to painstakingly assemble those cognitive maps. But Cornell University human-computer interaction researcher Gilly Leshed argues that knowledge of an area means more than just finding your way around.

Navigation underlies the transformation of an abstract “space” to a “place” that has meaning and value to an individual. For the GPS users Leshed and her colleagues observed in an ethnographic study, the virtual world on the screens of their devices seemed to blur and sometimes take over from the real world that whizzed by outside. “Instead of experiencing physical locations, you end up with a more abstract representation of the world,” she says…

[Some researchers fear] that overreliance on GPS…will result in our using the spatial capabilities of the hippocampus less, and that it will in turn get smaller. Other studies have tied atrophy of the hippocampus to increased risk of dementia…

[Millions of people] now pay to join health clubs where they can spin their legs on treadmills and exercise bikes to make up the miles they no longer travel in their daily lives. Many others choose to forsake “efficiency” by biking to work or walking to the supermarket, because they’ve realized that letting technology do too much leaves their bodies worse off. We may soon take the same approach with our brains.

Does My Sense of Direction Suck? from The Walrus Foundation on Vimeo.

See also: Test Your Sense of Direction

Cultivating Ourselves

Excerpt from “Apples, Apples, Apples,” by Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times, November 5, 2009:

One good way to think about modern agriculture is to think about apples. applesFor part of our history, culminating around the end of the 19th century, there was something about us — about our appetite, our farms, our economy — that loved diversity in apples. One standard reference, from 1905, lists more than 6,500 distinct varieties. There are apples for keeping, cooking, eating and the making of ciders, with names as colorful as they are various: Scollop Gillyflower, Red Winter Pearmain, Kansas Keeper.

Modern agriculture, as well as our carefully created preference for processed over fresh food, has pushed us in the opposite direction, toward uniformity...According to one estimate, only 11 varieties make up 90 percent of all the apples sold in this country, and Red Delicious alone counts for nearly half of that...

We live now in the world of the generic apple, in large part because our taste buds have gone generic. Cultivating ourselves is the first step toward rediversifying the fields and orchards around us.

[Thanks Kit!]

You’ve Been Contemplative

From Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, MD:

Buddha's Brain There’s been a growing interest in the contemplative traditions, which have been investigating the mind—and thus the brain—for thousands of years, quieting the mind/brain enough to catch its softest murmurs and developing sophisticated ways to transform it. If you want to get good at anything, it helps to study those who have already mastered that skill, such as top chefs on TV if you like to cook.

Therefore, if you’d like to feel more happiness, inner strength, clarity, and peace, it makes sense to learn from contemplative practitioners—both dedicated lay people and monastics—who’ve really pursued the cultivation of these qualities.

Although “contemplative” may sound exotic, you’ve been contemplative if you’ve ever meditated, prayed, or just looked at the stars with a sense of wonder. The world has many contemplative traditions, most of which are associated with its major religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism…

…scientists, clinicians, and contemplatives have already learned a great deal about the brain states that underlie wholesome mental states and how to activate those brain states. These important discoveries give you a great ability to influence your own mind. You can use that ability to reduce any distress or dysfunction, increase well-being, and support spiritual practice; these are the central activities of what could be called the path of awakening, and our aim is to use brain science to help you travel far and well upon it.


Rodney Smith of the Seattle Insight Meditation Society in conversation with Vince Horn of Buddhist Geeks (Episode 143: Stepping Out of Self-Deception):

Anything that we think about the world is really coming from the mind.  It is not coming from reality itself.  All of the likes and dislikes that we have of the world are really mental projections onto the world.  They are not coming from the world. And so when you begin to see that, then you begin to decipher how the mind is distorting reality on a constant momentary level...

I think the fraction line is very relevant to what we are talking about, because that fraction line is -- in a spiritual analogy -- the resistance factor.  The upper part of the fraction, or the numerator, which is all things that appear and we latch onto, hold onto, and grasp in life -- all appearances...Meanwhile, there is a common denominator to all of life that is waiting for us...that we have to cross that fraction line in order to experience and in order to embody.  Now crossing that fraction line is the entire spiritual journey.  It is the movement from the numerator toward the denominator that all spiritual paths point.

Much of Buddhism is about seeing the limited quality of anything that has an appearance, anything that has form.  In Christianity, too, Christ says, “Lay not up your treasures where rust does corrupt or thieves let in,” which means the same thing -- don’t focus and invest in the appearances of life.

And when we don’t do that, when we release the need to grasp and hold onto appearances that change, then we start crossing that fraction line and feeling -- and embodying really, because it has never left us -- the common denominator, which is that wholeness, that presence, that all encompassing awareness that is waiting for us...

And we take it as a numerator problem.  We think, “Oh, I just haven’t tried hard enough as a fraction, and that if I really tried hard has a fraction I could get to a whole number.”  And that's not the point.  The point is not to continue to assert the muscles of our numerator, because the numerator will never get us to the denominator.  It's seeing the limitations of the numerator, releasing the need to be, or abide, or grasp at the numerator that eventually evolves us into the common denominator.