How To Crack an Egg While You’re Sinking On the Titanic
– ryan christopher
I remember hearing it a lot from my friends when I was in my early teens. I’d be trying to do something, and I’d give up. And they’d say, “if someone were going to pay you a million dollars to do that, I bet you could!”
That’s a frustrating thing to hear as an impatient teenager. My common response would have been along the lines of “well, nobody’s giving me a million dollars, you ass.” And that would be that.
Now, as an adult, that kind of challenge has a little bit more meaning to me.
As a kid, most decisions or activities don’t have much consequence if you do them or don’t do them. There’s always some kind of safety net. Or whatever you were trying to do wasn’t that important in the first place.
As an adult, there are different sets of situations. And there are consequences for failure. And there are times when people will judge you differently if you can’t “figure it out.”
So, it makes sense that the more you practice figuring things out when not much is at stake, the less likely you are to look or act like a fool when it matters.
Maybe, if I’d spent more time back then thinking about some phantom benefactor giving me a million dollars, I’d have helped myself understand the capacity of human problem-solving.
Because, if someone were going to give you a million dollars, you’d be amazed at what you can do. Your skill level when it comes to problem-solving is far less important than your motivation.
Enter the Egg
So we come to the idea of cracking an egg.
It was about four years ago when I made it into an official habit. Before that time, I’d made a lot of messes cracking eggs. Shells would be everywhere. Egg guts would be all over my hands. There would be a mess on the counter. The yoke would be obliterated. And I didn’t care. It’s just stupid eggs.
But this one particular day, four years ago, I decided to play a game. I decided that someone was standing behind me. And he was going to give me one million dollars if I could crack an egg in a smooth motion, split open the shell with one hand, and drop the yolk into a frying pan. The rules were that there could be no eggshells in the pan. There could be no mass on the counter. And the yolk must not be broken. One million dollars. One set of smooth motions.
With my invisible benefactor behind me, I did all the calculations. I would have to move my hands this fast in order to pop the eggshell just right. I would have to put this much force behind the cracking motion. I would have to move my fingers like this to open the shell up. I would have to drop the egg from this distance.
And then, voilà. One million dollars.
Would you believe my heart rate went up? Would you believe that I could feel the texture and temperature of the egg in my hand? I could see all of the details of the very edge of the skillet like they were under a microscope. For five seconds or so, my attention was 100% focused on cracking that egg, and making my damn money.
And would you believe that I did it? No problem. Perfect.
Next, the billionaire behind me told me to do the same thing with another egg, but do it with my left hand. The same sense of hyperfocus came over me. The same calculations. The same feeling of having another million dollars direct deposited into my bank.
The egg goes up. The egg comes down. Shells and egg innards everywhere. No more money on that challenge.
There is a limit to being able to do certain things at will. The world isn’t that easy.
But that same focus a few more times, and the perfect left-handed crack was on the books. By this point, I wasn’t even interested in eating anymore. I was interested in seeing how far I could take this little exercise.
Right hand. Left-hand. Right hand. Left-hand. Both hands. Egg on the stove. Egg on the floor. Mounds of egg in the skillet.
I did leave the heat on. But it was all cooking at such different rates there was nothing edible left. I finished off the carton without being able to crack eggs in both hands at the same time. But, I managed to keep that sense of focus through the whole nonsensical adventure. I was even sweating by the end.
And the further I got into the process, down the chicken-centric rabbit hole, the further I got into the mechanics and the motions of egg cracking, the less I thought about the money.
Ultimately, all of that focus, all of that intent on existing in the present moment to have the perfect double egg cracking motion, all of it just turned into the desire to do it right. There was no trickery. The guy behind me was no longer a factor. The challenge turned into the goal without the external reward.
Now, every time I cook eggs, I can pull back that same sense of focus. Every time I cook eggs, I get a free meditation session. A free exercise in slow and easy breathing. All of the benefits of going to a monk’s commune at the peak of a mystical mountain, joining forces with the world’s most spiritual and educated monks.
And all I need is a few eggs and a skillet.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
Now, what about sinking on the Titanic?
I’ve always wanted to be good at singing. I’ve always wanted to enjoy singing. Eventually, I started working my way through a vocal instruction course. One of the lessons that struck me the first time I heard it, and still sticks with me now, goes like this.
The vocal instructor said that the way he focuses on every single exercise he works through as he thinks about himself in a room on the Titanic while it’s sinking.
A small child and his mother are sitting on a bed in one of the staterooms. There are no lifeboats left. They know they’re going to die.
He says he works through every one of the exercises as though he’s singing to them. All of the emotion, all of the concentration, all of the feeling of every single tone that comes from his breath through his throat and out his mouth – it’s all for that woman and her son in the last few minutes they will be alive.
This is a very intense way to practice vocal exercises where you’re making nonsense syllables or pretending that you’re a cartoon character to explore different vocal resonances. But, the focus and concentration that it brings to the table mean that you’re practicing for a reason.
You’re not just going through the motions.
This is the last note you’ll ever sing, and you’re doing it for someone who needs comfort as they transition from life to death. What a distinct, noble moment. And all you have to do is concentrate and translate your desire to sing well into a desire to create a sense of peace for those two people on that bed while the Titanic is sinking.
What’s It All Mean, Man?
So between cooking eggs and singing scales, there’s a lot of focus that I can borrow to use for other things in life. Work. Friendships. Patience. And I don’t need a million dollars. And I don’t need to sink on the Titanic. I just need to practice being in the moment at hand – whatever that experience happens to be.