Sunday, December 27, 2009

Survival Of The Kindest

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to "every man for himself" interpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life," and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits. They call it "survival of the kindest."

Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others. Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. The human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system. One recent study found compelling evidence that many of us are genetically predisposed to be empathetic. It found that people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances. Informally known as the "cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain; where it promotes social interaction, nurturing and romantic love among other functions.

While studies show that bonding and making social connections can make for a healthier, more meaningful life, the larger question is; "How do these traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers?" One answer is that, the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield. In one recent study, participants each received a modest amount of cash and were directed to play games of varying complexity that would benefit the "public good.” The results showed that participants who acted more generously received more gifts, respect and cooperation from their peers; as well as wielding more influence over them.

The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated. But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status. Given how much is to be gained through generosity, social scientists increasingly wonder less why people are ever generous and more why they are ever selfish. Such results validate the findings of positive psychology pioneers like Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research in the early 1990's shifted away from mental illness and dysfunction; delving instead into the mysteries of human resilience and optimism.

While much of the positive psychology being studied is focused on personal fulfillment and happiness, researchers have narrowed their investigations into how it contributes to the greater societal good. For instance, to assist in and promote the rearing of emotionally literate children; many parents are turning away from materialistic or competitive activities, and rethinking what will bring their families true happiness and well-being. Parents who start consciously cultivating gratitude and generosity in their children quickly see how much happier and more resilient their children become. What is often surprising to parents is how much happier they themselves also become.

This behaviour, the sympathetic touch, is common to mammals thanks to the vagus nervous system. In another Berkeley study, two people separated by a barrier took turns trying to communicate emotions to one another by touching each other through a hole in the barrier. For the most part, participants were able to successfully communicate sympathy, love and gratitude and even assuage major anxiety. Overall, these and other findings challenge the assumption that nice guys finish last; and instead support the hypothesis that humans, if adequately nurtured and supported, tend to err on the side of compassion. This new science of altruism, and the physiological underpinnings of compassion, is finally catching up with Darwin's observations nearly 130 years ago; that sympathy is our strongest instinct.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Faith and Disbelief

When it comes to religion, believers and nonbelievers appear to think very differently. But at the level of the brain; is believing in God different from believing that the sun is a star or that 4 is an even number? While religious faith remains one of the most significant features of human life, little is known about its relationship to ordinary belief. Nor is it known whether religious believers differ from nonbelievers in how they evaluate statements of fact.

In the first neuroimaging study to systematically compare religious faith with ordinary cognition, UCLA and University of Southern California researchers have found that while the human brain responds very differently to religious and nonreligious propositions, the process of believing or disbelieving a statement, whether religious or not, seems to be governed by the same areas in the brain. The study also found that devout Christians and nonbelievers use the same brain regions to judge the truth of religious and nonreligious propositions. Sam Harris, who recently completed his doctoral dissertation in the lab of Mark Cohen, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Staglin Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, was a lead author on the study. Jonas Kaplan, a research assistant professor at the USC's Brain and Creativity Institute, was the co-lead author.

The study involved 30 adults - 15 committed Christians and 15 nonbelievers - who underwent three functional MRI (fMRI) scans while evaluating religious and nonreligious statements as "true" or "false." The statements were designed to produce near perfect agreement between the two groups during nonreligious trials (e.g., "Eagles really exist") and near perfect disagreement during religious trials (e.g., "Angels really exist"). Contrasting belief and disbelief yielded increased activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), an area of the brain thought to be involved in reward and in judgments of self-relevance. "This region showed greater activity whether subjects believed statements about God, the Virgin Birth, etc., or statements about ordinary facts," the authors said.

The case for belief being content-independent was further bolstered by the fact that while the trial statements accepted by religious believers were rejected by nonbelievers, and vice versa, the brains of both showed the same pattern of activity for belief and disbelief. A comparison of all religious with all nonreligious statements suggested that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation and cognitive conflict in both believers and nonbelievers, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks. Activity in the brain's anterior cingulate cortex, an area associated with cognitive conflict and uncertainty, suggested that both believers and nonbelievers experienced greater uncertainty when evaluating religious statements.

The study raises the possibility that the differences between belief and disbelief may one day be reliably distinguished by neuroimaging techniques. "Despite vast differences in the underlying processing responsible for religious and nonreligious modes of thought," the authors write, "the distinction between believing and disbelieving a proposition appears to transcend content. These results may have many areas of application - ranging from the neuropsychology of religion, to the use of 'belief-detection' as a surrogate for 'lie-detection,' to understanding how the practice of science itself, and truth-claims generally, emerge from the biology of the human brain."

Harris is the author of two New York Times best-sellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation which have been published in more than 15 languages, and is the co-founder and CEO of The Reason Project. His writing has appeared in Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Times of London, the Boston Globe, the Atlantic and many other journals. Other authors on the study included Cohen, Susan Bookheimer and Marco Iacoboni of UCLA; and Ashley Curiel of Pepperdine University. The authors report no conflict of interest.

Neotribal Festival

This is the first thing you learn about festival: to get there, you must leave here. You must, in other words, cross over, out of the ordinary world. Maybe you haul your tent to a glade in the middle of nowhere, and maybe you just hand some guy your ticket. But either way, you must cross a threshold. Without even noticing it, your normal body armor starts to slip away, as you instinctively recognize that the strangers around you are not quite so strange anymore, for even if they look strange, which could easily be the case, they are no longer judging you in the same way that people in the mundane world do. They are more likely to be friends you just haven't met yet, fellow conspirators of joy.

The anthropologist Victor Turner used the word liminal to describe the passageway between the known and the unknown, the path that takes you to a nomadic territory that lies in-betwixt and in-between. Turner was interested in traditional rites of passage, those tribal ceremonies that guide participants through the process of social transformation - from childhood to adulthood, say, or from novice to shaman. Such rites are important inspirations for today's neotribalists as well, both consciously and not. For though the festival rarely marks its participants with the obvious cuts and tattoos of a puberty rite, it does hold out the potential for real change, and this potential lies in the liminal: the deeply felt sense that the normal rules are suspended or warped, that a possible world is emerging, and that a new self can rise to greet it.

Every summer, tens of thousands of participants descend upon dozens of festivals and gatherings, great and small. The names of these clans and crews are legion: hippies, ravers, pagans, crusties, free spirits, burners, seekers, travelers, eco-warriors. They gather together to dance, to escape, to hold ritual and to craft a visionary culture based on community, creative self-expression and a celebratory earth wisdom. Labels are always dangerous, but an honest name for the scene is neotribal. These are the new tribes, recreating and reinventing patterns of organic culture that are inspired by the premodern past but designed for a high-tech planet hurtling through a period of unprecedented global change.

In festival culture, everyone is part of the picture - physical arts like poi and hooping are widely practiced, crafters make and sell art and ritual craft; and people treat fashion as an invocation and a performance. Everyone, in fact, is performing - not posing so much as actively participating in a collective game whose goal is beauty, wonder and transport. Festivals can be a wild time, but for many participants, the festival is also a vital space of cultural invention. Within the environs of the gathering, half sacred and half imagined, another possible world appears. Despite the variety of festivals and clans, certain values come to the fore: community over consumerism, the power of the feminine, the wisdom of consciousness exploration and the ethical call to develop a hands-on harmony with the earth. Some of these values grow out of countercultural movements generations old, others are modeled on the folkways of other times and places - sometimes with respect and sometimes with a hasty hunger. Like all ideals, neotribal values are rarely realized in full and are more complex and contradictory than they initially appear.

People have gathered in ritual celebrations throughout recorded history; and no doubt back through the depths of prehistory as well. At the same time, and despite the tremendous differences in human cultures, anthropologists recognize a shared language of the festival. People wear special attire, sometimes donning masks or fancy headgear; and sometimes painting their bodies. They drink and eat and dance, often with great exuberance and for hours or even days on end. Intoxicants are taken, if they have them, and maybe the spirits show up and join in the dance. Emile Durkheim, who believed that religion was fundamentally a social process, called the energy raised by such gatherings "collective effervescence." And though this powerful group buzz is invariably dedicated to the gods of earth and sky, it often generates its energies through the more secular strategies of a party. These entwined goals are key to the modern neotribal festival, whose exuberance bubbles up in the space between sacred and profane, ritual and fete, ceremony and celebration.

In his book The Eternal Return, the historian of religion Mircea Eliade described how certain rituals allow mythic time to erupt inside mundane history. In particular, Eliade talked about annual tribal ceremonies that stage the recreation of the cosmos. The idea, which is found throughout primal societies, is that by ritually returning to the chaos at the beginning of things, and then reenacting the emergence of our ordered world, the cosmos itself is renewed. Such ceremonies give us an insight into the deep impulses of the festival, within whose electronic noise and psychedelic chaos stir new forms of living and being together on this planet. The cutting edge festivals today are green and sustainable, with workshops on alternative fuel and carbon footprints rounding out the music and dance. Even more vitally, the infrastructure of the festival itself is becoming an experiment in right planetary living. This isn't just global warming window dressing. This represents an intuition, welling up from primal memory perhaps, that the festival is a foundation of world renewal.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spiritual Nomad

There is a significant phase that occurs in the process of initiation for many people that is referred to as the "Spiritual Nomad." Often, when one reaches this transition phase of spiritual evolution, it can be so painfully unnerving to the personality/ego that it not only devastates one's self esteem; it also severely undermines our confidence to manifest even the most basic needs for our survival. It is precisely our "root" fears of survival that are being shaken to the core and unpeeled from us during this process. We are being prompted to work toward clearing these fears and perfecting our trust and surrender. So it is extremely important to understand the dynamics of why this occurs and actually how entirely common it is.

This will help you avoid the pitfall of allowing yourself to dwell in feelings of humiliation, shame and embarrassment by this externalization of forces that transform your world into what appears to be a great "sacrifice." This is a crucial part of some of our development and we need to realize that many people have already undergone, or are currently working through this phase of spiritual development. This is a temporary phase. So if you know anyone who is presently working through this, do be sure to acknowledge their courage, strength and bravery to surrender to divine order and align to their soul's purpose. Send them love. This is the truth of what they are doing and it is to be honored and acknowledged. We need to be more conscious of supporting those being recruited and the new initiates awakening to reinforce the divine purposes of awakening transformation on this planet. We are moving incredibly swiftly - forward.

So what is a "Spiritual Nomad"? Some questions to define "The Spiritual Nomad": are you currently jobless, juggling jobs, possibly homeless and relationship-less... much to your own bewilderment because you are an incredibly talented, skilled and loving being? You may even have assorted credentials to your name. Do you feel invisible - like no one will hire you, love you or even recognize you? And, really, for no apparent reason (it feels like you have a mark on your forehead)? Are you unable to do anything as you did in the past to earn a living or live as you once did? Are you a healer or working as a mentor, teacher, trainer or therapist; running around trying to find a way to translate this into cash or a means of support?

Do you seem to travel a lot, drive or go long distances; or sleep in several different places in short periods of time, perhaps even on your ex's couch? Do you feel confused about your purpose and identity in the world? Are there people, such as your biological family or friends, who are completely shocked or troubled by your life, attempting to offer their advice of what went wrong with you? Welcome to "The Spiritual Nomad" experience. Fun, isn't it?

This is the time in one's life where every aspect of perceived "security" in the structure of the human world is completely unstable, unknown and unforeseen. Your life in all major areas; such as relationship, money, career, residence is all abruptly halted, changed and/or terminated. You are left feeling isolated and standing in a place of total bewilderment, wondering what happened to your life, the people in it, and your former identity. This sets off every fear button you have because there is absolutely no sign of what is going on, what is coming or why it's happening. There is only a sense that some force came in, picked you up out of your hologram, and placed you into someone else's life. For a while, you may not recognize whose life it is. It is very much like the sensation captured in the Talking Heads song lyrics, Once in a Lifetime..."Where does that highway go? Am I right? Am I wrong?"

In the process of our unraveling consciousness in this human drama setting, this is one of the experiences that we have set up as "spirit" to create the experience of learning to fully surrender to transformational forces. It is a complete dismantling of our ego and ego defenses. This is the crossroads where we start to leave the world of human order and align to the Divine Order. To many of our earthly cohorts, biological families and old energy friends; it will appear as if we have stepped off the edge of a chasm into a realm of insanity. Groups will stand around shaking their heads, whispering how you have gone off your rocker, and offer lots of advice and theories about your problems and issues. As unsolicited advice starts mounting - generally suggesting that you are incompetent, "less than", unrealistic, ungrounded, living in the clouds or just purely strange - your subconscious fear programs get triggered. Maybe, just maybe, could they be right? Internal pressures increase and you feel extremely conflicted about who you really are and what the heck you are doing with your life. This sets you off on a tangent of extreme inner examination and the re-evaluation of every goal, dream, thought and idea that you have had about your role in the world. Will I ever make it? Will I ever become self actualized? Will I have the ability to create abundance in my life?

This process is designed to cultivate the incredible inner strength needed to face yourself and your deepest fears of survival. You then become intimate with the universal Law of Abundance and learn how generous the universe really is, even if it's not all manifested in order of your personal preference. You find that somehow, someway, all your base needs are being met, even though you have not the foggiest clue how it's happening or who some of the strangers are that have appeared in your life to support you - in ways you would never imagine. You learn how to receive from total strangers (an illusion, as everyone is family) or from new sources, and learn how to acknowledge and receive these new ideas of abundance of which you were not formerly aware. So, most commonly, one feels a type of embarrassment at being in the situation; yet, simultaneously, one feels gratitude for these blessings being demonstrated at the most mundane levels (or even incredibly opulent levels) of existence. Finally, at about this time, you begin to trust and realize that you really are divinely protected and supported. You can relax now (at least a little).

These experiences do cultivate a level of deep faith and trust in the transformational order, even when you do not have any external validation of "safety" - and that safety could be monetary, emotional support or a place to call "home" with a bed in it. Even when you are feeling blind and disconnected, to face this uncertainty and to find yourself "okay" with it all is a major revelation. When you realize that your deepest fears (so many of them) did not happen anyway, and, if they did... well, it really was not as bad as you once imagined it. You can face just about anything. Your personal power begins to increase and your inner conviction keeps on growing. Well, if you find yourself smack dab in the center of this process, know that there are many designs and great plans for you. But, it is important to work through all your fear, worry and obsessions. Then work to allow guidance, support and your inner sense of knowing to come to you on your path; even when it makes absolutely no logical sense. You are learning to work your higher sensory perceptions and these antennae within you are being finely tuned for your new task and mission in the world.

You cannot "make" anything happen while you are in this process. So, you must relax as best you can. You are in transition to your greater destiny. When relaxing, you are expanding, not constricting and the transformational forces can more easily work through you and for you. Know that transformational forces are working magic in your life in ways you cannot comprehend. That there really is a divine order to what is happening to you. Know that it is okay not to know. Get more comfortable with uncertainty and external chaos while you cultivate that impenetrable core of essence to show the way for you and others. Finally, know that likeminded people are out there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Are We Possessed?

Carl Jung, the great doctor of the soul and one of the most inspired psychologists of the twentieth century, had incredible insight into what is currently playing out; both individually and collectively, in our modern-day world. He writes, "If, for a moment, we look at mankind as one individual, we see that it is like a man carried away by unconscious powers." We are a species carried away – ‘possessed’ by -- and acting out, the unconscious. To condescendingly think that we, as modern-day, rational people, are too sophisticated to believe in something as primitive as demons; is to have fallen under the spell of the very evil spirits we are imagining are nonexistent. What the ancients call demons are a psychic phenomenon which compel us to act out behaviors contrary to our best intentions.

Possession is an interesting word. It conjures up immediate associations of the Devil, who, mythologically speaking, is the one who ‘possesses’ us, in the demonic sense of the word. Possession is to identify with a complex of the unconscious, and become taken over by it to such an extent that we act it out in, as and through our lives. Who among us hasn't done this? Multiple examples of people becoming possessed by and en-acting their unconscious has happened for everyone to see. The claims by the ASA’s chairman Leonard Chuene over the Caster Semenya saga which turned out to be bald faced lies, Glen Agliotti’s dubious testimony in the Jackie Selebi corruption trial, the ongoing spectacle of celebrity scandals from Steve Hofmeyer to Joost van der Westhuizen; and the steady parade of CEO’s and highly placed civil servants making off with obscene financial pay-outs. In their actions these people were all ‘taken over by something’, as we are ourselves.

Once these archetypal contents become activated in the unconscious, it is like they have taken possession of certain individuals, irresistibly drawing them together by mutual attraction and knitting them into smaller or larger groups; which may easily swell into an avalanche. People who have fallen into their unconscious naturally attract and connect with each other, as they reciprocally reinforce each others' madness. An impenetrable bubble of shared, rigid beliefs gets conjured up around them which deflects and resists any self-reflection which threatens their fixed worldview. Anyone who reflects back their unconscious state is demonized and seen as a heretic, blasphemer and enemy. Through using individuals as its instruments, evil needs the unconscious masses for its genesis and proliferation on the world stage. Masses are always breeding grounds of psychic epidemics. In a collective psychosis there is a herd mentality, where people stop thinking for themselves and let others think for them, like sheep (‘sheeple’); that just follow wherever they are being led.

Possession is nowadays described as complexes; such as the power-complex, savior-complex, mother-complex, inferiority-complex etc. They take over the control of the total personality in place of the ego, at least temporarily, to such a degree that the free will of the ego is suspended. Everyone knows nowadays that people have complexes. What is not so well known, though far more important, is that complexes can have us. The more complexes we have, the more we are possessed. That said, we don't need to get rid of our complexes; rather, we need to become consciously aware of them. What is important is what we do with our complexes.

Possession is synonymous with bondage. Possession means being supplanted by something stronger, being taken over and ‘owned’ by something other than ourselves. We've all had moments where we've been possessed by something, where we've felt ‘not ourselves’, where we are no longer identical with ourselves. Some of us may spend our whole lives living someone else's life instead of our own. We've all had moments where ‘something’ has gotten into us, where we feel out of sorts, beside ourselves. At any moment any one of us can become ‘possessed’ by the unconscious in a way such that a more powerful energy than our conscious ego moves and animates us. Then I cannot say I do, but rather it is done through me; something takes possession of me. When I have fallen into my unconscious and compulsively en-act an unconscious complex, I become manipulated by more powerful forces than myself. In Jung's words, a person then becomes “the devil's marionette”. This could happen only because I believe I have abolished the demons by declaring them to be superstition.

Complexes have a possessive and obsessive effect on consciousness. Interestingly, the word ‘obsession’ originally meant to be under the influence of an evil' possession'. Obsession refers to certain ideas that have taken possession of the person. I can become possessed by unshakable ideas of the way things should be or who I think I am, oppressing and tyrannizing both myself and others who hold a different viewpoint in the process. The idea is like an autonomous being that wants a body so much that it even incarnates in my body; I begin to play, to perform the idea; and then people say I am completely mad. The idea has taken possession of me till it is as if I am out of my mind. In this way, millions of our species have killed and been killed over a fixed idea.

Commandeering and colonizing my psyche, a split-off, autonomous complex is; potentially, like a ‘vampiric virus’, in that it is fundamentally ‘dead’ matter; it is only in a living being that it acquires a quasi-life. Just like a vampire re-vitalizes itself by sucking our life-force, when I unconsciously identify with an activated complex, I am literally animating and en-livening the undead. Complicit in my own victimization, I then unwittingly give away my freedom, power and life-force in the process. Like cancer cells ravaging the body, disassociated complexes are like ‘splinter psyches’ that can become overly swollen with psychic energy, and then will propagate and metastasize themselves within the psyche; consuming, devouring and cannibalizing the healthy aspects of my psyche.

When I ‘see’ a demon, I know its name, which helps me to get a ‘handle’ on it. Naming is exorcistic, as it dis-spells the demon's power over me. The act of naming is, like baptism, extremely important as regards the creation of personality, for a magical power has been attributed to the name since time immemorial. To know the secret name of a person [or a demon] is to have power over them. For mankind it was always like a deliverance from a nightmare when the new name was found. Finding the name is an act of power. The moment I can designate the lived archetype by its symbol, I feel relieved; that is a good and positive moment even if it is horrible. Therefore, old Egyptian medicine consisted in giving the thing the right name. A new name always produces an extraordinary effect; I cannot rationalize these things, they cast a spell, they are symbols, they really do influence the unconscious as the unconscious influences me.

It is very important for me to re-introduce the words ‘demon’ and ‘possession’ back into my vocabulary; minus the fear that I will be seen as being primitive, crazy or even possessed myself if I use such words. I need to expand my psycho-spiritual fluency to enable me to navigate the living waters of my inner and outer landscapes. Being ‘possessed by demons’ - taken over by unconscious, psychic forces - is something that happens to all of us, and it is to our great advantage to be able to properly name our experience. Finding the name empowers me to creatively engage with those parts of myself that are emerging from the shadows ‘in the name of healing’.

This is why the greatest protection against demons is to be in touch with my intrinsic wholeness, which is to be ‘self-possessed’, in possession of the part of myself that is not possess-able; which is the Self, the wholeness of my being. The antonym of diabolic is the word symbolic, which, in addition to being the language of dreams; means to unite, bring together and integrate. The demonic is a quantum phenomenon, in that it contains both the symbolic and diabolic encoded within it in a superposed state, which is to say that hidden within the demonic is the creative seeds of its own transformation. Both constructive and destructive forces are fully present in the demonic simultaneously; and either energy can potentially manifest, depending upon how an observing consciousness interacts with it.

One of the main ways that demons become empowered within me is when I am unconscious of my shadow. Jung says, "Anyone who is unaware of his shadow is too wonderful, too good; he has a wrong idea of himself, and to that extent such a person is possessed." The extent to which I am unconscious of my shadow is the extent to which I am unaware of my potential to unwittingly enact my unconscious in a way which could be hurtful. If I don't see the negative side of what I do; what I am, I am possessed. Only through understanding of unconscious aspects, as a rule, can I liberate myself from possession. Understanding ‘unconscious aspects’ is to shed light on darker, asleep parts of myself - ‘the negative side of what I do’ - which is essentially the act of becoming conscious. The demons act themselves out through my psychic blind-spots.

The demon that is always with me is the shadow following after me, and it is always where my eyes are not. The places where I are possessed by my unconscious are the places in myself where I are not able to see, where ‘my eyes are not’, where I are unable to self-reflectively speculate. Symbolically, this is like a vampire who casts no reflection in the mirror. Since nobody is capable of recognizing just where and how much he himself is possessed and unconscious, he simply projects his own condition upon his neighbor; and thus it becomes a competition to have the most knowledge and the final answer. Interestingly, Jung simply refers to ‘shadow projection’, a process in which I project my own un-embraced aspects onto my neighbor, as ‘the lie’.

When I become possessed by the unconscious, I become unconsciously taken over by my primal, animal-like instincts in such a way that I regress, devolve and fall into my own lower nature. Only the animal man can be is easier to talk or to argue with a dog or a cow than with someone possessed by such a figure. For nothing that is said permeates, it is impossible to pierce the wall that is put up; it is a wall of unconscious beliefs, and the human behind the wall cannot be reached. There is no access because the human being is degraded to the state of an animal, and the thing that seems to function is not a divine being, it is a ghost.

Having fallen under such a spell, I will only strengthen and solidify my spell-bound conviction by acting as if there are no other possible outcomes. Apathy is the breeding ground of the possessed. If I am not investing my creative imagination in ways for me to heal and wake up, then what am I thinking? Just like in a dream at night, when I become lucid in the waking dream of life, I can connect with another and put our lucidity together; changing the world in positive ways in the process. If people tell me I am a ‘dreamer’ when I profess these idealistic and seemingly naïve beliefs; I will simply say, to quote the late John Lennon, “I am not the only one.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Seventeen Years Later

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Rio Summit, Earth Summit or, in Portuguese, Eco '92; was a major conference held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to June 14, 1992. An important achievement was an agreement on the Climate Change Convention which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol. Another was agreement to "not carry out any activities on the lands of indigenous peoples that would cause environmental degradation or be culturally inappropriate". Teenage activist Severn Suzuki made an appeal that still shames the preceding generation.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quotation Nation

Bearing Witness

The “rational” values of the culture that we live in may have freed us from the myths of the past, but unfortunately they have also undermined our capacity to have any faith in the unseen metaphysical domains of our innermost interiors. In the ancient premodern world, that unseen dimension was validated by shared myths and religious beliefs and was empowered by the supercharged energy of awakened consciousness in inspired prophets and seers. Today we no longer have myths to rely on to validate our spiritual illumination. Together we need to create a post-traditional consensus about the great significance and place of Spirit in the human experience. This has to be generated by those of us who have seen beyond the veil of appearances and have experienced those deeper metaphysical domains to such a profound degree that we’re willing to bear witness in public. But to be taken seriously, we must do so in a way that points us not only beyond the myth and superstition of the ancients but also beyond the naïve idealism predominant in so much of New Age thinking. We must be ruthless in our rationality in order to authentically transmit the light of the trans-rational God in the twenty-first century. This is an enormous task, but our willingness to take it on will slowly but surely make a profound difference - Andrew Cohen

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Hope

An excerpt from Andrew Harvey's new book The Hope: A Guide To Sacred Activism.

An elderly black woman was brought by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission face to face with the man, Mr. Van de Broek, who had confessed to the savage torture and murder of both the woman's son and her husband a few years earlier. The old woman had been made to witness her husband's death. The last words of her husband had been "Father forgive them."

One of the members of the Commission turned to her and asked "How do you believe justice should be done to this man who has inflicted such suffering on you and so brutally destroyed your family?"

The old woman replied "I want three things. I want first to be taken to the place where my husband's body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial." She stopped, collected herself, and then went on. "My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van de Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out to him whatever love I have still remaining with me. And finally, I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van de Broek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven."

The assistants came to help the old black woman across the room. Mr. Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted. And as he did, those in the courtroom -- friends, family, neighbors -- all victims of decades of oppression and injustice -- began to sing "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me."

The first time I read this sacred story, one detail leapt out and felled me with its truth: "Mr. Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted." Nothing in his brutal and degraded past could have prepared Mr. Van de Broek for what the black woman to whom he had given such pain gave him in return, not fury, nor a call for his execution, but unconditional forgiveness and a reclaiming of him into the human family as a whole and into her own immediate family. And the sacred power, flowing through her because of her humility and faith, did not merely "move" Mr. Van de Broek; it fell on him like invisible lightning from a dimension of pure love he may never have begun to suspect existed. In that moment, two extraordinary journeys, both terrible in different ways, intersected in an explosion of grace.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


"Inspiration offers a new paradigm for communicating, away from force and manipulation. Shared human perfection, the bedrock of successful communications, is nothing less than love; while cynicism blocks evolution." JM Roberts

Seeking to improve the world is a futile game built on a lie. If we want to be transformative communicators or leaders we need to work through the self. In other words, if we want to make the world a better place, we start by looking at ourselves - that way there will be one less scoundrel among us. In order to communicate in a really transformative way, we've got to get over our need to change and fix people. If our intention is to really accept the world, and the people around us as they are, then we become naturally inspiring and transformative - its the paradox of transformative leadership and transformative communication. We do not inspire people by trying to make them better - it usually just annoys them - we inspire them by witnessing their inherent perfection.

We are on the forefront of something big, and really fascinating - we realize that we have to look inward in order to solve our external problems. We are starting to get that most of our external problems actually start within us. We are trying to learn how to turn inward, find the source that animates us, and recognize that actually we created all this. We created our life, our relationships; all the problems that we have. To some extent our problems are a twisted tribute to our own creative power. Evolutionary biologists describe how the human mind has developed to be a great short-term problem solver. Catch the food, build the fire. We did not evolve to be long-term thinkers yet here we are at a place in history where we need to access and live out long-term priorities. It seems that sadly, even tragically, we are just not that species yet. Yes, the only way we can even survive in the short term is to start thinking about sustainability, and long-term perspectives.

Now when it comes to the realm of communication and sustainability, if we just take the simple common sense assumption that people consist of a mind, a body, and a spirit; we can see that there are really only three ways a human being can communicate with another human being. One would be from the level of the body to the body. That would be force. Say I wanted to get you to move a rock, I could force you to move a rock with my body. Another level would be that I could convince you to move the rock by using my mind to convince your mind to make your own body do it. That would be persuasion. Then at the top we would have inspiration, which is when I somehow access that shared creative intelligence; that nature within me to ignite the creative intelligence in you to make your own body move the rock. Inspiration would be the only way of communicating that does not have that backlash; that is sustainable. When people feel inspired to move a rock, they will keep doing it.

Enter the law of resonance; this is where a message is going to be heard at the same message level from which it is sent. If I send a message from the body, it is going be heard that way, or from the mind. I could say inspirational stuff, but if I am trying to manipulate it, if that is my intention, then it is not going to be inspiring. Conversely, Until we are willing to re-experience whatever fear we have not properly digested from our past, it will continue to clog up our experience of the world. And we will project it onto the world around us as judgment and cynicism. Cynicism is just undigested pain. Until we encounter, embrace, and overcome our own cynicism, we are going to be locked in the persuasion of force no matter what we say or do. This sounds like very ancient wisdom. It sounds Greek; it sounds Buddhist; it sounds like the Hebrew prophets. The hard way that gets easy rather than the easy way that gets hard.

Let's consider cynicism, because it's a potent enemy right now. People feel it is hip to be cynical, resigned, and somehow un-hip to be an inspired person. We all go through periods where we are afraid to be positive, because its not cool within the group. Why does this happen? It is because we cannot distinguish false positive from true joy. When we start to see that the mainstream has a lot of in-authenticity in it, we see a lot of what is actually desperation, masking as positive thinking. We start to mistrust positive statements. We see how even really great wisdom can be abused. Phrases can be abused to serve inauthentic ends. So we become mistrustful of anything positive, and we almost start to realize that the only cool people are the ones who have the courage to see the truth of life - which is not being stated in the mainstream. We have to forgive the mainstream for not being authentic at times, and not use that as a way of poisoning our own selves or keeping our own selves from being happy. Forgiveness is really where it is at.

Neither can we inspire another human being if we are coming from a place of scarcity ourselves. Flipping that around, if you are coming from a position of truly having faith in the universe operating through you and of you having more than you need; if you are coming from that place, it is hard not to inspire other people at all. It is like giving water to someone who is crawling in the desert. We have been hypnotized into scarcity-based thinking. At every corner of our society, there is a conversation revolving around how there is not enough to go around. If you can, in an unauthentic way, embrace the world, and engage the world with that faith; and that conviction of the ultimate abundance of life, you will change the world. You will, and you will not be trying to change it, and you'll be having fun. You will look at everyone that you encounter with gratitude that they are there. You will be thinking: "What an amazing person this person must be for being in my space, because I know that I am being a part of this amazing life and they must have been sent to me for some sort of reason." There is so much unsaid power in something as simple as the look in your eye. You look at people through that lens, and they feel uplifted by you.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

T-Shirt Of The Month Club

Shocking Nature

"Inability to accept the mystic experience is more than an intellectual handicap. The lack of awareness of the basic unity of organism and environment is a serious and dangerous hallucination." Alan Watts

How we respond to real life shocks often determines the degree our experience turns negative or positive, painful or joyous, destructive or creative, good or bad. Is it possible that shocks are neither bad nor good by nature, but neutral? To assume that shocks are not neutral but always negative or positive suggests that the universe is either out to get us and burn us - the negatively inflated paranoid bias - or that the universe is out to bless us - the positively inflated messianic bias. Both biases express self-delusion. If we value a choice-centered life of increasing autonomy and self-responsibility, how we respond to shock may have more lasting value than any initial shock itself. Here, responsibility is revisioned as our response-ability, our ability to respond.

Shocks are only "shocking" to the degree of our naïveté around the objective truths of ecstacy, uncertainty, indivisibility and impermanence. Ecstasy expresses our most natural state of being when unburdened by over-identification with the anxiety, guilt and suffering resulting from unsolved survival problems. Uncertainty refers to the truly unpredictable nature of life, of not knowing what will happen next, as a liberating and highly creative state. Indivisibility expresses the dissolution of arbitrary divisions revealing the basic unity of all life forms. Impermanence means all things pass; everything once alive eventually dies.

Real life shocks can happen anywhere, anytime and to anybody; nobody is exempt. Examples: sudden housing eviction, getting fired from work, marriage, divorce, childbirth, parenthood, loss of loved ones, natural disasters, sudden kundalini activations, death of parents, death of children, falling in love, unexpected financial windfalls, terrorist attacks, any move of residence, police arrest, incarceration, big employment promotions, social betrayals, family disintegrations, automobile accidents, hospitalization, surgery, spiritual epiphanies, cardiac arrests, strokes, epistemological crisis, heroic doses of magic mushrooms; the list goes on and on and on...

Shocks act as turning points for Self-initiation, of engaging the separatist ego in a confrontation with the archetype of the Self. And, as Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung suggests, "The experience of the Self is almost always a defeat for the ego." As more outside shocks are absorbed and integrated, we become initiated as human shock absorbers transmitting initiatic shock to others. We become as initiates, men and women of power; if that is what we want. Some of us undergo this Self-initiation process instinctively without any conscious plan or knowledge, while others approach it on purpose; either way, when outside shocks are absorbed and integrated, we are transformed by the transmission of their presence to the world.

Shocks come in basically two forms: inside and outside. Inside shocks are shocks we can administer ourselves. For example. By choosing to intentionally inconvenience ourselves amid daily activities, we can administer small shocks to our habitual routines by going against the grain of habit and altering the expected. Any way we are able to shock ourselves constitutes an "inside shock." However, there is only so much we can do by our own efforts alone. Armenian philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff called "outside shocks" those event arriving from any place beyond our personal control and comprehension.

Outside shocks tend to be far more effective in transforming and shaking things up than any self-created inside shock. Implementing inside shocks can, however, encourage enough flexibility to help us navigate and manage the greater forces of outside shocks when they arrive. Any state of shock naturally manifests some kind of an internal emergency state where, as a survival reflex, our senses open up to get more information. This escalation of awareness can also occur on small scales such as whenever we become emotionally upset, or lose our physical balance and fall, or are mentally thrown into bewilderment.

In these instances the ego wobbles as our awareness of uncertainty increases. We experience ourselves as more fluid, volatile and unstable. In this marginal state, we may be more open to taking on new directives and values. If the new direction takes and holds, it can be maintained with applied effort and a supportive environment. It can be strengthened by a series of challenges designed to test the integrity of our new patterns. In this way, the state of shock can initiate a creative state given the commitment and will of the individual.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Am That I Am

Delight is the secret. And the secret is this: to grow quiet and listen; to stop thinking, stop moving, almost to stop breathing; to create an inner stillness in which, like mice in a deserted house, capacities and awarenesses too wayward and too fugitive for everyday use may delicately emerge. Alan McGlashan

The mind thinks of the future; the heart mourns the past. But the body always is. Rooted in its present experience, it frees the self from the mind. It calls attention back to what is actually happening, with sensitivity as subtle as one is able to cultivate. As attention sharpens in its acuity, the body gradually reveals that concepts ordinarily assumed to be real are illusory: "walking" is a composite of a thousand gradations of movement, "joy" is but a summary; "consciousness" merely the illusion produced by a well functioning machine, like the images at the cinema which seem to be so whole.

Thus the body awakens one not only to the facticity of present experience, but also to its unity. As we closely raise, inspect, and drop the phenomena of the body, each reveals itself to be a concept only, a useful label without separate reality, existing only according to the level of abstract seeing. What, then, is real, in the sensation of a breeze gently caressing your face? If "the body" and all its constituent parts are real only as labels, what is?

Beginning as they do from the premise of divinity, the sages of Kabbalah often speak in a language moderns cannot understand. They start with what we would deem the conclusion, if the proofs were satisfactory: that God exists, and is Infinite. From there they proceed down the chain of being, through the emanations of the One to the Many, and then back again. Thus they ask, if God is infinite, then what is your body, your heart, and your mind, but God itself? What are joy and terror, open fields and pits of darkness, other than the skin of the Infinite?

We meet - rabbis beginning from the transcendent, and contemplatives from the immanent - in Being itself. The label of "God" makes no factual difference, for God is not a figure within the ground of the universe; the universe is a figure within the ground of God. What is, is; Being, not separate selves; truth, not superstition. We cannot help but divide perception into pieces: we see a tree, not God; feel our fingers, not God; experience pain and bliss, not God. Yet in a sense, there is only one thing in the universe.

"Just Being" is a subtractive aspect of ordinary consciousness, a gradual loosening of the grip of concepts. In the body, it is becoming mindful of experiences too subtle to note ordinarily. Pressure on the back, sounds being heard, the expansion and contraction of the chest. And then: just pressure, just sound, just expansion and contraction. Slowly the mind quiets, the body rests in repose, and there is a cessation - first of the most gross of desires, later from subtle ones, and at the culmination of the spiritual path, even from consciousness itself.

Only upon relinquishment of the will to arrange the conditions of the world to enable our maximum happiness does true happiness appear. As Byron Katie says, what we really want is to want what we have. Or, in the words of the Jewish text known as the "Ethics of the Fathers": who is rich? He who is happy with his share. Not doing, not changing, not thinking or talking or arguing - just being.

And then the boundaries of self slowly become transparent, for without purposefulness, the self loses its definition. Not to regress - but to transcend the slavish delusions of need. Ending, for once, the competition.

Nonduality includes both doing and non-doing, but is best known through the latter. At some later time, there can be the return of the monk to the marketplace; the descent of Moses from Sinai; a return to the material, where the Infinite puts on masks of distinction. But practice is required to ensure that our return is not a regression, that it maintains an almost transparent knowing -- that all this is real, that none of this is real. Ironically, it is the most physical, the most separate-seeming part of the material world, which is the greatest vehicle for remembering. Spiritual states may come and go, but the body endures for a lifetime.

One cannot get beyond the body except through the body, in the body itself. Otherwise there is still something to be denied, or utilized, as if "we" are merely inhabiting our bodies, trapped souls waiting for release into paradise. The pious will argue that some desires are loftier than others; hedonists will reply in kind. But all the while, Being will be unfolding, just out of range of periphery, in the shape and form of the ordinary. It is, in a way, a solitary path, for there is, in the truest possible way, no one else here. But then again, you aren't either.

There is only Me, God or Spirit says. You are not alone, because this ego, this "you," is not what is ultimately real. These sensations that are happening to the body - who are they happening to, if consciousness is but a phenomenon of the brain? Who is really here? And how do "you" know anything? In the end, the solitude of the nondual path is only as temporary as the intimacies of the alternative - because when the true Self is known, suddenly there is love within the fabric of being itself. Not beyond, not denying, not leaving behind the substantial; but in it, as it, inviting you to join heaven and earth. And promising, in a silent and intimate vow: Be faithful to Me, and I will show You love.

Seeing Into The Unseen

Dolphins perceive sound up to 200,000 Hz, whereas the limit of human hearing is a mere 20,000 Hz. Dr. John C. Lilly’s research has led him to calculate that a dolphin’s sense apparatus works from 10 to 20 times faster than ours. I recall the first time I witnessed dolphin telepathy firsthand, standing waist-deep in the bay at Ponta do Ouro and wondering just how long it would take for a dolphin to cover the intervening distance between us. It wasn’t simply the dolphin’s telepathic sensitivity, but the extraordinary speed of its response, that astonished me. It was almost too fast to be noticed.

Since dolphins use a sound-based echolocation to literally “see”, it could be said that dolphins “see into the unseen”, at least as far as our limited human sensorium is concerned. However, the implications of this are more profound than merely the speed of their senses. It’s been my own experience, and that of many others who have been open to it, that dolphins possess some form of telepathic ability. How they do it remains a mystery and it is impossible to pin down, let alone replicate, since almost all the evidence is anecdotal. Besides, if it were true it would fly in the face of the contemporary scientific paradigm.

Possibly that is why an article which I recall appearing briefly in the late eighties, disappeared just as quickly. It was an account of a US Naval research project in which two dolphins were held in separate laboratories many miles apart. The labs were linked electronically and tests were devised and given which demonstrated the two dolphins were reacting, in the moment, to one another. There’s a tone of reserved astonishment in the statements of the scientists quoted. The final paragraph has the scientists speculating about a matrix of some sort, perhaps telepathic, that links up all intelligent sea creatures, no matter the distances involved.

Even within our own human sensorium events occur in the course of a life that appear to happen at the edge of our ability to perceive them. No one can say with any degree of evidential certainty how the mysterious unseen worlds actually function, or even how they come to be. All that has really emerged from the probing and testing is that human potential is far more substantial than anyone had thought. Scientists risk the derision of their peers and a sudden dearth of funding if they attempt to seriously research these enigmatic areas of human reality.

I suspect that this level of excessive skepticism cloaks not only a terror of ridicule, but perhaps a more legitimate fear that there might be something to it. If angels actually exist, if mediums really do talk to the dead, if dolphins are telepathic, if extraterrestrials are visiting our planet, if Midwayers are actively involved in shaping our lives - if all these things are true, then what ever would it mean for the way scientists conduct their research?

Consider the research of the celebrated professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, Gary E. Schwartz, and his associates. Reported in The Afterlife Experiments, they have demonstrated in double-blind studies, that selected mediums can often achieve an 80% to 90% accuracy rate when passing on messages from deceased relatives or friends, or describing their personalities to the subject. Yet, however consoling it might be for a person to know that Granny lives on and still loves them, almost nothing of general, or lasting, value has been communicated through the mouths of mediums. For researchers, what little information has surfaced over the years has been rendered arbitrary by its very unproveability.

To compress a great deal of hard-won experiential information into a series of bullet-points risks their being dismissed merely as New Age clichés. So hopefully these words will resonate with the reader’s experience sufficiently to reaffirm the authenticity of their own glimpses into the unseen world. Bearing in mind that all true knowledge has to be experienced personally, these are some of the things, and in no particular order, that have been learned through personal encounters with other realms of being:

• To deepen and enliven the quality of a terrestrial life to know - to really know - that life continues after death.
• To understand the mechanics of belief and to know that belief systems - to paraphrase Dr. Lilly - are but rungs in the ladder of knowledge.
• To know what it feels like to step outside the ego-centered structure of my personal mind and step into the collective mind.
• To know that all matter is to some degree animate at its most basic subatomic level.
• To know that the Multiverse is teeming with intelligent life, both on the inner and outer realms.
• To know I can heal myself by the focused intention to communicate with the organizing principle of my body - my body deva - that which knows intimately how my physical vehicle works.
• To trust my intuition. It’s not always right but at least I make my own mistakes.
• To take into account that in general the world appears to be upside down. Almost everything the world believes is opposite to the truth. This is a convenient formula for deconstructing the many confusions of consensus reality.
• To realize that most of what is forbidden contains essential truths.
• To realize that trusting in the authenticity of a transcendent experience encourages further synchronicities.
• That doubt is healthy in its place; yet to know how to leave it behind in the heat of the moment; doubt can always be picked up later.
• To understand that emotional intelligence is distributed throughout the natural world, each species possessing it to the extent of its needs.
• To appreciate viscerally that in consensus reality we are all swimming in a sea of fear. To know that every moment presents each of us with the choice of responding to life with fear or with love.
• To know that we get what we deserve if we don’t listen; and we get what we need, if we do.
• To know that, in spite of appearances, all is deeply well; that what appears to be the chaos of a frantic world is well-understood and guided by unseen hands towards a truly extraordinary destiny.
• To know that for reasons that have little to do with humans, this planet is regarded as being of extreme importance to the larger universe context.
• To know to take the time and attention to delve as deeply as possible into the true nature of dolphins and whales; that they are a key to the nature of non-human intelligences.

Without knowing all the implications of this, it seems that the veils separating the worlds are already disappearing. More and more of us are being drawn to the dolphins and environmentalism is opening people to the nature spirits. The unseen realms are there for the seeing. With a little focused intention on our part, and an open heart and mind, they are as close as a heartbeat.

Kinetic Evolution

Theo Jansen is a Dutch artist who builds walking kinetic sculptures that he calls a new form of life, as featured in a BMW television commercial. His "Strandbeests" walk the coastline of Holland, feeding on wind and fleeing from water. Here the artist demonstrates the amazingly lifelike kinetic sculptures he builds from plastic tubes and lemonade bottles. His creatures are designed to move - and even survive - on their own.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quotation Nation

"It is our own transformation that creates the best climate for change. Others are more likely to reflect on their own behavior as a result of witnessing our self reflection than to yield to our desire for them to be different."

Peter Block - "The Answer to How is Yes".

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Servant Leadership

Servant-leadership can be understood as bridging the modern necessity to work and lead within complex organizations and environments; with the call for tapping into ancient wisdom that is absent from such settings. The servant-leader’s role is like that of the Peruvian chakaruna - one that bridges the core reality of sacred ecology with that of civil society. Shamans have called upon chakaruna to mediate between what is called the dream of the world (global economic system) and the dream of the earth (embedded ecology). In terms of our world’s vernacular (that is, as educated members of the global system), a chakaruna is a “servant-leader,” one who serves life, but also knows how to leverage the system that he or she works in. The servant-leader has a foot in both worlds in order to bring them into harmony.

An aspiring servant-leader is called to become a kind of neo-shaman within whatever profession they are working in; their desire to serve comes from a primal source. Like the plotline of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, the future servant-leader’s ordinary world is turned upside down, and then they are called upon to venture into the underworld in order to rebalance the world. First the servant-leader becomes a pilgrim before taking on the role of healer, or put differently, they must heal themselves first before directing the energy outward to the general community. As MIT management theorist Otto Scharmer points out, “The Indo-European root of the word lead and leadership, *leith, means to go forth, to cross the threshold, or to die.”

There is another important link with shamanism: it is the default position for servant-leaders to midwife the universal energy of creation, and therefore honor that spirit. Shamans are imbued with great power and responsibility because they have the skills to enter into border worlds of nature and consciousness to retrieve elixirs of power in the service of healing. They must follow the ultimate golden rule: don’t do onto others that you would not want done to yourself, or, what goes around comes around. According to community activist Chris Maser, this requires engaging a reciprocal reality: “Reciprocity is the self-reinforcing feedback loop that either extends sustainability to or withholds it from a community and its landscape.” To serve ego and greed rather than life is the difference between being a healer and a black sorcerer. We wouldn’t apply such harsh terms to the managers of global finance, but in essence, those in the world who wield great power, especially through the mastery of electricity’s great magic and its media system, are subject to the same laws of karma as those practicing petty witchcraft.

Not surprisingly, there is a direct connection between service and spiritual enlightenment. One of the first exercises you do as Buddhist practitioner is to perform generosity. This can manifest in different ways, but when you give something to somebody you begin erasing the boundary between you and the “other.” The disconnection we normally experience with other people and nature is at the root of all our major problems - environmental, financial, political, etc. If the universe wants you to serve life, than life will respond in kind once you surrender to it. Thus, the core ethic of any servant-leader is the same as a healer: we are to serve life above all other. Naturally, then, servant-leaders ultimately also support the cause of sustainability, which is the opposite of the culture of death that manifests as our current economic system.

It is appropriate that the concept of servant-leadership is actually a bridge between ancient wisdom and modern corporate management. For example, a connection between Buddhism, which derives directly from a radical engagement with nature, and servant-leadership can be found in Herman Hesse; whose story "Journey to the East" inspired Robert Greenleaf to start the servant-leadership movement. The character of Leo, who was the guide and servant of the book’s protagonist, moved Greenleaf to rethink leadership. After the protagonist’s long search for a spiritual teacher, at the end of the story we learn that Leo was actually the leader of the order he was searching for.

Corporate leadership consultant Joseph Jaworski argues that servant-leaders first need to shift their model of the world from mechanistic thinking to one that engages “a universe that is open, dynamic, interconnected, and full of living qualities.” Next, he argues, we have to change our relationship with relationship - “the organizing principle of the universe” - in which we experience intermediate states in a network of interactions. Once committed to these principles, and a cause that serves them, then the right resources come together in a magical way that Jaworski calls “synchronicity.” This is not without its risks. Jaworski stresses that this ultimately requires cultivating a state of being, not one of doing. When ones ego or other emotional traps intervene into the process, the “flow” can alter course or cease altogether.

Such “flow” states are not easily grasped or communicated until experienced. Which makes learning and teaching servant-leadership a somewhat treacherous task, because on the one hand you want to develop a kind of space where amazing things can happen, but at the same time not be attached to peak experiences that characterize states of “grace.” Just as some meditations seem like “bad” ones, and others feel really peaceful, there is no distinction between the two on a fundamental level because in each encounter the sitter is experiencing the true nature of their mind. However, when under deadline and pushed by time constraints to complete projects with a product, it can be a strain to force “magic” to happen. Accordingly, Maser proposes, “If one, as a leader, is truly detached from the outcome, one will find equanimity to be one’s touchstone. Equanimity, the outworking of detachment, is reflected in the calm, even-tempered, and serene personality of one who is simply open to accepting what is.”

Its tempting to paraphrase an overused cliché - servant-leaders are made, not born - but there’s truth to the statement. In Buddhism it’s no secret that nothing changes without sitting on the cushion. In Buddhism one remakes their consciousness through practicing dharma, an architectural model for change, but it is something one learns through effort, testing and experience. Effective leadership comes from self-knowledge, an awareness that can come about from a variety of toolsets, with “mindfulness” being a middle way for leaders of all kinds. In "Primal Leadership", Goleman, Boyatzism and McKee point out: “Great leaders, the research shows, are made as they gradually acquire, in the course of their lives and careers, the competencies that make them so effective. The competencies can be learned by any leader, at any point.” The authors stress that such skills can be mastered through understanding cognition. One must know thyself, in particular how the mind functions during various states, be they stressful or pleasurable.

One aspect of the servant-leadership equation should be the notion of Gandhi’s concept of swaraj, which entails self-rule, self-governance, self-organization. This ties servant-leadership to social justice and deep democracy, both aspects of Buddhism and activism that have contributed to this perspective. Buddha inspires because he was the first historically known do-it-yourself educator of servant-leadership. Noah Levine said "Sid" (Siddhartha Gautama aka Buddha) was history's earliest rebel by advocating for social change through his philosophy of empowerment, both individually and within the spiritual community. Buddha went against the prevailing attitude of his time by eschewing the caste system and inviting women, criminals and the poor into the teachings. Buddha developed a user interface that is personal and open source.

In terms of relating this to leadership the Sufi teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan said; “As we evolve, we’re able to transform the situation and the people around us by helping them to fulfill their purpose. Our purpose is to enlist the purpose of other people. That is really the secret of leadership.” In Greenleaf’s terms, “The best test, and most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons?” Likewise, you can find a similar philosophy in a get rich quick book called "Secrets of the Millionaire Mind". In it T. Harv Eker says the most important ingredient for prosperity (aside from applying yourself) is that you design your business around the idea of helping others solve some kind of problem. This is not the normal kind of ethical guideline you read in a business book; in fact most ethics textbooks deal with how you should react to certain situations, not how to create a space of potential in which others can benefit, grow and fulfill their promise. But this, indeed, appears to be a common thread in the writings about servant-leadership.

Whereas Maser and Scharmer directly address leadership for the benefit of sustainable action, unfortunately management books like "Primal Leadership" or "The Difference" do not address ethics. In Buddhism, ethics and mindfulness go hand in hand. The Five Precepts is largely a guideline of morality because the path to enlightenment means one must surrender to the flow of life without being clouded by mental and physical toxins generated by immoral behavior. (The simplest example is that if you repeatedly lie, you cease to discern the truth.) The critical question a servant-leader should ask before engaging in any task is, does this action serve life? This query concurs with Maser’s Prime Directive: “Planetary citizens are to live in humility and harmony on Earth while simultaneously minimizing interference with any of Nature’s evolutionary processes.” However, the call to serve others must be done authentically, Maser argues, because leaders must also be true to themselves: “What do I personally have to offer those who are struggling to find their way? Am I living my life honestly, freely, and boldly as I am urging others to do?” In Gandhi’s oft-repeated phrasing, “You must become the change you seek to create.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Messianic Age: A Kabbalistic View

Millennialist predictions vary as to what the transformations of 2012 are meant to be. For some, 2012 represents The End of the World, the apocalypse, the destruction of society, or even life as we know it. For others, 2012 represents an inflection point in human consciousness, a tipping point at which our age's accelerating growth in spiritual consciousness suddenly wins out over its equally perilous growth in material chaos and devastation.

In fact, this distinction -- whether the "next age" is about spiritual transformation or material destruction -- has long been a part of Western apocalyptic thinking. The latter tradition is better known: the Rapture, the End Times, the Apocalypse. However, the former tradition is also present in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. There have just been too many Times of Transformation: 1666, 1848, Y2K (remember that?), and literally hundreds of others, now long forgotten. Then again, who knows? One of the benefits of the "spiritual view" is that it makes predictions less important. For the Kabbalists, the cyclical and linear aspects of time represent the feminine and masculine aspects of Divinity, the power of Now and the trajectory of temporality.

One of Judaism's central historical tenets is the belief in a Messiah, a redeemer who in some future time will change, or even end, history. Jewish beliefs about the Messiah have themselves evolved over time. Initially, the Messiah was seen as a purely military/political leader who would bring independence back to Judea. Later, the Messiah became seen as a cosmic figure who would change the entire nature of reality. Likely under the influence of Christianity, the Messiah was sometimes seen as a semi-divine figure, even one who would atone for the sins of Israel. In contrast to such traumatic and supernatural accounts of messianism, there has been a longstanding Jewish tradition to regard the messianic age as one of evolving consciousness rather than revolutionary history.

Imagine a world in which everyone understood that all of us are God. Not one in which each person thought he or she was God alone -- that would be disaster. But one in which the nonduality of Being was understood, in some form or fashion, by all human beings. This would be an entirely different world from the one we now inhabit, free of the conflicts and crises, petty and grotesque, which fill our moment. And imagine what it would be like, right now, to believe that, as Ramana Maharshi has said, "civilization . . . will finally resolve itself, as all others, in the Realization of the Self".

Now, in our postmodern information age, the noosphere is indeed upon us. Already, thanks to global information technology, the hidden mystical teachings of the world's religious traditions are accessible to everyone, as are the great wealth of scientific, cultural, philosophical, and artistic works from the better part of humanity. But even this is just the beginning. The internet, nanotechnology, and wearable computers are but the initial stages of a noetic revolution in which nonmaterial information may displace material matter as the ultimate future of the body. Most probably, we are only a few decades away from being able to upload our minds onto renewable data media. Is this the "immortality of the soul" of which some religions once spoke? What is the meaning of humanity if we are able to transcend the limits of matter? And more proximately, what is the significance of this new knowledge, accessible all over the world -- including, for our purposes, the highest truth (singular!) of so many spiritual traditions, that there is really no one either reading or writing these words?

What terrifies fundamentalists is that religious meaning evolves over time. Yet from an integral messianic perspective, that is exactly what it should be doing. There is no experience apart from interpretation, not merely because mystics must interpret their experiences according to the language and culture they know, but because those linguistic and cultural structures condition the nature of the experience itself. Perhaps "I" will "have" a "vision" of "angels," but all of the quoted terms are cultural constructions. The structural/historical conditioning of experience is unavoidable, so much so that it makes little sense to speak of "experience" or "God" or "mysticism" apart from the stages in which such experience is interpreted. Put simply, God looks different depending on where you stand.

From what Wilber (following the integral approach developed by the philosopher Jean Gebser) calls the magical stage, God looks like the provider who answers all of your (egocentric) needs. From the mythic stage, God -- as understood in your faith tradition exclusively -- is the sole source of salvation, and everyone who doesn't believe in Him is doomed. From the mental-rational stage, God is a moral principle and the Bible a useful, though flawed, teacher of ethical truths; other teachers may also be valuable. From the pluralistic stage, God is love, expressed in a thousand ways by a thousand religions, all deserving of respect. And from the various integral stages, God is variously Nothing, and all of the above. Experiences of all types are available to all kinds of people. But the same experience will be immediately contextualized and interpreted according not only to one's religious/spiritual/scientific tradition but also one's "stage" of religious development.

Utopian ideal? Exactly -- and that is exactly the function of the messianic urge, here reconfigured away from nationalism, triumphalism, and supernaturalism, and toward the dawning of realization on earth. Will everyone be Christian or Gnostic or Jewish in the messianic age? Will a magical chariot descend from the sky? Of course not -- that misses the entire point. Rather, the nondual wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov's (and many other) teachings will water a thousand plants in Eden, a biodiversity of spirit which, as in ecology, nourishes the whole by supporting difference. Consciousness will shift until such a point at which even the lion may lie down with the lamb.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Program Your Money

The credit crunch may actually be good for business.

No, not in the short term. When money becomes more expensive, it is harder for most businesses to get the capital they need to conduct their most basic operations. Even successful companies borrow money to buy materials, pay employees, and cash in on invoices that have yet to be paid. Without the cash flow provided by banks, it is a lot harder for many companies to function -- much less expand.

With any luck, however, the future of business will be entirely less dependent on banks and the currency they lend into existence. The Fortune 500 will become something other than brand names on piles of debt, and business operations will be characterized more by what companies produce than how much credit their "stories" can earn them on one of the stock exchanges.

Yes, we are watching something melt down. But I'd argue the thing that's dying is not business itself, but a financial parasite -- a speculative marketplace that no longer funds business but instead seeks to extract value from healthy commerce. More a funds vampire than an infuser of needed capital, the investment industry has been exposed as a drag on business. The future of commerce looks bright to me because it may be unencumbered by the weight of this non-productive capital.

This all began back in the Renaissance, when a waning monarchy was looking for ways to preserve its power in the face of a rising merchant class. The merchants were becoming richer than the royals. So the monarchs came up with an idea: chartered monopolies. By granting one of these new companies exclusive province over a particular industry or region, monarchs earned their undying loyalty -- as well as a generous portion of shares in the enterprise. They began to write laws that favored their chartered companies, such as those preventing inhabitants of colonies from creating any value for themselves; colonists had to ship raw resources back to the mother country, where they were processed into clothes or other finished goods.

This model of business-by-extraction carried over to finance as well. European towns had used local currencies for centuries. Farmers would bring their wheat to a grain store, which would give them receipts for the amount of grain to be kept for them. These receipts served as local currency. The system was so efficient, and people were living so well, that people of this era were taller than at any time until the last few decades. By making local currency illegal, a monarch could force people to use his own more expensive "coin of the realm" instead. Instead of being earned into existence, this money was borrowed into existence.

Over the next four hundred years, the business of money slowly grew bigger than business itself. A central bank creates money and charges interest to the next bank down the line, and so on, until it gets to the business that needs it to do something useful. The problem is, more value is being extracted on each level than businesses can produce. There are simply too many institutions -- too many lenders -- to be paid.

As the banking industry grew bigger and less regulated, institutions consolidated, making the notion of a local lender obsolete, as well. Loans are centrally processed by bankers who have little knowledge of the companies or people to whom they are lending -- and little reason to learn about them, since they are simply packaging and selling the loans, anyway.

The house of cards had to fall eventually. The truly amazing thing is how long it lasted. And before we attempt to prop it back up again, we might consider whether there is a better way to do business. I think there is.

The beauty of this era -- this networked, hi-tech, and decentralized world -- is that we no longer have to do everything from the center. The laws and regulations requiring us to run our finances and resources through tremendous industrial age corporations are more obsolete than ever. And real people are beginning to catch on to how inefficient and risky it is to conduct their transactions in this way. They are starting to trust the real world around them more than the mythologies created by the public relations departments of distant corporations.

Moneys are programmed. They behave in certain ways because they have been embedded with certain biases. Today's credit crisis, for example, is no more the fault of particular bankers' behaviors than the underlying biases of the centralized, monopoly currencies we use. At least that's the opinion of a growing population of citizens and businesses turning to the use of what they call "complementary currencies" -- alternative, net-enabled, bottom-up money systems that let them accomplish what money loaned out by the central banks just isn't letting them do anymore.

Complementary currencies treat money as a utility, rather than an asset class. Their bias is towards functionality instead of savings, transaction instead of speculation. In 1995, as recession rocked Japan, unemployment rose and currency became scarce. This made it particularly difficult for people to continue to take care of their elderly relatives, who often lived in distant areas. The Sawayaka Welfare Foundation developed a complementary currency by which a young person could earn credits for taking care of an elderly person, and then spend them on the care of their own relatives in distant towns. At last count, the alternative currency was accepted at 372 health centers throughout Japan, and all administered by a simple piece of software. Close to a thousand alternative currencies are now in use in Japan.

In October 2008, as the credit crisis paralyzed business lending, companies started signing on to barter networks in droves. One system called ITEX, which allows businesses to trade merchandise, reported a 37% increase in registrations for the month of October alone. Utilizing more than 250 exchange services now available through the Internet, companies can barter directly with each other, or earn US-dollar-equivalent credits for the merchandise they supply to others. This bartering already accounts for 3 billion dollars of exchanges annually in the United States.

Local currencies have spread far beyond the experimental fringe to over 2100 US towns at last count, both because of the new scarcity of dollars as well as the availability of software and tools. Beginning a local currency requires no store of capital -- it is as easy as visiting the websites for local economic transfer (LETS) systems or Time Dollars. In one town, for example, there's a tiny organic cafe called Comfort that is seeking to expand. John, the owner secured a second location for a sit-down restaurant, but doesn't have enough money to renovate the space. Although he has great credit, he can't get a loan from any of the banks in town. Even though the bankers know him, they don't have lending authority from the conglomerates that own them. So what's John to do?

John has turned to the community for help. He invented "Comfort Dollars" that people can buy at a discount of 20%. If you spend $1000, you receive $1200 in Comfort Dollars that can be spent at the restaurant. John gets the cash infusion he needs to complete his expansion -- and for cheaper than the bank would charge him. The local community gets a 20% discount on food they would be buying anyway, as well as the chance to invest in making their town better. This is a 20% return on investment, payable as fast as the investor and his family can eat.

The Comfort Dollars scenario reveals just how much of the current mess has resulted from the way we "outsourced" our finances to begin with. The real problem underlying the global financial meltdown has much less to do with low efficiency, bad labor, or poor innovation than it does with the decreased utility of the financial industry itself. Money has stopped working properly -- at least in its capacity to lubricate transactions. The sad part is that money is working exactly as it was designed to.

Once we accept the fact that the money and banks we have grown accustomed to using are not the only ways to generate capital, we liberate ourselves and our businesses from a finance industry that has enjoyed a monopoly over our commerce for much too long. They have not only abused our trust through corrupt self-dealing, but abused their privilege through systemic usury. Businesses are only obligated to support their employees, owners, and customers -- not an entire finance industry.

The financial meltdown will help many businesses realize that their priorities have been artificially skewed towards making bankers and investors happy -- and their own communities less so. As we start to finance locally or from our own non-local communities, our services will become more finely tuned towards them as well. We will get better at what we do, rather than obsessed with growth (to pay back lenders) or financing (to achieve that growth through acquisition).

This is all good -- at least for businesses that have any remaining connection to a community or core competency. It will be possible to scale companies appropriately rather than to infinite expansion. It will be easier to take and share profits rather than watch them be extracted by last year's lenders. It will favor local and connected businesses instead of big chains operated from afar by corporations behaving as if it were still the 1500's and they had a royal imprimatur on their business license.

The future of business -- real business -- is bright as it has been for close to a millennium. It just might not be reflected in the Dow Jones Industrial Average for quite some time, if ever. That's because instead of earning money, we'll be creating value.

My Years With Ayn Rand

Psychologist and philosopher Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D. is a founding member of Integral Institute and author of twenty books on the psychology of self-esteem, romantic love, and the life and thought of Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand. His work has been translated into 18 languages and has sold over 4 million copies, and includes such titles as Taking Responsibility, The Art of Living Consciously, A Woman's Self-Esteem, and the 1969 classic, The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

In a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month-Club, the #1 book that has made a difference in people’s lives is, no surprise, the Bible. But the #2 book is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. And #5? Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. In other words, two of the five most influential books written are from the hand of Ayn Rand. Meet the man who Ayn Rand considered to be the living embodiment of the principles of her Objectivist philosophy; in other words, meet Nathaniel Branden.

Nathaniel begins his story at the beginning: a boy of fourteen who stumbled across a copy of The Fountainhead lying on the coffee table. "I disappeared from this earth for the next two days, until the book was finished. It was an electrifying experience." Little did he know then that as a young man, a shade under twenty, he would actually meet Ayn and soon begin one of the most passionate and turbulent romantic relationships of his life, the effects of which would touch the lives of thousands.

As Nathaniel recalls: "I could hardly believe that this person who I had regarded as a goddess since age fourteen, saw me for all practical purposes as the apotheosis of everything she was writing about." Ayn and Nathaniel began an intense, romantic (and largely secret) relationship—she in her forties, Nathaniel in his twenties—that has become the stuff of legend and at least one movie. It is rare that any influential movement begins in such a way; rarer still to have an eyewitness report of one of the two involved parties.

Of course, when the relationship did end, it ended in an enormously difficult way. So difficult that in certain circles of Rand’s followers, Nathaniel’s contributions to the movement have been denied or ignored. But Nathaniel played an instrumental role in helping form and popularize Objectivist philosophy as a world-wide movement. Having founded the Nathaniel Branden Institute to help educate interested students in Objectivism, he was responsible for teaching distance learning courses in over 80 cities world-wide. To this day, Rand’s books sell over 400,000 copies per year.

We are fortunate to have this opportunity to listen to Nathaniel’s account of the life and times of one of the twentieth century’s literary giants. He was on the ground floor of a philosophical revolution still being felt today. (Example: it has been said that the most powerful man in the world is the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. That position was held by Alan Greenspan, one of a dozen members of the early circle with Ayn and Nathaniel.)

But there is a reason that Ayn invested so much in Nathan, as she called him, and it is that, in a peculiar way and from the beginning, Branden was his own man. He brought as much to the movement as he got out of it, as his long and distinguished career demonstrates. The Nathaniel Branden Integral Life presentation is the story of that astonishing career that has now lasted five decades, from age 23 to 73.

This wide-ranging conversation deal with the Ayn Rand years—utterly important, formative, movement-creating, and earth-shaking, certainly for a young man. But, as they say, go ahead and listen to the Ayn Rand years, but keep in mind, you ain't heard nuttin yet....