Work, what is it good for?

Absolutely everything! (Ring in Edwin Starr’s classic 70’s Soul track)

In today’s cultural narrative, particularly amongst the youth, we find a compulsion towards finding work that you “love” and you’re “passionate about”. I think all this is nonsense and the narrative is long past its prime. There are innumerable 20-somethings who bought into the idea that we must find work that we’re passionate about (and if not, then we’re unhappy).

The result is that we have a generation of young people dissatisfied with their jobs – jobs which are commonly labeled “blue collar”, jobs which are necessary for society to operate, and jobs which are absolutely respectable.

However, let’s shift the context for a minute. If in a smaller community, such as those communes created in the sprawling American Western frontier of the 1800s, the hard labor you performed was a blessing not only to your community but also to yourself.

We need to shift the perspective of work as a burden to work as a birthright. Good, honorable, useful work is for the betterment of mankind… and yourself.

These necessary jobs are very often technically based, whereas the jobs we’re passionate about often fall in the realm of soft skills, such as coaching, public speaking, storytelling, writing etc.

Don’t get me wrong, these positions are perfectly legitimate in organizations that allow for higher overhead costs.

The problem is that these positions have been disproportionately sought after and held in high esteem. The trend seems to be weighted towards large and/or liberal cities. The largely forgotten and underestimated workforce tend to be in rural and/or conservative areas.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes quarterly “Occupational Employment and Wage” tables for each city in the US. It’s interesting to note the higher percentage of occupations such as “life, physical and social science” or “Arts, design, entertainments, sports, and media” in liberal cities like Los Angeles, CA and Boulder, CO.

Whereas, places like Columbus, Ohio tout percentages of workers higher than the national average in fields like “Office and administrative support” or “Business and operations”.

The cultural narrative changed recently – focusing less on productive professions and more on innovative technology. Innovation sounds like a lot more fun, but we cannot forget about the run-of-the-mill producers.

Contractors, technicians, managers, miners, truck drivers, servers, farmers etc. represent the bulk of America’s productive activities according to the Center of American Progress, a liberal think tank. These are the people that make sure you have functional heating, that clean water comes out the tap, that there’s fresh food at the grocery store.

The rich tapestry of service providers allows for the modern standard of living. It’s a beautiful web of collaborative effort.

If you’re a net recipient of all these services, it is wise to take some time to be grateful for these people. If you yourself are in the working class, as many of us are, then it is similarly wise to step back and feel a sense of belonging with the diverse activities of the world around you.

There are two main takeaways I want to impart to you:

  1. As an upper-class individual, judgment towards the perhaps more rugged character with oil stains on his jeans is a block in your mind that you must overcome. The difference between the rich and poor are blurred by the fact of our common humanity and relatively equal basic needs. Gratitude is vital for satisfaction in your life.
  2. The social narrative espoused by millennials that praises the internet marketer and ignores the farmer needs to stop. This hyperfocus towards the innovator creates an imbalance in society as a whole and the individual psyche in particular. Balance comes from glimpsing the complexities of economics and the importance of every single person’s value.

As a personal note, as I was finishing my studies at college I was very much enchanted with the ideas of the entrepreneurs around me. I knew many young people making money on the internet by marketing, web development, life coaching, speaking engagements, ebook sales, and a thousand other ways I had never heard of before or could understand.

I thought to myself, “How did I miss the boat?” These people are traveling the world, connecting with global communities, and having a blast all while making a self-made fortune seemingly stress-free from behind a computer screen.

I tried to play their games. I went to workshops and seminars. I was told that if I could only transform my relationship to money and find my passion, then I would find my purpose, create an impact in the world, and become a millionaire doing it. I was served the self-help slogan du jour and I drank the Kool-Aid.

The only problem was that it didn’t work. Turns out, I don’t have any online marketing skills… and I don’t like crouching over a computer all day.

I later found out that all those beautiful people making money on the internet were either funded by their parents, heavily in credit card debt, not actually making any money, or a combination thereof. I felt tricked and jaded, while I struggled to pay the rent.

Then I was fortunate enough to be offered a job on a construction site. It changed my life. In the beginning, I knew nothing (my degree only helped get the interview). The only thing I could do was work hard: I dug holes, swept floors, fixed drywall, spot painted apartment units and did the occasional excel spreadsheet.

It was a turning point. My idealistic naiveté quickly wore off. I disengaged from certain self-help communities. I came home each day dirty and tired. I budgeted, curbed my lifestyle expenses, patiently paid off my debts, and slowly educated myself in career and finances.

Just a couple of years later, I feel momentum in my career opportunities and financial growth. More importantly, I know the value of hard work. I am no longer a worker suffocated by the grip of a capitalist system.

Now, I am a sovereign individual doing honest and honorable work in my pursuit of financial independence.

JME

Castro’s Cuba

Read Time: 10min

My time in Havana, Cuba has given me much fuel for further consideration on poverty, on politics, on conviction, on human nature, and on finance. My cursory study of Cuban communism taught me that the system so valiantly fought for by the well-known revolutionaries evidently did not bring freedom and prosperity to the Cuban people. In fact, pity filters my perception of each Cuban citizen. And yet, the romantic image of the revolutionaries still lingers. The conviction, sophistication of ideas, and courage displayed by José Martí in the early independence from Spain, and by Fidel and Raul Castro, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, among others, in the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship, all are worthy of admiration.

For me, it is upon the second study of communism, specifically of the Cuban revolution in 1959, in my current frame of mind do I find the significant flaws in the ideology – elements of which are counterproductive to the advancement of humanity. With a more exacting political viewpoint, I am finally able to parse out the admirable from the deplorable. The iconography sheds its allure. The complexity of the characters involved can be seen for what they are – neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but simply men following what they thought was right.

The Admirable:

To begin with the positives, a number of laudable traits mark the characters of our idolized subjects, such as: anti-imperialist sentiments, compassion and empathy towards the poor, intelligence and a high degree of sophisticated ideas, conviction and willpower to bring those ideas into reality, and a political sense of identity and empowerment.

The first respectable trait is the reaction against imperialism. It is a well-deserved topic to study the immense negative impact of imperialism in the world. Few people today would approve of the imperialist world takeover waged in the late 1700s. The effects were profound and lasting. The hegemony subjugated entire peoples, stripped natural resources, and forever changed political landscapes. Gandhi’s struggle is a case in point.

The imperialist powers, e.g. the English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese, trampled across the world believing it their birthright to own everything they could grasp, believing their God-given superiority over other races.

Obviously, the identity-driven motives of this motto reveal ignorance, not wisdom. It is with proud and ambitious pomp that globalization spread, not with mutual respect and camaraderie. Globalization may be an inevitability – the current growth of transportation and communication technology points toward this trend.

However, because imperialism was methodically implemented by egomaniacal hierarchies of the wealthy West, it has left behind a bitter taste. Of course, the wise choice of naturally allowing global interactions to occur freely requires Herculean levels of patience, while history shows the rush of profit seekers.

Personally, I happen to have been born in a victorious nation which has reaped all the benefits of imperialism, with a few of the detriments. It is with perseverance and a drive towards the truth that clears the mental fog fabricated by our biased history books here. On the opposite side of the scale, therefore, the deficits discarded by the imperialists are the daily bread of the “Third World”.

The victims, weary of their subsistence, are right in their desperation and anger.  The research into, identification of, and the pointed anger towards imperialism is an arc of personal discovery that demands unequivocal respect for those willing to tread its course. This was and remains the source of my admiration for Fidel and Che.

The second step of realization is to involve the heart and compassion for all those who have been thrown to the wayside – the servants, farmers, and laborers. They work their bones down, sacrifice their freedom, dull their minds, and limit their leisure for the sake of the imperialist agendas. Generations upon generations have lived through the sunrises and sunsets of their earthly existence under the subservience to this invisible economic hand. This picture is painted so grimly as to warrant fervent emotion. The loving compassion for these people and the desire for a positive change to their condition is, above all, the noble stance. Acknowledging the overall lack of empathy in politics, I admire the Cuban patriots’ tacit response to the suffering of others.

The third positive in the silver lining of Cuban communism is the sophistication of ideas, though many ideological tracks were previously laid by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, among many other economic theorists. Still, Fidel Castro’s adaptation of such ideas to the unique Cuban situation is an impressive human achievement.

Brought up in a relatively upper-class family, Fidel had an uncanny magnetism and resiliency during his studies at law school and his political student gatherings at the university. Clearly intelligent, he coalesced his political ideology into a view relevant enough to garner support in challenging the administration of the day. With a flood of revolutionary thought leaders before him, he was able to ride the wave of political unrest, which ultimately positioned himself as a leader on the global stage.

Stemming closely from the sheer potency of his ideas, Fidel implemented a tremendous force of will not only developing his well-crafted ideology but also leveraging his education at law school in fighting for his ideas. Regardless of his possibly questionable psychological state at the time, his gravitas as a socialist leader is contrasted by the fact that he advocated such ideas against his own bourgeois family. In his personal life, he walked among the wealthiest social circles of Cuba while gaining recognition as a socialist leader resisting the very system in which he was privileged to live. This must have caused a great deal of turmoil in his life, but his conviction nevertheless continued to grow.

Owing to his qualities of leadership and relevant power of his ideas, he maneuvered the ranks of revolutionary groups. Increasingly anxious, he coordinated the failed attack on July 26th, 1953 and eventually orchestrated the successful revolution of 1959. A requisite for being a revolutionary was the personal belief in the motto, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Each man figured himself destined for the cause. Revolution on their watch became the only path towards a life of any significant value. “¡Patria o Muerte!”, the common slogan, gave few options.

This summarizes, in this short study, the commendable traits of the main actors in the Cuban revolution. These traits were highlighted in communist propaganda under Castro’s regime. Images and quotations of Guevara, Cienfuegos, and Martí decorate innumerable murals and memorabilia across the island. Without much thought, it is very easy to idolize these figures. Without an honest, objective analysis of socialist theory and a detailed account of Castro’s regime, the propaganda produces a feeling of pride and patriotism. Despite the squalor experienced by most Cubans, the older generation still hopes the social benefits promised them will come to fruition.

My previous enchantments with the players of the Cuban revolution and with socialist ideas, in general, are primarily personal. However, being a product of conditions similar to many in the American millennial generation, I think it a fair assumption that my experience may relate to that of others.

In my early 20s, I lived, studied, worked and traveled in several countries in Latin America with a copy of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries in hand. In many ways, I related very deeply to his travels and sentiments. I identified with his intellect, sense of adventure, and call for social justice. I emulated his example in many ways and sought for ways in which I could use my chosen profession, engineering, in a similar fashion that Che used his medical profession.

I knew he was a controversial figure, but for me at the time, his passion for justice against the exploitation of the worldwide working class far overshadowed my understanding then of his extreme socialist philosophy. To my current view, his values are antithetical to a holistic life, personally and collectively.

I was forced to parse the romantic from reality upon setting foot in Havana in January 2019. Personally witnessing the tragedy of Castro’s communism, I was confronted with the ideas of my yesteryears. I came face-to-face with the intrinsic moral conflict in communism and the impossibly lofty ideas of Marxism. In my own view, the idea of socialism (even democratic socialism) as a viable system, quickly falls apart in witnessing how the lived reality of negatives far outweigh the positives.

The Deplorable:

First, the apparently justified anti-imperialism is rendered philosophically rotten by an intense, nationalistic pride. As a campaign tool, national pride is a low-hanging fruit leveraged to capture the support of the masses. Pride is an easily stirred emotion. However, I cannot shake the utter irony of being proud of a fact that is completely outside of one’s own choice or control. Randomness of birthplace is nothing to boast of.

[Sidenote: In the Cuban situation, the Cuban people are largely immigrants to the island. The Spanish had relatively recently colonized Cuba in the early 1500s, displacing the indigenous Taino people, who in turn displaced the even more ancient indigenous Guanajatabey people before them.]

On the whole, nationalism seems to be completely contrary to Marx’s true socialist ideas, ideas which propound the abolition of the nation-state. Castro mingling these opposing forces delegitimizes the combination in and of itself. This flaw in his political theory reveals a glimpse of a man with his eye on obtaining power. A large number of political historians acknowledge this fact, revoking the label “Communism” to describe Castro’s regime and instead coining the term “Castro-ism”. Nothing good can come of one man’s rise to power.

The second negative effect of communism I witnessed is the obvious one: poverty. In stark contrast to the compassion presumably felt by Che and Fidel for the working class, the reality of the situation is poverty for all, not liberty. From the Marxist point of view, abolishing the exploitation of workers and advocating the collective production of goods and services creates abundance. Marx thought that socialism provides enough material wealth for each individual to meet their basic needs and rise up through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to eventually reach self-actualization.

It is a beautiful image, an alluring one that captures the heart of many young people today. However, there is an intrinsic flaw. In a factory situation for example, if an efficient, innovative and hard-working man is paid an equal salary as the man who performs the minimum allowable production, then after some time, the lack of incentives for the hard-working man will become unbearable. Why expend so many calories for the equal pay of working less? It’s a race to the bottom. Eventually, the entire factory operates at a sluggish pace, and many other factories too, until the entire GDP of the country is lowered. Lower wages, less commerce, less innovation, fewer consumer goods, lower living standards, and fewer opportunities are the result. This is hardly the environment for a thriving human being.

In Havana, this is painfully obvious. Generally, those aged 45 to 65 seem to show a lack of industriousness compared to the Cuban youth (known for their propensity to hustle and desire to bootstrap their way to success not afforded to their older counterparts). The older generation’s lives have been marred by apathy. They can be seen alone or in small groups on street corners or stoops, perhaps playing checkers or chess, perhaps drinking cheap rum, waiting for the day to pass. It is not fundamental laziness that derailed this generation; it is unfulfilled promises of a government having de-incentivized a creative, innovative, or otherwise pursuit-filled life.

The millennial Cuban generation is different. They realize that if they work hard, productively and creatively, they can make more money per month than their parents ever did. This is an encouraging sign for Cuba’s future and is a result of recent changes – encouraging small businesses, opening up cellular data plans to the populace. These are capitalistic movements and mentalities, which drive prosperity.

The third negative trait, only revealed by later research, is Castro’s faulty ideology. Castro’s communism is not a pristine rendition of Marx’s ideal perfectly adapted to the Cuban situation. In fact, Castro himself repeatedly denied he was a Communist to the press until some years after the revolution. What exactly did he stand for? It seemed to be a moving target.

At the beginning of becoming a public figure, he was simply against the Batista regime. Later Che Guevara greatly influenced his ideas while in Mexico, before the revolution in 1959. After his small group of revolutionaries marched into Havana as the victors, he eliminated many other revolutionary groups attempting the same objective. Executing many former government officials and the leaders of other groups was his way of finalizing his status.

Only after all of this did the USSR offer to purchase sugarcane at a disproportionally low rate. This legitimized Cuban communism, at least in label. It seems the success of Fidel was not a result of his exemplary political model and superior campaign platform. Instead, his power was founded on antagonism, good timing, maneuvering the political climate, leadership in battle, and brutally murdering the opposition. This paints a very different picture of Fidel, the intellectual giant of a lawyer, and Che, the handsome revolutionary doctor, from what the propaganda portrays.

Ultimately, history is written by the victors. Whether you read an account of the same event from the perspective of the USA, the Cuban nationalists, the Batista opponents, firsthand accounts, or the revolutionary propaganda, you can never really trust the information. Furthermore, in the complexity of ideology, it may take several passes, as in my case, to grasp the full implications of the Cuban revolution.

Propaganda has done well to idolize Che as the reformer of the people – and to a large extent, this is how he thought of himself in his writings. But let us take lived reality as the ultimate arbiter of truth. Regardless of the potency of an idea, we must inquire honestly if the idea works in the real world. Regardless of the apparent benevolence and idyllic promises of socialism, we must reflect on the failed attempts to enact such ideas in history.

With the rise of socialist ideals in the United States, especially in my own millennial generation, I find it crucial to bring the ideas to their logical conclusion in advance, and lay plain the flaws in existing socialist societies. Universal healthcare, universal basic income, heavy taxes, and various other socialist proposals all feel like the right thing to do. In the face of extreme wealth disparity and an elite class hoarding more and more money, socialism seems like the ideal solution to runaway capitalism. In the sincere and benevolent intentions of young socialists in America, I have no doubt. But once enacted, history shows that socialism quickly erodes to dictatorships, poverty and even atrocity.

I invite the well-meaning socialist today to abandon hope that a Marxist utopia can exist and instead set their sights on how to adjust the current financial system. There are obvious problems with the current system, a system which bears little semblance to true free-market capitalism. Capitalism, in its purest sense, encourages free-market commerce, mutually beneficial business, and private charitable organizations.

Similarly to what is already happening with the advent of the Internet, people from all of the world are inclusive, less rigid in their thinking, and more open in their commerce. With increased global interactions comes the growth of international trade, ideas, and culture. In my view, the trend is toward a global community of human beings who leverage a profiting business for the social good. Yes, re-rearranging must be done, but the future of humanity is not calling for more government control, but less.

 [I willfully admit the chance that the history described herein is inaccurate. Without expending further time in laborious study, these statements merely reflect the current state of my understanding from the resources I gathered up to this point and my own observations.]

Photo by @travelersmind

Zen Leaf

Nature is often associated with the poetic, the timeless, universal. The atomists of ancient Greece believes in nature to be the fundamental source of life, and even more, that nature could be broken down into its components. Through solemn investigation and study, the relation of one natural phenomenon to another might engender a sort of wholeness to the human being, as if the human being weren’t whole already. The incisive mentality of these proto-scientists began the branch of human thought we know today as reductionism. The immense power of scientific reductionism has provided humanity the blessings of medical science, technology, space travel, and the like. It would be foolish to take for granted the wealth of pleasure and convenience made possible by centuries of men and women fervently at work in their laboratories. However, there is one major fault to the philosophy of life taken on by the reductionist mentality – something these scientists must look for elsewhere if they ever feel the urge to seek at all.

Connection is the elusive ingredient which escapes the grasp of any individual looking for life in a petri dish. The lack of connection keeps the scientists hungry for an ever-increasing level of complex research – and maybe reaching out to religion. Connection is the central tenet of the opposing school of thought in Greece at the time, that is Pantheism. These pagan philosophers acknowledged the universe could be parsed, split, dismembered and analyzed, but to my mind went one step further, or rather, took one step back. The concept of interconnectedness is only a point of debate until the message is made clear that the individual human being is unrelentingly linked to all else in the universe. Not only is human participation integral to our view of nature, but nature itself is astoundingly interdependent if only we take the time to look.

The German philosopher Hegel wrote that thought is dependent upon language, that is, the human mind cannot conceive without the words to describe what it conceives. This seems simple enough until you try for yourself, the mental phenomena in question is Perception, not Conception. Perceiving the indescribable is a very easy task with the help of imagination.

I sit on a brick garden planter breathing the air and spot a single leaf on a tree uniquely positioned with the sun creating a translucent green flare of light at its edges. I perceive the incredible value the single leaf provides the tree, and in turn, the tree provides for the leaf. The radiant Sun beams into the Earth’s atmosphere, is filtered, and finds its way onto a single leaf. That leaf has millions of years of evolution, which taught it well how to translate the warmth of light into sustenance for the tree. The energy shifts the molecules else ever so slightly, but just enough to create a single carbon atom. This is the gift of the leaf to the tree. As a friendly return favor, the tree absorbs moisture from the roots through capillary microfilaments reaching all the way to the leaf, sustaining its life. This is the gift of the tree to the leaf.

This beautiful interaction, which really needs no words to describe, completely amazes the mind as we still cannot conceive of its purpose. The overwhelmingly reductionist society we live in can conceive of the component science, but cannot even fathom the perceived beauty. What is the purpose of a tree? Is it not simply for the sake of connection?

 

JME

Optimum

The quest for ultra-performance: its merits and woes…

I’d be shorthanded in thinking of anyone who strives to be sluggish, useless and wildly ineffective. These qualities may adequately describe some human beings, but it stems not from some goal, rather, from a default way of being in an outer world perceived as harsh, relentless, and unforgiving. Lethargy seems always to be a lack of conviction, never an attribute. Why?

Shifting attention to the premier performers of the modern world, whether in sports, the arts, or business – there we see very much a goal of fast, efficient, worthy and effective action. What calls a person towards an exuberant production of ideas? Excellence itself seems to be the main driving force being brought forth from within from what one’s self has yet to achieve. The simple, yet exhilarating emotion of improvement really is a drug. It is only when this drug becomes addictive, all-consuming, and socially expected does the previously peak performer full of inspiration and joy turn into a stressed, neurotic, worrisome individual.

Unfortunately, in today’s overtly self-revealing society, it feels this dysfunctional peak performer is on the rise. Or maybe, it just seems so because they are the more outspoken individuals and ambitious for the spotlight. Regardless, the question of performing at our best remains a deeply personal one. Excellence, again, comes to mind as a critical motivator for not only individuals throughout history but even civilizations. The forging of governments, constitutions, and laws seek to encourage and, at times, enforce excellence amongst the populace. Religion does much the same through revelatory storytelling which inspires traditions amongst its believers.

However, the elusive mystery of personal excellence provides fertile ground for controversy given that it is a subjective experience. It is only a matter of time when a powerfully charismatic individual proselytizes his own view of excellence and begins to coerce others of his own conviction. Democracy decays into dictatorship. Spirituality spoils into dogma. These forces produce a snowball effect, which can only be reverted by political revolution, or by religious revitalization. One thing is clear though, always in the midst of forced and dysfunctional worldviews, there are always free thinkers.

And here we find ourselves, surrounded by a hugely complex world where every issue has multiple sides – each advocating its own agenda – in a way, each striving for its own ideal of excellence. Granted, a party’s depiction of ideal functionality may only function well for themselves, while overlooking the needs of others. But, I think it’s important to respect and emphasize with each individual, regardless of conviction, for their very real, very visceral sense of excellence. Every human is knee deep in the swamps of existential quagmire – and it seems the only rescuer throwing us a rope is excellence. We’ve all got a terminal illness of doubt of questing for meaning, and the only remedy is excellence.

Forgoing the endless uncertainties of our existence, accepting the strange and improbable fact of our position on this earth, lends itself towards the awareness of our immediate situations in the great enterprise of becoming who we want to be.

The single task of improving who we were yesterday, in the ecstasy of excellence, makes worthwhile our whole lives, from birth to death. The giddy feeling of becoming, of unfolding, learning, expanding one’s heart, extending one’s hand – these continue until our final breaths – if we choose.

And so, in a purely innocent sense, peak performance can give life to the mind. The vigilance of unfolding yourself for your own sake, and not in response to the demands of others, is the whetstone for sharpening the blade of an excellent life.

JME

The Drama of Identity

There is nothing in Life more interesting than the question of who you are. We live the phenomena of personal experience daily, and varying levels, but how many of us take a moment to question it? When we ask each other in passing, “How are you?” – far from a casual connection between acquaintances, this could be the most difficult question ever posed to mankind. In all actuality, how am I? How did I come to be? How did I wake up this morning? The great lesson of this mystery is to address it with humility and surrender. The question doesn’t need to be answered – if it ever can be – in my view, the questioning itself opens the door to deeper being and further reaches of the mind.

On a daily level, it is remarkable the facility with which we all manage to assume different identities in different situations. Unwittingly, we are all master shapeshifters – our identity, on at least an immediate level, is dictated by the interaction with another person. I do not know I’m a student until I’m presented with a teacher, or an employee with a boss, a son with a father, a friend a friend, a citizen a country. All of these responsibilities and more are opportunities for ourselves to define our identity in light of the context. In any given day, the average person runs the gamut of personalities. In psychology, a dysfunctional person who experiences anxiety with this constant flux of identity is said to have multiple personality disorder. On a less severe level, we all experience multiple personalities – however, instead of disorder, this is the very fabric of behavior which society requires to maintain order. Adaptability is the hallmark of a healthy economy – and it’s each individual’s ability to adapt – that is, to recalibrate one’s experience of self – that is remarkable.

Now, we must define what we mean by personality, identity, role or mood. After all, one could argue that we don’t have many personalities throughout the day. “What I experience is me! It’s really me!” You could say I experience many moods throughout the day, but I still know who I am. Likewise, I could assume different roles throughout the day, but I’m still me deep down. But how can we say such things with certainty? On what level do you define what you mean by the word “I”? I suppose the answer to the question reveals itself through itself. In other words, the level in which you most easily identify indicates the level in which you allow yourself to experience Life.

One who identifies with their moods is held prisoner to the sway of emotions and is victim to circumstance – saying “I’m sad” or “I’m happy”. One who identifies with their role, or status in society, will cling to what other people say of them and may try to climb the political leader – saying “I’m poor” or “I’m rich”. And the one who identifies with the spiritual self will embrace, and times endure, the human condition – maintaining a general’s view of the battle of Life. and continuously exploring the mystery of identity. This is at times called the “I Am Consciousness”.

Of course, this is just a small sample from the myriad set of ways in which humans identify themselves. Deep down I do think there is a Truth to this mystery, and it is something akin to the following infinitely inadequate description:

We are all nebulous clouds of ontological amoeba imbued with the gift of self-reflection. Sprung onto this earth and encapsulated in flesh, we each experience the spectrum of daily existence. Our soul, if that’s the appropriate word, is an entity devoid of any identity, save for a semblance of identifiers which enable it to have the individual experience. All other identities are added later from the gestation period to human maturity – all imprinted on to this magnificent, fluid-like, formless and limitless being. The plight or prize, whichever the case may be, of this angelic entity, is to sit ever serenely behind the eyes of the person you call “me”.

So, next time you see a friend, acquaintance, or stranger and ask “How are you?” just know that you will never receive the full reply.

Right and Wrong

There is a theme concerning ethics going around in the modern personal development circles involving Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, correct and incorrect. The modern idea states there is no such thing as Right or Wrong in human behavior, that the universe is subjective and that no one has the liberty to judge another person whatsoever.

In this view, the word vice must be used in quotations, “vice”, simply because it is a subjective term. Even more, the word virtue must equally become “virtue”, because even this has no intrinsic merits. Who knows what these words mean anymore? Apart from those “silly outdated religions”, human conduct has no direction, only values one personally chooses at will. I call this the “modern view”.

We’ve gone a long way from the ancient Greeks whose greatest minds gathered to share oratory on the virtues of love, wisdom, temperance, courage and justice.

In fact, morality and ethics have had the rug pulled out from under them in the name of value systems, while no one value system can be placed above another. “They’re just different”, the modernist says. The only ethical system I see is: “If it feels good, do it… as long as you don’t harm others.” This model can work for a while, but there’s no internal compass, no thought of consequence, no sense of an overarching order.

I understand the stance that the universe has no ethical rules. Indeed, when viewing the universe as a vast array of vibrational atoms swirling about, there’s no room for ethics. However, this conviction of no ethics simply follows as retaliation to the condemning view of an oppressive society founded on Judeo-Christian dogma. The same reaction occurred during the European Enlightenment era of the 18th Century. When a domineering societal construct is broken through insight and testing the envelope (much like our generation has done), the logical next thought is rebellion in the opposite direction. That is to say “Ok, society’s rigid and unconstructive views are outdated. There is another way to live life! I’m going to think for myself!” And amazingly, with technology and entrepreneurial vigor, our generation has experimented and created new ways of living.

Of course, innovation and progress are staples of a healthy humanity. It is when ethics are forgotten in light of progress that we as humans transgress our bounds and ignore the subtleties.

There is solid truth to this view, however. If people today hustle about, worrying themselves with what other people do or say, then we will live in a very divisive world – indeed we do. People disrupt themselves by calling another person wrong for their race, profession, status, religion, gender etc. Conversely, people deceive themselves by calling some people right according to their profession, fame or status etc. This is all meaningless and the idea of “right and wrong” can correctly be eradicated! This is a huge step forward for humanity if we can learn to not judge others for their superficial traits!

If a woman chooses chocolate over vanilla ice cream, it is asinine to make her wrong for it. If a celebrity does her hair a certain way, it is asinine to make her right for it! It is what it is. These trifles are meaningless and you can create what you will with your reality. Our world is slowly starting to understand this especially through the work of modern personal development circles. So, thank you.

The issue stems, I think, from well-intentioned people wanting a tolerant world, while altogether ignoring a critical distinction.

The chasm spawns from two very different outcomes from one interaction: 1) discerning an erroneous act and 2) blaming with emotional weight of wrongdoing. An erroneous act can be unknowingly doing harm to one’s self or others, which can be identified and remedied through education. The blame of wrongdoing leads to guilt, self-doubt, and sadness and when repressed can lead to loss of self-esteem, depression, anger and chronic neuroses. The two couldn’t be more distinct, and yet it is so common to lump them together as “judgment”. The latter is undoubtably unpreferred and any work to prevent it is beneficial. The former, however, is a more subtle and willful act that though beneficial for the world, goes dismissed.

Let me use an anecdote to explain:
A math student puts effort into solving a difficult equation and comes up with a solution. The student turns it into the teacher who skims it over, hands it back, and says, “It’s incorrect, try again.” At this point, the student has the choice (usually unknowingly) to take this personally, taking on the emotional baggage of being wrong, and fostering disdain for his teacher; OR to discern what the teacher has told him, gather his thoughts, and try again without emotion. Likewise, the teacher in saying “It’s incorrect” had the choice to place emotional charge behind his voice hinting at frustration with the student; OR simply to check the numbers, and encourage the student to try again. Two different interpersonal energies; two different results; one interaction. Indeed, in this case, the student was incorrect, but the teacher doesn’t need to make him wrong for being wrong.

 

I think it’s gotten out of proportion when the modern view says there’s no such thing as good and bad, right or wrong. This view is simply wrapping up discernment with condemnation into one word: “judgment”. Originally the word “judgment” didn’t have negative connotations. Nowhere in the dictionary definition of judgment does it link  to negativity.  The connotation comes from when judgment refers to sin in a Biblical sense. However, sin in it’s original Greek is written as “hamartia” which is an archer’s term for “missing the mark”. So again, there’s not even a negative connotation with sin! You miss the mark, you get to shoot again! Judgment simply refers to cause and effect. The Christian view of judgment is identical to the Buddhist view of karma.  In fact, this isn’t a view at all, it’s an observable happening. We see causes and their effects all the time; an action and a result. The math student acted, and the result was wrong.

 

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Be A Warrior!

Ever wonder about drive or ambition? What is it? And what does it look like in the lives of motivated world shapers?

In the modern world we have a few stereotypes of what it means to be macho – or to be a warrior. It typically has a somewhat negative connotation as being overly aggressive, domineering and insensitive. The warrior also has positive attributes of being decisive, clear-headed and ready to take action. Not to mention, a strong warrior type helps sex appeal to the other gender!

Or you can have the opposite: a wimp – man who can’t decide on his mission and holds back on living his life. You can sense the dis-ease with this situation.

Of course, these are only the extreme cases on the polarity spectrum.

So, we have to make a choice on what type of life that we’d like to live – a life we can be proud of or a life we look back on and think we didn’t give it our best effort.

This article is about a great debate within the psyche of both males and females.

I’m going to explain three main points:

1) A common trait I see in many people these days.

2) The importance of being a warrior and the possibility of being a balanced warrior.

3) The roots and direction of the warrior spirit.

1) Is the warrior aspect alive in today’s culture?

I think today we can see the full range of the warrior spirit. These three aspects that follow are not only the dominant traits of one person, but are ever-shifting behaviors within ourselves.

First, we can find the aggressive, domineering types mostly associated with men in the business world or the construction world – any situation where money takes precedence. Here we see men who think that being stronger, faster, and smarter than the guy next to him will win him victory. This mindset is constantly comparing and sizing others up. Emotions and too much thinking are considered inferior and should be avoided. Comparing numbers, gaining progress and status, and making sure everyone is working hard are their main objectives. It is a interminable game of one-up-manship.

We can all imagine the stereotype of a guy in a fraternity who excessively works out, talks about his “conquests” with girls, and never really seems genuine. This is an imbalanced warrior mode. Maybe someday he’ll even himself out.

I’ve also experienced in the construction world men who come storming into the office and start blaming others for things they haven’t spent the time to investigate. In this instance a little softening and yielding to learn more is beneficial.

Second, we have many people out there, again both men and women, who control their warrior aspects very well. These are the strong personalities who know when to show their compassion. They walk upright and confident with shoulders back and chest out but their hands are open, soft and their gaze is full of understanding. How do they achieve such a masterful poise?

These are the men and women who are driven towards a goal larger than themselves. and are relentlessly driven to achieve it, provided it benefits others.

Third, we can see the weak side; the individual who has not yet found his personal power. This person is wrought with indecision and confusion regarding his future or his goals. He writhes at the question, “What do you want?”, for he is uncertain of even where he stands. This person is the coward, the passive pole of the warrior’s aspects. He allows others to push him around, often to the brink of lashing out. It may be that he doesn’t know when to quit an impossible relationship, a circle of friends, or a frustrating job.

2)  The Warrior aspect plays an integral role in a human life. It is the driver for change, for creating something in this world more worthwhile. It is the piece of us that defends our self-identity and argues for beliefs. It is a necessary part of us. If we were without it, we would simply flop over under the pressure of being alive.

It is possible to achieve a balance with this energy. It is tricky, but it can be done with alertness and vigilance of one’s own behavior – not being overly aggressive, but not being a pushover.

A balanced warrior is clear-headed and does not muddle their goals with too much thought. Their strategies are cohesive, well-integrated, and precise. They are decisive when confronted with new situations. They pause, analyze, identify, attack and pause again. This is the samurai spirit. This is an achieving machine that is ready to act and never winces at a chance to show himself. Self-assured but not arrogant he goes into the world thoroughly knowing his skills. His aggressiveness is a stance towards life that rouses, energizes and motivates.

How does this balanced warrior know what aggresiveness is appropriate under the circumstances? He knows through clear thinking, through discernment. Constant alertness.

The warrior never sleeps through life! He know how to focus his body and mind.

To quote from the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover:

“If we are accessing the Warrior appropriately, we will be energetic, decisive, courageous, enduring, persevering, and loyal to some greater good beyond our own personal gain…If we are accessing the Warrior in the right way, we will, at the same time be ‘detached’, warm, compassionate, appreciative, and generative.”

3) The self-assured, strong standing Warrior must be rooted. But rooted in what? Perhaps surprisingly, it is in love.

The Warrior must have a great amount of self-love. A love that is unhindered by past failures or by other’s thoughts about him. Through a rigorous process of reflection and determined practice the Warrior has uprooted all the psychological defects that can emerge as a human grows into adulthood. By removing past hurts, a sense of self-love permeates through his actions. These actions have the integrity of confidence and purpose.

In other words, the Warrior does not have a scared child still within him.

Love within and love without are the staples to the Warrior’s character. All the aggressive, decisiveness must be directed towards a purpose. That purpose is clearly calculated to benefit something bigger than one’s self, to be of outer love.

Whether, it be for the king, the country, the state, or the family, the Warrior holds himself to a greater standard and envisions his work being of service to the greater good.

This reminds me of a quote from Che Guevara, a great personification of the Warrior: “the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”

So go on! Find your balance of dominance vs submissiveness, ambition vs. yielding, sternness vs compassion, attachment vs. detachment. Go and find your mission! Find what it is that you want to give back to the world.

Understand your roots so you can grow tall and bear fruit!

This is a whole lifetime of inner work, but the results are of the potential to be an outstanding human being. A person who shares the heartaches of the world and yet overcomes strife to master his world.

This is a man who can look back on his life and say “I’ve done all I could do.”

Mystic Way of Living

The definition of a mystical experience is the feeling in which you identify yourself to be one with everything else. It is a breakthrough of the ego boundary which you have so carefully constructed throughout your life and a dissolving of your identity to that of everyone and everything around you.

Not me as in I, but me as in you. You See?

This experience can be induced through hallucinogens, by chance from what the Christians may call “Grace”, or by extensive study of sacred texts. Or it can simply never happen in a person’s lifetime – plenty of those cases.

Regardless, it is remarkable how consistent these experiences tend to be had by people from all walks of life. In all ages of human history there have been the mystics. Religious persuasions are irrelevant in considering the message of these delightful people.

In fact, this is the experience of common ground among all religious factions. There may be great scuffles and disagreements in the court of mixed religious clergymen, but when mystics of different cultures gather there is only accord, only learning.

That is because the fundamental essence for being a mystic is unbridled curiosity and acceptance. This is the state of mind where thoughts are innocent and amazed with every flicker of light, every falling leaf. Great ecstasy arises out of simply walking one step. Supreme happiness unfolds with a ripple in a pond. The Ultimate Reality seems to be playing a game – and you’re participating.

For reference, here are several people of mystical inclinations: Jelal Al-Din Rumi, Meister Eckhart, Emmanuel Swedenborg, Nicholas of Cusa, John Dee, Black Elk and countless others throughout history.

The undertaking of such individuals stems from introspective work, but intends to have far broader implications. The feeling arises that as one steps into a mystical experience, humanity as a whole is somehow alleviated. It’s akin to a child wanting to play, but is ignored for long time and then finally someone turns their attention towards the child in an open, fun way. Then the magic of play is a shared experience. Such is the feeling a human being can have with the laws of the universe.

Allow me to illustrate one of my experiences. While I was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina I was studying Buddhist Meditation and Quantum Physics, among other things. I came across a simple fact about atoms that gave me insight. It stated an atom is comprised of 99.999999999% empty space. This is a simple fact and one that is commonplace by now, well I hope at least. But try to visualize that. I mean really see it. Amazing how the matrix can be seen if you choose to see and with enough imagination. In this vision there is no difference between you and the tree over there. Both of you are just space. The distinction of each is in the minutia of atomic vibrations. And what causes these vibrations to do what they do? I would need to consult a real quantum physicist if he’s got an answer to that.

Then a memory came of my 7th grade science teacher who said that according to probability, if you bang your head on a door for an infinite duration there is slight chance that you might go through. Wielding these two powerful thoughts in my head, I literally brought myself to tears on a downtown bus stop because my hand wouldn’t pass through my own leg. It seems silly of course! But why couldn’t it pass through? What is it exactly that differentiates my hand from my leg? Is it simply the strong and weak forces in matter or the covalent bonding of cells? Is it the electrical repulsion?

Then the idea of an atom being both matter and wave came to mind. What is it that forms my hand or leg? Then the real question begs itself: What is form?

Now these questions need not be answered. One could get very lost in physics and philosophy to try and answer them. But what is important is the sensation – revelatory sensation brought about by scientific facts.

Being within my own body yet knowing that this bag of skin in reality dissolves into the sea of empty space and vibrating particles. There is a sublimity here; a certain quiet existence. What I call “I” am not distinct from anything or anyone else around me.

Reality is a uniform landscape encircling your mind playing its game and acting as different characters. What is truly remarkable is that though everything including yourself seems to lose its substance there does remain one constant; and that is your own mind with its own choices.

This space has no ethics, no moral or social codes. It just is. Destruction and creation dance in large and small scales. Movement is is not judged as good or bad; it simply has eddie currents or tendrils of more movement.

This is where existential crises come to haunt the human mind. Whatever it is you call “you” is stationed in the center of a multifaceted world of infinite possibilities. What are you going to do about it?

I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

Why bother with any of this stuff, huh? We are living in a crucial time where the fields of science and religion are once again meeting on common ground. I just explained mysticism induced by science. That’s downright beautiful! I am grateful that I am alive in the time when science has progressed to such a degree that we actually know what happens at the subtle atomic levels. Remarkably, reality tends to behave in ways predicted by mystics for thousands of years! Amazing! We are scientifically proving Nature’s subtleties. I won’t even call this spirituality because it’s not! When the most complicated computer in the universe, the human mind, was practiced and focused enough by the mystics on discovering the Nature of Reality, wouldn’t you think that something would come of it? Quantum Physics leads more and more to the fact of consciousness being a pervading force in the universe.

These are revelations that can be utilized in everyday life! While walking try to envision the pressure distribution of your weight as you affect he atoms of the earth. As you speak to someone, imagine the sound waves propagating from your vocal chords and affecting the vibration of your listener’s eardrum. As you sit, imagine the electric repulsive forces between the atoms of your butt and those of the chair. You’re not sitting, you’re levitating! As you see color, imagine how the color itself only exists as an interplay of light bouncing between your retina and the atoms of objects.

These are delightful miracles! These are things to be grateful for! This is science with a hint of divinity. This is reality.

Influences:

Fritjof Capra, Richard Feynman, Alan Watts, Scott Peck, Max Planck, Rumi, Buddhism, shamanism…