Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Joe the Burglar: Advice for Aspiring Criminals

Joe is back with some tips on pursuing a successful life of crime.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Joe the Burglar on Social Media

Joe the Burglar shares some insights as a self proclaimed social media consultant.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Sense of Proportion

On Saturday afternoon while picking up a prescription, the pharmacist told me that my doctor had asked to be called for a follow up. Before leaving I decided to check my blood pressure on the automatic machine, only to find the reading stratospheric and scary.

I walked around the store sorting it out, and realized that I had let the machine read the pressure through my sweatshirt. Surely that explained the high reading since I'd been normal for some time.

Without the sweatshirt I was lower, but still elevated. I took a few more readings, each one a bit lower, and decided it was heading down to the normal level and that I was okay.

The next morning, just before leaving for breakfast to meet a friend, I opened my laptop to check my nonexistent Sunday email, and found the screen completely white. I took a deep breath, turned it off and turned it back on, and it stayed completely dark; the hard drive light went on for a seconds and then stopped. This happened three times. I left for breakfast considering the consequences of losing my hard drive – data was backed up to my desktop but lot of stuff, like recent email in Outlook, would fall through the cracks.

At breakfast I completely forgot about the blood pressure, and was somewhat preoccupied with the laptop issue, but strangely accepting and detached.

After breakfast, I tried the laptop again, hoping it would magically reappear (maybe it overheated?) but it was dead.

I went to Fry's and bought a hard drive, returned, figuring the laptop would now work but I would have to reinstall Windows and a lot of other programs, but at least I'd have a laptop.

Unfortunately the same thing happened. The hard drive light went on briefly, then off.

I called Dell and determined that the cause of my problem was not the hard drive, but a defective failed graphics card or motherboard. I was lucky to get this information, because I was out of warranty.

By this time it was late afternoon and I had recorded all the football games. I decided to relax, take a nap and then have a normal dinner and watch sports.

After my nap I took a shower and tried a Google search on my graphics card and my laptop for problems, and found many pages of similar issues; it turned out that on the Dell forums several users had had their laptops repaired out of warranty because Dell had acknowledged this issue.

I called Dell back, and after talking to three reps from India, for over an hour while I watched the first football game muted, I got him to acknowledge that indeed I had the faulty graphics card or motherboard.

This came as we watched three diagnostic lights, one solid and two blinking, and it took me ten minutes of description with him misunderstanding and repeating the wrong sequence to get it right. Then another forty minutes with his supervisor to whom I sent the information from the web sites about those who had been helped out of warranty. He finally promised that he would try to help me but I needed to wait 48 hours for a return phone call.

That evening I relaxed and watched sports, but several times I reached for the laptop to check my email or go on Twitter, only to realize that it was upside down and dead on my coffee table (I turned it over to take out the hard drive).

That's when I realized the lesson: this machine was my constant companion and I was connected constantly when I was home.

Without it I could still go online and check email, but I would have to go into my office and use the desktop PC.

Suddenly, the intrusiveness of the Internet was no longer a constant reality. Until I fixed or replaced my Dell, I would be forced to be with myself, or with television, but no more multi-tasking.

I observed myself throughout the evening and noted my discomfort, and the frequency with which, during commercials, I went into the office and checked my email, which again, for Sunday, was virtually nonexistent.

The next morning when I awoke I was anxious, but not about the computer, but I was thinking about my doctor and my blood pressure. Shouldn't I go in and have it checked; after all he had requested me to call.

I managed to get a late morning appointment and went in, only to find that the pharmacist had misunderstood and I had not been summoned. But I told him about my experience with the public blood pressure test, and he took me into the examining room and tested me right away.

"You're perfect," he said.

Waves of relief gushed through my body. I had let myself foresee doomsday scenarios based on others' misfortunes and my own misgivings about my health. Now I had a new lease on life. It was almost a shock to realize that all was well.

It also became clear to me that this piece of news rendered my laptop problem insignificant.

I returned to Fry's and exchanged the hard drive for an external USB powered enclosure.

Back home I was able to put my Dell hard drive into the enclosure, connect it to my desktop PC, and recover almost all of my important email and calendar information, and other stuff that I had feared would be lost.

I began looking at other laptops online, and also at a few stores, but was overwhelmed by the number of new features, different processors and the potential pitfalls of the new Windows 7 operating system.

I watched Monday Night Football, and again realized the void caused by the lack of Internet connectivity from my easy chair. Very weird.

Dell called me that night, and my supervisor's assistant informed me that my issue was being looked into. It took me several tries to understand exactly what he was saying.

By the next day the discomfort of not having the laptop made me go out and look at replacements and check Craigs List, but nothing really clicked.

Then I got another call from Dell – a social media and forum miracle – they are sending me a box to return my laptop for repaid and they would send it back to me in a few days after they received it. Wow. Kudos to Dell when that is accomplished. I'll be tweeting their praises from my easy chair.

Now I am sitting back in the recliner and wondering – what will a week without my computer companion be like?

And what does it say about me that I might find it difficult?

And what about the millions of text messaging and web connected iPhone and PDA users who need their electronic fix everywhere, not just in their easy chair?

Perhaps this is a lesson I should really take to heart (pun intended).

First, my health is good, so nothing is wrong on the most important level.

Second, I can unplug from the Internet while I watch television – maybe – or maybe I should just unplug from the television as well. Could I do it? I meditate daily but apparently there is still a strong pull for my attention from all sorts of sources that don't really leave room for me, or my "self" while they're being accessed.



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Fascination with Ancient Wisdom

A close friend of mine with whom I often talk about esoteric subjects once commented on how I get to positions that require leaps of faith. He said I work from a place of rationality first, and go as far as I can with scientific or factual notions, and then I extrapolate inside to a place that cannot necessarily be validated scientifically, but which grows within me truth.

That's why I loved the Da Vinci Code and am looking forward to reading Brown's latest work, The Lost Symbol. Last night I watched Stargate for the first time in years, and had forgotten the beginning, where a discredited Egyptologist (James Spader) suggested that the Great Pyramid had no hieroglyphics, wasn't a tomb at all, but instead a repository of ancient wisdom inspired by visitors from somewhere—when someone said the word "Atlantis" everyone walked out of his lecture.

My own fascination with these notions began in my early twenties. When I worked in Cancun a bellman at my hotel actually turned me on to a book about the Great Pyramid by a Mexican writer, Rudolfo Benavides. This was incredibly ironic since I was daily dispatching my tourist clients on tours to see the Mayan pyramid, and the Pyramid of the Sun (Aztec) was in a nearby state.

My young friend fascinated me with speculations about the various mathematical and astronomical relationships encoded in the massive structure, which I later supplemented by reading the incredible Secrets of the Great Pyramid, by Peter Tompkins (author of The Secret Life of Plants and also Secrets of the Mexican Pyramids).

By now of course there has been massive publishing on this topic and notions of the pyramid shape as doing everything from sharpening razor blades to serving as a power plant in ancient Egypt and supplying some sort of electricity of light bulbs that let them work in the dark.

For those who don't know the various measurements that Egyptologists have taken over the centuries and what they imply, here are a few examples of what the various dimensions of the Great Pyramid may represent:

  • The perimeter divided by 2 x the height of the pyramid is equal to pi - 3.1416
  • The number Phi – or Golden Mean (used in the work of Michelangelo and the basis for the Da Vinci Code) - Φ equals 1.618 and represents a series of numbers (Fibonacci sequence) – 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89 and so on where each number is the sum of the previous two. This famous sequence is also found in nature and is the basis for much of biomimicry – engineering that replicates these relationships in human structures.
  • Aligned to North – knew mass and circumference of the Earth – latitude and longitude
  • Set in the precise center of earth's continental landmass
  • Accurate measurement of the day, year, Great Precession (almost 26,000 years for axis of earth to realign)
  • Measure of foot and cubit based on earth's rotation and actual scale

And on and on. Tompkins' book has an Appendix by a noted mathematician expounding on these relationships, and there is additional reference material suggesting that the 3 pyramids represent the constellation Orion, and that the Great Pyramid is aligned with various stars including Sirius, the North Star, and the constellation Pleiades.

At around the same time as I discovered Tompkins' work, Erik von Daniken became a worldwide sensation with his book Chariots of the Gods, which went through a long series of ancient monuments and speculated that all of them must have been built or inspired by greater intelligence of space visitors; in many cases they only made sense when viewed from the sky.

Not long thereafter von Daniken was discredited in the mainstream media for various financial shenanigans, and both he and Tompkins, along with their many more recent authors about the pyramids and similar subjects have been the butt of ridicule by conventional scientists and archeologists—just as James Spader's character was at the beginning of Stargate.

But very little of this really mattered to me—I used my travel privileges to go to Cairo and see the Great Pyramid and regardless of its actual measurements, its scale blew me away.

The fact that it is just THERE is enough to make you gasp. It's like when you take a deep breath and stop to think, why is all this here? What is the point of existence itself?

This experience was described by Jacob Needleman, a philosopher and writer, at the beginning of his book, A Sense of the Cosmos: Scientific Knowledge and Spiritual Truth. He describes walking past a news stand and seeing a photograph on the cover of National Geographic taken by the new (at the time) Hubble Space Telescope. He briefly read the caption and walked away, but returned a moment or two later when he realized that these weren't stars – they were galaxies with each tiny speck representing billions of stars. (Also credit Carl Sagan…)

Needleman writes if you stand out at night in a place where you can actually see the stars, and look up, you simply cannot get your "head" around this at all. He responds with the notion that "we need to rediscover how to join the attention of the heart to the powers of the mind and the perception of the senses." This becomes a stimulus or a pointer to a higher level of being or understanding.

It's like following the Fibonacci series out to infinity, or trying to conceive of the largest prime (indivisible) number – which it took a supercomputer to calculate but which obviously cannot "really" be the largest…

When you do this, you reach the limits of your left brain – your analytical mind – which science has made the ultimate arbiter of what is "real" in today's culture.

But at this point you sense in your gut with complete certitude that you've just scratched the surface of something far vaster and ultimately incomprehensible to our limited set of senses and neurons.

It is my feeling that by getting "a taste" of these kinds of experiences that our own capacity to know beyond reason can expand – not so much to explain something that our logic cannot truly comprehend – but perhaps to connect with it on some level.

What makes Dan Brown's books so entertaining is that he fits these puzzles into a genre where the supposition is that there are humans who possess this knowledge today, and who use it, and do not share it with everyone else. This is the basis of esotericism and it is impossible to prove one way or another.

In The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown introduces a character who works with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (an actual organization in northern California). Of course she is ridiculed by conventional scientists.

According to IONS, "Noetic Sciences are explorations into the nature and potentials of consciousness using multiple ways of knowing—including intuition, feeling, reason, and the senses. Noetic sciences explore the 'inner cosmos' of the mind (consciousness, soul, spirit) and how it relates to the 'outer cosmos' of the physical world".

What was so fascinating about Stargate was that a particular alignment of symbols could pierce the physical universe as we knew it, and open a dimension into its other side.

Today's renegade Egyptologists (the James Spader character) propound theories of the time of the Sphinx pointing to the existence of human wisdom far before recorded history. Writers like Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval and John Anthony West suggest that striations at the base of the Sphinx prove erosion—so that it existed in "pre-sand Egypt" – before the area became a desert.

(The DVD version of television special on West's theories was narrated by Charlton Heston).

Their work has been greeted with the sort of derision by conventional Egyptologists as the lecture by the James Spader character at the beginning of Stargate—but it is literally mind-boggling in its implications.

And now that there are numerous books and movies about the Mayan calendar and the significance of December 21, 2012, many peoples' minds are being boggled—albeit with catastrophic predictions of the End of Days that make great fodder for special effects.

I still remember an incident when I was travelling in Europe and fainted. While I was "out" I remember inhabiting many worlds and strange places but somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted to get back to my parents and friends in the present – and this desire enabled me to reconstruct a "set of facts" which constituted my location in space (Copenhagen) and time (a date in the 1970's) and when those facts clicked together like the tumblers of a huge combination lock – my eyes opened, and I was back.

Immediately my rational mind reinterpreted this experience so that it "made sense" as being simply "unconscious".

It is my belief that these ancient monuments and the wisdom behind them provide the means for us to explore and experience consciousness itself—by taking us beyond what we "know" to be real to a place beyond "knowledge as we know it"—in a space of breathtaking silence and awe when confronted with an immensity and yet a factual existence that we cannot rationally explain or comprehend, but which is simply there and speaks to us at a much deeper level of meaning.

This is the boundless space of existence itself—of nature, mathematics, music, symbol and true wisdom—manifest physically for our senses to experience briefly but for our limited rational minds to ultimately recognize their limitations to comprehend, and leap off into place or time we cannot as yet explain, and perhaps never will.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is Wireless Just a Metaphor?

There are so many things we tend to take for granted. For me, sitting with my laptop in the living room and transferring files or accessing my desktop, or going online through a wireless network is so routine that I seldom consider what it entails.

Energy is flowing through what appears to be empty space.

What scientific evidence do we have that it's happening? Well, obviously if the files open or the web page loads, we know that wireless technology is real.

But what about or own technology? Neuroscience has shown that electrical energy actually moves through the brain as we think.

In fact, the stimulation of such energy can occur in surprising ways. There is a phenomenon known as "mirror neurons" that fire not by direct stimuli, but rather just by observation. The Fast Company blog describes the findings of Dr. Marco Iacoboni at the Brain Research Center at UCLA who believes that we are actually "wired for storytelling."

His research is based being able to measure the differences in mirror neuron activity when individuals were shown images or told stories by people with whom they empathized or identified; the greater the sense of connection the higher the mirror neuron activity.

This is fascinating on many levels, not the least of which is that it is literally a tangible measure of a quality we might term "emotion" in the brain.

In some personal matters I had occasion to connect with an individual in a professional setting, but one which was highly charged with emotional energy—and to feel our connection we held hands. Then I moved back across the room, and was asked whether I still felt the connection, and I joked, "I don't really believe in wireless."

But actually I do, and you probably do too.

How many times have had the phone ring just as you "happened to" think about who called?

Where this leads me is to the issue of what science considers "real" -- like mirror neurons – and what it considers irrelevant do to an apparent absence of evidence.

While we may certainly believe in wireless with respect to our laptops, we may not readily admit to such a belief with respect to our own technology – our minds and our bodies.

But the more we connect with either – through meditation, body work or some other "New Age" (and apparently unscientific) method – we can determine the reality directly based on our own concrete experience.

Do you miss someone who died or you no longer have contact with?

Have you ever identified that feeling in your body?

Is it any less real to you than your wireless connection to the Internet?

What about compassion, for others or for yourself?

Do you experience it when you meet certain people, or even when you see a posting on Twitter or Facebook? Do you sense it inside yourself, can you sometimes feel yourself shutting it off, or denying its reality in order to numb yourself to a painful reaction?

In a recent blog entry I wrote about Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation by Douglas Rushkoff as a particularly powerful description of why social media is growing as a response to the pursuit of profit at the cost of humanity. ("A shrill condemnation of how corporate culture has disconnected human beings from each other.")

But there is an undeniable movement toward reconnection—from the election of Barack Obama to the growth in social technologies—more and more people are accepting the reality of how important the energy of love and compassion is – and its reality as a physical, psychological and real force of nature.

One might speculate as I have that in some ways the Internet is an evolutionary nervous system in its ability to transmit this energy (wirelessly?).

But as many have noted, the key to conducting the energy of compassion, love or any emotion is belief. In another blog I mentioned a book by biologist Bruce Lipton, actually titled the Biology of Belief. (Its new subtitle is "Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles")

Such a concept and much of Lipton's work is enough to give many traditional scientists heartburn.

What about you?

Can you make the connection between the undeniable reality of wireless energy that performs in our computer technology to the presence of a different flavor of energy (organic but no less real) that permeates our own being?

To me the recent advancements in neuroscience, psychology and quantum physics easily let me accept it intellectually—which can be the first step. But in my own experience, through meditation and sensation, I am finally beginning to know it, profoundly in my depth.

Unfortunately there is no real manual to troubleshoot our own technology – or perhaps there are too many conflicting manuals – from medical textbooks to religious works.

And so there are also no clear answers. But just as my web page loads, and my laptop's inner state is changed, so too, if I connect with the cells, tissues, organs and senses within me, I can sometimes feel and observe my own state changing.

Who performs the observation? That's a tough call. But the reality of wireless emotion and thought is no longer open to question, at least for me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Social Media: The New Humanism?

This morning I briefly insinuated myself into a Twitter discussion between Marsha Collier and Chris Brogan, co-author with Julien Smith of the best seller about social media, "Trust Agents."

The topic was a story about a lame video posted on YouTube to address concerns by many irate users on social sites about the messaging shortcomings of AT&T's network for the iPhone.

The video featured a geek called "Seth the Blogger" (not to be confused with Joe the Plumber) using charts and graphs to explain the technical problems AT&T faces in trying to implement messaging properly for the iPhone.

Brogan and Collier discussed how ineffective this approach is at a time of social media, and Collier suggested actually responding substantively to issues raised on the social sites and demonstrating that the company is really listening as a more viable response.

Brogan, an evangelist for social media, has written often about how suspicious people are of corporations and institutions, so that the more influential people on the web, in social media, are dubbed "Trust Agents". They come by this status not because they are CEO's or spokespeople but because their actions, over time, have demonstrated competence, credibility and compassion in terms of sharing information and building relationships with others (through blogs and "tweets" and so on).

More recently Brogan recommended "Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back" by Douglas Rushkoff as a particularly powerful description of why social media is growing as a response to the pursuit of profit at the cost of humanity. ("A shrill condemnation of how corporate culture has disconnected human beings from each other.")

If you watched President Obama's speech on health care last night, perhaps you were particularly struck, as I was, by his description of frank testimony by an executive for a health insurance company in which he admitted that depriving people of coverage was a policy in line with what Wall Street demanded for the sake of shareholders, in spite of the fact that people were dying and suffering.

This is another blatant example of the corporate trend in customer "disservice" that is perhaps exemplified by the inability in many cases to call a company on the phone and talk to a human, and if one does, the human is reading a script and sounds like a robot.

To me, the growth of social media is, as Brogan and Collier also point out, a movement in opposition to this trend, to reimpose real and tangible human values over those of abstractions like profit and financial gain.

Wikipedia defines "Humanism" as "a perspective common to a wide range of ethical stances that attaches importance to human dignity, concerns, and capabilities, particularly rationality. Although the word has many senses, its meaning comes into focus when contrasted to the supernatural or to appeals to authority."

In my lifetime the distrust of authority has grown from a soft whisper to a bellowing roar as we have seen the growth of multi-national corporations and the pervasive power of influence in Washington.

While many might still scoff at Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social sites, the fact is that their rapid growth speaks to the need for people to locate and connect with similar sensibilities both for their own nourishment and sanity, and also to counteract the megalithic powers that threaten to snuff out humanistic values.

When United Airlines broke a musician's guitar and ignored him, his video on YouTube went viral, and suddenly he had power as an individual and the company had to take note and respond.

In this way the democratic aspect of social media is in complete harmony with American values of fairness and individual responsibility and autonomy.

Corporations and governments are certainly not all or intrinsically bad; many of our blessings would not exist without them. But we must not lose sight of the fact that these institutions are frequently run at cross purposes to the needs of many of our citizens.

There was a time when money represented the value inherent in tangible labor, goods or services. Now it has become a blip on a computer screen and an abstraction so that the recent prosperity came at the expense of huge debts amassed by financial wizards with no direct relationship to actual labor, goods or services. Instead financial instruments which leveraged debt at ratios as high as 40:1 on the dollar have made a few wealthy and many destitute.

Some like the Dalai Lama have suggested that this economic crisis was a wake-up call for humanity to reassess its most basic values.

And Social media is in many ways a natural response to these inequities, both in terms of the need for anyone and everyone to be heard and listened to, and also to reclaim the disproportionate power of institutions that abuse their might.

We have seen even more dramatic evidence of the power of social media to inspire and motivate disenfranchised people in places like Iran. The fact is that human needs trump abstractions like a balance sheet, and will be recognized, one way or another. It has become a global phenomenon.

Of course some people will use their own concept of humanism to assert their views over others, but what social media has shown (and Brogan's term is "social capital") is that people inherently recognize truth and decency over time, so that those with influence on the Internet generally earn it.

Human ingenuity has given birth to a new global nervous system, the Internet, through which humanity may be coming to its senses--with social media leading the way to a new recognition and reevaluation of priorities--so that people and decency matter more than power and greed, as we connect with one another in networks of community and renewed understanding.

The alternative is not pretty.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Is Technology the Ultimate Answer?

I’ve posted about Juan Enriquez before and his talks on the TED web site. His latest talk about the future of our species is both troubling and exciting on a number of levels.

What Enriquez posits is that we are in the midst of a “reboot” in which our entire civilization will be transformed by developments in genetic reprogramming, tissue regeneration and robotics. He suggests that the developments in these fields will be able to overcome the current economic problems with long term solutions to both human health, and generate a new boom economy. In his talk he suggests that without these developments our current economic situation is direr than we even imagine.

The examples that Enriquez points to are amazing—including a fully mobile robot on four lets that moves elegantly and can carry 350 pounds called “Big Dog” from Boston Dynamics. (Don’t bother looking up the stock listing, I did and the company seems to be private).

Toward the conclusion of his talk Enriquez goes through a brief history of the universe and points out, once again, how brief the tenure of homo sapien is on the planet and suggests that any concept that we are the apex of evolution is “a bit arrogant.” Nonetheless, he suggests that the reboot that is taking place is evolutionary, and will result in the ability of humans to control their own evolution (homo evolutus) and that of other species (which is already happening).

Of course it can be argued that we are currently controlling other species mainly by exterminating them at an incredible rate, and that the same may happen to us. Eckhart Tolle, for one, thinks the jury is out on our ultimate survival or extinction, particularly if we fail to respect Life itself.

And that is where I think Enriquez again poses some amazing questions, but falls a bit short with the answer.

It was Enriquez’s original talk at TED on genomics that profoundly influenced me in my current belief in the existence of higher intelligence; the analogy between computer programming (devised by our intelligence) and the genome (DNA programming based on logic and not random events), when considered on the level of a scale much higher than we can imagine, indicates to me that existence is not chance.

In fact, genetic programming is part of the reboot that Enriquez describes.

But science has also found that while Enriquez may certainly be right and we are on the verge of “managing” our own evolution, that evolution itself may not be a random occurrence. Bruce Lipton, in Biology of Belief describes how microbes will change their cellular biology (evolve) to become immune to toxins and survive.

To him as well, and to a growing group of scientists, this is evidence that Life evolves intelligently and not randomly.

So is this impending ability to manage our own evolution just a lucky break for humans (our brains got really big at the right time), or something that is influenced by a higher level of understanding?

My contention would be that the ultimate outcome of homo evolutus will be determined not on the basis of how smart he/she becomes, but on how wise.

It is certainly foreseeable (one need only look at Nazi Germany) that these amazing scientific advances will be used not only for good, but to control and conquer.

It is also fascinating to note that the scientific advances Enriquez touts come at a time when parts of science (quantum physics, biology, neuroscience) are being stretched and teased to venture beyond former materialistic boundaries.

So it would seem to me that concentrating only on mechanistic evolution in terms of reengineering our species is a miss. Without the simultaneous psychological and perhaps moral evolution, our species will still be in big trouble, even if Enriquez’s “reboot” is successful.

The technologies Enriquez describes would fall under the heading of a currently popular buzzword – they are “disruptive.’

In the currently popular social media space, disruptive technologies are hailed as those that revolutionize industries and culture and lead to new opportunities and perspectives; however, the concept of disruptive as inevitably good is misguided.

The worship of disruption has taken over our culture to the point where dark and violent films are incredibly popular, and its opposite – harmonious – is viewed with scorn and derision as “boring.”

Unfortunately, it would seem that being disruptive to life as opposed to harmonious with its innate intelligence has already gotten us in a lot of trouble. Our oceans are dead, our air is polluted, and toxins are everywhere. If anything, it would appear that for the reboot of technology to succeed in revitalizing not just our economy but our civilization, it will need to be accomplished in alignment with the principles and intelligence of life, and not just for profit or the sake of materialistic science.

The ideas that come out of conferences like TED are incredibly exciting, and I find Enriquez’s work in particular thought provoking and inspiring, but if anything it points to the inescapable conclusion that for our evolution to be truly intelligent, it cannot be based only on the ideas in our human left brain, but in harmony with the higher level of intelligence at work in the 13.7 billion year history of the universe. If we continue to celebrate our disruptive capabilities we do so at our peril.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Taking a Twitter Ego-Trip?

In my blog on Social Media as a Woman's World, I mentioned the shift from considering social media as a standard marketing and self promotion platform to making a commitment to active participation and building relationships.

I still think that this is where Facebook and Twitter are taking us—the well known concept is "don't sell the dogfood, talk about dogs", and when we share our ideas and passions about dogs then out of that community a sense of connection, growth and well being can develop which is really powerful.

On the other hand, as we all know, a big part of Twitter and Facebook, is just people telling the world what they're doing and how great it is.

I may get in trouble here, and I am certainly open to comments, but there is a fine line between sharing something of deep interest to yourself, your art, your passions, your ideas and interests, and talking about the fabulous parts of your life is in a way that may convince others and yourself of your importance.

When our use of social media crosses over into this "I can top what you're doing" area, it becomes, I believe, what Eckhart Tolle calls "compulsive doing."

He describes in his books how the ego is constantly trying to be first, to be better, to be more, and how this is such a trap to any peace of mind, because anything you achieve in this state is so transitory.

This kind of grasping is an automatic escape from your conscious self and any effort to be mindful, present and aware, and to listen and respond to the real concerns of others around you.

How many people do we know or see that make a show of how busy they are – frequently as an excuse for not keeping one commitment or another?

I suspect that this treadmill of constant achievement is a big part of what led to the financial meltdown and literal "slowdown" that is taking place today. It is an absolute requirement that people finally take a deep breath and consider what is really important in life.

This was brought home to me by an experience I had during the past couple of weeks.

There is a person who had been on the periphery of my circle of acquaintances whom I finally met at an event, and we spoke for a fair amount of time.

About a week later, I saw this person and our eyes met as we approached but there was not the slightest recognition in their eyes, and we did not acknowledge each other. I had been on the verge of saying hello but pulled away.

Immediately I began thinking about other similar experiences where I had met people on more than one occasion, and they had acted similarly, and I had judged them as either being rude or oblivious.

Then a few days later this person friended me on Facebook.

Now I reexamined the situation and decided that I could have easily lifted the veil between us and spoken up, and reached out to this person, rather than expecting the opposite.

The bottom line is that we were both unconscious in our own way, and in many ways in the grip of a set of fears, not the least of which was being overlooked, being insignificant and probably most important, being completely wrapped up in our own drama and not open to other influences. We were both "busy".

My ego had made me right as I judged our encounter.

But we were both wrong—actually I may have been more wrong because at least I was present enough to recognize this person and I pulled away.

The same thing happens online.

Some of us broadcast on social media. We ego trip on Twitter and Facebook. But more and more people are learning to engage—to listen and to respond—and even in what some men like me may perceive as idle chatter, this channel is opening up between people as they share things of personal significance.

Of course, no one really knows the motivation behind someone else's post or update, just as no one knows the motivation behind the blank look.

And we can post online and go a long time without acknowledgment, and then the sheer amount of chatter and information can easily overwhelm us. We can feel more isolated as we begin to think we're alone in this vast sea of information where everyone else is connected.

That's the fear again.

The alternative is to participate openly and without expectation of immediate reward or gratification-- which the "experts" tell us is the essence of social media.

Can we truly feel community through an electronic device? I'm not sure and I'm still inclined to view the online world as a conduit for something more "real"—connecting in person (not romantically but humanly).

But if we pay attention to what others post, and our own reactions to it and the motivation in our own online efforts--we can make some amazing connections, not the least of which, to ourselves.

We can begin to observe our own fears and motivations and perhaps grow beyond them, evolving from a space of service rather than the fear that separates us from one another.

On a more mystical or philosophical level, I recently tweeted "What if everyone followed everyone? Then there would only be one Mind—the meaning of Twitter?" No one responded. Oh well.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Illusory Life of Michael Jackson

I’ve been thinking lately of the amazing effect Michael Jackson’s death has had on so many people, and while the sheer volume of media attention has surely contributed to the phenomenon, other factors are clearly at work.

For me, I had musical favorites in my life but their personal lives never really affected me. But I can recall the circumstances under which I heard most of the Michael’s songs – I was generally “looking for love in the wrong places.”

Michael’s songs were dance numbers that went on for quite a while, so I remember that I would either be dancing with someone and wondering when the song would end, or waiting for the song would end so I could screw up my courage to ask someone else to dance.

The routine epitomized the emptiness that probably contributed to Michael’s demise. I remember dancing with women who never made eye contact seldom asked my name or much else about me.

While deep inside of me I realized that these venues were not where I was likely to find any kind of real depth, connection or love, I was drawn to them by the surface sensuality of the women, the lure of quick and casual sex, and of course the music.

When I connected with someone, it was invariably these surface qualities that became paramount; first of all I would not show interest in anyone who did not appeal to me on the surface, and then that personal would want to know what kind of job I had, where I lived, and what I drove.

Since I was ultimately dissatisfied with my status in these areas, struggling in my own way for the fame and fortune that Michael had in abundance, I told myself that I could be happy and fulfilled in the future – when I “make it” I will have lots of friends, fall in love, and there will be no more loneliness.

I also was convinced that if I “made it”, I would finally be among the elite of society who would fully appreciate my talents and insights. Certainly in the coveted inner circle of others who had “made it” there would be peace and happiness.

Where did these concepts come from? If I am honest, they came from my father, my peers and the culture, which placed “making it,” particularly in material terms, at the top of the hierarchy of personal requirements. In thinking about it, with my dad it was actually kind of contradictory, because on a personal level my father was extremely loving and warm, but in “preparing me for life” he stressed being tough minded and making it to the top.

It seems that Michael’s father drove him particularly hard for success, and presumably held out the same promise that when Michael made it, all would be well.

The tragic irony of course for Michael is that he really “made it”, and yet all of that fame and fortune could not fulfill his need for real love, and he needed the continuing adulation of millions to make him feel satisfied.

His life manifest the ultimate disconnect between outer success and inner yearnings for true connection and love.

All of the descriptions of his personal life talk about his loneliness and isolation, and the anxiety he felt on many levels probably led to the sleeplessness that ultimately cost him his life.

Yet the millions who are flocking to memorialize him generally have the same aspirations and values; their consumption of his music and identification with a “legend” that they never personally knew speak to their need to find fulfillment in areas that Michael discovered – when he had them in abundance – could not fill him up.

The lucky people are the ones who discover that you’d better find connection, peace and happiness before you make it because if that’s how you expect to get it, you’re in for a rude awakening.

One man who wrote about this discovery is a scientist, Mani Bhaumik, who came from one of the poorest areas of India, got a scholarship, and made a fortune as one of the developers of the laser eye surgery procedure that is now so popular.

Living in Los Angeles, Bhaumik describes his ascendancy to the fast lane in his book, Code Name: God, and its culmination at a pool party at his resplendent home in the hills where he ultimately came face to face with the meaninglessness of his materialist existence, and his ride to fame and fortune.

Bhaumik’s experience led him back to his Indian roots, and his scientific background made him look closely at quantum physics as a basis for a connection with a higher level of intelligence through meditation.

He went from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to a personal journey of self discovery, and many of his friends disappeared from his life.

There are many stories of Michael Jackson’s (true) friends with his real interests in mind who urged him to get off the insanely self indulgent and materialistic ride that led to his isolation and his death. (If you object to my characterization, take a look a the special on Neverland on CNN, or recall the excesses that were routinely the focus of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous).

It might be postulated that Michael’s ego and his appetites overwhelmed his better inner wisdom and nature, to the point where he could not control them.

With deaths like Michael’s and the many other famous people who have passed recently, I have begun to reflect on where I might be if I had “made it” to the extent that I once so yearned for.

It would have taken an amazing amount of good fortune to enable me to avoid many of the same pitfalls; the fact is that I looked for material and sensory gratification at my own level of success for years. In terms of a deep relationship, fame or great success would most likely have allowed me to attract women whom I was much better off having reject me, as it turned out.

At this point in my own life I am reassessing my true nature, and discovering that my sensitivity to a different set of values certainly serves me better than the one I took on earlier in life.

Sometimes that path leads to its own kind of isolation and loneliness. When I watch commercials on televisions, for example, I am constantly conscious of how they appeal to my sense of lacking something that I really don’t need, and that if I had would not fill me up. When I watch others around me I sometimes feel disconnected from many of the things that they value and hope to get.

There is a growing sense of power and inner satisfaction in finding your own way and making up your own mind that I am only now beginning to discover. It’s sad that Michael could never jettison the adopted values of the world he wanted so desperately to embrace him, and find the strength and path to accept and love himself as he was, not as others would have him be.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Big Split (2)

I recall reading that Einstein himself was very mystical, and would tap into an intuitive source when working on his theories. You might think that scientists are all left brain, but it turns out (as Ken Wilber wrote in “Quantum Questions”) that many of the quantum physicists were mystics in private.

Ironically I stopped reading the book, because I was so disappointed that Wilber says that these scientists refused to make a connection between their mystical feelings and their theories; since their feelings led to the unknown, they refused to speculate on the connection of consciousness with their findings. That has been left to “New Age” thinkers like Gary Zukav and producers of “What the Bleep”, and it’s usually oversimplified.

For me the connection is apparent in the discovery of how Epigenetics (the environment) triggers both mental and physical reactions according to the programmed intentions of our DNA, just as a computer acts according to the programmed intentions of its software, and neither one would exist without a higher mind to have somehow conceived their workings and actualized them materially.

(My own speculation -- where this is different from an argument for Creationism is that I believe that beyond our ability to “understand” creative forces are at work according to strict mathematical principles (higher mind) and that when one is in alignment with such forces they may act through you and leave your logical mind (ego) aside.

Unfortunately there also appear to be counter evolutionary (devolutionary) forces at work resisting the growth of higher intelligence. These are unconscious forces that we sometimes call evil. The reconciliation of these two forces is the One source, which some of us worship as a monotheistic entity called God. Whatever it is it is ultimately unknowable and I suggest more about it below.)

It is Eckhart Tolle who has suggested that it is the ego (left brain) that humans have identified with falsely as the self, which causes so much suffering because it is separate from a higher source or intelligence which can be connected to as intuition and fights to justify its positions.
According to Tolle and others, those that "awakened" from the trap of the ego were the early masters, Buddha, Jesus and others who are not as well known.

The problem with accessing this source or dimension is that it is difficult to do deliberately and in many cases it does lead to letting things remain a mystery – there are no finite comfortable answers and this leads to a sense of loss of control.

Bruce Lipton puts forth an amazing theory that just as individual cells eventually organized into lower and then intelligent organisms (us) to support higher intelligence (creative force at work), so too are we as a species in the process of having individual organisms wake up and connect to each other into a higher planetary organism that supports higher intelligence – and perhaps forge a deeper connection to the higher intelligence or consciousness that we (on this blog) sense is “out there” or “in here.”

Of course there is a lot of egoic resistance to this impulse. We are programmed by our culture for individuality, and self (egoic) fulfillment. We have trouble trusting others and we have seen collective experiments result in a lot of misery.

In my view technology serves us potentially on two levels in this evolutionary effort – first as a metaphor for how life works and through the genome and neuroscience, and second through the new human nervous system that has evolved as the Internet.

It’s amazing to see how Iran is “waking up” using Twitter. It takes enormous courage to fight the forces of control and I hope obviously that they succeed. What may emerge is, again, unknown.

We’ve had a similar upheaval here in our financial crisis. Suddenly our foundation of safety has been shaken and we’ve been forced to reexamine our priorities and many have found a new connection to other people and their families.

This brings me to what I believe is the ultimate leap—the realization that compassion and love is a real force in the universe and the main guiding principle, and knowing it deep in our heart and not intellectually. That is a leap I am still hoping to achieve and by breaking down the barriers I have personally erected to “protect” me from others, I hope to get there. Thanks to all of you for your energy and encouragement.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Big Split

Yesterday I was at the market and a chance comment sparked a conversation with another guy in the salad area. He seemed like the kind of neurotic, Jewish guy I usually relate to, and he was probably in his fifties. He mentioned to me that he was in his first true long term relationship and that the woman had just told him that he was the first guy who didn’t bore her.

“You’d better dump her,” I said sardonically, “You definitely don’t want to be with anyone who really appreciates you.”

He laughed knowingly as we both intuitively understood our respective natures, in which our perennial voice in the head judges every person or situation--and we don’t know whether we can find a level of comfort with another human actually invading that persistently pervasive and negative, yet comfortable (in the sense of knowing nothing else) space.

Then he asked me if I minded if he did some networking, and whether I ever needed some help with my PC. I told him I write articles and books on Windows and Office software and basically earn my living by solving the many irregularities and annoyances that the software presents.

We exchanged cards and since older neurotic Jewish guys are a dying breed, we kept talking and he mentioned an interest in neuroscience. I ventured my interest in the work of Candace Pert and Bruce Lipton, which I've mentioned here before, who suggest that a higher intelligence is at work in our brains and in our cells—a force which has also quite likely shaped evolution.

He shook his head and said something like that there are always "isolated scientists and theories like that, but in general there is no real evidence for that sort of thing."

I said I was intrigued because of my interest in computers, and I asked him how he could imagine computer software existing without (human) consciousness to create it (and implying if genetic software is similar, where else did it come from?).

He said that he believe that computers would evolve consciousness through artificial intelligence in the foreseeable future—a common assumption among technologists. I shook my head, because based on my internal experience I sense what consciousness is, and it lives through organic life and tissue, not through computer chips and silicon. It’s beyond code—it’s what created code.

I gestured around the store and suggested a wider frame of reference and asked him if he ever thought about where all of this (existence) came from, and if it’s just “random.”

He shook his head and just said, there’s no way of knowing and it’s probably too complex for us to understand.

I nodded and said that we’d probably never agree on this anyway, but it was nice meeting him.

We exchanged a few emails later that day and maybe our paths will cross again. Nice guy.
I have long since given up trying to convince anyone else of the possibility of higher intelligence or any other things that I muse about but that can’t be proven as “facts.”

Later on that day I visited Clara Berta’s art studio and of course, she’s an artist, and a female, and she understood my own propensity for being “in my head” and yet realizing the limitations of such a perspective.

Her home is like a little museum and we chatted as she gave me a tour and sat down later over tea.

Having read some of the works of Eckhart Tolle, Clara has done some work on getting out of her head, as have I, in terms of connecting with the body, heart and whatever else is in there or out there through mediation.

While I didn’t happen to mention my friend at the market, I admitted that my own method of trying to “figure things out” is left brain first; my epiphany regarding the possibility and in fact the likelihood of higher intelligence came when I watched geneticist Juan Enriquez explain how the genetic code is not like computer code – but works exactly the same way.
(So where did it come from, I wondered).

Apparently its implications did not cause Enriquez any second thoughts either—he just calmly explains the economic and scientific consequences of genetic engineering, but skips any discussion of the meaning because, presumably, “it’s just too complicated” and cannot be factually ascertained.

So that’s the split—between a belief system that suggests that whatever is not scientifically knowable “factually” (left brain) is not relevant to our lives, and should be ignored, and another belief system that can accept the “unknowableness” (mystery) of higher intelligence but posit its existence based on what the left brain has already found—that life itself works in a way that implies the existence of consciousness.

To beat a dead horse—could Microsoft Word exist without consciousness (i.e., an intentional mental effort to create a specific utilitarian, systematic set of code) and if not, how could life (which we have found works exactly the same way) be any different?

Right-brained beings—artists, women and others who have no trouble “trusting their feelings” have no problem embracing such ideas.

But as Tolle says, our civilization is run by left-brained (egoic) analytical beings who trust only their thoughts—so unless their thoughts can shift and suggest to them that something else (higher) is out there and accessible and ultimately significant, they will continue to dodge the big questions and see existence as largely random.

I was there too, until I saw Enriquez’s video; Bruce Lipton describes a similar experience when he discovered individual cells are intelligent and intentional. (A key experiment showed two bacterial cultures with identical genetic code behaving differently and even mutating differently under different environmental conditions—suggesting to him that there was “intelligence” or “consciousness” at work on some level directing their activities).

So how can this split be resolved?

Well the left-brain beings can continue to build more crap until civilization crumbles or we blow ourselves up, and then it can begin all over again (as Lipton believes it has already happened six times in earth’s history), thereby decreasing the influence of our thinking brain to basic survival matters and putting the rest of the organism back in touch with our natural environment and the source of our being.

Or, more and more people can figure out the fallacy of relying exclusively on our thoughts and identifying with the egoic mind, and experiment with another point of view and experience the results.

I can tell you from my own experience that going against what the ego is yacking at you is not easy and it can lead to issues, not the least of which is feeling a bit isolated from more “normal” people.

(But there are more crazies waking up all the time).

The thing that happens is that when you observe the internal chatter and disengage from it, you feel better for first short bursts (which you distrust) and then longer and longer.

Whether to experience the discomfort of the split and continue or stay in your head is personal choice; one which my friends at the market and many others like him have already made.

I make no judgment about it. He may be right; existence might be a bunch or random molecules doing things that can’t be understood so let’s just make a pile of money and drive big cars.

But as my friend Freeman Michaels, a spiritual psychologist asks, “How is that working for you?”

For many people, it has stopped working. For many, it took the economic rug being pulled out from under them to recognize that their love, fulfillment and their families are more important than their incomes—a lesson that the Dalia Lama suggests is the reason and the lesson of our current financial turmoil.

The random theory wasn’t working for me. I saw no meaning in anything before my left brain suggested something else might be going on, and I was pretty unhappy and spending my time either trying to earn enough to feel fulfilled and safe, or spending it on things and experiences that never satisfied me.

I was operating largely on automatic, subject to a set of beliefs and assumptions about the world and other people that I had never examined or questioned, and which I began to see were a big part of my unhappiness.

I can’t say that beginning to experience a shift has been a panacea and my life is beautiful and perfect; it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Connecting to your heart and emotions is a big shock at first, and you tend to interpret the sensations as things being “wrong.” It’s scary and those sensations can’t be controlled—they need to be accepted.

But ultimately once you get a sense that higher intelligence must exist, there sometimes grows a need to connect to it, even in a fragmented, mysterious and uncontrollable way, because if the universe isn’t random, connecting to its source and meaning is probably the only real game worth playing.

Experience suggests that there are a different set of rules at work than those that your analytical brain has concocted for you to follow—and they don’t make logical sense—but little glimmers of experience and how you sometimes feel inside suggest that coming from compassion and forgiveness (the right-brain/heart perspective) is what Freeman calls “a better bargain”, and worth a shot.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Insane Ordeal of Roger Federer

I’ve loved tennis all of my life. As a kid I went to Forest Hills with my pals and my mom to watch the matches in an intimate setting, and I took lessons when I got older to the point where I could compete, teach and appreciate the game.

At one point I had a party for my closest friends and looked at the people gathered there and realized that with but a few exceptions, I had met all of them through tennis.

In recent years I watched with some dismay as the game grew in lockstep to mass media requirements, and champions like McEnroe and Connors were idolized for their “emotion” on the court, which I saw mainly as a vulgar spectacle in which they whipped a bloodthirsty crowd into a frenzy.

While I admired their artistry, I particularly loved to watch players like Borg and then Sampras who competed powerfully but were not sucked into the egomaniacal requirements of puffing themselves up to “show emotion.”

But my favorite player in this regard is Roger Federer. As a corporate conglomerate in his own right, he has come to recognize the expectations and requirements of the mass media, but when he pumps his fist after winning a point it seems to be almost an apologetic gesture – like “I don’t need this, I have inner resolve, but if this is what you want, knock yourselves out.”

His combination of excellence and gentility have made him immensely popular, but at a steep price.

This past week, having already won an amazing 13 Grand Slam titles and appeared in a record 20 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, he was presented with an incredible opportunity to win one more, matching the great Pete Sampras, and also winning the French Open, giving him a “career Grand Slam.”

(The career Grand Slam consists of winning all of the four major championships, an achievement that was glamorized by the media when Andre Agassi won the French Open.)

Federer’s arch rival Rafael Nadal, who had denied him the French Open championship on three occasions and also beaten him at Wimbledon and in Australia, was upset in the quarter finals of the French this year.

Suddenly the pressure on Federer grew to unbelievable proportions, as he had “fallen short” so often recently, almost eclipsing his many accomplishments by his “failure” to win another championship.

To me it was almost painful to watch him play, his joy for the sport completely overwhelmed by the disproportionate egoic expectations of the fans, the media, and most important, himself.

This great person and champion suddenly found himself terrorized by the task so many had set for him as a benchmark for success—he struggled to win two matches in which in any other situation he would have probably prevailed quite easily, against opponents who seldom gave him any trouble.

Finally, within reach of the championship in the final match, somehow he remained in the moment, but even in the final game, you could see the anguish on his face. This was something he had to do because of his own and the world’s unbelievable expectations—not because it was natural or exhilarating as sport or self expression.

I had watched with horror as Federer, who had just lost a final to Nadal in Australia, broke down and cried in frustration and anguish after failing to tie Sampras’ record, and sensing that he might actually “fail” to deliver on a destiny that so many had set before him as a birthright.

How had this happened, I wondered?

How had such an accomplished individual been allowed to feel that unless he achieved this one additional feat, all of his past records would be rendered almost meaningless?

How had the imaginary benchmarks of millions who had never even played a professional match managed to dwarf this great champion’s personal qualities of humility and generosity?

And how had the media circus, corporate hierarchy, conventional wisdom and collective consciousness managed to create for this one humble man such an overreaching burden and set of expectations?

I pondered these questions as I thought about my own feelings of failure for expectations I had not managed to achieve in my lifetime—how my own ego and the internalized expectations of others has set a series of hurdles for me that I needed to clear and never could in order to feel fulfilled.

My heart fell when Federer lost the first point of the final game. And then the situation, the crowd, the weather and his own overwhelming skill took him home.

It was clearly an achievement of incredible will and mindfulness that let Federer finally slay his own demons and win the last point. Having tried and often failed to serve out a match where all that was at stake were bragging rights at Rancho Park, I could not even imagine how difficult it must have been to put the crowd and situation out of his mind and let his body perform.

I was happy as Federer was embraced by Agassi, applauded by past champion Borg, and praised by McEnroe, and graciously accepted the accolades of the crowd, addressing them flawlessly in both French and English.

And I could understand his tears. They were the tears of immense relief that in the court of public consciousness he had achieved what was expected, and now he could have peace.

Then I wondered – what if Nadal had won again? Would this great man stand here broken, after all that he has done in and out of the sport?

If he had lost, would his friend Tiger Woods, think any less of him, and call him less frequently?

Would his marriage and impending fatherhood be threatened by his own self doubts, after all he’d done?

Fortunately this one man was strong enough not to have to face these challenges. Now all he needs to do is win Wimbledon, so he can surpass Pete Sampras…

But in my life I haven’t “won” what I thought I would and should—and I still manage to beat myself up for the many things I felt I should have accomplished and never have, and I try each day to quiet the mental gymnastics that emerge to remind me of my supposed failures.

I think about a story Bruce Willis told of getting the job on Moonlighting and seeing the other actors and bartenders in the waiting room as he left, wondering what would have happened if one of them had been anointed by the producer to star opposite Cybil Shepherd.

I wonder how much whoever came in second to Willis (and might still be a bartender) might have spent on therapy.

Finally I wonder whether these mythic expectations of Herculean achievement are the basis of a life force within us, or its curse.

My recent reading of the works of Eckhart Tolle leads me to attempt to observe the workings of my mind -- and hopefully come to terms with such egoic fantasies and expectations in order to be in the moment -- and finally drop those unbearable burdens that have haunted me throughout my life.

But how would civilization fare if we all did that? Would mindfulness allow us greater freedom, personal expression and happiness? Or would it come at a price we would not want to pay – of less achievement, personal comfort, technology and God forbid, no professional sports?

To use sports vernacular, it’s a tough call. But at this point in my life I am happy for Federer that he will be spared any personal self doubt at his current age or when he reaches mine.

For me I want to finally achieve a sense of personal worth and fulfillment that doesn’t require external measurement, but only inward knowledge of having been the best I could be when I finally woke up.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What Computers Can Teach Us about Intelligence, Logic and Life

If you’re reading this blog you use computers, so I suspect that perhaps you’ve had this experience:

You’ve downloaded or installed a new program and you’re too headstrong to open the manual, so you plunge in and begin to do some cool stuff until you get stuck. Some button is grayed out or some dialog box doesn’t pop up as you expect and for the life of you, you can’t figure it out.

Then, after hours of fiddling, you open the manual, click Help or consult an online resource, and the problem is explained—you have an “ah ha” moment and the process which led to the stuck point is completely clear and you get it.

Not only that, suddenly the logic behind the program makes sense, and your own prior assumptions and way of thinking are revealed as flawed.

So what just happened?

You were able to connect to the logic of the programmer(s) as opposed to your own and an entirely new set of goals and means of attaining them was exposed to you as equally valid—or in fact even more valid than your own previous perspective.

I believe that this is what happens when you meditate: you distance yourself from your own assumptions about how life and universe should be, and open yourself up to a different set of possibilities and influences.

Just as you ultimately have to accept a program’s logic over your own preferences (or uninstall it), at some point you also need to accept what life is offering rather than continue to think that your conceptions of how things ought to be must unfold.

This latter misconception is sometimes called ego and leads to much suffering.

Literature is filled with stories of kings and warriors who learned this the hard way (often running afoul of the Gods which basically mirrored their own arrogance back at them), and you’ve probably experienced a more mundane version of the same reality, perhaps at the bank, market or the dry cleaners.

On a planetary level our species is also learning this lesson, and hopefully it will sink in before it’s too late.

In Jacob Needleman’s “A Sense of the Cosmos”, he describes attending a medical lecture where a doctor claimed that in some aspect of human bodily function, “nature had made a mistake.”

Oh really?

That’s sort of like geneticists saying blithely that because they haven’t yet discovered its meaning, that a large part of our genetic code is “junk DNA.”

Oh really?

There is a field emerging in biology and life sciences called biomimicry that goes in the opposite direction, and embraces and models the designs in nature to create more successful products—for example, I think that a bullet train in Japan is based on the aerodynamic beak of a hummingbird (or something like that).

But of course most of what we are doing (mainly as governments and multinational corporations) is trying to bend nature to how we think it ought to behave. In our hubris, we are not reading the manual, not giving due respect to the obvious intentions of the designer or master programmer, and ultimately we may find that we are the odd humanity out of a system that expels us.

We’d better get with the program and realize that we are a part of nature, and that our ideas and beliefs are hopelessly flawed when compared to the big “What Is.”

Meditation, I think, is a great start. Reading the manual for humanity, like our genetic code, might enlighten our species some, but only if we recognize that before we start tinkering, we need to understand its ultimate objective, rather than our own (like patenting genes)—and consider whether comprehending such higher truth is even remotely possiblef or a limited organism and brain like ours .

But the best way to start is to observe ourselves closely and recognize the common fallacy of assuming we know better in any specific instance. Because if you’ve ever upgraded any software, you know that “the way you always did something” may no longer be valid, and that someone, somewhere, has a different idea of how things ought to be—and they may be running the show—not your monkey mind.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Wisdom of Your Cells

Dr. Bruce Lipton is the author of “The Biology of Belief” and narrates an audio book titled: “The Wisdom of Your Cells.” He was teaching medical school when he realized that the “dogma” he was forcing on his students was wrong: DNA does not control life—genes have no ability to turn themselves on or off or “self-actualize”—instead genes are a blueprint for life.

He based this conclusion on several experiments. First, when a cell is enucleated (the DNA is removed along with the rest of the nucleus), it continue to live until it needs to manufacture more proteins (which requires a blueprint for production) or it needs to reproduce (which again requires the chromosomes containing the DNA).

He also found that when identical stem cells were placed in different solutions, they behaved differently despite having identical genetic material. This alerted Lipton to the reality that the environment is a heavy influence on how cells and organisms behave and live.

So then, DNA is only a blueprint for the cells’ behavior and activity.

Furthermore, the effects of environment are not only chemical but also energetic, and energetic influences that are only now being understood, and apparently these energetic influences are more powerful effects, and are often their cause through the intervention of the cell membrane.

By way of example Lipton says, of DNA being falsely recognized as the command and control of cells, if that were true of a blueprint (which is all that DNA apparently is), then you could drive by a housing site and throw the blueprint into the foundation and return a while later and find a completed house. But the reality is that you need a contractor (and a host of other intelligent life forms) to complete the project.

So , Lipton asks, “then who is the architect?”

First, again, the influences of the environment affect the cell, but they apparently do so through (the intelligent) processing capability of the cell membrane, which had previously been considered to be an inert container of the cellular material.

Instead, it turns out that this incredibly thin membrane is truly the “brain” of a cell—all cells have it and without it they would die—not only because their physical structure would collapse but equally important because their interactivity with the environment—their actual “life” processes—would no longer be controlled.

Lipton uses the example of a wafer (akin to a computer processor) to explain how the membrane allows for and controls the exchange of information with the environment – which he says constitutes life.

Life, according to Lipton, is movement, and without this exchange of information, there could be no life.

Many of us know that information is exchanged in the body chemically, but what Lipton’s research has shown is that it also happens on the quantum level—as energy.

So the question becomes, if this energy and information is coming from outside of us as well as inside, what are its origins and what does it mean?
For one thing it means that we are not living in a dead, random universe—there is intelligence manifest everywhere, not just in our craniums.

Perception controls Behavior – according to Lipton the information that comes into the organism through the cell membrane and is interpreted by the brain (in the case of humans), along with our pre-set subconscious scripts – influences and controls our behavior.

Mutation responds to environment and proceeds differently under stress. John Cairns, a noted biologist and whose work inspired the new field of epigenetics, published an experiment that didn’t fit the established belief system and was almost not published, but for his reputation. He found that organisms that were unable to digest lactose and were put into an environment with only lactose for sustenance, actually mutated to be able to digest the substance – seemingly intentionally.

This harkens back to the French biologist Lamarck, whose theories influenced Darwin, and who was ridiculed for first suggesting that evolution is intentional and based on a response to the environment – he was lambasted erroneously for a story in which fish looked at land at longingly until they evolved to grow legs and go ashore.

According to Lipton the human organism begins to process information from the environment before birth through the connection with the mother, and before the age of 6 there is no conscious mentation going on, only the “downloading” of information about the world, mainly through the observation of the attitudes and actions of the parents.

This forms the subconscious scripts by which most of us live 90% of the time automatically, and according to Lipton the subconscious processes a million times faster than the conscious mind, so that if we internalize feelings of inadequacy then no amount of conscious positive thinking will overcome them.

Instead these beliefs need to be “reprogrammed”, possibly through energy psychology, hypnosis or other methods.

The bottom line for me about Lipton is that he uses a biological and genetic approach to come to a similar conclusion or epiphany that I had when comparing genes to computer software—namely that the evolution and intentionality of these processes point to a higher level of intelligence and meaning than what we can attribute to ourselves through our own limited logic and understanding.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Conscious Capitalism: Still an Oxymoron?

Conscious Capitalism is a new buzz word for companies to incorporate into their mission statements; the link is to an Amazon list of books on that topic.

To me, this is a wonderful concept, except for the fact that most corporations, their mission statements aside, are built on the mantra competition and not cooperation.

While this is a trend that might be changing (at least according to Conscious Capitalist proponents) and it may also be reflected in the growth of social media, which is also based on cooperation, the sad reality of dealing with large institutions today is that any contact with them is invariably frustrating and stressful.

In the last day or so I have had three interactions with corporate or bureaucratic entities with which many of you will identify and relate:

1. A credit card company that decided to change my number because of a “merchant breach”, causing me massive inconvenience in terms of checking my online statement and re-entering the information into my direct payment accounts. They claim to have a commitment to customer service, but from my perspective true customer service would mean better security and no merchant breach, and a way of preserving my credit card number in the event of such an event.
2. A government agency that I need to call to change an appointment I cannot keep, but the phone message says they don’t answer any more calls because they’re overwhelmed.
3. A phone company web site that informs me I need a pin number to activate one of their services but whose customer service rep has a different story. I need to go through a maze of voice prompts to miraculously get a human, when I finally just say “agent!” out of exasperation.

I also detailed a horrific experience with another technology company that “values customer service” in a March blog about Vonage and how their pride in customer service is truly manifest.

What do all of these incidents, which are unfortunately still the rule rather the exception, tell us about the complexity of corporations and institutions?

First, to call any of their efforts “customer service” is to indulge in Orwellian double-speak.

These companies are not committed to providing service – they are committed to avoiding service to contain costs.

For example, if you have ever heard the message, “due to unusually high call volume, there may be a delay in answering your call…” or “your call is very important to us”, the translation is “we won’t commit money to more personnel because we don’t give a crap.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about spending a morning struggling with my computer. The main point was the consistent intervention by technology into a human endeavor—in that instance, writing—and how the problems were compounded by the software’s complexity at the cost of its functionality.

Why was it complex? Without new features users wouldn’t see a need to upgrade. The result of the upgrade? Complexity and frustration.

The Apple genius bar aside, there is no real way to get help on a computer issue from a human resource; if you’ve called a help line recently you surely experienced something like the three scenarios above, with the added annoyance of answering a gazillion questions before the person says “Can I help you?”

Then there are a gazillion more questions and no substantive answers, until you want to scream, like John McEnroe, “just answer the question! Can you please just answer my question (jerk)!”

So to follow up on the main issue raised by the conscious capitalists – what is the meaning of all this? (The presumed trend after all is that conscious corporations will focus on meaning rather than – profits)

Well one meaning may be that if cooperation at the expense of counting beans is actually practiced, lots of shareholders won’t be happy.

But perhaps there will be a new generation of conscious shareholders.

For now, however, the meaning is that any attempt to actually communicate with a large institution is at best stressful and at worst completely futile.

This may be a Zen lesson on a global scale in accepting what is as opposed to what should be, but if corporations don’t evolve to a conscious state soon, the humans on the planet will go insane (if they haven’t already).

Eckhart Tolle talks about this in his book, “A New Earth”, in which he calls corporations “giant egoic entities” committed only to profit. The problem of course that corporations generally don’t have the potential for evolution in that they do not have a conscious observer or sense of awareness (at least not yet).

How would a corporation meditate? Perhaps if all of its employees did so together this would lead to a shift; there is a video on YouTube of Jon Kabat-Zinn teaching a group of Google employees meditation and mindfulness. (Kabat-Zinn has appeared on Bill Moyers and many other programs as an expert in mind-body connection).

It’s been a while since I suggested the possibility that corporations are a new dominant life form, but it must be obvious to even the least conscious corporate entity that without humans to clean up the washrooms at night, they won’t last very long.

So why is it taking so long for companies to truly embrace what the experts are trying to teach them – that cooperation is a better long term strategy than bean counting competition?

So, why is customer service so nonexistent? Why is there still such a disconnect between large corporations’ mission statements and their actual performance?

My guess is that it ultimately comes down to us, the humans, and until we evolve, the corporations we build and work in will continue to be a reflection of our human nature, which at this point is still competitive and largely unconscious.

Maybe social media and a sense of cooperation can take root and sprout before it’s too late.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Toilet Seat Thing

I’ve always been intrigued by the depth and importance that women attribute to a man’s putting the toilet seat back down after finishing in the bathroom.

When I first encountered this mandate, it was explained to me that when a woman goes in the middle of the night, she doesn’t want to suddenly find herself trapped in an icky basin instead of perched on a comfortable seat.

But even when I’m not in a woman’s bathroom in the middle of the night, I still find that the imperative to maintain this discipline is no less powerful.

Being preoccupied with more weighty matters I have left a woman’s bathroom at various times recently in the middle of the day or evening, only to be reminded once again of this sacred obligation.

So what’s it all about?

Obviously it’s not solely about a woman finding herself with a wet and gross tush.

Most women I know will make the first request with a touch of humor and fairly low key, but I am well aware that if I continue to lapse the reminders will become more forceful and less humorous.

So the real issue here is about respect and being heard. Women want access to your brain in terms of paying attention, and nowhere is the potential for lapsing into daydreaming as great as on the toilet. Often the process is enhanced by needing a newspaper or magazine to take one’s mind off the task at hand.

So there is a two step process for leaving the toilet that lets a woman know that you are not completely self-absorbed and that her needs are equal to your own in your mind.

First she needs to hear water in the faucet so that she knows that you’re washing your hands.

Then she needs to know that between the time that you’ve washed your hands and left the bathroom, she has returned to your consciousness sufficiently to prompt you to remember to lower the toilet seat.

Think of this as an exercise in mindfulness. You need to retain a portion of your attention on something other than yourself, the Lakers, or what you’re having for dinner/breakfast, and if you want to stay connected to a female, part of that attention will need to be on her.

It’s amazing how infrequently, during the course of the day, we consciously control our thoughts and become present. So let the toilet seat be your new mantra, remind yourself by washing your hands, and your social life will be easier and much less stressful.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Intelligent Life? (Speculations on Genetics and Software)

I've been thinking about this topic for some time and want to share my latest thoughts on the relationship and implications of computer software and findings in genetics. Inspired structurally by the Ignite PowerPoint concept it's under five minutes in length.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Social Media as a Woman’s World

BlogHer, the women’s blog network, found that 42 million women in the United States (roughly 53% of the 79 million adult women in the United States who use the Internet) participate in social media at least weekly. That doesn’t surprise me, because the more I become familiar with how social media works, the more I am reminded of conversations I’ve had with women and about women.

And I don’t say that critically—on the contrary. It’s just a matter of evolving or adapting to a different mindset.

Let me explain—as a male my focus online has generally been goal-oriented—to get things done.

My main website is like most, a corporate brochure of who I am and what I can offer to clients, along with a way to see what I’ve written and perhaps purchase a book or eBook.

Then when I got on Facebook, and eventually Twitter, I was disinterested at first by what I perceived to be mindless drivel, minutae and chit chat; if this sounds like something an honest male might say about having to listen to a lot of stuff about “a woman’s day” I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

So as I continued to track the social media juggernaut and saw how it enabled many to thrive online, I began to realize what I was missing. Where I had attempted to use my social networks and status updates in a traditional way—by simply promoting myself and asking people to buy or go to my site(s), I began to study the trend and noted that this was not the point.

Every social media commentary I have read, including the very excellent book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff , the J.A. Jones Blog, and the Mack Collier Blog - @mackcollier have led me to the realization that social media constitutes an evolutionary shift in consciousness in the online business world.

All of these books, and many more, stress the fact that if you are goal oriented in social media or heavy handed in your self-promotion, you are self defeating. On the other hand, if you listen to the ideas and concerns of others, contribute to a community of ideas, and generally participate without looking only for self gratification, you will see significant rewards in all areas of your endeavors, particularly in self fulfillment, over time.

In other words, social media is not a one night stand—it’s a long term relationship.

Mack Collier, for example, makes it a point to inform his followers on Twitter and his blog that he will simply ignore pitches of any kind from those with whom he hasn’t communicated already; those who pitch him “on the first date” don’t qualify for his attention.

If this sounds an awful lot like the current trend in dating and relationships as “friends first”, preferred by so many women, it is.

As a supposed computer expert I was surprised when I first confronted this reality in discussions with a great friend who happens to be female. At the time I had discovered Ning, and was writing an eBook which I intended to self publish.

I was concentrating hard on the nuts and bolts of Ning—how to upload content, construct the interface, and generally “get things done” when she told me the secret of Ning, or any social network.

“Make sure you welcome all of the new members,” she said, “and acknowledge their birthdays. You need active moderators on the discussion forums to ensure that every post is given a sincere response.”

Wow, I thought to myself, I’ve been teaching her what I thought was technology, but she showed me what I had always prided myself on knowing – why this software is important.

In my tech writing about Microsoft products I had always tried to accentuate its practicality and how it was used, and if possible its human application (communicate visually with PowerPoint, for example).

But in trying to “master” this new phenomenon of Social Media, I had completely missed the point. Either I had dismissed it as chit chat and drivel; or I had tried to force it into a role that it was not meant to fulfill.

While I try to resist wholesale generalizations, what I needed to do was listen to what social media was telling me, the same way I sometimes need to learn to listen, and not try to fix or control, women I know.

As a guy, I still tend to measure my success in quantity—like my followers on Twitter—with each new add I get a little, well, twitter.

But more and more my thrill comes from a sense of contribution. I’ve begun to shift my focus, and while I still may pitch and promote I try to do so judiciously, and mainly with those with whom I’ve established a connection.

More important, when I see something of value, I try to put it out there and share it without trying to figure out how it’s going to get me something reciprocal right away.

What I’m getting is that Twitter, Facebook and other social media are really a giant pot luck or Tupperware party, and in order to get nourished you need to bring something to the table – preferably without too much concern with short term gain.

And again, this brings me back to how it resembles dating—if you’re always worried about who’s going to pick up the check, or how the evening is going to end, you’re missing the point.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Just Another Microsoft Morning

Maybe this has happened to you. You woke up inspired, with a project in mind and you turned on your computer hopefully. You did this prior to your shower, or as you prepared breakfast, because you knew that Windows Vista would take about ten minutes to start up.

But then, maybe you got preoccupied; the phone rang, there was noise outside, or something else distracted you, and you forgot to get to the log on screen in time, and there was the screensaver already running. Damn!

(This occurs despite the fact that you know that you’ve disabled the screensaver innumerable times).

Now you’ve experienced this before, so you get a sick feeling in your stomach, because you already know that if you log in now, you may lose all of your Desktop settings (logging in as a new blank user).

You know the files would still be available, but you also don’t remember quite how you restored your desktop last time; oh yeah, by running System Restore, which took about another fifteen or twenty minutes.

At this point your great idea, and your inspiration, are slowly starting to fade into the recesses of your gray matter, but you are determined to persevere… You turn off the computer, and turn it on again.

You eat your breakfast, getting excited again about your project or idea, and this time when you see the log on screen, you spring up and sign in well ahead of the screensaver. Success—Windows is loading your user information.

You return to finish breakfast because you know that there are still another ten minutes at least before the computer is remotely usable. You’ve sat through the log in and you know that several dialog boxes will open that you have dealt with many, many times: The Adobe updater, the System Configuration utility (which you’ve tweaked in a vain effort to boot up and log in faster), the Windows OneCare, nagging you about doing a backup (but you have your own backup system because you don’t trust Windows to do it), Windows Update, telling you that there are updates to download and install…

But you have a project in mind, so you decide to wait with the updates. Windows tells you that you can keep working while the updates are installed, but you’ve taken that ride before, and you don’t want or need a sudden reboot or any surprises.

What’s this, another freaking balloon pops up, telling you that there is somewhere Microsoft can take you where you can get solutions to all of your Windows problems.

“OK, what about that log on screensaver?” you shout to yourself, but you are determined to remain calm, and you ignore the pop up because you know in your heart of hearts that there are very few solutions to problems with Windows, and what solutions there are seldom if ever found through Microsoft.

You remember all too well your experience with setting up your wireless network, when Windows promised to “diagnose and repair” whatever was screwed up, only to tell you to check with your System Administrator (which of course is you), or it returned you to the same opening page of a Help File loop you’d been through several times already.

So now, Windows is finally loaded, and it seems ready for you to get into your really great project. You keep a wary eye on Windows Update and OneCare, because they could pop up at any moment, but it’s time to get to work.

So you open Microsoft Word, to a new blank document, and then you remember, damn!

It’s that same default Word template that has the screwed up right margin!

Now, how did you fix that?

You try to remember the last document you created where this happened, and you fixed it, and saved a new blank template with the correct right margin, but you open a couple of more templates and each time you get the same freaking screwed up right margin!

So you drag the margin where you know it should go and you type your first paragraph and you’re feeling good because the juices are starting to flow.

You hit Enter and are about to begin the next paragraph when – crap – it’s the same bleeping right margin staring back at you.

Then you remember something you did once that worked for the current document. You hit CTRL +A selecting the entire document and then adjust the margins again. You hit Enter a few more times and it seems to work. You think, maybe I should save this as a Style or something, but then you realize that styles are really complicated and you don’t want to go there. You’re on a roll.

So you keep typing and thinking and the project is coming along really well until you’ve gone into a zone and an hour or two later you have the document finished.

You take out your flash drive and back it up immediately because last week Windows scared the crap out of you with a bogus “hard drive might be failing – back up immediately” message that almost gave you a heart attack.

Since you have a laptop, you figure you’ll move it there to upload it to your blog and share it on your social networks with the millions of people who will probably ignore it. But, at least that way it will be in three different places and your masterpiece will finally be safe.

You know you shouldn’t but you leave your laptop leave turned on all the time, just letting it go to sleep when not in use, despite the guilt you feel about wasting power but you like to use it to “relax” while watching TV, so you rub the mouse and it comes to life.

You put in the flash drive and a pop up window comes up asking if you want to defragment the flash drive; you decide no, not yet, and move the file to your desktop and open it in Word.

Holy crap – the file is read only again! You remember that that sometimes happens and it makes it impossible to edit and save under the same name but it really doesn’t matter because the project is done – it just has to be uploaded.

But you notice a typo and you don’t want to fix it online because you might want to upload it to multiple places and you might forget so you fix it in Word and try to save it and it reminds you – it’s read only, pal, you need to rename it.

You sigh and resave and rename the file and go to your blog and sign in and put in the title, and then you copy the Word document to the clipboard and paste it into your blog (even though there is a way to do the blog in Word and upload it directly but you don’t remember the password right this minute) and--crap!

It took out all of the spaces between the paragraphs you just typed in Word. You know there’s a solution but you forgot what it was and to do it because you fixed the freaking margins and you were so inspired you actually wanted to start typing—so, sigh, you manually put in the paragraph spaces, and copy that file back to your clipboard before posting it to your blog.

You open Notepad, the generic word processor that never screws up because it’s so freaking simple and you paste the document in there and save it because you can post that version online again without going through and repairing all of the paragraph spacing…

But for a moment you feel good, you did it, you wrote the blog and it’s up there but then you realize—you’d better back up the Notepad version of the file to your flash drive and move it back to the other computer… just in case.

But that can wait, so you go on your social networks and link to the blog item, which is sort of like this article, complaining about Microsoft and Windows and Word, and pretty soon you get a bunch of messages that all say the same thing: get a Mac.

But you know what, you’ve worked on freaking Macs and you know damn well that they have their own set of problems. Besides you want a tool you can use, not a religious experience, and now you’re upset because every time you bring stuff like this up the Mac-heads come out of the woodwork and make you feel cheap and dumb for not buying something really cool.

You were determined not to buy a computer where a streamlined mouse costs $100 so you invested in a PC back at Windows 3.11 and you wonder – why does it still suck so bad?

But you find Macs overpriced and pretentious; you’ve used them and they have another way of thinking that isn’t necessarily simpler or better but just, as they say, different. A good friend has a Mac and you’ve had to get him out of pickles because he’s relatively new to computers (which is why he bought a freaking Mac) and you’ve been able to help him over the phone because, after all, you’re your own System Administrator, for Christ sake!

(But you can’t remember how to get the margins right in Word, or to log into Windows before the damn screensaver comes up).

You resist the urge to write all this in response to the Mac comments, and you wonder why no one with Windows has responded to your blog until you realize… they’re waiting for Vista to boot up before they can get online, and then they have had the same experience themselves and don’t find it all that unusual.

So you decide to run some errands and turn off your PC, because after all you do feel guilty about using up all that power, and you grab your car keys and get the hell out of the house, realizing that tomorrow morning, it will all start again.

Epilogue: You are not alone. Read this email Bill Gates wrote to his staff about his own “usability” experience back in 2003.