The sound of inevitable death

Agent Smith was right. Death is inevitable.

Neo lived here, but he did later die. I am going to die. You are, too. We’re all going to die. We all will cease to exist one day. It is inevitable. All the bad stuff that happens to us will pass. The good stuff, too. Focusing on any of that while death looms is silly when you think about it. We win the lottery everyday when we wake up in the morning with the ability to perceive our surroundings and make conscious choices about what we want or where we want to go.

I remember feeling like Neo not long ago, when I woke up from my Matrix. I had been following a life that others had constructed. I had values, but they were borrowed. I had causes, but I was only using them to bring meaning to my life. And so awake, I was able to see I was far from the person I wanted to be. I was pretty disgusted when I’d finally lifted the covers I’d thrown over the sordid mess that was my personality. All I did was judge myself and other people. I was such a pessimist I don’t know how anyone wanted to be around me. Listening to your internal dialogue is so powerful, but it can be depressing!

So this was hard. But it’s been even harder to accept myself. Actually, I might never fully accept myself, but that is a goal of perfection: Realizing we are imperfect and not worrying about it.

A great way of pushing thru realized imperfection is pressure

Back to Neo. He was facing some pressures in the real world. He’d just taken the red pill, instead of the blue pill, and woken up from a virtual reality world of a comfortable life. He finds himself in the sewers of a city, being chased by robots. Just as Cypher, one of the other human refugees from the Matrix told him: “I know what you’re thinking. Why oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?”

Cypher wanted to escape the real world and go back to the Matrix. I think we all feel that way sometimes. We want to hide behind a fierce attitude, the pride in our career, the pleasure in a partner or our children, or a respectable cause to fight for. Instead of facing reality, we find it easier to escape it, placing importance on things or gaining value from other people when that value should originate in ourselves.

I think the pressure to survive helped Neo. This is a pressure we don’t have. Consequently, we can get distracted, or we can become so focused on doing the right thing, we become overwhelmed by the task. I’ve awakened from the distractions, but I’m still overwhelmed sometimes.

Whether we’re distracted or overwhelmed, we need to keep the inevitability of death in our heads. This will bring about the gratitude and the focus on the here and now, and once we’re focused, we’re not worried about needing anything from anyone. We start controlling our lives, instead of letting others do it for us. We are better able to make ourselves happy.

The sound of inevitability: It’s good to hear that sound to put things in perspective.

TED Talk Tuesday invaded by FOX News: What if…?


“What if the two-party system were actually a mechanism used to limit so-called public opinion? What if there were more than two sides to every issue, but the two parties wanted to box you in to a corner, one of their corners?

What if there’s no such thing as public opinion, because every thinking person has opinions that are uniquely his own?

What if public opinion were just a manufactured narrative that makes it easier to convince people that if their views are different, there’s something wrong with that – or something wrong with them?

What if the whole purpose of the Democratic and Republican parties was not to expand voters’ choices, but to limit them?

What if those vaunted differences between Democrat and Republican were actually just minor disagreements?

What if both parties just want power and are willing to have young people fight meaningless wars to enhance that power?

What if both parties continue to fight the war on drugs just to give bureaucrats and cops bigger budgets and more jobs?

What if government policies didn’t change when government’s leaders did?

What if no matter who won an election, government stayed the same?

What if government were really a revolving door of political hacks, bent on exploiting the people while they’re in charge?”

Who watches the watcher?
The answer is clear.
It’s you and me!
An enlightened and knowledgeable population.
The government and corporations and banks don’t rule us.
They serve us.
We can change the power imbalance that has drifted to them.

Yes.
We can.

The perfect backyard and the perfect person.

I was out walking with Jesse the other day. The sun was setting and the western skies were aglow with shimmering orange and yellow and red. We passed a home with a back yard that was carefully landscaped with evergreen trees. They were clustered within neat rings of stone. A decorative stone bench sat at either end of the yard. There was small, neatly trimmed shrubbery flanking the area.

“That yard looks like a park,” I said.

I thought about the care of the owners to ensure that the branches were trimmed. The stones and benches clear of weeds. The grass surrounding them cut. I said, “I wonder what the yard is going to look like in a hundred years. Will the yard even be there? Will it be destroyed? Will the family have moved on, and will there be another family owning the place?”

The transience of life

I think about how much the yard was appreciated. I think of our constant struggle to keep order. Maintaining our hygiene, cleaning ourselves, walking about, working, exercising, cleaning again. Picking out the soap and shampoo that we like, maybe it’s the cheapest, or the one that has best scent, or the one used in all the salons, or the one that’s not tested on animals.

Finding the restaurant with the tastiest dishes, the ones we must have, and we’ll pay for it, because nothing else is good enough. Maybe getting fast food, because we just want to eat something, anything. Or going to places that get their ingredients locally. Or having a garden, or not eating animals because we do care, we care a lot about our actions…

Does it matter?

Eating, brushing our teeth, eating again, brushing again, stopping the rot, keeping the bacteria at bay. Our diligence! Cutting the grass, cursing the rain, cutting the grass again, trimming bushes.

Again and again and again.

Going shopping to replace worn clothes, or just because it feels good. Trying to make more money, searching for that job that will make us comfortable, that income that’s just out of our reach, if only we could get to it.

Until we don’t do it anymore

Until one day, we stand at the gates to be judged. The gates of truth. Our conscience. And we ask ourselves if we spent our time wisely. Did we make an effort to do the right thing, or did we follow the crowd? Did we work too much, too little? Did we care about our contribution, about the consequences of our actions? Did we care about people, about the future, or did we throw up our hands in helplessness? Did we worry too much, or did we enjoy our life?

I looked at the yard and thought all this, because this is what I do. I thought about the big clock. Tick-tock. And then I stopped thinking of that. And I started appreciating everything a little bit more.

The perfect backyard and the perfect person? Neither is possible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for them.

TED Talk Tuesday: Your neighbor isn’t stupid or lazy



Why is there apathy? Meslin says it is because our environment encourages it. Apathy is in our nature, just like our determination, selfishness, and kindness. But our environment is a powerful promoter, of both good and bad traits. Meslin describes how society makes it hard to to be active in your community, how media depicts heroism as being for the chosen few, and how the system makes political involvement uninspiring and the political process complicated and manipulative.

“As long as we believe that people, our own neighbors, are selfish, stupid or lazy, then there’s no hope.”

Meslin made me realize that the bigger and more complicated our system grows, the more apathy will creep into our actions. If we can see that the system we are building is making our future both easier and impersonal, we can change it. In effect, we must save us from ourselves. And in a society so free, if we do not, we only have ourselves to blame.

So let’s reach out and empower ourselves. Start buying more from the people in our community. Let’s not give our money to careless and dishonest Wall Street bankers. Let’s vote less for the two parties and more for the third party that hasn’t been compromised by money. We can make the change. As Ghandi said,

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Your neighbor isn’t stupid or lazy.

And neither are you.


Follow me and I will take you away from the everyday.

If this is something you care about, then SHARE it. Let’s get out of the stands and into the game. Let’s interact.

TED Talk Tuesday : The only absolute is whether you tried to do the right thing


Damon works in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and he faces the problem of programming ethics into computer programs. Think that’s hard? Then look at the moral framework you use in your own life and realize it’s much harder than you think.

What Damon talks about is how we, as the programmers and users of technology, must decide how to use this technology.

Plato tried to find absolutes of justice. Like the 1 and 0 of ethics. Good and bad.

John Stuart Mill said we must do the thing that results in the greatest good, a simple numbers game.

And then there is Kant. He may have had the formula, but it’s no easy method. In fact, it’s the hardest way for humans to live:

We must use our reason.

“The sad truth is that most evil done in this world is not done by people who choose to be evil.

It arises from not thinking.”
Let’s start a conversation. Is it right to buy foreign goods? Give our money to dishonest Wall Street bankers? Give the government the power to take our right to trial to protect us from terrorism? Take a job we don’t enjoy just for the money?

Don’t worry: There is no right or wrong.
But we must have a reasoning for our actions. Otherwise our lives aren’t really our own.

Here’s to a new year of doing what we want and knowing why we do it.

TED Talk Tuesday: Surrounded by people, but alone on your island



Daniel Goleman talks about the importance of noticing others.  He takes us on a journey, starting with how seminary students help a man in need, to the mind of a serial killer, to the feasibility of compassionate consumerism.

“There’s a saying in Information Science: Ultimately, everyone will know everything. The question is, will it make a difference?”

Take the time to swim off of your island. Our connection with others and the mindfulness of where our purchases come from determines whether we are a collection of privileged consumers with the information of the world in our hands, or a grateful nation of responsible human beings, with the information we need in our heads.

Rituals are funny…and dangerous



Rituals. We follow them without thinking. Some rituals are habits that we consciously try to form, like healthy exercise and diet. Other rituals are generally environmentally influenced… like going to church, going out to eat, or putting up a Christmas tree.

This past weekend, I went out to run, not having exercised the week before. My ritual is to run about six miles over a certain route that takes me through a subdivision and down a main street. I considered shortening the run, given my week-long inactivity, but I didn’t. I also thought about slowing from my usual pace. I didn’t follow that advice either. At the end of my run, I noticed a stabbing pain in my left Achilles tendon. I had injured myself, and it was all because I was accustomed to my ritual, and I didn’t want to change it.

We can form seemingly good habits, like regular exercise or a healthy diet. Some dietary habits are so ingrained in our minds that going against them seems like going against nature, like the practice of eating meat. As we have become more technologically advanced, we don’t need to slaughter our own animals or go to a farm, so we don’t see meat as coming from a living and breathing animal that can suffer and who raises its young, unless we take them away for veal or lamb chops. We don’t see that we have put these living things in factories where they aren’t animals anymore, but units of production on an assembly line. Input: corn, antibiotics, and hormones. Output: meat patty on our plate.

As human beings, we have the capacity to think through our actions and make a plan. Our mindfulness is our most important quality, otherwise, we are at the mercy of our environment and the whims of a culture that allows slavery to exist, restricts people from voting, and allows banks to defraud their customers, almost causing world-wide economic collapse. If we can recognize when a ritual is good or bad, we can make an exception and not blindly follow it.

So stop every once in a while and assess your habits and judge whether they are making you happy. You will probably find something you can change that will drastically improve your life and the state of the world you live in.

Is the easy life truly easy?

I was at the gym the other day, and I saw the cardio room filled with people, everyone moving on stationary machines, but going nowhere, and I laughed to myself. Later, on the way out, my laughter turned to amazement when someone told me about a projection keyboard her teacher used in her class. I didn’t understand how a keyboard could be projected and still work. Then I got to thinking about how our entire economy was dependent on bankers buying and selling bets, and how that could work.

Sounds abstract? I think so, too. So…

Is it possible to make life too abstract?

In a previous blog. I talked about how exercise gives us a feeling of accomplishment which is needed in a society that seeks to make things easier. When I looked out on the rows of cardio machines last week, I saw something a little different. There were people running in place. I turned to the other end of the gym, where people were lifting weights, up and down, over and over again.

It’s funny how we’ve replaced the work that gives us this exercise naturally, like washing clothes by hand, walking or biking to work, or raising and making our own food. We have specialized roles now, a machine washes our clothes or a laundromat offers to do it for us. Groceries provide us food, and a cook and a waiter who provide us meals. There are garbage men to pick up our trash and lawn service for our yards. We’ve got cars that we can drive, taxi drivers that can drive us, and car mechanics that will change our oil.

The same thing is happening with our retirement accounts. Instead of investing in stocks and bonds in companies we think are making a good product, we give our money to bankers and they make us money. They still buy stocks and bonds, but today we have added bets in the mix. These are bets that someone else’s purchase is going to go up in value. You can even bet whether something will go down in value.

Sound abstract? I think so, too.

The easy decision is easy…at first

We use machines to make it easier to do things and get places. It’s easy, but then we realize we bought a car that has 6 cylinders, instead of 4, and has cargo space for 6 people, and those things cost more. We realize that our sedentary lifestyle requires us to exercise. Not easy, because we must now pay money and make extra time to drive to a gym.

We’ve lost the knowledge of how to landscape a yard, or even change the oil in our car, and this makes us more helpless than before. And instead of making meals which we know the ingredients, we buy convenient meals which can contain sugars and fats that are out of our hands, hidden in the food.

Maybe most important, our investments are made by bankers. They send us statements that show that our little pile of money is ever increasing. It’s easy. Until we realize we don’t know what a derivative is, or a collateralized debt obligation, but we staked our future on them. We then realize that everything we’re doing is postponing the cost. The cost of us not supervising the banker is measured by the number of lost jobs and failed businesses after the banks defraud us and mismanage our investments.  

Sound abstract? I think so, too.

My cousin is vice-president of Securities at TD Bank.  He might be able to help us sort it out. I asked him how the derivative collapse affected them. He said, “Not too much.”

“Really?” I answered, surprised.

 “We looked at mortgage derivatives as a possible investment. We didn’t understand it, so we passed,” he answered simply.

If something is too complicated, ask why that is.

Maybe then we can make our lives truly easier.

Accepting yourself is vital, but it is not enough

I am going to come clean: I’ve fallen off the wagon. The days have been getting away from me, and I haven’t accomplished what I wanted. Days have become weeks, and weeks have become a month, and thus my time has slipped away. Have you ever been there? Here are the three steps to help get back on track:

1. Accept yourself
2. Determine your paradigm
3. Set longterm goals, then set smaller goals that lead to them

Accepting yourself is not enough

After a long time, I’ve come to accept myself. I mentioned accepting myself briefly in a previous blog. Yesterday I mentioned it to someone and they asked what I meant. Accepting myself doesn’t mean that I say I am ok with the way I am, and that I don’t need to change.

Accepting myself is understanding that I am responsible for myself and my happiness

Acceptance is knowing that your environment doesn’t make you happy or sad. Your environment includes the people around you, your physical surroundings, your accomplishments or failures and even your physical appearance. In this mindset, you don’t react to your environment, you act on it.

After acceptance, you can then take action

Acceptance is not enough to be happy. We must do. But doing takes effort. It takes discipline. If you find yourself lacking the drive and you’ve had a long period of inaction, reassess your goals. So I’m back at the drawing board, reviewing my goals: Get two books published by the end of next year. For you, it might be get a certification to help your career along, hiking the Appalachian trial, or restoring an old car. Whatever it is, you need to realize it fully. Finding your goals is more than listing specific accomplishments. Your true goals are based on something much deeper..your purpose. Your passion.

Purpose is your fundamental goal

To find your purpose, you need to find the lens through which you see the world. You need to define your paradigm. In general, this is the same for everyone: Do something of value and be valued. Remind yourself of this to help keep you on track. Consider the alternative: Doing nothing of much value. That’s not a scenario I want to face. Do you?

Having no short-term goals is like bowling without seeing the pins

For me, small goals involve building content. Writing a chapter a day, writing a synopsis of every day, and a blog article every week. These tasks keep me on track to my longterm goal of publishing two books and writing for magazines and periodicals. Revisit your longterm goals to ensure you’re doing what you want, and to motivate you towards those accomplishments. If you find you are unable to meet your short term goals, break them down to even smaller, shorter-term goals: Yearly into monthly, monthly into weekly, weekly into daily.

Don’t get discouraged

Remember: Those accomplishments don’t make or break you. You are in control of yourself, so accept your responsibility. Be aware of yourself. Only you know if you are making a true effort at living your paradigm. Organize your goals so that your behavior matches your passion.

So I’m back on track. I trust that I’ll see you in action soon enough, too.

Selfishness is not just about getting what you want, but knowing why you want it

I’ve recently been thinking about selfishness. Many would say selfishness is alive and well today in the US. For instance, we consume more than we produce. And although we have more than most other nations on earth, we are the fifth most generous nation, measured by our frequency of helping a stranger.

We do make some sacrifices, but not the ones you would expect of a selfish person: We sacrifice our health: 2/3 of us our overweight, and 1/3 are obese. We also sacrifice financial security: The average American household credit card debt is about $11,000.

Maybe we’re happy in this state. Let’s leave moral judgments aside and see if this is true.

The US ranks 16th in happiness in the world

Unfortunately, studies indicate that most people in the US are not too happy. According to self-report surveys, Americans are less happy than people in many other countries. But maybe our happiness standards are different than the standards of others, and these surveys don’t allow an apples to apples comparison.

Research shows that happiness is correlated with limiting our choices

Dan Gilbert and Barry Schwartz are two researchers who have added to the pile of observations about what makes humans happy.  There’s evidence that suggests that our actual circumstances don’t make us happy, and that more choices don’t lead to a condition that makes us happy. Having more options makes people less happy.  In test after test, subjects who were given more options were less happy than those who were given less options. Even more important, in a related study, people preferred to have more options, although this led to lower happiness. Why?

We want power

Having power makes us happy…until we get what we want.  Yet, we want the freedom to choose.  The freedom to decide. What is this called?

Selfishness.
And so it comes back to that.
That’s what we wanted all along, and in the United States, we have a lot of freedom to make our own decisions.
So why aren’t we happy?

We are not free from the most powerful control mechanism of all: Our mind. 

Our mind convinces us that happiness is achieved by controlling things, when it is truly achieved by controlling ourselves.  Instead of putting our priorities on assessing and improving our mental health, we focus on our material wealth. We most value our power over external variables, like other people or things, when, in the end, control over the material world means nothing if we cannot value ourselves. It seems that selfishness is vital to happiness, but not in the way we expect…

Selfishness is really about being mindful of ourselves

Selfishness is about being empowered and responsible. It’s not just about getting what you want, but knowing why you want it.

Here’s to all of us attaining the freedom of empowerment that is necessary to be happy.