Friday, April 30, 2010

Getting Along with Humans

I really like the discussion we've been having about having a code and I'm looking forward to writing more about it. Along the way there, I realized a great precursor to having a code is simply learning how to live with other humans. The following are some rules of thumb that I've found useful along that front. I'd love to hear yours.

1. Truth is Pragmatic
Before we start, I'd like to point out that the degree to which everything that follows is 'true' is proportional to the degree that it works. If you approach any of the following from the perspective of it being true because it can be proven or because you can't think of counter examples, then, well...

2. Doing the Best We Can
A first principle that can completely change how you view others (and yourself) is this: each of us is doing the best we can given the context of our beliefs.

By "best we can" I don't mean the dismissive "There, there, you did the best you could do." Instead, I'm talking about our always doing what we believe is 'right' or 'best'. If someone were to scream at you in anger, you could respond from a generic perspective, "screaming in anger is always inappropriate" or you could respond from the perspective, "he screamed at me because that's the best way he can think of taking care of himself in this situation."

Neither requires you to settle for angry screaming as something that you want in your life. However, the latter tends to lead towards better communication than the former.

So try it on, each time you encounter a behavior you don't particularly like (even in yourself), remind yourself, "he's doing the best he can."

3. Just Ask
As Samuel L. Jackson has said in more than one movie, "Everyone knows when you make an assumption, you make an ass outta you, and umption."

So much of what challenges us in relationships is there simply because we make assumptions about others, never stopping to ask them whether or not the assumptions are valid. Surely, being able to assume certain things about others is useful (e.g., that he'll show up when he said he would), but there are many more that are less than useful (e.g., I think he's not telling me something.)

Whenever you find yourself 'guessing', cut off the assumption-effect by asking the question that's on your mind. Imagine that all war, all conflicts, all that challenges us, is just a big misunderstanding.

4. Just Tell
Of course a lot of assumption results from not being authentic about what we're thinking. I wholeheartedly believe that clearly saying what you think with an attitude of love and without hesitation is always the best way to go (if you're getting hung up on the word 'always', please see item 1).

Note that I used the phrase 'attitude of love' and not 'manner of love'. Often times, we confuse affect with attitude. While the latter can be effective, it's suboptimal. When we speak in a manner of love, we can say all sorts of heinous things to another person while looking 'lovingly' into their eyes and caressing their hand. That won't cut it.

When we approach someone with an attitude of love, really deciding to love her, it not only changes our manner, but it also change us. The very attitude reshapes what we're thinking and what we have to say. When the words come out, they're the reflection of loving thought, not unhappiness wrapped in loving manner.

5. Impose No Debt
Whenever you do something for someone, make your reward the doing of it, not the expectation of obligation or a debt of gratitude.

Over the years, my mom and dad spent endless hours doing things for others (see When My Mom Died). However, the thing that significantly differentiated my mom from my dad is that my mom always did so without the expectation of anything in return. She did things for others simply for the joy of doing them.

My dad on the other hand would often bring up how he did thus-and-such for so-and-so and they "never even thanked me". He would begin to build into his good deeds an implicit expectation of receiving something in return: gratitude, acceptance, accolades, love, respect, favors, etc.

At times others would take offense on my mom's behalf, but she herself was never offended; it didn't even occur to her to take offense since, from her perspective, she'd already been 'paid in full' just through the act of giving.

Of course, it's fine to expect something in return; just be clear about it up front.

6. Take It to the Source
This one shouldn't be an issue if you abide by 3 and 4, but nonetheless, it bears (re)stating. Whenever you have something to say to someone, say it to him or her and no one else. There is probably no greater contributor to conflict, strife and disharmony than venting your unhappiness over person A with person B.

7. Take Nothing Personally, Ever
Whenever we start taking things personally, we become biased. We compromise our abilities to hear what is being said. We get defensive and even offensive. Stupidity is directly proportional to the degree to which we make something personal.

Even when someone means for you to take what she's saying personally, what she's saying is still all about her, not you. So, believe it or not, you never, ever have to take something personally.

So What?
I'd like to propose a little experiment. Spend 48 hours trying on items 1 through 7 and see what happens. Here they are quickly:
  1. Whenever I catch myself looking for reasons that one of the following is not true, I'll remind myself that it's true because of the great changes it's going to effect in my life, not because it can be proven.
  2. I will regularly remind myself that we're all doing the best we can (even me).
  3. Whenever I find myself making an assumption, I'll stop myself and ask instead.
  4. Whenever I find myself not saying what I'm thinking, I'll look at the other person, focus on him in love, and then say it.
  5. I will take joy in the act of doing something for someone without the expectation of anything in return.
  6. I won't complain or say anything negative about anyone to anyone else. It I have an issue with someone, I'll take it directly to him or her (remembering #4).
  7. Nothing anyone says or does is about me, even if they mean for it to be.
So, are you up for it? Look at your clock, write down the time, and begin the countdown for 48-hours of relationship-changing excitement. Ready? 5... 4... 3... 2... 1..

Happy Friday

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Detours everywhere!

I left Columbus Circle and boarded the Uptown #1 train to head back into the Bronx, where I had left the car.  I was going to transfer to uptown #2 at 72nd street, then to the uptown #5 at 149th street.  I was headed home.

The train was moving slowly and finally, at 96th street, the uptown #2 was terminated.  We were told there was a police investigation at shtshrwsa (...telephone static...) street.  It looked like 1000 people disembarked the train and were standing around trying to figure out what to do.  I decided to head back downtown because I could get the uptown #5 at Grand Central Station.  2 trains later, standing on the platform waiting for the #5, we heard the announcement that there was no uptown #5 because of a fire at 149th street.  We needed to take the #4 to 149th and 3rd ave, then take a shuttle to shtshrwsa (...telephone static..).  While on the 4, the announcement came :"If you are looking for the uptown #5, take the #2 downstairs at this station and transfer..."  Like a panicked herd, all 1000 of us headed downstairs to be stopped in the middle of the stairs!  "No trains, go take the shuttle bus outside to...." Sigh.

As I walked outside, bits and pieces of the story floated to me from the conversations around "...crazy man....caught him...."  I hurried onto what looked like the shuttle bus, to the confusion of the puzzled bus driver. "Shuttle bus?"  I hurried off, not wanting to get even further from my destination.  I was going home. In the ensuing 2 hours, my phone had died and my feet hurt!  I had worn the cute shoes, confident that I would be going from my car to the subway, from the subway to the Time Warner Building, then reversing the trip.  I could stand the cute shoes for that time.  It was now 5pm, and I was 'standing' the cute shoes for close to 2 hours and was working on a meditative trance to cope with the pain.

Speaking of pain, my purse has everything in the world in it, and I didn't realize how heavy this everything got when you were standing for a while, and your feet hurt.  My shoulder was joining the complaint, as were my fingers...their circulation being cut off by the shopping bag of books I carried.

How was I feeling internally? I was in a carefully crafted state called focus.  I took deep breaths and slowed time down in my head.  I was going home and was not going to be put off by any of this.

Police officers are everywhere.  A few conversations reveal that the power will be back in 20 minutes (20 more minutes??) and the trains would then be running normally.  How normally can they run with 3000 people on the platform and 2 hours of delay?  Anyway, the story finally became clearer.  A man was running on the train tracks and the police turned off the electricity.  I watched them clear a path and bring the man out, restrained from the top of his head to his toes, on a gurney.  Immediately, we were all encouraged back into the train station.

I'll summarize the rest....We waited in the station for more than 35 minutes for the train currently in the station to leave, and finally, the train I wanted came.  I went home, and had a lovely conversation with a new friend who was sitting beside me for the last hour of the journey.  She had just had brain surgery 3 weeks before and this was her first day going about 'normal' life.  I offered her a ride from the station home.

Why did I share this with you?  Well first of all, be happy you were not anywhere in the NYC subway system that afternoon!  The series of events got me thinking about having a clear intention and not being distracted by eventualities.  Never during the afternoon did the thought that I wouldn't get back home even cross my mind.  I contemplated variation after variation on the theme of going home.  As one plan fizzled out, I tried another.  Going home was not optional.

I'm realizing that some of the goals and intentions we set are options.  If more than x obstacles come my way, oh well, that was too hard, or this school, job, business, partner wasn't meant to be....  I'm deciding to be clear with myself on the things that are optional for me, and the things I want to critically  I focus on.  Some things really are optional, and that's ok.  Sometimes I do want to change the destination to something else.  For the others, the clearly defined, critical to follow intentions,  I'm going to create the mental focus I had on that day in the subway that got me home, even though my feet and arms and shoulders really hurt and random strange events set huge detour signs to my goal.

What are you focussing on in this season of your life?  What do the detour signs look like?  Are you changing your destination because of them?  Is that what you want, or is it in response to the detour sign?

Have a wonderful, focussed day!

Decoding Goldman

Sitting this morning at Fuel, we had the most interesting discussion regarding the folks at Goldman-Sachs and what should or shouldn't happen to them in response to their contributions to the current financial challenges facing the US.

We discussed the morality of what they had done, whether or not it was legal, whether or not the laws were themselves moral, who controlled the laws, notions of just punishment paths to reconciliation. Here are some ideas I took away from our discussion.

Codes in Conflict
As our discussion began heating up, Mickey spoke of the amoral nature of the folks at Goldman and of the Wall Street community generally. As I thought about this, it occurred to me that they were not in fact amoral, but instead that they operated within a different moral framework. My statement was received with, "How can you call anything that they did moral?"

Of course, having moral framework doesn't imply that you have good or bad morals; a moral framework is simply the system of beliefs each of us uses to determine what we consider to be morally acceptable or morally unacceptable. I would posit that, when person A does something that person B considers to be morally repugnant, it's the result of person A having a different moral framework than person B; it's not the result of person A deciding to do something that he considers to be bad.

Having worked within a community that shares many moral tenets of Wall Street, I first posited that the Wall Street moral framework is based on what is legal versus illegal, not what is right versus wrong. But as I thought about it, I realized that this was not the case. Instead, I believe the framework is one of what you can get away with versus what you can't get away with. Indeed, within that community, the people who are considered to be reprehensible are the stupid ones, the ones that get caught. It would also be considered morally repugnant to turn someone in or blow the whistle, causing him to get caught. Getting caught is the bad thing.

Further, there appears to have been a shift in the framework of late. Previously, folks working within the framework seemed to have been morally obliged to get as much as possible for the investors they represented (without getting caught.) Nowadays, it appears that the highest calling is to the company. I'm sure that even Wall Street types would have considered it a violation of ethics to have stolen from the company (caught or not).

So what? Well, if you're trying to work to reconciliation or to restitution, you'll never get there by insisting that the other party operated immorally. Doing so will launch an argument with no end. Instead, it would be best for each party to understand the framework under which the other operated.

Perspective First
So, it seems that the first challenge in reconciling people operating under conflicting moral frameworks is recognizing that it is their frameworks that are in conflict, not the people. The next is figuring out how to reconcile the frameworks.

Mickey mentioned published emails from people at Goldman cavalierly talking about "widows and orphans were being forced out of their homes" as a result of their activities and priding themselves on being "so smart" and the people from whom they were taking money, "so stupid."

Of course, this autobiographical depiction of their activities didn't play well for my reconciliation idea. But then it occurred to me that the problem was one of distance, of being removed from the people affected by their actions.

Gaining Practical Perspective
When I was first assigned to manage a software development group at AT&T, the engineers began complaining to me about how stupid the operations people were: the people sentenced to use the software they'd developed. I asked questions about what they meant and elicited examples. I talked to the operations manager getting her perspective on the situation. The perspectives were conflicting to say the least.

Then it occurred to me to effect what I called a hostage exchange. However, in this case the exchange was designed to take hostages, not to free them. As we approached the delivery date for a new software release, I volunteered several of my engineers to accompany the software to the operations center where they would use the software they'd developed along side the operations folks. Several of the operations folks were volunteered to work with the engineering group, fielding support calls from the operations center and participating in the software design and development process.

The first hand exposure to the other side had an almost immediate effect. The engineers who were now forced to use the software they'd created quickly ran into insurmountable challenges imposed upon them by the software. They watched as the formerly 'stupid' operations people quickly and brilliantly figured out ways to work around the limitations of the system. They began using phrases like stupid and f**&ked up to describe the systems they'd developed.

The operations people discovered that life is different when you don't punch out after eight-hours, that you get to leave when the job is finished. They learned how it can be much more challenging to design and create something than to critique something that already exists.

I was thinking that there might be an analog here for Wall Street. Perhaps every commodities trader could spend a month working in Asian rice fields prior to being allowed onto the trading floor. It would be great for people working the securities industry to hand deliver eviction notices for a month, to see and hear the people affected by their decisions in the back office.

One Code
Armed with the notion of codes in conflict versus people in conflict and perspective before discussion, I think we could make great headway in addressing so much of what challenges us. The last thing I took away this morning was the notion of One Code.

As our discussion progressed, Anthony mentioned that there are codes for business and codes for personal conduct. Hearing this, I wondered aloud, "Why?"

I understand that each of us tends to wander about with multiple, conflicting codes that we adopt situationally and that most of us would agree that this is necessary. But is it?

What would happen if each of us adopted the goal of operating within a single, fully-reconciled and fully-integrated framework? How would the world change?

Well, those are my musings from the Coffee Shop. I feel really blessed to be challenged by such interesting folks here and to be able to share my thoughts with you.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stay Thirsty, My Friends

My friend Jonathan has a new hero. As is the case with most heroes, even the corporeal ones, Jonathan's hero is fictitious. He appears in commercials for Dos Equis beer; he's The Most Interesting Man in the World.

The ad campaign is fun and, in many ways, inspirational. Here are some statements that describe the world's most interesting man...
  • He’s been known to cure narcolepsy just by walking into a room.
  • His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards.
  • He lives vicariously... through himself.
  • Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact.
  • He is the only person to ever ace a Rorschach test.
  • Every time he goes for a swim, dolphins appear.
  • The police often question him, just because they find him interesting.
  • Alien abductors have asked him, to probe them.
  • He speaks fluent French, in Russian.
  • If he were to give you directions, you would never get lost, and you’d arrive at least five minutes early.
  • He once had an awkward moment... just to see how it feels.
  • He’s a lover, not a fighter... but he’s also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas.
Each of the commercials makes reference to the world's most interesting man along with video clips showing him conducting remarkable feats of skill, courage and daring. Each of the commercials concludes with the man saying, "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis" and then the tag line, "Stay thirsty, my friends."

I think the commercials are great fun. The actor calls to mind notions of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, but this time he's playing Earnest Hemingway. The notion that what makes a man interesting is his breadth and depth of accomplishment is amusing and yet, as I think about it, for most people, probably true.

What I find most inspiring about the commercial is the tag line, "Stay thirsty, my friends!"

Since I first began working in technology, I've always been involved in start-ups. In some cases, the start-ups were Skunk Works projects within larger companies like Bell Labs; in other cases, I worked with small companies that needed to turn around quickly; and then, there have been classic, venture-backed start-up companies.

A critical success factor in any start-up is staying hungry. In a start-up, you typically receive less compensation than you might in a larger company in exchange for stock options that will provide significantly higher compensation if and when the company succeeds. Ideally, the compensation is enough to get you by, but not enough for you to "live the life" as it were.

The two-fold implication of the compensation model has a singular effect. First, with enough money to cover your necessities, but not enough to spend on travel and entertainment, you end up spending more time working. Second, knowing that, when the company succeeds, you'll have more than enough money for travel and entertainment, you spend more time working.

The stay-hungry model results in start-up companies running circles around, larger, well-fed organizations: more, better, faster and cheaper.

House-cuffed to the Company
Alternatively, large companies tend to attract people who want to be well-fed. They don't necessarily want luxury accommodations and world travel, but they also don't want to live in a rented room, eating macaroni and cheese.

I remember interviewing with a senior executive for a position with his very large company. During the interview, he explained that the company would help me to secure a mortgage that was much larger than anything I would have ever considered. When I asked him why the company did this, he explained to me, "We like employees with large mortgages and big car payments."

We used to call the phenomenon getting house-cuffed. You race home to tell your partner about the amazing job that you've been offered halfway across the country; to make the offer enticing to your partner, you show him or her a picture of the kind of house you'll be able to "afford" because the company is going to "help" you.

As you sign the mortgage papers, another, more subtle transaction takes place. In the process of helping you purchase your home, the company has effectively purchased you.

Hungry Either Way
The funny thing about either scenario is that, in both cases, you remain hungry. The start-up person hungers for the day that he can take a "real" vacation or afford to shop at Whole Foods (known to many in the start-up world as Whole Paycheck) The house-cuffed person hungers for the freedom to pursue more interesting work, to escape bureaucracy and politics, to not be part of the corporate machine.

The hunger drives each us differently; how we respond to that hunger defines who we are and who we are defines how we respond. Most house-cuffed people surrender quickly, filling their lives with even more acquisitions and looking forward to the days when they can retire. Midlife crises abound and occasionally, after a late night of drinking or a week's vacation, they may consider escape. However, the question is one of "escape what?"

I've known many people who've made the house-cuffs even tighter by escaping something other than the house-cuffs, most typically, their primary relationships.

The Hunger that Feels Good
The thing that I believe escapes most of us is that hunger can feel really good. You've probably heard the phrase, the thirst for knowledge. Have you ever experienced it? Have you ever participated in an activity that you loved so much, you just couldn't get enough of it?

These are the experiences of hunger and thirst that satisfy and fulfill us. We don't want to be filled up; we want to stay hungry.

Remember the first time you rode a two-wheeler without help and without training wheels; you just wanted to ride and ride and ride and ride. What about those first warm evenings of summer, hanging out with your friends until well after dark, wishing that the night would never end. Can you remember the first time that you kissed someone romantically; did you want to stop or did you want it to last forever? There are so many experiences where the hunger and thirst for more are what make the experience so wonderful.

Hungry for What You Have
The key to making hunger and thirst wonderful is being hungry for what you have. I feel really blessed to be paid for activities that I would do whether or not I were being paid. Lately, I've been working on the a next generation of a device that detects and alerts people of impending heart attacks. I could easily spend twenty hours a day working out the algorithm in software, refining it and making it better; sometimes I do.

As it is, I typically sleep five to six hours per night, and yet, I find myself wanting to sleep less so I have more time to work. When I'm not working on software, I'm playing music with Iris and friends. When we're not playing music, we get to hang out and converse with amazing people, even if the amazing people are just the two of us.

The other day, as Iris and I contemplated what's next in our lives, we considered the idea of selling our house to support a friend who's in the midst of a significant life-challenge. My first response was of the fear-based variety; I started to run calculations in my head and work through all the implications of potentially having no house and no money. However, within moments, I was filled with an amazing sense of peace and comfort. None of that mattered.

I exhaled, looked at Iris and said, "Baby, if I'm with you, then I'm home."

When we thirst for what we have, everything else is easy.

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Most Excellent Way

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:14 (New International Version)
In the Beginning...
When I was nineteen, I became a Christian.

I had grown up in the church. My mom's family were Southern Baptists. Her mom played the organ, her dad led the singing and from the age of four, my mom had sung before the congregation and even on the radio.

My dad's dad was a Lutheran minister who traveled the world starting Finnish speaking churches among Finns who scattered everywhere from Africa to Minnesota.

I had been baptized as a baby and confirmed at twelve. I'd sung in the choir, played for services, and attended church several times a week pretty much my entire life.

And then, at nineteen, I became a Christian.

We're Not in Kansas, Err, Illinois
I'd just started music school at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

As a suburban boy from Wheaton, Illinois, living in the dorm at Berklee was, well, different. I shared an 8x10 room with bunkbeds and a solitary window opening onto the alley with a 280lb trombone player who sweated constantly, consumed sardines late at night, and was not a fan showers. I got to learn that the difference between rats and mice (other than the one growing as large as cats) is what happens when you walk into the room and turn on the lights; mice run away.

The spring before coming to Berklee, I'd decided that, as a composer, I ought to learn to play piano. So, I declared piano as my principle instrument and began learning to play. To ensure that I didn't retreat to my saxophone, I'd left it back in Wheaton. (In fact, I'd left pretty much everything back in Wheaton.) Needless to say, I was the only musician at Berklee who'd only been playing his primary instrument for less than six months. Having tested into all advanced courses among players who were monsters on their instruments, humiliation doesn't begin to describe my experience when it was time put down the pencils and actually play something.

One day, as I walked up Mass Ave passing through Central Square, I ran into a high school friend from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Rick had played bass with me in various rock bands in high school and was studying math at MIT. I hadn't known he was in Cambridge. We started talking and Rick invited me over to his house, a rundown Victorian mansion on Inman street just behind the Cambridge City Hall.

Rick shared the house with eight other people, all of whom played music and most of whom were studying at MIT. There were musical instruments in every room including two drum sets, three pianos, amplifiers, guitars, you name it. Rick told me that one of the guys had just moved out and that they were looking for someone to take his room. It had no heat, but it had a grate in the floor that let warm air pass up from the kitchen.

I ran all the way back to Berklee, packed up my stuff, hailed a cab and was back at Rick's place in just a couple of hours. Fortunately it was trash night. Rick and I walked up and down the streets of Central Square until we found a discarded mattress by the curb. We discovered a couple of boxes of old rug samples that became a patch-quilt floor covering. Rick came up with some milk crates to that became a makeshift bureau. I was home.

Central Square
Living in Central Square at that time was also not exactly like living in Wheaton. With the highest crime rate in the city and a house full of musical instruments, bicycles and student stuff, we would get burgled. I learned that, if you're waiting for the bus late at night, you really don't want to accept a ride from the drivers who cruise up and down with their passenger-side windows rolled down. I became a fan of walking really, really fast when going from point-A to point-B.

My girlfriend Rene (who would just a couple of years later become my wife Rene) was still in Illinois at Illinois State University. Some friends at school had taken her to an Assemblies of God church and she'd loved it. She started writing me about her experiences. When we talked on the phone (our phone bills were about twice my rent), she was much happier and more positive than I'd ever experienced her. She talked about singing and spiritual gifts. She encouraged me to find an Assemblies of God church.

One Saturday night, after a particularly strong round of encouragement, I decided that I'd give it a try. At that point, I'd not found a church in Cambridge that felt like home to me, and I didn't expect to find an Assemblies of God church anywhere near the east coast. I got out the phone book, and low and behold, just two blocks from Rick's house on Inman Street was a fledgling Assemblies of God church that congregated on Sunday afternoons in the back of the Congregational church on Prospect Street.

Hmm... providence? chance? divine intervention?

Tongues of Men and Angels
I've written before about my first experience at Cambridge Christian Center: a big open room with folding chairs arranged into concentric circles; a capella singing with harmony upon harmony; people speaking out in prophecy and tongues. It didn't fit into the framework of my Mid-western Methodical Southern Fried Baptistic Lutheranism; it was like walking among the angels.

The church became my home. I went to services every Sunday afternoon and Wednesday night. I started hanging out with others from the congregation. I participated in bible studies. I abandoned the practice rooms of Berklee for the solitude of the unheated sanctuary and a little upright piano, spending hours and hours playing scales and arpeggios while feeling the presence of God. I played music in the street ministry. I got baptized and felt truly born again.

One night, out of the midst of a deep sleep, I found myself sitting upright on my recycled mattress speaking in a language I'd never heard. It was more gibberish than it was a language, but it had patterns and cycles that felt linguistic to me. I felt this deep well of emotion open in my chest as though the very spirit of God were flooding me and spilling down into my core and filling me up. My words don't adequately express the experience, but I'd never be the same again.

I'd been completely enveloped in love.

Paradise Lost
As time went on, I became an avid student of the Bible studying and comparing multiple versions to gain greater clarity and understanding. I began composing contemporary sacred music and writing scores for church orchestras. I joined rock bands that would take the words of Jesus into the bars and clubs.

I also discovered that, as with anything that relies on people and money to exist, the church had it share of politics and less than desirable business practices. My skills, energy and passion were readily embraced by the leaders and I became part of the machinery. And something flipped.

Slowly and subtly, the mission of the church... of saving souls... of expanding the congregation.. of constructing a new building... of finding recognition and acceptance in the community... the mission began displacing love.

Instead of love, I began to experience a sense of mission and purpose... goals and objectives... self-righteousness and justification... I'd lost my way.

The Most Excellent Way
Years later I left the church. I am no longer a Christian. I have studied myself and humans generally, and I've come to what I believe is a deeper sense of who I am, what I experience, and why I experience it.

So much has changed. Yet my experience of love and my sense of love being our highest calling is still what it was when I was nineteen.

Happy Tuesday. Go out there and flood your world with love!


Monday, April 26, 2010

Old Dog... New Brain

Have you ever heard the phrase, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks", or one of it its variants? You've probably read or heard that as babies, we learn at an amazing rate and that our rate of learning slows as we grow. Maybe you've heard that children can learn new languages much faster and better than adults. Essentially, there seems to be a preponderance of evidence that capacity to learn is inversely proportional to age, i.e., as we get older we are less able to learn.

The evidence certainly seems to be there. For example, young children who learn new languages speak without accent (as though the language were their primary language), while teens and adults who learn a new language tend to speak it with their native accent.

From time to time, I talk to adults who want to learn to play the piano, but stop themselves because essentially their time has past; learning piano (or anything significant for that matter), is something that we do as children.

When was the last time you learned something really different or acquired a novel skill?

Cause and Effect
One of the fallacies we covered in Fallacy (For the Sake of Argument II) is the Concurrence Fallacy, essentially the coincidence of two events implies a causal relationship between the events, in this case, as I get older, I seem to learn fewer new things, therefore aging must reduce my capacity to learn. Another fallacy we covered was Argumentum ad Populum (Appeal to the People), e.g., everyone knows that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Every argument I've ever heard for diminishing capacity to learn as we grow older seems to be fraught with fallacy. Yet, so many people insist that it gets harder and harder and takes longer and longer for them to learn as they get older.

I believe them. However, I don't think that it has anything to do with age.

The Problem with Words
This morning I was thinking about the discussions many of us have been sharing regarding the nature of judgments. One of the things that seems to be a common misconception is that some phrases and words are assessments and others are judgments.

For most of us, calling someone 'fat' or 'ugly' would be perceived as insulting or cruel. So, using these words as examples of a judgments would result in most of us nodding in agreement. Similarly, calling someone 'tall' or something 'useful' would be viewed by many as assessments. In a gathering of people, you could easily come up with a list of words that everyone agreed have negative connotations. From there, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that those words are inherently judgmental. Everyone agrees, therefor it must be the case.

However, there's nothing inherent to a word that makes it either a judgment or an assessment. Words are neutral. The difference is how we respond emotionally to the word. If I respond happily or see it as representing something good and desirable, the word implies a positive judgment. If I respond unhappily or see it as representing a bad thing, the word implies a negative judgment. If I respond neutrally, then the word implies an assessment.

What matters is not the word, but the response to the word. However, paying attention to and assessing responses requires us to pay attention and think. It's much less work to simply have a list of judgment words and assessment words.

So, we opt for the microwavable meal version of assessing the direction and magnitude of an emotional response, we listen to the words, see where they fall on our list, and voila, we know whether we have a judgment or an assessment.

Back to Babies and Learning
Thinking about this, I came up with a new theory of learning (at least new for me). Consider a new born baby. No words. No logical constructs or frameworks. No preconceptions and judgments. Just a raw computing engine connected to unfiltered sensory input.

As the baby processes all this sensory input, patterns emerge. Light becomes shapes and forms. Forms become faces and hands. Sound becomes aural shapes and forms. Aural forms become words and phrases. The process of transforming patterns into structures is powerful; the child doesn't have to think so much to process what he's seeing or hearing. This frees him to apply his thought-engine to other tasks. This is how we move from sounds to words, from words to phrases, from phrases to sentences, and so on.

Each time we learn a word, an abstraction that represents any number of distinct stimuli, we begin to substitute the word for thinking. Rather than processing gazillions of visual stimuli each time, we just say "car."

Abstractions, categories and stereotypes are all great. They provide efficiency and free our minds to take on more and more and more. The problem occurs when we stop the taking on more part.

In the absence of acquiring new skills, of continually learning and growing, our brains become sedentary and rigid. We start to do the mental equivalents of riding the elevator rather than taking the stairs, of driving to work rather than riding a bike, of getting a massage rather than getting a workout.

If you talk with a group of children about what's new or what they've learned in the past week, you'll be immersed in a deluge of information; if you ask adults, you'd likely here, "not much, what about you?"

It's no wonder that we end up not being able to learn new things as we get older or that senility seems to be on the increase. It just has nothing to do with age.

Workout Time
Assuming that you consider thinking a reasonable skill to possess (and granted, there's much evidence that one can get through life just fine without it), then the question is one of what to do. Off the top of my head, I would suggest several activities that might help:
  1. Empty the fridge of the mental equivalents of junk food. Create a list of all your truths, stereotypes and words you use though you're not really sure what they mean. Explore them and decide whether or not the efficiency gained is worth the cost.
  2. Toss the telly. Don't just not watch it. Throw it out. Television has got to be the biggest causal factor regarding sedentary minds.
  3. Read some non-fiction.
  4. If you are going to read fiction, try something like Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse or Illusions by Richard Back or Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.
  5. Discuss something other than the kids or how your day went or the latest gossip or the house or your job or the weather. Hmm... what's that leave?
I'd love to hear your suggestions or things that you've done to get your brain out of the recliner and onto the treadmill.

Have a thoughtful Monday!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Never Ending

As a follow up to yesterday's article True Lies, Joy and I have had a bit of a conversation going regarding the permanence or impermanence of things in life. Joy commented:
Well, can you tell me one thing for sure, that will never end?

I find it useful to see everything in life as things that come and go. Begin and end. Just like the rhythm of your breath. It originates from a Buddhist training as part of learning to let go of attachments.

When you know that the good thing will end, you are free to enjoy it rather than clinging to it or trying to prevent it passing by. When you know that your pain is just temporary, it becomes easier to relax in the pain rather than building fear and tension around the never ending pain.

A friend told me that he used to believe that we only dies because we believe that we will die. What do you believe?
Joy's comment inspired me on several fronts...

Absence of Proof vs Proof of Absence
One of the biggest differentiators among people is whether or not they accept the absence of proof as the proof of absence.

Many people casually accept something as impossible simply because it hasn't proven possible. The impossible can be personal (e.g. running a marathon or playing the violin) or it can be global (e.g. world peace or running a three minute mile). Whether it's "I've never been able to" or "No one has ever been able to", absence of proof is instantly translated into proof of absence.

Others don't seem to care about what has been done before or whether or not something is considered to be possible. They just decide that they want to do something and they do it. If they fail, then others may chalk it up to stupid arrogance. If they succeed, then they're credited with being brilliant visionaries.

Each of us has situations in which we act one way or the other, we vary in frequency and degree. Some of us come pretty close to always accepting absence of proof as proof of absence. Others, come pretty close to never accepting it. For example, Joy is someone who pretty much always is ready to go for something (whether or not it has been proven) and yet she asked a reasonable absence of proof question: Well, can you tell me one thing for sure, that will never end?

So, which of the following best represents your perspective.

The absence of proof that something can be done...

A. ...proves that it can't be done.
B. a strong indicator that it can't be done.
C. ...doesn't prove anything.
D. a strong motivator to try it.
Now, whichever answer you picked (A,B,C or D), think of examples where you've exhibited that manner of being and thinking. How did it serve you? What would have happened if you had taken on one of the other perspectives? How do you respond to people who take on of the other perspectives?

What Answer Would You Like to Hear?
Now onto permanence. One of the things I love about the Buddha is his notion of pragmatic truth; something is true because it achieves the desired effect, not because it is factual or absolute. When someone would approach him with concerns about the afterlife, he would ask him what he wanted and what he feared. If he feared death because he was afraid that there was no after life, then the Buddha would tell him that there was indeed an afterlife. If he feared death because he feared the afterlife, then the Buddha would tell him that there was no afterlife.

The 'truth' was that which would cause the person to cease worrying and being fearful, to let go of his attachment to the afterlife.

On and on and on and on...
I've mentioned before that when I was about six I was exposed to the concept of infinity. My dad used to like to get me and my brother Dave to do arithmetic in our heads. He would ask questions like, what's 453 times 236.

I would systematically walk through each of the digits of one number multiplying them by the other and get my brother to remember the intermediate results. For example I would calculate 6 times 453 is 2718 and tell Dave to remember 2718. Dave would start saying 2718 over and over. I would then calculate that 3 times 453 is 1359. I would multiply the 1359 by ten and add it to 2718 and then tell Dave 16,308 which he would begin reciting. I would get 906 from 2 times 453, multiply it by 100, add it to Dave's 16,308 and proudly announce the answer was 106,908.

The better we got at this, the bigger the numbers my dad would give us. I started asking questions like what comes after millions? And then billions... And then trillions... and so on.

One day we got to a googol which is 10100. I asked my dad, "What comes after that?"

My dad responded, "Infinity. But that's a googol times a googol times a googol times a googol..."

Who Wants to Live Forever?
I sat thinking about infinity trying to figure out how long it would take me to do that kind of multiplication in my head. Something inside me flipped and I became really scared. I would lie in bed at night trying to imagine infinity. I would watch a never ending throng of numbers and multiplication problems parading past my mind's eye. I just wanted it to stop.

My six year old mind had neatly concluded that each of us lives until our hundredth birthday, then we die and go to heaven where we live forever. The idea of living forever, which had at one time been really comforting, had suddenly become terrifying. I can remember the look on my mom's face one night when she came into my room to see why I was crying. I blurted out, "Mom, I don't want to live forever!"

She didn't really know what to do.

I imagine that the Buddha would have said, "Don't worry, you won't live forever."

How Are You Served?
It's amazing how much time we can spend arguing about what is true and what is not, especially in situations where the conclusion can't be proved one way or the other, or, situations in which a none of the arguers know jack about the topic.

In the end, I think Joy nailed it by pointing out that it's not so much what you believe as it is how your beliefs serve you. The 'truth' can be such a distraction from accomplishing whatever it is we want to accomplish.

What beliefs do you hold as truths? I'm not referring to beliefs you would declare to be the absolute truth. I'm referring to beliefs that shape your life as though they were absolutely true. How do your implicit truths affect your life... your relationships... your goals... your dreams. What would you change?

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

True Lies

The other day, as I stood by the sink washing dishes and commenting to Iris on how nice it was just to be at home, not really doing anything in particular, she walked up behind me, wrapped her arms around me and said, "Yes, but all good things must come to an end."

I turned around and looked at her, my expression apparently saying "Say what? Do you believe that?"

She laughed, "Of course not."

We then started talking about all the phrases that we grew up with that we simply accept as truth. We incorporate them into every day situations without a second thought. You can't always get what you want... Divorce is hard on a family... Great relationships take a lot of work... Pride goeth before a fall... It's amazing how much of our lives can be defined by cliches and things we heard as children.

The thing about any truism is that there is always at least a kernel of truth, something that in isolation or under certain circumstances would be construed as true. However, there is always a component that is a lie.

This morning, as I stood again in front of the sink washing dishes, it occurred to me that there are many truisms that we may have learned more recently that have both a truth component and a lie component. I thought it would be fun to look at some of them.

True Lie #1
The true part: I can be happy in any situation.
The lie part: I should be happy in any situation no matter what.

It's amazing how, once we know that we can be happy in any situation, we start judging ourselves in situations where get unhappy; we get unhappy about our being unhappy. There are two aspects of this lie that make it particularly fun. First, the only reason to accept the initial proposition, I can be happy, is its usefulness, not its truthfulness. So, if the very proposition leads to unhappiness, well. Second, a cornerstone to choosing happiness is abandoning judgments that fuel unhappiness.

So, we might amend the true part to read: I can be happy in any situation, if I want to.

True Lie #2
The true part: I cannot make someone else feel something (emotionally), nor can someone else make me feel something.
The lie part: If I do something and someone else feels badly about it, it's their problem.

When someone says something nasty about us, our emotional responses can vary from tears to laughter. The same is the case when we say something hurtful to others. Our responses tend to be proportional to the degree to which we agree with the statement. If someone denigrates your intelligence and you already struggle with not being smart, it plays differently than if you're quite confident about your being a genius.

Nonetheless, if you say something intentionally nasty or hurtful, you're still being an asshole. So, I would modify the true part to read: nothing that anyone says can make me feel anything; what I feel is a reflection on my beliefs about myself, not their statement.

True Lie #3
The true part: Judgments are charged beliefs (good/bad, right/wrong) that strongly color our perceptions
The lie part: One should never judge

When working to eradicate undesired emotions and behaviors, it's really useful to ferret out your charged beliefs (ones that elicit strong emotional responses), and take a look at them. We often refer to these charged beliefs as judgments. By dropping or changing these beliefs, we indirectly change our responses.

When counseling someone regarding their challenges, it's important to suspend judgment of any kind (positive or negative) regarding anything they say, lest we pollute their exploration with our own opinions and biases.

Nonetheless, in many ways it's our judgments (positive and negative) that define who we are. Most of the time, we overcome challenges, not by dropping judgments, but instead, but creating positive judgments to displace them.

True Lie #4
The true part: Everything I do, I do because I want to
The lie part: Saying that I don't want to do something I am doing is a lie

It's incredibly useful to recognize that we always have good reasons for anything we do. If I'm struggling with stage fright, I might say that I don't want to be afraid, but it happens anyway. When we say, "I don't want to be afraid", we shut off an avenue of exploration that could be useful, the one that pursues "how is being afraid helpful to me."

Almost always, the answers to persistent challenges lie behind that door.

Nonetheless, as humans we have this uncanny ability to maintain simultaneous, conflicting wants. We can want to quit smoking while wanting a cigarette. We can want to lose weight while wanting a piece of double-chocolate mousse cake.

True Lie #5
The true part: Whatever I do, I will love first
The lie part: I can do anything, as long as I do it with love

One of the really great tools I've found, especially when dealing with a charged situation, is to love first. Let's say that you're meeting with someone with whom you have great difficulty in getting along. You often end up in arguments that go unresolved. If you adopt a practice of pausing before entering your meeting to actively love the person with whom you're about to meet (picturing them in your mind, considering all their positive attributes, and being grateful for them), you can change everything. Really!

Now, the reason this works is because it dramatically affects how we behave regarding the other person. It changes our actions; it's not just a masturbatory exercise to feel better. The lie comes when we start using "I love him" or "I did it out of love" as an incantation to morph any action into something good or right.

So, we might modify this one to: Love is what I do, not what I feel or say. Whatever I do, I will love before, during and after.

Your True Lies
What are the truisms that you've adopted in your life? How have they shaped who you are and what you do? Are they accompanied by any inherent lies that have piggybacked their way into your life? Can you see them? Do you want to change them?

Happy Saturday!

Friday, April 23, 2010


As Iris and I were driving into town yesterday, seemingly out of the blue, Iris asked me, "How do you spell absurd?"

I looked at her quizzically and said, "A-B-S-U-R-D."

She responded, "Oh yeah, it's a D at the end. Now that makes sense."

She paused considering this and then commented, "I just noticed that as I think or speak or listen to others speaking I have this little thing going on in my mind that's spelling all the words. I wonder if other people do that?"

I thought about it and then said, "I don't spell words as I think about or hear them, but I definitely do that with music. Whenever I hear music, there's this little background process that's going on translating what I'm hearing into chords and intervals. I wonder if most people do that?"

We both laughed and thought ourselves lucky to have found each other, imagining that not many people on the planet were having the same or similar discussions on their ways to work.

The conversation got me thinking about the little things we can do that can affect how we learn and acquire skills in a big way.

Let's Start at the Very Beginning
When I was at Berklee College of Music, one of the classes was called Ear Training. In Ear Training, you learn how to take what you hear and translate it into something you can see, written music.

Interestingly, a key to ear training is reversing the process, taking what you see and translating it into something you hear. To do this, we use a musical language known as Solfège. If you ever saw The Sound of Music, then you've heard Solfège; it's all that Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do stuff. Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti cover the basic seven notes of the major scale (all the white keys in the key of C.) To handle the accidentals (notes not part of the major key) there are additional Solfège words; between Do and Re, there's Di. Between Re and Mi, there's Mi.

Armed with the vocabulary of Solfège, you can look at any line of music and speak it. You don't even need to hear the pitch of each note, to pronounce it in Solfège. Independently you can learn to associate each of the words in the vocabulary with a pitch. When you combine the two, you can sing anything you see just by reading the notes in Solfège and pronouncing them with the associated pitch. It's pretty cool.

How Cool Exactly?
To be clear, I didn't always think Solfège was cool. As I sat in class at Berklee being told that we were going to learn to use Do-Re-Mi (like those completely not cool kids in The Sound of Music), I just thought about how goofy the process was going to be. Our teacher then further instructed us that we should begin practicing Solfège every possible moment. He gave us little books of music that we could carry everywhere and instructed us to use every free moment to practice Solfège, riding the bus or the subway, sitting at the pizza parlor, waiting for class.

To make matters worse, he instructed us to always conduct as we sang. So, basically, I was supposed to sit on the bus riding up Mass Ave from Boylston Street to Central Square waving my arms in front of me while singing Do-Re-Me. Sheesh... And of course, being beginners we weren't looking at the manuscripts of some great classical pieces; we were looking at the equivalents of Mary Had a Little Lamb and Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Suspending Disbelief
I've always had strong powers of denial and an uncanny ability to suspend disbelief. It's never been a problem to completely engross myself in movies that involve time travel, alternate dimensions, avatars and the like. So, why should Solfège be any different. Off I went with my little book of songs.

Now, one of the things I noticed about riding an MBTA bus waving your arms in front of you while singing Do-Re-Me to the likes of Mary Had a Little Lamb is that there seems to be a lot more seating room. In fact, not only can you get a seat, but you even have room to set your backpack down next to you.

Another thing I noticed about the experience is that you start doing the reverse of what you're practicing. I would be standing at the checkout line at the Star Market and notice that I'd been translating the Muzak into Do-Re-Me. As I sat talking with friends, I would notice my hand moving ever so slightly up and down, back and forth as I conducted the music that was playing in the coffee shop. The more I practiced reading and singing Solfège, the more I experienced this phenomenon of translating everything I heard into Do-Re-Me.

Fully Integrated
So often, when we undertake new tasks or begin acquiring new skills, we do so in a way that is not integrated with the rest of our lives. We have time for work, time for family, time to eat, time to work out, time to learn, time to read, etc. We can certainly learn this way, but I would argue that it's not any where near as effective as integrating what we're learning into everything we do.

If you've ever watched people who seem to be able eat anything and never gain weight, it's not because they spend an hour a day on the treadmill; it's because they're always active. They might sit at a desk or go to meetings, but they're still in constant (albeit perhaps subtle) motion.

Similarly, I believe learning rates increase exponentially when we integrate our learning into everything we do. If I want to learn to write, then I begin to read everything from the perspective of a writer or editor. If I want to learn math, then rather than thinking about what I'm having for dinner on the way home from work, I start working math problems in my head. They might initially be the mathematical equivalent of Mary Had a Little Lamb, but it still works.

I spoke with someone the other day about music. He declared that he was ready to go for it, that he really wanted to make music a priority and to become a great player. He mentioned that he anticipated it taking years to become proficient, but that he was in for the long haul.

I responded saying that I believed he could do everything he wants to do quickly, in just a few months. The secret is focusing on the most useful exercises and doing them all the time. So, we now have a little bet going, one that he hopes to lose.

What is that you want to learn? How integrated is it in your life? Do you avoid the "silly" or "childish" or "beginner's" exercises? Perhaps it's time to rethink and fully integrate?

Happy Friday!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

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Did curiosity really kill the cat?

Several times today, I found myself liberally advising people to be curious.  I must admit that I am very generous with any advice that is resonating deeply with me in the moment.  I hope my conversation partners found it useful, but first and foremost, it's a reminder to me about how I want to position myself when facing things I don't yet understand.

One of our new volunteers shared with me her initial discomfort playing with Jay because she didn't know what to expect.  As she shared, I reflected that the more I know, the more I know I don't know.  Since I know I don't know, then I should expect to encounter situations in which I ... don't know.  In those situations, there are 3 options:

    1. I will know what's going on at some point
    2. I will never know what's going on
    3. I will find out immediately what's going on.  

Now, if I don't want to know what's going on, we don't need to explore this any further. If I want to understand what's happening, my doing discomfort is really unhelpful.  Doing discomfort blocks all my creativity, my free thinking.  If I could even figure out what's going on by assessing the various factors, discomfort acts like a cataract, clouding my vision so I don't even see all I could see.

I've been thinking about the past 15 years married to my honey.  The first many years were spent with If you loved me you would work harder to do this or that that I want.  I faced the unfamiliar with judgements about its unfamiliarness.  Fear (is this thing going to last forever? How will I cope?) contributed to being really unclear about all the other facets to the situation, that would have helped my understanding tremendously.  Frankly, it took a few years to even admit that understanding wasn't my primary objective.  Getting my way was more my thing.  The difference between a few years ago and now is that individual events don't have the cataclysmic repercussions they once did.  I am better able to look at the event as it is, not projecting (too much) into the future, not making it mean something about me...  Just looking at it, curiously.

It's amazing what you will see if you look curiously at the things around you.  Actually, stop for a second, and look around your space right now.  I bet  you see something you hadn't noticed before, or perhaps hear something, or smell something.  Curiosity opens up a whole world!

I saw several meanings for curious when I looked it up in the dictionary.  I'm holding on to an active desire to learn or know.  I've done a fair amount of structured study, then much more self directed study on several topics.  One thing I know for sure is that I don't know for sure!  An active desire to learn means being open, being willing to look at things that don't make sense.  Active curiosity is comfortable with the presence of questions and the absence of answers, with the knowledge that any second now, some new awareness can suddenly appear (it was there all along, but that's another story).

So why do so many of us seem afraid of curiosity?  What is this constant message: Don't look, people will think blah blah blah.  Don't ask questions, mind your business. Is that part of the inner programming that has our eyes shuttered,  our ears muffled?  Did we buy the belief that curiosity killed the cat? Well, I'm not a cat, so...

I googled the phrase and found out that the original comment was 'care will kill a cat' referring to worry or sorrow.  Well that makes more sense.  Everyone knows worry will kill you!  No debate there!

So I'm learning to be curious about all kinds of things.  I'm even curious about myself, and my reactions to things like spit and a messy house. Next time you are in a situation that has some puzzling factors, try being curious about the factors in the situation.  Ask some 'how come?' and 'I wonder why..?' in that relaxed child looking under a stone kind of way.  Better yet, next time you feel yourself getting uncomfortable about the puzzle, get curious about your discomfort!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The power of nature

The western part of Europe has recently been influenced by the plume from a volcano in Iceland. The volcano is called Eyjafjallajökull, which seems to me more difficult to pronounce than Tuomenoksa! The power of this volcano is even more difficult to comprehend than its pronunciation. At this moment there is still more plume coming and we do not have the knowledge to stop it or to calculate the duration.

The last two days the sky has been blue, and every time I looked up in the sky, I could not detect the plume. It is hard to imagine that it is up there while I cannot see it, but I surely felt it because the temperature has dropped significantly.

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull has given us, the western Europeans who are not used to tornados or earthquakes, a great opportunity to observe our reactions.

My first reaction:
My first reaction was fascination. I found this whole situation mind blowing (I mean this in a positive sense). I saw the pictures of the volcano and pictures of the plume and I was completely fascinated.

At the same time I felt at deep respect for these enormous powers. Mother Earth calling us.

My second reaction:
My second reaction was to be grateful for the opportunity for us to learn from this.

In the Danish news I watched a scientist explain how fabulous an opportunity this was: this plume is acting in similar ways to the reaction after an atomic bomb. It went higher and moved slower, but the patterns in which the particles moved were similar. This meant that the scientist, who is responsible for calculating the effects of an atomic bomb, had the possibility to test his models on questions like: What is the possibility that the plume reaches our country? If the plume reaches our country, when will this happen? How long will it take to pass the country? He creates projections for all the information you need in order to make and maintain evacuation plans.

How often do we judge events as bad when they can be seen as great learning opportunities? How can I ever judge an event as good or bad when I do not know the specifics of whom or what may benefit from this event?

My third reaction.
This reaction was the one, which surprised me the most. I realized that I have no idea of the greater impact my wishes have.

Today some people asked me to meditate on keeping the plume less than three kilometers high so that we could soon fly from Europe again. Earlier this weekend I heard that if it would start to rain then the plume would not raise as high and this would give us better chances of flying.

But what happens if the plume is low? What happens if it starts raining?

During the first days the volcano directly impacted only the people close to the volcano in Iceland. They have been keeping the animals indoor because there is too much powder on the ground and this can be harmful for the animals. When it has been raining people and animals stay inside since it could be harmful for the lungs. Now, if it starts raining here in Denmark, while the plume is above my country, we are also advised to stay indoors.

They say that Eyjafjallajökull is not very harmful, but it is close to the biggest volcano on Iceland and it seems possible that it can "wake up" this neighbor called Katla.

I don't know if the rain will have any influence on the possibility of waking up Katla, but I when I got the request of wishing for the plume to get lower my reaction was: how can I know if this will be more harmful, if it might influence the awakening of Katla?

My fourth reaction
My fourth reaction was how surprisingly calm I felt not knowing what would happen in the future.

Historically this volcano becomes active every 200 yrs. The last time it was active it lasted one and a half years (on and of). How long time will it last now?

Last time it was active no one bothered about airplanes! But if it stays active for that long this time, how would it influence our lives? No flights to the USA? Would we sail to Iceland to take a flight from there (in Iceland only eastbound flights are influenced)?

Will we start living with a different attitude? Like: if I can't fly today, then maybe tomorrow or next week? Will we invent aircrafts who are less sensitive to the plume or who can fly under it?

A short term effect has been friendly people offering people they don't know a long distance ride in their car, since trains and busses didn't have capacity to take all the people who missed their flights.

And there have been some beautiful sunsets...

I would love to hear your reaction to Eyjafjallajökull's activities or to experiences with earthquakes, tornados or....

Love Joy

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Happiness practice

I thought the volcano eruption on Iceland wouldn’t affect me, but it did. This is a perfect opportunity for me to practice to choose happiness, to stay present, to focus on what I want and to stay positive.

First I got the news that the family I was going to work with got stuck on their holiday. So I thought, no problem, I’ll go home earlier. (I am in the UK for a two weeklong outreach journey)

I told the family to focus their energy on staying positive instead of worrying and so allowing everything to work out perfectly. This is so easy said to someone else! But then...

Then I booked a ticket for Tuesday, so I would be home three days early. The days moved along and Tuesday was getting closer, and the ashes were not disappearing. I noticed that I started to use some worrying thoughts, but was able to stop myself. This was another perfect situation. The universe gave me the opportunity to practice. So I decided to stay positive and go with the flow even when it became clear that I would not be able to fly on Tuesday!

I am really doing it! I am so amazed by myself! Me, who used to worry about everything all the time!

So, what is helping me?
Prioritize feeling good, no matter what.
This is really cool. If we stop, take a moment and decide what we want to focus on in a situation we can really create our experience.

Turn the situation into an opportunity.
What a gift. I have three days when I don’t need to go anywhere, rush to a meeting or get up early. I went to the bank today and it was wonderful to take as long as I wanted.

Be present.
If I think about the future it is easy to think about all the possibilities, but I can have no idea what will actually happen. Ok, I could if I was a very reliable psychic, but I am not at the moment. So the most useful is if I stay present and enjoy myself.

Focus on what I want.
Whenever the following thought pops into my head “what if the planes don’t fly on Friday either" I stop and change my thoughts in the following way "I am going home; I am home by Friday night".

I believe this is a great opportunity to create something amazing together. I firmly believe that when we all stay positive, visualize clear sky and flying planes we can make it happen. When you have a moment imagine wonderfully clear sky above Europe and a peaceful volcano in Iceland.