November 07, 2012
Science & Nonduality: Where Data & Consciousness Meet Puppets and Tea
After a few days filling my head for ten hours a day at the Singularity Summit, to then spend a few days filling my head with discussions on nonduality had a weird rewiring effect on my brain. This happens often however given I'm such a sponge for all things 'possible' and both groups believe that all things are possible. One believes that technology will make all possibilities happen and the other is a bridge to "it," but with spirituality leading the way. Sort of.
Nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental intrinsic oneness.
I recently had the opportunity to attend an event that integrates both worlds: the SAND Conference or its longer known name: Science & Nonduality Conference. It's tagline: The Nature of the Self of course.
An annual event stateside and in Europe, it is held in San Rafael California in October and in the Netherlands in May. Nonduality is the main thread throughout however within that eye's view, people from all walks of life come together to discuss 'its' meaning and explore what is emerging in consciousness.
From scientists, philosphers, physicists, spiritual healers, sufi and zen teachers, yogis, and anthropologists, to musicians, artists, film producers, academics and psychotherapists, the conversation is a rich and rewarding one.
I spent ten days or so in Fiji a few years back learning the 'ins and outs' of the "oneness movement" (some people see it as a cult) and in the process, I became certified as an official Deeksha Blessing giver.
What does that mean exactly?
A Deeksha Blessing is a direct transfer of intelligent sacred energy and in this "transfer," people may cry or laugh as their heart opens in small or big ways. Inside this opening, everything from small shifts that can modify the dynamics of a relationship to transformations that can alter lives forever, erupt.
It can also bring about clarity or quiet a busy mind in a similar way that meditation achieves. What it doesn't promise to do, but can do, is open the door to higher states of awareness and initiate awakening...an awakening where there's a feeling of oneness and not a sense of separateness.
Their goal is to raise the level of consciousness globally through a "ripple effect that goes out to all of mankind." My personal experience with it was mixed.
In both giving and receiving a Deeksha Blessing, I did experience higher levels of awareness and it was evident to me at least, that a powerful energy exchange is not only possible, but it can move you into a different state.
In most cases, it's a purer stage of being where your awareness is elevated and your heart is more open. I saw some powerful things happen as a result of this energy exchange over time...in Fiji, and later in the states.
That said, I believe most of our spiritual growth comes from within ourselves, deeksha blessing or not, as powerful as it may be. It happens when we let go of our fears.
A feeling of oneness in its truest sense comes from a place of unconditional love for everyone around us, not just our immediate family. This includes self love, which more people have a hard time with than loving others.
It's also about getting out of our own way and most importantly, letting go. Letting go, silenting the mind and being present is when I go to a higher level of consciousness and the beauty about it, is that its consistent.
When I truly turn off the brain and stop my over processing which I do often (aka a state of being paralyzed by "thought"), then magic begins. This is hard work or so we think it is. That's the paradox. Once we stop fighting our mind's paralyzed state, then things move as smoothly as a light airy tube flows down a river.
Once we are transformed ourselves, we can transform people around us, including the planet.
The cool thing is that while spiritual teachers and philosophers have been writing about the concept of oneness and higher consciousness (and living it) for centuries, western scientists are now arriving at the same conclusion:
"The universe does indeed comprise of a single substance, presumably created during the Big Bang, and all sense of being - consciousness - subsequently arises from it. This realization has ontological implications for humanity: fundamentally we are individual expressions of a single entity, inextricably connected to one another, we are all drops of the same ocean."
Eastern Mysticism is now meeting Quantum Mechanics. If both the left brains and right brains are starting to agree that we're all drops of the same ocean, why is it that we beat ourselves up and continue to live our lives from a place of fear rather than love and acceptance?
Like so many, I'm often hard on myself (note: that's "thought" speaking) and so it was no surprise that I was hard on myself several times throughout the weekend. This was the kind of conference where you 'shouldn't be' hard on yourself, I thought. (there's "thought" speaking again).
Ever have one of those "be damned" conversations inside your head that goes nowhere?
Ginu Yu writes in a blog post on nonduality: "nondualists often resort to the metaphor of a movie that's being projected on an infinite screen. Even though the characters and the scenery appear to be separate and interactive, the only thing that's really real is the white, seamless screen that's accepting the melodramatic and illusory story that's being projected upon it. Nondualists claim that, instead of you being just a small and limited character playing a part in your life's story, that, in truth, you're actually the entire infinite screen itself. From their point of view, you are the very context in which ALL of life itself is showing up in."
There are obviously people playing and working at various levels of consciousness and when you find yourself face-to-face with a really quiet soul, you become even more aware of the chatter going on in your head. This happened to me on a number of occasions at the SAND event including the brief exchange I had with Francis Lucille, an Advaita Vedanta (non-duality) teacher, who was respected by pretty much everyone I spoke to.
Even when we know its absurd to compare our states of being with others around us, it happens. For a moment in time, we return to a high school mentality and create a reality that may or may not be true.
Most of the time, the reality is in our heads and when we create that reality, the world mirrors that reality back to us. And so, suddenly what is a perceived illusion does in fact become a reality of sorts, something we have the power to change instantly...in the moment of "decision."
Rather than be effected by the noise, become the noise, let it diffuse around you as you become 'it' and suddenly the voices of that unremarkable high school playground will eventually disappear.
One of the things I loved about the event was the diversity of minds at the table...when science gets a seat at the spiritual table and both sides can respect each other and move mountains together, then oneness starts to take on a new meaning. It becomes Global. Cultural. Intellectual. Spiritual. Psychological. Scientific. And all of it ends at the same place: nonduality. We are one.
On the path to a so called golden age for humanity like everyone else there, I found beauty, purpose and deeper understanding in the simplest of things.
Although the sessions were led by respected speakers who flew in from around the world, it was the conversations in the hallways that moved me the most, sitting down in a circle, listening, asking questions and then just not doing anything at all. Well, maybe nothing at all over a cuppa tea.
I was taken in on more than one occasion with welcoming smiles by two guys obsessed with tea more than life itself. Almost. There were two round tables set up with short backless chairs surrounding them.
They led tea ceremonies all day, every day and to participate, all you had to do was take a seat at the table. It was called the OmShanTea Lounge.
Sitting was always a treasure because it meant meeting a new soul every time; sometimes it was someone at the middle of his or her journey who was struggling with one thing or another and sometimes it was someone you felt never had to struggle at all. Miraculously, they had arrived on this planet inherently and quietly knowing all the answers by the age of ten.
When we let go of our stories, I find that just when I think I'm the teacher, I'm actually the student and vice versa. More often than not, we are both in every encounter. Awareness of that exchange even if we don't necessarily understand it, is such a beautiful thing. And, the whole conference was a bit like that.
There were too many sessions and speakers to list since the event is four days (and nights) long but you can get a glimpse of this year's schedule here. Topics I expected to see included sessions such as: The Practice of Selflessness, The Self and Non-Duality in Sufism, Closing the Gap Between "I" and my "Self", The Art of Being Present and the Poetry of Infinite Belonging.
But, there were also sessions on health and disease, spiritual ecology and a response to our present ecological crisis, getting the same result through magic mushrooms and meditation, psychedelic research, revealing the self through Kabbalah & Alchemy, theta consciousness and the heart of quantum phsyics. John Hagelin gave an inspiring talk on Higher States: The Neurophysiology of Enlightenment.
A few sessions I missed but would have loved to be sitting front row center for, included the Yin-Yang Theory for Transformation: Applying Feminine and Masculine Principles for Awakening by Mukti, An Integral Approach to Dreams by Fariba Bogzaran & Daniel Deslauriers, Unmani's Unravelling the great pretence of who you think you are and Adyashanti's Mystery of Being.
Since I am so physical and being in a creative state through my body is at my core, my favorite sessions were those which involved elevating 'self' through movement and music. They had daily activities in a space they referred to as the Experiential Room.
Other opportunities included the energy of sound and Shamanic Practice, African drums, TransDance with Heather Munroe Pierce and a very cool session called the Fusion of Opposites in the Circular Portal, a hoop-dance exploration with Stefana Serafina.
I also had a lot of fun meeting (and then kissing) Puppetji, a puppet who enlightens you through simple reminders of what's real, and Meriel Gold's drawing class.
Muriel's drawing class seemed to be popular since it was sold out when I arrived. Graciously, a man gave me his seat and announced he was off to carve pumpkins with a two year old. I didn't know anything about her except that she had an English accent, was from Scottish descent and had that dry sense of humor that only someone who was born there or who has lived there can truly appreciate. I loved her energy immediately.
Scrolls of large paper hung off long wide tables and next to each sitting space was a round block of brown clay, a feather, and a couple utensils that could be used to scatter wet clay or ink on the paper.
Since I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I didn't realize until after I soaked my hands in water and bathed them with clay, that I'd be drawing nudes, but without my eyes. Well, sort of.
Her intention was for us to draw with our hands while feeling what we saw rather than putting 'thought' into what we saw. As my creative busy brain started to take over, Muriel came straight for me, grabbed my hands and softened them over the paper as they were but an airbrush and the paper was but a cloud.
Alas, I "get it" Muriel, I "get it." Pure, simple, musical and divine, my hands don't want to think as much as my brain doesn't want to really think. "Thought" so often gets in the way of us doing our best work....our most divine work.
I didn't want to leave the room but eventually afternoon turned into evening and I found myself covered in wet clay from head to toe. Little did I know that I'd still find clay stains on my body and clothes days later even after showers and laundry.
Senegalese musician Youssoupha Sidibe is a Kora player who performed for us. His music fuses traditional West African sounds on the Kora, with the Sufi devotional chanting of the Senegalese Baay Faal community. (see video)
Films also played throughout the conference including Kumare, Neti Neti, Nataraja (The Dance of Life), The Unknowable Reality of Things, and others.
Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo produce and run the conference and being around them is pure joy. If you have an opportunity to attend one of their events, I'd strongly recommend it.
If you want to transform your life, engage with some of the world's leading thinkers and nondoers in the world of consciousness and join a community that bridges the best of the spiritual world with the best of the scientific world, SAND is an incredible journey.
Besides, where else do you have an opportunity to sip transformative tea, kiss a puppet guru, meditate, do yoga, and African dance in the same morning? OR, watch spiritual films, finger paint and grow from some of the most respected spiritual and scientific leaders today in the same afternoon?
Thank you to Maurizio and Zaya for an opportunity to spend time with so many beautiful souls, Ginu Yu who introduced me to their world and Nick Day for his patience and support while I went off target, back on target and then off target again.
We are all on our own journey. It's important to recognize this and move the needle forward one step at a time until we are free from the thought (and thoughts) that bind us from living a remarkable life every minute of the day.
Photo credits in order of apperance, IAwakeBlog, HolyBooks, BeforeGlow, Unknown, Unknown, Renee Blodgett (Francis shot), Lands of Wisdom and Renee Blodgett. For more on spirituality on WBTW, go here. Read my latest tweets @magicsaucemedia and @weblogtheworld.
September 23, 2011
Is the Universe Everything There Is? On 20th Century Science in Many Worlds
The Idea Festival, based in Louisville, Kentucky kicked off officially on Wednesday, September 21 at the Kentucky Performing Arts Center, located on a main drag of Louisville which is littered with art galleries, hotels and a restaurants.
Speaker Suketu Bhavsar decided to take the audience to the fourth dimension and show us simplistically (if that's possible with a topic like this), what the impact of an infinite universe really is.
Albeit a scientist, Bhavsar has a unique right brain charisma on stage and often threw in humor as a way to lighten his somewhat heavy talk. "If the universe is everything there is, what is there to talk about?" he asks the audience. "Time, but time is relative," reminds Bhavsar. "And, space is relative."He shows us a few examples demonstrating how space has geometry that depends upon the density of the universe.
The whole universe is full of galaxies mostly with empty space in between and every one of these galaxies is moving away from us. The space in between those galaxies is actually what’s expanding. Space is stretching out between galaxies all the time.
The geometry of our universe is flat and this means that our universe is endless and it’s infinite. An infinite universe leads to the first and simplest kind of multiverse, he suggests. If we go far enough, then there could and would be another you elsewhere. In other words, everything is possible in an infinite universe.
He asks, “how far until there is a copy of the visible universe?” and refers to Brian Greene’s name for it: Quilted Multiverse.
In the early universe, the quantum field of the rapidly expanding space drops to a lower value in random regions. These regions are bubble universes.
Regarding these bubbles and how they relate to each other:
- Each of these bubbles will continue to expand and have an infinite spatial galaxy.
- Each bubble universe has the potential to create daughter universes that inflate and become independent universes creating even more universes.
Another possibility is that not all the dimensions are curled up. In the Braneworld scenario, ours and many other 3-brane universes could be residing alongside each other and we wouldn’t know about it.
This moves us into Quantum mechanics, which is not deterministic like Newtonian mechanics he says. Quantum mechanics means that there are many arrays of things that could happen, allowing for many outcomes. AND, many things happening in multiple universes all at the same time.
Bhavsar challenges us to also read another book by Brian Greene: The Elegant Universe, and to contemplate the following questions:
Is this science? What is consciousness? What is time? Can we ever truly understand time? What is reality?
September 21, 2011
On Horses: Heading to Kentucky for the First Time
They go a bit like the ones I had of the Netherlands when it comes to stereotypes: long, sweeping luscious green hills with gorgeous horses scattered to your left and right, all well groomed and perfectly manicured.
Of course, all of these horses in my mind's eye were ready for a race at a moment’s notice and I imagined that these horses would connect with people somehow in ways they wouldn’t in other parts of the country. Where the hell that came from I have no idea, but typically expectations of how we view a culture or a place or a person comes from some tale or fable long buried in a childhood memory.
Both of my sisters center their lives around horses as do a few close friends. I grew up not far from Saratoga Springs, New York home to the annual month-long horse races they have every August, known locally as the “track.”
In upstate New York, my niece rides every week (English), participates in regular competitions, and one of my sisters houses nearly ten horses on her farm. She also holds weekly events at her home where people in the community come to ride and compete (Western).
I spent several years living in Epsom Surrey in England some 17 kilometers outside London where they hold races as well on the "Epsom Downs". And yet, I’ve never really learned the “art” of riding nor have I fallen for the spell that many who live in the horse world live.
That said, when I see horses, I melt at their beauty and grace. Being on one makes me feel closer to nature. Looking into a horse’s eyes makes me feel closer to understanding humanity.
Listening to their sounds makes me feel more peaceful. Watching them gallop makes me smile. Seeing photographs of horses in all their grandeur and beauty draws me into their world, eager to learn more.
And yet through all that, I haven’t dedicated my life or even part of it to riding. I think part of it is not through a lack of interest but because of other time commitments and passions.
Living a "horse life" is time consuming and expensive. I’m amazed at how much time my sister and her husband spend keeping their horses happy and healthy.
BUT oh god, are they beautiful. When I go into their barn, I love listening to the purrs and noises they make in the evening at the end of a long day. Since I’m not much for early mornings, my time in the barn has typically been mid-afternoon or towards the end of the day when they’re either bringing them in from the field, feeding them or they're getting them ready for a trip.
Recently, someone who boarded their horse in one of my sister’s stalls, was selling him to a buyer in California. I happened to be in the area at the time, so was there for the pick-up, which ended up being late at night since things always take longer than they we think they will, such as finding a remote farm on a Route something road in the Adirondacks.
A massive horse trailer pulled up on the side of this Route something road, put its flashers on and a man jumped out of the truck. His buddy who was sharing the 3,000+ mile drive across country was sleeping somewhere in the truck, in some tiny enclosed area not dedicated to the 8 or so horses he had on board.
We didn’t know a black stallion would be on board nor did the stallion know that he’d have to share a section of the truck with a non-stallion from upstate New York all the way to California. Territorial attitude, control and high energy set in as we moved the horse onto the trailer.
I could see my sister move to angst as she watched the horse’s eyes, which showed fear as he left his known stalls for an unknown journey along side an aggressive stallion who wanted everyone to know he was in charge.
I started feeling empathy for this horse as well, even though I just met him and didn’t have the history my sister did. The eyes say it all – with horses, with people, with life...Off he went on a journey across this massive wide country, into the unknown, into a new life, like so many of us do and don’t look back.
As I sat on a plane heading to Kentucky, I thought of so many images. I always imagined “driving” through Kentucky since I wanted to greet horse farms and meadows slowly, approaching them from a winding turn, where suddenly you're greeted with beautiful green valleys and hills and horses grazing on a late afternoon.
I imagined waiting for the sun to set as I just hung out with these Kentucky horses whose names I didn’t know, longing for their shadows and their end-of-day laziness to set in as the sun did, with me…..and we'd learn about each other together. And only then, I’d take my Canon out and slowly shoot them in all their glory with the late day sun’s stunning oranges, reds and yellows cradling them from behind.
This is what I imagined for my first encounter with Kentucky. As I’ve learned over the years, life greets you with things in the way life wants to give them to you. This doesn’t mean that I subscribe to fate and destiny and that we have no choice of how we experience a journey we wish to take, but what it does mean is that while we can control so many of our experiences in life, some of them we’re just dished, like spaghetti on a platter and our joy or sorrow comes from how we choose to take in the experience.
While the visuals will remain in my mind and I may see Kentucky again in the future, perhaps the next time by crossing a border from a neighboring state, this Kentucky experience would start by landing at Louisville International Airport late at night without any prior research or knowledge of the place.
I’d land, head to the hotel and see where the next few days would take me through spontaneous exploration, one of my favorite ways to travel. My first encounter with Kentucky may have horses in the journey or it may not, but the one thing remains true regardless of what experience I will have: it will be my first time to his beautiful state. And alas, the pilot speaks. We’re about to land…..
June 03, 2011
The Magnificence of Utah's Burr Trail
What’s amazing to me is how little a guide book talked about the breathtaking beauty of Utah’s Burr Trail, which starts only a few miles from the town of Boulder, UT. Perhaps its because there isn’t much there, so without the comforts of home where tourists can flock to hang their hat for the night, it likely keeps away a huge flood of tourists. That said, there is a lodge in the area and a couple of nearby motels within 10 or so miles.
Burr Tail is one of those wonders that continues to delight at every turn and just when you feel as if you saw the most amazing rock formation and structure, another one pops up around the corner. Like most of southern Utah, the colors have so much depth and texture that they change by the minute depending on the angle from your car.
Because we were in a convertible, we were able to take more in and I could stand for part of it with binoculars/zoom lens and see the cracks and etchings from relatively far away. We also got out of the car of course and took in a few walks and spent some time close up with the rock. There were also some unusually colored set of sand dunes at the start of the trail which resembled a combination of Buddha sand monster and a spaceship.
There were also a few scenic view points and immediately after the last one which was 13 or so miles into the drive, you could keep going on dirt road and here the scenery changed yet again. Drama after drama, Utah’s Burr Trail couldn’t and shouldn’t be described as anything other than an exquisite natural earth wonder. Yet a couple of guidebooks merely refer to it as breathtaking. All of Utah is breathtaking – the Burr Trail is remarkable in one of those remarkable ways that you remember for a lifetime.
In some places, you could almost feel as if the rock formations were alive and watching you. In other areas, you experienced this sense of silence we very rarely experience in our lives, the last time for me being the African Karoo at dusk in a jeep.
June 01, 2011
Why I Surrender To Tears on Airplanes & Why You Should Find Your Own…..
I write this after watching a movie on a long American Airlines flight. It’s not the first time I had cried after watching a movie on an airplane. It’s also not the first time I noticed that I cried after watching a movie on an airplane. The first few times I figured it was just the movie choice….that random movie choice, which brought on the tears. After many years of observing that I somehow ended up having a good cry after any movie I watched on an airplane, it started to settle in that the tears were a unique occurrence. Related to airplanes? Or, travel?
During my last cross-country flight, I realized it wasn’t related to airplanes or travel specifically, but it was related to reflection after leaving a place, something I have always had time to do while moving from A to B.
When I’m leaving a place, even if its one I’ve been to dozens of times before, there’s always a reflection point…..a particular conversation, a new way of seeing a friend’s life I hadn’t seen before, the repetition of patterns from a conference I had been to ten times, a speaker I heard say the same thing in the past, and yet it resonated differently on the last round. And on and on and on.
The physical journey mapped with the emotion of someone else’s life journey in a movie, is a reminder of life as it is in that moment. Nothing more, nothing less…..
Alas, we are all growing older, wiser and simpler at the same time on this long life journey which we all share.
Sure, a lot of airline movies tend to be dramas or comedies rather than action flicks, but don’t almost all of them have a love story, even if it’s not one between two humans? A love story with a passion can be just as derailing and challenging, whether it’s Kevin Costner’s battle with choosing between love and baseball or Gweneth Paltrow choosing between music and fame or love and life itself.
When a movie is well written, it brings you into the plot as if you’re in the script yourself. You resonate with a character and if it’s not their personality you connect with, it’s the pain they’re feeling.
A good story always has some pain in it, largely because getting through the pain is what makes us grow into something better, bigger, stronger than we were before. Someone once said, “God only gives us as much pain as we can handle in order to learn the lesson.” Whether it’s a God who dishes the lessons out to us, the universe herself or a mishmash of happenstances and people who fall into our path, showing up as both teachers and students, life (and our journey in it) is definitely not a random accident.
Movies, like really good writing, force me to reflect on all of it as I migrate between two worlds. A movie doesn’t necessarily have to have amazing writing to invoke emotion in the way a good novel does. It does need tons of “human moments” and the ability of the actors to bring you into their world as if you are in the storyline yourself.
Whenever I leave a destination, I start to reflect on what I just left, almost immediately. In New York, it always happens the moment I jump into the cab on my way to the airport, in other cities, it may not hit until I’m on the plane and in others, perhaps not until I’m smack in the middle of a movie. The reflection isn’t just about the drama and pain that is happening in the movie, it’s a reflection on everything I just left and everything I am about to embark on, sometimes for the first time and sometimes, into a world where I’m on autopilot.
What happens if there’s no movie? I reflect anyway, and often I write, but the tears don’t always come like they do after a good airplane movie. A well known CEO friend of mine used to talk to me about “walkabouts,” which is an Australian phrase that refers to going off somewhere to clear your head and get back in touch with your heart. (in so many words).
Years later, I not only understand “walkabouts” but need to take them. The in between state – the airplane – brings me to a reflection point where I begin to contemplate a “walkabout” even if it doesn’t bring me into one.
It’s a way of being present….yes, in the middle of a movie. Unlike anywhere else I watch a good movie, I’m aware of everything around me. I’m aware of the person I’m sitting next to whether or not I started a dialogue with them. (Refer to my blog post: Not Just in Aging......)
In sharing an intimate space with them for anywhere from 2 hours to 12, I feel as I’m now part of one of their life chapters just as they are mine, whether or not they’re aware of it or not.
Maybe I’m over-thinking a simple plane journey, and even if that’s the case, who cares if the experience brings me to reflection points, tears and being present. I want as many experiences and moments in my life which are present and sometimes they come naturally (bring me red rock, Cape Point or any ocean or lake), and sometimes I have to pinch myself or meditate to go there.
Being present with someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, even if its with yourself. Being present with yourself btw almost always turns into a gift for someone else because for the time you are truly present, that openness creates a door for someone else to enter, even if its for one beautiful moment.
As for others on your path, I’ve noticed that my exchanges are pretty random and in that randomness, I find that I always talk to exactly who I’m supposed to talk to at the time.
The other two things I’m reminded over and over again is that randomness often creates magic moments worth cherishing and there are no accidents on this long journey we call life.
Sometimes when people see me cry, they assume I’m watching a movie about death or a sad love affair if they’re not watching the same movie as me. Other times, they just glance out of the corner of their eye quietly, perhaps wondering why I might be shedding a tear. Even if I am tearing up over something sad or cruel or painful, it’s always a good shed. The clearing through tearing brings on a birth of new ideas and ways of looking at the world, not unlike a new skin which grows back after the old skin sheds from too many hours in the sun.
My sun is my PC and mobile device, and being tethered to them bring me into the most unpresent part of my life – the Internet. When I’m there, I’m reacting to noise, even if I AM learning something new along the way. OR, meeting someone new in a Twitter exchange. Knowledge and productivity are great things and while they are not separate from being present, I find my brain either has room for one or the other and when my brain is overworking, my heart takes a back seat. (Read Nicholas Carr’s What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains and a blog post I wrote called: Hey Digital Maven, How Okay Are You With Silence?).
Having a cry as a way of reflecting on what I just left and what I’m ‘going to’ isn’t a replacement for a good “walkabout” and frankly I think we should all take them, whatever a “walkabout” is for you.
A “walkabout” isn’t necessarily the kind of activity that puts you into your zone, which may be your passion -- skiing, photography, cooking or whatever. A “walkabout” takes you to a quiet place where you’re not going anything at all but connecting to the earth below your feet and the sky above your head.
Here, you’re in a place of silence where you are not only “being” present but you’re “aware of being present” with who and what you just left and where you’re going. Along the way, you’re grateful -- it’s hard not to be grateful when you’re truly in this state btw – and every motion, every thought, every move you make is free flowing. In other words, there’s no resistance, there’s no struggle, there’s no pain, there’s no head, because heart is driving every step of the way. Heart is ruling thought and Heart is making every decision. (Read Eckhart Tolle).
The airplane movie for me is merely a trigger point in the middle of the noise, in between my “walkabouts,” and in between two very distinct worlds, which remind me I haven’t been grateful enough, I’ve lost perspective or gained some, or I haven’t spent enough quality time with people who matter.
It’s almost never about the movie; it’s about a human connection which is brought to the foreground in the movie and it moves from the screen to my minds eye….and then to my heart.
It’s about the fact that I am in fact in “motion” between two places, two cultures, two ways of thinking, two lifestyles, two memories, sometimes an old life versus one which replaced it, sometimes the other way around. So bring on the tears I say. Bring ‘em on for whatever purpose they serve along that long journey we call life.
After all, isn’t it always when we’re in that in between state when we have the most to give ourselves and others in our path? When we’re in a vulnerable beautiful state where the heart drives, not our heads? (Read Pema Chodron - she’s one of my favorites).
Whenever you find out what your trigger points are, you know, the ones that bring on the tears, purposely plant them in your life if they don’t happen naturally. And, more importantly, interject them with “walkabouts.”
While “walkabouts” don’t have to include nature, it’s a good idea even if nature isn’t a primary “go to” for you. Nature and paying attention to it rewards you in ways words can never describe. It IS where we all began and honoring nature will bring you back to your source, that source which will take you on a rollercoaster ride you’ll never want to get off. Trust me. The world really does surrender to a quiet mind.
May 22, 2011
Not Just in Aging that the World Surrenders to a Silent Mind
It was on a flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco, a flight I had made countless times over the years, when I had a deja vu moment about aging. As I glanced over to the woman to my right, I suddenly remembered all the times I had watched the older women in my life as a child and felt as far removed from them then as I do now from a 15 year old male skateboarder from Detroit.
On that flight, a surreal feeling swept over me...as if I was her or could have been a dear friend of hers in a previous life. The moment was short lived but vibrant and incredibly real, and it made me incessantly aware of aging and this precious thing called human life.
She was probably 70 or so, the woman was a petit, short Asian woman with beautiful silver hair, strands of black scattered throughout as the only remnants left of her middle age life. Her skin was glowing despite her obvious fatigue and you could tell she was once a stunner in that way you can about some people; there's a certainty, a quiet sauciness, and a knowing smile that suggests a life fully lived. She was wearing faded jeans, classy gold earrings with just a touch of ruby red and a Victorian blue button up top with a crocheted back that barely covered her neck, just enough to add a sweet balance of feminine energy to her other otherwise masuline aura despite her small frame.
Her face was weathered, not terribly so, but like her glow, certainty and smile, her face and hands exuded a lifetime of stories, over decades of experiences, far far beyond Las Vegas or San Francisco.
My deja vu moment came moments after a visit to the airplane lou where I observed my own weathered skin from years of sun exposure including the most recent trip in an open convertible where the hot desert sun beat on my skin, adding more aging spots which will someday tell a long story, or a series of them, just like the silver-haired neighbor to my right.
Although I was more than 30 years her junior, I felt as if this woman, whose coiled sleeping body next to me, was a kindred spirit somehow, despite the fact that we had yet to exchange a word.
Part of the desert trip included exploring rock ruins, flora and engravings, the latter of which told some of our ancestor's stories during a time that not only knew no computer, but knew no pen, paper or even a primitive chalkboard. I couldn't get enough of the hot Utah sun largely because the sun had become such a foreign oddity as I had somehow become more accustomised to hanging out with words on a screen as Google's Chrome churns them out tab after tab.
Despite the fact that I had "inked" my face up with pure white zink from Australia, the sun took its toll, not just on my face but on every inch of my body except for the six inches which were covered by scarves and shawls.
In the mirror that afternoon, seeing the weathered results of miles of sun and wind, brought back a memory of my South African host sister and I basking in the African sun as teenagers one hot summer afternoon in Durban. We were coated with baby oil as were our neighbors and their neighbors and so on. My host mother would bring out iced tea (roibos) with mint on the hour to make sure we were hydrated and their rotweiler would bark every time she opened the door. White as snow, she came out glaring through the sun to find us spread out on the grass in her 1950s-style apron with printed pansies in oranges and reds. She would shudder as my grandfather would at the amount of time we spent unprotected under the far too close to the equator sky. Like our neighbors, and their neighbors and so on.
As the memories flooded my head, I looked back at my silver-haired friend, who opened one eye on this occasion, just enough to add a small but tired smile as a way to acknowledge my gaze. At the end of the flight, we exchanged one short sentence as we all queued up like cattle waiting our turn to exit the plane.
I felt so connected to this woman I knew nothing about for some reason and yet......an older short, silver-haired Asian woman with gold earrings next to an American auburn haired, blue eyed woman nearly half her age and yet the almost silent exchange was as if.....as if, we had met before in a far away place, in a previous life, at a time when time had no meaning.
When time has no meaning, aging has no meaning. Later, I read an excerpt called Late Ripeness by Czeslaw Milosz that went something like this:
like ships, together with their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.
It made me think of her, the woman whose name I never learned, nor whose origin I will ever know. Yet when time has no meaning and aging has no meaning, I understand how things in an aging mind might just be ready to describe things better than they were before, and as the brush does in fact come closer, we also appreciate the preciousness of the journey we're on, have more gratitude for what we are becoming and who we encounter along the way.
We also become okay with the silence that blesses us along the way. Just when we think the silence is a "negative" as it reminds us that we are in fact getting older, we realize that it is in fact a gift, the biggest gift we'll ever receive in our lifetimes, for when we live our lives from this place, we are more open, more vulnerable, more authentic and more pure. How appropriate to end with one of my favorite quotes: "The whole world surrenders to a quiet mind."
October 10, 2010
Life Balance: Do Entrepreneurs Care? Not EnoughBelow, Espanola Island in Ecuador's Galapagos last month. Sigh. Blow Hole wild. The air calm. Wildlife spectacular. Common carpetweed everywhere in spectacular colors.
Am heading to Las Vegas this week and thinking about the nature and beauty of this place and thinking and knowing that this is what makes life rich, heading to Vegas despite it's 'fun' factor just seems so wrong!! Why don't we have any (or more in some cases) industry events in places like Montana, Colorado, Washington, Maine, Oregon, North Carolina? Just curious. Really...I'm just curious. Why does business continue to put balance in the background?
Below, not that incredible carpetweed I was talking about (coming in abundance a book soon, but texture-rich lava cactus on Bartolome Island.
September 30, 2010
Vinod Khosla and Kevin Skillern on Green Energy
Both are known as green visionaries in the venture space, so Erick and the Techcrunch audience were all keen to know where they saw future trends and more importantly, billion dollar industries in the energy space.
As for hot sectors in green technology today, Vinod says, “disruption is just a fun game but it can occur everywhere. Everything can be reinvented in any area.
If people say it can’t, then it’s just a failure of imagination.” While it may be ten years to liquidate a company in this sector, he reminds the crowd that there are many technology start-ups that take that long as well.
Kevin, who runs venture investing for GE Energy, talks about GE’s role in the industry and its importance.
A third of the world’s power is run on GE’s equipment, so clearly they’re essential to the future of the energy industry. He said that when they started looking at what were the billion dollar markets in energy, they came up with 20 or 30 areas. In other words, there is no shortage of opportunities to be capitalized on.
So, what are the top five markets each of them are focused on?
“Clearly there’s something around fuels,” said Kevin. “When you get to a recessionary environment, a lot of things kick in and bio-fuels is a big one. Electrifying vehicles is another and if people start living on a smart grid technology system, they should be able to get a 20% oil reduction,” he adds.
Vinod adds a little perspective about companies looking to innovate in this area and how they should choose an investor. “You need to look at the individual at the firm who will be helping you,” he says.
“Ask yourself, how many billion dollar companies have they created? Can they help you through the hurdles along the way and creating a new market when the chips are down? There are lots of good VCs and good angels and lots of bad ones. Pick one who is passionate.”
Kevin talks about their investment in Consert from North Carolina, who is using 3 and 4G networks, which essentially turns a home into something that resembles a power plant. If you have a distributed network, you can manage the grid efficiently. There are big chunks of the world that don’t have the grid reliability, so apparently this is a no brainer for emerging countries.
Transportation and lighting are also huge. Vinod talks about solutions that can create crude oil. Calera is one company that Vinod brings up, which makes coal and natural gas power plants and cement plants cheaper and cleaner than solar and wind by reducing carbon by more than 100% in a scalable and economic way.
“Isn’t the goal to get off carbon fuels?” asks Erick.
“That’s conventional linear thinking,” says Vinod. He thinks environmentalists are doing more damage because they’re prescribing solutions without having a clue of how expensive they are. Below is an overview of some of the industry sectors and companies that Khosla Ventures is investing in today.
Kevin talks about missing incentives. He says, "if utility incentives were properly set up, and on the team, we could save a lot of energy but it’s currently not set up that way. Our objectives should be clean but also include tax benefits among other things. They need to be incentivized as well.”
Vinod pipes in, “if you stop believing the environmentalists, and start believing the scientists and the innovators, we’ll move forward. Owning a Prius is more expensive than a lot of other things we can do to save energy. You can reduce more carbon by painting your roof white. One costs $100 and one costs an additional $5K over what a regular car costs.”
September 21, 2010
Ecuador Rainforest and Oil Giants: The Battle Continues
Back in 2005, many of Ecuador's indigenous people started fighting to keep the oilmen out of their ancestral homes.
In a recent visit to the Ecuador jungle, I learned that not only is it still a major issue first-hand from people I met from the Shuar tribe among others, but it's becoming harder and harder to keep the giant oil conglomerates at bay.
Over 25,000 square kilometers of the area (referred to as The Oriente) is apparently protected, although increased development and drilling means that you have to move further into the edges of the rainforest to experience untouched prestine forest.
Oil activity has been so prevalent that a town has even been named after Shell, which we drove through on the way to Macas, east of Puyo, a popular kick-off point for Jungle Tours in the south.
On our way into the Jungle to a 'primary rainforest' we were told, we noticed an abundance of telephone lines. I was shocked at how far into the dirt roads and paths they extended. By the time we hit the Shuar village, there were none in sight of course, but you could 'hear' western 'noise' not that far in the distance.
Sadly the noise was of electric saws chopping trees down; we were told it was to build lodges and homes for the indigenous people, not to sell to the outside world. Below is the head of the family in the village where we stayed who returned in the late afternoon with a large cut tree, in this case, it was to be used as firewood for cooking.
Ecuador's income from exports is dominated by oil, sadly, at over 40%. It contributes to the economy so much that the government is giving up parts of the Amazon jungle for oil extraction. Virtually all of the Oriente is apparently now available for oil drilling, including indigenous and protected areas.
As far back as 1999, the government sold exploration rights in two areas, known as Blocks 23 and 24, which are at the heart of Indian reserves - without consulting the tribes involved.
"Oil Remains a Huge
Battle in Ecuador"
This is precisely the area we went to this past August; an area that is dominated by three indigenous peoples: the Achuar, Shuar (we stayed in a village with the Shuars) and the Kichwa. Each has set up political organizations to fight the corporate battle.
The Achuar have legal title to the land but under Ecuador's constitution the state has sole right to anything beneath the soil - in other words all mineral rights.
That said, the threat remains and is only getting worse since the main external pressure comes from Ecuador's foreign debt.
Five years ago, ChevronTexaco was facing a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit there, apparently because of use of outdated technology which contaminated the soil and water systems, causing widespread health problems.
This past week, the plaintiffs suing Chevron Corp. over oil contamination have raised their estimate of damages to a range of $40 billion to $90 billion. According to FoxNews.com, a Chevron spokesman rejected the new estimate Friday as a wildly distorted attempt to discredit the oil company.
The law suit covers operations in Ecuador by Texaco from 1972-1990, when it managed a drilling consortium. They calculated liability for "excess cancer deaths" caused chiefly by groundwater contamination at up to $69.7 billion, while estimating actual soil and groundwater cleanup at between $883 million and $1.9 billion.
Whether it is unnecessary death or unnecessary loss of prestine primary rainforest in the Amazon Jungle, it was very sad but very real to witness ongoing destruction of a unique jungle that can't be replaced.
September 12, 2010
Hey Digital Maven: How Okay Are You With Silence?
Let's take a look at polarity for a minute, not chemical polarity, but linguistic polarity which does in fact change our behavior, our wants, our likes, our dislikes and so on.
The most well-known polarity items are those that are sensitive to negation and related expressions - think: negative and positive expressions. The speech and behavioral patterns that you consistently do again and again define your life experiences.
When we live 'most of our life' in a digital world, we can't possibly define our lives any other way other than digitally. The same applies to the opposite. There's only so much space, time and energy we can dedicate to a given thing - does that one thing fall into a digital realm or a non-digital realm? Those patterns become what we know, what our bodies and minds do and what we 'become' most comfortable with. While we may argue that these patterns do not define us, over time, they do in fact become part of our DNA, our make-up, our new persona, our new identity.
Among other things, I suppose I could call myself a 'digital maven.' It didn't start that way -- I'm not a daughter of an engineer or from a family who spent their life employed at HP, Intel or Apple. Quite the contrary, I'm about as opposite of a poster child for Silicon Valley as you can find, yet.....here I am, a victim of the digital revolution. (G'head, slam for me the use of the word victim, but not unlike other addictions, technology takes on its victims in the same way cocaine and alcohol do).
We can make our own choices and create the necessary life balances but that doesn't mean we don't fall prey to the addiction. Pattern repetition: repeat, repeat, repeat. Ever have this feeling? I'm a mouse caught in a digital and social media maze -- please let me out.
I grew up in an environment where access to a digital life was limited and discouraged. The mantras I received included getting an old fashioned education, reading literary masterpieces and more than anything else - world experience. "Get your hands dirty, and walk on the dark side, the tough side and there.....there, you'll learn how to get ahead in life."
If it came easily, my grandfather believed, it wasn't real, or at least not sustainable. Two main things that fell into the easy category as a teenager: TV and fast food. Both were off limits without some kind of negotiation. We were also a family who held onto a rotary phone for longer than most.
Falling into technology twenty years ago had its rewards then as much as it does today. Innovation is exciting - you can feel the pulse of leading edge.....you have an opportunity to see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, and experience it.
If you're not an early adopter at first, the digital world soon converts you into one. Suddenly you wake up and you've become a geek, unclear of how you made it from luddite to digital maven. It's not as if there's a single moment where a lightbulb goes off and you suddenly can fix your pal's PC or set up your aunt's cell phone. It's gradual like all addictions.
Once you move into that world, it's hard to turn back to a mindset where silence becomes your truth rather than your digital persona.
Let's face it - while many will argue that their digital persona, in other words, who they are online, IS their physical persona, it's not the same - it can't be. The medium changes us, whether it's a large monitor, a small mobile screen or a GPS gadget. As humans, we simply respond differently to human touch -- sound, sight and smell in the physical world than we do in a digital, virtual one. It doesn't mean that innovation and progress isn't blurring the lines (read: singularity), but it's important to acknowledge the distinctions for us to understand the digital addiction and how it can and does lead us further away from presence, and further away from silence. Singularity enthusiasts and futurists may think differently about this of course.
Enter my world. This world is one which never shuts off and is rarely disconnected from the web in one form or another. In other words, life is almost never offline. What does almost 'never' lead to?
Almost 'never' leads to a world where silence can't exist, at least not as we have known and understood it for centuries.
Enter Silicon Valley, a place some call its own planet. Others call it a insular bubble shut off from the 'real world.' It doesn't mean that everyone who lives in Silicon Valley is living in an insular bubble, but what it does mean is that the technology culture Silicon Valley has created is all digital and as such, removed from the way the rest of the world thinks and lives.
I moved here after the 2000 crash, but before the recent economic downturn when start-ups were not getting funded, companies were not hiring and the outlook was grim. That said, there was still advancement - products were still being launched, companies were sold and innovation ploughed ahead economic surplus or not.
The early adopters and creators continued to throw invites my way for every new social media service, plug-in, mobile feature and software download under the sun; I got a daily dose of them for months. In this increasingly 'more authentic than ever' time, I was asked to 'friend' people I never met or heard of on Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, MySpace...........the list goes on. And on.
Are you tired yet? At what point do you say "get a life, enuf already." It's not about keeping up with the Jones anymore; it's about keeping up with the digital mavens and these mavens keep coming at you from all sides. Their persistence is so prolific that you can't really escape them if you work and play among them, nor can you create uninterrupted time for silence.
Ahh yes, that magical word: Silence. Being connected to all of these disparate digital worlds takes time, energy and focus because for the most part, these worlds are silos even though there's an attempt to integrate more and more of them. Integration isn't happening fast enough nor is it a priority, and so we continue like mice in the maze of ever exploring one path (i.e., social network with no clear value-add or problem that it solves) after another.
*Check to see what my friends are doing on Facebook, do status updates and write on their walls.
*Find out who poked me and why and then respond.
*Respond to comments in MySpace world.
*Answer questions from people who send me notes on LinkedIn despite the fact that they have my email address and have known me for a decade.
*Check messages on the six vertical market social networks that promise to keep me appraised of the latest in the world of my top passions and interests.
*Check aggregator for top news and to sift through favorite blogs and sites.
*Read Google News. Read Yahoo Alerts.
*Check Google Analytics. Check Statcounter. Check feeds.
*Check blog post comments. Respond.
*Respond and monitor spam on blog. Respond and monitor spam on Facebook. Respond and monitor spam on.....
*Try to find useful and important stuff in email in the midst of useless and irrelevant stuff.
*Wonder daily how on earth you got on so many newsletter lists for so many companies. Try to unsubscribe and note that the volume continues to go up despite your best effort.
*Update location on FourSquare. Update again on Gowalla.
*Tweet something useful on Twitter or retweet someone else's thought provoking comment. Tweet again. Respond to tweets.
*Update status on LinkedIn.
*Write Blog Post. Respond to comments and emails about blog post.
*Make silly correction from something someone didn't like from blog post they see as inaccurate but isn't really.
*Update contact database.
*Do back up.
*Copy files over for trip and then do again. Back up. Do it again.
*Synchronization. It always works flawlessly right? Don't get me started.
*Download new updates and upgrades for software, hardware, web browsers, mobile phones....
*Download new apps for phone, laptop, iPod, iPad, Droid, Blackberry, do it again.
*Upgrade to new operating system: Phone, Laptop, Blackberry, iPod, iPad, Droid. Do it again.
*Download new printer drivers.
*Windows Crash. Firefox Crash. Chrome Crash. And yes, Apple fan boys, iPod Crash. It happens almost daily and I own five.
Since I work in this industry, go there I must, at least to some degree. Create more boundaries, more balance, you might say. And I do and others I know have tried also. In making that conscious choice however, bear in mind that the inevitable happens: you move yourself further away from your 'digital tribe.' If you are not fully integrated into your 'digital tribe' yet you're not 'out of it' either, you're living a luke warm 'digital existence,' at least in the eyes of the tribe.
Yet, if you have your toes dipped into the waters of the digital tribe, you're not fully living in the tribe that lives, breathes and honors 'silence' either. No-man's land. Doris Lessing remains a great read for those who have never been attached to any one label, any one culture, any one name.
When there's nothing to click, nothing to push, nothing to update, nothing to respond to, silence takes over. It can be disconcerting at first, especially for the digital maven. For example, watch a digital maven board an airplane. As they walk onto the plane, they're checking text messages -- head down -- paying little attention to the announcements or people around them. They check into Foursquare, send out a tweet and make a phone call the instant they sit down, thereafter begrudgingly switching their device off when the order comes from the cockpit.
Continue to watch. They'll look around, then back down to their lap, then at their device, which is turned off. They play with the keys anyway just like a smoker coddles the unlit cigarette when they're forced to abstain. They're at a loss where to turn and what to do. Read a magazine? A Book? Unless it's on a Kindle, it would appear foreign, out-dated.
The neurons don't know how to fire up that part of their brain - it's out of practice and 'hooked' on digital connection.....addicted to that digital connection. Enter the world of no silence. Silence doesn't have the juice they need, the 'hit' that keeps them engaged, connected, in motion. Hey Digital Maven, ask yourself an important truth: "how okay are you with silence?" Then, sit with the question for a long, long time. In Silence of course.