Thursday, February 19, 2009

Scale and Probability

For the "seeker of truth" or the "good life" it's valuable to understand the meaning of scale and probability. Scale is the middle ground. Probability is the degree to which what you believe will happen does actually happen. The right understanding and application of both scale and probability enable us to more clearly navigate the world and increase our chances for success.

In all discussions and decision making there are degrees of truth and many possible outcomes to all occurrences. What you believe to be true may not actually be true. What you think might happen might not happen. Recognizing this gives you an advantage: the ability to adjust to new information or to changing situations.

Faith may be considered the courage to move ahead even though you are not positive you are seeing things correctly. Belief is different; belief does not allow for deviation from what you presently think. Most organized religions stress faith as an ultimate value, when they really are referring to belief.

What I am talking about is a way to approach life, a humility that comes from the continuous recognition that things are not always the way they seem to be; in fact, they may be the exact opposite. Our present level of understanding is limited when compared to what is possible. It's easy to understand the difference between our basketball ability or even that of a high school star to that of Michael Jordan. There is no comparison. Michael is on a different scale.

There is also a tremendous difference in our level of understanding of the meaning and purpose of life and the understanding of an Aristotle, or Buddha, or Jesus. We can learn from them as we can learn from any authority in any subject area. When we approach life with acknowledgement of our limitations and give up the necessity to constantly justify or defend our positions we create the opportunity for real communication and progress. We do not know the truth about all things, or almost anything. What we can strive for is to move in the direction of getting closer to the truth. This is the purpose of our lives and is the ultimate source of happiness. This is the meaning of ethics.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why Worry? Be Happy.

It's easy to worry. No effort is required. I've always been a worrier. About, everything, including my kids, my health, my finances, my daily productivity, my addictions and my inability to control them. It can get a little discouraging. What is important though is that you don't let worry paralyze you or cause you to act in self-destructive ways. This is especially relevant now.

Fear, worry, anxiety are all around us. It's difficult to be positive when it seems that the economy is collapsing and you don't know whether or not you'll be homeless in six months, three years, or some time in the future. And even if our economy does improve, there are a host of other concerns, from terrorism to environmental destruction, and all the little things that preoccupy us each day.

I've been fortunate in my life. I've been open about my feelings and my weaknesses. I have met a few people who have helped me. I can think of three ways that I have learned from others to combat worry.

#1 Be grateful for what you have. (Taught to me by Brady Grace in a moment of intense anxiety.)

#2 Take care of your basic needs. Eat healthfully, exercise, and try to improve yourself each day (Taught by my father over many years. He actually lives this way and is ninety-seven.)

#3 Have productive days. A productive day is one in which you do something for yourself, you do something for someone else, and you do something to make the world a little better. (Taught to me by G.I. Gurdjieff in his final book Life is Real Only Then When I Am).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What are you rooting for?

"The worst is yet to come. American standard of living permanently changed." So says a headline today in Yahoo Finance. Let me give another perspective, by an eighteenth century poet Samuel Johnson:

We go with expectation and desire of being pleased.
We meet others who are brought by the same motives
No one will be the first to own the disappointment
One face reflects the smile of another
Till each believes the rest delighted
And endeavors to catch and transmit the circulating rapture
In time, all are deceived by the cheat to which all contribute
The fiction of happiness is propagated by every tongue
And confirmed by every look
Till at last all profess the joy which they do not feel
And consent to yield to the general delusion

So which is worse, the possibility that the existing world as we know it will end? Or that we will continue to delude ourselves into thinking that because we have money and material things we are happy? The present state of affairs needs to change. There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. We should root for the collapse of many of our existing institutions, including the stock market, banks, advertising agencies, insurance companies, and the flim-flam artists who convince us that we should buy useless products.

Then we can rebuild and create a world more in tune with peace and happiness rather than aggression and acquisition. I've never felt totally comfortable within the existing mainstream of society. Perhaps you have felt the same. There is something fundamentally lonely and
unnerving about a society obsessed with possessions, consumption, and appearances. It has never felt right to me. Be honest. Have you ever felt the same way?

I am not saying that I want to see people lose their jobs or their homes, or suffer and struggle from fear and frustration. I want to confront the truth. I want to question and explore, to determine what is really in our best interest. I am not convinced that what we have been led to believe by our leaders, by the media, by our teachers, and even by our parents and friends, is necessarily what we really want or how we want to live. It is extremely difficult to imagine a world much different than the present one. John Lennon wrote a song about it. It is possible, though.

Monday, February 16, 2009

WTF is going on?

At some point in your life if you are a thoughtful person you probably ask yourself "what the f--- is going on around here?" What are the possibilities? There are basically two ways to look at it. First, life is totally random without any meaning or purpose beyond what we decide. Or there is some "intelligent design" or creative force that either set things in motion or continues to be involved on some level in our lives. Another way to view the ultimate question about meaning or purpose considers whether or not reality is limited to what we see and has a physical nature that can be measured, or there is a spiritual reality that exists independent of form.

Atheism vs religion, evolution vs. creation, logic vs. intuition, body vs. soul, science vs faith, Dodgers vs Yankees--these are all deeper issues that divide us, but make life interesting.

When we spend time pondering these issues with a commitment to not-fooling ourselves and only accepting what we personally can verify, we soon realize that our present intellectual capacity and ordinary logic cannot truly understand these mysteries. We can never answer the question: Who created god? We cannot know for sure whether there is a reality that we do not know or see. We can only speculate about these matters. Despite this, there is quite a bit of information and discussion, elaborate, well written or spoken theories about the nature of reality. People believe or pretend to believe they really know.

What I have come to learn is that our present level of consciousness and understanding does not enable us to see things clearly. We are limited in what we can know for sure because we have not fully cultivated our higher powers, those that can give us insight into these mysteries. And until, we know for sure we cannot even be positive that there is a higher way of seeing the world. It is our limited view of reality and the belief that we know more than we actually do that is the root cause of most of the world's problems.

The starting point for all progress is the recognition that we truly don't know.

It is in the exploration and in the living in the question that we have the possibility for growth. Humility and courage are key prerequisites for our survival. We need humility to admit our weaknesses, and courage to live in a state of not-knowing what to do. Too many of us have taken the easy way out; we've replaced the quest for truth with the comfort of a belief system. This is the enemy that we constantly struggle against. We do have allies and a tradition of warriors of truth whom we can learn from.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Krishnamurti and poker

In my opinion Krishnamurti is the most important spiritual teacher of the twentieth century. He was chosen at five years old to be the avatar and leader of the world Theosophical Society. He was taken from his family, trained and nurtured by a carefully selected group of teachers in all they key academic, spiritual, and artistic disciplines. He was groomed to lead the world to a higher state of consciousness.

Krishnamurti, groomed and ready

On the day, Annie Besant, his mentor and main advocate, introduced him as the new head of the Theosophical Society, which at that time had millions of followers worldwide, he rejected his role as teacher. He claimed what was needed was not teachers or teachings; individuals, he said, must find their own way. He then proceeded for the next sixty years to write, to express his thoughts about the mind, how we could potentially free ourselves from the bonds of our thoughts and find truth in our lives.

Pupul Jayakar, one of his main students and author of Krishnamurti A Biography was an addicted poker player who spent almost all of her free time when not meditating, writing, or studying Krishnamurti's complex philosophy in smoke filled poker rooms with other hard core gamblers.

Dostoyevsky, one of the great writers of all time, whose "Notes to the Underground" represents one of the clearest explanations of man's spiritual and psychological struggles, was an addicted gambler. His book, "The Gambler" presents one of the best depictions of the mindset of the gambling personality.

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to play poker and spend his time on what he considered to be more productive activities, like starting a small business.

I am not advocating gambling or poker as the path to enlightenment or business success but I personally am attracted to games of chance. I find no limit hold-em poker especially to be a challenging and interesting distraction. I also have found that the quality of the people and thought in poker rooms is a cut above what I find in most other venues.

Success in poker requires patience, discipline, flexibility and an ability to be present to the moment. Holding on to the past or worrying about the future doesn't work. In a world of chaos and confusion, where outcomes are not always clear cut, when it's hard to tell whether your decision making is accurate, poker provides an immediate result. The most difficult question is how to prevent yourself from going over the edge into the illusion that you can actually beat the system. No one escapes without payment.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My granddaughter's birthday

Tomorrow I'm going to my granddaughters fifth birthday. I remember when I was five, 1951. In 2066, she'll be my age. How has the world changed in these 58 years. Fundamentally, not much. Yes, there have been technological advances which have expanded our communication capabilities and access to information. Our average life span has increased slightly. I'm not sure that our overall health is much better.

We work five days a week, come home at night and hang out at home watching TV or surfing the internet. On weekends we eat out or visit friends and family. We still root for out favorite sports teams, read best sellers, and follow the lives of the popular entertainers. There has been very little improvement in transportation. Cars still don't go much faster than sixty or seventy miles per hour. Planes are still annoying, uncomfortable and slow. Its ridiculous that it still takes five hours to get to California.

You can make a case, if you want, that there has been significant change. You can point to the globalization of our economy, the fall of the "Iron Curtain," the end of the "Cold War." But so what? War is still a problem. We haven't learned how to get along with each other. Yes, we have made significant medical advances treating cancer, heart disease and mental illness. Not enough so we don't worry about these annoying conditions. What is significant, though, is that our internal states, how we are when we are by ourselves, has not changed very much.

What will the world be like when Emily is 62 I'm hopeful. First of all, the rate of change is accelerating. I believe life on planet Earth will be unrecognizable in 2066. Obviously, we need to get through the next few years without destroying ourselves. If we do ...

New sources of energy and advanced technology will enable the basic necessities, food, clothing, shelter, car, computer, and tv to be supplied to every person without very much work required.

Slowing of cellular aging and cloning of body parts will enable us to live indefinitely. I believe the average life span will be over 120 years, and could be much higher, possibly 1000.

Advances in theoretical physics will open up the universe to travel, exploration and colonization.

The big question will be what to do with our time. What if we live healthfully for hundreds of years? What if we don't need to work to meet our basic necessities? Much more attention will need to be given to our internal states, how we are when we are with ourselves (which is all the time). Education will have to change.

Obviously we have a lot of work to do. I think we should start today.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chaos Rules

My eighty-nine year old mother, Frances, just called to complain that she felt helpless to help my ninety-seven year old father, Maury. She felt she was alone and that she had nowhere to turn. She wanted to speak to her only son because "who else did she have?" Meanwhile, my sister is taking care of everything and my mother has twenty-four hour a day help for her and my father.

Simultaneously, I received a call back from a business associate who had not shown up for a meeting with me yesterday. I had driven an hour and a half to meet with him. He did not mention or apologize for not calling or showing up. He just wanted to set up another meeting. Since I was on the other line with my crying mother I didn't confront him about this. I will though.

My wife this morning was speaking to her lawyer brother about a big problem that is troubling her. It seems the Social Security Agency claim they sent her $69,000 in benefits over five years and she has NOT received one penny. Plus, she has a letter from the local Security Agency stating that she did not receive any money.

While writing this blog, my son Scott called. He he is a lawyer. He told me he was a little concerned about the shooting death of a 51 year old lawyer in the parking lot outside his office. It seems that a man in a ski mask jumped out of the car and put one bullet in the back of his head and then drove away.

I could go on. I hope you're getting the picture. Chaos rules. Truth, reality, and common sense are in short supply. We need some warriors now--people willing to fight for the truth, for reason, to bring sanity back into the world. We have enough wimps--people whose only concern is their own personal comfort and happiness.

Check out "The Trap" and "Century of Self," two documentaries that portray a viewpoint about how our society has evolved in the last hundred years. Very provocative stuff.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Unexplainable Happenings

I started a marketing consulting business in the bedroom of my house. In a few years, it had fifteen employees. I was beginning to get some confidence. I had a plan. I wanted to incorporate spiritual/esoteric ideas into businesses. My income, though, was not great. I had a wife and three kids to support. One of my clients, a division of a Fortune 500 company, Avnet, Inc., wanted me to give up my business; they wanted me to run their company. They offered twice my salary, great benefits, and the opportunity to test my management and marketing theories. Could I bring esoteric ideas to mainstream corporate America? I'd have a budget of over three million per month to use at my discretion. I was a little confused about what to do.

At the same time I was doing psychic research. I was investigating a Spiritualist retreat in Ephrata, Pa. Every year, the leading mediums of the world would come to an old hotel, the Silver Belle, in the outskirts of Lancaster County; they would conduct seances and classes for their believers, people who traveled thousands of miles to communicate with their dead friends and relatives. I was curious. I spent some time trying to penetrate the inner circle, trying to determine what was really going on.

It was a relaxing place, a good place to walk and think. I decided I would take an afternoon off. I spent some time at Silver Belle. Maybe, I thought, I'd discover some insight about my business and career. Upon arriving and walking onto the property I was greeted by an older women who looked at me kindly and said matter of factly: "You look a little troubled son. I see you have mechanics and eyes on your mind."

Now this is the god's honest truth. She had never met me before. The name of the Avnet division was Mechanics Choice; the name of my company was Visions Inc. There was no question that she had read my mind or sensed something about my thoughts. This was a real demonstration of some form of ESP.

Another time I was walking in the West Village in NYC. I passed a phone booth which began to ring . I answered the phone. The call was for me. I told my friend who had dialed the wrong number that I couldn't speak then but I would call him back. I continued to my destination.

Both these stories are indicative of either forces at work that we don't understand or a suspension of the laws of probability. There is definitely much about our world that we don't know. However, there is no doubt in my mind that there is a reality that exists beyond our senses. There are those who don't believe in magical thinking, who remain skeptical to the existence of any phenomena outside of what they consider to be normal, logical, or rational. In my mind this is a limited view. Even then, I see that the acceptance of any "whacked" out theory or happening can be problematic. In the continued exploration and questioning of reality we have an opportunity to make real progress. The question is how to do this in a way that can produce results.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

No Business Like Show Business

There's no business like show business, there's no business I know. Yep, entertaining people is a terrific business. Show business definitely makes a lot of money. In our world, fantasy is like gold. Obviously, telling the truth, or at least attempting to tell the truth, is not the way to riches. How else could Suze Orman, or Rush Limbaugh, or dare I say, Deepak Chopra, make money if their goal was to tell the truth?

It seems to me that "the emperor's" real nakedness is being revealed: The house of cards that was our economy is collapsing.

Flim-flam artists created products and services and we bought it, especially in the financial world, where an industry was created to invest our money in instruments that made the flim-flam artists, not us, rich.

And what about the insurance industry that built gigantic edifices in every major American city and hired brilliant mathematicians to figure out tables to insure they would not lose money--and when they did, they hired other brilliant adjusters and claims managers to figure out how to pay out as little as possible?


The advertising business. The automobile industry. Most retail operations. Most banks. Drug companies. And really any business whose primary function was to create desire for their products or services, without offering what we need.

We need to fight. This is serious. We need a plan. We need to figure out how to tell the truth, how to see the truth, and give up our illusory thinking.

Except if we want to go into show business.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where do we go from here?

The new Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced this morning his plan for rescuing the banks. Strip away the politico-speech and he said that our financial problems are complex; that he and his staff, including Obama, are not sure what needs to be done; but they are optimistic they will figure it out. No surprise, right? But the stock market reacted and plunged over three hundred points.

What does this mean?

Most economists and financial thinkers assume the market is a good leading indicator of what lays ahead. Does this mean the economy is in worse shape than previously thought? What should we do with our money, if we have any? There are many questions, few answers.

Where do we go for answers? Who can we believe?

It's a little troubling: the world is spiraling out of control and no one really knows what to do. This is not a bad thing; hopefully, we will end up creating a better world. It's time, though , to raise our game. We need to see things more clearly. I mean all of us. We can't depend on leaders, politicians, talk show hosts, journalists, or so-called experts to tell us what to do. We need to work on strengthening ourselves and our awareness so that we can contribute to the solution. It sounds scary, but we can't keep depending on the people that got us into this mess to get us out.

For years we have been convinced by the collective power of businessmen, marketers, advertisers, psychologists, and trend setters that we need to buy things we don't need with money we don't have. This has been the mantra of our western consumer society. Now we're paying the consequences. How can more spending and more debt be the solution?

But what is the truth? We don't really know. This admission of not knowing is a great starting point for an exploration that may lead us to safety.

Where do we go first?

I'd like to think about that.

Monday, February 9, 2009

My First Sexual Experience

I had my first gambling and sexual experience on the same day. I was eight years old. My grandfather took me and my mother to Hollywood Park. My grandfather loved gambling on the ponies. My mother loved finding celebrities. My grandfather showed me how to handicap, a skill I immediately and innately understood, a skill that stimulated an instinctual sense of excitement within me, an excitement about predicting the future and making money doing it.

Then, suddenly, my mother cried out: "I see Joe Dimaggio!"

She dragged me to the spot he was sitting, but Joe wasn't here; he had gone to make a bet, I guess. In his place, there sat a blond woman. A strange feeling stirred me, one that later influenced my life drastically. I don't remember if I actually had an erection. But I do vividly recall this blond woman, the attractive force that overcame everything I was experiencing.

Marilyn was something special even to an eight year old.

I started in spiritual work when I was nine. I was walking home from Hebrew School. At the time, I had been having terrible nightmares. My Rabbi had introduced me to the All Powerful Being, the Big Man looking down on me, judging everything I was doing. I was sensitive, and I was very attracted to the idea of an unseen world that ruled our life, even though it initially scared me. It was a dark winter night. I was kicking an icicle on the pavement, entirely afraid of the Being up in the sky looking down on me. Then, for some unexplainable reason, I had this sensation: the Being, I knew, was good and all-powerful. There was nothing to worry about.

I began thinking about money a little later in my life, probably after I had gotten a girl pregnant after knowing her for one day. Nine months later, I looked at her and my one week old baby, sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the one room apartment we were renting in Queens.

That was over thirty years ago.

Since that time I have studied business, gambling, sex, and spiritual work with the idea of formulating a unified theory that might enable me to survive in this chaotic world.

I thought I might share some of my findings.