Good News / Bad News – Part Three

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

~ Michael Altshuler

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There are tangible physiological reasons why the years seem to roll by faster as we get older but everyone – regardless of their age – can agree that life has accelerated dramatically in the 21st Century. So, just where are we going?

A renowned personal development teacher likes to say that humans have two primary needs: certainty and uncertainty. These two co-exist in a paradox that we live with from the day we’re miraculously born until the day we die into the mystery beyond this life. Certainty – we’re here; uncertainty – we don’t know where we’re going.

Carpe diem translates as “seize the day” and is often used as advice for being present and enjoying ourselves right now. The phrase also champions an attitude of personal ownership. When we “seize the day” we own it, we declare our commitment to make the most of things. We’re the pilot, not a passenger.

Those with hedonistic tendencies might interpret this to mean “Go for it!” as in that immortal wisdom from the film “Wayne’s World: “Party on dude.” Those of us more spiritually inclined might prefer what Christ said: “For this reason came I to this hour.”

There’s a profound difference between accepting things the way they are and seizing the day in order to enjoy ourselves, vs expressing our full selves in the moment to moment fulfilment of our destiny.
Some say that fate is the cards we’re dealt while destiny is how we play our cards. It’s beyond argument that some of us are born to hardship while others enjoy comfort. We’re rich, we’re poor, we’re sick, we’re healthy, we’re educated, we’re ignorant… But, regardless of our differences, we all have the same moment to deal with. The content will be unique but the real difference is what we do with it.

Playing Cards

We arrive with our fate. The game of life begins and we start to play our cards. Time flies, the days flow into years, and we are finally delivered to this moment of contemplation right now – you reading and me writing – and this powerful question: “Why am I really here?”

Regardless of what the calendar says, it’s the same moment. Time is flying and we’re flying with it right now, high above the detailed landscape of our lives. That’s because we’ve chosen these moments for thoughtful contemplation. We’ve excused ourselves from the busyness of our lives to write and to read, in order to expand our awareness of what this thing called life is and what exactly we might do with it.

Millions of lives have been dedicated to the pursuit of this understanding. Millions of volumes have been written. Scores of philosophies and religions have been created. Ironically, with every belief, principle, and tradition, the question gathers more complexity, obscuring a simple, enduring truth.

Occam’s Razor is a well-known philosophical principle that advocates for the simplest explanation. For instance: “Two trees have fallen down during a windy night. Think about these two possible explanations: 1. The wind has blown them down. 2. Two meteorites have each taken one tree down and, after striking the trees, hit each other removing any trace of themselves.” 1

Think about these possible explanations for our lives: 1. We’re meant to be here, to enjoy ourselves, to learn and evolve, and to share our unique gifts. 2. We’ve had many lifetimes and will keep returning until we behave perfectly. This life is a punishment; we’re here to atone for our sins and, if we do, we’ll be excused from further incarnations and ascend to a heaven of mythical beauty and glory. If not, we’ll go to hell and burn forever. 3. Life is meaningless, we are just a weird, isolated accident (with 37 trillions cells in our bodies, somehow co-existing in relative harmony), and it will never happen again.

Who knows?

The bad news? There can never be an adequate theoretical answer to that question, not one that everyone would ever agree to. The good news? Life is this experience right now, beyond concepts, and we can seize this day fully if we choose to and enjoy discovering what the truth of these deep mysteries turns out to be. We can be certain that we are here, alive in this moment. We can be simultaneously uncertain of what comes next, especially at the conclusion of this life. That sounds like an adventure, one we might call “being alive!”

1. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor

Sunshine through cracked doors

Good News / Bad News – Part Two

“She is like a newborn sun, fresh with promise, the just beginning moments
before the day fills like a bucket with good and bad, sweat and longing.”

~ Katherine Applegate

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Quantum explorers now assure us what spiritual pioneers have taught for years: time as we know it is a human invention; we actually live in an emergent reality, born fresh in the eternally new present moment.

The good news is simple: be here now. The bad news? Easier said than done.

What obstructs our experience of what we know in theory? For instance, many spiritually minded people espouse the principle of unconditional love, believing that the ability to give and receive love without conditions is a measurement of enlightenment. But how many of us are able to do that consistently? And when we fail, what happens?

What if that idea, just to use this as an example, is fundamentally flawed? Do we dare question such an enshrined belief? Unconditional love, what does that actually mean? It sounds right, it seems to set the bar where it belongs, establishing a state of being to aim for, to do the best we can to emulate a God of Love. So, imagine if all of us were able to give and receive love without conditions.

Would this mean that we treat a waiter the same way we relate to our husband? If our child asks for more ice cream would we just give it to him (because to withhold it would be a condition)? If someone gave us something and we wanted to give something back, why wouldn’t we give them everything we had?

Even a cursory examination reveals that we always have conditions on what we give and receive and that there’s no inherent problem with this. We (hopefully) feed our children a balanced diet and we drink one glass of wine, not five. A historian chooses from a life-time of learning to share one hour of material in a college lecture. The electrical current transmitting to your home from the utility company stepped down to a useful voltage so it doesn’t destroy your appliances.

Judgement spelled out

In other words, there are conditions in every aspect of our day to day lives. And we are always making choices. We determine what exactly to receive and give and doing this with intelligence is not a human fault to overcome! There’s a difference between judgment and discernment. And what the term “unconditional love” illuminates is our human habit of withholding love because of judgment.

Judgment says: “You don’t deserve my love. I will punish you by withholding from you until you change. Here are my conditions.” Discernment says: “I love you. You’re my wife. I vowed to be faithful. I am, I will, no matter who else I’m attracted to. They will not receive the same love I give to you. That’s my condition.”

God made decisions during creation, perhaps even mistakes. If you ever watched Oh God!, the 1977 film where George Burns played God, you may remember a quote or two about this: “Tobacco was one of my big mistakes. Ostriches were a mistake. Silly looking things. Avocados… made the pit too big.” 1

At one point during that movie, “God” mused: “You know, Voltaire may have had me pegged right. He said I was a comedian playing to an audience who was afraid to laugh.”

Life is fundamentally joyful. We can learn to take everything in stride, using discernment to make wise decisions while avoiding judgment. The good, the bad… it’s all just the content of the moment, emerging fresh exactly as it is (before we condition it). Of course, what’s “good” sometimes turns into “bad” and vice versa.

Man meditating on a beach

There are jokes about that. Like this one: A meditation student confesses to his teacher that he has been sleeping in and missing morning meditation. “That’s bad, isn’t it?” he inquires.

“No, that’s good,” his teacher replies, “because this has forced you to be honest about your lack of commitment.”

“Well, I guess that is good, then,” the student agrees.

“No,” his teacher responds, “that’s bad because it’s revealing that you may not have what it takes to become a good monk.”

“You’re right,” the student sighs, “that is bad.”

“No, it’s actually good because you could have wasted years here. Now you could choose to get on with your life and do something else.”

“Oh, OK, that’s good then.”

“No, that’s bad. Because I’ve grown very fond of you and would ask that you reconsider your commitment. With the honesty and humility you’ve just shown, I think you can become a great teacher.”

Each moment dawns, fresh in the moment. and we determine what to do with it. That’s an unconditional condition!

1. From the 1977 film, Oh God!, directed by Rob Reiner.


Good News / Bad News – Part One

“As countries get richer, many of the people living
in them seem to be getting unhappier.”

~ Laura Paddison

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Do we really agree that money can’t buy happiness? Or, are we secretly sure that we could defy the odds and disprove the saying?

There’s an old joke about a pilot addressing his passengers: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news and some bad news. First, the good news – we are well ahead of schedule. Now, the bad news: we are hopelessly lost.”

Yes, we’ve created more wealth and comfort for ourselves here in the United States than at any time in our brief history. Simultaneously, nearly 40 million people (one in eight) live below the poverty line, including one in six of our children (13 million children). And nearly 1.3 million school children were officially homeless in 2015.1

How can this be? Here’s a clue: “A report released by the World Economic Forum on Wednesday found that, while the U.S. economy is the most competitive in the world, it has come at the expense of a “weakening social fabric.” Life expectancy is falling, driven in part by increases in “deaths of despair” ― people dying from suicide and substance abuse. This particularly affects white men without a college education who are falling between the cracks and dropping out of the workforce ― about 15 percent of men ages 25 to 54 are not working.

“It’s not just an American issue, either. China’s economic growth has been phenomenal. Between 1990 and 2009, its gross domestic product increased by at least four times and life expectancy increased from 67 to 74 years, yet life satisfaction has tumbled. India too, another economic success story, has seen life satisfaction levels drop by 10 percent between 2006 and 2017.” 2


So, wealth is increasing while life satisfaction is dropping. This means that not only does more money fail to make us more happy, it actually seems to be making us less happy. For anyone struggling to pay the bills, such a statement will seem preposterous and there is a caveat. Money does improve life satisfaction, but only up to a point. Experts have pegged that point at $75,000 annually in the United States.

“No matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don’t report any greater degree of happiness.” This revelation appeared in a 2010 edition of Time magazine, based on a Princeton University study conducted by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman. 3

So, what do people do with all that extra money and the leisure time it buys them? Many watch porn. The porn industry is valued at almost $100 billion annually, enough money to feed about 5 billion people a day. You think Hollywood is big? It is. Hollywood releases 600 movies a year which generate $10 billion in profit. Meanwhile, 13,000 porn films are produced every year, generating $15 billion in profit. That’s more money than Major League Baseball, The NFL, and The NBA… combined! 4

So, people ruin their health and families making big bucks to spend on artificial love… when they could experience the real thing for free. Could there possibly be any better example of the insanity that riddles modern society?

If that’s the bad news, what’s the good news? Well, at the same time, we are witnessing (and some of us are participating in it) an unprecedented values transformation. Millions of people are going for the real thing (Love with a capital L) and spurning the substitutes. How do we do that? Not by watching a screen, that’s for sure. We connect. In meditation, in conversations, walking in nature, in love-making (as we ironically call it)… there’s no limit to the ways we can experience Love.

That’s because Love permeates creation. Call it God or life force if you choose (“It” doesn’t care what you call it). “Money can’t buy me love,” the Beatles sang and they were right… because we already have Love. If we’re alive, if our hearts are beating, if we’re breathing, that’s proof that we’re swimming in an oceanic universe of Love. Money can’t make us happy because we’re already happy, if we’re connected.

Fish can’t live without water and we can’t live without Love.

1. https://familypromise.org/homelessness-fact-sheet/
2. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/wellbeing-metrics-happiness-us_us_5bc858d3e4b0a8f17ee98811
3. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/20/how-much-money-you-need-to-be-happy-according-to-wealth-experts.html
4. https://medium.com/@Strange_bt_True/how-big-is-the-porn-industry-fbc1ac78091b

Blinded By the Light – Part Four

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

~ Martin Luther King Jr.

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We experience what we express. If we wish to increase love in the world, it’s up to us to bring it.

It was the 16th century Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli who coined the term: “the end justifies the means.” He championed power as an end in itself and argued that the means used to achieve it are immaterial. A modern interpretation might be “winning, no matter what the cost.”

As we witness the accumulating costs of this strategy in the world today, we may come to the point of saying, “Enough. It’s time for fundamental change.” And we could describe that change with a rework of Machiavelli’s statement into “the means determine the end.”

It’s obvious to every chef that the ingredients they use affects taste. Substituting salt for sugar will make the cake taste different! What prohibits us from seeing this simple truth, for instance, when it comes to our international relationships? The eight-year Iraq war is reported to have cost 1.1 trillion 1 dollars although that number is often contested and amended, higher or lower depending on the analyst and their political leanings.

Considering the results – which includes inspiring a whole new generation of vengeance seeking terrorists – one might ask what this money could have achieved had it simply been given to the Iraqi people? Instead of bombing their homes and cities and killing their children, what if we had just given them a trillion dollars? It’s a stunning thought.

Outlandish ideas like this are never taken seriously. Similarly, insane ideas like fighting for peace are rarely questioned. To simplify the issue, imagine proposing that turning a green wall blue could be achieved by applying more green paint. Or, disputing the idea that a hungry person would benefit from food!

Blinded by Light 2

What blinds us to simple truths? Our own brilliance. We are blinded by the light of our self-illuminated human minds. Human cleverness is impressive… until one looks at side effects and long-term consequences. If you remember the movie, The Graduate, you may also recall a piece of cryptic wisdom offered young Benjamin by a family friend: “Plastic.” 2 The reference was to a profitable product worth investing in early. Good idea. But, today, “Evidence is mounting that the chemical building blocks that make plastics so versatile are the same components that might harm people and the environment. And its production and disposal contribute to an array of environmental problems.”

The means determine the end. If we shift to that fundamental belief, we would obviously evaluate every “good idea” to see if it would remain good, generations down the line. “Many people are familiar with the Seventh Generation philosophy commonly credited to the Iroquois Confederacy but practiced by many Native nations. The Seventh Generation philosophy mandated that tribal decision makers consider the effects of their actions and decisions for descendants seven generations into the future. There was a clear understanding that everything we do has consequences for something and someone else, reminding us that we are all ultimately connected to creation.”

Indeed, we are all connected to creation … and we are creators. We create every moment of every day in some way. Imagine if we took this long view and mediated our creativity with a sobering vision of long-term implications. It’s likely we would stop doing some things, do other things differently, and invent new strategies with inherent value and little contrary damage.

Blinded by the light? Perhaps we have been. But here’s a simple remedy. Instead of shining light in each other’s eyes, competing to see who can be the most impressive human, we could shine light on the path forward, to illuminate a future created one considerate step at a time. Who could do this? Anyone who comes to understand that we do experience what we express and understands that if we care about the world changing in positive ways then we must bring the required change through the way we choose to live.

We may dream of becoming more enlightened but what really matters is to be “enlightening,” to light up our lives and the world around us with the brilliance – not of our disconnected human minds – but with the Divine light that shines through all creation. We have the capacity to receive and transmit and herein lies a great promise for our world.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_cost_of_the_Iraq_War
2. https://www.ehn.org/plastic-environmental-impact-2501923191.html