When I started at Spotify, they made a great effort to kind of bring me up-to-date. They said, we have been going for 10 years or so and a lot has happened - we have been through many ups and downs - and it is important that we tell you the story. Otherwise, it is like walking in half way through a film. You have no idea what is going on. And this introduction - this time spent telling me the story - gave me a great foundation to move forward. Never at any stage, did they say - this is how we do things here so you better follow suit. It is more, this is what has happened so far - join the party and help create the future. Lucky me, that Spotify are so clued up.
But it got me thinking. Shouldn't this be how we approach school education. This is where we humans have got to so far - language, maths, science, spirituality, history, geography, art, sport, and so on. We'll spend a bunch of years bringing you up-to-date with all this stuff - because you have arrived in the middle of the most awesome movie - and once we are done, off you go - use this stuff as a foundation - and start creating the future - which we know nothing about. With this attitude, I am sure that children would feel more engaged at school and we would encourage creativity, rather than kill it. For more on this, check out this Ted Talk by Ken Robinson, which interestingly is at the time of writing the top viewed Ted Talk of all time with over 50 million views: Do schools kill creativity
I leave you with an interesting question: As a 13 year old, if you could have spent all school hours studying anything you wanted, anything at all - what would that have been. For me, it would have been football, girls, and games. Why isn't school, at some stage, more like this?
This is not as far-fetched as you might think. After India dropped 11 places to 133 (out of 156) in the UN World Happiness Report for 2018, the Indian government has set up a Department of Happiness. And as part of this initiative, the Riverbend School near Chennai is planning to rethink its curriculum to focus on happiness over grades.
By the way, Bhutan was the first country to put happiness at the top of the political agenda by proclaiming in 1972 that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. A bit sadly, Bhutan is at number 97 in the 2018 Happiness Report. Finland is top by the way.
March 17, 2018
I like to make collages. The above is of enlightened people - past and present (dead and alive - if it is okay to use those terms for enlightened people). If you are into this sort of thing, you probably recognise quite a few of them. But what is an enlightened person and what does enlightenment mean?
I grew up in a Jewish home, but Judaism the religion never felt like home. I didn't understand it and it didn't really appeal. That feeling of being home came later when, as a young man, I discovered Buddhism. I think I was attracted to Buddhism because of its direct focus on the human condition and the path to freedom. It spoke of suffering and it pointed to a way out, through so-called enlightenment. This was appealing.
Nowadays, I am not a Buddhist and I don't really use the word enlightenment much. But I do use the word awakening. So what is awakening?
First of all, awakening does seem to be a real experience that people have. I use the term "experience" and "have" lightly. In other words, it is not a theory or belief. Also, it does seem to be a real phenomenon in the world. People are waking up all over the place. There is an Internet interview show called Buddha at the Gas Pump where the host Rick Archer has interviewed over 400, as he calls them, awakening people. I have watched about a 100 of these interviews. The guests all have their own particular style and way of saying things and there is talk of sudden awakening and gradual awakening, but overall there is much agreement. In a way, they are all saying the same thing. Awakening is when we cease to identify with the individual body-mind, instead surrendering to something beyond that. Names for that something would be: the unknown, peace beyond understanding, big mind, oneness, love, and so on. Eckhart Tolle talks about awakening as being the next stage of human evolution.
For me, awakening has been and is a gradual process and is multi-faceted. When I was 23 years old, I was on a Buddhist retreat in Thailand and on the 8th day of the retreat I had a profound meditation experience. It is hard to put into words, but broadly speaking the experience was much as described above - a dropping away of the individual mind-body to reveal something else. The experience only lasted about 10 minutes, but it changed the direction of my life. It woke me up to there being something else. And once that is open - it doesn't close. Since then, I have continued on the path and had what I would describe as a series of awakenings. For example, I had an intellectual awakening after studying Ken Wilber, a sexual awakening after meeting my beloved, a food-health-fitness awakening, and even a political awakening. Or, perhaps here I am using the term awakening in too broad terms.
There is much more to say about awakening of course, but I'll leave it at that for now. You can find more information on this site under resources.
February 3, 2018
Here is another one of my collages - the theme of this one is the divine feminine. In the below text, I use the word masculine to denote the masculine (yang) energy in man and woman and feminine to denote the feminine (yin) energy in man and woman.
I think, in our masculine dominated society, the masculine, deep down, recognises the power of the feminine, but can't handle it or doesn't accept it. It is too wild, too unpredictable, too uncertain. So the masculine tries to push the feminine down, suppress it. Better with control right, better with structure and order and domination. Better with force. But, clearly the masculine without the feminine doesn't work, hasn't worked.
If we are to get back to some kind of equilibrium - in terms of our relationship to each other and our relationship to the planet we live on - the masculine has to have the courage to allow the feminine to arise and thrive while, at the same time, not suppressing or undermining itself. And then it is the feminine's job to move into the space created by the invitation of the masculine - while, at the same time, saying yes to the masculine.
I am deeply inspired by the above story and by the divine feminine.
When I was about 47 years old, I woke up to the realisation that I am Tantra man. This was the term I used at the time and what I meant is that deep deep down, what I want is to adore and serve woman. And that my spiritual path is not mine at all - but is together with and through woman. I also saw that I have always been like this - since I was a young boy. Although the years before 47 were covered in confusion. My devotion to woman was obscured and tainted. As a Tantra man, I wanted 100% relationship with woman - total honesty, openness, intimacy, nakedness, vulnerability. And when I realised all this - who I was and what I wanted, it came. Within about three days.
February 2, 2018
A spiritual teacher - I can't remember which - was asked recently: What is your practice? The teacher replied: I wake up, get out of bed, sit on my meditation pillow, and get real. This inspired me. So much that it became my new year's resolution for 2018. To get real. Now, for those who know me, they would say Gary, you are very real. But I live in here and I know that sometimes I am not. There is more work to do. For example, when I sit in meditation each morning - what is really going on? What thoughts are really here? When I am going about my day, what am I really feeling? What is really going on inside this organism? And the practice is to just be honest about that and just allow it. It's okay. It's no big deal. Just let whatever is going on be there. No denial. See how easy it is to trip up - yes to the mental concept of "no denial" as well.
There is another aspect. There are plenty of well-known spiritual sayings that are very easy to take on. For example: We are all one. Everything is perfect as it is. We are not the doers of our actions. The world is an illusion. There is no separate self. What we you really are is not born and never dies. All these are probably true - and can be inspiring. But, if am honest, do I experience any of these as true moment to moment. Well, actually, no. Sometimes I get glimpses of these spiritual truths - but it's just glimpses. Most of the time, it's not. This is what getting real is about. Not slipping into la la land.
I came across a nice piece recently where the writer described three levels of reality: Level 3 the pragmatic level of mundane reality and conventional experience. Level 2 which yields the realisation that whatever happens is ultimately perfect. Level 1 where it is realised that whatever happens in the play of manifestation is a dream, so nothing is happening. And, the writer goes on to say, all three of these are true at the same time and if you exclude any your perception of reality becomes skewed. More and more spiritual teachers are getting to and passing on this kind of understanding. One such who is very much in the real world is Gary Weber. At the 2015 Science and Non-Duality Conference, he presented a talk called The Eight Myths of NonDuality - referenced below.
January 14, 2018
You know when at school, university, work, or in some other context you are put together with others - in a team - and set some goal, something that you need to do. In the best of worlds, you self-organise and as a team you just do what needs to be done. And as you are all doing your thing together, it starts to take off and magic ingredients appear such as positivity, creativity, fun, humour, cooperation, and synchronicity.
Bear with me. And you know when you hear about a company that is sinking and they bring in an amazing CEO and she identifies the core business, the most important thing for the company - and she focuses the whole company on that and gets everybody behind her vision. She identifies the why behind what everybody is doing - and everybody gets it. And within a year, the company is back on track and slaughtering the competition.
Well, can't we just do this on a grand grand scale. Can't all of us humans get together and tackle the most important problems on this planet. Isn't it just a question of vision, goals, focus, prioritisation, willingness, cooperation, organisation, and coordination. After all, we have a team of 7 billion people. We have many highly intelligent, wise, compassionate, visionary people who could take roles as leaders (servant leaders of course). We have a good level of understanding of how the outer world works and a fairly good level of understanding of how our inner world works. And we have good enough communication technology. And good enough technology in general. What an adventure it would be.
I would suggest that, for the foreseeable future, humanity focuses on the following high level goals: 1) Make planet earth a great place to live again. 2) Find new habitable planets in case we can't rescue this one 3) Invent ways to transport humanity to the habitable planets found in 2.
These three should be the goals that everybody in the world should be working on. Existing structures could be used for coordination and organisation, for example, governments and businesses. Money is not needed as we are all working for the same organisation.
Of course, while this is going on, there would need to be some kind of ground service: food, shelter, clothing, basic goods, transport, communication, infrastructure, and so on. So some of us would work with this. I envisage everybody on the planet having some kind of basic, standard living condition. There is no poverty or wealth, everybody has the same - and this works because we are all working towards the same goal. Saving the planet and/or saving humans.
</End of Utopian vision>
Here are some lists showing what various organisations see as the most challenging problems facing humanity. In the one from Globaltopia, I like in particular their number 1, "Misinformation, denial and inertia". Without the vast majority of us seeing the problems clearly and taking them seriously, we do not have much hope of even getting started.
For me though, what is missing from these lists is the cause. Everything that appears on the lists is a symptom. For example, "poverty" appears on most of the lists - but poverty doesn't stand alone, it is caused by something. Greed perhaps. Whose greed? Our greed. So what I would like to see is more attention on the human psyche. Buddhism identifies the root causes of suffering - the three poisons of greed, anger, and delusion - and provides antidotes to work with them. It seems to me that we need to take insights such as this much more seriously if we are going to tackle the challenges ahead.
Climate change and destruction of natural resources (45.2%)
Large scale conflict and wars (38.5%)
Religious conflicts (33.8%)
Government accountability and transparency, and corruption (21.7%)
Safety, security, and well being (18.1%)
Lack of education (16.5%)
Lack of political freedom and political instability (15.5%)
Food and water security (15.1%)
Lack of economic opportunity and unemployment (14.2%)
Misinformation, denial and inertia
Food and water
Poverty, fair trade, reduction of debt, employment and economic disparity
Building human relationships and communication / decreasing conflict
Disease and human suffering
Democracy and human rights
Big Data for the Sustainable Development Goals
International law and justice
Oceans and the law of the sea
Peace and security
Risks from artificial intelligence
Promoting effective altruism
Global priorities research
Improving institutional decision-making
Developing world health
Climate change (extreme risks)
Land use reform
Smoking in the developing world
Agriculture and food security
Economic growth and social inclusion
World of work
Environment and natural resource security
Global financial system
International trade and investment
Long term investing, infrastructure and development
January 4, 2018
I always say that the best way I have found to deal with my stuff is Byron Katie's The Work. I often use that word stuff. I mean thoughts, spinning thoughts. Negative thoughts. Self-attacking thoughts. Other attacking thoughts. Thoughts that go on inside here and eventually make me sad or depressed or angry or depleted. Katie, as she is known, calls them stressful thoughts. And, using The Work you question them and, through the process of enquiry, you discover how these stressful thoughts don't really stand up to scrutiny and they kind of lose their power over you. They leave you and you are left in peace. Peace in here, peace out there.
I had a friend. He was going through a long and difficult divorce. Very messy. We would meet every few months and he would tell me about what was going on. He would complain and complain - about the ex. I listened - for years. Really for years. I would listen and try to understand and every now and then offer some encouraging words or try to help him solve some of the concrete problems. And, then, one day - we were going to meet up and I thought to myself, right I am going to introduce The Work to him. I have been patient for several years - and we aren't getting anywhere at all. The only thing that can really help, according to me, is to question your beliefs, your stories. So we met up and we started the usual procedure, but this time after about 20 minutes I started talking about The Work. I explained to him that if he wanted to be free of all this, if he wanted to be at peace - the only way out is to start to question his beliefs about the situation and about his ex. He seemed to be listening - he kind of got what I was saying. But then he just carried on with his usual routine. So I interrupted again - and explained how the only way out of the prison that he has built for himself is to question the judging, prison-forming mechanism. Now he looked at me like I was a bit mad - I had broken the rules. Our meeting had followed the same patterns for many years - and now I was deviating. We parted shortly after - hugged and said goodbye. I knew already that he wouldn't contact me again. And he hasn't.
He loved his story. He loved his beliefs. He wanted me to sit with him and just listen, agree, join in. And that's okay, I understand that - and there is a place for that too. But, I say, and Katie says it too. Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free. My friend wanted to be right. Me, in my life I have always wanted to be free.
December 20, 2017
Recently, a lot of people on a so-called spiritual path seem to be taking a step back and asking: What is spirituality really? What am I doing? Joan Tollifson, a spiritual teacher in the non-dual tradition, tries to answer this question in this Facebook blog entry: What is spirituality and what are we doing? Another spiritual teacher that I have come across recently, Amoda Mas, urges us to throw away the concept of spirituality.
I think this is a very healthy trend. Many of us have swallowed whole spiritual teachings without really examining them for ourselves, in our own experience. One could fill up one's whole life pursuing something that one hasn't really thought about deeply or understood for oneself. I got into Buddhism when I was young, and I didn't really know why. It spoke of Enlightenment and I guess I wanted that. A life free of suffering. Yes give me some of that. Cool meditation experiences. Oh yes. And then, later, I got into Non-duality. Just absorbing its teachings - well transposing its teachings onto my own experience. It took Robert Saltzman's book, The Ten Thousand Things, to lift the fog on that.
December 4, 2017
I sometimes call myself spiritually queer. Having made that statement, a very fair question would be: “What is that?” Well, you know when people say: “I am spiritual, but not religious.” That’s part of it. But the other part is that even then, I don’t fit into any of the conventional spiritual boxes. I don’t follow one teacher or one discipline or one tradition. I stay open to everything, and then use my discernment to decide with what to engage and at what level. And that doesn’t mean, by the way, that I don’t go deep. And it also doesn’t mean that I otherize everything that I don’t select. I invented the term spiritually queer based on the reclaimed term “queer” . Oh yeh - recently, I discovered that there is in fact a proper name for what I call spiritually queer - it is Inter-spirituality, not to be confused with Inter-faith.
Also, by the way, recently I stopped using the word spiritual or spirituality entirely. My reasoning was that the word itself can be confusing and divisive. And, anyway, what does it really mean? We are all human with an inner world that we experience in different ways and at different levels. All we are really talking about is the human condition. Eventually, I brought the word back - but I use it less nowadays and more carefully.
If that all wasn’t enough, I am food queer too. This is a long story, but it started when somebody asked me if I was still raw food vegan and I said: “No, I am…” And then I realised that there was no longer a term for the way that I was eating. And also that it would take me a long time to describe my current food regime. No, I am food queer,” I said.
Some food queer recipes are included here.
November 25, 2017
Here are some words from the world of spirituality. I put them together in a word cloud as well - see the pic. The meaning of many of these words is often unclear, and many are used in different ways by different people. What this tells me is that we pay much more attention to the outer world than the inner world. For example, we are very clear when it comes to naming the various species on this planet. For example, cockroaches are in the Kingdom Animalia and belong to the Phylum Arthropoda, Class Insecta, and Order Blattodea. Cockroach. Named. Classified. Meaning agreed. Isn't it time we named and agreed upon what is going on in the inner world? By the way, from the list below, my words of the moment are: Stillness, Joy, and Acceptance.
Presence, Stillness, Essence, Divine, Truth, Clarity, Coherence, Relationship, Primal, Love, Light, Life, Satchitananda, Peace, Gnosis, Honesty, Alpha, Omega, Completion, Gratitude, Surrender, Compassion, Joy, Acceptance, Tolerance, Letting go, Unattachment, Psyche, Spiritual, Healing, Liberation, Awakening, Happiness, Mystical, Solitude, Death, Spirituality, Self-realisation, Self-actualisation, Self-empowerment, Enlightenment, Soul, Spirit, Awaken, Self, self, Transcend, Wholeness, Oneness, God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Inner Journey, Tao, Human potential, The Way, Human development, Spiritual Path, Spiritual Development, Ego, Impermanence, I am, I Am That, Who am I, Bliss, Consciousness, Awareness, Being, Growth, Buddha nature, Seeker, Heart, Kindness, Non-dual, Duality, Mystery, Unknown, Gnostic, Agnostic, Belief, Know, Emptiness, Freedom, Harmony, No choice, No doer, Shakti, Shiva, Tantra, Mantra, Yantra, Meditation.
November 13, 2017
Inside this being here, there is much that, let's use the word 'registers'. For example, we might be worrying about something near like our son not coming home on time from a party or far like global warming. We might be getting a new idea for a painting or blog. We might be feeling pain from our sore head or knee. We might be perceiving something like a person's face or a sunset. We might be planning. We might be remembering something from our past. We might be reflecting on some current issue. We might be feeling sad. We might be feeling happy. We might be having a deep insight about life that we know will change us forever. We might be fantasising about a new love partner or imagining what beings from outer space might look like. We might be on Ayahuasca and experiencing the so-called universal unconscious. Some people say they have contact with the dead and some claim to channel communications from non-human beings. And who are we to dis-believe them. There is clearly a lot going on inside. And all of it seems to get registered in the same place, on the same screen. And then, in the morning, when I sit for my daily meditation, after about 40 minutes it all quietens down - it is calm, quiet, still - where has everything gone? And then, as I go about my day, back it all comes. When I go running, the typical pattern is lots of thoughts, not so many, and then at the end of the run quite a lot of deep insights and solutions to problems.
So, my simple question is: What is going on? What is all this stuff and where is it all coming from? And why does it disappear and then come back? Okay, it was more than one question and it isn't that simple.
The best answer I can give at the moment - but it doesn't really explain anything - is that our inner world is like an ocean - sometimes there are waves (agitated mind), sometimes there are no waves (calm mind). And now when I think of it, people like Freud (ego, id, super ego), Jung (conscious, individual unconscious, universal unconscious), and Assagioli (psychosynthesis), and traditions such as Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta have much to say about these questions.
October 3, 2017