One of my fortes is in spotting patterns and making connections between seemingly diverse things. One reason is wide ranging interests, another a mind that does that automatically, and the other is an interest in breaking down the walls between silos, these artificial boundaries. Why these deep seated patterns exist across diverse topics is an interesting question in itself. After all what could possibly connect the zeitgeist, a 4-5,000 year old Chinese divination text and Pink Floyd? And if one can connect these things what is going on?
First the zeitgeist. I heard an interesting talk by the doyenne of futurists/visionaries Barbara Marx Hubbard (b.1929).
In a great story, at the age of 23 – in times with a different perspective on where women fit into life – she had been invited to the White House (via an invitation of her father). She met President Eisenhower and famously asked him a question which is very much hanging out there today – “What is the meaning of our new power that is good?”. Eisenhower replied that he didn’t know and BMH set out to find out coming up with plenty of work and thoughts on the evolution of consciousness. She also came up with the Ur-Hippy concept that the White House should contain a Peace Room as well as a War Room – now there’s a thought.
Anyway in this this interview she was saying that it’s the role of a visionary to see what is breaking through that which is breaking down and hold that vision of something which is not yet the dominant thought form so that people can see something worthwhile that is worth going to. Again in terms of war rooms but no peace rooms, equally our culture has bad news on the hour and half hour – it’s not like it even has bad news on the hour and good news on the half hour. All of which is to say that you may not even be aware of the positivity and opportunity which is arising as all the media dumps gigabytes of “that which is breaking down” into your mind all the time. The subconscious is conditioned by all experience and so it’s hardly surprising that folks get a negative slant on the world 🙁
This is a true story from a book of stories by Ajahn Brahm a Thai Forest tradition Abbot living in Australia. Born Peter Betts he went to Latymer School and did theoretical physics at Cambridge in the late ’60s before joining the hippy trail and being ordained as a Monk. The book of stories was originally published under the prosaic title “Opening the Door of Your Heart: And Other Buddhist Tales of Happiness” but was later published in America under the “less prosaic” title of “Who ordered this truckload of dung? Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life’s Difficulties”.
I have retold this story many times myself. It’s a great antidote to the manic drive to “do something” in our culture – especially when under pressure and in a bad situation. Sometimes the best answer is a cup of tea while we wait for change to create an opening of it’s own accord.
drinking tea when there’s no way out
THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING we can do with the ingredients of our day, even if that something is just sitting down, enjoying our last cup of tea. The following story was told to me by a former colleague. He was a fellow schoolteacher, but before that he had been a soldier serving in the British Army in World War II.
My colleague was on patrol in the jungles of Burma; he was young, far from home, and very frightened. The scout from his patrol returned to tell the captain the terrible news. Their small patrol had stumbled into a huge number of Japanese troops. The patrol was vastly outnumbered and completely surrounded. The young British soldier prepared himself to die. Continue reading →
I like these broad ranging connections 🙂 A kind of linked in, “6 degrees of separation” for concepts 🙂
One of the interesting things from studying, and more importantly experiencing and integrating Asian traditions – predominantly Indian and Chinese worldviews – is a distrust of language. Or rather a clear feeling (as opposed to exam-level-regurgitation-knowledge type factoid) of the severe limitations of language. This is in the western mindset to an extent but that work is less well-known. If we can sound bite it, then Chinese Philosophy is existential and about experiencing a phenomenal perspective – it’s just “not” conceptual (which is where much academic analysis of it goes off track). 50 readers of the Tao de Ching, 50 different understandings – no concept (as no central authority in Taoism) of “this is the correct understanding”. The Indians with a more similar Indo-Aryan mentality to ours have a greater philosophical overlap. However the mystical side (by definition “beyond words”) has generally been uppermost in Indian consciousness and going back at least as far as Nagarjuna (~200CE) an understanding of the emptiness of language was central. This wasn’t so clearly expounded in mainstream western thinking perhaps until we get to Wittgenstein:
…who (to quote wikipedia) “rejected the idea that language has a direct connection to reality and argued that concepts do not need to be so clearly defined to be meaningful”. The intellectuals amongst you might like to check out this excellent essay by David Loy on the two.
Anyway back to capitalism. It’s a word and the simple executive summary of the above paragraph is that words are less useful than we think. Words (and the concepts they denote) are like an old river which meanders this way and that and never more so than capitalism. Most curiously both the detractors and proponents of capitalism rarely note this. I guess its a bit like the proponents and opponents of “God” – it never seems to stop the flow of books proving the existence or non-existence of “God” that they never define it in the first place 😉
This article by John Kay is an excellent piece which points out how the concept has flowed this way and that. The key point is that the original “capitalists” were what we would today call entrepreneurs operating in a family or partnership context – very different from the incumbent management of modern global enterprises with zillions of workers and shareholders… Continue reading →
This one is a must view if you have never seen it before…
Lots of words have been written about global peace, lots of words have been written about what is wrong with the world. However it must be near to impossible to watch this and not smile and feel jouyous… and that’s a rare thing in the modern stressed, overly-serious world.
It’s one of the quickest ways I know to be reminded that, as the Lakota Sioux say, all the world’s peoples are “mitakuye oyasin” – all our relatives 🙂
If you have a good connection click on the 720p HD in the settings and watch it full screen… make sure you watch it up to one minute at which point on his journey he discovered an important thing. Not sure if it’s me but are the kids in the simpler societies more jolly?
We think it’s so hard to regain that spontaneous joy of childhood .. but here a slightly over-weight bloke with a very silly dance not only gets thousands to dance with him around the world and be happy too but has currently been viewed by over 70 million people based on the last statistic I saw.
What can you do today? Even making yourself smile is a great start 🙂
One of the traps those of us educated in a western context tend to fall into is that of conceptualisation. We are very good with ideas, very good at kicking them round, critiquing them, criticising them. And that’s great. But we are perhaps less practically minded. Playing the piano or being good at baking or plumbing are somehow seen as lesser activities, not academic. So be it – we all have biases and there will be plenty of folks who don’t have this bias and believe that baking or plumbing is more important. None of this matters – what matters is seeing that we do have a bias. If we do not then we approach other material and immediately incorporate our bias into it. In simple terms a lot of the study of “ancient”/”foreign” wisdom traditions is academic. Now this is good but only as good as far as it goes. The true practitioners of traditions were doing them for practical reasons, not out of an intellectual, “library” type mindset.
A dry academic understanding is an objective, outside, dry position. A very valid position but you wouldn’t want an academic to do your plumbing 🙂 I recall one day organising the school sports day and I was told on no account to let the maths teachers do the timing. This seemed odd to me – after all they are good with numbers I thought. Yes, but they are not practical I was told … far better to pick those used to making things and using their hands not their heads!
So the real meat of wisdom traditions is to be used for practical purposes. More health, more vitality, more meaning in life – which continues the theme from my stress management page. But this – key – usage comes from internalising, from using, from applying techniques for body, energy and mind.
At a simpler level a knowledge of some of the thinking can help one identify and understand organisational issues. One of my favourite examples of this is how one would apply knowledge of the Chinese mind to modern large corporates and what one gets out of it. Continue reading →
In 2011 I took the year off to write a book. Well yes and no. As many authors will attest “the book” takes over. I intended taking three months off but the book became the master and I the servant and it ended up being a year after which I had written over a third of a million words, got a very stiff back from too much time at the pc, and written two different drafts of similar books. The “final” (“not yet published” – something else budding authors recognise) version stretches to 650pp – “Beyond the Silos” – is about the end of the Modern Era. The “Age of Reason” is at an end – we have had centuries of “reason” as our supposed guiding principle and what do we have? Well we are rapidly trashing the planet and we are working longer hours than ever, stress and stress-related conditions – physical and mental – are at epidemic levels.
Anyway onto my point. The book is a vast undertaking – the heart of the book is 10-15,000 word chapters on Science, Religion, Philosophy, Language, Psychology and Sociology. It is very much a Big Picture enterprise, a helicopter overview.
Well be that as it may – and the whys and wherefores I will write about one day. For this article though the key issue is “coping with data overload”. As you can imagine there was an enormous amount of research on a whole range of topics – and while my head was full of that everyday things like car tyre pressures, website parameters, bank addresses, that phone number I wrote down, the quote I was sure I wouldn’t forget and a zillion other things needed to be remembered.
It was all too much and I learned the valuable lesson that the brain is not an efficient store for a vast number of facts – its why we have to cram for exams and then a couple of days later have forgotten the lot. That is also a stressful process – we all know that feeling when our head is “over-full”. So what to do about it? How did I cope with a zillion pieces of information on a host of topics? Continue reading →
Most business folks who have perused this website are interested in the wisdom traditions angle taking the perspective that wisdom is sadly lacking in the modern world and its a very valid topic in it’s own right. Not only that but wisdom is the corrective we need in the business world right now. A small number have reacted in a hostile fashion saying that (and I joke not) “this kind of stuff has no place in business”!
I have studied, worked with, and applied many of the worlds wisdom traditions for quite some time and have no doubt now that any society or culture will tend to have problems and issues that most easily be solved by knowledge/angles/wisdom from another. There is nothing “religious” about this, nothing “woo-woo” in the slightest. Continue reading →