Tuesday, October 4, 2011

First They Ignore You...

As I observe the media responses to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, what comes to mind is a wonderful quote by Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win."

It seems to me that those opposed to the message of this movement have recently shifted from phase one - ignoring the energy of the movement - to phase two, which involves ridicule of the individuals who have dedicated themselves to the cause. On Fox News yesterday I watched the so-called "news" commentators belittling the protesters for using their laptops, as if somehow this protest against financial corruption implied a concurrent moral aversion to the use of technology. They also laughed along with Donald Trump, who had called in to the program, when he asserted his belief that most of the young people were probably there to "find dates."

We're also observing a scaled implementation of phase three - fighting - which began with the mass arrests of protesters by police officers who aligned themselves with the power/dominator corporatists who fund and control our government officials. Ironically, those officials are paying police salaries using our taxpayer dollars, which means the people we've hired to protect us have now become bullies who oppress us in the name of "social order" to preserve their own jobs. But as we've seen too many times before in human history, the fear of losing their jobs can cause people to behave in ways that run counter to their own moral code of conduct. That explains why so many police officers purposefully corralled a large number of peaceful protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, entrapping them into moving into the street. They then gave themselves permission to abuse their legal authority in an effort to intimidate the people and undermine the energy of the protest.

Strangely enough, while the rather miniscule Tea Party movement was breathlessly covered by the media as a powerful social movement for change, the growing and highly energetic "Occupy Wall Street" movement was ignored for nearly two weeks. Why the difference? Perhaps it's because the message of the Tea Party aligned perfectly with the agenda of the media moguls who control the dissemination of information in our modern society. That message - to destroy governmental power and elevate corporatism as the highest form of social organization - grants enormous powers to those who control the global flow of money. Not coincidentally, it also robs the general public of the means by which to resist the power elite. The thinking goes something like this: take away a man's food, shelter, health and means of survival, and his ability to fight injustice diminishes because his attention becomes redirected toward simple survival. What that thought process fails to take into account however, is that a person who finally feels he has nothing left to lose is the most dangerous person of all. Even so, it seems those who are attached to the power/dominator social model, which relies on intimidation and coercion to control the behavior of others, are constitutionally incapable of overreaching to the point of self-destruction. Since aggressive domination lies at the very heart of the model, the model doesn't seem to know when to cease dominating others out of the realization that excessive domination turns an energy of resistance back on itself.

"Occupy Wall Street," as opposed to the Tea Party movement, points its finger at the root of social injustice, and demands we solve the problem of aggressive domination instead of continue to mitigate the worst symptoms of continued social injustice. Welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, the renegotiation of criminally high mortgage loan balances and rates - all are attempts to mitigate symptoms instead of address the underlying social disease. So what IS the disease, and how do we cure it?

I would postulate that the social disease we presently face is the false belief that everything is separate, and that so-called "individuals" can therefore freely exploit nature, resources, ecosystems and even other human beings for personal gain. For centuries now we've been enamored of the belief that everything we observe in our material world is a discrete object, a passive noun, and that when the noun is energized (by a verb) it is activated. What we're just now coming to realize is that nouns and verbs are human conventions, and that life itself is not so neatly divisible. No noun exists that is not internally verbing to some extent; likewise, no verbish energy exists that is not flowing and manifesting through some noun. The whole of reality is therefore already alive and humming with order and purpose; it's only our limited sensory perspective that causes us to miss this powerful Truth. We look at a chair and see a passive object, but if we turn an electron microscope onto it we discover that every atom within the chair is teeming with ordered activity. Every molecular bond that has formed to build and hold the form that is the chair represents a miniature social contract that obeys the underlying laws of our universe. The chair is chair because the atoms have all agreed to make it so, and will continue to do so until their contract ends - at which point the chair as we know it will cease to be. The atoms, however, will carry on, forging new social contracts with other atoms to bring other temporary forms into this world. They are assisted at times by cosmic consciousness flowing through human minds, and at other times by cosmic consciousness flowing through nonhuman forms. Always though, it is cosmic consciousness that dictates the direction of life's evolutionary flow, whether it does so through human beings or through some other living means at its disposal. We are each therefore tools of the ONE Source, not separate objects acting in disconnection from that Source. The only question then, is whether we realize our true nature, or falsely believe we are acting on our own.

If everything is alive, and everything is interconnected and directed by a single Source, there is no such thing in our world as a "self-made man." We are each here by grace, and we reflect the evolutionary manifestations of all that has come before us. We exist because we are supported by the entire infrastructure of the cosmos, from our nurturing planet to our heat-giving sun, to the galaxy that controls and contains our sun, to the intergalactic cluster that contains and connects our galaxy to all others. If any one of those connections break, we are at risk of total species extinction. To understand that at the deepest level of our psyche is to realize our true place in the cosmos, and to humbly regard ourselves in our proper cosmic context.

That humanity has, for many centuries now, placed our desire for money and power above a reverent relationship with our own living planet - and with each other - is a reflection of our lack of awareness of the interconnectedness of everything. It isn't evil that drives us then; it's childish ignorance. Even modern science has failed us here, because most of our scientific theories cling to the belief that what's alive and subjective inside every object is less material than its objective properties. The assumption that we can come to know the totality of the whole through the simple dissection of its parts down to some mythical lowest common denominator misses the highest truth of life itself, which is that the whole is - always and ever - greater than the simple sum of its parts. Modern science fails to focus on these connections, and instead seeks to define reality by mathematically summing up all the supposedly observable and individuated objects in the universe, without concerning itself with the added benefit gained by such a conjoinment. Thus the ongoing search for a unified field to bring all of reality together is an impossible quest under the scientific method, because it seeks a summary answer "out there" instead of noticing that any unified field MUST first be found at the closest possible point to the observer - which by definition must be within the pure awareness of the observer. That awareness does not exist outside of the unified field, as modern science seems to assume it does. Pure awareness thus appears to be the magical "something more" that reality has gained by summing itself into a living, unified field.

With this new understanding, this new movement - which is comprised of young and old, rich and poor, people of color and people of Western European heritage - is not a movement designed to separate right from left or the wealthy from those who suffer. It is, at heart, a great leap forward in human consciousness, because at heart it's a celebration of life's rich and powerful interconnectivity. As such, violence will not serve its ends, because to do violence against what we're connected to is to do violence unto ourselves. What does serve this rising movement - and will continue to serve it well - is the courage of gnostic conviction of the truth. The conviction that life itself is far more precious than money, that human creativity deserves to be unleashed so we can collectively tackle our problems, and that to trust and love and nurture each other will get us farther than trying to direct and control each other for short-term gain is the deeper message underlying this movement. Thus this movement represents the genuine energy of freedom, but a freedom writ large on the psyche of human beings all over the world, as one by one we step into the realization that we are here to serve life, not just self; and that by serving life we ultimately are serving ourselves as enlightened members of the larger living whole. This movement therefore represents the desire of all spirits to be free to self-express and bring their unique capacities and talents into our world. We long to do so in gratitude for this precious gift that is life, which we're experiencing as a temporary form we have come to call the "self."

No amount of ignorance, ridicule or even force can long subvert the Truth of who we are. As Martin Luther King once said, "The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." When we know ourselves to be inextricably embedded in the infinite, eternal field that is life itself, we discover we have all the time in the world to stand for Truth. That awareness is the ultimate strength of the movement. It will not be suppressed by fear for the survival of our personal bodies, because we recognize these bodies to be but temporary manifestations of the larger living whole that will - always and ever - contain everything that is us. To serve that thus becomes the highest calling a human being can answer. And it is in that service that we find both grace and peace.

So to all those who would ignore, ridicule or attempt to coerce their brothers and sisters into falling silent and ignoring their deepest truth, I exhort you now...notice the truth of who you are and allow it to set you free. Feel your own inner energy vibrating in your own cells, and pay attention to the invisible umbilical cord that is your breath, and that connects you to this world through the gift of life. Accept that you cannot survive or thrive without a healthy, vibrant world to support your existence, and that you cannot feel joy without also feeling love for and toward your fellow man. Step into the truth of your own interbeing, and release the false belief that you are an island. Allow the grace of life to pulse through you and flow lovingly into this world that created and contains you, through you, as you. Bring love into this world by being loving. Bring peace by being peaceful. Bring generosity by being generous of mind and heart and spirit. See where that shift gets you instead of succumbing to the fear that possesses you now.

Fear cannot survive in the light of love, so set yourself on fire and banish the darkness within your own heart. Know there are millions of others who are ready and willing to midwife you into this new reality, and who desire - once enough of us are awakened to our interconnectedness - to design a new society that reflects this truth. A society that serves the whole by empowering all its parts to fully self-actualize will be a society blessed with love and fruitful abundance, and from that abundance all forms of life will be nourished. The whole is always and ever greater than the sum of its discrete parts. So allow the One Source to carry you to greater heights of beingness than you imagine you can achieve or attain on your own. That's grace in action, and it brings to each the peace that passeth all mental understanding.

Know yourself.

Namaste, my brothers and sisters, one and all.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Advice to Start Up Companies

Having been part of a couple of Fortune 100 corporations in the past, I believe I've got a decent amount of experience with old economy thinking, as well as an understanding of its fatal flaws. What I've come to realize is that - as folks in the trenches begin to step up in an effort to shift our global economy toward serving a higher purpose and being supportive of all life and away from the current self-serving power/money paradigm - we must, as individuals who are integral members of our economic system, not allow ourselves to succumb to pressures to continually duplicate the old paradigm just because its trajectory has been powerful. To repeat what isn't working because it's all we know how to do is the very definition of insanity. Conversely, to stand up to that old economic paradigm and be willing to put yourself on the front line for what you believe is true is a test of personal courage.

Before I felt free to quit my job at Smith Barney I had to be willing to acknowledge that I had no idea how or if I'd survive that departure financially. I had to be fully accepting in my own mind and heart that the consequence might mean becoming homeless and eating out of dumpsters - as well as being shunned by former clients, family members and friends - for choosing to stand in my highest truth instead of continuing to "sell out" for the money and accolades that arise from succeeding in the existing social structure. From that place of humble acceptance, I found the strength to trust myself to do the right thing to the best of my capacity in every given moment. By being willing to surrender it all I discovered I had nothing left to lose, which meant no fear of loss remained to hinder my ability to strive to become my grandest version of my highest vision of myself.

Having gone through that trial by fire and having personally discovered - once I stepped into the abyss of the unknown - that the universe is actually a benevolent place and supports those who have the courage of their own convictions, I would like to offer the following advice to anyone who is contemplating starting their own business (or making any other sort of radical life change.) If it doesn't resonate with you then it's not meant for you...let it go without judgment. All information finds its true home in its own way, which is part of the marvel of the cosmic unfolding of life.

1) Before you begin the arduous process of creating something brand new, allow yourself to mentally "go to zero." Going to zero means having the courage to picture yourself in the worst possible outcome you can imagine, should you fail. If you can accept that outcome - if you are willing to live with the consequences of the worst possible situation you can picture as a result of your engaging in your new venture -you will discover that fear no longer has the power overwhelm your capacity to be reasoned and focused on whatever will enable you to succeed. If, however, you've been too afraid to look deeply into the darkness of your own imagination and discover if you're capable of living with the consequences of failure, you'll likely be unable to conduct yourself with the necessary level of integrity to succeed. That seems to be the way the universe works. We have to be willing to surrender it all in order to achieve our highest aspirations. Anything short of that is "hedging our bets." And when we hedge, we're acknowledging that we don't trust ourselves enough to invest everything we have to offer in our own success. But if you don't trust yourself enough to put everything on the line for the chance to succeed, why should anyone else place their trust in your ability? That insecurity will surely flow through to your decision making, and color the outcome of your venture before it begins.

2) Give deep thought to what it is you are wanting to create, and focus the bulk of your attention on that. Don't invest energy into thinking about what you don't want to happen, because that dilution of focus will sap your capacity to direct the bulk of your energy toward your own success. All we need do is examine our world to find countless examples of situations where humanity is busy creating the very situation it does not want to happen, because its attention is focused on (and its energy is directed toward) prevention of what it doesn't want instead of achievement of what it desires. We've made war on each other to stop war, which has only succeeded in creating new enemies. We've made war on drugs, which has only succeeded in generating new, more harmful drugs and organized crime that harms more people than the original drugs we set out to destroy. So set your vision, remind yourself of it regularly and often, and check yourself constantly to discover if you're straying from it because your fears are arising in your subconscious and subverting your higher intentions. Only when we are vigilant and consistently aware of our own undisciplined thoughts can we develop our core competency in this.

3) Spend time thoroughly studying Dan Pink's amazing book, "Drive." In it, he dissects human motivation and what drives us all to succeed. As it turns out, Pink's book reveals that the drivers humanity has been focusing on for too many eons now - reward and punishment - are external motivators that are fear/greed based, thus are only under very limited and short-term circumstances. Many studies prove that human beings are actually far more driven by a universal set of intrinsic motivators than they are by the external motivators of reward and punishment. What are those intrinsic drivers? It seems they are threefold:

---The desire for autonomy, which includes the freedom to be who we are and work without overly aggressive supervision, including when and how to do the jobs we've been tasked to accomplish.
---The desire for mastery, which involves taking as much time and investing as much energy as is necessary to master the skills pertaining to our passions, talents, abilities and desires.
---The desire to serve a higher purpose than ourselves, which involves knowing that the function we perform has the capacity contribute to the advancement of human society and be beneficial to life on Earth.

Therefore, if you're going to start a new business, build a company where these drives are honored and fostered and you'll find yourself with employees who will go out of their way to serve the business's ends because they love what they do. They will appreciate the trust and freedom they've been gifted, and will be grateful to have an opportunity to develop their core competencies. By creating a win/win scenario, you enhance the chances your company will succeed.

4) Acknowledge from the outset that nobody starting a new venture can possibly know what they don't yet know. In Tarot, life is called the "fool's journey" for a reason. We discover our own ignorance piece by piece, only after we've foolishly - and perhaps with the arrogance of ignorance - delved into the depths of our own incompetence. It is from that place of humility, from our rising awareness of our own incompetence and our desire to attain mastery, that true learning begins. To therefore blame, shame or guilt start up employees for failing to grasp what they did not know at the outset of the venture merely creates a hostile working climate that may well derail your operation before it gets underway. Which leads me to my next point:

5) Allow the unfolding of your venture to take as long as it takes to succeed. Impatience has killed more start up companies than any other personal and emotional failing. The desire to become too big too fast, to create a product before constructing a solid ground of operations, to meet some arbitrary internal deadline to the point that a steady, measured approach to success is tossed aside for the sake of meeting the target, is almost certain corporate suicide. Don't allow the existing human condition - which sets too much stock in time-based accomplishments and not enough in relaxing and allowing - to push you into being stressed and overworking to the point of exhaustion. An exhausted and unhappy employee (or employer) cannot possibly be bringing the best of themselves to the world. And if you're not doing that, then what on Earth are you doing? And for what reason?

I invite all prospective jobs creators - as well as all existing employers - to ponder these things as we move forward as a society...together.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When Good People go Crazy

Several times in my life I've experienced the sorrow of witnessing the absolute emotional and psychological unraveling of another human being. I am, at the present moment, once again observing exactly such an experience. As I take a deep breath and step back from the self-induced, self-destructive, take-no-prisoners carnage that this individual is currently creating, I find myself examining the way the situation has been unfolding. I have been seeking to understand - with deep feelings of loving compassion for the individual in question - why it is that sometimes good people go crazy.

The following quote by Albert Einstein has been most instructive: "The intuitive voice is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift."

Irrationality, which is the energy that fuels mental craziness as well as all emotional reactivity, does not arise from the intuitive voice, which doesn't create fear or encourage fear-based thinking. The intuitive voice is - always and ever - arising out of the energy of unconditional love. Irrationality can only arise when the formerly rational mind - the faithful servant of the deepest essential self - has lost its way, and is no longer listening to the powerful intuitive voice that is encouraging it to value love before all else. What causes that to happen is a function of separation consciousness, the mistaken belief that each of us is entirely independent from one another, and from the larger world that has created and contains us all. It's hard to unconditionally love the external world (or its occupants) when we perceive it to be a dangerous and hostile environment for us to navigate, threatening to our very existence - because we imagine the totality of our existence to be only our mind-based self. Of course, it is only the mind that is telling us that terrifying story; the mind - out of fear of its own mortality because deep down it knows IS a mortal element and will ultimately dissolve with the body - that has attempted to elevate itself to the level of the infinite, eternal One Source that is manifesting life through every one of us.

Our society, such as it is, does not make it easy for those whose rational minds have (consciously or unconsciously) severed their connection to their deeper intuitive voice to find their way back to emotional wellness. As Einstein inferred, we have created a modern society that itself has elevated the status of mind to a level above the intuitive voice, which means we have - for all intents and purposes - created an insane society. Love these days therefore takes a back seat to success; empathy and respect take a back seat to personal reputations and self-image; integrity takes a back seat to the fear-based drive to accumulate wealth and perceived security.

Irrationality arises when the rational mind, faced with the cognitive dissonance of wanting to act out of accordance with its own highest principals in service to its own fears, chooses to invent a rationalization to justify the wrong action. The rationalization that occurs (which is actually irrational at the deepest intuitive level) goes something like this: "I can't afford to practice my highest values and be my best self at this point, because I'm not yet secure enough to do so. When I have attained the level of security I desire (or fame, fortune, public accolades, etc.) then I will be free to be fully and truly myself."

Having personally attained (and then willingly surrendered) the things I once thought I needed to feel security, if I've learned anything in this life it's that the search for one's self-image "out there" is an endless quest that is doomed to end in failure. Once we achieve what we believed we needed to be happy and feel secure, we discover either that it's relatively hollow and quickly loses its luster, or we discover we have to continually to battle the external world to hold onto whatever we've gained. The fact is, any quest to hold onto impermanent things is a fool's game, because all things must eventually dissolve. As Eckhart Tolle says so eloquently, "The things we think are so important in our lives, all the life dramas and suffering that consume so much of our attention and our energy, one day amount to the dash between the date of our birth and the date of our death on our tombstone."

Therefore, how we choose to live within the context of that dash matters more than all the narrative stories we're creating about ourselves to satisfy or quiet the fears of our mind.

Yesterday I took a time out from life and strolled through an old Vermont cemetery. I noted the dates of birth and death on many tombstones, wondering at the life stories that lay beneath my feet. Who was Lena, aged 13, and what was the cause of her untimely death? I'll never know. I'm sure she had many amazing life experiences, suffered some tragedies, was mourned by her family members and friends. Yet all that remains to remember her by is that dash.

This is true for most all of us. Most of us are not destined to become rich, or famous, or to go down in history as movers and shakers of human society. Most of us will live our lives quietly, and our bodies will dissolve as bodies inevitably do. The key then, is to be able to wake up every day - knowing it may well be our last day on this Earth - and to live it as if that is so. That most of us fail to do that, imagining we will only be able fully live in accordance with our intuitive voice, the voice that is always on the side of love, once we've accomplished our personal goals, is to put the destination ahead of the journey, allowing the end to justify the means.

That is humanity's collective insanity, and it is indeed what causes good people to occasionally go crazy.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Money: A Manifestation of Separation Consciousness

There seems to be a fundamental misconception about the nature of money among many members of modern spiritual movements, as well as within many New Age and intentional communities. I say that because frequently I read books or hear very well meaning people make statements like, “money is neither good nor evil; it’s our attitude toward it that determines whether we live in abundance or in scarcity.”

While that’s an interesting notion, and on a very limited personal level there is a certain amount of truth to it, what that assertion fails to take into account is that money is more than an idea or a projection of our personal beliefs; it is a very real medium of exchange that our society has designed over time to represent the way we’ve chosen to interact with one another. As such it carries its own DNA, one that gives it a physical structure and shapes it independent of our beliefs about its nature. Based on its inherent nature, money – at least as we are presently manifesting it in our world – makes it impossible for us all to live in harmony and abundance, no matter what our attitude may be. Why? Because in its present incarnation, money – much like the popular game of Monopoly® – sets up a collective win/lose game. The fact is, if I acquire and hoard money in a sufficient enough quantity so I need never worry again, I am in a very real sense contributing to the scarcity experiences and physical suffering of many, many others. Perhaps that explains why our personal intuition, which inclines many of us to feel negatively disposed toward the energy of modern money, is more accurate than the beliefs we have about our need to magnetize more of it to ourselves.

But why is that so? And if it’s true, what does it mean for us, as spiritual beings, that we desire ever more money in its current incarnation? Equally importantly, how might our desire to accumulate enough money to guarantee our personal security impact our ability to be in right relationship with one another, and with life?

To understand these things in their deeper context, we need to first understand how money was – and continues to be – born into our world…and how, unlike all other natural life forms (and in direct violation of the natural law of impermanence) it does not ever die. Let’s begin with the birth of money in the form we know it today. (Should you be interested in understanding more about the history and various incarnations of money, I discuss them in depth in “Sacred Economics: The Currency of Life.”) In our modern world, money is born when our government – which represents the American people – borrows it into being from the National Federal Reserve Bank. The Federal Reserve then issues either digital credits or actual paper dollars and lends them out to its private member banks. That money then flows into general circulation through acts of additional borrowing. Banks lend their money (creating much more of it in the process) to private citizens and corporations. That transfers money out of the banking system and into the hands of the public. From there it can enter the economic flow and stimulate the exchange of goods and services.

When however, we dissect this process, we uncover a major problem. That is, the Federal Reserve only ever issues into circulation the amount of principle each loan conveys to the borrower, even though every single loan comes burdened with the need to pay back all that principle plus some additional interest. That means, on a societal level, it is structurally impossible for all of us to live our lives free of debt. The very nature of the equation means that in order for one person to pay off her debts in full, some number of other people will have to lose most or all of their borrowed principle so she can accumulate enough to pay back both the principle she borrowed plus all the interest that she owes. Because not all our debts come due at once, we fail to notice the insidiousness of that system, but that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there. The fact is, for every modern loan ever made and for every business enterprise ever undertaken through an act of borrowing, our society as a whole must go deeper into debt to make it happen, which creates a higher collective obligation that can never fully be repaid.

What, you may be wondering, does any of that have to do with me? So long as I pay my debts successfully and accumulate money efficiently enough that I live in personal abundance, why is what happens to those who can’t pay their debts my problem? For an answer to those questions, we must draw upon the deeper spiritual and biological truths so many of us either intuit, or have gradually come to realize as our awareness of how our cosmos works has evolved.

The monetary system described above is grounded in a longstanding (albeit false) belief that we are each separate from one another, as well as separate from our larger living world. That belief arose from a fractured worldview that assumed “we” must protect ourselves from “life,” and that – at whatever cost – we must protect these fragile forms from physical harm. That assumption springs from separation consciousness, the belief that somehow we are other than life itself. And when drawn out to its logical conclusion, that assumption of separation has led to the presumption that we each have a life we can lose, and that it must somehow be protected and preserved as if it is a distinct and precious object we possess. But from what are we protecting this supposed life we “have,” if not from life itself? And who is this “we” who must protect this life we have come to believe we possess, and that we can lose? What is that, if not the very essence of life itself, which both creates and animates the world of form? To recognize that is to recognize the absurdity of the original assumption, the belief that “I” am separate from “life.” That belief, that fractured worldview which imagines that “I am one and everything else is other” obscures a more potent truth: that “we are all.”

Because the tool of money was originally conceived during humanity’s long and painful experiment with separation consciousness (which seems to be mercifully coming to an end in modern times) our monetary system fails to take into consideration – because when we created money we ourselves failed to understand – that we are in fact all inextricably interconnected, and that life is a process of cooperative interbeing; not, as we often imagine, a random collection of separate beings all “doing” life for themselves. As a fundamental tool of separation consciousness, money therefore demands that we each serve the needs of the personal me ahead of the needs of the we, rather than viewing the two as entwined and of equal importance. Through serving the self as supreme, individuals in our society gain economic privilege and social power by capitalizing on others’ bad luck, missteps and misfortunes. Money pushes us, by its very nature, to figure out new ways to commoditize, package and sell our natural world. We unthinkingly convert life itself into raw materials to be killed or exploited, manipulated, dominated and eagerly consumed for the sake of economic productivity and monetary profits. Because our collective focus is on serving the temporary form that is the individual by depreciating the infinite, eternal flow of creation that is the underlying life process, it fosters within us a constant fear of lack – not because we are spiritually unaware and thus failing to hold an appropriate attitude of abundance – but because we are devaluing what we are to serve what we believe ourselves to be, which is considerably less than the truth of what we are! Worst of all, this belief system desensitizes us to our own inner joy and overwhelms our innate desire to serve a higher purpose than our temporary self – to serve life, which we are – because it demands that we satisfy our personal debt obligations before we pursue joyful life service by fulfilling life’s deeper purpose for taking this form. And then we wonder, when we look around, why so many of us are living isolated, fear-based lives of quiet desperation that require Prozac, alcohol, frantic overeating and mind numbing television programs to help us temporarily alleviate, though not dispel, that sense of despair!

If that were all there was to it, we’d certainly have plenty of work to do as a species to redress that foundational misunderstanding of separation consciousness. But that’s not all. I mentioned earlier that money violates natural law, because (at least the way we’ve designed it) it does not die. Let’s now examine how that negatively impacts our lives, and life itself.

As temporary life forms, we know that our body comes into being through the vehicle of conception and childbirth. Our body then matures, puts forth the fruit of its physical, emotional and creative capacities, and eventually decays. Death then, becomes the vehicle whereby our physical forms are broken down, fully consumed and then recycled by life itself, so life can use all of itself again to recreate itself anew. Once we embrace that truth, we come to understand that each of us is, in a very real sense, fully embedded in life’s infinitely creative and eternal cosmic dance of self-expression. We are not separate or excluded from that process, nor are we disconnected from its boundless creative flow; we are the eternal dancer, infinitely dancing the dancer’s eternal dream. All that ever changes is the shape the dancer takes, and the ability the dancer gains (through a good deal of dedication and patient practice) to challenge itself to perform higher and ever more beautiful acts of amazing self-expression. Death then, is not our enemy, or something to be avoided at any cost. It is merely the vehicle by which life transports itself to a new and higher level of creative self-expression through the continuous process of destruction and rebirth.

In our earliest social exchanges, shortly before separation consciousness rooted, the things we exchanged all decayed and eventually died. Grains rotted, and domesticated animals aged and died as well. Even the energy we offered to others in the form of our personal labor disappeared forever, unrecoverable even if our offering of time went unused. The creative fruits of our endeavors – be they pottery, textiles, woodwork, construction or art – also broke down or dissolved. No matter how hard we’ve tried through the ages, we’ve found we’re unable to preserve these temporary forms or prevent their natural decay. In the past that meant we were continually inspired to exchange what we had to offer, because if we didn’t either use or exchange our abundance we would lose it.

As separation consciousness took hold however, and with the advent of money to facilitate human exchange, we suddenly discovered we had the capacity to store value for a very, very long time. While our many goods and services (for which we were using money as the medium of exchange) passed away with time, the money itself did not. At first in the form of metal coins, then later in the form of paper and now in modern times as digital records, we found we could store value in perpetuity through the act of hoarding money to meet future needs. The unforeseen consequence of money’s eternal nature is that money – which was initially intended to be the primary tool we used to exchange human goods and services – took on a dual function. It also became our primary means to store value, so we might pay off our debts someday and set ourselves free from the need to do work in exchange for the means to survive.

Unfortunately, by combining those two functions – the primary means of exchange and the primary means of value storage – we designed a tool of duality that is highly problematic. If, for example, I need to use the money I’ve accumulated to store value so I have something in reserve to meet tomorrow’s needs, how can I use it as a means of exchange today? Yet the moment I remove my money from today’s flow of creative exchange and tuck it away in reserve to meet tomorrow’s potential needs, I’m hindering everyone else’s ability to exchange their creativity here and now, because I’ve reduced the means that makes such exchanges possible. The more money that gets hoarded, and that eventually stagnates in large pools of wealth – dammed up as a store of value held by the wealthiest few among us – the less means the rest of us have to fuel our creative flow and thrive together.

Each of us must constantly decide which of these two functions our money will serve, which creates stress within our psyches. If I use my hard earned money as a means of exchange today, I must remove it from storage and surrender its potential to meet my needs tomorrow. Likewise, if I store it away for a rainy day, my ability to share in life’s creative exchanges in the here and now gets reduced. If the value of money declined over time so we knew it would be worth less tomorrow than it’s worth today – the way our own mental capacity diminishes and our own physical forms deteriorate – it would be easier for us to strike a balance between these dual functions. What throws it out of whack, however, is the fact that we must pay interest on all borrowed money. Interest means lenders are rewarded for hoarding money to a point of excess, and then parsing it out to the needy so they can grow their own wealth at the expense of others.

If I lend you ten dollars and demand that you return twenty to me next week, that twenty means I’ll have more buying power next week than I’d have if I’d spent the ten I have today. You, in turn, will need to spend that borrowed ten dollars in a way that you’re able to use it to earn at least twenty more dollars within the next week. If you’re unable, for whatever reason, to use the money I loaned you to earn more than twenty dollars by next week, you’re still obligated to pay me the twenty we agreed to, which leaves you worse off for having accepted my “help.” And what if you borrowed that money to put food on your table, care for your sick child, or to cover your electric bill so your family doesn’t freeze to death in winter? While those things are fundamental for your survival, they don’t go far in aiding you to be able to earn twenty dollars in the future, beyond the fact they allow you to live and strive for another day.

Clearly then, consumerism (spending money on end goods that we use instead of investing it in creative enterprises) robs us of our capacity to pay off our accumulating debts. Meanwhile, the very nature of money rewards hoarding far more than it rewards us for engaging in supporting the flow of creative human energy. That explains why today we live in a society where the pressure in on us all to consume more end goods, which render us deeper in debt and less able to effectively create, while at the same time we feel a countervailing pressure to save as much as we possibly can so we can use what we save to exploit the needs of others and grow our own wealth. Is it any wonder then that, even with seven billion of us on planet Earth today, we witness so much pent-up creativity – so much wasted human capacity – because most of us don’t have enough means to fully self-express and give our gifts in this world?

When we look around us (if we’re honest, and not imagining all is perfect so we don’t have to respond to what is) we can’t help but notice the suffering on our planet. We see her soils being raped, her bowels being gutted to access her natural resources, her air being fouled by all our toxic emissions, her waters being denuded of life and severely polluted. We see ancient forests, fragile tundra and unique ecosystems being slashed and burned for short-term monetary profits; we see the extinction of untold species who have “gotten in the way” of our own economic growth. These are but symptoms, byproducts of the way we’ve constructed our relationships with life, which in turn is rooted in the false belief that we are separate from life, as well as from the larger living world that birthed and contains us. Money, as a symbolic artifact of that longstanding belief system, is not neutral. It is, in truth, ignorant of our newly emerging higher realization. It’s a reflection of an outmoded level of human consciousness, a byproduct of our experiment with the idea of separation. As such, we cannot shift our personal inner awareness and evolve our consciousness to a higher state of being while still binding ourselves to the energies and beliefs our existing systems continue to represent. The assumption that we are entirely separate from life, and the assumption that we are inextricably entwined with life as life, are fundamentally incompatible! Therefore, as we collectively awaken to the realization that the long social experiment we’ve been conducting to discover if we are indeed separate from life has proved false, we’ll have no choice but to rebuild our systems upon a new foundation – the understanding that all is entwined, all is alive, and all deserves to be treated in sacred manner.

So what does all this mean for those of us who have awakened to the truth of our interconnectivity, yet find ourselves still embedded in outmoded social systems that don’t reflect that awareness, but contribute to the energy of separation consciousness? How do we navigate the reality of those social systems without strengthening them? How might we hospice them out of existence without rendering our newly awakened and interconnected selves helpless (and broke!) in the meantime?

I wish I could offer an answer, or wave a magic wand and make things fine. Unfortunately, all I can do is offer a pointer based on my own experience. The truly profound shift in my life occurred when I quit my job as a stockbroker in late 2007. I woke up one day and realized – down to the very depths of my being – that I’d rather surrender every material possession I’d accumulated in this world and live like a homeless bag lady (which, while not desirable, was doable) instead of continuing to feed the insatiable beast of separation consciousness through my fears and anxieties about the future. That for me was the pivot point, because surrendering my need to control the future empowered me to live as if I have abundance in every moment. The fact is, I do have abundance in the only moment there is: this sacred Now. Nothing, I finally realized, could truly harm the infinite/eternal essence that is life, because that aspect has no oppositional force. While birth (creation) and death (destruction) are oppositional aspects of the process life uses to dances its way through an infinite number of temporary forms, life itself has no opposite. We are that, and will be always, in whatever forms or shapes life chooses to take.

To come to know myself as life, to surrender my sense of self’s desire for immortality through my acceptance that this limited human form is impermanent and will die along with my sense of this form, which is but a brief reflection of all that life is, was to step into full alignment with nature’s flow. In that moment I ceased worrying about money as a store of value that could determine how much I could get for myself to protect myself from the future, and instead began to focus on how very much I had to give to this precious all of life that is here and NOW. In doing so, I set myself free from the shackles of fear that demanded I continually hoard more money for my physical protection. That, in turn, freed me to begin to consciously direct the flow of whatever money came my way toward those creative endeavors and spiritual ideals that honored life’s interconnectivity, instead of toward things I once believed protected me from life! Once I realized I was life, and did not need to be protected from what I am, my fears subsided.

This is not to say my fears have vanished, or that I am always and ever in full alignment with the wondrous flow that is life. The momentum of human history is powerful, and the deeply conditioned belief in separation takes time to unwind. What it does mean is that whenever my fears arise, as they inevitably do, I take a moment to look at the thoughts that are triggering those fears. Always I find they are “me” thoughts, questions my sense of self is asking about what will happen to it, should such-and-such occur. To gently observe those fear-based thoughts and recognize them for what they are, and then to release them without judgment, shame or guilt, is an ongoing part of my daily spiritual practice.

Will I run out of money before enough people wake up to the truth for us to change the nature of this sacred life experience? I don’t know. Will I lose my house in this current mortgage debacle, as seems to be a possibility now? I don’t know. Will I find myself, in my old age, penniless and homeless and unable to acquire the things I need to survive? I just don’t know.

What I do know is I’m no longer content to live in a world where I’m not doing everything in my power, using every means available through this temporary expression that I am, to assist in humanity’s quickening to the realization of our magnificent and harmonious interconnectivity as life. It’s why I give away money (or spend it) almost as quickly as it enters my physical realm, and why I look for places to help and serve and give. For me, life is no longer about personal affirmations, or personal abundance, or even personal enlightenment. It’s about love – that boundless energy that always feels as good to give away as it does to receive. These days, and by life’s grace, I’m choosing to express from a state of love instead of a place of fear, and I do my best to affirm that choice each moment. Over time, I’m coming to appreciate the remarkable difference between dying rich…and dying, having richly lived.

I hope you are too.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gnosticism (knowing God) versus Holy Books (learning about God)

When I hear people hold up their holy books as the definitive word of God and declare that all life's answers can be found in their chosen book, what comes to mind immediately is that here is a person who is unconsciously disconnected from the power of life that resides within him or herself. I feel compassion for that, because to surrender your power to decide for yourself how to be as you go through life is to feel a lack of trust and faith in yourself as an agent and creation of God - whatever you conceive God to be. It is to place a physical distance - the dimensions of your chosen book - between yourself and your creator. It is to render yourself a perpetual child of humanity's historical teachings, rather than view yourself as an evolving part of the larger creative life process.

As children, we do what our parents tell us to do without question, without thinking, and are taught that this is good. At some point in our maturation, however, we discover we must step into the fullness of our own capacity and discover for ourselves how to be, what we believe, and what feels right for us to do. We know our parents aren't always going to be standing right behind us, informing us how to act every step of the way. Becoming an adult means we must develop our own core competencies, even though that means we'll make a few mistakes along the way. We accept that challenge, because we know that eventually we must learn to trust in our own abilities to analyze and apply what we know, and what we feel to be true, to every new situation that arises. Only then can we feel any sense of confidence that we are prepared to raise our own children, to build a solid, stable foundation from which they can grow.

So it is in our relationship with God. Evolution, which is woven into the fabric of life itself, encourages us to continue to grow and mature. God wants this for us, wants us to learn how to use the gifts we've been given in ways that improve the quality of life for all of God's creatures on Earth. And although rule books written by the wisest men of their era were helpful guideposts for humanity when we were like children in our mental and emotional evolution, the complexity and constant challenges we experience today - as we move out of species adolescence and take our first tentative steps into species adulthood - have dramatically altered the way we relate to life, compared with how we did things thousands of years ago. Metaphorically speaking, holy books are like the training wheels we attach to children's bicycles. Eventually we are meant to cast them off, to learn how to ride the bike for ourselves without our speed and capacity being impeded by the limitations of the training wheels. That doesn't mean we must surrender or negate the benefits of having used the training wheels; far from it. It simply means we've advanced beyond what they are now able to teach us. To leave them behind - with gratitude for all their support - is the answer.

What we understand about the world in which we live - our perspective on how we fit into the larger scheme of life - continues to advance over time. Our understanding of science has helped us grasp that death is a physical illusion, that nothing in this world is ever lost or destroyed, it only changes form. Science has also helped us realize that what we perceive as "solid" isn't solid at all, it is mostly inner spaciousness, and that it is only our sensory perspective (designed to enable our "solid" bodies to navigate this reality without banging into other "things") that gives our world the appearance of solidity. We've come to realize we are not the center of the universe, but are infinitesimal specks of life on a rather unassuming planet, in the orbit of a very ordinary star in the midst of a massive galaxy that is but one of many trillions of galaxies within reach of our strongest telescopes - and that is only the fraction of the world we are able to view! We've come to understand that nature isn't "personal," and doesn't attack us out of spite or anger, but has its own long established processes and geological activities that we are sometimes, unfortunately, caught up in. We've come to realize that what we do in this world has consequences - always. For instance, there is no place to throw garbage "away," no action we can take that does not reverberate energetically, no damage we can do to this world from which we can walk away unscathed - not on a spherical planet where everything is utterly interconnected in space and time.

There is so much we have yet to learn, so very much we don't yet know, yet we endlessly strive to attain higher wisdom as we continue to evolve. In that larger context, whatever relationship we personally choose to forge with the creative process that is still acting within us, upon us and all around us holds the power to help guide us in ways that are fully relevant to life as we experience it today, as opposed to the limited guidance we're still able to glean from words that were written down long ago to explain life as it used to be to those (and by those) who did not hold our level of understanding.

To turn our attention within, and slowly learn to trust the essence of eternal life (God) that emerges when we quiet ourselves and listen to the wisdom that arises from the wellspring of the infinite inside us isn't easy, any more than that first tentative spin we took on a two-wheeler was easy. It is, however, a highly rewarding process. The best part about establishing and building a personal connection with God (gnosticism) is that we develop our own core competency in relationship to the world. The connection we open is there inside us everywhere we go, and can be instantly accessed in any situation. We don't need to call a "time out" to consult an ancient holy book, or to invest energy figuring out which group of conflicting instructions in a particular book ought to apply to a given situation. When we still ourselves, quiet our minds and open our hearts to truth, it always appears. If we really want to experience miracles in life, this is the place to begin. The relationship we're able to forge with the infinite/eternal within us when we discover we ARE that, manifesting here and now as this, a temporary form, is miraculous.

Why is it important for as many of us as are willing to do so to go within and connect with our truths? Because in life, no two situations are ever exactly the same. Every moment offers a confluence of different people, different times, different energies, different relationships, different histories, different outcomes. As tempting as it may be to cling to a "book of rules" that will inform us how to behave in every situation, it doesn't take most of us long to realize life isn't quite that neat. There IS no rulebook that will give us the definitive truth on how to BE in every situation, or how to think or feel about what is happening right here, right now. There are guideposts, yes. Approximations we can turn to. Insights that have been gleaned by others who have gone inside themselves and made their own deep connection with God. Interpretations of language by experts we can occasionally consult. But there are no fixed rules for life. There is only life, challenging us at every turn to step up and live it, fully right here, in this now. When those who have stepped into the truth as it is now come into relationship with those who are using an ancient book to inform them about the truth, conflict inevitably arises. That's because the past cannot inform the future from a place of genuine wisdom, for it does not possess the experience that is present in this moment. Past can only inform the future from its own historic perspective, which ends as of the writing down of the past. Thus, calling upon the past to inform us is like expecting the child we used to be to tell us how to behave as an adult. We can glean lessons from our childhood, yes. We can recall specific moments and act upon specific insights that are reflective of those past experiences. But we can only do so from the perspective of the adult we are today. Certainly we don't believe that the untrained, highly limited mind of the child we used to be should fully inform our behavior, without us adding our adult wisdom to the decisions we choose to make. That would be a far too limiting way for us to function.

Expecting our chosen rule book to provide all life's answers is equally limiting. Even "Thou shall not kill" - which seems like a pretty straightforward law - has asterisks attached! Thou CAN apparently kill if the other person is trying to kill you, or is harming another, or in the context of war, or (at least as some believe) out of vengeance or to mete out justice. And what exactly does "kill" mean? Does it refer to the tissue that is an as-yet unborn child? Does it limit itself to that which is already in existence as a separate human being? Does it apply to gently assisting another in their passing over to death if they are suffering beyond redemption? These are not questions for which any book offers real answers.

These days, I prefer to personally step into each new situation that arises with "don't know" mind, and then invite Truth to enter and inform me how to be in THAT given moment. I concern myself much less with how others are choosing to be, and instead focus on doing what I know to be good and right and true in the given moment - which becomes a full-time job once we commit ourselves to it. Nowadays I'm usually far too busy making sure I'm living in full integrity with my own inner truth to concern myself with how others are choosing to live. And as well read as I happen to be, because I genuinely love both reading and writing, no book I've come across yet contains the insight, the flexibility, the wisdom, to do that hard work for me, because words are dead. They cannot adjust to life, bend for it, flow with it, change as it does. They are fixed representations of what was alive at that time. We cannot breathe life into words, no matter how hard we try. Words are only thoughts that lived in a mind that lived in the past, reflecting the reality of the individuals who thought them. Even these words you're reading right now are already dead on the page. Our world has evolved beyond where it was when they first arose in my mind in the present moment. To carry the written word into the future and try to breathe life into it now, to expect those words to be utterly relevant to your own reality in this brand new moment, instead of CREATING YOUR OWN THOUGHTS is to waste your God-given gift to connect with life as life, to feel and think and experience life for yourself.

Knowledge is what we glean when we turn to the words of others to instruct us about how life is. Wisdom is what we gain when we enter into the experience of life for ourselves. Knowledge is two-dimensional, thus doesn't truly exist. Wisdom arises in the three-dimensional realm, which is where humanity lives. This doesn't mean we should throw away the compendium of collected human knowledge; far from it. Value lies within it, particularly as pointers from the past and important lessons around mistakes already made and overcome by the men and women who came before us. The key is to appreciate knowledge for what it is, a history of the journey of human ignorance to a place of higher understanding, and not the whole Truth of life, which is infinite and eternally unfolding.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Paradox of the Modern Business Model

So often today we hear the crowd-pleasing mantra, “let’s starve the government,” being promoted by politicians and conservative economists, as if that would be a grand idea for us to implement. To force the government to cut spending to the bone, to put it on a financial austerity program that mimics what we would do in our own homes if we lost our jobs or other means of financial support, would at last put governmental power firmly in check, or so goes the theory. The question nobody seems to ask, however, is: in check to whom or what? Whose power will then prove greater than that of our starved, diminished government if we succeed in this proposed austerity mission?

Certainly not the power of our state and local governments, who themselves have been too long starved for income, and who depend more and more upon the federal government for assistance in funding crucial aspects of their annual budgets. Who then truly benefits from a weakened and undermined federal government system? I would suggest that the beneficiaries, those who are promoting the idea of starving our government and who are selling that proposition to the public like so much snake oil, are the wealthy plutocrats, bankers and top tier mangers of businesses in this nation (along with the political puppets they fund and control.) Their mission is clear: to subvert the federal government’s agenda in favor of their own narrow agenda and worldview. But why? What does business have to gain by undermining the governmental structure that for centuries has coddled and protected it? Why has such enmity arisen now, such that the leaders of commerce would willingly and consciously attempt to defang the very beast they once created, the one that has jealously guarded and protected their interests since commerce first arose in human society? After all, the earliest forms of social governance came into being to protect personal property rights and to safeguard the possessions that wealthy people had begun to accumulate, shortly after the notions of individual ownership and personal success had been embraced by human society. In fact, government seems to have difficulty knowing what to do with itself without business interests – and the fruits thereof – to protect. Business has never truly existed without a strong governing arm to stabilize the larger society and ensure that businesses remain free to produce, profit and benefit from the fruits of their labor without public interference or without the greater society’s need stripping them of the results of their business efforts.

As is true when we seek to understand the driver behind any human behavior, we must examine business’s motives if we wish to understand why it’s now opposed to strong governance. Let us never forget that any business’s primary motive is to earn a monetary profit. All other motives we might wish to attribute to a business must align behind that singular prime directive. No profit; no more business. It’s that simple. It seems likely then, that the reason our business community today seems so eager to starve government funding must spring from the fact that, over recent centuries, whole functions of government have sprung up and been publicly funded that compete with business in the marketplace of ideas, and now threaten the supremacy of the monetary for-profit paradigm that is the corporate worldview.

Modern governments over time have broken a centuries’ old pact they once had with businesses (and the oligarchs who run them.) With the establishment of democracies and constitutionally based governing systems, the longstanding, primary role of government as the protector of its society (which in prior centuries meant the plutocrats and the monetary for-profit paradigm) shifted radically. Governments instead became the direct and primary protector of the citizenry, rather than simply the protector of the social operating system and the individuals who controlled the system and exploited the citizenry to keep it running.

Think about that. Over the past hundred years we’ve funded governmental scientific research that has discovered cures and vaccines (not just symptom alleviators) for many of the diseases that ail humanity and that disproportionately harm the poor. We’ve funded studies that tell us if the things we’re doing are harmful to human life. We’ve funded testing facilities and safety agencies to monitor business practices and protect the public’s health. We’ve funded consumer protection agencies to defend us against the most predatory activities of private enterprise. We’ve funded environmental protection agencies whose goal it is to balance the public’s long-term desire for clean water, air and unspoiled lands with business’s desire to exploit and pollute those resources for short-term financial gain. We’ve funded free public education, which has created a more informed public and a smarter labor force - one that now has the intellectual capacity to challenge business’s motives and practices, and that sometimes tries to steer our business model in new and disruptive directions. We’ve funded public broadcasting, which attempts to provide free and factual information to all citizens - which challenges the private sector’s ability to control the national agenda by controlling the information that flows to the public. We’ve also funded (via military spending and space exploration) the invention and development of advanced technologies that have been translated into inventions and communications systems. Those in turn have benefited humanity outside the control of the corporate plutocrats.

Nothing is more likely to enrage the plutocracy than having its for-profit model ignored or disturbed by upstarts who are working outside the model. The first approach the plutocrats take if an upstart creates a disruptive new technology is to try and destroy their model or undermine their credibility. If that doesn’t work the plutocrats eventually embrace the upstart, seducing the Steve Jobs and Arianna Huffingtons into becoming part of the business model by buying them out or by offering them an exclusive membership in the club of the corporate brotherhood. That guarantees the goals of the upstarts will shift into better alignment with those of the for-profit business model.

The plutocrats who run the international business machinery are ever eager to control the release into our society of any new ideas that may affect their ability to earn a profit. Only by rigidly controlling the flow and timing of new ideas can they ensure their profitability remains on firm footing based on their private agenda. That's why businesses lobby so hard to regulate or limit the expansion of inventions like the Internet – which, not surprisingly, flowed out of the government pool of ideas and took root before business could control the spread of it. Since the advent of the internet, which has empowered individuals to eliminate middle men, do their own research and make better and more informed decisions, businesses have had to invest inordinate sums of money to try and regain the power they lost to the individual via the net. Business wants to restrain and control all such potentially heretical ideas that may flow out of government, and that might benefit the citizenry in ways that could damage short-term financial interests.

Government, on the other hand, has no such financial constraints on what it does or creates, other than those its citizenry imposes. When we study the Declaration of Independence and at the Constitution of the United States as they are and not as we’ve been told they are, what we find is that, as initially conceived, our government's motives are to protect and defend the citizenry, to regulate commerce, to monitor and protect our natural resources and to protect and preserve the public commons for the sake of future generations. The government will (if not tampered with or bribed into silence by controlling business interests) release into the world whatever new ideas it brings forth, along with those studies and inventions it develops, based upon how informative and beneficial those things seem to be to its citizenry, and how protective they will be of the public commons. Furthermore, it will prosecute businesses that willingly violate public health and safety laws. Government also aggressively challenges companies when their practices grow too predatory and harmful to the citizenry they are supposed to be serving, not exploiting for their own financial benefit. Often that more principled governmental approach – based on its charter to defend the rights and wellbeing of its citizens ahead of the financial needs of its corporations and plutocrats - puts pressure on corporations to change the way they do business, or to change the composition or nature of the goods they produce. Corporations hate that, because those changes cost them money and reduce their profitability.

The corporate plutocracy wants its financial for-profit model to reign supreme, and its agenda to be viewed as more crucial to the health and wellbeing of the citizenry than the governmental agenda. It therefore cloaks the government in a constant cloud of suspicion in an attempt to undermine it. For decades now, business has been conducting a covert political campaign to sway public opinion against the benefits of strong government by pointing angrily to what it terms the government’s weaknesses and moral flaws. By making a strong federal government seem dangerous and inept, international corporations have set themselves up as the “good guys” and their federal regulators as the “bad guys” in a war for public opinion and support.

As in any good war, the best defense is quite often a powerful offense. By labeling the government as dangerous and evil, and by screaming as loudly as possible about the government’s ineptitude and lack of moral fiber while using privately funded airwaves to wage their relentless attack, business has conveniently deflected the public’s attention away from its own ineptitude and moral failings. By funding the campaigns of business-friendly politicians, and by supporting their attempts to infiltrate the offices of government and attack it from within, business has enabled its own agents and lobbyists to create new laws that both shield it from prosecution and grant it greater control over public elections. The Supreme Court’s recent “Citizens United” decision (which was reached by a majority of justices who, in turn, have been appointed by politicians whose campaigns were funded mainly by business interests) tortured our constitution by interpreting it to mean that “free speech” is the same thing as spending money to fund political campaigns. That decision exponentially increased the plutocracy’s power to back more and more puppets to promote its agenda and undermine the stated purpose of our government.

What’s the net result of this ongoing war between a government that directly serves its citizenry, and a plutocracy that serves its own financial interests and controls the behavior of the citizenry - along with the use of national resources? For decades now, we’ve been bombarded with persuasive rhetoric and seemingly logical arguments that have been drawn against our genuine personal interests, and many people have been won over by the corporate worldview.

So what, exactly, is this worldview into which we’re being seduced? It’s the belief that money, and the short-term acquisition of enough of it, is more important in the short run than long-term human health, happiness and the wellbeing of our own living planet, because ultimately the acquisition of enough money will allow us to buy for ourselves those things we truly desire. Under that worldview everything we do, every decision we make, must be viewed through the financial, for-profit lens. If we can’t make money at something – or at the very least have it be revenue neutral - we simply won’t do it, no matter how crucial it may be for humanity’s long-term survival. The singular exception business seems willing to promote, the one aspect of government it seems willing to fund to a nearly unlimited extent, is the capacity to wage war against other nations to protect our business interests. And why not? War is an amazingly profitable enterprise for the business paradigm. In what other industry do we make breathtakingly expensive products – products funded and resourced by the public and not by private enterprise itself – that we blow up or destroy almost immediately, requiring us to then build them all over again and generate continuous corporate profits? Certainly the government can be allowed to run a monstrous deficit for the sake of feeding that highly profitable financial enterprise, so long as the public can be convinced a given war is righteous enough for it to pick up the tab in defense of those business interests.

The sobering truth is, for too long we’ve been sold a bill of goods that says we can use money to buy happiness, health and a sense of wellbeing. We’ve convinced ourselves it must be true, because the press constantly holds a few wealthy role models up to as all as evidence that we too, if we continue to work hard, not complain and do exactly what the plutocracy says, will eventually be in position to “have it all.” What we’re never told is that, under the existing scenario, it’s impossible for more than a few people to genuinely have it all. A power/dominator structure that supports and is controlled by a plutocracy – by its very nature – requires many more worker bees than it does overseers. The systematic dismantling of the middle class we’ve been observing for the past forty years has been the plutocracy’s attempt to prevent too many worker bees from becoming mid-level overseers wielding too much power, because a too-strong middle management power base threatens the pyramidical nature of the power/dominator structure that underpins the for-profit business model. That’s particularly true because most mid-level workers tend to rise from the families of lower level worker bees, thus feel some affinity for the struggle and suffering of the lower classes, whereas plutocrats tend to spring from the middle class or are born of other plutocrats, which insulates them from feeling empathy for the struggle of the lower classes.

When we look at what’s happening in our society today - without shying away from what the evidence reveals - we can see what it is about the government’s activities that have so offended the business establishment. We begin to grasp why business today wishes to dominate government, to change the very nature of its function. Because the motives of government are life-oriented and long-term, while the motives of business are profit-oriented and short-term, these two competing viewpoints have been on a collision course for the past two hundred-plus years. In earlier centuries they operated in dynamic balance because neither system had the best interests of the citizenry at heart. But of late the balance has tipped precariously in favor of the power/dominator business model, at the expense of the rights and needs of the citizenry. It’s money that makes all the difference in a society where money equals power. And since business interests control most of the money in this nation, including how and where it is printed and to whom it flows, whereas the government remains deeply indebted and has not been permitted to accumulate excess cash, it is business that is funding – and winning – the war of public opinion.

If out business model wins this war and becomes the sole driver for human advancement, it means people will remain ever harnessed to the need to pay for what they use on a daily basis and to sell their labor from the time they're old enough to work until the day they can no longer physically do their work, so they can continually earn enough cash to pay businesses for the goods and services they need to survive. That model, unchecked, subverts a large part of what we are trying to accomplish as a species, which is to free ourselves from the need to physically work and to mentally struggle without any end in sight, and to eliminate our the endless need to pay those who control the world’s resources for access to what we need to be our best selves.

The irony is, humans continually seek freedom but have chosen (unwittingly, perhaps) to bind ourselves to a model that perpetually denies us our freedom. Why? Are we so afraid of what we'll do with freedom if we actually achieve it? Are we more enamored of the seeking of freedom than we are of the notion of actually being free from these self-imposed constraints? Are we more interested in controlling the behaviors of everyone else than in claiming genuine freedom for ourselves? The fact is, we can't have life both ways in this situation - we can't be personally free so long as we continue to support a system that manipulates and coerces us all into behaving in highly controlled, self-limiting ways.

The monetary for-profit business model, which intuitively many of us are coming to realize cannot serve humanity’s ends in the long run, does not seem to appreciate the fact that - first and foremost, human beings are LIFE forms with feelings and talents and skills and abilities, and imagination and immense creative capacities - not just physical assets or liabilities on some conceptual global corporate balance sheet. If anything, the business model manipulates that fact to its advantage by instilling fear in us that we won’t be able to survive unless we tow the corporate line, perform our duties in the way business prescribes, and accept our roles as good worker bees within the power/dominator structure. The business model justifies a reward and punishment, fear-based and externally driven "means" – which is to say it enslaves and coerces people, using their need to earn wages and to buy the goods and services they need to survive – because it claims to have humanity’s end goal in mind. Given that our end goals are personal happiness, planetary abundance and enough freedom and autonomy to live our own lives to our fullest capacities, how is it even possible for us to achieve them under the current business model, when businesses motives – and its very structure – is antithetical to long-term abundance, planetary wellbeing and personal autonomy?

I pose these questions not to attack business or to defend government. Nor do I believe this represents a purposeful war being waged, so much as it represents a reflexive reactivity that has been programmed into humanity for many thousands of years. While some people may be deliberately making and supporting choices that benefit themselves at the expense of the larger society, I do believe most are, as yet, unaware of the impacts of our choices – nor do we even clearly see our options – due to all the static being generated from the noise produced by the two opposing sides. I therefore pose these questions to invite us all to consider what our real goals are, and to examine the nature of the structures under which we’ve all been operating for centuries. Perhaps it’s time for us to sit down and look at our goals, and compare them to structures we’ve created over time, to determine whether or not these structures are taking us in the direction we wish to go. For what it’s worth, my personal opinion is not nearly so important as the decision that will be made by the human collective. I will surely die within the next fifty years, hopefully before we’ve so desecrated our planet that it’s unable to carry and nurture human life any more. Many of you who are reading this may also be dead very soon. What is important then, are the conscious choices we collectively make as a species today. Will we make those choices with the long view in mind, or merely to provide ourselves with some sense of short-term stability? How What we choose to be and what we choose to do right NOW will influence the state of the world we leave to future generations. How hard we work today to make the necessary changes – along with the amount of short-term pain we’re willing to endure – will determine how hard future generations will need to work, to either carry on our best practices or undo any structures we’ve created that are destructive to life and that imprison the human spirit.

Let me close with a couple of quotes from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican president who was elected shortly before this outright war between business and government heated up:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. “

And this one:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies – in the final sense – a THEFT from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

I ponder these quotes quite often as I observe the present direction of human society. They help me inform my choices when it comes to the worldview I am personally choosing to hold.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Of Clocks and Cash

Something that just recently occurred to me is the idea that money is to commerce as clocks are to time. Both were designed to serve as a unit of measure that all people everywhere could generally agree upon, they just measure two different concepts. Clocks measure the concept we call time; money measures the concept we call value. Clocks and money were originally important not because they possessed value in and of themselves (intrinsic worth) but because they empowered us to communicate with each other around abstract concepts using a common language, so we could reach a shared understanding (extrinsic worth).

Time is not a thing; it's an understanding about rate of change that is relative to humans, our sensory capacities and the planet on which we happen to reside. As things stand, we earthlings live on a planet that rotates on its own axis at a fairly steady and observable rate of change. Because we're a remarkably clever species, we've been able to devise a way to monitor that rate of change (based on our planet's relationship with the sun) and have divided the pace into bite-sized, standardized pieces we all call hours. We've also designed time pieces called clocks to enable us to swiftly compare and agree upon the time without each of us having to perform the tedious mathematical calculations that would be necessary if clocks did not exist. That makes life easier for everyone concerned.

Nowadays, if I say I'd like to meet you at four o'clock in the afternoon, we can both check an entirely different clock and still be relatively confident our meeting will go off as planned. If, however, I can't seem to find a clock as our meeting time grows near, I may have to scramble to discover the correct time or guess what time it is before I show up. If I guess wrong or lose track of the time altogether, our meeting may not happen and you'll go away disappointed. That doesn't mean I ran out of time, don't have any time left or didn't have enough time to begin with; it simply means I was careless about tracking our agreed upon unit of measure so I could be where I needed to be when I needed to be there.

Modern society has grasped the importance of everyone knowing exactly what time it is, so we've made it easy for people to access that information. Imagine though, if as part of our arrangement for the distribution of our personal time you demanded I hand over a clock to you to reward you for agreeing to meet me as I'd asked. What if you had to reward me with a working clock every time you asked me to meet you? Pretty soon people would be stressing mightily about whether or not a particular meeting was important enough to be worth the surrender of a valuable clock, and we'd all be running around bemoaning the fact that we didn't have enough "time" to go around! People would start to worry they wouldn't have enough "time" in the future to ensure they could set up all the important meetings they might need to have someday, so they'd start hiding spare clocks under their beds or storing them in vaults to keep them safe.

As more people hoarded more and more clocks, even as more and more people were born on this planet who would need to set meetings to accomplish their objectives, we'd start to realize that we couldn't possibly create and distribute enough clocks to make everyone happy. In fact, most of our efforts and attention would shift from taking care of ourselves and our planet to creating, distributing and hoarding more and more clocks. Eventually we'd have to begin to make "hard choices" about who was really worth meeting and who wasn't so important as to deserve a valuable clock. Businesses and communities would surely suffer, because it would be difficult for us to come together around new ideas when we couldn't be sure the idea would amount to anything important. Why run the risk of surrendering a perfectly good clock on something that might not prove to be worth our time? Only those things that contributed to the production of clocks would get done, and all the rest of our needs would begin to suffer. Personal communications would lapse and relationships would lose their closeness and trust. In fact, the world would likely become a very difficult place for us to effectively navigate. Life would seem fraught with problems and obstacles, and we'd all become very suspicious and stingy around anything relating to someone trying to convince us we needed their time in exchange for a clock.

Luckily, we don't require each other to give away clocks in exchange for the gift of our time. I know that if I freely agree to meet with you because you have something important you need me to do - or simply because you want to relax and pal around for a while - that when the time comes and I need you (or somebody else) to meet with me because it's important to me, I can count on you (or somebody else) to be there - in time - for me. This understanding doesn't only relate to close family members or friends. Perfect strangers often agree to give us some of their time, because that's the way we've all agreed to socially manage time. I don't bother to keep a time card around how many hours I gave you versus how many you gave me, nor do we ever "settle up" with each other, because tomorrow we'll both have more time to pass around. So far as we're concerned it really doesn't matter who gave how much time to whom or who asked for the time and who agreed to give it, so long as all of us get all the time we truly need from one another. In fact, what I frequently find is that if I give my time to you I always benefit from that exchange, because I get to feel needed, appreciated and loved.

So much for how we measure and distribute the concept we call time. When we consider the way we measure and distribute the concept of value however, we notice an entirely different picture begins to form. Like time, value is not a thing; it's a conceptual understanding. Money, just like clocks, was originally conceived as a method to standardize how we measure the value of different objects or types of labor we wished to exchange. Its purpose was to enable us to communicate effectively when we traded our labor and the fruits thereof with each other. Money thus has become the universal language of value, the same way our clocks establish the language of time. Long before we invented cars and planes, before we discovered electricity and oil, before we realized we could harness the power of the sun - back indeed, to when human labor was the primary form of energy being used to produce goods and services - we imagined that measuring the amount of value moving around our system would enable us to make certain everyone was contributing to the economy by putting in as much as they were consuming.

A host of problems have arisen out of our attempts to measure value as compared with time, and even more arise when we insist on inputting into the economic system a tangible form of measure (money) whenever anyone extracts anything of value from that system (goods or services.) The main difficulty with applying this exchange concept to value is that it presumes the net value of everything we're collectively creating and consuming equates to a zero sum game. Money goes into the system from us when we consume value; money comes out of the system to us when we create value. Put another way, people collectively inject their labor, creativity and knowledge into the economic system; people then extract all the goods and services being provided.

Theoretically at least, if those items and values were well matched, our economy would work just fine. Unfortunately though, the zero-sum equation presumes that collectively we have a finite amount of available resources, a finite amount of human creativity and a matching pool of available human labor. It further assumes we can calculate how much money all of it is collectively worth and place precisely that amount - and not one penny more - into circulation to move things around and satisfy everyone's needs. But because it's untrue (and we know it's untrue!) we wind up with either inflation or deflation. Since what we create, produce, have learned and can do has expanded exponentially over time, we're always needing to inject more and more cash into the economic system to "monetize" the growing amount of energy, productivity and creative capacity that is coming online every year. When we do that, businesses automatically raise their prices to capture more profits for themselves. Because the cost to us of extracting things of value from the system typically rises much faster than do payments for value injected (in a post-industrial world we collectively have more labor hours to sell than businesses need, so the competition for jobs drives wages lower) people cease taking goods and services out of the system, which means money stops flowing into the system and production grinds to a halt. That leads to recession, which in turn forces businesses to lower their prices to induce people to extract goods and services from the production side again, until the system resets itself once more.

If we could "fix" prices and at least stabilize the equation that way, perhaps we could get a handle on the variable labor problem. Unfortunately, that notion presumes we've come up with a universally objective and agreed-upon way to measure and fix the value of goods and services, but we haven't. That's because the value of things isn't at all objective, it's highly subjective. Unlike time, where anyone can check another clock if they don't believe theirs is telling them the truth, we have no objective means of confirming prices or the cost of specialized services. If I tell you the new house I'm selling will cost you three hundred thousand dollars, it doesn't really matter how much genuine value I've invested in its construction. All that matters is whether or not I can convince you to buy the house, based on how badly you need it. Likewise, if I tell you the surgery you need will cost you twenty-five thousand dollars, you're really in no position to challenge the price. You can complain, but you can't demand I do it more cheaply because you don't really know how much value it offers.

The trouble with attributing value to goods and services is that - unlike time, which we can agree upon - value is always a highly subjective experience. Despite that, the system of measure we're using presumes we can objectively compare the value of say, an orange versus a hammer. The thing is, if I'm starving, that orange may well be priceless to me while the hammer is relatively useless. Alternatively, if I need to build a shed, the hammer becomes invaluable while the orange is but a distraction. Ditto our attempts to compare a surgeon with a plumber, and to declare one generally "worth" more than the other. Taken even further - in a society that assigns positive value to contributions and negative value to extractions from the system - children, the infirm and the elderly become financial liabilities, while hearty adults are viewed as financial assets. Unfortunately for humanity, these mechanical measures of value fail to take into account the organic ebbs and flows of life we all experience at one time or another. They also fail to account for the fact that although in a given moment a child may be extracting food, water, shelter and education from the system, that child is, at the same time, adding all that to improve herself, thus improving her capacity to contribute more in the future. The education being "consumed" and thus being charged as a negative value is not lost; it's creating value-added for the whole! Nor is the food being consumed (and thus charged for) lost forever; those calories are supporting the physical growth and nutritional strength of a living human being who will, in turn, provide major value-added to the whole, if given the chance.

In truth, the wiser we become as a species, the better we're getting at figuring out how to accomplish more using fewer manpower hours, as well as how to live and work more sustainably so we don't use up all of our natural resources. We also know that our human population has exploded exponentially, that people are living longer, are generally healthier than ever, and that new babies are being born on Earth every day, so it looks like there's going to be more manpower, creativity, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, passion, talent and skill to go around tomorrow than was available to us collectively yesterday. We've also invented machines and developed technologies to increase our productivity even more. All this means less and less human energy needs to go into our system to produce all the goods and services that are coming out of it - even though more humans and hours are now available to inject into the system. These factors completely upend the balance of the zero-sum equation. Ironically, they create excessive abundance that most of us can't afford, because what we're aiming (and failing) to do is force the system into flat mechanical balance: a specific amount of human labor goes into the economy and receives in exchange a set amount of monetary wages; then products and services come out in sufficient quantity to absorb all those wages back into the economic system, so they can go back out as wages all over again. None of this, of course, concerns itself with how fairly those wages are being distributed across a living population with very real needs, nor does it take into account the amount of hoarding that occurs, which siphons money out of the equation all the time.

Unlike time, for which we have an agreed upon system of measure yet are willing to exchange it freely with each other, we refuse to freely exchange the things we create. Instead of accounting for the overall energy flow taking place in our economy so we can observe and track the net value we're collectively creating, we're demanding that each individual on the receiving end of every value transaction provide the giver with a physical representation of the value received to prove to the world the transaction has occurred. We've thus turned money, a conceptual unit of measure, into something to be valued all by itself, and out of that one simple choice we've created for ourselves all kinds of planetary hurt and human suffering.

The same problems that would besiege us if we were required to give away clocks in exchange for someone else's time now besiege us around the exchange of money for value. Because we never seem to have enough money in circulation to match all the human energy, ingenuity, creative capacity and wisdom out there - ready, willing and hungry to be exchanged - we now find ourselves wringing our hands over how many things we ought to be doing but simply "can't afford." We're being called upon by our politicians and corporations today to make "hard" choices, to sacrifice benefits and wages that would offer us better lives, to forgo better educational processes and schools for our children, to forget about building (and repairing) quality infrastructure for the benefit of our society, to forgo nicer parks, well maintained roads, social services, elder care, medical and nutritional support, quality housing for all people, healthy food, clean water and air, renewable energy systems and so forth. We've all been born into and have bought into this longstanding culture of lack, even though it only exists because we don't have enough money in circulation to ensure all the things that truly need doing get done.

It's not that we don't have enough value to achieve whatever we want, it's that the units we use to measure that value have been systematically hoarded by a few individuals. That gives those who hold the most hoarded units unbelievable personal power - they can wave those monetary units around and everyone else will jump through hoops to serve their every need, so as to accumulate more units for themselves. The wealthy can also direct the flow and consumption of limited resources in ways that suit their agendas, which usually revolve around earning them even more money. They can determine what goods will be produced, in what quantity they will be produced, and how much (or little) the rest of us will earn while doing that work at the behest of the wealthy. They can tell us what we can and can't own or have based on the number of monetary units we've managed to store for ourselves, and they can deny us life's necessities if we fail to accumulate enough of those units to satisfy them. The more time that passes under this system, the more everything that doesn't have to do with the production of ever more money slows down or stops. So many of us are myopically focused on making more money so we can buy the things we're producing that we don't have enough time to focus on producing the things we need to thrive as a species! Our modern lives, it seems, are so highly stressed and revolve around lack and struggle not because we don't have enough value in the world to go around or enough creative energy to exchange with one another, but because all our human labor and creative energy is jammed up in the bottleneck being created by this highly controlled exchange of money for "value."

Throw away clocks and we'll still have plenty of time to go around. We wouldn't suddenly all decide we'd rather sit at home forever, or grow unwilling to go anywhere or meet anyone else. We don't need to know what time it is to still desire companionship, connections, relationships and the chance to meet new and interesting people. Likewise, throw away money and we'll still have plenty of value to go around. We wouldn't suddenly stop taking care of our own basic needs or stop working to meet the pressing needs of other human bengs (or of this planet) simply because we no longer assigned an arbitrary monetary value to the work we were doing. In fact, throw away money and we'd stop doing things that weren't important to us, or that were causing serious harm to life and the planet. Much of that work is presently being done simply so someone can accumulate lots of dollars, not because it's helpful or good for us all. Eliminate the value distortion created by money and at last we'd be able to see that the so-called value much of our work is providing doesn't outweigh the damage it is causing. This make-work (work done for the benefit of the wealthy to generate more profits) would vanish, and real work (the work humanity really wants done and needs to do for its own sake) would take its place.

Just think about that for a moment, and you'll realize that freedom would suddenly break out all over our planet! All the laid off school teachers, along with those who can't get hired because there's no money to pay their wages, would be able to live out their passions and help all children learn. We might see student/teacher ratios as low as five to one, enabling teachers to work with students individually and nurture their personal passions, skills and talents. Firefighters, policemen, construction workers and engineers could all go back to work. We could build adequate housing for everyone in the world, in ways best suited to their local climates and using local materials to make them more sustainable over time. We could design renewable resource technologies, and everyone could have access to the free energy such technologies would provide. We could restructure our manufacturing systems so that waste, planned obsolescence and throwaway products are no longer manufactured, because our focus will have shifted to producing genuine value - not paper profits - for the sake of the world. Last but not least, we could learn once again to trust each other, to give and share and support and nurture each other and our home planet, because the question we presently ask ourselves before today we do anything in exchange for value: "What's in it for me?" would gradually shift to, "How will my effort (or my consumption) add greater value to myself, to humanity, to our community and to our living world?"

The fact is, there is no shortage of genuine value, no shortage of natural resources (when they're distributed fairly, used intelligently and not exploited wastefully) no shortage of human creativity, labor or innate drive to achieve. We already have within us and all around us all the value we need to accomplish everything we need to do for humanity and our planetary system to thrive, if we relinquish the power money holds to prod us into working...or to hold us back from doing the things that need done.