Tag Archives: Excerpt

Consciousness = a medium without a message

21 Sep

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Writing about consciousness is a bit weird. Reading someone’s writing about consciousness is even weirder, so I’ll keep this short. For me, light provides a great metaphor for understanding the nature of consciousness. I’ve always liked the notion that it is the reflection of light off of objects that allows me to perceive them. In counseling and coaching, we often try to get clients to understand that their difficulties with other people, their greatest loves and their greatest frustrations, are….when investigated….simply reflections of themselves in the actions of others. In this sense, our minds perceive objects “as we are” not as they are.

But I recently found another great nuance to this metaphor. This one is provided by Marshall McLuhan, who in the 1960s, produced some challenging theories about the nature of human communication. His most popular aphorism, “the medium is the message,” has been extremely helpful in understanding the difference between subject and object. I am reminded of Bob Kegan’s work on adult development and how the subject of one stage of development becomes the object of the next stage. Anyways, one thing jumped out to me from McLuhan’s book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In this book, he proposes that media itself (newspapers, radio, books, etc.), not the content they carry, significantly influence our experience and understanding. McLuhan suggests that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered through it, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. And here is where it gets interesting, because McLuhan pointed to the light bulb as an example. He shared that a light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. McLuhan states that “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.” He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. 

I think this is a perfect metaphor for consciousness. If you’re a student of meditative theory, then you might recall any number of people or texts that make this same allusion. The one that immediately comes to my mind is Epstein’s Thoughts without a Thinker. McLuhan’s insight into intersubjective communication is profound. The medium and its implicit structure determine what can be communicated. Similarly, consciousness and its implicit structure determine what can be perceived. Awareness, by definition, is without content and because of this we are never fully aware of it. It sits in the background…it IS background…which provides us with the occasion of perception. It is the medium that allows us to perceive objects around us, which we then mistake for ourselves (again, Plato’s Myth of the Cave comes to mind).  Anyways, I thought it was a great way to think about the nature of consciousness. Just as light allows us to perceive objects around us, but we are unable to perceive light directly, it is the same with consciousness (although, with practice, we can actually perceive this background). I think this is why descriptions of non-dual awareness so often include elements of “illumination.” Anyways, it is just a thought.  

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The Invention of the “Employee”

3 Jun

The toaster. The hula-hoop. The employee. They are all inventions. The following excerpt is from Gary Hamel’s book The Future of Management.

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While it’s easy to smile at the misguided beliefs of those who came before us, can we be sure that our management beliefs wont appear equally archaic a decade or two hence? For example, most 21st-century managers seem to regard the notion of an economically dependent and willingly biddable “employee” as an immovable cornerstone of corporate life. Yet the idea of spending your entire life working for someone else would have seemed strange, even repugnant to most Americans living before the Civil War. In the 19th century, America was a “republic of the self-employed,” as Roy Jacques so aptly puts it. Nine in ten white, male citizens worked for themselves. “Manufactures” as the census labeled them, typically employed no more than three or four individuals. Most of the folks who labored in tanning sheds, bakeries, and smithies dreamed of one day setting up on their own, and many would eventually do so. Having escaped Europe’s economic feudalism, America’s 19th-century artisans and laborers would have been dismayed to learn that millions of their progeny would one day become permanent “wage slaves.” 

Fact is, the concept of the employee is a recent invention, not some timeless social convention. Indeed, one doesn’t have to be a Marxist to be awed by the scale and success of early-20th-century efforts to transform strong-willed human beings into docile employees. The demands of the modern industrial workplace required a dramatic resculpting of human habits and values. To sell one’s time rather than what one produced, to pace one’s work to the clock, to eat and sleep at precisely defined intervals, to spend long days endlessly repeating the same, small task-none of these were, or are, natural human instincts. It would be dangerous, therefore, to assume that the concept of “the employee” – or any other tenet in the creed of modern management – is anchored on the bedrock of eternal truth. 

Gary Hamel, The Future of Management, page 130. 

Falling in Love

20 Apr

The following is an excerpt from Byron Katie’s book “I Need Your Love – Is That True?” (pages 61-65).

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Falling in Love

The search for approval from friends, associates, and family members is a full-time job with no vacations. At its center lies the search for ultimate approval, the search that all the songs are about, for the person who will look at us and say, “You’re the one.” We call this “falling in love.” In this chapter we’ll look at falling in love and becoming a couple, and we’ll see who is really “the one.” 
     Falling in love is usually understood completely backward, like so many other important things. There’s no mystery to falling in love. We have fallen out of the awareness of love and are ecstatic when we find our way back, misunderstanding how we did it. Remember the little girl doing flips in the corner of the playground? She has the key. Look at her face, lit up with the excitement of perfection. She’s overjoyed just to be there with her legs and arms to play with. There is absolutely nothing more that she wants or needs, and she’s too absorbed in the moment to realize it. The flip she does is an expression of love itself. When she does the flip again, looking to see if she can win applause, she shifts her focus outward and cuts herself off from love. But love doesn’t go anywhere; she just loses her awareness of it. Later in life, people call experiences like this “falling out of love” and think that they’re about the other person.
     The little girl is innocently misdirected. She begins to think that the way back to her happiness—to a perfect moment—depends on the reaction of the other kids. Even though the awareness of love is always available, years might pass before she has it again, years she devotes to searching for love and approval outside herself. 
     When you’re constantly trying to be likeable, you leave no gaps in your life in which you can just breathe and notice what you already have, no chance to experience the unlimited options that those gaps are filled with. Even after you’ve attracted admirers and supporters, you’re still busy seeking results. You have to make sure that your friends do all the things friends are supposed to do—invite you to parties, send work your way, console you when you feel depressed. And it‘s never enough. You’re constantly on the lookout for any evidence that you’re not approved of or adored. 
     “Falling in love” is a powerful experience. If you look back, you may remember it as a moment when you stopped seeking. You stopped because you thought you’d found what you were looking for. Your mind was no longer filled with the effort, the desperation, of seeking. What you found is what you had in the corner of the playground and never really lost. But now you think it’s coming from another person, someone who is “the one.” 
     Many people fall in love for the first time as teenagers. By that time the simple playground joy has vanished (actually you left it, but that’s not how it seems). Dark thoughts appear—anxiety about how you’re not all right and how no one can ever love you. Then the miracle happens: Suddenly there is someone to love, and you can stop searching. Maybe it’s a boy in your chemistry class or a singer you saw at a rock concert. Maybe it’s a movie star or your best friend’s new girlfriend. With this kind of love you’re just as happy when there’s no hope of return. You don’t mind if a kiss is completely out of the question because you have braces on your teeth, or because you would never betray your friend, or because there is no possibility of meeting the rock star. These may be the very reasons that you let yourself love completely. 
     When you look back on that first crush, it’s possible to see that the girl you adored had nothing to do with it. Years later you can run into her again, stare at her all you want, and not have a clue what you saw there. You would have done anything to marry her, and now you’re grateful that she never noticed you.
     If the love isn’t coming from the other person, then who does that leave for the love to come from? There’s only one person left: you. You gave yourself the experience. The blissful feeling was not caused by how wonderful or sexy your best friend’s girlfriend was. It was you who felt the wonder and the excitement. Someone held up a mirror and showed you your heart. 
     There are those who say that a crush is a delusion, that it wasn’t real because it all came from you. Another way to look at it is that the crush was as real as any experience you’ll ever have: you just made a mistake about where the joy was coming from. The source wasn’t the brown-eyed girl or Leonardo DiCaprio; it was your own long-lost capacity to experience pure joy. When you had the crush, you found your way back to the child doing flips, just for herself. That’s the one you abandoned in order to seek an identity that you thought others would recognize. What we may think of as “first love” really takes us back to love itself, which is what we are to begin with.
     You find other ways to fall in love when you get older. As you leave your teens, the worst of your awkwardness diminishes; your approval-getting skills get better with practice. After many trials, you may find someone who approves of you so much that they tell you, “You’re the one.” You like that. You like to be approved of that much. And maybe you approve of them for other reasons as well (and maybe not, and even that won’t necessarily stop you).
     Since you’ve been approved of, you can ease up for a while: there’s much less straining to please and charm. Without your efforts getting in the way, love just flows. You bask in the happiness of it. Sometimes it seems like there’s enough love to include everyone and everything you meet. Again, you’ll probably think it’s all about him, the one who thinks you’re the one. But the happiness is really you returning to yourself. Love was there all along; only your painful thoughts obscured it.
     How long does that joy last? Grownup love is like the crush—it lasts only until painful thoughts cover it over. “What if she doesn’t really love me?” “He doesn’t listen.” “She shouldn’t have flirted with that guy.” Any one of these thoughts will destroy your happiness. And one way or another, that happiness will have to vanish as long as you believe the thought that love—the joy you stumbled into—depends on the other person.
     Most people believe that having love in their lives and escaping loneliness depends on finding some special person. This is an ancient belief, and it takes courage to question it. But if you do, you’re in for a big surprise: You can feel love either with or without someone in your arms. And no, that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a partner. Why would it? When with and without are equal, you notice that both are good: life allows all flavours, and all of them turn out to be your favourite.
     The old song asks, “Why do fools fall in love?” Actually, only fools don’t fall in love. Only a fool would believe the lonely, stressful thoughts that tell him that anything could separate him from another human being, or from the rest of the human race, or from birds, trees, pavement, and sky.

Desire isn’t a bad thing – it’s just a thing

7 Mar

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An old woman had supported a monk for twenty years, letting him live in a hut on her land. After all this time she figured the monk, now a man in the prime of life, must have attained some degree of enlightenment. So she decided to test him.

Rather than taking his daily meal to him herself, she asked a beautiful young girl to deliver it. She instructed the girl to embrace the monk warmly – and then to report back to her how he responded. When the girl returned, she said that the monk had simply stood stock-still, as if frozen. The old woman then headed for the monk’s hut. What was it like, she asked him, when he felt the girl’s warm body against his? With some bitterness he answered, “Like a withering tree on a rock in winter, utterly without warmth.” Furious, the old woman threw him out and burned down his hut, explaining  “How could I have wasted all these years on such a fraud.”

To some the monk’s response might seem virtuous. After all, he resisted temptation, he even seemed to have pulled desire out by the roots. Still the old woman considered him a fraud. Is his way of experiencing the young girl- “like a withering tree on a rock in winter” – the point of spiritual practice?  Instead of appreciating the girl’s youth and loveliness  instead of noting the arising of a natural sexual response and its passing away without acting on it, the monk shut down. This is not enlightenment.

Excerpt from Tara Branch’s book Radical Acceptance (page 143-144).

Can You Hear the Mountain Stream?

4 Mar

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A Zen Master was walking in silence with on of his disciples along a mountain trail. When they came to an ancient cedar tree, they sat down under it for a simple meal of some rice and vegetables. After the meal, the disciple, a young monk who had not yet found the key to the mystery of Zen, broke the silence by asking the Master, “Master, how do I enter Zen?”

He was, of course, inquiring how to enter the state of consciousness which is Zen.

The master remained silent. Almost five minutes passed while the disciple anxiously waited for an answer. He was about to ask another question when the Master suddenly spoke. “Do you hear the sound of that mountain stream?”

The disciple had not been busy thinking about the meaning of Zen. Now, as he began to listen to the sound, his noisy mind subsided. At first he heard nothing. Then, his thinking gave way to heightened alertness, and suddenly he did hear the hardly perceptible murmur of a small stream in the far distance.

“Yes, I can hear it now,” he said.

The Master raised his finger and, with a look in his eyes that in some way was both fierce and gentle, said, “Enter Zen from there.”

The disciple was stunned. It was his first satori – a flash of enlightenment. He knew what Zen was without knowing what it was that he knew!

They continued on their journey in silence. The disciple was amazed at the aliveness of the world around him. He experienced everything as if for the first time. Gradually, however, he started thinking again. The alert stillness became covered up again by mental noise, and before long he had another question. “Master,” he said, “I have been thinking. What would you have said if I hadn’t been able to hear the mountain stream?” The Master stopped, looked at him, raised his finger and said, “Enter Zen from there.”

Excerpted from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (2005, pg. 236-238).

How Flickr Went from Online Game to Photo-Sharing Giant

5 Feb

The following is an excerpt from the book The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha.

Flickr is one of the most widely used photo hosting and sharing websites, with an estimated five billion-plus images on its servers. But the company wasn’t started by photography pros. In fact, its founders, Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield (who teamed up with Jason Classon), didn’t even set out to start a photo-sharing service at all.

Their original product, rolled out in 2002, was a multi-player online game called Game Neverending. Most gaming platforms at that time allowed one or at most a few people to play the same game together at the same time. But Caterina and Stewart wanted to create a game that hundreds of people could play at the same time. To this end, the plan was to build something they saw less as a game and more as a “social space designed to facilitate and enable play.” To attract and retain players to this social space, they pumped out social features like groups and instant messaging, including one add-on to the instant messenger application that allowed players to share photographs with one another. As with most features of the game, the photo-sharing add-on was developed very quickly – it only took either weeks from idea to implementation.

When photo sharing was first added to Game Neverending in 2004, it was no big deal – photographs were just another thing players could trade with one another, like the objects they would collect during the course of the game. However, it didn’t take long for the photo-sharing capability to eclipse the game itself in popularity. As this became increasingly apparent to the leadership team, they were faced with a decision: Should they try to expand their new photo-sharing platform while sticking to their long-term plan and continuing to develop Game Neverending, or should they put the game (and its twenty thousand avid users) on hold to devote the majority of their precious resources to photo sharing? They decided to deviate from the original plan and focus exclusively on building the photo application and the photo-sharing community that went along with it. They called it Flickr.

Flickr soon became the photo-sharing service of choice for millions of Internet users. Its social features – tagging and sharing – grew naturally out of the social DNA that defined the original online game, even as they differentiated the service in response to market feedback. In 2005 Yahoo! acquired the company, making it a Web 2.0 poster child. But more than just a Silicon Valley success story, the evolution of Flickr is a case study in smart adapting: its founders were in constant motion early on, tried many things to see what would work, and nimbly shifted their plans based on what they learned.

– Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha (The Start-Up of You, Chapter 3, “Plan to Adapt”, pages 52-53)