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Why The Financial “Industry” Can Be A Bad Idea – And How To See Through The Maze

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After my mother died, I inherited a nest egg that was the result of my father’s hard work over 30 years, which put me in the position of being approached by a series of “financial advisors.” They invariably promised to help me “invest” this money wisely. Fortunately my father had been both an economist and treasurer of a large travel agency, so he had provided me with a sound financial philosophy, solid practices and a healthy distrust for both Wall Street and investment “experts.” He had also retired successfully in saner economic times.

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When he stopped working full-time banks were paying above 6% interest on savings. When I inherited his life savings, a return like this would have enabled me to live quite comfortably, especially since I was able to earn money as a tech and business writer. But many of my friends were “day trading” and the stock market was hot so I began to get visions of the high life.  Since I was in the high tech arena I tried to leverage what I thought was my insight into some quick gains, with very mixed results.

So I sought out the help of some “experts,” bearing in my mind many of my father’s principles:  minimize risk, save money, and don’t buy in “installments” (credit).

So – only one of the following men was a “brilliant economist” (the one on the right, my father)
— the other was the Fed Chief that deregulated the markets.

twomenGetting involved in the “financial world,” what I found was an “industry” that had more confusing jargon than even the technology world in which I worked —and an agreed upon set of rules and agreements. One of these was that over the “long term” stocks would outperform bonds, real estate and simple savings (which were seen as sucker accounts) and that this was a “proven fact.”

The problem was, of course, that no one knew exactly what the long term was; if you were 30 years old you could be realistically expectant that you might have a long term perspective until you were maybe 60 –but of course even this wasn’t guaranteed –you could drop dead at anytime.

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After buying a few stocks and losing my ass, I soon discovered that “the long term” was really a euphemism for “hoping the shit would recover.”

Still financial advisors tried to convince me of “known truths” like:

  • The need to set financial goals
  • The need to diversify
  • The wonders of asset allocation

They did not appreciate that my father had impressed upon me the need to see the stock market as a giant craps table –and the longer you risked your money,  the more likely you were to lose.

There was only one goal for me which I expressed thusly:  “My goal is to make the most money in the shortest time with no loss of principal.” But financial experts were not particularly impressed with this concept. They tried to explain that “financial goals” were dependent on “time horizons,” “risk tolerance” and similar terms that I thought were pure bullshit.

expertsFinally I bought into some of this when a friend recommended a seasoned broker at Smith-Barney in Boston, who shifted me over to her assistant who promised to make money for me with “solid companies” and he put together a portfolio of blue chips. One of these was Microsoft, which soon faced a very serious anti-trust judgment in European courts.  I mentioned this to my expert who told me not to worry because I had a financial profile that kept me in my stocks for “the long term.” I tried to argue that Microsoft might lose quite a bit of its value the following week, and I wanted to sell my shares and maybe buy them back cheaper, but he assured me that this went against my profile.

I listened to his malarkey for about an hour, tried to use common sense, and finally hung up with the idea that maybe, just maybe, the nonsense he had spewed was right and I was wrong. Sure enough Microsoft went from $80 a share to $30 over the next month, and it just recovered slightly recently (20 years later).  I lost enough in value that I quit that expert and left Smith-Barney.

In comparison with this brilliant approach, my father was a believer in something called “compound interest.”  This means actually putting away money you earned  and letting it grow according to the following system:

Compound-Interest-Chart

He also believed in another principle:  “Don’t Buy Shit You Can’t Afford.” This meant that I was the last kid I knew to have a color television in the living room, but I also never knew a day when my family was ever in debt.

After college I could not believe how my friends recklessly ran up credit card bills and later got involved in complicated real estate deals that put them in hot water. I never got rich but I always made the rent and lived well. Then when I inherited my father’s hard earned savings, and got burned a few more times in the “financial markets,” I bought a condo and kept working. I didn’t pay much attention when Congress passed “financial deregulation” or the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, until I witnessed the real estate bubble, and near financial collapse of 2008, and the credit default swaps and massive debts and bailouts of “financial institutions.”

While many people suffered terribly, my main clue to what had actually happened was that banks suddenly didn’t need to pay any interest to savers.  Where my father had earned 6% compound interest on his savings, I suddenly could earn nothing in the bank. The reason for this was the “financial stimulus” – or the printing of completely worthless currency. This was the inevitable result of decades of fraudulent activity, and a transition from using “capital” as a way to create real wealth and value to simply a way of multiplying phony electronic “currency” on a computer screen.

And of course through such “deregulation,” the banks had effectively become casinos –now merged and partnered with investment brokers and insurance companies – they traded complex and risky “instruments” like derivatives and were “too big to fail.”  But of course they did fail –and were bailed out again and again with more funny money.

And now, suddenly when I again tried to avail myself of the wisdom of financial experts, I was “advised” that I had to take “reasonable risk” to earn a return and not deplete my savings. But I was approaching “retirement” – mainly because no one wanted to hire an old fart like me anymore -so now I was anxiously looking for passive income.

At this point, when I was asked for my goals I simply said, “to not end up on the street when my money runs out.”  Another way to put this was that I no longer had a “long term” time horizon. A friend of mine, in his 80’s had bought into the “long term” myth as well.  Unfortunately his “long term” ended in 2008 and he lost all of the gains his “expert advisors” had accumulated. He sold at major losses, terrified and to avoid losing more, and of course his holdings would have recovered eventually, but he needed safety and was screwed.

The question for me was a bit more palatable.  Having finally gotten through the acute anxiety of thinking the entire financial system would surely collapse, after amassing $3 trillion in debt that could never be paid back (and it was still printing worthless money), I decided to concentrate on the present moment, rather than the long term.

I listened to Eckhart Tolle, and my friend Michael Jeffreys, and realized that in “the present moment” I was fine.

But I wanted to understand how this “financial system” really operated so that I would not be victimized and sought out by other “advisors.”  I figured maybe someone had an answer for my situation that I had failed to discover. One advisor my own age admitted that I was screwed if I wanted a safe return that I could actually live on; “reasonable risk” even in bonds meant that I had to accept the potential loss of as much as 20% of my principal at any time in the future due to an unexpected event.

My alternative was inflation and running out of money when I was drooling in a nursing home. And as I explained to women who wanted me to take them to Paris or Hawaii, I was not rich but I was solvent. I could take them to Paris or Hawaii if I died in 10 years, but if I lived another 20 (I’m 65) I needed to save a bit more, and if I lived as long as my dad (86) they were out of luck –I needed my cash.

I went back into the stock market, looked at bonds, options, ETFs and other strategies, and took what I called limited and prudent risk. My discussions with financial “advisors” became a bit more heated. When I had “misunderstandings,” meaning that they didn’t tell me the truth about how bonds or options worked, I got very angry and moved my money to other institutions. More often than not they could not understand my displeasure and unwillingness to play their game –which again was like a giant craps table where the longer you keep the money on the numbers the more likely you are to get wiped. Just as a “7” will inevitably occur in craps, so too will a “correction” occur in the stock market.

The other obvious truth is that the market is completely rigged in favor of those who can afford inside information. 60 minutes just did another piece about how electronic traders “front load” transactions, seeing what retail investors are looking to buy and purchasing shares ahead of them, thereby raising the price, and then selling them back to the investors at a profit. WATCH IT HERE

These “professionals” are called “market makers.”  Seriously?  They are criminals. This does not take into account the other criminals called “insider traders” or as another 60 minutes piece referred to them, “researchers.”

So I have a new strategy.  I go at it alone and I believe in guerilla economics. I follow the momentum of the herd, buy and sell quickly, take my profits and then when I have enough I wait. I try not to get caught in the “undertow” of a “correction” or panic, which happens regularly. I read rumors about earnings and cautiously take advantage of any edge that I can get, knowing that most market commentary is false and misleading, I then just act accordingly.

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Consciousness

A Description of the Lost Land of Atlantis & The Reason For Its Downfall – According To Plato

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, provides a description of Atlantis in his dialogue Critias, which was never completed.

  • Reflect On:

    How much do we know about ancient history? How much are we missing? How much has been buried in order to protect what we believe?

Advanced ancient civilizations are a big topic of interest among researchers, historians, archaeologists, and scientists. Every single year we are gifted with a mysterious find that has us questioning the origins of the human race and imagining the cultures which roamed the our planet before us. We have found much evidence to suggest that there may have been civilizations in existence before us which were intellectually, and even technologically superior. That being said, this theory is still thought to be quite fantastical; despite all of the evidence which has been brought to light in recent years to support this notion, it is still largely ignored by the mainstream. If you are interested in looking at some of this evidence, a great place to start is with author Graham Hancock, in his book titled The Magicians of The Gods.

Atlantis

If you start talking about the lost, ancient city of Atlantis, most people will probably think that you’re living in ‘la la’ land. Many people are unaware that this city has been seriously studied for hundreds of years. For example, we can see that it was a subject of significant importance for researchers at the Smithsonian Institution, as emphasized by their Annual Report of the Board of Regents of The Smithsonian Institution for the year ending June 30th, 1915.

In the report, author M. Pierre Termeir, a member of the Academy of Sciences and Director of Service of the Geologic Chart of France, gives a lecture regarding the Atlantean civilization.  He makes a compelling case for further study of this lost city:

After a long period of disdainful indifference, observe how in the last few years science is returning to the study of Atlantis. How many naturalists, geologists, zoologists, or botanists are asking one another today whether Plato has not transmitted to us, with slight amplification, a page from the actual history of mankind. No affirmation is yet permissible; but it seems more and more evident that a vast region, continental  or made up of great islands, has collapsed west of the Pillars of Hercules, otherwise called the Straight of Gibraltar, and that its collapse occurred in the not far distant past. In any event, the question of Atlantis is placed anew before men of science; and since I do not believe that it can ever be solved without the aid of oceanography, I have thought it natural to discuss it here, in this temple of maritime science, and to call to such a problem, long scorned but now being revived, the attention of oceanographers, as well as the attention of those who, though immersed in the tumult of cities, lend an ear to the distant murmur of the sea.

You can read this full report here, starting on page 219.

In his lecture, M. Termeir goes on to present zoologic, geographic, and geologic data to support the existence of the lost Atlantean civilization.Not only that, archaeological discoveries on the ocean floor have also raised some questions…

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Plato’s Description of Atlantis

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, provides a description of Atlantis in his dialogue Critias, which was never completed. The following is a summary of his depiction, these are a few of many points I am taking from Manly P. Halls, The Secret Teachings of All Ages

  • Atlantis was inhabited by ‘earth-born’ and ‘primitive’ human beings. One of them was wooed by the god Poseidon, who interbred with the human beings, and they eventually bore five children. This interbreeding between gods and humans is a common theme in many historical texts found throughout the world.
  • The land was divided into concentric zones of land and water. Two zones of land and three zones of water surrounded the central island, which had warm springs of water and cold springs of water.
  • Atlantis became an established country, with a wise government and an industry that sprung them to advanced technological heights — beyond even what we have reached today.
  • Atlantis had limitless resources, wild animals, and precious metals, and was heavily populated.
  • Atlantis was full of large and beautiful palaces, temples, docks, and a network of various bridges and canals that united different sections of the kingdom.
  • White, black and red stones were used in the construction of public buildings. “They circumscribed each of the land zones with a wall, the outer wall being covered with brass, the middle with tin, and the inner, which encompassed the citadel, with orichalch. The citadel, on the central island, contained the palaces, temples, and other public buildings. In its center, surrounded by a wall of gold, was a sanctuary dedicated to Cleito and Poseidon.” (source)
  • Atlantis had a number of gardens, full of hot and cold springs. There were countless temples, public baths, and exercise facilities for both man and animal.
  • “The part of Atlantis facing the sea was described as lofty and precipitous, but about the central city was a plain sheltered by mountains renowned for their size, number, and beauty. The plain yielded two crops each year, in the winter being watered by rains and in the summer by immense irrigation canals, which were also used for transportation. The plain was divided into sections and in time of war each section supplied its quota of fighting men and chariots.” (source)
  • Atlantis was massive, ruled by multiple kings who all had control over their land. Their relationships with the other kings were governed by an original code of ethics that was engraved by the first ten kings. “The chief laws of the Atlantean kings were that they should not take up arms against each other and that they should come to the assistance of any of their number who was attacked.” (source)

The Downfall of Atlantis

These are the essential points Plato makes about Atlantis. He described it as a great and powerful empire, almost magical, and said that this was the same empire which attacked the Hellenic states. He attributes the power and glory they tasted after this venture to their eventual demise, writing that the love for these ego-driven desires that soon developed among Atlantean kings “lured” them from “the pathway of wisdom and virtue.” 

“Filled with false ambition, the rulers of Atlantis determined to conquer the gods into his holy habitation and addressed them. Here Plato’s narrative comes to an abrupt end, for the Critias was never finished.” (source)

Plato also tackles the subject of Atlantis in his Timaeus, writing of a story told by Solon — who himself is said to have heard the story in Egypt, passed on to him by a priest via hieroglyphic inscriptions in a temple in Sais — in which a violent cataclysm sank the continent. Thus, the  Island of Atlantis completely disappeared. (source)

“A technologically sophisticated but morally bankrupt evil empire – Atlantis – attempts world domination by force. The only thing standing it its way is a relatively small group of spiritually pure, morally principled and incorruptible people – the ancient Athenians. Overcoming overwhelming odds . . . the Athenians are able to defeat their far more powerful adversary simply through the force of their spirit. Sound familiar? Plato’s Atlantean dialogues are essentially an ancient greek version of ‘Star Wars.’ ” – Ken Feder, professor of archaeology, taken from his book “Frauds, Myths and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology.”

The Egyptian connection is also interesting to bring up here because Crantor, another ancient Greek philosopher, asserted that the Egyptian priests declared the story of Atlantis to be written upon pillars which were still preserved circa 300 B.C.

Manly P. Hall has noted that, before this cataclysm, a portion of the population left and did not succumb to the egoistic tendencies which apparently led to the downfall of Atlantis. Was the philosophic, religious, and scientific knowledge of Atlantis passed on? There are many similarities between the reported teachings of Atlantis and those of other cultures, such as the Mayas of Central America.

According to Manly P. Hall, from the Atlanteans, “the world received not only the heritage of arts and crafts, philosophies, and sciences, ethics and religions, but also the heritage of hate, strife, and perversion. The Atlanteans instigated the first war; and it has been said that all subsequent wars were fought in a fruitless effort to justify the first one and right the wrong which it caused.” (source)

Before Atlantis sank, its spiritually illuminated Initiates, who realized that their land was doomed because it had departed from the Path of Light, withdrew from the ill fated continent. Carrying with them the sacred and secret doctrine, these Atlanteans established themselves in Egypt, where they became its first divine rulers. Nearly all the great cosmologic myths forming the foundation of the various sacred books of the world are based upon the Atlantean Mystery Rituals.” (source)

One of the most interesting parts of this story, to me, is the fact that this place is often remembered as a place of glory, light, and abundance, which it was. But they were not immune to the dangers of avarice, either, as H.P. Blavatsky makes clear: “Under the evil insinuations of their demon, Thevatat, the Atlantis race became a nation of wicked magicians. In consequence of this, war was declared, the story of which would be too long to narrate; its substance may be found in the disfigured allegories of the race of Cain, the giants, and that of Noah and his righteous family. The conflict came to an end by the submersion of the Atlantis, which finds its imitation in the stories of the Babylonian and Mosaic flood.” (source)

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Awareness

What Happens To Someone’s Brain When They Complain Too Much

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The more we complain, the more we wire our brain to focus on the negative aspects of our lives. Luckily this is a two-way street, and we can undo the damage and begin to step into a more positive mindset and outlook.

  • Reflect On:

    How much do you complain? The first step towards fixing this issue is by becoming aware of it. Be honest with yourself, and take note of your thoughts, and what you are choosing to talk about.

We all know those types of people who always find something to complain about, maybe we are even one of them! How much of an effect does complaining actually have on the brain and what can we do about it? New research shows exactly how complaining every day might be affecting our brain and because the brain is an amazing and resilient organ we can even reverse these effects. The first step is becoming aware of the issue.

What is your first thought when you wake up in the morning? Are you already dreading the day ahead? Is it cloudy, and thus right out of bed, you find yourself in a grumpy mood? Well, if this is you, know that it is not too late to make a change. Complaining can become a habit, and the more we do it, the more we continue to do it. With some effort, we can break this habit and start to see the world in a more positive light, if we choose to take action.

Neuroplasticity

Within the past couple of decades, thanks to the development of brain imaging and neuroscience, we can now clearly see that the brain is indeed capable of rewiring itself. It is up to us, however, to make these necessary adjustments in order to allow for this to happen. Neuroplasticity means the brains ability to change and form new neural pathways and synapses, this is what allows us to break old habits, form new ones, learn new skills, grow, change and essentially, evolve.

Because of neuroplasticity, we have the capability to:

  • Increase our intelligence
  • Learn new and life-changing skills.
  • Recover from certain types of brain damage
  • Become more emotionally intelligent
  • Unlearn harmful beliefs, habits and behaviors

For Better Or For Worse

‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

It is important to know, that there are two sides of the coin and we can indeed rewire our brains for the worse, if we pick up habits and behaviors that are detrimental to our well being, such as complaining.

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According to Alex Korb, Ph.D., and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change At A Time,

“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision-making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”

How Does Complaining Affect The Brain?

When we get caught up in the habit of continually complaining, in the form of thoughts in our heads or out loud to anyone and everyone we come into contact with, it will directly alter our thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs, which will inevitably lead to a change in behavior.

In fact, our brain possesses something that is called the negativity bias, meaning that the brain has a tendency to focus more on what’s wrong, not what’s going right or the positive events in our life. These negative thoughts can actually drown out the positive experiences over time so that you aren’t able to even see the positive events that are taking place in your life.

Neuroscientist, Dr. Rick Hanson sums up the negativity bias quite nicely,

“Negative Stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intensive positive ones. They are also perceived more easily and quickly.”

So, by continually allowing ourselves to complain we are strengthening this behavior, as mentioned above, the first step towards changing this is to become aware of the problem. That alone, will make see the issue and likely ponder on your negative thoughts.

How Can We Change Our Brain?

This isn’t to say that we always need to “think positive” a common new-age misconception, but we should take the necessary action steps to counteract the effects of thinking negatively all the time.

A simple and effective technique is to wear a complaining bracelet, this is a tactic that I learned from watching an episode of Oprah years ago. You simply wear a bracelet, any kind that can easily come off, and every time you catch yourself complaining about something, in your head or out loud to someone else, you switch wrists. To hold yourself accountable, let your family, friends, and co-workers know of your challenge so in case you don’t realize that you’re complaining, they can call you out too. The goal is to see how long you can go without having to switch the bracelet, but this technique is also powerful for showing you how much you are actually complaining in the first place.

Meditation & Mindfulness Practices

Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher and her colleagues from the University of North Carolina showed how people who meditate daily have more positive emotions that those who don’t.

After a three-month experiment, Fredrickson’s team found that “people who meditated daily continued to display increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support and decreased illness symptoms.”

If you are new to meditation, there are a ton of resources available to help get you started. Just 15 to 20 minutes a day could be enough to change your brain and your entire life, for the better!

Much Love

Meditation Resources

5 Meditation Apps That Are Available Right Now For Download

An Introduction To Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation For Beginners: 20 Tips To Help Quiet The Mind

Meditation For People Who Don’t Meditate: A Simple Guide

Holographic 2020 Lunar Calendar

An art piece and lunar calendar all in one. This calendar features moon phases for every day of the month for the entirety of 2020.

Hologrpahic foil set on a dark 11" x 11" poster makes the moon's phases shimmer as light strikes them in this unique art piece.

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Consciousness

Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 22: The Dragon)

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The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

22. The Dragon

On the Western side of the island of Allandon the poet and his son journeyed deep into the forest until they came upon a hidden cave at the foot of the mountain.

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“This is the lair of the dragon of a thousand and one heads,” said the poet.

“Does it ever come out?” asked the son.

“Indeed. Each person on the island confronts it at some time. You will too.”

“What if I just leave it alone?” the son asked.

“Eventually it will come after you, heads screaming and breathing fire. The question is, what will you do when it does?”

“I will run away,” said the son.

“If you do, you will find that it will follow you until the end of your days, keeping you in fear and anxiety.”

“I understand,” the son said. “I must stand up to it and kill it.”

“You can try. You could wield a mighty sword high and slice off one of its fearsome heads. But you would see that where one head falls off, two heads grow in its place.”

“Then it is invincible!”

“In a way—but you should be happy about it. For killing the dragon would end your life also.”

“So what am I to do?” the boy asked.

“Your life is designed to teach you that,” said the poet.

The son looked into the blackness of the cave. “Has anyone ever tried to kill the dragon?” he asked.

The poet smiled. “How do you think it became the dragon of a thousand and one heads?”

They say that the first step to recovery is admitting that there’s a problem, being willing to face the truth. After many years of denial, I declare myself ready for healing. My name is Richard, and I am an egocentric. I would like to say reformed egocentric, but I know I have not fully kicked the habit. And thankfully, I am no longer putting myself under the gun to do so.

It was only after graduating from university that I came to a full awareness of what ego meant, and first made a semi-conscious effort to begin to walk a spiritual path. My early reading of ancient spiritual texts seemed to indicate that the ego was something that eventually needed to be killed off. After all, the literature suggested that the ego alienates us from other people, is the source of the attachments that lead us to misery, and at every turn prevents us from experiencing peace, love, and a permanent sense of belonging. I felt that all spiritual masters had been able to perpetrate their own ego death. So for me, following the spiritual path meant learning to smother the life out of any expressions of anger, prejudice, jealousy, and other ego-related vices.

At that time I may have already had the appearance of some kind of master to a few people: I seemed quite composed, rarely judged others, and could speak eloquently on matters of spirit. I thought I was moving down a spiritual path in leaps and bounds. In truth I wasn’t really going anywhere. I was still just a shy and serious kid with a tendency to think long and hard before speaking, a habit that was probably ingrained in me by my childhood fear of provoking my father’s anger. It was easy for me to censor most expressions of judgment and self-centeredness because I had been doing it all my life. And I continued doing it, only now with added pride because I felt I was banishing my spiritually improper inclinations.

However, trying to relieve ourselves of the burdens of the Ego Self with a well-placed magic bullet misses one important point. The desire to kill off anything, including the Ego Self, is inevitably sponsored by the Ego Self. So in trying to commit this act we are actually keeping the Ego Self in control. The unwanted desires and emotions simply get stuffed down inside of us and continue to be a force in our lives. And so not only do we maintain our ego-motivated behavior, but our habit of controlling, censoring, and suppressing our expression also causes us to lose touch with the practice of living freely, authentically and spontaneously.

In more recent years, I have begun to understand that the path to mastery of the Ego Self requires exactly the opposite of control—it requires surrender. There is such a skill and an art to surrendering that it has taken me an eternity just to grasp it, and I’m not sure that I’ve really been able to fully apply it yet. It’s like the lesson that keeps on teaching. The surrender of the Ego Self to the Dao Self is the quintessential act of courage, wisdom, and love. It is not a suicide but a succumbing. It is not a slaying of the dragon but a taming. It is not an excision of an unwanted part of ourselves but a healing.

While the Dao Self constantly bathes the Ego Self in love and acceptance, it is only when the Ego Self lets go of control that some of its hidden darkness can come into the light and, ultimately, be released. For the Dao Self all things are acceptable, even the desire of the Ego Self to lead and to control. The Dao Self will never impose itself since it has no ‘will’ as such, so what is required is for the Ego Self to will the Dao Self to be the leader and accept the designation of follower. Otherwise, we will by default be led by the Ego Self—which can only judge and condemn its own darkness and is incapable of healing it.

A spiritual master like Jesus was unwaveringly led by the Dao Self, which he called the Father. He was not without an Ego Self, for it was written that he could still feel the temptation of the Devil. But he never tried to destroy the source of this temptation, as he understood that the Ego Self—symbolized by the Devil—was an inextricable component of being human. Jesus had a choice, as we all do, and he consistently chose his Dao Self over his Ego Self. He had a clear vision that the larger plan for his life was more important than his pride, his safety, or any other ego-concern.

Like Jesus, we too have a larger plan for our lives. However, that does not mean we are all meant to live out the same plan as Jesus, nor can we be expected to follow our Dao Self as faithfully. There is no shame in seeing that Jesus was simply more conscious and more evolved than we are. That does not make him better. In fact he never thought he was better. He just was who he was. And very simply, that is all we need to do to follow our plan, and walk a spiritual path—be who we are.

This is not as easy as it sounds. This is because who we are as human beings is always in a state of becoming something greater. This means, paradoxically, that who we are is always in a state of moving away from aspects of who we are in any given moment. The way to see past this paradox is not to judge the parts of ourselves we are trying to move away from, for when we judge these parts of ourselves to be ‘wrong’ or ‘unacceptable’ they shrink back into the darkness and remain a part of us.

We all have darkness. But we are starting to find our way out of it. In the new conversation we have started to bridge the division of the spiritual and the material in our society. We no longer want to see spirituality as a separate domain of our lives, reserved for the hallowed halls of the church, the mosque, the synagogue, the monastery, the ashram. We also want it to encompass the office, the classroom, the sports arena, the restaurant, and any other place people get together in any human activity. Such a spirituality would not be about denial of ourselves and our selfish desires, and would not condemn the material focus of the Ego Self. Most importantly, it would not lead us into the seriousness of self-recrimination but out of it. It would help us all live according to a simple but fundamental idea: life is fun.

This is not possible if we continue to see ourselves as sinners needing redemption, compelled to pass the tests of an Almighty Judge in order to be worthy of Heaven, one who looks down upon us and is pleased when his rules are followed and offended when they are not. It is dawning on us that such a Judge cannot really be the One but is rather a projection of our own Ego Self.

We want to be allowed—nay, encouraged—to be our unique selves with all our flaws, to follow our inner voice of desire. The greatest times of our lives were not spent being obedient to the rules of others, but rather when we found a way to be who we are. In the new conversation we are encouraged to be who we love to be, not told to deny who we are afraid to be. As important as it is not to identify with the Ego Self, and not to let the Ego Self lead us in our lives, it is equally important to understand that the Ego Self is and will continue to be a part of who we are as individuals. Indeed it is the foundation of our uniqueness. One of the great triumphs of Western society has been the elevation of the individual and the blossoming of the expression of individual talents, gifts, and abilities.

Now we have to take the next step, and find a way to express our individuality while still moving together, hand in hand, towards unity. When we push for unity but ignore our individual needs, what some people would call a nobler path, we actually get farther from authenticity because we try to take a shortcut to unity. We suppress our dark side rather than honoring it and, perish forbid, let it be revealed to ourselves and the world. More often than not, this path of sacrifice and denial leads us to moral elitism and the sense that we are better than others who do not sacrifice as much or work as hard on being ‘spiritual’.

What we really need today is for the spiritual path and the material path to come together, and pave the way for truly feeling alive in the world. The main requirement is for us to be authentic. For some of us that’s exactly where the roadblock occurs. The proposition of being authentic itself is scary. We are tempted to act in a way that is more acceptable to others, that garners us some approval and status. But while choosing to act other than who we are may get us somewhere in the short term, it’s never where we’re actually going. It’s like rushing to get on the first bus that arrives at our stop, even though it isn’t the one that takes us home. No wonder we so often feel lost in our lives.

I always found it instructive to think very deeply about the following question: What is the worst thing that could happen by being authentic? Are we afraid of not fitting in, of being embarrassed, of being laughed at? So let’s look at being laughed at. If, like me, you are on a mission to be less serious, there may be no better experience to go through than allowing yourself to be laughed at for being who you are. And if you have the courage you can laugh at yourself as well. As Milton Berle said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself you’re probably missing the joke of the century.” Taking ourselves seriously keeps us in the domain of the Ego Self. If we are able to freely show to the world who we are and in the same spirit we are able to laugh at ourselves, then we give permission for others to live freely as well.

I believe the real spiritual masters understood this. They developed unlimited compassion for the egocentricities of others because they discovered how to have compassion for their own shortcomings. They are the ones whose facial wrinkles are forged by a peaceful smile, a sign of their constant amusement with their own fallibility and humanity.

When I started writing this book, I worked hard to make sure that people did not detect a hint of egocentricity when I spoke about it. After all, if I was going to present ideas about how to move away from one’s Ego Self, the least I could do is show that I’ve mastered it successfully in my life. But as I got further into the writing, and more deeply into self-examination, I realized that this was not completely honest. I was just being cautious. If I was to be authentic I would have to admit that I have not evolved beyond all self-centered desires when it came to this book. In some moments I was captured by the prospects of gaining some fame and recognition. Sometimes I got caught up in how much money I might be able to make. I cannot in all fairness assert that my motivation to get this book written has come purely from selflessness and unconditional love.

At the same time, I can say that I have learned a lot since I started writing. I have seen that when I come from a place of self-interest it is much more difficult to write, to get good ideas, to be in a flow with the process. I am more prone to feel fearful of failure, to be worried about how people will react to what I am saying and to be doubtful that I actually have something of value to say. On the other hand, when I have been able to get more centered on this book being a contribution to others, suddenly the words and ideas come more easily, the process is less burdensome. So certainly I have tangible experience of the value of trying to move into my Dao Self.

But an even more profound lesson, one that brings me great peace and happiness, was learning to accept myself when I am not coming from my Dao Self. This is my highest experience of authenticity. I can be who I am and speak about what is true for me in a given moment without worrying that I might sometimes not be seen as such an ‘evolved’ person. Trying to be conscious does not mean having to be cautious. I recognize that I need to live at my current level of spiritual understanding, rather than pretending to be more ‘holy’, more ‘spiritual’ than I actually am.

And so I believe even our egocentric desires are not without purpose. Sometimes even if people who are rich and famous have told us that money and recognition don’t bring happiness—and we believe them—we still feel the need to find out for ourselves. I recognize that I continue to be driven by the Ego Self from time to time, but then again so are most of us. To deny this is a subtle form of egocentricity itself. Let’s all cut ourselves a little slack. In a way, we could say that if we were never driven by the Ego Self we wouldn’t be driven at all. It’s time we all got together to create a space in which we are free to make mistakes, do the wrong thing, play the fool. Even if our ego-desires lead to dead ends, we want the opportunity to play them out without being judged. Given the chance to find out we don’t want what we thought we wanted, we get closer to knowing what our true desires are and living from our true selves.

In the West we have lived too long under the burning image of a spirituality that is divorced from the material. We walk away in sadness just like the rich man when Jesus told him to sell off all his possessions, saying to his disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” We fear that spiritual mastery looks upon our materialistic strivings with disdain and disapproval. It seems that if we are to fully engage in spiritual practice, it requires forsaking our material desires. And if we are to follow our inner urges for material abundance, we must in those moments look away from our spiritual teachings. We try to make our lives work as best we can, but we tire of leaping back and forth across the chasm between our spiritual lives and our material lives. Our deep longing for a spiritual life is thwarted by a fear that we will have to give up too much. At the same time our enjoyment of our material life is tempered by a niggling guilt that we are not doing enough for those less fortunate. And so with all we have, and with all we can be, we are afraid to truly live either aspect of life with vigor and enthusiasm. We fear that trying to integrate our spiritual and material desires will make us hypocrites.

In truth Jesus never said that being rich was bad, nor that we have to abandon the material for the spiritual. He did imply that it would be a complex matter for someone rich to experience the treasures of a spiritual life. If we are to have a lot of money and not give material life any more of our focus than is needed, we are required to become complex characters ourselves, in order to avoid the traps the Ego Self lays in our fields of material abundance.

I believe we are ready for it. I believe this is the true challenge of our time, to bring forth a spirituality in harmony with our growing capacity for material wealth. We have started to ask ourselves: Why would our souls have been delivered into this wondrous world of the material if not to enjoy its fruits? All we need is some guidance, not away from the material, but onto that fine line that balances our material needs with our spiritual needs.

Of course this is not an easy path. This is why we need to be in conversation with one another, ready to accept each other’s help. Since our consciousness has evolved, we have started to become able to guide one another through the pitfalls of an integrated life. In the new conversation we can condone our Ego-Self desires without being driven by them. We are able to witness our own egocentricity in the space that is provided, when we are most ready to see it. The new conversation is in service of allowing us to stand in a place where the spiritual is not a denial of the material and our human desires, but rather the material and spiritual are balanced in a whole and vital life. If we guide each other carefully, I believe it will indeed become possible for us to put a camel through the eye of a needle—while riding shotgun.

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