Category Archives: Blog

Can You Really Handle Conscious Transparency?

Imagine waking up, going online to your favourite news site and finding the following lead story.

 

Chaos!

Information terror as Net IDs go public!

Global information systems are in chaos today, in the wake of the world’s first case of information terror. Radical libertarian group FreeThink has claimed responsibility for the hacking of the global internet system.

Currently all web sites, personal internet and mobile accounts in all countries are freely accessible to the public by entering a simple universal code. For legal reasons the New York Times cannot disclose the code, but it is now circulating widely on the net.

In related breaking developments, reports are emerging that World President Li Zhongri has gone into hiding.

More details as they emerge.

 

How would you feel if everything you had ever written, spoken or videoed – or had been recorded by someone else –  suddenly entered the public domain? And I do mean everything, including everything that you had written anonymously under pseudonyms. Julian Assange has famously called for “radical transparency”. But could we really handle it if it was taken to its logical conclusion?

Every link, every site, every text.

The headline above is not real, of course. It is taken from a short story called The God Moment, part of my book of science-fiction stories entitled Insufficient Data. The God Moment is set in the year 2047. The main character, Hugh Anderson, is an IT entrepreneur living in Shanghai. Anderson is a not a particularly attractive man. He is short, fat, balding – and his online secrets are even uglier.

The story is called The God Moment because the hypothetical situation effectively grants everyone God-like powers to peer into the souls of any person they care to enquire about – or get some dirt on. I wrote this story because the situation actually reflects a spiritual reality: that human beings are completely transparent to spirit.

My experience as person with a gift for clairvoyance is that there are spiritual overseers who can also see right into our hearts and souls.

There is nothing we can hide from them.

Nothing.

Many people with a spiritual focus in life will not find this idea too difficult to consider. After all, when we pray, when we ask or receive spiritual guidance, we are working within a “system” which renders us transparent.

I have received a lot of spiritual guidance over the years. Everybody’s journey is unique. In my case I had to deal with a lot of emotional issues relating to being abused and neglected as a child. Much of the guidance I received was about deepening my awareness of these issues and how to heal them.

For example, one problem I experienced was being drained of energy. Often I would wake up exhausted. I realised there was something wrong, but I had no idea what. So I asked for guidance. As part of the guidance I received, a song kept coming into my mind, the lines from a U2 song: “And you give yourself away…” Over time I came to realize that my consciousness field was deeply entangled with other people’s, and that literally I was allowing my energy to be sapped by them. More importantly, I came to understand that this was because there was a very needy part of me that was desperate for love and attention, a legacy of my childhood. So when I did not receive that in my everyday life, my psyche went out and sought it in a metaphysical sense.

Many such issues came into my awareness in this way. There would be an problem which I had no genuine understanding of. I would receive subtle hints as to what the general problem was, and its cause. Then I would have to go away and work on it.

This spiritual discourse made me aware that I was completely and totally naked before spirit. All was transparent. Every secret, every thought, every little habit.

Now here is my next question. What if this powerful clairvoyant capacity was the norm, and everybody could see into everybody else’s soul? What if we could see each other’s light and darkness, see how we give and take power, how we lie and deceive ourselves? Yes, even matters related to our sexual expression, our bodily functions, our anger and judgments.

Would that prospect excite you. Or terrify you?

glass-man

When I said The God Moment is science fiction and based on my experience with spiritual communication, I forgot to mention one thing. I have played, lived and worked with others with an equivalent, powerful seeing capacity. I saw first-hand that conscious transparency is a capacity that all humans carry to some degree. It is just that we play a game to hide this truth from each other. Our societies, our families, our media and education structures are unconsciously designed to disguise this fact. And it is unconscious.

One problem that conscious transparency brings to the fore is that it magnifies whatever latent trust issues we have. It also exposes our self-deceptions. It makes explicit to others our judgments and opinions about them. And ourselves.

In The God Moment the problem isn’t so much that information becomes freely available. It is that human beings cannot look upon the shadow of others without resorting to judgment and condemnation. We have agendas for power and control, and we use shame as a means for manipulating others.

The truth is that conscious transparency is too much for virtually all humans to bear. I can tell you from first-hand experience that being completely transparent before others pushes every imaginable button. It can be truly terrifying.

The terror stems from the fact that there is always repressed pain and fear which underpins our self-deceptions. When we bring the darkness into light, that pain seeks responsible expression.

Conscious transparency utterly transforms social dynamics; and the level of typical human spiritual maturity is not great at this time in our conscious evolution. Too much of our minds lie in shadow. The process of bringing that darkness into the light of conscious awareness will take a great deal of time for the human collective. It will take a great deal of love and patience.

Conscious transparency therefore requires great courage.

The good news is that any given individual can permit conscious transparency in their relationship with spirit. “God” has no fear of our darkness, self-deceptions and mind games. This is why when people have near-death experiences they often feel completely loved by the light.

There’s a simple spiritual practice which you can employ which enables conscious transparency. I call it “Opening to the Great Light”. I will leave you here with this. You might like to make it a part of your regular meditation sessions, or practice it at the end of the day as you are about to sleep.

Why not become more transparent?

After all, what are you hiding from?

 

Opening to the Great Light

Divine love exists within and about all of us. What most people don’t realise is that we can allow it to deepen within us if we embrace it during mindful presence or meditation. This is what I call Opening to the Great Light.

You can imagine this divine love as a great ball of brilliant light that sits directly before you. You can call it “God” if you like, but this is not strictly necessary. I like to think of the Great Light as being of indeterminate size.

Divine love is always with us – it is only our judgments of self, others and the world which keep it at a distance.

As you sit in meditative or mindful presence, allow yourself to become aware of any judgments towards yourself, others or the world that you are holding onto. As you perceive or feel these judgments, simply confess them to the Great Light. The process might go something like this.

“I see that I judge myself for getting older. I open that to you God/Great Light.”

“I now see that there is anger towards my mother, which I have been carrying. I open this to you God/Light.”

“I see in this moment that I carry a belief that the world is cruel and that life cannot be trusted. I open this to the Light.”

This opening is not like the kind of confession a Church-goer might admit to the priest behind the curtain. There is no sin here, no shame and no guilt required. These labels and attitudes would represent judgments of the judgments – leading you into an endless chain of self-rejection.

Nor is there any need for penance or self-flagellation. Indeed, if guilt and self-judgment arise during the Opening to the Light exercise, just confess those to the Light also.

This is purely an unfolding exercise. It is as if you are turning yourself inside out, allowing all that is repressed within you to emerge.

There is no requirement to keep the process of spotting judgments go on indefinitely. Return the mind to the simplicity of presence after a short time. The mind might try to turn this into a game, where endless confessions prevent you coming to rest in silent presence. When you find yourself playing this game you should know what to do. Simply open it to the Light, confess it without judgment, and relax into the presence of the Light!

The Opening to the Great Light results in a tremendous lightness of being. You are not trying to get rid of anything or change who you are. You are simply allowing all of your mind to be present before God. God (within you) has no judgment of who you are. Just relax into that beautiful awareness, and joy will emerge.

Are you a Master of the Intuitive?

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The following is an extract from my brand new new book, Champion of the Soul.

Some new age teachings place the intuitive – and especially the psychic ream – at the centre of the spiritual journey. This is a mistake. In order for you to awaken, the intuitive must be made subservient to the mindful. Many new age teachings elevate the psychic to the status of ultimate wisdom. This is probably because for the layman who has never experienced much of the psychic realms, either directly or through education (who ever does?), the psychic seems incredible and superhuman.

There are some very, very gifted intuitives in the world, and some of them are practicing psychics. I have met and worked with several of the most amazingly gifted clairvoyants you could ever imagine. Some are so far ahead of their time that current science fiction doesn’t have a patch on them. Some of these intuitives are well-balanced and wise people.

But others have poorly developed life skills. These individuals lack emotional and spiritual maturity. For example, one I know is constantly on social media wailing about how awful people are. She always has some drama going down. So being “psychic” is no guarantee of spiritual maturity or wisdom. Given this, you should not blindly follow the advice of a “psychic” just because he channels the Archangel Michael. Nor should you expect that just because you are very intuitive – or are training to become such – that you have an advanced understanding of human spirituality. Some psychics I have met know absolutely nothing about awakening.

I am very psychic myself, a cognitive capacity that spontaneously opened up when I was in my mid-twenties. I immediately had visions of spiritual guides and alien intelligences. I found I could peer into the minds of people regardless of physical distance from me. I often foresaw events before they occurred, had out-of-body experiences and was visited by long- dead ancestors. I had lucid dreams where I could fly or leave the body at will. But I knew very little about spirituality. Nor did I understand my own mind. I was certainly no Buddha merely because I had some profound dreams and visions. Indeed, I was a deeply wounded individual who was barely connected to his own body. The intuitive realm can be a useful source of information. But so is the Internet, and a person is not going to awaken simply because he spends twelve hours a day online. Give a fool a computer and you don’t suddenly get a genius. All you have is an idiot sitting in front of a machine.

The psychic can be distracting, and it can be confusing. I can tell you from personal experience that is very easy to misinterpret psychic information. The ego will tend to see what it wants to see and distort the rest. The mind will also tend to view psychic messages in black and white terms – as either positive or negative. This is especially the case if the person does not have a strong capacity for mindfulness. If the mind exists in a state of polarity, a psychic message has the potential to throw the individual right off course.

Most of the spiritual information I have received via the psychic is ambiguous. The meanings are often unclear, the messages foggy. And I believe that this is deliberately so. Spirit will not give you all the answers. It wants you to develop wisdom by figuring out the answers yourself. I struggled with the psychic for many years, attempting to work out what was being asked of me. Make no mistake. Ultimately, the information and guidance gleaned from so many years of self-reflection has made me a far wiser man. But it is not so much the data itself that has made me wiser; it is the process of self-reflection. Basically I had to go out and test what I was being led to explore. And nobody made me do it. Nobody told me how to do it. Nobody told me why.

Is Following Your Passion Dangerous? (2)

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In a recent post I reviewed Cal Newport’s excellent book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Newport adopts a well-researched, “rational” approach to the issue. His main findings are that:

• It is foolish to dash headlong into a new career without first establishing career capital (skills, knowledge and connections).
• Innate passions which can be transferred into paid work are rare and it is better to experiment with life to find work you can become passionate about.
• If you cannot see any pre-existing people being paid for your “passion”, don’t try to turn it into work.
• By developing rare and valuable skills, a person’s work will be in demand.
• It is necessary to use deliberate practice to develop such high-level skills in your area of work. This may not be fun at all, and mastery typically takes some 10 000 hours of practice.
• A person needs to develop a mission which helps them focus their work into a precise area, and to avoid scattering one’s energy.
• Patience is required. It takes time and a great deal of work to become great at something.
• Newport heavily criticises the popular self-help-book suggestion that the most important step in developing blissful work is having the courage to quit your job and begin your new, passionate career. This is foolish and likely to lead to failure and rejection if it is done before a person has established career capital in his new field.
These are all common sense, and very useful insights.

However, having mentioned so many positives in that previous post, let me now move onto several reservations I have about Newport’s approach to finding passionate, meaningful work.

Spinning the cherries
Newport cherry picks his case studies. The fact that he does not offer a single exceptional case – one that contradicts his thesis – suggests that his conclusions may be exaggerated. He also appears to “spin” these cases to ensure that they support his argument, highlighting those aspects which are affirmative, but explaining away those things which might potentially contravene his line of argumentation.

For example, he dismisses the case of Steve Jobs – whose Stanford graduation speech on following one’s passion has twenty million hits on YouTube – as evidence for the passion hypothesis. Newport points out that in his youth Jobs studied literature, physics and history at Reed College, a liberal Arts school, and not business or electronics. Jobs was also passionate about spirituality, consciousness expansion and Eastern mysticism. If he’d followed his own advice, writes Newport, Jobs would have become a zen teacher. Newport says that all the Jobs’ biography proves is that it’s good to be passionate about what you do.

But is this really a fair assessment of Jobs’ innate passions?

Newport appears to be playing a semantic game here. Can Newport’s term “electronics” really encapsulate the passion of Steve Jobs? And is not “business” what most self-starters do to turn anything into a successful career? Perhaps terms like “creative inspiration” or “design” are more appropriate descriptions for the innate passions of Steve Jobs. His work at Apple would then seem like an apt fit. And clearly Jobs felt he was living his passion. This is not something that can be so easily dismissed.

In my own life I have found that my passion centres around my work as a writer and explorer of consciousness and spirituality. I certainly didn’t know this when I was twenty. In fact, I never had any genuine spiritual understanding till I was about twenty-six – I was actually a sceptic before that time. I studied English and History at University and loved sport as a kid. Thus it may appear to an outsider that my life affirms Newport’s thesis.

But the truth is that I was always deeply introspective. I just needed life experience to bring that out. So in a sense Newport is both right and wrong. It did require the travails of life for me to discover my calling. But I do not feel that this passion was created by my life experience: that passion was always extant. It was a mere potential.

Therefore I am not in full agreement with Newport that we may as well stick a list of ten appealing pastimes on a wall and throw a dart at them to choose which one to explore as a great career (as he states on a Youtube video). I believe that we must also develop an inner wisdom, and use that intuitive intelligence to help us develop our calling in cooperation with life.

Another problematic case study brought forward by Newport involves the story of Ryan and Sarah’s highly successful organic farm at Red Fire, Grandby. Ryan is a former banker who quit his job to set up the farm. According to Newport, Ryan stumbled into his new profession – he literally “grew into it.” However, this is not a logical assessment. From Newport’s description of Ryan, it appears the man always had an innate enthusiasm for working in nature. The fact that he followed a path consistent with his inner world is therefore indication enough that he had a passion for it.

Such problematic interpretations are one of the key limitations of Newport’s thesis, as he regularly twists passion-positive case studies to ensure that the passion hypothesis is nullified.

To be more specific, Newport dismisses the idea of “passion” in relation to Ryan’s work because there were a series of steps over many years as Ryan discovered his “calling.” Such passion only ever develops over time, insists the author. Yet my sense is that Newport is playing word games again when he implies that any unfolding process that is not instantaneous cannot be called “passionate” in the same way that an innate enthusiasm can be.

Obviously it is true that a person’s life process can help reveal his deep passions, as has been true in my own life. Yet it is not simply the case that such passions are conditioned by the life process, which is what Newport suggests. Newport’s thesis is thus sometimes too black and white, adopting an unnecessarily strict dichotomy between careers sustained by passion versus those developed via craftsmanship.

Nonetheless, Newport’s statement that an individual has to acquire significant skills and career capital to succeed in new career directions remains very valid – and Ryan did just this over many years.

Out with introspection
Another significant shortcoming of Newport’s book is that he appears to have little practical understanding of introspection or human intuition. He is a successful university professor, and so his education has clearly valorised “rational” and scientific ways of knowing. He tends to dismiss personal insight and human intuition, often with subtle contempt or even ridicule.

A good example occurs very early in the book, when Newport begins with story of Thomas, a zen practitioner with a master’s degree in comparative religion.

In interview, Newport relates that Thomas, is reluctant to communicate the meaning of a specific zen koan. Newport gets around this by googling the koan. He then essentially treats it with contempt, apparently failing to consider the possibility that the Zen masters might be correct in suggesting that most people would have trouble truly understanding it with a standard analytical approach.

It is here that Newport is at his weakest. Sometimes he mirrors the arrogance of modern scientific “skepticism”, apparently believing that he does not need to undergo any introspective education or training in order to develop greater depth of intuitive perception. This attitude is epitomised when he announces that he has “debunked” the passion hypothesis. He contemptuously denounces the idea as an “occupational fairy tale.”

Newport appears to be on a kind of semi-religious quest to ensure that the passion hypothesis is killed off. Personally, I do not believe that things need to be taken that far.

Further, Newport does not entertain the possibility that science may be limited when it comes to understanding passion and innate human drive. A common criticism of modern brain science is that it is delimited. Empiricism and third-person approaches to dealing with human intention or consciousness cannot really get inside a person’s head. They can only map the correlates of consciousness. In short, science is incapable of truly understanding the spiritual dimensions of life.

To find the answers to the questions he asks, Newport consults academic journals and avoids introspective domains. Is it any surprise then that he completely dismisses and sometimes ridicules passion and introspection? Newport’s argument ultimately becomes circular. Introspection is inadequate, therefore introspection will be avoided as a means of insight into the problem of insight.

Is this shortcoming simply a lack of introspective intelligence on Newport’s behalf?

Fine distinctions
Newport’s analysis does not distinguish between passion and intuitive intelligence – what some might call spiritual guidance. Likewise, the Canadian college students who were surveyed about their “passions” were likely not introspective types in general, being mainstream-educated. The survey, and Newport, fails to discern the difference between the excitement of personal interests and the “excitement” which emerges from an inner sense of guidance.

There is no evidence in the book, nor in the public presentations that I have seen, that Newport has a well-developed inner world. Newport’s world is apparently random and the individual is soul agent of his life. Yet there are inner and mystical journeys where inner voice is crucial. The failure to address this is a prime shortcoming of Newport’s book. He seems to deny all inner guidance, seemingly completely ignorant of its existence. Founding his work only on science, it remains delimited by its boundaries. Modern science has actively denied intuition and introspection for centuries, and Newport unquestioningly follows in its footsteps.

My sense is that both the strengths and limitations of Newport’s book stem from his being an academic. He does a wonderful job in drawing attention to the pitfalls of blindly following your bliss. But he is singularly incapable of comprehending the subtleties of the inner intelligence of the wisdom traditions. By limiting his approach to academic analysis of research papers and personal case studies, Newport effectively silences many of the wisest men and women of history. Thus So Good They Can’t Ignore You remains very good, but limited; just as Newtonian physics was a wonderful approximation of an observable universe, but woefully inadequate once finer cosmic truths had been gleaned.

Excellent but flawed
So Good They Can’t Ignore You is an excellent book. I will be recommending this book to my own clients (I advise people on how to activate a broader range of human intelligence in developing an ideal life – especially intuitive intelligence). The book systematically addresses many of the common pitfalls that “life of passion” advocates experience (including my own). Given that these are very rarely addressed in self-help and new age philosophies, Newport’s book is an invaluable addition to those wishing to develop such a lifestyle. It’s conclusions remain strong, based as they are on science and relevant case studies. However, I would encourage readers to be mindful of Newport’s personal biases and limited understanding of introspection and human intuition.

Newport’s “complete rejection” of the passion hypothesis is understandable given his worldview, but nonetheless premature. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Paul Graham, his calling & collective mind?

A fascinating conversation between Mastery author Robert Greene and programmer and writer Paul Graham. According to his official biography, Graham is “a programmer, writer, and investor”. In 1995, he and Robert Morris started Viaweb, which was acquired by Yahoo, soon becoming “Yahoo Store”. Graham has started or funded about 450 startups, wrote Lisp (one of the world’s most influential computer languages). He’s also one of the richest men on the planet.

This short extract conversation with Robert Greene is taken from an interview the pair did for Greene’s book Mastery – a book I cannot recommend highly enough for those of you who wish to understand what has made the great minds of history tick.

In this part of the interview Greene is honing in upon whether Graham has an intrinsic passion – a calling, no less. His answer is fascinating. Just as fascinating is the fact that there is the suggestion that “programming” was somehow a part of the collective consciousness of the Graham family, even though the idea was not openly discussed.

* * *

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PAUL GRAHAM

ROBERT: Did you feel like, when you discovered computers, that that was it? That this was what you were going to be doing for your life?

PAUL: No, actually. There weren’t a lot of programmers around back then. So it didn’t seem like, it wasn’t clear that you could have a career as a software developer. I didn’t know anybody growing up that I would have called a software developer. I mean, they used computers a lot to do calculations in the design of nuclear reactors. In fact, my father was one of the first programmers. But he didn’t think of himself as a programmer. He thought of himself as a guy who designed reactors and he had to write programs. Just like now he would use a calculator to actually do the same things probably. But he didn’t think of himself as a software developer.
ROBERT: Did you learn from, was it in the air, in the family, in the house?

PAUL: He surely didn’t teach me anything about programming.

ROBERT: Oh.

PAUL: I don’t remember him ever saying anything about this. But how can I not?

ROBERT: You absorbed it somehow.

PAUL: How can I not have heard him talking about computers? It was just in the air.

ROBERT: What were you thinking you would end up doing in life? Did you have any idea?

PAUL: No. I had no idea. You would take these surveys that would tell you something random, like, you are supposed to be a photographer when you grow up. You are supposed to be an insurance salesman.

ROBERT: What were you supposed to be?

PAUL: I don’t even remember. I don’t even remember. It seemed like the choices were all so boring like an actuary or something like that.

ROBERT: So where did you go to college, undergraduate?

PAUL: Cornell. I went to Cornell.

ROBERT: Very cool.

PAUL: Yeah. And it had a particularly good computer science department.

ROBERT: Oh. So that’s when, as an undergrad you started getting deeper into this.

PAUL: Yeah. I was pretty deep into it already. By the standards of the day in high school.


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ROBERT GREENE

Is Following Your Passion Dangerous? (1)

so good

A review of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Live your passion and the money will follow. It’s a popular notion in many self-help and new age tomes. The idea has been around a long time. Thoreau famously put it this way:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

This conception, increasingly popular since the 1990s, often implies that the most important factors in living your “dream” are to identify what you are passionate about and then have the courage to take the leap of faith and turn it into a career.

I’ve written about this idea in some of my own books, so I was very interested to hear what Newport has to say about the matter. Newport approaches the issue somewhat differently from me. He openly rejects introspection and implores readers to experiment with life and discover what really moves them via trial and error. Let your passion follow you, rather than the other way around.

Perhaps I should mention that I am not opposed to Newport’s approach. I believe all those embarking on the adventure of creating career with passion should do all the things Newport suggests. As I will explain below, the main way I differ from Newport is that I do not consider introspection to be incompatible with “rational” approaches to the problem. Human beings possess both rational and intuitive faculties, and I believe both should be employed when “living your bliss”. But this is a review of Newport’s book, so I shall not labour long on my personal philosophy.

I will first list what I consider to be the most important insights that Newport brings forward. These understandings are powerful and highly relevant for people building passionate careers.

In the final part of this review I will list a small number of significant shortcomings of Newport’s approach.

Career passions are rare
The first insight that Newport relates is that career passions are uncommon. Newport says that people are not born with an innate passion that easily translates into a fulfilling working life. He cites a survey of Canadian university students who were asked to list their life passions. Some ninety six percent of their responses involved hobby-style interests such as ice hockey, dancing, singing, reading and swimming. Only four percent were career or education-related. Quite rightly, Newport finds that such passions don’t readily convert into career options. Newport thus rejects the idea that we all have pre-existing passions waiting to be discovered. “How can we follow our passions when we don’t have any relevant passions to follow?”, he asks.

A related point that Newport makes is that we should not try to avoid the anxiety of uncertainty which often underpins the search for a great career. He argues that the anxiety felt by many successful people like Steve Martin suggests that early in their lives they were not sure they had found their passion.

Newport seems to imply that if a person has really found their true calling that they would not feel such anxiety. Yet is this a sound conclusion? Surely all people experience doubt and anxiety, even if they believe they have found their passion. The creative process tends to create inner tension for even the most successful people.

Newport’s claim that we may not have innate passions is something all of us should heed when building a career. Nnonetheless, there are clearly some exceptions. Certain people have a very pronounced passion for at least a general skill or activity. Gandhi had an genuine enthusiasm for politics, spirituality and social transformation. Jim Carey was always the attention-seeking class “clown”. And despite Newport’s angle that Mozart was a product of his environment (having a highly ambitious musician-father), it is clear that he had an exceptional genius for music at a very young age.

Thus Newport often fails to develop the subtleties within the points that he brings forward. And some of these subtleties are incredibly important when embarking on career paths.

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Passion takes time
A second key point that Newport develops is that it typically takes time and a certain degree of life experience to identify what you are truly passionate about. This finding is probably Newport’s most important, and is very strongly supported with relevant case studies.

Citing academic surveys, Newport finds that the greatest single factor which determines passion on the job is not innate skill or ability, but the number of years spent on the job. When people feel competent, have independence and have good relationships with colleagues, they feel much happier with what they are doing. When you develop skills and great relationships your work feels more passionate.

We should all keep this in mind when thinking about our work options.

This leads Newport onto his third conclusion: that passion is a side-effect of mastery. Citing author Daniel Pink and self-determination theory, Newport argues that autonomy, competence and relatedness are what creates motivation in people. Clearly this contradicts “the passion hypothesis”, as Newport calls it.

Newport is also particularly savage on what he calls “the courage culture”, the naive idea that it’s just getting started that’s the hard part of creating successful work you love, and that the rest will just fall into place.

Passion is dangerous
In his third chapter Newport states – in something of an hyperbole – that “passion is dangerous”.

In fact, Newport blames increasing job dissatisfaction in the past two decades on the corresponding rise in popularity of the passion hypothesis. Naively following your passion can lead to chronic job shifting and career confusion. Fully sixty four per cent of young people now say they don’t like their jobs, Newport reports. He thus concludes that the more we seek what we love, the less we tend to love what we do. Therefore the passion hypothesis can create a career path riddled with confusion and angst. Although the term “dangerous” might be an overstatement, it is hard to argue that many workers today are afflicted by this restlessness.

Patience is mother factor that Newport identifies as being important. Simply rushing headlong into your new career by quitting your job is most likely a foolish move.

Be so good they can’t ignore you
A workable alternative to the passion mindset is the “craftsman mindset “, says Newport. He states that this should be the foundation for creating work you love. In a nutshell, this means working at becoming great at what you do. A person must adopt the craftsman mindset first, and then the passion – and money – will follow.

It is developing rare and valuable skills, Newport believes, which makes a person an invaluable member of a community or organisation. Such talents are what create a demand for his or her expertise.

Again, Newport is relating common sense, and again he is surely correct. Yet many naive individuals quit their jobs with little or no career capital in their desired new field and expect immediate success simply because they are passionate about it. As many of Newport’s case studies show, such enthusiasm is often short-lived and turns to anger and despair when the individual experiences immediate failure and ongoing rejection. The person is then left with nothing, not even the passion that they initially had for their “calling”. Newport cites the case of a woman named Lisa who quit her job in advertising and marketing to set up a business as a yoga instructor. Lisa had no experience and had spent a mere 200 hours completing a yoga training course. She soon found herself on food stamps, unable to even earn enough money to support herself.

The need for deliberate practice
The strategy of building “career capital” is but common sense. Newport is right to criticise certain self-help philosophies, many of which seem to profess that hard work and thousands of hours of “deliberate practice” are not required to be successful in most fields. While many naive new agers insist on the delusion that all you need is the right “energy”, Newport implores people to work hard and develop great skills.

Deliberate practice requires developing a smart, systematic regime for rehearsing the exceptional skills that you want to develop. Newport refers to the common adage that many great artists and human-change agents put in at least 10 000 hours of practice in their chosen fields before they become outstanding practitioners. Newport suggests that such practice must be carefully designed so that the individual pushes themselves ever-further beyond their comfort zone.

A central part of this approach lies is in identifying what skills you need to build, and what goals you wish to attain. Such deliberate practice is often not enjoyable, something that those who advocate the passion hypothesis may refuse to entertain. Yet again, Newport is correct. It’s not all fun and games on the way to the top. It is naive to believe that one can become exceptionally good at anything without placing great emphasis on deliberate and mundane practice.

An important critique that Newport makes is that the craftsman mindset encourages an attitude which asks “What can I offer the world?”; whereas the passion mindset can promote the narcissistic question, “What can the world do for me?”

Money
Newport convincingly argues that “control requires capital”. Again, this is common sense, but something that many passionate individuals fail to fully heed. Control that is acquired without career capital is not sustainable. This is Newport’s “first control trap”.

Perhaps the most common delusion widely seen in this domain belongs to those who believe that they can set up a money-making blog to sustain their transition away from the grind of nine-to-five work. In particular, bloggers who write about lifestyle design without having established any career capital are the most foolish. As Newport points out, having enthusiasm alone isn’t of much value. Any financially successful blog must provide readers something they are willing to pay for.

The second control trap occurs when employers realise an employee’s value and seeks to reduce your autonomy. In other words, control generates resistance. The key for the employee seeking greater autonomy is therefore to establish enough value for the employer that she has the power to negotiate greater freedom and control.

It is thus true, Newport argues, that you should only seek more control (freedom) when you think you have something people will pay for.

This is where Newport brings in another valuable distinction: “the law of financial viability”. This maxim dictates that you should focus your creative energies upon offering services that people will remunerate you for. Notably, this is not the same thing as doing something just for the sake of money. The author writes that if you can’t make money from something, then it is clearly not of value. Therefore – if after scanning the world around you – you can find no evidence that people are willing to pay for a particular skill or service, it is probably unwise to seek a career in it.

The power of mission
Mission statements have been popular for some time, and Newport identifies a few important distinctions here. His advice is of particular value to those wishing to express their genuine passion as a “calling”. But unlike some enthusiasts, Newport states that we must first develop mastery, then develop our mission statement.

Newport suggests that we should not start out with grandiose designs on changing the world. We need to think small, but act big. We have to postpone our paradigm-smashing visions and first develop experience and career capital.

A mission is necessary, mostly to focus. Too much diversity – not having a clear vision – is not good because we cannot channel our efforts in a sustainable way.

The law of remarkability
Another piece of useful advice that Cal Newport offers is that we should pursue projects that are remarkable. He makes the analogy with purple cows. Nobody notices a brown cow. But a purple one…?

Your projects should be remarkable in two ways. Firstly, they should be remarkable in the literal sense – unusual. Choose something that people will talk about. Secondly, you should be able to spread the word yourself, via social media, blogging or other low-cost means of promotion. Crucial also is that you must launch your project in a venue which supports such articulation. Projects don’t speak about themselves. You must adopt the mindset of a marketer.

In my next blog post I will continue this review of So Good They Cant Ignore You, putting forward several key weaknesses of the book and its approach to living your bliss… Feel free to add your own insights, below. Do you agree with Newport?

Do you really have a soul calling?

Follow-Your-Dream

The following is an extract from my upcoming book, Champion of the Soul.

Calling what?
In recent decades there has been a great enthusiasm for the idea of “following your bliss”. This is another subject I have written about in depth (in Discover Your Soul Template) and in the three years since I published that book I have contemplated and researched further on the subject area.

The essential question I have been considering is: “Is there any such thing as finding your calling?”

My answer is… it depends upon the individual, and also on how you define the term “a calling”.

For some people there is a strong urge within the soul to actualise an innate gift or ability. This may be true of piano players, football players or entrepreneurs, for example. It seems as though they were put here on this earth to express themselves through that innate talent.

Einstein took a non-demanding job as a patent clerk for several years simply so he could have the time to manifest his passion – to be a physicist. By the age of twenty-six he became world-famous when he produced his theory of relativity. The fame and fortune that followed enabled one of the great minds of modern science to explore the secrets of the universe with tremendous freedom.

Mahatma Gandhi was so convinced by his destiny to be a future political and spiritual leader, that when he was a young man and a stretcher bearer in the Boar War in South Africa, observers noted that he seemed to have almost no fear of death. This was despite the treacherous nature of life on the battle field.

Actor Jim Carey’s innate wackiness and comic genius was ideal for a career in Hollywood. He was well aware of this, and before he became one of the biggest names in Hollywood, he would drive his car up to the hills above Los Angeles and creatively visualise and affirm his future success in that hyper-competitive city.

These three men’s lives are typical of the dream scenarios that we read about in magazines and in biographies of the rich and famous. Such stories also get write-ups in popular self-help and new age books.

But there is a catch here of course. Nobody ever writes the biography of those who went bust in Los Angeles without having “made it”, or those who got shot up in a war last century and were never heard of again.

So we have to be a little careful in extrapolating that all of us have this kind of “calling”.

There are two major distinctions to note here.

The first is that – and sorry to tell you this – not everybody is destined to be rich, powerful and famous.

Secondly, many people – perhaps most – do not have a specific calling centred around one skill, ability or profession.

The good news is, though, that this does not have to stop you being passionate and joyful in your chosen field of work.

If you are a person who cannot readily identify a passion that can be easily expressed as a money-making profession, it might “pay” you to stop thinking of a calling as a specific destiny involving one profession. After all, if you cannot identify such a calling, it is logical to consider the likelihood that there may no bleedingly obvious single destiny for you! If “God” had such a purpose for you I suspect that she would have made your destination a little clearer.

In fact it is common for people to try several different career paths before they identify something that they are passionate about. And the research into this area is very revealing. People generally become passionate about work they are good at (or become good at), and where they have a strong sense of responsibility and control. And these things tend to increase with time on the job, as long as the right mind-set is adhered to.

Steve Jobs’ famous Stanford commencement speech has nearly nine million hits on Youtube. This talk, where Jobs implores his audience to follow their passion, is often cited when the idea of living your dream is discussed.

However, as Cal Newport has pointed out in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, it is interesting to note that Jobs’ early life indicated little of his ultimate destiny as an entrepreneur and Apple CEO. Jobs attended Reed College, a well-known liberal Arts school. We can assume that he was initially passionate about literature, poetry and physics, because that is what he studied – before dropping out. He was also intrigued by the spiritual dimensions of life, experimenting with LSD and travelling to India on a pilgrimage.

Later Jobs combined wits with a more capable programmer, Steve Wozniak, and they set up Apple Computers in Jobs’ parent’s garage. Cal Newport suggests that Jobs’ early life indicates that Jobs’ destiny at Apple was effectively ad-hoc, a result of random experimentation with the world. Such an analysis misses the obvious point that Job’s had a strong entrepreneurial spirit and was passionate about both design and human potential. Throughout the ups and downs of his career at Apple – and his decade away from the company – he stuck to the ideals of beauty, simplicity and functionality. These values were effectively an expression of his soul.

Nonetheless, my perception is that these values – and Jobs’ passion to go out in the world and create-  could have been expressed in a number of different ways. I doubt that before his soul entred this realm of existence that God had ordained that “Though shalt found Apple computers and crank out the iPhone, iPad and iPhone for mass consumption!”

What this means for your calling
For many of you reading this book, your “calling” is more likely to be found in a general domain related to your innate passions, rather than a divinely ordained career as a butcher, baker or candlestick maker.

For example, you may love writing, but you may not be quite certain what line of work to pursue which can express that passion.

Perhaps you want to teach, but the precise expression of that skill may not be obvious to you.

Or maybe you love math and physics, and nothing else fills you with such excitement, and are wondering how to turn that into ongoing professional work.

It is perfectly possible that there may be no precise love or calling that is “meant” for you. My strong recommendation is for you to follow your intuitive pull to train in a profession or practice that is related to your passion, and which has a strong value in the market place. Build skills and reputation in that domain before you jump headlong into any very narrow specific work that may not have clear value to others. In the end, you have to be of service to society, or you do not have a “calling” – you have a pastime.

A higher “calling”
There’s yet another important distinction that I would like to introduce to you that is vital when thinking about the idea of living your bliss. It is the failure to realise the importance of this point which leads to a lot of misunderstanding.

When contemplating your calling it is helpful to focus upon being true to your soul. This means fully honouring and expressing the innate beauty and courage that lies within you. And this happens naturally whenever you are present to life. You don’t even have to try. In fact “trying” to be present retards presence.

In practical terms, this necessitates that whatever career or work you are currently doing – or plan to do in the future – you look for opportunities to express your innate power and beauty.

So, an alternative to seeking your calling might be to ask the following questions of your current life and work situation.

• In this moment, how can I bring joy to what I do?
• What is it that brings me great joy??
• Can I bring such joyful activities and skills into fruition in the world of money and markets? Or perhaps merely as a hobby or service that is for free?

Love the one you’re with…
Perhaps it is, though, that you cannot do your preferred work at this time.

This could be for any number of reasons. Perhaps you need to wait some time while building up skills and reputation before you quit your job. Maybe you are still figuring out how to monetise your passion and have to dabble in it part-time while working the night shift. Or you might not yet know what it is you are really passionate about.

In such a scenario I have the following suggestion.

Instead of waiting for your passion to find you, bring your passion to your work by being passionate about it!

In this case be present with – and love – what you do.

To take from an old song, “If you can’t have the job you love, love the job you have.”

Almost any act of creation – including any “job” – can be an act of love.

Again, the key to this is mindfulness. In any job, no matter how “mundane”, you bring divinity to the moment by being fully present. The shelf-stacker at the supermarket brings light to his soul and that of the customer when he joyfully guides that inquisitive person to find the mint sauce in aisle three. The teacher brings divinity to chaos when she is fully present and forgiving when she enters her year eight lower-stream class, last period Friday afternoon. This may include being forgiving of her own anger and fear at her powerlessness to discipline a rowdy group of hormone-fuelled teenagers. The street cleaner brings love to an unkempt street as he passes his humble broom back and forth across the dusty pavement, smiling at passes by.

Presence illuminates the darkness. In the end, your calling is to light the darkness in your own soul. For this in turn is what helps to enlighten the world, little by little.

To accept such a calling necessitates becoming a champion of the soul; and in particular a champion of the inner child. You honour your highest self and express your calling when you simply embody your true love and power.

Notice that there is nothing in this job description about actual nine-to-five duties.

By all means, seek to do work that is intrinsically joyful to your nature. I believe this is for the greater good of all. But even more important is bringing your joyful nature to your work.

 

Love the boss too
It is mostly the layers of pain contained within the emotional body – including the layers of distracting stories and false beliefs – which occlude our light. This is what clouds our days at the office.

It isn’t the boss’ fault.

Nonetheless, because life tends to reflect back to us the innate beliefs and stories that we hold within our psyches, the boss is likely to be a reflection of your soul story. Yet even if he or she is a psychopath, that reflection offers an opportunity for you to see yourself at a deeper level.

I’m not suggesting you need to hang around a toxic work environment and get beaten up for ten years to learn a soul lesson.

Perhaps you need to trust the universe enough to let him go and re-enter the job market.

But be careful. The universe can be a harsh mistress. If you try to run away from a situation that is merely a mirror to your soul, that scenario will most likely reappear in your life story, and in short time.

Ultimately there may be an opportunity to transform your relationship with Psycho Boss by stepping more fully into your soul power, and without turning the whole episode into a huge drama – as so many do. This is where being a champion off relationships is of great value. Having advanced social intelligence and great spiritual maturity, you may be able to subtly “work” your boss.

If the story that your mind is bringing forth is that “The boss is a bitch and I’m a victim!”, chaos and suffering will quickly evolve and you will not learn a great deal at a soul level.

Some important distinctions upon the road to you bliss

stumble

Despite what some well-meaning enthusiasts say, just because you follow your bliss does not guarantee that you will succeed. In fact, such a philosophy is full of possible roadblocks. These are almost never discussed in new age or popular self-help books, so I am going to share a few of them with you here.

In his well-researched book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport states this argument well. Although the author has little understanding of introspection or mindfulness, he brilliantly describes the most common errors that some naïve new agers make in this regard. Much of what I have learned from first-hand experience strongly supports many of Newport’s arguments. Here are several of the most relevant.

  • While many of us do have general innate passions and abilities, it is naïve to believe that you have only one true calling, or that you have to put your life on hold until you find that one thing. In fact, as Newport writes, people often develop their great passions after they begin to master a skill or craft. They often learn to love what they do. So don’t wait until life finds you. Bring love and presence to whatever you do, and you will find your “purpose” in the light that shines through you.
  • The courage culture is a simplistic fallacy. The “courage culture” is the naïve idea – popularised in many well-meaning self-help books – that the most important step in living your bliss is having the courage to make a sudden change of life orientation, such as quitting your current job or moving to your dream location. Having courage is not enough. You need to be well prepared, and ideally, have some career capital in your new field (see next point).
  • It can be disastrous to try to suddenly change professions without having established any “career capital” in your new field. You cannot expect to instantly demand credibility in an entirely new field. Just because you love software, does not mean that software companies will open their arms to you when you quit your day job as an office clerk. In such a scenario, the wannabe-IT guy would need to gradually develop a reputation and connections in his new field.
  • It is erroneous to believe that expertise will come simply because you love doing something; because you spend time doing the thing you love. In other words, you need to appreciate the need for “deliberate practice”. Many people believe that you need about 10 000 hours of quality, focused, systemic time to master a field. Are you prepared to be that focused and to work that hard?
  • Believing that following your passion is always joyful is naïve. Firstly, there will be times when things will be difficult, where you will face failure and rejection. And secondly, all that time required to develop mastery via repeated practice can be less than exciting!
  • Trying to develop a business out of a skill or service that nobody is willing to pay for is futile. If you don’t know of anybody who can “buy” your passion, it’s not a business. It’s a hobby. That in itself is fine – as long as you are not depending upon it to pay the bills!
  • The popular idea of following your bliss can create obsessive self-interest, rather than generosity of spirit. In other words, the naïve new-ager may come to see his calling as being about self-gratification. In fact, many of the great masters of passion that we hear about – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King, Einstein, da Vinci and so on, focused on being of service to others, not on satisfying themselves.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon the idea of working in your dream job or doing what you love. After all, my book Discover Your Soul Template is all about doing just that. But do keep your feet on the ground, and take into consideration the realities of the world of money and markets.

 

Note: This post is a short extract from my upcoming book Champion of the Soul.

Marcus

Be a Champion of the Soul

soul sunset

In recent years we have seen a proliferation of teachings which potentially herald a deeply spiritual human future. This human future, somewhat paradoxically, will be lived by those souls whose consciousness is deeply embedded within the peace, joy and wisdom of the present moment.

The essence of these emerging truthful spiritual teachings is that human beings who are grounded in presence have access to great peace and great spiritual power. They are written and spoken by wise spiritual masters, and grounded in the wisdom of lived experience.

During the 1960s and 1970s there was a shift in spiritual awareness in western humanity. Many people began to see that spirituality could be embodied without the need for religious indoctrination. The awareness that individuals have direct, unfettered access to the divine became more widespread. An important part of this movement was an increased social conscience, as well as an increased desire for social activism – witnessed most notably in protest movements. There was a sense that this spirituality could be part of lived experience, part of greater society.

This expanded consciousness, however, also created certain aberrations. These included some new age teachings, some self-help literature, various cults, conspiracy theory culture and so on.

Certain activists came to believe that the human world was just so lost that we should avoid participating in it altogether. Some turned to drugs, altered states of consciousness, lucid dreaming and so on as a means to escape the pain of living in the modern world. Timothy Leary’s famous dictum that we should “Turn on, tune in, drop out” was perhaps the best expression of this, particularly in the way that many interpreted it.

Even as human consciousness expanded, a deeper distrust of humanity accompanied it. Spiritual optimism and worldly pessimism became strange bedfellows.

Moving ahead…
Today, as I write this book in 2014, we retain many of the elements of this collective tension within human consciousness.

Such a development is not “wrong”. It is merely part of our collective development.

However, current common misunderstandings represent a distortion of spirituality as imposed by the mind (or ego). And one of the biggest problems is that – unconsciously – many spiritual teachings have instilled a sense of “us versus them” and cut us off from the world, society and other people.

Such teachings can exacerbate the state of separation which lies at the heart of much human suffering.

Tension and resolution
There is an innate “evolutionary” drive within the human psyche to return to a state of wholeness. When we deviate from our true nature of peace and love, a tension arises within us, both individually and collectively. This acts as kind of automatic balancing mechanism. The tension seeks resolution.

So it is that in the early years of the twenty-first century we saw another shift in human consciousness – the mindfulness movement. This essentially spiritual approach to life has introduced several key distinctions into greater awareness, and they are helping to offset the aforementioned collective tension created in the wake of 60s counter-culture.

The first distinction is the understanding that life is only ever lived in the present moment, and that this is where life’s true joy and prosperity reside. The past is only ever a memory, the future only ever an act of imagination.

Another distinction brought forward by the mindfulness movement is that of a greater understanding of the nature of the human ego. We are now far more aware of the many ways in which the ego tends to distort the world, the self and the spiritual journey

Importantly, it is now more widely understood that the ego does not need to be eliminated in order to live a spiritually aligned life (though this concept is often misinterpreted).

Finally, the mindfulness movement has helped many advanced souls ground spirituality in lived experience. It has helped bring spirituality into the world and into modern life.

However, this final step has not yet been fully completed. The tension has not been completely resolved for many of us.

For even as the wave of mindfulness has descended, it has been met with an even greater wave of “opposition” – trends which run counter to it.

In particular, we have seen an increased commoditisation of education, increased materialism and increased individualism.

The rise of the internet, mobile technology and social media is also highly problematic. Many IT addicts live in a constant state of distraction, separated from the world, from the body and from society.

Concurrently, an increasingly aggressive mass media continues to bombard us with violence and depravity, making our lives ever-more complex, ever-more distracted, ever-more fearful.

We have also witnessed a greater sophistication in advertising; as well as the widespread manipulation of people by governments and other organisations with agendas for power and control over the population. These developments mean that we have to find ways to remain grounded and aware. We need to develop the ability to intuit truth from lie.

And we must be able to stand in our God-given power as men and women.

Adding to the angst of the modern spiritual practitioner is the literal opposition of skeptics organisations, conservatives within scientific and educational establishments, and religious narrow mindedness. Such opposition necessitates a requirement for the spiritually-inclined to avoid being drawn into anger and drama with these people. We need to remain centered and at peace.

Therefore the mindful and the spiritually-inclined people of today are required to be able to embody mindfulness and soulfulness in a hectic and complex modern world.

How can we deal with such a world and retain our state of mindful spirituality. Our equanimity?

How can we shine our light amidst so much darkness?

That is the question that Champion of the Soul, Master of the Mind sets out to answer.

Many of the teachers that I have worked with and learned from (either personally or by reading their books or watching their online material) are truly wonderful. People like Leonard Jacobson and Eckhart Tolle represent the highest understanding of spiritual expression. They are people of great wisdom and integrity.

Their teachings can be truly liberating.

Yet there is a limitation to their teachings, one that is no fault of their own.

They are spiritual teachers, and so do not have to deal with many of the problems that everyday life brings forth for you and me. While spiritual masters certainly deal with many challenges, they work mostly with advanced souls who have a strong motivation to awaken from the dark world of the mind. And their advanced level of consciousness means that they do not have to deal with the kinds of daily problems encountered by an average person.

Champion of the Soul, Master of the Mind is written to bring advanced spiritual teachings into everyday life. This book is for people who have at least some awareness of the journey of mindful presence, but who seek a more practical application in their lives.

There are twelve domains of life which can readily take us out of presence and away from peace. Each represents a potential loss of personal power. To be a champion of the soul, you have to learn to master each of them.

  • How to work in the world of time without becoming lost in imagined futures or the self-limiting stories of the past.
  • How to develop the right relationship with the ego without harmfully repressing it.
  • How to develop the right relationship with – and heal – your emotional pain; the wounded child within.
  • How to come to a deeper awareness of what karma really is, and how to release it.
  • How to develop profound intuition without getting lost in the murky worlds of the psychic.
  • How to become a master of loving relationships, without giving your power away to others.
  • How to appreciate and love the wonders of science and the rational mind, while at the same time fully appreciating the limits of reason.
  • How to live in modern society, and to learn to love and accept it and the human species for what they are – darkness and all.
  • How to harness the power of the internet and social media without becoming a slave to disembodied distraction.
  • How to remain present and at peace despite the extreme negativity of modern mass media.
  • How to be truly abundant regardless of your bank account.
  • How to live your calling and your life at its highest expression, while fully acknowledging the realities of the market place.

Yes, it is possible to be in this world, love in this world and to love the world itself.

It is possible to be here, be in the present moment, and to be joyful.

It is possible to fully participate in life and society. You can be of service to our species.

And you can embody your innate spiritual power without giving it away to others.

In short, you can be a champion of the soul.

Such an experience of life represents the next step on our spiritual journey.

On your spiritual journey.

This post is an extract from the introduction of my book Champion of the Soul, Master of the Mind. The book is not yet released, and I am yet to decide if and when I might publish it. In fact, this is the first time I have ever told anyone about it, either in private or publicly. Feel free to comment on the idea.

The essential focus of this book is how to bring spiritual practice – and in particular mindful presence – into our lives in the modern world. And in doing so, how we can express genuine spiritual power in the world.

Note: Both the terms “champion of the soul” and “master of the mind” were first used by spiritual teacher Leonard Jacobson (www.leonardjacobson.com). However, although my book is deeply inspired by Leonard’s teachings (and others’), it is not meant to be specifically representative of his work.

Why Life is Cruel: A Spiritual Perspective

The following is an extract from my upcoming book, Champion of the Soul.

The soul’s journey is one of grace. The universe guides us and nurtures us, much like a loving parent.
But that parent knows the value of tough love. Oftentimes it leads us into places that lead to suffering, where that suffering can deepen our wisdom. And it is perfectly willing to allow us to make foolish choices which can lead to painful outcomes.

I have come to know this from personal experience, and from witnessing the lives of others.

Not that long ago I personally experienced this yet again in my life. I attended a teacher-training course run by Cambridge University, the CELTA course. This programme for teachers of English as a second language is well known for being very, very tough.

In fact, it was far tougher than any training I have ever done. All teachers were required to undergo eight trainer-evaluated lessons and submit four written assignments within the space of twenty days, not including weekends.

I received the evaluation of “unsatisfactory” for my second and third lessons. For the third lesson my evaluator gave me an unsatisfactory grade for ten of the twenty assessed criteria! This must have been close to a company record.

As you might imagine, I did not feel good about this. In fact for a few hours after receiving my feedback I felt quite depressed, and beat myself up. The possibility that I would fail the entire course was looking a distinct possibility. I wondered whether I should give up. I was certainly tempted to do so. But within a few hours I remembered why I had entered the course in the first place: to receive critical evaluation of my teaching, and use the feedback to become a better teacher.

I felt despondent, but resolved to keep going. Most of all I stopped beating myself up. I stopped taking it personally.

That night as I lay down to sleep I received two pieces of spiritual guidance. Often I hear songs being played to me in this state between waking and sleeping. To be honest, I don’t really know where the melodies come from, but it seems likely they are either initiated by spiritual guides or my higher self.

The first line to come to me was very simple: “Teacher, keep on teaching.” These words are from a Stevie Wonder song, “Higher Ground”. I knew that the words were encouragement for me to keep going. To keep teaching. I knew that I was making the right decision to continue the programme.

The second song that came through to my inner ear were from an old Nick Lowe song, and contained these lines:

Cruel to be kind, in the right measure
Cruel to be kind it’s a very good sign
Cruel to be kind means that I love you, baby
You gotta be cruel to be kind

The lyrics told me that even though the feedback that I was getting from my teacher-trainers was very, very critical, it was actually in my best interests. It was, in a sense, an act of love.

I knew then that I need not take the evaluations personally, but should see them as a means to improve as a teacher.

I returned to my lesson-preparations the next day with renewed vigour. For my next lesson I received excellent evaluations, and I passed all remaining five lessons, all remaining assignments and ultimately the course itself.

Best of all, I learned an incredible amount about teaching. And learning.

The truth is that life – and God if you prefer to use this word – is often like my experience on the CELTA teaching programme. Things may sometimes seem cruel or unkind. But all things are an opportunity to learn. All things inner and outer an opportunity to awaken from the dream of mind; from the delusion that it is “all about me”.

Trusting the cruel queen
Please allow me to share something else a little personal.

In between the two failed CELTA lessons – which were taught about four days apart – I had the following dream. I transcribe it here exactly as I wrote it down in my dream journal.

Two other students from the (CELTA) course are getting some kind of psychic reading from a female oracle. She towers before us like a giant statue, and seems to look somewhat like the virgin Mary, although her image in hazy. The oracle’s head has all the left side missing (her left), as if someone has taken a great knife and chopped the left side of her face off.

I am slightly frightened and overawed.

I think R. (another student on the course) is beside me to my right. He gets a reading first. There is a loaf of bread in front of him, and I know this represents the soul issue he is being shown.

Next, the oracle turns to me.

“You’ve been into the left-hand side of the sea.” She says to me. “If you are to ever have hope, you must deal with your anger.”

There is now a loaf of bread in front of me, round and brown, which seems to represent my anger. I say something like that the issue is old, but the oracle says, “No, it’s fresh.” I look again, and sure enough the loaf seems fresh-baked.

“Have you ever lost a finger?” the giant oracle says as she she reaches down with a sharp, metal, serrated-edged knife and begins to slice into the long finger on my right hand, just to mid-right of the tip (hand facing me). I do not know whether to trust her, scared she will cut off the finger. She seems almost flippant, with a callous kind of humour.

There then comes the idea that one has to trust the goddess in these situations, so I present the hand. The blade cuts into my finger, but stops just a short way into the flesh.

I am relieved.

I wake up.

In this dream the symbolism is clear. Sometimes God (or the goddess) will invite you into places that are frightening, which might be fearful or even trigger trauma and suffering. But there is an intention that through the experience you might be brought into deeper awareness of your soul issues, of the self-limiting beliefs and stories that you carry in your mind.

Although the meaning might not be apparent to you, for me the personal nature of the dream above was clear. In this dream my anger and blame was towards the world. The belief was that no matter what I did, I would fail, that the world would push me down. This is a victim narrative.

I might add that it is one of the most common soul issues amongst people in the world today.
The reference to going into the left-hand side of the sea was an oblique reference to allowing myself to become too caught up “in the head” and disconnecting with my body – including my deeper emotional body.

The term “the left-hand side of the sea” was an indirect reference to the left-hand side of my brain – and my developing an unbalanced cognitive predisposition which left me ungrounded and disconnected from my emotional and intuitive body.

The important thing is that no matter what your life circumstances, no matter what set of cards life has dealt you, you are still responsible for your anger and projections. God does not grant excuses. No matter how downtrodden you are (including your “people”), there is an opportunity to see through the story of the mind and into the clarity of the present moment. There is an opportunity to heal.

You just have to be prepared to own your story, assume responsibility for whatever pain lies behind it, and then release it all to God.

Never believe the story that your mind is trying to sell you. Never believe the story that your people are pleading with you to take on – no matter how morally vindicated you believe they are.

For that story is what locks you into the world of the past, into the world of pain.
And into the world of karma.

Marcus

Are Asians Smarter?

There’s a lot of talk in Western countries about the success of Asian students in schools and universities. This debate extends beyond mere culture to incorporate the idea of human intelligence. The question then becomes, are Asians simply smarter? Asians do tend to score slightly higher than Caucasians in IQ tests, and significantly higher than blacks.

This is a complex question, and here I’m just going to raise a couple of main points. I will focus upon Asian culture and schooling here. There are of course a host of related issues in Western education.

It is indisputable that environment has a significant effect on the expression of human intelligence. (The debate is over just how much).

The way that most intelligence tests are constructed favours pencil and paper type intelligence, and of course people who spend more time doing pencil and paper tests will do better. Most intelligence tests test favour verbal/linguistic, mathematical/logical intelligence and spatial awareness. Given the culture of most Asian societies – endless study and playing computer games – it’s only natural these facets of human intelligence will expand. It’s important to note that intelligence is very plastic, as The Flynn Effect clearly shows – at least in terms of measured IQ. (The Flynn Effect refers to the massive increase in measured Intelligence in developed countries since World War Two). Russian psychologist S Luria showed that Russian peasants early last century had almost no capacity for abstract conceptualisation. Now almost everybody is proficient, given the demands of modern society. This is just one facet of such intelligence expansion.

Consider how IQ scores might change if intelligence tests incorporated other variables not well-developed in Asian cultures.

  • Creativity.
  • Idea generation.
  • Question generation.
  • Lateral thinking.
  • Hypothesis formulation.
  • Self-reflective awareness.
  • Social intelligence.
  • Emotional and spiritual intelligence (includining what I call Integrated Intelligence).
  • Embodied intelligence…*

I suspect that if these factors were taken into consideration when assessing human intelligence, then Asians would then fall back considerably in the tests scores. Not because of innate lack of intelligence, but because of cultural delimitation.

Most notably, many of the attributes in the list above are present in the worlds great thought leaders. So why do they they not constitute a part of most intelligence testing?

If you look at the development of human civilisation it is hard to argue that Asians are smarter. In fact, given that there are far more Asians than any other race, they are under-represented in human design and creativity, especially in the past several centuries. Few Asians, for example, have been represented in the awarding of Nobel Prizes. Some suggest that this is due to the cultural bias of the awarding body. However, I don’t think this is the entire reason.

There’s no doubt that there were impressive cultures and societies built in centuries past. And there was a great deal of introspective wisdom in Buddhist, Taoist, Indic thought and so on.

I think we can assume that the same genetic pool was available in China during its years as “The Sick Man of Asia” as there is today – when we see China flourishing economically and technologically. Clearly then the same DNA can produce the gleaming skyscrapers and fast trains of twenty-first century China – but also the mind boggling stupidity of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, which led to China’s economic collapse and the deaths of perhaps fifty million people.

Intelligence is the capacity to solve problems. Where culture and society and behaviour promote any given cognitive capacity, then it will flourish – and whatever mental abilities are not valued will diminish. This is what is happening with the East Asian cultures at present – but only in certain cognitive domains. The reason why high IQ scores and scholastic aptitudes don’t necessarily translate into genius is because intelligence tests and schooling focus on a delimited range of human mental abilities. These abilities will get you good grades and into good universities and decent jobs, but the entire process is self-limiting.

It often comes at the cost of the cognitive abilities which Asian parents do not value because they have little academic or social/financial value.

The entire East Asian social structure also creates a high degree of co-dependence, which means most people are unwilling to step outside the boundaries of what is socially approved of. I predict that this will eventually lead to social stagnation (as is happening in Japan), because ultimately there will be too many managers and not enough leaders (especially thought leaders).

There is an increasing awareness of this issue in Asia. Singapore in particular has incorporated creativity into its classrooms. In Hong Kong, the Education Department is attempting to do the same.

Ironically, the greatest hindrance to change is the social structure. Parents, administrators and teachers all want high test scores. But most are not willing to sacrifice upward social mobility for the sake of some abstract concepts like creativity or emotional intelligence. So parents keep drilling their kids and sending them to tutoring classes after school and on weekends. And students get good scores. But at what cost?

 

* No doubt you will be thinking this list is highly subjective. And you would be correct. These variables simply reflect my personal perception based on experience in East Asian cultures. I’m sure some might take offence at suggesting that, say, social intelligence is not well developed. This needs to be contextualised. There is a growing issue in many Asian countries with young people – especially males – becoming disengaged from society. For example, in China there is a derogatory term – “diaosi” – used to describe young men who have limited social skills, no girlfriend, and who spend most of their spare time playing computer games. This problem is not unique to China, but is exacerbated in China because young men with no connections to power or influence often have limited social and professional options.