The Sun as Our Good Guide – Lessons of Unconditional Love

Do you ever feel yourself in a Funk with a negative attitude and a basic feelings of angst or anxiety with no specific cause? It happens to us in the winter and especially in the current times with all that we have been going through. There is a simple practice of appreciation for the Sun that can help us to overcome these feelings and restore our sense of connectedness, faith and divine love. The Sun is always there to teach us if we just pay attention.

The Sun is a good guide

For whoever wants to learn

Hearing what he says

Everyone will overcome

Pd. Sebastião Mota de Melo, O Justiceiro #150

If we follow the Sun’s guidance we can move out of our feelings of negativity and through a process of restoring our connection and sense of divine unconditional love. Here is how it works.

Step One – Check in to Recognize our own negativity

Sometimes we fall into a negative attitude when we are isolated and spend too much time inside on our computer. This happens a lot in the winter, and even more so in the current environment. We are crave attention and connection, but only end up feeling more isolated and inauthentic. These feelings overtake us slowly, and we often do not even recognize what is happening. We just end up in a grey funk. The first step is to recognize when we suffer from negativity, and to do this, we can do a quick check in with ourselves.

You can do this right now with this simple meditation. Find a comfortable position, preferable seated with your spine upright and take a couple of deep breaths. Let all of your feelings buzz around inside your consciousness, and try to let go of any stories attached to them. If you are, for example, feeling the energy around a disagreement you may have had with someone close to you, the “story” might be “I’m stressed and angry because so and so did or did not do something.” Let go of the story about so and so, and just feel the stress and anger. Recognize that the stress and anger is part of you, and the story really does not matter. What matters is that you are in the vibration of stress and anger. Let go of all the explanations and justifications and rationalizations, and just sit with the energy of what IS inside you.

Step Two – Call upon the power of the Sun

Now, imagine that your heart, there in your chest beating, is a Sun the size of a grapefruit. Allow this little sun to ignite in your chest and produce soft glow of golden light inside you. When we do this, we are connecting to the “Chi” energy that flows throughout our bodies, and it is exactly the same energy as the Sun. The Sun’s warm rays teach us the nature of divine unconditional love that is always abundantly available for all of us. Feel it flowing inside your body right now.

Now consider the nature of the Sun’s unconditional love. The Sun shines light on everything equally. To the Sun there is no beautiful and their is no ugly. The Sun illuminates everything the same. It is the nature of the Sun itself to shine, and so it’s benevolence does not depend on our deserving of it. This is very contrary to how we are taught to think about love. We are taught that love is something that we need to get from other people. We are also taught that we should be very discerning in who we give love to. I remember when I first heard of unconditional love I thought it was unrealistic. Why would we love someone who does not love us back? I remember thinking that the notion of turning the other cheek was just coming back for more abuse.

When the wise masters like Buddha or Christ talk about LOVE, it is the unconditional love like the Sun that they are talking about. Turn the other cheek does not mean that you should let yourself be abused. It means that, for true spiritual masters (which I am not by any means), the abuses you suffer in the outside world cannot change your inner loving nature. I read somewhere a quote from a Tibetan monk who had been subjected to brutal treatment by the Chinese in a prison. When asked what he feared most, his reply was that he might lose compassion for his tormentors.

Can you see the profoundness of this answer? It does not mean that the monk was a glutton for punishment, or that the actions of his tormentors were somehow to be tolerated or justified. He feared the terrible abuse he was being subjected to would change his own internal loving nature–that it would damage the Sun of unconditional love or compassion in his heart. So here and now, in our meditation, when we connect to the Sun in our heart, we are recognizing our own divine nature.

Step Three – Let the Light Grow

Now that you have connected to the energy in your heart and related it to the sun, let the light grow. Let it shine so that when you open your eyes it shines out, when you open your mouth, it shines out, when you point your finger it shines out. Gaze about the room with gentle focus, and let this light from within you shine on everything that you gaze upon. Do this without any judgment, and accept everything just as it is. Our understanding of everything around us may be incomplete, but this does not matter. It does not matter because this gaze does not depend on the things that we gaze upon. The way you gaze upon things is a function of your very nature. It is a function of the little Sun inside your heart.

Lessons from the Sun – a wrap up

The Sun is a good guide, and all we have to do is connect to receive it’s lessons. It teaches us faith, brings unconditional love, and restores our connection to nature. It is easy to understand why so many cultures have worshiped the Sun. To learn the lessons from the Sun, we just need to step outside and experience it. Then we save this inside our hearts so we can always access this connection when we need it. This way we can move out of our negativity and into the light of the Sun.

Thanks for reading.

Peace.

Gen Z Free from Fear – One Simple Shift In Consciousness that Makes All the Difference.

Dear Gen Z – Do you feel it in your bones that you are being manipulated with fear? There are two fears I see being used to manipulate young people. They are the fear of being alone and the fear of being financially destitute. “Society” manipulates you with both of these fears, and if you can recognize this and shift your consciousness, you can take back control over your life. This article will share some things I learned about getting by in the world. If you want to scan ahead you can. If you have some time, you can read along.

When I was coming of age the big fear was for survival. You had to go to school and get really good grades so you could go to the best college (better than your friends), and then you could get the best job and the best house and the best car, and then at 65 you could retire wealthy and move to Naples, FL where nothing worse can happen to you than being stuck in a long line for a table at the Outback Steakhouse. I ran that race from 1988 to 2013, and now I’d like to see if I can help someone else save a couple decades.

The message we were fed told us we had to conform to all these requirements or else we’d end up living in a cardboard box. Scary right?

So the first mental shift you can make is…

  1. If you learn to be of service and to live simply, then you can do whatever you want and go anywhere.

My dog literally taught me this lesson. He’s perfectly happy wherever we go, as long as he has his doggy bed. It really does not matter if we put it in the back of a van, or in a tent, or in a crappy Air BnB or in a fabulous house. He does not have a mind full of ideas about what he should want, or that something else would be better. What makes him happy is being able to run around in the fields and streams of Colorado, or down the beach in Miami, or just around the neighborhood. And this is really a profound shift in thinking you can make to free you from the fear of scarcity. If you live simply, the world is abundant.

What you do have to do is construct a sustainable (which means debt free) life for yourself. The most important thing you can do to create a sustainable life is to live very simply. To be sustainable you have to “make ends meet,” and there are two ends. One “end” is what you produce or create in the world, and the other is what you consume. Society wants you to consume a ton of stuff, and to make that sustainable, you have to earn or produce or create the same quantity. So the first “end” you can work on is the living simply side of the equation. If you can learn to be happy with a metaphorical doggy bed, then you can put it anywhere and do whatever you want. It’s only when your needs get too big that your life becomes a chore.

Think about it. What is the difference between a canoe or a paddle board and a huge yacht? Well sure, a yacht you can fill up with friends and party, and you can impress a bunch of people on Instagram. But really, 90% of the benefit of the boat is access to the water. You get 90% of that with a kayak or even better, a small sailboat. It’s better for the environment and it’s actually a lot more fun than being in a living room on a giant yacht. And you can make real friends who like sailing or paddle boarding. Can you meet a lot of other friends with big yachts (do you want to??)

I was reading an article today about people in the Hamptons fighting over the East Hampton Airport operations. The Billionaires fly over 200 flights a day during the peaks in an out of this Northeast Beach Town, and the only-multi-millionaires object the noise of helicopters and jets screaming in an out every day–it’s the sound of people richer than they are coming to town! They have lawyers and arguments and all kinds of aggression. Does that make any sense at all? People who have everything fight over nothing. What happened to the beach itself? It has been forgotten. Now it’s all about social standing and who has the biggest mansion.

Not all wealthy people are like this mind you. There are plenty of wealthy people in Telluride Colorado. Super wealthy people even. But you would never know it. They walk in town for coffee. They hike. They ski. They enjoy the outdoors. These are super smart, highly successful, and very happy people. And what makes them so much happier than those folks fighting over the Hampton airport (who mostly go to Aspen), is that they are in touch with simplicity.

I am very blessed to be in a position in life where my material needs are abundantly satisfied. What makes me and my wife happy is the freedom to engage in the simple pleasures of hunting for mushrooms in the forest, or walking the dog, or cooking a good meal with friends. We make our own bed, we clean our own kitchen, we cook our own meals, we do our own shopping, and we enjoy these simple pleasures. YOU have the right to enjoy simple things–chop wood, carry water is the zen principle here.

Many of our very best friends are materially not wealthy at all. But spiritually they are so rich. One of my very good friends maintains properties in Telluride. He knows every trail on the mountain. He’s 6-4 maybe 180 pounds, and he is in ridiculously good shape and healthy. I met him when we first bought our place in town there. I remember thinking, oh my, that’s the kind of shape you have to be in to get the best out of Telluride. He is of tremendous service and his needs are simple. His life is a model that you won’t see in school, but it’s one you can easily implement for yourself.

And that gets us to the other “end,” which is what your produce or create. The basic idea here is to simply learn to be of service. If you show up on time, have a pleasant demeanor, and if you can be of some utility, then you will be welcome anywhere. You will get a job anywhere, and you will start meeting people who enjoy being in your company. Before you know it, you will find yourself being pulled into an awesome life. One step at a time.

You see if your needs are simple and if your goal is truly to be of service, you can do that by doing something you love to do. Let that sink in… what you do to make your way can be something you actually enjoy doing, as long as your needs are simple.

Let’s say you like to build things out of wood. You could be of service in carpentry. If you show up in Telluride and tell anybody you are a carpenter, and then you show up on time and treat people honestly, you will have no shortage of work to do. If your needs are simple, you can cherry pick your clients so that you work with nice people, and you can get by on a reasonable work schedule that gives you plenty of time to ski or travel or do whatever you want. I know people who set up websites, who teach English in Brazil, who do photography projects, who clean houses. It’s not hard to find opportunities to serve if you truly want to serve.

People who have simple needs and who are of service, find little niches to live in. This is such a great way to spend your 20s before you have kids and a family and a lot of responsibilities.

Society will tell you that you need to accomplish its prescription of goals and agenda or else your whole life will be a failure. But the bargain they propose… work your ass off in a job you hate to pay for a big house you are never in, so that you can retire with a 401K when you are 65… that whole dream is an illusion.

Life is a grand adventure for those who open up to it. Freedom from fear is the first step. I hope someone out there finds this helpful.

Peace.

Four things you can do in thirty seven seconds to improve your life

Would you like to know four things you can do in 37 second to improve your life?

First, look at this picture of the waning Moon and take a deep breath. That’s seven seconds.

Next, take another deep breath and resolve that you are going to finally start feeding your body the nutrition it needs to survive. Truly accept what you already know, that food is medicine and what you eat is the foundation of your health and well being. It might take a little while to identify all the changes you want to make, but you can affirm the importance of it and start walking the right path in the span of a single breath. That’s ten seconds more.

Third, you can commit to ridding yourself of toxic relationships. Are there people in your life who always provoke drama, make you feel guilty or like you should have done more, or fail to honor commitments and show up on time? Resolve to evaluate your relationship based on how they actually make you feel. Spend more time and energy where they feel good and less where they feel bad. Guilt is not a reason to do anything.

Fourth take another deep breath. Hold it one moment, and on the exhale give up smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol. There are so many people out there talking about how hard it is to beat addiction. That it can take years of effort to give up addictions, and that you have to go to long twelve step programs and stay in them the rest of your life. That’s simply not true. You can just not smoke or drink anymore, starting…. RIGHT NOW.

So that was 37 seconds, which is what I read in this article from The Art of Blogging is the amount of time an average reader spends scanning a blog post. When I started to read this very insightful article, I resisted. I thought, I don’t want to write articles for people that only have 37 seconds of attention! That’s the attention span of a gnat! But then I realized that I often spend 37 seconds or less on a post, unless it catches my attention. When it does catch my attention, I read the whole thing. So maybe that happened to you.

So these are three topics that can really make a difference fast, and if you have read this far, maybe it’s because you want to read more. Back in about 1997 I found myself tipping the scale at my lifetime maximum weight of 213 pounds. I was comfortable in size 38 pants. I followed the advice popular at the time, which was “don’t count calories, count grams of fat.” The rage was low or zero fat, so you could eat as much sugar as you wanted. I actually went on the “Slim Fast” diet, which were chocolate drinks in a can with some supplements. The number one ingredient on the can (I confirmed) is sugar. And so I starved myself slowly losing weight.

My father was also losing weight at the time, and he introduced me to a book called Protein Power. This was 1998. I read it cover to cover, and it was full of hard science about the impact of sugars and processed starches on our metabolic system. Basically, the Slim Fast type of diet provoked a massive insulin response, and insulin causes your body to turn sugar into fat and then store the fat in your fat cells. To lose weight under this regimen, you literally have to starve yourself one calorie at a time. And so was born the American obesity epidemic.

I followed the advice for a diet of limited carbohydrates and lots of protein, and the weight just fell off me effortlessly. By 2000 I weighed 172 pounds. Now, 22 years later, I weight 168. I have studied diet and nutrition on my own for the twenty years in between, and the best way I can think of it comes from the Paleo diet movement. This is so easy to follow because you basically only eat things that look like food looks in the wild. You can eat whatever you find in the produce section and around the edges of the grocery store. Pretty much anything with no ingredients… whole foods are their only ingredient. Fish is just fish. Broccoli is just broccoli. If you follow this diet, then you body will naturally return to a healthy state, and then your own appetite will tell you when and how much to eat.

Imagine that! Your own appetite will tell you what to eat. It seems so strange because we are so controlled now days by terrible cravings that come from addictions to food additives and processes that our body simply never learned how to handle. Starches like crackers or breads break down into pure glucose in seconds. These kinds of foods simply were not available to our ancestors. So really all you have to do is make a mental shift, an upgrade in your consciousness, and all the sudden your body will start working for you and you will start feeling better now.

Second is toxic relationships. I have a friend who was always going to therapy with his girlfriend. They were always working on their relationship. Because relationships take work right? Well sure they take some work. I’m very happily married and have been for 9 years (I was previously married for 21 years), and sure we take very good care of our relationship, and this positive effort could be called work. But let’s be really clear. For it to be a good relationship, it has to be at least 80% good. That means 80% of your interactions are naturally positive and joyful, and 20% give opportunities for “work” and improvement. But if you are always trying to “work” on things with a boss, or a lover, or a friend or a relative, and you are never really happy with that relationship, then PUNT!

A good test is notice how you feel when they phone rings, or when someone texts your or calls out to you, or when you see them. Does your skin crawl? Do you wish you could dodge the call but answer it anyway because you feel guilty? Your life is made up of the moments of life all strung together. Don’t waste them in relationships that make you feel bad inside. They might tell you that you deserve to feel bad because you don’t behave as you should. Well maybe you don’t behave as THEY want you to behave. But if you want to be happy, hang out with your kind of monkeys. Hang out with people who you actually enjoy being with, not those who make you feel bad.

This is especially true in romantic relationships, which we often hold onto even when they don’t serve. If such a relationship makes you feel angst and dream of freedom, then recognize this truth and hit the road. I can refer those of you from a younger generation to a very helpful manual contained in a song called “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”. Slip out the back Jack!

And next, cigarettes and alcohol. I know nobody wants to talk about alcohol because it’s the only mind altering drug approved by our society. It is because it actually just dulls your consciousness and lets you cope with the pain of living a messed up life. Alcohol numbs the pain of existence, and makes things that are not fun, seem like fun. Try it. Go to a bar in Milwaukee and don’t drink. I tried this after I quit drinking. Sitting at a smoke filled bar in the afternoon while you don’t drink really sucks. Drinking is not the answer. Go do something actually fun.

And further, if you want to alter your consciousness, which is a basic human right that has been practiced for thousands of years, there are so many better ways to do it than alcohol. There are consciousness expanding plant medicines that work a lot better, and they don’t wreck your life.

Same story with nicotine. It’s actually very very easy to quit smoking. I did it this way. One day I spat up a glob of black mucus and thought oh my god, my lungs. I resolved not to smoke anymore. That was January of 2011, and I haven’t had nicotine since. The cravings peak at about five or six days. If you can make it over that hump, then simply resolve never to smoke anymore. Beware of lapses at 7 minutes, 7 hours, 7 days, 7 weeks, 7 months and 7 years.

And back up to the top. Enjoy the moon. Go outside and look at Jupiter in the evening and see Venus when it starts to rise in the morning sky now that it has transited the sun. We get such a spectacle every night if we just look at it. The firmament is the universal treasure.

I hope you enjoyed if you made it this far.

Peace.

Where Are YOU dreaming this From?

I started my writing here to help myself reduce the jumbles of thoughts in my mind into a linear stream, and so now I want to do this with some thought experiments that I have been working with about nature of consciousness and how our consciousness is attached to our material body.

I started this study, unintentionally, in about 1997 when I read Ayn Rand’s classic Atlas Shrugged. That book introduced me to the very persuasive philosophy “objectivism” and sent me down the path of atheism for several years. There was always, in the back of my mind, a gnawing awareness that Ayn Rand died by suicide, so maybe its not the best philosophy, but it was persuasive.

The whole things starts with a pretty simple idea, which she claims is irrefutable, and that goes something like this. The first step is “I think therefore I am”. I think most people are familiar with this and find it to be persuasive. Whatever the “I” is that is thinking this, that is generating these words and typing them into the page here, whatever that is, it is, and it is me, and I therefore must exist. I AM.

The next step in this chain is that the I AM is typing on this computer, so there is an I AM, and then there is a computer. From there objectivism reduces existence to the material world. All the people out there are a bunch of little separate “I AM’s” and we are all interacting with material objects in a material world. And according to Ayn Rand, that’s the nature of our existence.

I do not remember all of the steps in her logic, but I do remember Occam’s razor, which is a concept in science (and philosophy) that requires the simple solutions to be preferred to the complex solutions. This principle has been employed to undermine any spiritual understanding of the world, because with our existing technology, we are not able to directly measure the presence and action of spirit, and Occam’s razor therefore requires that we reject everything spiritual or religious as an unnecessary complication. This is because everything can be explained by the interaction of objects in the material world. Inserting GOD or Consciousness or spirit into this material view would be an unnecessary complication, and must therefore be rejected.

So in summary, the concept is this… you are an “I AM” reading this post, and you exist, and the “this post” that you are reading exists too, and you are therefore separate objects in a material world, and any thought of God or spirit is unnecessary to understanding our material reality and should therefore be rejected as extraneous.

I embraced this theory with such gusto and arrogance. Anyone who would degrade their reason with nonsense like spirit, religion, astrology, whatever, anyone who would do that, was soft minded and weak. I told myself repeatedly “I am my body” and I believed that my consciousness was produced by the reactions inside my physical brain, and when that stopped working, well that’s death and that’s it. I thought any belief in a soul or spirit or afterlife was a nice story weak minded people told themselves because they were afraid to die.

And I hardened myself into this belief over a number of years. I read books like “The End of Faith” and “The Bell Curve” and I ate up every word. I felt, if a little empty, at least superior because I was disabused of any idealized notions of life after death. At least I knew that I was a speck of biodegradable organic matter on an insignificant planet that would exist for just a flash of time and then be forgotten forever by the universe.

The cold pit at the bottom of this philosophy, and what I now understand drove Ayn Rand to suicide, is that in this type of world, nothing has any meaning. Life in that world is just a pointless burst of effort that will produce no long term benefit.

But I still had a softness in my heart. I still loved sunsets and nature and swimming in the ocean. I loved animals and mountains and adventures. All meaningless perhaps, but maybe meaning then had to come in the context of small meanings. I am here, I may as well stay for the duration of my time here, and if I’m going to stay, I may as well enjoy my time. That was all there was.

I had my spiritual awakening in 2009 when I realized that I am a spirit incorporated in a material body, and that when my body stops working, my spirit will disincarnate and leave this body. I have come to understand this in a very personal and fundamental way. This frame of reference gives me so much more meaning in my life! Suddenly the question of “why did I come here” or “why was I sent here” makes sense. The realization, and the in my body understanding, that “I AM” a spirit having a material experience opens the door to meaning in my life.

But what about all the people in my life I had surrounded myself with who basically argued that there was no evidence of any of that, and therefore it must be rejected?

I remembered a Hawaiian philosophy around the Ho’oponopono Prayer which asks us to take responsibility for everything that occurs in our experience. I remember when I was out for a run one time, and someone randomly threw an egg at me from the car. According to this Hawaiian philosophy, I would have to accept responsibility for that occurring in my experience. This was a little too much for me to accept! How could I be responsible for someone throwing an egg at me out of the car window? I had not done anything to provoke or deserve it and so on.

All of these ideas have been swimming around in my mind for years, bumping into each other. The idea that I am responsible for what occurs in my experience contradicts the Objectivist view that I am a separate actor in a world full of actors. Occam’s razor, of course, demands that we accept the view that bad things happen to good people, and that we are separate actors and therefore not responsible for what happens in our experience.

So how to resolve this? I was at a loss. I could not reconcile the notion that I am responsible for what occurs in my experience with the notion that I am a separate actor in a material world. And then I had a spectacularly vivid dream.

In this dream, I swimming with a polar bear in series of terraced ponds that went up a steep mountain. The ponds were like rice paddies about six feet deep, and they had a wall at each end. I was trying to get the polar bear to swim with me across the ponds, and then at the end of a pond, I had to get him out of the water and walk him around the wall and into the next pond. Then we would swim across that pond an up the next wall. In this manner, I was to climb the mountain with this polar bear.

I could see him swimming, rather like an enormous white Labrador retriever. I could see his huge polar bear paws under the surface of the crystal clear water paddling along. He was perfectly friendly, but not at all interested in my agenda of climbing the mountain. I had arrived with him at the end of one of the ponds, and to climb up the steep bank, I had to momentarily let go of my grip on him so I could get out of the water. By the time I recovered my balance, the polar bear had swum off, and so I had to go back and get him, and coax him up the bank. This was going on for a while. It seemed like a long dream. Finally I woke up in the middle of the dream. It was so vivid. I can still see it today.

At no point during that dream did I have any recollection that I was dreaming that dream from my bed, somewhere else. Does that make sense? My experience of dreams is completely immersive, I have no awareness that I AM also in bed. Sometimes one of my sons talks of lucid dreaming. He told me of exercises he was doing the daytime to aid in lucid dreaming. He would look at his hands every time he walked through a door and ask “am I dreaming right now?” The idea was to develop a habit, so one day, in a dream, he would remember to do this when he dreamed of walking through a door and then realize he was dreaming while in the dream. I have not heard any report of success, but I get the idea.

But for me, I was immersed in the world with the polar bear. And I have learned so much from this dream. Here is one thought experiment that comes from it. I imagine that on the side of the pond with the polar bear are Ayn Rand, and objectivism, and Occam, and Steven Hawkings, and Jodie Foster in the movie Contact (still one of my favorites–I’m ok to go!) If I were to engage in a philosophical discussion with this little panel, they would tell me the same logic. They would tell me there is a me, and a polar bear, and we are separate objects, and the thought that I am actually dreaming the entire thing from somewhere else, well that would be a needless complication. But if a wise Kahuna were on the bank of the pond, he would say, everything in this experience was my responsibility.

I realized there are two ways in this dream to resolve my situation with the polar bear. One is to chase him around the pond and coax him up the hill. The other would be for me to go sit on the edge and connect with the vibration of cooperative polar bears going up mountains. Ask yourself, which would work better in the dream world? Which works better here?

I do not, as I sit here now, even pretend to know the “TRUTH” about the whole nature of the Universe and our experience in it. I can’t explain why there appear to be people separate from me in my dreams, and I can’t explain why there appear to be people separate from me on this material plane. I don’t have to be able to explain the entire nature of everything to know that Occam’s razor is completely counterproductive in trying to understand the nature of our consciousness and our place in the world.

This is the beginning of a whole line of thought I have been working with around the nature of myself, my spirit, god and the nature of existence.

It boils down to one question. Where are YOU dreaming this from?

Birds and Giving the Best of Ourselves

This essay starts with a picture of birds, but it winds up talking about how they can teach us to give the best of ourselves. But first, the birds. I have always enjoyed photography, and some of my favorite blogs are about photos people have taken of birds. So yesterday when I saw these guys in the palm tree in our yard, I smiled at the opportunity to participate. A growing family of blue gold macaws live in our neighborhood, and they love to eat the palm nuts from the royal palm trees.

It’s a funny thing to write a blog. There are so many blocks to writing. In fact, it starts with a block! As soon as I open a new page, it asks me for a title, but how am I supposed to think of a title before I’ve even started to write the post? It is hard for me to just leave it blank and move on to the body, and so today I started with the photograph, even if the picture really does most of the talking for itself.

We have a pretty outrageous assortment of birds here in our winter home in Miami. Peacocks and parrots in our yard. Exotics to be sure, but they have been here since I was a child. There used to be an amusement park down here called the Parrot Jungle. It was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and a lot of the birds got loose.

Turns out the blue gold macaws do very well here on their own, and so now they are breeding. I few years ago there were only two of them that I would see very occasionally. Yesterday I saw nine in one group, all squawking at each other from the tippy tops of the palms. I do not know how long ago it was that the peacocks were introduced, but by now they are everywhere. Peacocks, it appears, are like the wild pigs of the bird world.

So the title of the blog post is one obstacle that I have to overcome to start writing, but that’s not such a hard one. Far harder is Mr. Hoodafukaru. Mr. Hoodafukaru sits on my shoulder and questions my writing; he questions my “right” to write at all.

But it’s not just writing. It’s photography, art, singing, playing guitar, painting, dancing, pretty much anything. I don’t think I am the only one. How many people believe that they should refrain from singing? How many people are shy to dance? I remember growing up believing that I could not sing. And I remember pretty clearly the day in art class in like second grade where my efforts were not appreciated and so I was determined to be not good at art either. And so for many years, I did not do either of these things.

I imagine that many other people have had similar experiences. Singing is a particularly painful example for many people. How many people out there are shy to sing? If someone asked you to sing a song right now, on the spot, could you sing a song? Or maybe we would utter a couple refrains from Free Fallin’ or some other choice sing along, and be all to glad when the ordeal was over.

I remember standing by quietly during the singing of Happy Birthday. I was so convinced I could not sing, that I literally did not sing. That all changed a few years ago when I started to gather with a spiritual group centered around singing in Portuguese. What? Yes, you heard me. We get together with others who follow a Brazilian Eclectic Spiritual practice, and we sing together in a circle, in Portuguese. This was the start of my many adventures in Brazil, and now I enjoy it so much.

It’s been almost 13 years, in fact, February 2nd with be my 13th anniversary of the first time I joined this group. On that day, our group tends to sing hymns that are dedicated to the Orixá Yemanja, because that is her feast day in Bahia where we have a chocolate farm. When I first started sitting with this group, I did not sing at all, nor had I ever spoken a word of Portuguese. But Brazilians are an incorrigible. Sit with them long enough, like 15 minutes, and before you know it, you are part of the fun.

And so I felt myself croaking out a few syllables. I was given a little hymn book that had English translations on one side, and so I could sing along phonetically with the Portuguese and kind of read the English translations. This was the start of an amazing journey, and there are so many things I could write about it, and maybe I will as this practice of writing develops.

But there is one lesson that I received about singing that comes from a little mockingbird. He was perched upon a telephone wire in the evening light after a rain storm had passed, and from his perch on the telephone wire, he sang. And sang. And sang. He sang all of his songs, and then repeated some of them.

In our group, we always sing in unison. That means everyone sings the same thing at the same time. We don’t have rounds and harmonies and different parts. It’s really very simply and folksy, but there are nonetheless some amazingly talented musicians and singers. Normally, there is a leader of the singing, referred to as puxadora, which is the person who “pulls” the hymns. The puxudora starts the singing, and is the one everyone else is supposed to follow. In our style, the puxadora invariably uses a maraca to set the rhythm with a very simple three or four count, depending on the time signature of the hymn. All ears are on the puxadora and the maraca.

It can be a little intimidating to step into this role. After all, everyone will be striving to sing exactly with the puxadora. There are slight variances in the way some hymns are presented, and so it’s important to listen to the puxadora instead of just trying to sing the same hymn at the same time in your own style.

One day a friend who was shy to pull some hymns was expressing her reservations. She felt like she was not good enough to start the singing, to open her voice into the silence and have everyone listen and then join her. And the mockingbird came to me.

The mockingbird does not have this reservation. It does not worry if remembers perfectly the songs it picks up along its journey. It’s not like most birds that have a single song to perfect! It sings all the songs it hears. The mockingbird sings with joy, on cue, to the best of it’s ability, without self judgment. I shared this with my friend. Sing like the mockingbird sings I suggested, and she did, and it went fine.

All we can do is give the best of ourselves in any given moment. We must prepare, we must practice, we must study, but when the time comes to present ourselves, the “I’m not good enough” refrain is of no service to anyone. We simply must give the best we have.

This is not the same as having false or unjustified feelings of grandeur. It’s not to think that we are better than we are, it’s just to accept that we are what we are. Out of love and respect for the others on our team in life, we study hard and practice and stay in shape. But when the time comes to present ourselves, we give the best we can in that moment, and that’s all we have to give.

And so that’s what this photo was at the start. I would love to have a telephoto lens on a tripod to take a better one next time. I would love to have a better vantage point. But what I did have was my iPhone and some pretty birds in a palm tree. I hope they bring joy to whomever sees them.

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you are a bird photographer and if you like the macaws.

How to find the truth when everyone reads a different newspaper

I was recently referred to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience where he had a very glib and sophisticated guest explaining how vaccines for COVID are part of a great conspiracy. He was so persuasive and appeared utterly convinced by his own story of how giant and insidious forces within our economy hide real treatments from the population, and then encourage them to get dangerous and unproven vaccines. I was shocked as I listened to hear the words of one of my sons coming straight out of this expert’s mouth. It had been over dinner and my son was explaining all these problems with the vaccine and all the remedies the government doesn’t want you to know about. When I listened to the podcast sometime later, I could see that my son had internalized the entire episode and now regurgitated the information as if it were sourced directly from the divine.

On the other hand, we have all heard official sources give us inaccurate and manipulative information to cause the population to do as they want. They do this by misrepresenting their degree of confidence when they present a new hypothesis as a proven fact, only to revise it later when more information comes up.

And from what I see in the world, the Joe Rogan guys are actually on top of the truth claims right now. Why? Well look where we are. The official line was that if everyone would just give up their objections and take the vaccine, then we could put a quick end to the pandemic with herd immunity. Of course, now we all know plenty of vaccinated people who caught COVID and passed it. And so the official line suddenly shifted. Instead of the old refrain “it’s a public responsibility to get vaccinated to avoid spreading the disease to those who cannot get vaccinated” the message changed to “stopping the spread of disease was never the point. The vaccine was always intended to simply reduce the severity of the disease.” These two statements are completely contradictory and yet they were both espoused as absolute truth. We are asked to forget what the government said before, and believe what they are saying now. Anybody remember George Orwell’s 1984?

The motive might actually be somewhat benign. The government officials who publish these messages might actually believe they are doing some good by convincing people to get vaccinated, and so they publish persuasive stories, leveraging theories as facts, and make the best arguments they can to push people into the vaccination queue. And of course, this leaves the other side completely free to publish whatever theories it has, similarly elevated to fact, and persuade people that the Government is dishonest and corrupt (which it clearly is).

There simply is no longer any truth in the news. It’s all just persuasion. Every article is measured by its ability to inspire clicks, and nothing inspires quicker clickers than controversy, anxiety, and righteous indignation. And that is what is happening to us. We are fed news and information on the basis of sophisticated algorithms which are designed to predict what we will like. And so when we like one thing, we are shown another, and so on.

It feels like we are trying on clothes in a Nordstrom changing room with a helpful sales representative that keeps bringing us more of what we like. Don’t like pink? well no more pink will be draped over the wall of the dressing room. Like tight jeans? Here are three more pairs for you to try on. Like a political candidates? Here are stories showing them as heroes. Think they are all villains…well here is more proof.

The news only confirms our predispositions.

I remember when I was practicing as an attorney in litigation. We would often have to use expert witnesses to prove a point in a trial. I remember one case that was as mundane as an asphalt application that was misapplied by a defunct contractor. Was it bad material or did the contractor mix it with too much water? Expert opinion was required. Of course, both sides had an expert, and each picked one who said what they liked.

I actually testified as an expert witness one time in a trial that depended in large part on the valuation of an aircraft at the time it was purchased. I was firmly of the opinion that the purchaser had been sold a real lemon of an aircraft that was actually worth much less than he paid. The buyer had been duped! The other side had another expert, a very official aircraft appraiser, who was of the opinion that the aircraft was purchased at fair value. Yes the aircraft was very old, but it had a big cabin and the ability to cross the country, and so it’s current performance justified the price despite the age.

I’m quite sure that the other expert believed what he was saying just as much as I believed what I was saying, even though we were saying opposite truths. What the lawyers do, is they interview experts with really good resumes until they find an expert who will testify to what they need to establish. One case early in my career was about the security of mortgages that were taken out by home buyers of a developer that had run afoul of his bankers. “These people would eat birdseed before they defaulted on their mortgages”. I remember him looking at us for approval. After all, at $500 per hour, he wanted to make sure he got the nuances just right.

Of course there was an expert on the other side of that case too, who explained how risky all the mortgages were.

And so here we are today in a much more sophisticated world. Now we have a world full of experts, and they are all looking for an audience. The more outrageous and outlandish their statements, the more clicks they get. People like Joe Rogan have a real nose for this. They know just who will stir the pot, and they get millions of listeners not by promoting truth, but by promoting controversy.

I remember growing up in Miami, Florida with the Miami Herald. Newspapers back in that day held their reputation as the most important thing. Have you ever watched the movie Absence of Malice? What a great movie about how the Newspaper business used to be. Back in that day, the newspaper came out every day, and pretty much everyone in Miami got their news in the morning from the Miami Herald, and in the evening from Channel 7. Every story that the Herald published was distributed to everybody. When the Miami Herald reported about the Miami River Cops who were involved in drug dealing, or about whatever other topic, they would be called to account by everyone on all sides of the issue. They had to make sure the paper could stand behind the facts they reported. People trusted the newspaper to tell the truth. People trusted their news anchors to tell the truth, because if they did not, they would lose their reputation.

But not anymore. Now we go to a news service like Google or Apple News or whatever source we have. If we like one article we see more like it. They come from all different sources, and there is no accountability. There is simply no longer any objective truth in the media at all. There are just click temptations.

So what can we actually do? Turn all of it off is my answer. It’s been a couple years since I signed off of Facebook, Instagram, What’s App, Gmail, Google News all of it. I have been on a vendetta to get rid of all these manipulators. And what can we do instead? We have to go to the source ourselves. We have to get back in touch with the real world and with people we actually know. I get my vaccine advise from my personal doctor now. It’s so much simpler.

Maybe the answer is to look at the stars and planets for guidance. Maybe the messages we receive from them won’t be any less clear, but at least we will have the peace and serenity that come with gazing at the heavens.

Personal Integrity and the 7 Chakras — the key to a happy life

We often think integrity is synonymous with honesty. And certainly, we can say a dishonest person does lack integrity because honesty is a component of integrity. But it’s not all of it. There is much more. Integrity also refers to being complete or whole. It means all of the parts are well connected and form a single functioning whole. When we, or any object or system, lack integrity, it means that our parts are not functioning well together, and that we are therefore weak and prone to failure. In our persona, we can examine our personal integrity chakra by chakra, and by examining our conscience, we can see where our integrity is broken and then take steps to repair it.

What does this mean? Consider a person who lies frequently to gain advantage or avoid negative consequences. We would say that such a person lacks integrity because they say things that are not true, and more than this, they are not simply wrong or mistaken, such a person, if pressed, would at least at some level know that they are being dishonest.

Consider this in terms of the Chakra system. The mind is the 6th chakra and the throat is the 5th chakra. A person who lies for personal advantage says one thing, while the mind knows that something else is the truth. There is a break between the mind and the spoken word. There is a break between the mind and the mouth. What we say, we do not believe, and so we are broken at this point in our system.

What about a person who says that they love you when they do not? The heart, or the fourth chakra, is the source of our emotional lives, and it is where we form and care for our relationships. When someone says they love you, when they don’t, they have a break somewhere. But this could be either between the heart and the mind, or it could be again between the mind and the mouth. A person who is confused about their own feelings, who feels guilty because someone has been very generous to them, may feel pressure to say “I love you too” when what they actually feel awkward and flighty. They say “I love you too” to dissipate the uncomfortable energy. Or maybe they say it because they want to manipulate their partner into doing what they want.

In one case, the break is between the heart and the mind, or the heart and the voice, and in other cases, the break is again between the mind and the voice. Whenever we have a disconnect like that, we have lost our integrity and we really cannot be very effective or happy in the world.

There are other important examples. Think of people who talk a lot about their big plans and aspirations, but who never actually accomplish any of them. Their minds think the ideas are good, the heart is all on board and behind the ideas, and the voice articulates it accurately. But they never actually take any action to do anything. They just talk about it. Where is the break in integrity? It is above the third chakra where we bring the top three chakras into material reality.

Further down we get to issues of addiction and hypersexuality. These are disturbances with the second chakra, and theses are connected to the third chakra. Most people who suffer from addiction also suffer from denial. They fool themselves. They will talk all about a healthy lifestyle and good relationships, but they suffer because they act to satisfy the cravings of addiction. To sex, to drugs, to gambling, to thrills, to adrenaline, to anxiety, to spending money, to whatever it is binds us in addiction. In this case, our integrity is broken at the second chakra.

Continuing down you find people who abandon their relationships, their family, their job, their tribe. They may occupy a position of importance for a while. They may charm everyone around them and rise very fast, but at the critical moment, they abandon. They are broken at the root chakra. Everything they do and say is undermined, because as soon as the pressure builds up from creating something great, they flake out and disappear, leaving others to clean up the mess.

A person with integrity flows through all the chakras. The examination of the conscience is the key to achieving this in the first six chakras. A person with material integrity is all one piece in what they think, what they say, what they feel, how they act, how they take care of their bodies and habits, and how they fit in and relate to their community. When all of our chakras are in alignment like this, and our energy flows, then we can have strong relationships, we can create good things in the world, we can enjoy good health, and we can enjoy strong bonds in our family, tribe and nation.

All of the above relates to what I call material integrity, because all of these aspects of ourselves are manifest here in the material world.

But there is still one aspect of integrity that remains, and that is spiritual integrity, and a break here is the hardest to diagnose. Imagine a very intelligent person, who is aware of the truth (and if he does not share the whole truth, at least he is aware of this), who speaks the truth and whose feelings and actions are in alignment. Such a person might have a very nice house, a beautiful family, a great job, a healthy body, and good standing in the community, yet remain very unhappy. Why?

When a person seems to have everything a person could want but still is unhappy, the break in integrity is at the level of the seventh chakra, which is the divine connection. The mind is very clever. It is very good at solving puzzles and obtaining what it thinks it wants. The problem with the mind, however, is that it really does a lousy job of deciding what it should want. It really has no frame of reference. Imagine a super intelligent robot shopping in a Target store. It can weigh the pros and cons of many different items. Such a device can compare different items and make calculations about them, but it cannot want a red sweater more than a blue sweater.

The robot needs some input. A program. You might assign points to different items. Items that are blue may receive more points than items that are red. Maybe you could tell the robot to get the most weight per dollar, and perhaps you could end up with a car load of canned tomatoes on sale. The intelligent robot is very good at figuring out how to get what it wants. It just lacks ability to know what it should want.

As humans, we are very very complex. We receive programming about what we should want from a very young age. The mind is filled with ideas from teachers, parents, peers, advertising, and now social media. We are repeatedly told that if we have a nice car, a thin body, a prestigious job, and a physically attractive spouse, that we will be happy as a result, and so we set off in our lives to acquire these things.

And to be most effective in the long run, we have to act with material integrity to get the most of what we think we want. But still we end up unhappy. Because the things we have been taught to want serve a purpose other than to make us happy. They make us good little economic engines–the producitive consumers that we are. We are sucked into a system to produce as much as we can so that we can consume as much as we can, and with the highest levels of success, we have zillions of followers who admire us and like everything we say, and long to be just a little more like us. More like Kim Kardashian. Please. More.

But if we have prayer, and meditation, and spirituality, then we can attain true happiness. The first step is to truly realize that YOU, the I AM force that lives deep inside you, is a spirit, and that spirit is having a temporary material experience. That spirit knows at a very deep level that it will ultimately leave behind everything that it accumulates in the material world. The only thing it takes with it is it’s KARMA, which is the sum total of all the goods and bads done over the course of the lifetime here. You might have great success in the material world, but for what purpose?

So what does the spirit inside really want? Well that gets to the question of why you came here in the first place. This is a very good question to ask yourself. Why did you come into this life? What are you here to accomplish, to learn? Who are you here to help? What is your mission? What is your purpose?

None of these questions can be answered outside yourself. None of these answers exist in the material. They exist in the spirt. And therefore, to have true integrity, you must connect the material chakras to your higher self through the 7th chakra. You must tune into the divine within yourself.

Once you connect to the divine within you, this channel will inform you about what you should want. Instead of a car, you may want peace of spirit so you can concentrate. Instead of a body that looks like a magazine cover model, you might want a body that actually feels good to inhabit. Instead of a trophy relationship, you might want someone who helps you stay on the straight path and who supports you in fulfilling your highest and best purpose.

A break in integrity at this level is the hardest to diagnose, because such a person can seem to be very perfect in the material world. Yet if someone is perfect in the material and still deeply unhappy, it is a lack of integrity that causes their suffering, and the break is at the divine connection.

Do you know people or have stories that illustrate this? Have you yourself started on a spiritual path to remedy a hollow empty pointless feeling in your life? If so, please share your experience.

A spiritual practice is very helpful to develop this facility. Meditation and self examination can illuminate within us when we are acting out of alignment with our highest purpose. Plant medicines, like cannabis, ayahuasca, and psilocybin mushrooms can definitely help us to engage in the sort of self examination that will set us free from a life of pursuing objectives that do not make us happy. All of these things awaken the divine within us. They are therefore entheogenic medicines and entheogenic practices.

Pick whatever works for you. The key is to open the conscious connection with your higher self, so that you can receive and act on guidance that you receive. And then all of your material chakras can align behind the task of creating the life that your really want.

The Manuka Minute – a one minute pure bliss experience for beginners

I made a commitment to be sweet to myself in the new year. I’ve done this in the past for the benefit of others…try to be nicer, try to be kinder, try to be more patient. And I chastised myself each time I failed. Do better! I’ve been sitting with this idea of self kindness for several weeks now. I’ve been a fan of ascetic practices for a few years that comes from my spiritual traditions, and so it’s easy to be strict with oneself when following a “dieta” or ascetic practice. Most people reading this I’m sure are familiar with what it is to be strict with oneself.

And so a few weeks ago, I was buying honey for Stephanie which she uses to sweeten her cocoa that she makes from scratch every night. She just dumps the honey right in there and it’s super delicious (milk of choice, three tablespoons organic cocoa powder, honey and cinnamon and I like cayenne pepper. simmer all together until just before boil stirring constantly). And, up until recently, I had been avoiding sugar (and all sweeteners) and wheat, but I really like honey. So I was at the store buying honey and right underneath was Manuka Honey, which looked expensive but maybe even all the more attractive. So I bought a little tub of this butter thick sticky brown Manuka Honey. I swear, it buzzes in my mouth and throat when I eat it. I could feel something happening, and so I did a little research, and low and behold, it turns out that there are a lot of really good health reasons to eat some Manuka Honey. (My favorite is Manukora Raw Manuka Honey)

And the best way to do that is from a spoon. And so a couple weeks ago, I started to have a spoon full of Manuka Honey every morning and every evening. At first I would justify this on account of a health benefit. I heard it myself. Standing in the kitchen with a spoon full of honey talking about how it kills bacteria that feeds on sugar and that’s why I’m eating the honey. The same with a massage. I don’t get a massage just because it feels good. I do it for the therapeutic benefit and I have to have a lot of pain to really deserve it!

As I continued my practice, I came across an article about self compassion, and how difficult it is for us to practice kindness to ourselves. I resonated with the concept that we can be to strict with ourselves. And so my relationship with the Manuka Honey started to shift, or maybe to become more honest. Another friend had suggested that maybe I didn’t need to be that afraid of my shadow. Its ok for me to eat a spoon full of Manuka Honey just because it feels good.

Now my practice has developed into a fun ritual. It’s a three minute Manuka Honey meditation. To do it, take a generous teaspoon of Manuka Honey. The way I like to do it is to put the spoon in my mouth and pull off a thin layer as I draw the spoon out. But the key is to breath slowly and consciously as you enjoy the experience of having the honey in your mouth and swallowing it. I believe that it is good for the microbial community in my mouth, so I try to spread it about in my mouth. However you like, make the experience last for three minutes, and enjoy slow relaxed breathing.

As you do this, “unmoor your consciousness” which is to just let go of your mind. Keep your attention on the experience of the honey in your mouth and let the warmth and energy of it radiate out through your head and down your spine and through your body. Imagine the warm energy of the sun on the millions of flowers, and the energy of the bees that made the honey, concentrated energy…bee food from magic flowers… feel that energy radiate throughout your body, and feel the sun in your heart. Now in this moment there is nothing but eating the honey, and for that moment, everything else is ok.

I do this now every morning and every evening. It’s my Manuka Minute (or three) and it’s the best New Years resolution I’ve ever had!

Financial Coaching and Financial Advice… what to watch out for

I was pleased to see that the post I wrote about finances for the new year received a positive response, and a friend of my wife’s actually reached out to see if I could help her set up her stock portfolio. As a licensed attorney and a formerly licensed Investment Advisor Representative, a little alarm bell went off in my head. Of course, as I have done in the past, we are always free to give free advice, but a lot of laws are out there to regulate people who are paid to give investment advice. Since this is a person I have never met, I wondered if I would be able to charge her a fee to help her set up her portfolio. And when I started looking into that, I really went down a rabbit hole.

The basic bottom line I found is that pretty much any advice about the stock market or investments constitutes investment advice. Any form of trade or compensation (ie trading a annual horoscope reading for some stock picks) could trigger laws and regulations that apply to people who are in the business of providing financial advice.

Which means the industry has a lock on the information that is given to clients. It’s the same situation we see in the health industry. Monied interests like big pharma and the medical lobby don’t want to compete with all of the amazingly effective and beneficial herbal remedies, and so you are not allowed to say anything about a natural plants ability to help cure disease. You can only give health advice that channels the profit to the industry.

Same with financial advice. Unless you are associated with a big firm with a huge compliance department, you are locked out of the game. This is always something that irked me when I was in the Industry. We would generate literally hundreds of pages of disclosures which made it clear that the firm was not liable for anything no matter what. Each account document had, I’m not exaggerating, up to twenty or so pages of disclosures in fine print. These disclosures were absolutely incomprehensible to any normal human being. Seriously. I am a trained attorney and I had my series 7 and my series 66 licenses, and I could not understand the disclosures.

Moreover, the disclosures just opened the door for giving bad advice without facing any liability. So what’s the difference between the safety of an illegal coach and a legal financial advisor? Nothing at all. Basically a legal financial advisor is paid by a big firm that papers everything with tons of CYA disclosures so that you can never hold them responsible for their bad advice, while an illegal financial coach giving investment advice for compensation can give the same advice and face huge civil and criminal penalties. What a racket!

But in my research I have learned that giving away advice in a generally available publication, like this one, is protected by the first amendment. So here, I can offer my opinions just like all the pundits, and since I have only readers (even if very few of them) and since I do not charge anyone fees for my advice, I’m free to publish my opinions, and hopefully help some people.

I can also give financial advice incidental to legal advice. So if a client asks me to set up a trust or look at an estate plan, I can advise them to put their assets into an index fund if that’s incidental to the legal advice. Lawyers always find a way to get the upper hand right?

So how does one make good financial decisions in this crazy environment? You either have to seek advice from someone who is working in the grey market, or you have to go to a financial advisor who is going to be selling you products marketed by the firm they work for.

They will simply never tell you to buy a few stocks and hold them for a long time in an account that does not charge fees. And that’s basically it!

Open an inexpensive account, use their self guided research tools, buy some stocks that you like in good companies, and hold them for a long time. That’s it in a nutshell. This is the advice that they are working so hard not to let people give!

No wonder Warren Buffett is the Oracle of Omaha. He has been giving this advice for years.

By the way, BRK-B, Berkshire Hathaway B class shares that Mr. Buffett made available so that regular investors could invest with him, meet that requirement beautifully. Or if you have about $450,000 you can buy a single share of BRK-A, the A class shares which also carry voting rights, then you will get to cast a vote if you go to the shareholders meeting.

So there. In my freely given, publicly available, first amendment protected speech, I can suggest that BRK-B is a great investment for people starting out an investment portfolio. It is itself highly diversified, so you could have up to 20% of your portfolio invested there.

Of course, the stock market goes up and down, and world events shake things up. But I think in this “free” country, you can still tell the truth as you see it without getting sued.

Wealth – Tips for new investors for 2022 that your financial advisor won’t tell you.

I have helped a few people in their early thirties start their savings and investment programs since the start of COVID, and there are some pretty simple principles that make a big difference in getting the results you want. If you follow these basic ideas, then you will be off to a good start.

Surprisingly, many of these basic truths are completely contrary to the advise given by the financial services industry, from banks to financial advisors. Remember that all large financial institutions exist for one purpose only, and that is to maximize the profits that flow to Wall Street. They give us terrible advice, and they encourage us to use a lot of debt, insurance, and investment products that can be ridiculously expensive and even financially ruinous. My favorite resource for investing advice is Warren Buffett. He makes it very very clear that we should stay away from debt and from financial services fees. I encourage every new investor to read Warren Buffett’s annual remarks from the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meetings, and pretty much anything else he has written.

The first question people ask me about investing is how much they should invest. It helps to remember that you invest your wealth, and wealth is what you have beyond what you require to meet your basic needs. You don’t invest your rent money, or the money you are saving to buy a car in six months. Instead, you invest money that you have or earn that is in excess of what you will need in the next couple of years. If you were to simply leave this money in your money market account, inflation, which is currently running at well over 5% per year, will erode your money’s purchasing power. You would not store your grandmothers silver in an acid bath, and so you should not store your long term savings in accounts that earn less than inflation.

To figure out how much to invest, you need a basic understanding of your financial position. There are two basic concepts here. The first is your balance sheet and the second is your income statement. Your balance sheet is a picture of your net worth at a particular moment in time. Usually it is formatted as two lists. The list on top shows your assets and the one on the bottom shows debts. The balance sheet shows your current financial inventory. At the time of this writing, December 31 offers a great point in time to assemble your balance sheet. Simply write down the balances of all of your accounts, and then estimate the values of your fixed and marketable assets like your car and your house. Do not count things you could not easily sell. Everyone should have a basic understanding their balance sheet before they can make decisions about how much to invest.

The second is your income statement, which you can also call your budget. While your balance sheet is like a photo of a moment in time, your income statement is like video of your month. How much do you earn each month, and how much do you pay out. Your income statement shows all of your sources of income on the top, and all of your expenditures on the bottom. If you have more income than you have expenses, then you generate a little wealth each month. If you have more expenses than income, then you must give up a little wealth each month.

There is a very important concept hiding in here, which is the relationship between your income statement, or budget, and your balance sheet. At the end of each month, you can either deposit the excess into your investment account, or you must make a withdrawal if you are short. So if your budget has a deficit over the course of a month, at the end of the month, you would have to either withdraw money from a savings account, or add to your credit card balance to “make ends meet.” Making ends meet is the challenge faced by so many working families that simply have more expense than income.

A good rule of thumb is that you should only invest money that you will not need for at least two years. So, if you have a balance of say $25,000 saved up, and your deficit is $500 per month, then you will need $12,000 in cash to get to through two years. That $12,000 you need to tuck away somewhere safe where it is readily available to you. The remaining $13,000 you can invest.

Here is the first place you can work in 2022 to really improve your financial position. f you can work on your budget a little bit so that you have a little bit more each month than you started with, it makes a huge difference in your financial position. If you can convert a $500 monthly deficit to $100 surplus, then you can invest a larger portion of your money to start, and you can add to it each month from your surplus.

Let’s compare the two situations where we start out 2022 with $25,000. In the first example, we run a $500 monthly deficit, and in the second a $100 monthly surplus. In the first example, you put $13,000 into the market to start, and at the end of two years, your investment portfolio will be worth $15,730 if you assume a ten percent return. Over the course of the two years, you would have spent the remaining $12,000 to make your budget work. In the second case, you would be able to make an initial investment of $25,000 that would be worth $30,250 at the end of two years, and you would add $2,400 plus the returns on those additions. Close to $35,000 total wealth at the end of two years.

You can see that the monthly deficit will cause you to completely deplete your savings within 5 years, while the slight surplus is quickly moving you toward financial independence. And this is the most important topic. Financial independence. Financial independence comes when you have the freedom to live your life according to your values without financial considerations determining your life. It means you have your life in order so that if you want to accept an invitation to spend three months in Costa Rica, you can do it. Living simply is the fastest way to financial independence.

Let’s sum this up here. The first question is how much should I invest, and that answer is you can start by investing any cash you don’t need for two years, and you can add to this your monthly budget surplus.

The second question is how to invest it. And the first answer is always pay off your high interest credit cards. Anything that charges you more than 10% interest a year is horrifically parasitic. You cannot rely on earning 10% from the stock market every year, but you can certainly guaranty that you are going to have to make those interest payments. The good news is you have a 100% chance of not having to pay interest on debt you pay off, so the impact of paying your credit cards is huge. Let’s go back to our example…

If you have $25,000 in savings, currently earning zero, and $25,000 in credit debt where you pay 18%, and you adjust your budget to have a $100 per month surplus instead of a $500 deficit, then your financial position will improve dramatically. Just the act of paying off the credit card with your balance will net you almost $10,000 in two years. Paying off your high interest debts is your first investment.

Now let’s move on to purchasing investments. We have determined how much we have to invest, and we have worked on our budget so we have at least a little surplus every month, and we have paid off our high interest credit cards. Now what?

Now it’s time, quite simply, to head to the stock market. This is where our old master teacher Warren Buffett really offers the best advice–invest your money without paying fees. Financial advisors hate this advise, because they all make their incomes by charging what are known in the industry as “wrap” fees. In other words, they convince you to deposit all of your assets with them, and then they take a seemingly insignificant little fee of 1 or 2%. Just pennies right? WRONG! These fees eat your savings alive. Let’s say you have a financial advisor who charges you 1.5% on everything you place with them, and then they put you in ETFs or other funds that charge another fee. By the time you get to the bottom of all the hidden fees, you could be paying 2% or 3%!

What does this not sound like so much? Think of this. A long standing rule of thumb is that you can withdraw 3% from your account each year and expect to earn enough on top of that to cover inflation and maintain your standard of living for the long run. If you retire at 65 years old with $1,000,000 in the bank, that means you can withdraw $30,000 per year. That’s it.

But wait… you are paying all of that to your financial advisor! Even if your total fees are only 1%, which is what institutional and ultra high net worth investors pay, that’s a full 1/3 of what you can withdraw each year. Warren Buffett talks about this all the time. You have to compare the fees to what you can withdraw, and you will see that 1% is really 33%, and 3% is really 100%.

What makes this worse is most financial advisors have been stripped of any real ability to help you pick investments. They used to help us pick individual stocks that we would buy and hold. We only had to pay fees in those days, like back in the 1980s say, when we bought or sold stocks. But now, all of the firms use wrap fees and let you trade for free. What financial advisors do now days is create an “asset allocation.” This is where they make a pretty pie chart and invest in different asset classes. You will have a slice of international equity, a slice of domestic large cap, a slice of fixed income, either muni bonds or taxable bonds, and so on. All of these slices come in the form of different funds that all have hidden fees inside them.

Since the early 1990s when the industry really started moving in that direction, the primary method of allocating assets was to first determine an investor’s risk profile. In this methodology, a young person with more income than expenses would be able to take higher risk, and a retired person with fixed income would be lower risk. High risk profiles might be 80% stock and 20% bonds, and low risk investors would be 80% bonds and 20% stocks. And within that risk profile they divide up the pie into different segments. Is that familiar?

But there is a huge problem with this now days, and that’s that bonds are simply not at all a viable investment. They simply do not qualify as an investment at all because they are guaranteed to pay you a return lower than the rate of inflation. (And for those who are going to suggest Treasury inflation protected securities or TIPS, they are selling above face value today, and so they offer no solution) The bond market is a little confusing, because of the math around bonds. Maybe that’s a topic for another blog post, because it could take several pages. But the bottom line is this, when interest rates are near zero, as they are today, then bonds trade at prices close to their face value, which is the principle amount of the bond that is returned to the investor at the end of the bond’s term. That means you could sell the bond today for the same amount it will be worth at maturity PLUS all of the interest payments. In other words, there is simply no reason to wait to collect the money. If you buy a bond today, the sum of all the payments you will receive is no more than you paid, and in the meantime, inflation errodes the purchasing power of the money when you do get it back. This is a terrible deal.

Most financial advisors cannot wrap their heads around this. They they have been so baked in the mold of the 60/40 stock to bond portfolio, that they simply cannot see that the bond part of that equation makes no sense anymore. It just does not.

The only place to put your money right now is the stock market. Period. This is because stocks have earnings and pay dividends and that can increase in value with inflation. Bonds have a fixed face value. A good way to think of this is that stocks have value in real dollars while bonds have value only in nominal dollars. Think of inflation as salt water. Bonds rust in salt water, stocks don’t. It’s that simple. If you have a 6% rate of inflation and 1% in fees, then a bond needs to pay 7% before you even break even. Stocks can go up with inflation.

All this talk of Robinhood and the Meme investor that we read about in the news anymore actually does make some sense. People are fed up with the industry and they want to take control, avoid fees, and make their own trades. There are many many platforms available for this. I refer most people to Schwab to set up their own investment account.

So where do most Meme investors go wrong? They trade stocks like baseball cards, and focus on the market prices of the stocks. This has caused popular stocks to become completely detached from their underlying “boring” fundamentals. Take Tesla as an example. I love the company, I drive the car, I admire that they created the EV revolution, and I think it’s amazing that Elon Musk is devoting his wealth to sending humans to Mars. But the stock? It is currently earning about $3.06 per share each year, and each share costs $1,070. When you divide this up you get a “Price to Earnings ratio” of about 345. Which means the stock value is 345 times annual earnings. I find that people have a very hard time feeling what this means in their bones. PE ratios are easy to glaze over.

I like to think of it like this. How much stock do you need to buy to get a $1 of earning? If you want to buy enough stock to earn $1 a year in Tesla, it will cost you $345. That’s why I own a Telsa, but zero shares of Tesla stock. Let’s compare this to boring old PNC Financial Services, one of my favorite stocks, maybe our largest single position other than Apple. PNC is trading at about $200 per share with earnings of $10.17 per share. The PE ratio is 19.71. Which means you have to pay $19.71 to get $1 in earnings per year. Next look at Verizon, which has been beaten up over the last year. Verizon trades at about $52 per share and earns $5.32 per share each year. The PE ratio is 9.77, which also means that to secure $1 in earnings power, you would have to invest $5.32.

Does that amaze you? You have to buy $345 worth of Tesla to get $1 worth of earning, and you only have to invest $5.32 in Verizon to earn the same amount. Moreover, each share of Verizon actually pays a cash dividend of almost $2.56 per year per share, and a share of PNC pays $5.00 per year. Tesla pays zero dividend.

When you invest in the stock market, you are investing in earnings of a company. We have Social, Environmental, and Governance (“ESG”) requirements in our investments that we use to choose companies to invest in, but when we make the investment, it’s in earnings. We personally choose not to invest in alcohol, weapons and defense, agricultural chemical producers, oil and gas companies, casinos, private prisons, or tech firms that market consumer personal information like Meta and Google. We avoid investing in harmful and parasitic ventures. The only exception is that we invest in Berkshire Hathaway even though they have some oil and gas holdings.

When you pick your stocks, first run this ESG screen so you can be socially responsible. Then invest in stocks that you can buy and hold and profit from the earnings of the underlying company.

What about all the high flying Meme stocks? What about earning 100% in a month on GameStop? Someone will eventually going to be left holding the bag when the selling starts. If you have stock in a company with no earnings, the only way to get your money back is to sell the stock to someone else. The only way to make money is to find a bigger fool. With the federal government literally sending fools checks in the mail, the odds of finding Meme buyers are pretty good…until they aren’t.

Bitcoin is a good example. I don’t know if Bitcoin will hit $100,000 or $1,000,000 or if someone will create a quantum computer that cracks the code and makes the whole bitcoin system fall apart over night. What I do know is that you cannot walk into target an buy things in bitcoins, you have to convert them to dollars first, and that means you have to find someone to buy them. And they don’t actually produce or earn anything. To the contrary, they require huge resources to power the computers that check the transactions, and these costs are paid with more bitcoins. The entire thing is a giant Ponzi scheme.

Suppose the entire stock market blows up and you can never trade another stock. If you own companies with earnings, they will eventually earn your money back for you in real dollars. If you have baseball cards, they will not earn anything. They are only valuable if someone else wants to buy them.

And that’s it in a nutshell. The first step is to find out how much you have to invest. Then open a low cost account, and then invest in good companies that have earnings. If you do this, you will not pay any fees and you will have solid long term investment results. Good luck and please let me know how you are doing.