Sweeten Your Inner Voice — Adlerian Psychology and the Four Agreements

I’ve been reading from two books over the last couple of weeks. The first one is a Japanese philosophy book called “The Courage to Be Disliked” and the second is the very well know “The Four Agreements”. These books have both inspired me to listen to my inner voice and hear some of the abuse that it metes out to my psyche. The Four Agreements tells us of the powerful magic we can access when we are impeccable with our word, and The Courage to Be Disliked shows us how we perpetuate our own pathological psychology because we believe it serves us to do so. In my personal case, these two concepts intersect around messages I repeat to myself and that dim my light and reduce my joyful experience of the world. One example is the self admonishment I give myself that “I am too old.” But before I get into my own personal illumination of these negative tendencies, I want to write a little bit about the concepts in the book. Please dear reader remember, that when I write like this, the primary audience is myself. I am not intending to lecture anyone, but instead I am learning as I write for myself.

I read The Four Agreements a long time ago, maybe more than ten years ago, maybe even before I started my spiritual journey in the Santo Daime tradition. The first agreement is to always be impeccable with your word. I had over the years forgotten what the author said about this, and instead remembered it as an admonishment to be strictly and completely truthful in everything we utter. It would, of course, be impossible and disastrous if we tried to implement this in our daily lives. You can start with the obvious example that if the Gestapo knocks on your door and asks if you are hiding any refugees, you say “no refugees here sir.” Other times people pry into our personal lives and a refusal to answer a question about some intimate truth that we do not want to reveal would in itself be an admission.

For example, if I ask you if you ever murdered anyone, you would easily say no. If I then asked if you had every burglarized a house, you would say no. If they then asked if you had ever sold heroine to a minor, another easy no. Then they ask have you ever smoked marijuana? Well if you then say “I don’t want to answer that question” then you’ve just admitted it haven’t you? In that case you have to say “no” even if the truth is yes.

We all have the right to keep safe and protect our intimate selves from the harsh judgments and resulting punishments that wait for us in the world. Throughout Human history–from the inquisition, to police states, to overbearing employers, to prying family members– abusive powers demand the the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Then they manipulate us with guilt for withholding our most intimate selves from those who would use the information only to abuse us.

I was resistant to reading the Four Agreements when my friend recommended me to it, because I remembered the admonition of impeccability as requiring this naive veracity. But when I read the book again I saw that impeccability requires a much more powerful discipline for the voice. What it really requires is that we not use our voice to cause harm to ourselves. The first instance of this is when we say negative things directly about ourselves, such as “oh you are so stupid!” These words form agreements in our psyche that then play out in our lives.

A lot of these negative beliefs we have about ourselves come from experiences we have had in our past. I was told at a young age that I was not good at singing or drawing, and so I believed this, and would stand by mute when happy birthday was sung, and I never attempted to draw. At that young age, I was not aware that both singing and drawing are skills that one develops through practice and love. I thought they were skills one was born with, and as I was told I did not have these skills, I agreed with this, and then never developed them.

It was not until I started in the Santo Daime tradition that I learned that everyone can sing or draw or dance just as well as they can, and if we practice we improve. I learned to accept my abilities as they are, and then give my best to develop them through practice. This is how we grow. Michelangelo did not start out by painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Rembrandt’s early drawings were awkward and lacking in perspective. Even the masters had to start somewhere and improve over time with great effort. Sure some people are born with a very sensitive ear, and that makes it easy to learn to sing. Some people are seven feet tall and that gives them an advantage in basketball. But that does not mean we cannot develop our own abilities. How cool is it when we see a relatively short person with amazing skills hit three pointers one after another?

The next case of impeccability of the word involves gossip and saying negative things about others. The book warns us strongly against this spreading of poison. The Santo Daime tradition teaches the same thing–that gossip and speaking badly about one’s brothers and sisters is a grave sin. There is one teaching that says the death of the body is on the tip of the tongue. Another says that if we speak badly about our brothers and sisters we are inviting our own demise. If I say something negative about someone else, then I will inevitably believe that person does not like me. I will create a negative opinion in the person I’m talking too, and thus poison spreads.

The second book, The Courage to Be Disliked, talks about how we hold onto our pathological psychology because it serves us to do so. This is Adlerian psychology and it is contrasted to the psychology of Freud. In Freudian psychology, the basic premise is that our present personality and our neurotic behaviors come from traumas that we have experienced in our past. In this view traumas we have suffered in the past make an indelible imprint upon us, that cause us, for example, to be unable to form lasting relationships in adulthood. Under this understanding, the only way to heal is to delve into past traumas and reconcile them.

Adlerian psychology, on the other hand, says we hold onto traumas and negative behaviors because it serves us to do so. Someone close to me used to always say they were terrified to fly on airplanes, and would have panic attacks every time they got on a plane. They blamed this on the trauma they experienced when they were on a flight that ran off the end of the runway. But it turned out that the truth was that this person really did not like to visit their family which was full of drama after an ugly divorce and some other issues. One day when an opportunity to take a fabulous trip arrived, suddenly this person was no longer afraid of airplanes. Another example we have all seen is people who constantly complain about being sick when they are not really sick so they can get the attention of their parents.

There are extreme cases of post traumatic stress disorder which can really interfere someone’s ability to enjoy a happy life. It is not for me to discount the reality of their situation or their suffering. In those cases a panic attack might prevent the person from going into a crowded street where before they were subjected to grave danger. In Adlerian psychology the remedy would be more to focus on learning that the behavior is no longer necessary, that the streets are safe, while in Freudian psychology, the remedy would be to delve into the trauma. Recognizing the difference between the two modes of psychology does not discount the suffering of people with intense mental illnesses. For them we should only have compassion and offer help.

In my own case I have formed an agreement in my own mind that I am “too old.” This started for me when I first went through my divorce and found myself single. I was about 43 years old when my divorce was final, and the first thing that came up on the radar as I started to form new relationships was that I did not want to make a fool of myself by being attracted to people who were significantly younger than me. This was kind of awkward for me, because at the time, many of the women who were “age appropriate” for me were at the stage of their life where their primary interest in relationships was to have children. I already had four sons, and a vasectomy that I had not intention of reversing. Women who were a little younger than my judgment about “age appropriate” on the other hand, were more likely to not to be focused on having kids.

I was visiting friends in another city one weekend, and there was a woman that I found very attractive. It turns out that at the time she was about 33 years old. A sister of mine noticed that I had taken interest and she smacked me on the arm and said “no way! you are way to old for her”. I internalized this. Sometime later someone in their early twenties called me a geezer, and so I started to believe that I was too old.

But now I am going to break that agreement. I’m not too old for anything. I just am what I am. In actual fact, I’m in better physical shape than I have ever been in. I am at my best weight, I have my lowest resting heart rate, and after a couple years of intense physical training, my body is strong and balanced. I do not drink or smoke and I eat a healthy diet. I’m in the best shape I have ever been in, and my mind is as sharp as it has ever been. What exactly am I too old for? Nothing.

I used to carry forward this belief because it would prevent me from making a fool out of myself through attraction to younger women. But now I am happily married and have good relationships in my life, and I no longer need this protection. There is nothing good that comes from the self perception of being old and so I do hereby reject that notion, and resolve to change my self speak to be impeccable with my word in this respect.

Over the next weeks we have several spiritual works in our tradition of the Santo Daime. In this tradition our first instruction is to examine our conscience and then to correct ourselves. I am going to dedicate my spiritual work for the next phase to examining my conscience for negative thoughts I have about myself that form these pernicious agreements that limit my joy and happiness in life. One by one I am going to identify and reverse them. I am definitely not too old to start this process. I hope you can help yourself with this practice too.

Peace.

Lessons from The Rhythm of Life

I have been reading a book titled The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly which a dear friend recommended to me. The gist of the book is that we should dedicate our lives to becoming the best version of ourselves. Matthew Kelly has sold over 40,000,000 copies of his books in 30 different languages. I thought that to have such a following, he must certainly have a few good things to say, and indeed he does. He explains that to be the best version of ourselves, we have four basic types of need–physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. These needs he calls “secondary” needs, because it is assumed that the basic needs of food and shelter and air and water are satisfied. He makes the very good point that we are here to thrive, not only to survive. Once the basic requirements for survival are satisfied, we move on to our secondary needs, which are the things we should pursue in our lives to become the best versions of ourselves.

A lot of what he says resonates with me, and I felt good that my life in general reflects the basic values and priorities that the book recommends. But I have been suffering from a physical malady over the last several weeks that is causing me some concern and that is the result of my somewhat lazy and gluttonous behavior. Early in January, I caught a mild virus that caused me to develop laryngitis. I kept up my routine as usual, expecting that it would go away, but it did not. Now we are on the cusp of March, and so it has been about seven weeks since I first noticed the symptoms, and they continue. My behavior has been to pursue superficial wants and cravings and habits, and to ignore what is truly important to me, which is my physical well being.

The second lesson that really struck me concerns universal emotional needs and how these are interrelated to our physical well being. I have always strived to develop a very independent nature, where my own life and self image are not dependent on other people. I have been resistant to the idea that we “need” acceptance from others. I thought of this as a weakness and a failure to know my own self. Even in my last post I mentioned that I had the emotional maturity of a seven year old in that I see in myself a desire to elicit the approval of others. One of my spiritual teachers in the doctrine that I personally follow has helped me to persevere even when faced with opposition from others. I do happen to be highly effective in life, and I do get a lot of things done, and this often creates conflicts. My Padrinho teaches me that “dogs do not bark at park-ed cars”. The point is that people who are accomplishing things and bringing about change become targets of criticism.

My own work in this area was to learn how to accomplish my life’s work without causing unnecessary upset. I would focus on being considerate and trying to see how my actions impacted others, and also to focus on communication and developing consensus. I learned I could be more effective when I listened to everyone. But at the same time, as anyone has served on a large committee knows, you can’t make everyone happy. So there is a balance between listening and being considerate on one hand, and moving forward and accomplishing things on the other.

I would seek humility as a refuge in these situations, but I would not let the negative attention that I attract from time to time deter me from my purpose. And so it was that I adopted a rather stoic attitude of not “needing” the approval of other people. The Rhythm of Life gave me some very new insight into this area. The book says that to become the best version of ourselves, we need relationships with other people. Other people and our good relationships help us to have clarity and help us to become the best we can be. They also give us the opportunity to serve.

And so it is that we have all kinds of different relationships. We have superficial and transactional relationships and we have more intimate relationships. The author points out that we have to share our lives with others in measure to the relationship. So for instance, if I have a bad day and unload my baggage on someone who is not in close relationship with me, I will perhaps feel somewhat better for having articulated my story, but if I do not have a sufficient level of intimacy in my relationship with the other person, then this will be seen as over sharing, and will alienate them. Instead of feeling heard and understood, I will just feel awkward and embarrassed.

On the other hand, and here I am about to return to my throat, if we do not share enough with people who we are intimate with, then it seems like we are distant and cold, and this can, over time, impair the relationship and leave us feeling hollow and frustrated. In the case of my throat, I do have some fear around the situation. I don’t think I’m alone in that my imagination can start to run a little bit when I have a physical ailment. I have a tendency to stick my head in the sand and to not want to talk about it. And I hate going to the doctor, because I’m always afraid they are going to actually create some terrible condition, like Schrödinger’s cat, by looking for it. This might be a little bit of an aside, but I do believe that consciousness forms our material reality, and so by looking for something we actually create it. So if I have a problem with my throat, and I’m afraid that I might have scar tissue on my vocal chords, the last thing I want to do is “open the box” and find the dead cat. If I can ignore it long enough, maybe it will just go away.

And so for me, to speak to someone about a medical condition is a very peculiar dynamic. It requires real intimacy for me to want to reveal a medical condition, but more than that, it requires that the person I am talking to not to have a reaction of wanting me to go to the doctor. I will use my mother as a good example here. If I talk to my Mom about a headache, she’s going to want me to get an MRI. So I don’t talk to her about it at all.

Intimacy is new topic for me. I always have equated intimacy with sex, but this book has a much more nuanced explanation of the need for intimacy. Intimacy is revealing the true nature of ourselves to another person. This takes a lot of trust and it takes a lot of courage. And sometimes it even takes a degree of detachment from our personal lives.

Even this blog explores the boundaries of intimacy. I am talking about things that are personal to me, and it’s funny because there is a small audience of people reading this (thank you). Some part of me wants to reveal more about my personal life here, but at the same time, I am aware that this will become part of the permanent record, and so someone who is not acting in my best interest might in the future do some background checking on me, and come across this in an adversarial context, and then I will be eating my words. So when I write here, I have to write in a public voice about personal matters, and so they are all discussed at a level of general applicability. For instance, I can say here that my habits are exacerbating my laryngitis, but I do not want to get into detail about my personal bad habits in this public forum.

So this intimacy requires confidentiality as well. Several of the people I love in my life have come to my aid. I promised that I would go to the Ear Nose and Throat doctor if my throat did not improve before we return to Miami from Telluride. Today I went ahead and made that appointment. I have also developed a list of self care practices to see if I can heal this myself before that appointment. These were also recommended to me by people I love and trust, such as gargling salt water and avoiding anything that will cause my throat to become dry and irritated. It’s these people who love me enough and care about me enough that want me to be around for a long time who are causing me to take the right actions to “be the best version of myself” in terms of my physical health.

So there are several different types of intimate relationships that we all “need” to become the best version of ourselves. There is our intimate partner in the traditional sense of the word. And beyond this we need a handful of other intimate relationships with people who truly know us for who we are. These relationships help us to become the best people that we can be, and in turn, it is our joy to reciprocate and help them to become the best versions of themselves too.

I am very fortunate to have my wife and family a handful of these true friends in my life. These are the relationships I really need to be the best version of myself and to fulfill my purpose here. On top of that we have so many more superficial relationships that fit together with our lives and we exchange good with each other, but at a lesser degree of intimacy. I pay to get a haircut and I chat with the stylist, and I get a good haircut and some humorous conversation. Maybe we exchange a few treasures, but it is a level of public persona that engages in these interactions.

We all have so many masks that we need to get through our days. I have the expert in aviation mask, I have the financial analysis mask, and the attorney mask, and I wear these when I go out in public. Then there is the level of people who know me a little better than that. They see my devotion to nature, they hear me play guitar and see me play with my little puppy dog. This is the realm of personal relationships. And then there is a small handful of people who we share our true hearts with.

For me, this case of laryngitis, coupled with this brilliant book, has really taught me an important lesson. It’s to expose something I don’t like about myself to those who I truly love, and then to accept their concern as help instead of criticism. And so I am going to gargle my salt water, and I’m going to go the the ENT and I’m going to keep lozenges in my pocket, and refrain from whispering, and avoid anything that causes dryness of the mucous membranes. I’m going to do all these things so I can be the best I can be physically. And this is really something that I truly want, because I recognize that my health is fundamental to my overall quality of my short life on this awesome planet.

I would also like to offer a prayer of peace and forgiveness for all the suffering in our world right now. May our universal celestial mother cover the world with a mantel of peace.

Peace.

Sales – The Easiest High Paying Job or the Hardest Low Paying Job

For the last thirteen years of my corporate career, I worked in sales originating loans for private aircraft. My manager at the company I worked for was one of my best mentors. He taught me that sales was either the easiest high paying job or the hardest low paying job, and the difference was up to us. Successful salesmanship is a way of being that enables you to help people who trust you to get what they need. Unsuccessful salesmanship, on the other hand, involves trying to persuade people to buy products, whether they need them or not, so that you can meet your sales quota. You can see that you can work very hard to achieve mediocre results, or you can have results just flowing to you. Which would you rather do?

The Key to Successful Sales is Manifesting Abundance

I was first introduced to the concept of manifestation and abundance through the Abraham Hicks Vortex Meditations that a friend referred me to on Christmas Eve 2011. I realize now what I did not know then, and that is that the key to Sales Success is abundant thinking. In a world of abundance everything we need naturally flows to us with little effort. There is enough in the world for everyone to be satisfied, and success comes easily. From this frame of reference, a good sales person needs only to help others to get what they want, and success flows naturally.

In a world of scarcity, on the other hand, we compete for limited resources. There is a fixed amount of stuff in the world, and this stuff is not enough to satisfy everyone, and so it’s up to us to get as much as we can get. It is a world of competition, poverty and stress. When we go into sales from this perspective, the very difficult job of a sales person is to somehow convince potential customers to do what the sales person wants. This scarcity vibration permeates our being, and other people pick up on it.

As a Sales Person Remember that Others Feel the Same Way

Are you familiar with the polarity of magnets? Have you ever noticed that when you line them up correctly, north pole to south, they stick together automatically, but when you line them up in the opposite orientation, they repel each other. I remember being so mesmerized by this force. It’s the same force we feel with sales people.

Have you ever walked into a store to take a quick look at something that caught your eye, and then had a sales person send you right back onto the street? It feels like a misaligned magnet. As soon as they approach, I feel their energy and I am either attracted to them or repelled. I have literally seen over eager sales people chase customers right back onto the street. Have you ever had this experience of just wanting to have a look around, and then feeling chased off by a sales person?

It is understandable. Sales people working on commission can come to see each customer as a stepping stone to their quota, like fish or something. The language of typical sales instruction and management reflects this. I have heard sales people celebrate that they “sold the whole boat” to someone, like it’s some kind of victory. A little star goes on the board in the sales office and there is some chest thumping. I remember each year our company had a “President’s Club” for sales people who reached a stretch quota. There was tremendous pressure to meet this objective, and those who made it went on a trip with the head of our division. Those who did not stayed behind. Nobody wants to miss that trip.

How does a good sales person reconcile these competing forces? How do you make sales both easy and high paying? There really is only one true secret. You have to, in your heart, truly desire to help people get what they need or desire with your product offering. Success can only come from true commitment to being of service to your clients.

I remember when I was financing corporate aircraft, our “price” was the interest rate and the origination fee for the loans we would advance. The first question out of everyone’s mouth was “what’s the interest rate.” If you have ever financed a home with a mortgage, you may have experienced that a lender can offer a super low variable interest rate with a short term interest only period. They can structure the transaction to get the rate almost down to zero for the first year. That’s what created the housing bubble of 2008 right? The rate on a qualifying 30 year fixed rate mortgage would be significantly higher, but also a much better deal for the borrower, because they actually have terms that will let them stay in their home until they own it. The bank takes the risk of interest rates going up in the future and commits to leaving their money out for 30 years. As a sales person I had to really gain someone’s trust to lead them to a better deal with the higher price.

And the key to this was knowing who I could actually help. In the world of aircraft owners, we were often dealing with extremely high net worth clients. Many of them had large investments in corporate or municipal bonds, like tens of millions of dollars in a bond portfolio. After the financial shock of 2009, when the federal funds rates dropped to almost zero, the yields on these bonds also went down dramatically.

The truth in this environment was that it usually was not sensible for an ultra high net worth individual to pay a rate on a fixed rate loan that was higher than the rate they earned on a bond portfolio, because a loan is exactly the opposite of a bond. If a potential client owned $10,000,000 of bonds with a ten year maturity and a fixed yield of say 1.5%, why would they want to take out a loan with a ten year term and a fixed rate of 3%? They would earn $150,000 per year of interest on the bond, and then pay $300,000 of interest on the loan. In this case, it often made more sense for the client to sell the bonds and pay cash for their jet.

So here’s the tricky part in the sales process. The question a good sales person who truly wants to help their client would ask is “Why would you want to finance your plane with us, if you could sell a bond and pay for it, and then save yourself $150,000 in interest?” Most sales people in our industry were terrified to ask questions like this, because the answer might be “good point, I’ll pay cash.”

People who own their own jets tend to be very good negotiators. They tend to be very smart people. They tend to know how money works. To earn their respect and trust, “NO” has to be the right answer when a financing deal does not serve them. So discovering a big reason why they would not want to do a deal saves everyone a bunch of time and creates great trust. And things do change.

Sometimes they would surprise me. They might say they would sell the bonds, but they don’t want to because they were collateral for a portfolio loan account, or they did not want to use their available capital on an asset like the aircraft which can support its own financing. Other times they would say, yeah, that’s the truth. We don’t really like to finance anything because the rates we earn on our bonds are so low right now.

Do you feel the energetics of this? By being willing to ask these difficult questions, they would see that I would accept “no” for an answer if the deal was not in their best interest. I would not try to talk them into doing something that they did not want to do. The flood gates of information would open once that tumbler clicked. They trusted me because I was actually trustworthy.

I would say to them, yeah your right, it does not make sense for you to finance your plane right now. But here is the market analysis I prepared for you, and this is what the market for your jet looks like, and please let me know if I can give you any helpful information on the aircraft. And then I would take my leave.

And then I would send them a thank you note for their time. Then the next time I financed a jet like theirs, I would call them up and say “hey we just did a deal on a plane like yours. Would you like to see the market analysis?” Then they would start to call me whenever they had a question. And sometimes, they would say, “the plane we bought really does not have the range we need to get to all of our business locations, so we were going to trade up to a larger aircraft.” And presto, I would be given the opportunity to look at the next deal.

The Same Energetics Apply to Short Term Sales Cycles

Sales in jet financing thus often had a two to five year cycle. I would start with initial contact, then develop rapport and trust, and then a few years later when they got ready to trade up their aircraft, I would be in position to help them. But the same energy works in very short term sales like retail.

Imagine you work in a store with crystals and candles and buddha statues and a potential customer walks in looking for a gift for their sister. Greet them by saying in a friendly way “hi, welcome to our store. Please feel free to look around, and let me know if you have any questions” And then give them space so they feel comfortable, but not abandoned. Let them look for a while and notice what they are looking at. Eventually their body language will let you know when you can approach them. Say they keep fidgeting with crystals and glance around looking for you, then you can ask “can I help you find something?” Then the whole story about the gift for the sister will come pouring out. The key energetic is that they sense your willingness to let them leave without buying anything. This has to be sincere. Once they sense that you only want to help them, that you have plenty of customers, and a successful store, they will want to buy from you. But if you hover over them and get all pushy before they are ready, they will run right out the door.

Can you see how this abundant thinking makes all the difference? If clients are scarce and if sales are a zero sum game, then sales people are predators, and potential customers are prey. If the world is abundant and abundance flows freely for everyone, then sales people are helpful allies that help others make good decisions and increase the flow of abundance in their own lives.

And so it is that if you have this abundant attitude, you spend your days with people who trust and respect you, you get referrals, you get call backs, you get deals done, and you don’t waste time with people who really shouldn’t be in your pipeline. If your attitude is scarcity, then you throw everything on the wall and take whatever sticks. You have lots of maybes that drag you on forever because they feel guilty saying no to you. Your customers dodge your calls, and your phone never rings. One way is hard, one way is easy. One is abundantly compensated, and the other pays very little.

Sales is a wonderful career for those who have the right attitude, and a short one for those who do not. Happy selling!

Peace.

Living in a Magical World — Free The Mind to Experience Awe

Good morning dear reader. Today is my Solar Return and I was very happy to share my morning coffee walk with my lovely wife Stephanie and our mutual friend Marya. We all enjoyed coffee with the dogs in Coconut Grove and we had a lively conversation around the nature of our beliefs. As I have written here before, I come from a hyper rational way of thinking. I suffered for decades under the cold eye of material reductionism and lived a great part of my life in a world devoid of magic, miracles, and divinity. For me, everything was the result of atoms bouncing around like billiard balls, and anything more than that I considered wishful thinking by weak minded people who refused to accept the truth. Occam’s Razor was my religion.

And so this morning Stephanie was talking about how her faerie beings help her keep a beautiful and tidy environment. She explained how she used to feel frustrated or annoyed when I would leave my shoes scattered haphazardly around the entry way, or empty my pockets on the kitchen counter, or basically go about my way like a Labrador retriever. She would ask herself why it was always she who cleaned the messes. She told us how she now recognizes that it is her faerie guides who like to beautify her environment, and so now when she sees something out of place, it is the place that she cleans, not the mess. Suddenly her thinking and feelings around the situation shifted, and she appreciated the guidance she receives to beautify her surroundings.

The old Spencer would have judged this belief based on it’s objective truth in my material reductionist worldview. Occam’s razor has no time for Faeries. But that’s not me anymore. We talked about how useful this belief was to Stephanie. It gives her a frame of reference for her experience in the world that empowers her to make her environment beautiful without building up resentments towards the perpetuators of disorder. And it helps me too.

This is not just her putting a sugar coating on my disrespect. I actually do want to participate in keeping our environment peaceful and calm and beautiful. It’s just that my awareness and sensitivity are not as refined as hers. I am very Yang and masculine in my way of being, and so I tend to be focused on the object of my intentions. I might be coming home from the grocery store and on my way somewhere else, and my mission might be to get the cold items in the fridge, and I focus on this, and then I leave the dry goods out on the counter. Sometimes I remember to stop and look at the kitchen and see if there is anything out of place, but this really is training to improve myself. My natural inclination is to focus on my task and screen out distractions.

But the faeries are helping me too. I appreciate the environment they create, and instead of feeling nagged by Stephanie having a stronger desire for neatness than I do, I can support the effort to elevate the energy of our space to the level that faeries and spirits like to inhabit our home. And they do. Everyone feels it when they come over. They feel the feeling of calm in our home, and the way everything is just so makes this possible.

And after all, we really have only the dimmest understanding of the true nature of our reality. We are like super intelligent goldfish in a goldfish bowl debating what exists in the outside world. We debate the source of the food that gets sprinkled on the surface, and we call in Mana from Heaven, our daily fish bread. We peer out of the bowl with a telescope and observe the living room around us. Maybe we even manage to develop technology to enable us to send up a periscope above the rim of the bowl for a better look. But really, how much do we understand? What if a new goldfish comes in and has memories of another place and another bowl? Is that heresy? There is no proof of another fish bowl is there? Occam’s razor says no.

So we can see that insisting on our limited view of the world is not really very helpful at all. It limits us to thinking of things in terms of a model of life with no purpose or meaning. It is very difficult to understand why anything matters in a world where the only truth is a bunch of billiard ball atoms bouncing into each other until the Sun eventually explodes. Occam’s razor and the material reductionist world view give us little to love.

And so it is that we can either see the divine in everything, or we see the divine in nothing. Magic is either everywhere, or it’s nowhere. You are either a spirit incorporated in a material body having this material experience, or you are a consciousness created by the interaction of chemicals in a very complex brain structure. We can all debate, like the goldfish in the goldfish bowl, about which of these understandings is materially most accurate. But this is really not a very interesting discussion, and if history is any guide, it’s not very productive either. This is because basically every theory or concept to describe the true nature of the Universe has ultimately been proven to be a remarkable oversimplification. The Big Bang is no exception, it is just the latest theory of the goldfish bowl.

A better way to evaluate beliefs is in terms of whether they ring true in your heart and whether they are useful in life. For me it rings true that I am here on this world for a purpose, and that this purpose is to learn and to teach, and that when I’m done here, I will return to where I am dreaming this from. For me this is a very useful frame of reference. It gives meaning to my relationships, it enables me to see divine guidance all around me, and it fills me with a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of nature and the firmament. For me, I see the divine in everything, and this is very useful. I am much much happier now than before I opened my mind.

It’s so freeing to open our minds to miraculous possibility, and there is so much that flows from this. Over the next weeks, I pray, to receive some material to share here about what can happen when we just open our eyes to a miraculous world.

Peace

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.

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.