Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Living by Principle

What is the path to greatness and how does one get there?  Often we feel that we were meant for something greater in life; that we have this inert potential waiting to get out.  Often this feeling is ignored or brushed off until it diminishes and we continue on with the daily grind.  But in order to nuture that potential and achieve greatness in one's life, it is important to live a principled life.  There are many principles that together can add up to greatness, but it often takes a lifetime to master all of them.  There are 3 principles however that can be implemented fairly easily and quickly, which when utilized will plant the seeds for future bounties.  By adhering to these principles you have begun a journey on the path to greatness:

1.  Develop a network of friends whom you trust unconditionally.  Trust is a tricky notion to define, and unconditional trust is even trickier to establish between people.  The best way to establish this is to be trustworthy yourself and live up to your reputation.  Continue to build your network until you have a base of good people to rely upon for support and connections.  After all, you cannot acheive greatness without the help of others.

2.  Take care of your body and your mind.  While you cannot achieve greatness without the help of others, you must also rely on yourself.  Your body and mind are the vehicle which will take you to greatness and it is therefore important that it be in good enough shape to take you all the way.  Its a tall mountain to climb.  Its hard to say that one is living correctly when it is obvious they have let themselves go.  Further by maintaining good physical stature you develop the fundamental basis of power by having strength and proper body mechanics and posturing.  Having the equivalent in mental stature can only take you far along your path.

3.  Work hard to pull your own weight, working first for yourself, then your family, then your community and the rest of the world.  It is important to put in the discipline needed to acheive and it is not easy.  It takes work and you must meet your own needs and those of the people closest to you before you can help others.  Your work is not finished however once you meet your own needs and in order to unleash your full potential, you must extend yourself to have a positive impact as far and wide as possible. 

These principles are the fundamentals, but there are many more which you will discover along your journey.  Please share those which you have discovered are fundamental toward reaching greatness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Redefining Success

I was once asked in an interview what my definition of success is.  I fed the interviewer exactly what he wanted to hear and got a job offer out of the interview, but I turned it down, because while I knew I had answered the question correctly according to him, I also knew I had lied to myself.

My definition of success has changed over time as I've grown older and wiser.  As I was a teenager, success for me was getting nice clothes and a cool car to drive and flirting with as many girls as possible.  To acheive this, I got a job at the mall to get a discount on the clothes and save up to buy myself a Jeep Wrangler.  It was enjoyable and I have fond memories of those times, but once I achieved my goal, I was still left with a feeling of want thinking, "Is this it"?  For most americans, this is still the guage by which they judge success.  How does one dress, and what car do they drive.  Its amazing how important this is even to rather enlightened individuals.

As I went to college my priorities changed and success was no longer material, but was based on the intellectual.  I stopped caring about looking good for the sake of looking good, and I didn't care to drive in a college town.  As my clothes grew old, I did not replace them, and got rid of my vehicle as it became a bigger burden than a luxury.  Instead of "succeeding" in appearence, I decided to succeed mentally and I focused my attention to intellectual pursuits, learning as much as I could.  Course work was useful, but I often found myself ignoring my coursework to delve deeper into my particular interests.  I studied well above and beyond the expectations of my college cirriculum, though my effort toward the convential coursework often suffered for it.

As college came to a close, my priorities began to change once again, and instead of intellectual pursuits, success became defined as experience.  I heard a quote once when I was a young boy that stuck with me ever since, "Trouble brings experience, experience brings wisdom".  I began to value all experience as important to achieving success.  I made friends, made enemies, partied, fasted, explored the world, lived abroad for a year in a country where I couldn't speak the language, learned a new language, learned martial arts, broke my leg, applied for grad school, published papers, presented at conferences, worked toward my skydiving certification, learned to hunt, got married, got a dog, had a kid, bought a house, spent money, saved money, and the list goes on.  I grew a lot during this time and have had quite a bit of experience and would be successful by many peoples' measure.  And it is very satisfying.  However, now that I'm here, I have the same feeling of, "this is it?"

This had led me to redefine success yet again as the mastery of the will.  Everyday, there are influences acting upon you that attempt to incite particular behaviors.  While it feels like you are choosing to do them of your own volition, the fact is you are making your choice based on the influences of others.  Sometimes, the behavior is automatic and choice does not play a role at all.  My experiences have led me to believe that true success is mastering my own will; that is consciously acting of my own intentions based on rationality and my personal needs, rather than desires imparted on me by others.  This is incredibly difficult and having worked on this for years, I have only made incremental improvements.  While I am yet undecided about whether we actually have free will or not, I'm willing to operate under the assumption that we do have the capability for it.  That capability however needs to be exercised just like any other mental capacity in order to be effective.  Instead of acting on autopilot one should strive to act consciously and correctly.  It means resisting the doughnut at work, and the frozen pizza for dinner.  It means not impulsively having sex or masturbating.  It means not buying the newest gadget or the candy bar at the check-out isle.  It means staying in shape and in good health.  It means overcoming convenience.  In my exercises toward mastering the will, it has become apparent to me how out of touch people are with their own minds and bodies. 

Mastering the will can take many forms. Your will may be to become rich, or to gain knowledge, or gain experience, but to do so consciously and controlled is a difficult task.  My definition of success will continue to evolve and once I master the will, I suppose the next step would be to purify the will and make your will meritorious.  Once you learn to master it, you realize that becoming rich isn't a worthy goal and you can let it go in pursuit of higher goals.  I think many people (though a small percentage of people overall) figure out how to master the will.  Very few people purify the will to be worthy of mastery.  These are the people who change the world for the better.

What is your definition of success?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The $100 Challenge

Living in America, we live in the richest country in the world.  In fact, we live in the richest country in the history of Mankind.  This is an amazing fact no matter how you look at it and we all benefit from it whether we are personally rich or not.  While we would all like to have more money, and few of us consider ourselves rich, as it stands we all live like kings by historical standards.  Things we take for granted such as running water and a heated home are really phenomenal luxuries when you think about what goes into it.  So in the land of plenty, how do we use our wealth in the most effective way and give back?  This is where the $100 challenge comes in.

I challenge you, the reader, to invest $100 of your money in making the world a better place today.  I do not mean invest in the stock market, but invest in your fellow man, your community, your neighbor, out of compassion rather than greed.  I chose $100 because I think its an amount that nearly everybody can obtain and depart with without starving to death.  I'll admit its difficult for me to part with the money, but in reality how many times do people blow $100 on a daily basis on impulse buys at the store, a night out at the bars, gambling, junk food, cable TV, etc.?  All the time.  I'm asking you to sacrifice those luxuries just once to invest in a better future.  If you don't have the money, sell something online to get it, or invest what you do have; $50, $20, $10.  But the challenge is to part with $100 for an investment in our future.  You will see that it is the best $100 you've ever spent.

The rules for the challenge are this:  1.  The money cannot be spent on yourself or anybody in your immediate family.  2.  The money must be spent to do good and make the world a better place.  3.  The money must be spent locally.  That's it.  You could go the old fashioned route of donating to a charity like Salvation Army or United Way.  That is a good way to spend your money and the good folks at these organizations and others like it will know how to use that money effectively.  But the challenge that I'm really calling upon you for is to be creative and make your money stretch as far as possible to do the most good in the world.  For example, if you live in an African village, you could put $100 toward building a water purification system.  Or, to be more effective, you could put $100 toward developing blue prints for water purification and training locals on how to implement those blueprints.  I heard a story on the bus the other day, where a man's daughter was saving  for years to go to Columbia after being influenced by a foreign exchange student.  A 92 year old neighbor heard the story and donated $1000 to her cause giving her the enrichment of travel abroad and the relationships that followed.  You could buy $100 worth of food and cook dinner at a soup kitchen.  Or, you could buy $100 worth of spaghetti, and treat all your friends to a fabulous dinner under the condition that they too participate in the $100 Challenge.  All of these ideas are valid and great investments in the future.  Please invest your $100 in the most creative and effective way possible, and tell your story in the comments below.

Remember, he who casts his bread unto open waters, shall find it again after many days.    You will see that it is the best $100 you have ever spent and will be returned to you ten fold.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why am I living this way?

Ask yourself one question:  Why am I living the life I am?

This question has many simple answers, but is almost impossible to answer conclusively.  Sure, you go to work everyday because you need money.  Sure, you are a student because you want a better opportunity for success, or you find the subject matter interesting.  Sure, you're poor because you can't get a better job.  Whatever it may be, there is a reason, but most of the reasons come accross as excuses and do not address the cause of the situation.  Even if you're situation is great, it is not likely that it occurred as a simple matter of choice.  There are many many events that combined to bring the world to the state of being that it is in today, including your personal situation.  And while choice alone did not bring youto your current situation, the next question you're going ask yourself is:  What is the next action I'm going to take to live the life I want?

While you cannot control your situation entirely through choice, you can influence your direction by actively exercising your choice instead of floating where circumstance takes you.  The tides still ebb and flow, and you are subjected to them, but you can make the choice to live a better life.  The next thing you do after reading this should be an action to improve your life, no matter how small.  It could be the choice to stretch out and touch your toes for the first time in 10 years.  It could be to tell your spouse that you love him or her and you're willing to make things better.  It could be to learn something new or teach somebody a skill.  whatever your current situation is, you can make your next choice be one that improves your life.  Act according to your choice now and stop drifting.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rhinestone Eyes by Gorillaz

I've liked the song Rhinestone Eyes by the Gorillaz ever since it came out.  When I was researching the lyrics I came across an analysis of the lyrics and to my astoundment, many people completely mis-interpret this song.  While I can't claim to have it exactly right, I think my interpretation is largely supported by the artistic context of the album and video.  My analysis of the lyrics is as follows:

“I'm a scary gargoyle on a tower
that you made with plastic power”
I interpret this this to be an icon of leadership, a stone figure scary on a tower/pedistal, put there by the power of modern industry.  Plastic has brought much power in the form of technology, industry and economy.

“Your rhinestone eyes are like factories far away”
Rhinestone represents fake value, and greed.  Also imagery of hollow expressionless eyes, distant and unfamiliar like factories.  We know they exist, but never actually see them.

“Where the paralytic dream that we all seem to keep
Drive on engines till they sleep with future pixels in factories far away”
Our dreams of wealth and success fueled by greed, consume us and we can think of nothing else to the point where we are paralyzed to do anything else except play the game, enter the rat race, and pursue them.  Those dreams drive the engine of society until they integrate with people, making them insignificant pixels. 

“So call the mainland from the beach
All parties now washed up in bleach”
Regular people who are just trying to enjoy themselves (party on the beach) on a daily basis can no longer do so because the world has become so polluted that enjoying nature has become corrosive.  We've fallen from Eden and can no longer enjoy that lifestyle.  They need to call the mainland (or support or government, to notify them) and call for help?

“The waves are rising for this time of year
And nobody knows what to do with the heat”
This is a clear reference to rising ocean levels, and the particular choice of words seems to say, “that’s strange, the water’s high” as if it happened gradually.  It has a sense of unease and uncertainty.  The heat refers to global warming and the controversies surrounding it.  Nobody knows how to solve that problem.

“Under sunshine pylons we'll meet
While rain is falling like rhinestones from the sky”
Despite the corrosive beaches, and global warming, people pretend like nothing bad is happening when in reality trouble is in front of them.  The trouble seems fake like rhinestones.  They meet under bright sunny skies and ignore the problem calling it fake, pretending things are great. 

“I can't see you now my heart is frozen
all the bowses and the growses
have been abstinated in my soul”
A frozen heart implies death, and he can no longer see because of that.  The problems were ignored until they were detrimental and the consequences have been suffered.  The “shivers” and “pulls” are no longer in him.  Life has left.  Alternatively, this could be an emotional death and a turning away from the problems signifying loss of hope.

“I prayed on the immoveable yet clinging to the atoms of rocks
seasons the adjustments signs of change”
He prayed to the heavens, but remains stuck on earth and helpless.  The seasons are adjusting due to our actions as a whole and severe change is coming to the world despite itself.

“I can't see now she said taxi
Now red light is all I can t
This continues on the death theme.  Nature (“she”) took a taxi and left.  Red light refers to the rhinestone eyes, implying that all that’s left and acceptable is the artificial plastic world, seen in the red hues of artificial desires.

“This dawn brings strange loyalties and skies”
Now that Nature has left, new alliances are formed, not necessarily desired ones.  This happens under strange skies implying an erieness to it as well as an altered climate.

I'm a scary gargoyle on a tower
that you made with plastic power
Your rhinestone eyes are like factories far away
Again, the gargoyle is an over-seer of the world, risen to power by the industrial machine.  Again, an image of hollow, lifeless eyes that work in the factories.

“Here we go again
That's electric
That's electric”
Referencing the continual pattern, and the concept of energy that drives it all. 

“Helicopters fly over the beach
Same time every day same routine
Clear target in the summer when skies are blue
It's part of the noise when winter comes
It reverberates in my lungs
Natures corrupted in factories far away”
This verse implies war and a military state resulting from the destruction/corruption of nature, and a development of the strange alliances.  A result of calling the mainland for help?  Another reference to the seasons no longer being what they were, redefined now by war (targets, noise,).  This takes a toll on the body through pollution and lifestyle as the noise of war enters the lungs.  It has become a part of daily life.  Factories continue to churn as nature continues to be destroyed.

“Here we go again
That's electric
Your loves like rhinestones falling from the sky
That's electric
We are future pixels in factories far away
Here we go again
That's electric
Your loves like rhinestones falling from the sky
That's electric
Where future pixels in factories far away
Here we go again”
Now, even love has become fake and hollow like a rhinestone, meaningless and insignificant like a pixel.
Let me know your interpretation or add any comments below.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Theory of Hypnosis

Dennet offers a perspective of consciousness in "Consciousness Explained"  that humans are a self-reporting being and we use language to do this.  This mental dialog and self report equates to our conscious awareness.  Our brains evolved from one that needed to report on itself.  Heat, pain, balance, all needed to be regulated and so your body sends signals to its central processor.  Over time, the central processor started to report on itself.  All of a sudden there was a language.  A thought.  Maybe the first being to discover this heard a voice for the first time.   Maybe they thought that voice was god.  Who knows.  But they had the first language as it was needed to self report.  Eventually people started using that voice to communicate with other people.  Language and consciousness go hand in hand because language is needed to have a thought and thus awareness.  Luckily we also have the voice box necessary to conduct the noises for the thoughts in our heads.  And we can use this to communicate to others the state of things.  We then learn to use these sounds to self-report, and the self report changes from an abstract language to the language with which we are familiar.  The idea one has is captured in the language.  We have these memes that show up in groups and cultures which in a sense form a sort of group consciousness. 
Considering this notion of consciousness, one can then interpret hypnosis under this paradigm.  Hypnosis quiets these memes for a brief moment which leaves a blank slate for the hypnotist to insert memes that are beneficial to the client.  These memes have direct acess to your operating system to then be continually processed and looped within the individual.  A meme that is constantly repeated and not rejected is taken to be reality by the individual. Thus the suggestions take and the individual responds to them because the reporting system is continuously being looped.  That idea having come from the hypnotist makes it valuable because it takes an art of an individual to pose the correct language. Concepts are contagious and hypnosis is the best method to transfer those concepts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

3-8 Hertz

I recently came across a paper I wrote in college discussing the neuroscience behind shamanistic practices.  One interesting thing I found when reviewing this paper is that in order to enter a trance to the spirit world, shamans would often employ rhythmic drumming, chanting, and/or dancing.  When this phenomenon was studied it became apparent that this drumming impacts the frequency of brain waves.  More specifically, Vaitl, et. al, discussed past research done by Neher, demonstrating that drum beats in the frequency of 3-8 hertz synchronize brain waves to the same frequency (also konwn as auditory driving).  There has been further research into auditory driving, indicating that different frequencies produce synchronizing effects on brain waves in various scenarios.  Curious of this phenomenon, and wondering what if meant to have brain waves synchronized, I tried to find a sampling of a 3-8 Hz drum beat.  I was unsuccessful at finding a pure sample, but I did discover binaural beats.  When listening to this with headphones for only a short while, I definitely noticed a change in cognition.  Not sure what the effect would be, I cut my listening session short, and considered myself informed. 

This is a very interesting phenomenon, and I wonder what the implications are, knowing that our brain waves can be changed into a specific patern by rhythmic beats.  How is this phenomenon used in the daily world?  What is the evolutionary advantage?  Is this embedded into advertising and marketing?  If so, what impact or consequences result?  It would appear to be a form of hypnosis, causing one to enter a relaxed state, though I do not know if it changes a person's suggestability.  Where in your daily life do you notice rhythmic beats, and at what hertz?  Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

You Are What You Eat

I recently had a discussion with a friend about food; grapes in particular.  He mentioned that he thought the organic movement was unnecessary and a mere marketing ploy, and he would proceed to buy his grapes from Walmart.  In summing up his argument he said, "A grape is a grape.  I'm going to buy the cheapest one I can find".  I think he has a point.  The word "organic" has become a loaded word that means far less than what it did when it was created, and allows producers and distributors to put a hefty premium on the price of food.  Walmart plays a key role in feeding a world that has recently reached 7 billion in population, and the price of food is definitely worth considering when shopping.  A grape however, is not simply a grape.  Or an onion, an onion, or a pig a pig.  When health factors are taken into consideration vast differences are discovered in farming practices, nutritional profiles, environmental impacts, and toxicities between one grape and another.  Is there a taste difference between a grape bought at Walmart, and one plucked from a small vineyard in Wisconsin after a rainfall?  Absolutely.   Is there a difference in nutritional value?  Absolutely.  Does it matter?  Absolutely.

Consider this experiment:  buy a green pepper from the local chain grocery store and buy a green pepper from the local farmers market.  This difference in taste will be phenomenal.  And that difference in taste often reflects the difference in nutritional profiles.  How many people go through life not knowing what a fresh vegetable, grown the way it was meant to be grown, tastes like?  The explosion of flavor from a vegetable grown with care dwarfs the experience of eating a vegetable grown half way across the world with chemicals and poisons intended to make it grow large and quickly, picked before its ripe, covered in preservatives, that ends up on your dinner plate, pale and bland.  No wonder children tend to dislike eating vegetables!  They haven't undergone the enriching experience of eating a fresh tasty vegetable from a local farmer, or off the vine in your backyard.  They haven't had the experience to see the plant grow and know where their food comes from.  Stock your freezer with a cow bought from a local farmer and you will never eat meat from a grocer again because it will taste like cardboard to you.  As kids we used to joke, "you are what you eat".  This was funny when somebody was eating a twinky or a chocolate bunny.  But what we didn't understand as kids is that you really are what you eat, as your food is the basic building block of your self, and the food that you eat influences your health, your mood, your energy and your experience in life.  Beyond being a clever way to call somebody a carrot, "you are what you eat" is a phrase that should bring conscientiousness to the dinner plate.

Going back to the conversation with my friend regarding grapes, I tried to explain my point that a grape is not simply a grape, by telling the story of what I had observed a few weeks earlier.  I was at a gas station filling up my tank when a man in a brand new yellow Corvette pulled into the lot and parked at the stall next to me.  This piece of machinery shined with spotless beauty and sounded like a chorus of angels humming.  It was truly beautiful.  As the man got out of his car, I noticed that he chose to put premium gasoline into his tank.  Smart choice considering the high performance of the engine and expensive technology.  I didn't get a chance to look under the hood but I imagine the engine was the cleanest engine I would have seen, and that he used the best high-performance synthetic oil he could find in order to care for his vehicle.  As he filled up, the man went inside the station to get some refreshments and when he came back to his car, I noticed he had a large bag of chips and a 20 oz. soda.  Now I realize that gas stations don't typically offer much in the way of health food, but the irony of his food choice struck me immediately.  A man who rightfully is very conscientious about an expensive and highly technical piece of machinery by keeping it meticulously clean and giving it the best fuel, completely neglects his most precious (and even more technical) piece of machinery, his own body, by filling it with low-grade crap.  Now as it is important to put good fuel into an expensive car to improve performance and long term maintenance, it is equally as important to do so for yourself with healthy food.  You truly are what you eat as it physically becomes your body, so it seems that eating should entail the same level of conscientiousness (or higher) that is given to prized material possessions.  A grape is not a grape any more than a gallon of gas is a gallon of gas.  One would not put water into the gas tank of a corvette simply because it is a liquid, and one should not put processed food and soda into the body just because it resembles food. 

Quality matters, and one cannot get quality at Walmart, but must look for food grown conscientiously and cleanly.  Walmart plays its role in food distribution to an ever needy populace, but as a matter of personal choice it is imperative that we each make the choice to search for quality food.  Does it cost more?  Yes.  However the cost of high quality food is an upfront investment that pays large personal dividends in terms of time, health, energy and mood both immediately and in the long run.  Can you afford it?  You can't afford not to.