Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why The Arizona Gay Jim Crow Law Is A Good Thing

Hello dear readers,

I've been moved to come down from my Ivory Tower and comment on things happening In Real Life, to whit, the passage of a law in Arizona that legalises descrimination against gay people, on religious grounds.  Every business in the state can now, legally, refuse to deal with a gay person, just because they are gay.

Any business.  Water, power, gas, housing, grocery stores, fast-food restaurants.  Presumably even those homeless people who wash your windows at traffic stops in exchange for a handful of nickels can refuse to do so if  your car is painted pink, or something.  It's been compared, with some justification, to the laws that enshrined legal segregation on a State level, and made black people second class citizens, in the wake of the American Civil War - those are the Jim Crow laws, so if you hear people talking about that, that's what that means.

Anyway, so yeah.  It is now legal to refuse service to gay people for a private company, just as it was legal to refuse service to a black person as a private company during segregation.  The political power of state's rights in action.

I think this is good news.

Really, really good news.  As in, the best news I've heard all day.  When I heard that similar legislation was defeated in Kansas just a few days ago, I was all like, dammit.  Wish that had passed.  And now it has passed in Arizona, and I'm like - good.

This is why.

The Civil Rights movement of the 60's was stalling, hard, and mainly because the white authorities weren't stupid - they weren't going to beat black people up on camera, and so they just calmly waited it out.

Then King took things to Birmingham, Alabama, which was run by Eugene 'Bull' Connor.  Connor hated black people, like most of the Southern establishment, but unlike many others in the Southern establishment, was not a man of restraint.  King organised thousands upon thousands of black people to march, so many that the jails were all filled up in the first hour - the police couldn't arrest them, there was nowhere to put them.

Then they kept coming, kept marching, kept blocking the roadways - all for one goal.  To make Connor tip his hand.  That's a quote from MLK to his key deputy at the time - "'you've got to find the means to create a crisis, to make Bull Connor tip his hand."  

Make him loose the dogs, make him order the police to beat the protesters.  And he did, and the photos of it went out, and all of a sudden people were confronted with the true horror of Southern Racism.  And even those with passive racist leanings didn't have the stomach for that.  And the country just rejected it as monstrosity.  This 'hidden side' to the Civil Rights movement was brilliantly detailed in Malcolm Gladwell's latest, David And Goliath, which is well worth checking out.

Anyway, point is this.

The point at which a bigoted establishment tips it's hand on a massive, public stage, is the entire thing that non-violent resistance aims for.  Without it, it cannot win.

Think for one second what this looks like to anyone who isn't a card-carrying member of the gay-hate brigade.  Even many Christians oppose this vehemently, which splits the 'Christian bloc' clean down the middle.  The hard core is left, but much reduced.

This is one of those moments where the zen truth that failure is success and success is failure just shines like the sun.

This looks like the total success of Christian bigotry.  Look at us, we have succeeded in bringing in genuine laws enshrining discrimination.  Look how strong we are.

But it's not strength, and it's not success.  I think this is that 'Alabama moment' for gay people in the US.

This will rip the right apart.  This will rip apart the liberal and conservative wings of American Christianity.  This will mobilise allies for gay rights that we don't even know exist right now.  But more than anything, more than all this, it will crystallise the issue in the minds of the apathetic, and like rats, they will flee the sinking ship of homophobic bigotry.

Bigotry can only exist in the shadows.  That's because in the shadows people can pretend it's moral, pretty, decent.  In the light of day, when you actually see this thing up close, dear Christ, it's an ugly motherfucker.  And ugly motherfuckers get dumped.

I think the gay rights movement just won.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Dreaming And The Secret World

Here's an interesting problem sent from a subscriber, I thought I'd give it a bit of space to itself here.

This is an interesting one, because it speaks to a lot of core issues, a lot of core assumptions, about a lot of basic things we take for granted.  These basic things are things like time.  Thinking.  Stuff like that.

Of course, normally we very rarely question such things, because normally they seem totally solid.  The assumptions we have about the mind, about the basic nature of what it's doing, the basic nature of time, what time actually is - most of the time we just wouldn't even think about such things.  It would be like digging up the ground beneath your feet when you're trying to go for a walk... or so it would seem.

But every now and then, there's a glitch.  Something slips - and it can be something very small, and seemingly irrelevant.  Some tiny little contradiction that just niggles at you, almost, one might say, like a splinter in your mind.

The thing about reality is that reality is consistent.  It doesn't have glitches, it doesn't do contradiction.  So any glitch, any contradiction?  It has to be in our understanding.

As a philosopher, when you find a contradiction or an inconsistency, a good rule of thumb is to treat it like a massive glowing neon sign saying "DIG HERE".  You don't know how deep you're going to get with it - but it'll be deeper than you are right now, anyway, so there's that at least.

And on top of this - all roads lead to Rome.  After a while you start to see connections between the inconsistencies - and connections between where they lead.  And that's when you really do start getting a far clearer view of the secret world.

And on top even of that... well.  As any detective can tell you, the smallest inconsistencies can lead to vast breakthroughs.  Sometimes it's just a little thing, but more often than not, there's a king-sized iceberg under that tip.

Here's the question:


An expected surprise

Sometimes you are woken up from a dream by an interruption from the waking world, for example a knock at the door, the dream seems to somehow take this in its stride and incorporate it seemingly effortlessly into itself. 

The curious thing is that when you are woken up by the interruption, it seems to come at the end of, and as the conclusion to the dream. 

If you are like me you are initially left thinking – that’s odd! How did the dream know that was going to happen? Weird….

However, upon waking the dream as a sequence including the apparently conclusion-forming interruption is then (re)experienced within the waking state. 

Or the experience somehow drifts as on state arises and the other subsides.  

When we have properly woken up, in the waking  state we like to think, “ok the dream appears to have 4 dimensions, 3 of space which we know are not real (I was in bed not flying through the air!) and 1 of time - which is real (it definitely took time for the dream to progress)”. i.e. from the waking state perspective, we take dreams to be one-dimensional. 

However the above interruption-conclusion example might suggest that dreams are actually non-dimensional. i.e. The dream might apprehend all the ‘objects of the dream’ ‘concurrently’ or, more accurately, eternally (outside of time). 

Then somehow  a story or sequence of events is experienced by the waking state at the moment of waking or re-presented shortly afterwards. Without the existence of some kind of 'metaphysical swap space', we must be talking about the same consciousness here. What is going on?

Now, this is a little bit of what I call a 'high-order' problem.  It's quite abstract, and can be a little tricky to get your head around, but well worth doing if you can.

The issue is this - you have a dream, and a loud noise interrupts it.  Within the dream that noise becomes a key part of the narrative, the story of the dream.  Say, you were in a car, and the dream ends with the car crashing (which incorporates the noise of the slamming door).

You half-wake, and the dream is still there, still there as a fading experience.  As part of that experience, the car crash, complete with appropriated sound effects, is still quite a tangible thing.  And yet the noise, the slamming of the door, gets re-experienced as what it was, the slamming of a door.  

The two states 'slip by' each other, so to speak, the two narratives of the same sensation.  

Now here's the thing - if we experience things in linear time, and interpret them in linear time, how can these two things coexist, within one consciousness?  Is this consciousness like a kind of space in which experiences are exchanged - even linear narratives which occur at the same time?

How can one sensation (the slamming door) lead to two utterly divergent experiences that are complete as chains of cause and effect, when the sensation which they centre around occurred simultaneously?

Well, if you're a long-time reader to this blog (or if you just read the introduction to this article where I said this), you'll know that one of the central tenets of the new kind of philosophy that get done here is that reality does not contradict itself.

What that means in practice is that knots like this, strange weirdnesses and paradoxes and such - they are completely artificial, all of them.  This means that solving the problem is a waste of time.  There is no problem to solve.

This is true of all paradoxes.  The analysis of paradoxes is a big part of contemporary Western, and some strains of ancient Eastern thought - but in the way it is normally approached has literally no value of any kind.

What does have value is realising that all contradictions, inconsistencies and paradoxes are apparent contradictions, apparent inconsistencies and apparent paradoxes (for some reason I want to write paradoxii, but that's not right).  

Anyway, point is this.  There's a way to approach these kind of things that pays off, and a way that doesn't.  The way that doesn't is to delve into the complexities and try to make it all fit inside our current understanding of what all the elements in this are.  Narrative, linearity, mind, self, dreams, waking.  

That's what everyone does - it's not just a disease of modern philosophy, it's a human disease, it's just that modern philosophy is more elaborate about it and uses bigger words.  There's no fundamental difference in what's being done.

What is fundamentally different is this new way of doing philosophy, which is that we never try to solve paradoxes, because we know there aren't any.  Instead, we take apparent paradoxes for what they are - a demonstration that some or all of our basic assumptions are fundamentally wrong.

Once you start looking for the assumptions that give rise to the apparent paradox, you're doing something very different from any mainstream kind of philosophy.  

So.  Dreaming.  Narrative.  Metaphysical swap-space.  Re-experiencing.  What is going on?

The first big assumption that we can kick away right at the start is the idea that we are experiencing.  

This is, in fact, the total inverse of what is actually going on.  Experience is occurring - and the 'we', the 'I', the 'you' that is doing the experiencing is just a fiction.  A compelling fiction, yes, but a fiction nonetheless.  It's just not real.  

What you have is a flow of experience, and within that experience, things are happening.  One of those things is this constant projection of 'you' as the 'person' who is 'doing the experiencing'.

This isn't true.  It's just a projection, there is no you.  You could ask 'well, who is doing the experiencing then?' but then, I could just shoot back "who is necessary for experiencing to occur?"

This is something that, interestingly enough, is completely visible.  You can actually see it, so spare me the arguments, and take a look, there is literally no you, there's just the illusion of it.  And of course you can say "who does the seeing then?" to which I would respond "nobody is necessary for seeing to occur, no you has ever been necessary for anything in your life to occur, whatever it is, ever, because there is literally no you in real life."

Those of you brave enough to look will be in for something of a shock, but I'll leave that to the curious and the bold.

Ok, so that's assumption the first.  Where does this leave us?

Well, if there's no you experiencing anything, just experience, which includes thoughts and narratives and such, all of which claim to be experienced by you, then all of a sudden, this really isn't that big of problem at all.

Especially when you take a closer look at what's going on with this 'illusion of self'.

A big chunk of the article One Song was about this - the actual nature of the illusion, what it is, why it is, what it's doing and how it's doing it.

Let's just focus on the very last element of that for a second.  How it's doing it.

The pioneering recent work done by Iain McGilchrist on the nature of the brain hemispheres allowed me to put together a new kind of understanding, a new paradigm, if you will, about the nature of the brain, and what the human self fundamentally is.

Not just that it is an illusion, but what kind of illusion it is, how it works, what the elements of it are.  I don't want to repeat too much of that here, but a quick sketch of it would look like this.

The right hemisphere exists to authentically map contour and quality.  That's basically what it's doing - it includes things like emotional quality, but also all other kinds of quality, like colour, taste, that sort of thing.  The stuff that's not easy to describe in language, or concepts, but is very distinct and specific nonetheless.

The left hemisphere exists for one very strange and very interesting reason - to create and project an illusion of fictional narrative, fictional cause and effect... and a fictional mind that is experiencing all this.

The left hemisphere has the reins of power in the skull.  It rules the right, and so it can (and does) rope the faculties of the right hemisphere in to filling in the structure it projects.

The resulting experience is all linear narrative of all kinds, all 'rationality' - all filled in to one united experience, which we experience as being human.  

Of course, technically, we don't experience it at all - what's far closer to the truth is that the experience occurs.

Now, there's just not enough time in the day to dig in to the other big thing in One Song, which is a new paradigm concerning the nature of time, but suffice it just to say this regarding your question on sensory overlap in dreaming and wakefulness.

There is no contradiction, and we're not looking at a special case of the waking experience of the door slamming being 'backward rationalised' into a new narrative.

The waking experience of the door slamming is being 'backward rationalised' into a new narrative - but it's not special.

Backward rationalisation into superficially coherent narratives is what the brain does.  These rationalisations are often quite accurate - the noise happened because the door slammed - but only incidentally so.

Accuracy is only relevant inasmuch as it helps the core purpose of what the brain has evolved to do, which is to make and sustain a compelling narrative of you, your life, the world around you.

That narrative exists to provide a support structure and context for the illusion of self - and that illusion is the point of what the brain is doing.  It's why it's there, it's why it's so big, it's why it uses so much energy.

You can see this very clearly when you get blamed for something - especially something you actually did.  All of a sudden accuracy is thrown out the window, and you have a list of excuses as long as your arm, almost all of which have only slight and tenuous connections with what you're being blamed for.  We're human, we all do it - but that's the point.  We do all do it.

Accuracy is wholly expendable to the normal operation of the human brain.  It's useful for as long as it doesn't interrupt the vivid display of a moral self - but the second it does, it becomes punishingly clear where the brain's priority lies, which is why truth is rightly seen as the first casualty of war.

The brain backward rationalised the slamming door noise in the dream - as a car crash.  It discarded and reworked that interpretation when you fully woke, because of it's desire for continual coherence.

But - and pay attention here - the way in which it did this was in both cases to invent a linear narrative that moved from past to future.  

This narrative was experienced - but experienced how?  As the memory of having had a linear experience.

There was an experience, for sure - but the meaning of the various parts of it, the labeling of those parts in general - this kind of thing is fleshed out after the fact, but presents itself as if it were the true order of events.

This isn't a special case, it's just special insofar as it makes the true operation of the brain much more visible than it otherwise is.  The illusion of self, the illusion of story, the illusion of cause and effect, the illusion of linearity.  All of this is the brain just working normally - this is what it does, this is all it does.  It has one goal, one agenda, one task, just as the heart has one task, which is to beat.  The brain's task is to project backward rationalised narrative, as a foundation for, and as the body of, the illusion of self. 

This is obviously a radical new paradigm for understanding the workings of the brain.  That rational processing is in fact not real, that the brain is not doing this.  What it can do is use it's skill in pattern recognition and skill generation (which I talk about here) to mimic rational process.  But then, that's not really very surprising - it can mimic almost anything, develop almost any skill.  The ability to effectively mimic rational processing... even to the degree where dizzyingly advanced mathematics become possible... isn't that crazy.  

That mathematics has this kind of basis (making it far more like learning a musical instrument than pumping an innate rational faculty) is something that I think would be very fertile ground for further study, and is something that this new paradigm of mind could make very clear predictions about.

That's something I don't really have the resources for, but would love to take part in.  Either way, I think that effectively answers your question - or at least opens up the situation from a perspective where there is no contradiction to be seen, which, as discussed, is the new way of the philosophical future.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Goose And The Golden Egg

Got a little email from a subscriber who hasn't been using their monthly questions, so I thought I'd do a bit of a piece on it.

Here's the email:

I've recently been applying great effort to learning things I've had difficulty learning in the past, fuelled by the 'music pattern discovery' which we discussed.

I seem to have a tapped a pool of enthusiasm for things which makes things I couldn't do previously (but attempted), suddenly become the most fun and engaging experiences I've ever had.

I didn't know PHP but I wanted to, so I sat down at my PC and decided I wasn't doing anything else until I'd made something in PHP.

18-hour days of continual coding, from waking until sleep followed, and 3 days later I completed something functional that people are using.

I was so engrossed that I had no desire to do anything else whilst coding it. It was neither stressful nor boring. It was certainly difficult, and challenging indeed. So... that sorta raises some points.

I honestly find applying myself to something that I really urge to do, far more enjoyable than procrastinating.

I'm not really sure what drives the urge, but I'm certain it's something that can be honed.

Most importantly though, I'm sensing an 'unspoken effortlessness' that underlies all the effort. It's sort of like...

When you first drive a car, it's mental. Pedals, gears, wheel, mirrors. All this stuff going on and so much concentration despite moving at 2mph. Beads of sweat as you stall and roll backwards down a hill.

5 years later, you just jump in and don't even think about any of it anymore. It just happens automatically. You're like 'okay let's drive to work' and 15 minutes later, there you are.

The same applies with lots of things I can think of. Drawing, music, reading, 3d modelling, photography, football, coding. All have relative initial degrees of perceived complexity...

And yet, the more time you spend doing any of them, the more undone they become, revealing the simplicity that lies underneath.

Correct me if I'm wrong but... it doesn't just seem like an 'accumulation of knowledge' that is responsible either. It almost seems like the opposite is taking place, like the tension that mentally says 'I don't know X' is falling away and being replaced.

Not being replaced by 'advanced knowledge' (like knowing every hotkey for instance), but by a... clearer understanding. One which doesn't need every hotkey, every guide, advanced features or even an explanation.


Yes, this is a very interesting email, lots to talk about here.

Firstly, it's great to see you putting this stuff to use.  The ability of human beings to develop any skill of any kind to a very high degree really is the single most powerful faculty that humans have.

We're all taught that talent is what counts, but I can honestly say that it's so massively overblown.

It's almost as if (were I to be being ruthless about it, which of course I never do) we love to think in terms of talent.  That the idea that some people are just born naturally 'good' at this, or 'good' at that is a very seductive one - especially if we feel, as we often do, insecure about our own successes... or lack thereof.

It's a great excuse when we look at someone doing something amazing - that person is talented, and so I don't need to feel like I'm to blame because I can't do this or that as well as they can.

I sometimes wish I could just wave a magic wand and just say something like "now see how massive and vast and deep that attitude dominates all of the ideas about success and excellence that we experience in our whole lives" and you all would.

Of course, that's impossible - only those precious few (yes, I'm talking to you, don't be coy) who really do take the time to deeply consider things - to work that muscle, to build that skill - are even going to be capable of that.

The killer, of course, is that we like the idea of 'talent' as an explanation for human excellence because it means we never have to feel like it's our fault that we're not that good at things...


...and watch closely, this one has a ruthless edge to it you could cut diamonds with....

...accepting that excuse cuts us off from the actual ability to ever really get good at anything.

And it really does.  People - and not just some, but massively the majority of people - never get really good at anything.  It's like an uncharted realm to them, an undiscovered country.  Few know, and few will ever know, what it's actually like to be genuinely good at something.  Anything.  Anything at all.

But of course, it's not our fault... we just don't have the talent.

The only people who ever make a difference with their lives, ever, under any circumstances, are people who discard that lie for the ridiculous and facile excuse that it is.  And it is.

And those who don't?  Well, the ruthless train just keeps on chugging, because life is not a kind place for the powerless.  People are not kind to the weak.

We drift through oceans of storied morality, tales and vignettes about how kind we are, how good we are, how decent.  But if you scratch that surface you'll find something quite different beneath - that our stories of how moral we are almost always have an eerie parallel with the balance of power in any given situation.

Everyone looks kind, all the time.  Even when people are being cruel, they'll have their moral fig-leaves, they'll have their tales of compassion.  The reality is that those who treat those weaker than themselves with genuine consideration, when nobody else is looking and when they do not have to, is vanishingly rare to a degree that is genuinely shocking when you see it from below.

And yet, to spare our blushes, we leap to an excuse that cuts us off from the most potent resource that we, as humans, have.

And you could say that it's the faculty to generate skill.  And if you're a long time reader to this blog, you'll discover that it's also (if my strange, uncredentialed, widely derided and ignored philosophical skills are to be believed) the core process that underlies science itself.

But then, really?  We're not talking about science, and we're not talking about skill.  There's another word which underlies both, which makes both possible - finesse.

Skill is finesse in a task, science is finesse in understanding.

Finesse is the key - the ability to develop finesse.

Now here's the thing.  Just as people love to think of excellence in a task as being down to 'talent', because it takes the blame away from them, there's a parallel with understanding too.

I really think it's credible that one of the main reasons - and perhaps the main single reason - why the idea of 'accumulating knowledge' is such a persistent way of thinking about understanding.

It's not that it's absent, it's there, to a degree.  There are technical things to know about any task or any subject.

But what makes you a master of it is only incidentally connected with accumulating knowledge.  What makes you a master of it is finesse.

I noticed many years ago the incredible parallels  that exist between the ways in which anyone who has achieved mastery at anything talks about what they do.  Athletes, scientists, musicians, playwrites, novelists - perhaps, God forbid, even the occasional philosopher.

It's because they're all doing the same thing.  And the same very specific thing - it's not vague or woolly.  It's the same thing that works in the same way, and no matter how much it is buried beneath excuses of convenience, it will always rise again, as long as there is even just one human left who takes an interest in actually getting good at anything, whatsoever it may be.

Finesse is zen.  It's that simple.  The trying and failing, the stepping back, the seeing deeply, the diving in deeply.

Every time you fail, you break, you fall.   But what falls?

The ego, the self.  Literally, the self breaks when it fails at something.  That's why failure hurts, it's why we run from it.

But failure gives us something - it reveals.  Failure is never random, and if it is honest failure, the fact that it is not random means that we're discovering something we do not know, and that we could not have discovered any other way.

And what happens when we 'try again'?  It's a new 'ego', a new self.  It gets thrown up, but this time taking into account that new information from the last failure.

And this goes on and on, failure breeding more sophisticated projection, more sophisticated 'selfing', if you will.

And then, after a while (10000 hours, if you listen to Malcolm Gladwell, which I do), you've done this so much that you are totally in tune with what you are doing.

You have 'hit zen'.  Not zen as the wan, empty, serene peace of the sage, but zen as in the razor-edged cut of the samurai.

You can do it with anything, and it is genuinely incredible how good people - anyone, yes, you (don't be coy) get at doing anything.

But then....

....we don't have that many 10000 hours, do we?  That's a lot of time.  A lot of time to invest.

And so we have to, as men and women, ask ourselves, if we are to take a wider concern for this world and for the future (and I hope we sometimes do) what is the skill that the world needs most right now?

How can I get the most bang for my buck?  The buck is time - you don't have forever, just one human life.

To make the impact the world desperately needs, to move beyond what it has historically meant to be a human being, to step forward into a new kind of humanity, to step past the apathy and sneers of this most cynical of ages?

Well now.  PHP isn't going to hurt.  But is it a game changer?

If you can be world-class at anything, make a world-class decision of what specific skill to take to that level of zen.

And to the subscriber who wrote this, I don't think I need to say what I'm about to say, but for anyone fresh to my work, I certainly don't mean to in any way belittle what you've done.  It's an amazing achievement - but what's more important than the results, is the process you've now got a really good handle on.

The goose is more important than any individual golden egg.

Because guys, guys, guys.  Let's not get too excited by trinkets when we're sitting on the motherlode.

I'll leave you with that to consider, and also a video.  This was sent to me by someone I worked with in the past.  He mentioned that he'd found the stuff I'd written about skill to be helpful, and very accurate to his experience, and he sent me this, where he showcases a skill he himself has developed.

One last thing.

A skill taken to the level of zen is something that can never be taken away from you, like a normal possession.  It is always there, always incredible, and always wide open as a gateway to that place whenever you want to immerse yourself in the flow of the real.

There is a world of chaos and a species in torment, howling out it's misery and damage, wallowing in superficiality because it knows no other way.

Humanity can be more.  If, that is, you are prepared to be more.  To be something greater and more difficult than you have been.  And I hope you consider what I have said here, and I wish you all the very best.

And really - it's not just the fact that this stuff can change the world, or that it's an awesome, challenging and exhilirating way to live.

It also can, on occasion, look absolutely phenomenal.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Buck

It's so easy for us to shrug our shoulders and play helpless.  It's not my fault, or it's not my problem.  Or even if it is my problem, I don't know how to deal with it.  I'm too small, it's too big.

And in that lies a choice, a choice that really will decide if you're one of the people who really might change the world.  And like a lot of real choices, it's not just something you say once, and it's done.  It's something you say in your heart, every day.

The buck stops with me.  I'm not just a consumer.  I'm a citizen.  A citizen of earth.  I take responsibility for this world, and I'll do what I can to make things better.  Whatever it takes.

And every day you make that choice you also choose to live an adventure far beyond the imagining of all the many cynics who would mock your passion and integrity.

I for one salute you for it.

Thursday, 1 August 2013


Hey guys and girls,

Just taking a brief pause in the daily updates.  I need to get some research done for some bigger pieces/projects I'm working on, and something's got to give.

I'm still available to answer any subscriber comments, also if anyone wants to commission me to do a piece, or hire me for a consultancy, just get in touch.

Should be back on air soon, and if you want to make sure you don't miss the return, sign up for the email updates on the sidebar, and avail yourself of a free audio as well.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Pit And The Jigsaw

When you're stuck in a pit, how many ropes do you really need to get out?

Say you're there, and a rope gets chucked down.  Then another, then another.

This rope looks shiny and pretty.  This other one looks glittery.  That one there looks like it's made of tinsel.  That one there looks pretty strong.  That other one looks quite modern, like a hi-tech rope.

Surely if you connect them together, you'll have a super rope.  And that's the point, right?  We just want the best possible rope, so it makes sense to just keep collecting them, keep trying to combine them all.

It is so easy to think in these terms, and almost everyone, myself included, does it sometimes.

Perhaps what might be of more use though, is if we start - just start - to approach this whole situation in a slightly different way.

If we start to think of ways we can question, just to ourselves, when we're alone and nobody's watching, whether 'getting the whole thing understood' is really a wise thing to have as the one single, central goal of what we're doing with all this.

To get the 'grand theory' that pulls it all together.  If we can just get that, then surely, we'll be fine, right?

It makes so much sense to think in these terms, but perhaps we should start thinking a little more about the pretty obvious fact that nobody who has ever thought in these terms has ever had a happy ending.

Because the fact is, we're not trying to solve a puzzle.  We're trying to escape a pit.

So instead of waiting for all the different pieces of rope to be brought together perfectly into one perfect rope that perfectly makes sense to you and everyone, and perfectly lifts us up with no slips, no setbacks, no falls, nothing, perhaps it might be wiser to grab a length, pull, and don't stop until you see daylight.

The point is not to get out in a perfect way.

The point is to get out.

So you get it wrong, fine - get it wrong.  Get it wrong and try again, try something new, try a new way of doing it.

So this bit makes sense but that bit doesn't?  Stop trying to make sense of it all, grab the bit that does make sense to you, use that.

And are we really being as clear with ourselves as we can possibly be about this?

Are we taking the time to see this in what we ourselves are doing?

And if the answer is anything less than 100% yes, you might do very well to think about how you can check yourself, and make sure you're not, even for a moment, slipping back into that autopilot response of being passive, and sitting there like a tame consumer, at the bottom of the pit, collecting all the answers you can, and waiting for the magic to happen.

Life is waiting at the top.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

It All Comes Round In The End....

It's seductive, isn't it?  The perfect analytic answer, the equation that makes sense of it all.

We reach for that, hunger for it.  In fact, we hunger for the analytic answer to a problem far more than we hunger for a solution that works.

Get a solution that works, and you've just got no more problem.

Get an answer, and you've got an answer.  Clean lines, straight edges.

The thing is though, if you just try and actually get real about whatever issue it is you're facing, and then the next, and then the next, after a while you find an incredible elegance that you would never have been able to work out just, kind of, is.  It's just there, through it all, an elegance and clarity.

It's only noise because we're only listening to part of it.  Everything makes sense on its own terms.

And the crazy thing is, if you're really good, you can start charting that elegance, that simplicity.

So it all comes round in the end.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


You know, let me tell you something personal about me that I haven't told anyone.  And when I say anyone I mean literally, anyone else on Earth.  Just something I noticed about myself, and the way I operate.  Something that might give you a little bit of an insight into things, into how to turn a negative into a positive, so to speak, or a weirdness into an asset.

I never knew my father.  He was a drunk and violent man, and my mother had the great courage and foresight to leave him when I was still gestating merrily away in her womb.  I'm very grateful that she did, and God alone knows what kind of life I would have led if she hadn't.

That's not the thing I haven't told anyone by the way.  Lots of people know that.

The thing I've never told anyone is this though, which is something strange that I noticed about myself.

I never missed having a father - you don't miss what you've never had.  It never bothered me in any way - my mother was, and still is, a very strong woman, and she did a great job of being both parents.

But looking back (and this is the thing I've never told anyone) I can quite clearly see that I had this weird tendency.  It was a tendency to fixate on men as father figures.

I'd just kind of idolise them, and do what I could to learn from them.  Some of these men were people I knew - teachers, for instance.  One of them was my English teacher, a man called Alexander "Sandy" MacKinnon, who read an off-syllabus book once in a class I was taking, that completely changed my life.

That book was The Great Divorce by C. S. :Lewis, and if you haven't read it yet, buy it and read it.  It is a stunning and forensic piece that opens the core mechanisms of suffering and joy like a mechanic would pop the hood of a car.

Many people reject it out of hand, because it's written in Christian terms.  Many Christians completely miss the point of it, because they're so busy tripping over themselves to agree with what's being said, that they take no time to consider it.

I on the other hand, was listening to my Dad-of-the-week.  And so I listened.  I idolised him, and listened very carefully, and really got inside the ideas.  I didn't pick and preen, posture and niggle at the little bitty things that it's easy to criticise.  Of course not - would you?  Would you if your Dad was trying to really get something important across to you that meant a lot to him?

No, you'd listen, you'd get your head inside what he was saying - or at least you would if you were a young kid, which I was at the time.

And you know, he moved on, I left the school.  And then I found another author - Bryan Magee.  I did the same thing there too.  Just knuckled right down, got right inside what he was saying.

You know, it's a weird thing talking about humility, because we live in an incredibly arrogant world.  We're taught arrogance from a very young age, the importance of arrogance.

Shut up and listen.  That's not a virtue we like in ourselves, is it?  That we would just shut up about all the things we - personally us, personally you, personally me - that we believe, or think, or want to say.

That we would ever just shut the hell up.  Just put all of it aside, and open up the ears, and just get right inside what someone's saying, like it's coming from the mouth of the person you admire most on Earth.

That's when it's easiest to listen - when you admire.  And not having a father gave me, in retrospect, an incredible advantage which is instrumental to what I do and how I do it.

It is this.  I am very, very cheap with my admiration.  I admire hard and rapidly.  I admire to extremes.  I admire quickly, and genuinely.  If I recognise that someone has something of genuine value to say, I just stop.  I literally just shut the hell up.

This might seem to people to be weak - and a lot of people throughout my life have thought that of me.  That I bow too low, that I make a servant of myself too quickly.

And a lot of people think that being strong is the same as never showing to anyone that you don't know something.  That being strong is the same as having a strong opinion, regardless of what that is.

This is what people teach, what people tell each other, what people enforce as an idea of strength, because in the very short term, it does look stronger than the person sitting down, looking up, listening attentively, and doing what they're told.

That was me.  Over and over, time and again.  Only with people I respected - but once I respected someone, that's what happened.

And I found that in that position, sitting down, shutting up, being humble about my ideas, listening to others - I could rapidly, rapidly understand what that person was saying.  I could get right inside it, and not just understand the idea, but see the idea.  Move it around in my head, spin it this way, spin it that.

It gave me complete command of the ideas of the people I respected the most.  And then all of a sudden I could start seeing these connections, really clear connections, between this idea and that... and then all of a sudden I'm not just kneeling at the feet of these brilliant people.  I'm connecting and deepening their ideas in ways they never did.

But then of course, I had to look very subservient to do it... because I had to BE very subservient.

But it didn't give me cancer.  I didn't explode.  And because I was only being subservient to people who really had something interesting to say, I was able to get my head around some amazing stuff.

And then... I was able to notice what I was doing.  And then directly hone it like a skill.  To consciously do it, as a kind of acceleration pedal.  When you really have to get right inside what someone's saying.  There's some really good people out there.  I'd never be able to understand what they were all saying if I couldn't shut my goddamn mouth and open my goddamn ears when necessary.  There just wouldn't be enough time.

But there is enough time if I do.  Because this is rapid.

This is the power of humility, and it is a lost power to the world we live in.  We're never taught it.  We're taught to mock it, to attack it.  And sure as night follows day the one single consequence of this is that we fail to utilise anything like our actual capacity for insight and connection.

Nothing like it.

So there you go.  Something nobody knows about me - my fixation on father figures because of my lack of one led me to unlock a way of getting inside the deepest ideas of the best of humanity, rapidly, and connecting them up, rapidly.

And all it meant was a few raised eyebrows, a few snarky comments, and a few nasty names from some wonderful people did not understand what real strength was, just what fake strength looked like.

Might want to start looking for ways to ask yourself if you're one of those wonderful, wonderful people.  And I'm not being sarcastic - wonderful people.  Lovely, fun, cool, well liked - but severed from this quite phenomenal power.  And it is phenomenal, I owe so much to it, and it's key to so much of what I do.

But uh... yeah.  I never told anyone that, so, just...


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

And Amazing Things Get Done

Why are you so motivated, Ciaran?

I get this question sometimes.  I actually do get this actual question, I'm not just saying it.  People really do contact me with this.

But their assumption's right inside the sentence.  That I am so very motivated.  So motivated.  But that's not really true.  Something else is true that they don't want to hear about.

They want the juicy aphorism, the big slogan, the thing that will get them all fired up, like they imagine I must be, all the time.  What they don't want is the truth, which is sad, because the truth is a hell of a lot more powerful than that awesome sounding slogan that makes you feel awesome for the next 10 minutes, and then it goes away.

And it's sad, because I can tell you exactly what the secret is, if you can hear it, if you want to hear it.  I can describe it at length.

And perhaps it might be an idea to start looking at things from this point of view, because it is a different point of view.  Just to start considering something different.  Just to begin.  Just to begin to think about things in a different way.

Because the truth is that the thing I've found that gives me the most motivation, drive, motion, impetus, momentum - the thing that actually gives direction and motion to my life - isn't anything I've ever heard anyone else talk about.

A lot of people seem to think that motivation's this substance you want to get as much as possible of.  Just as much as possible.

But that's not how you get things done, that's not how you really achieve mastery at something, or really make an amazing impact.

There's something else, something smaller and subtler, but that has a much greater power, because it's power over time.  Anyone can get themselves pumped up about something in the short term, but a life isn't a short term thing.  If you want to live a life that you truly live, that is abundant and filled with living - then you need consistent motivation, not a massive blast of short-term stuff.

And besides - you don't need massive, massive levels of motivation.  That's just weird.  You don't need this huge burning reason to do something.

And please just pay attention, just please, right here, right what I'm about to say next, because it's so huge if you can just see this tiny little shift.

You just need more of a reason to do it than not.

Once more in bold, in case you missed it.

You just need more of a reason to do it than not.

The bar is pretty low.

And as long as there's more of a reason to do it than not, and that state of affairs continues, you'll continue to be motivated to do it, indefinitely.

And as you continue to get involved and do what you can, what you can do gets bigger, because you get better at it, and then maybe one day, it gets done.

And that's it's really.  No great conflict, no massive fight.  No burning need, no heroic identity, nothing like that.  Just 1% more reason to do it than there is not to do it.

And so really, when you really break it all down, it just comes down to sitting down and just starting - really, just beginning - to see if there is something real that actually does need doing.

And it has to be real, because if it's not then as soon as you've stopped

Do you want to be rich?  Really?  Honestly?  I don't.  I'm not criticising you if you do, I just don't.  I want to be stable, be able to provide for a family, that's really it.  Have enough money to go out with friends, help out my kids.

But becoming this super-rich money guy?  It just seems so contrived to me.  Just like a little... hollow.  And don't get me wrong, I don't hate money, it's just... no matter how much I build up my ideas about being rich, convince myself I want to, believe I want to, tell other people I want to....

That motivation will not last, because all our ideas and beliefs are like shadows, and they always slide out.  And what that means is that I'll never be able to focus with real consistency over time on getting rich.

It's the 'over time' bit that matters the most, and that's what doing something different can help.

Look for something real that needs doing, something big that needs someone's help.  A genuine thing.  Something that is of serious import, but in real life, and to the whole world.  Not just to people.  ANd it doesn't have to look good, and it doesn't have to look bad.  Just to start thinking along the lines of real.

Just to begin, to begin to think - ok, well, what kinds of things genuinely do need doing?  What can be done?  And just to start thinking down those lines, I'm not here to feed you an answer.  Just start thinking of how to get real.  Not some little vanity project, but something of actual substance.

And start being a bit ruthless with yourself about this.  Because perhaps it's your life that you're cutting off at the knees if you don't.  Nobody else is going to have to live a shallow life, just you, so maybe it's something you might want to start making your problem.

And find something genuine that actually needs support.  Something like that.  Something where today, you just have 1% more reason to do it than not to do it - and tomorrow it will be the same.  And it will always be like that, until the thing has actually been resolved.

And then you get to experience life, not just consumption.  Not just chasing the next product, the next phone, the next tablet, whatever.  But you actually get to live - which is a rare thing, and few people do.

But can you see what I'm getting at?  Thinking down these lines, just to begin with, just tugging yourself in this direction a little.

And so you can actually start to do something that is legitimately inspiring - and continue to do it.  And not just inspiring in general, or inspiring to others, but inspiring to you as well.  Living life, living well, being alive.

The flow of things, action, life, developing skill, being outside of your comfort zone, getting scared, feeling alive.  It's not a lesser form of being to live a life that includes the experience of 'being exhilarated', or being scared, or even being defeated, or knocked back.

What makes these things so damaging is when your motivation IS the belief and the feeling and the ideology that you've blasted up to massive volume.  And then when you get knocked back, your heart breaks and your world falls apart.

It doesn't have to be that way.  And the only reason it ever gets that way anyway is that you're NOT doing something real that genuinely does sing to you.  If you were, you wouldn't need all this howling, screaming, bellowing motivation.

If you're doing something that actually does need doing, something real of real scale that genuinely matters, it's always going to be there.  Not as a massive weight of super-motivation.  Just as a little tug at the sleeve.

And sometimes you have days where you plunge right in, and sometimes you have days where you plod along, and sometimes you have days where you back right off.

But you never lose it, never lose the direction that you can get from taking the time to find out what really needs to happen, what the world really needs, what really needs to get done.

And that's when you do amazing things, because you take the time, the focused time to genuinely become amazing at things, and amazing things get done.

And it might be an idea to start thinking of things like this.  Just as an experiment, see if you can do this, see if you can find a way to start.

Ah, I don't if any of this makes any sense.  Probably not.

Much love.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Just Raise It

Well, Ciaran, you write a lot of stuff that sounds really good and everything - but how do I get it to stick with me?

This sometimes comes up.


How do I get it to stick with others?  Whenever I try convincing people to read this stuff, and I can't do it, and the more I try, the weirder I sound and the more awkward it gets!  What do I do?

This sometimes comes up too.

You ever find yourself asking stuff like this?

Well, here's the thing.

Start small.  Stop trying to jump right to the end, you'll miss the whole process, and it will never happen.

So forget trying to get it to stick, with yourself or others.  Just raise it.

Just raise the issue.  Just raise it.  Raise it with yourself.  Raise it with other people.

If it doesn't seem to make sense, just start to see if you can find ways to make sense of it for you.

If it doesn't seem to make sense to the person you're raising it with, just start to see if you can find ways to make it make sense to them.

If you can't - it's fine.  It doesn't matter... because you raised it.

You raised it.  That's huge.

You raise it with yourself, that puts it on your brain's 'watch-list'.  It tunes you in - even when you're not thinking about anything to do with any of this - to notice when the patterns happen.

You raise it with other people?  Well - that puts it on their watch-list.  That there are deep and real, and stunningly simple patterns that underlie all human action, and new ways to undercut the phenomena of human suffering, delusion, misery, pain - whatever - at source?  Right in the bones?  Right at the heart?

Who knows about this?  And of course people will probably scoff when they hear about it, I know I would.  But then later, at a loose end.... I might well check it out for myself, if only out of curiosity.

And maybe they won't - but you raised it.  It's in their field of view now - and that is huge.  That's something that wasn't there before, something they had no way of getting to, no way of even knowing about.

And of course they can reject it - but even that is a massive step forward - rejecting it is at least some kind of engagement with it.  And rejections can change - but if someone doesn't even know something's possible, it just won't be part of their life.

And just as you raise it - not worrying about the outcome of getting you to do this, or other people to do that - you just kind of tune yourself in to it, and keep it there.  And for others as well, wherever you mention it.

And the thing is - and this is the crazy thing, and the awesome thing as well - there is no 'second step' after that where you 'flip it around' and start convincing yourself, or convincing other people.

Just raise it.  And then after a while you start to see elements of this truth playing out.  And others you're raising it in front of might see some of it too.

And the thing is - over a long enough period of time, if it is raised into view - you will see what you're trying to see, and the change you're looking for will happen.  And with others as well - they will see what you see, because it's the truth, it's just true for everyone.  And so at no point do you need to twist people's arms or... worse... start beating yourself up or twisting your own.

Just raise it.  If it's true, you don't need to do anything else.  And if it's true, anything else is just going to make things messier anyway.

Honestly, just raise it.  And keep raising it.  Don't worry about the outcome, just raise it.

And keep raising it.

Just raise it.