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The Story of Stories

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Have you ever felt as if the stories you tell about your life somehow miss the true scope of what you have experienced during your days here on Earth? Have you ever felt as if the stories that others tell about you seem a bit more about themselves and their self-judgments than they are about you?

We are storytellers all, smallering the breadth of life experiences by encapsulating them into little chapters that script our beliefs about who we are, where we've been, and where we’re going. Our stories have a direct and tangible impact on how our futures unfold. Consider some common examples of stories that people tell about their lives:

I’m in the minority. I’m struggling. I’m unappreciated. I’m unemployed. I’m stuck in this job. I’m reaching for something better that is not yet in my grasp.

These stories serve to perpetuate our beliefs about what is possible for us. They shape our lives accordingly.

At this very moment, there are countless particles moving about inside you that give rise to the body that carries you through this world. They conform to the DNA in your cells, the experiences you have, the intentions you set for yourself, and the stories you tell about yourself.

When telling the story of your life, it is of great value to recognize and focus on the details that reveal or inspire an empowered unfolding of your being. Much like rewriting your own DNA, every aspect of your life and growth will emanate from the building blocks of your history—however you choose to tell it. This is not to suggest that you should deny or bury your mistakes, traumas or misfortunes, but rather, recognize and reveal them within an empowered context of a bigger picture.

What if right now you were unscripted and anything was possible for you and your loved ones? What new stories might you tell about where you are going? What actions might you take to see these stories through to fruition?

Are you taking any of these actions today? If not, why not?

Pursuing Your Power

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Extraordinary people all have at least one great power that they have developed over the course of their lifetimes. This power becomes a kind of life blood that flows through their veins, invigorating everything they do. Perhaps it is encoded in their DNA. Perhaps it is encoded in their spirit, life purpose or predispositions. If they take time to give their best to this power, they inevitably touch our world.

What great power is Michael Jordan known for? What about Michael Jackson? How will Mother Teresa’s power be remembered? Gandhi’s? Einstein’s? Jefferson’s? Has Maya Angelou’s power crossed your path yet? What about César Chávez’s? Thomas Edison’s? Anne Frank’s? Robin Williams’?

My power is communication. Ever since I was a young child, I’ve exalted in paying attention to other people, trying to hear what they were expressing, what they were showing of themselves to anyone who might wish to see them for who they are. I’ve also reveled in working to express myself with great care at times, great passion at others, trying to reveal with candor and authenticity those things that I value most and wish to share with others. I live to take complex yet valuable ideas, and turn them into simple understandings. Whether or not I have succeeded in this mission, communication is the power that drives my destiny. Through it, I hope to one day realize my own brand of extraordinary.

Have you recognized your own primary power in life? If you had unlimited time and resource to dedicate to something, what would that something be? How much time have you already spent dabbling in that something? Does anything keep you from giving it your all?

Michael Jordan could have failed. César Chávez could have failed. Some might argue that Anne Frank did fail, that Thomas Jefferson is all but forgotten by many of the people who run a nation that he once served to co-found.

Have you ever heard of Kimmy M.? She died as a child, hit by a car outside my elementary school. Kimmy lived to play with absolute abandon.  She is one of those heroes who touched my life, and maybe the lives of a few others. The ripples of her power will live on forever, because she had the guts to pursue that power.

Do you have the guts to pursue your own? If not, then what are your guts feeding?

December

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Here's to the darkest month of the year on this northern hemisphere of Earth. Here's to the cold that drives us inside together on winter nights. Here's to the dull sun that mildly lights our days so that we can keep our eyes wide open without sunglasses as we prepare for a new year. Here's to December!

Here's to a fresh chance at sharing all the heartfelt things that were left unsaid during Thanksgiving. Here's to taking the time to find thoughtful gifts for our loved ones, gifts that shine a little light in the winter darkness. Here's to pondering new resolves for the coming seasons of light and growth.

Here's to walking the airport corridors in the midst of fellow travelers rushing home to their mommies and daddies, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. Here's to the workers who continue to smile upon us as we are unsettled by flight delays and missed connections. Here's to the miracles of technology that allow us to cross great distances to gaze directly into the eyes of those we hold dear.

Here's to the holiday boon in sales that help keep our businesses in operation, and keep people at work. Here's to all the employees who run our services while we take time off. Here's to the contemplation of greater things: why we are here, what values we hold, and how we fit together in the grand scheme of things.

Here's to you and your loved ones, and to the opportunities that you might harvest for yourself and those around you this December!

Strangers on the Road to Our More Important Destinations

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"Stranger" is a word that we use to describe the people around us whom we have yet to meet or know by name. The root of this word is another common word, "strange." Doesn't that seem strange in itself? Most of those people around us aren't strange at all; they're fellow citizens. They provide us with groceries. They deliver our packages. They teach our children. They nurse us back to health. They serve the businesses that we rely on. Why do we call them strangers?

I was walking along the sidewalk this morning at rush hour, about two blocks from a major intersection when I heard a collision. Scores of cars were driving in the direction of the sound, so I figured there would be plenty of people up ahead to help out at the scene. I continued forth at my ordinary pace, ambling toward the intersection.

As drew closer, I could see that two cars had collided there. It was hard to tell what was going on, as so many cars and trucks were jammed in all directions, slowly working their way through the lanes.

Arriving at the intersection, I watched as every one of these various vehicles carefully negotiated the wreckage to make their way to wherever they were going.  A woman stood there in the smoke between the two cars that had collided.  She was holding her head, crying. Not a single fellow citizen was there to help her. In this case, I think the word "stranger" might actually be apropos.

I put my hand up to stop the flow of traffic and walked out across four lanes against a green light.  Drivers scowled at me, but let me by. I stepped up to the woman as asked if she was okay. She told me to check on the passengers in the other car, as they had not yet gotten out of their vehicle.

Appreciating her thoughtfulness, I jogged over to the other car watching as vehicles continued to push on in a slow, steady flow through the intersection. The teenager in the front seat seemed stunned, as was the kindergarten age child in the back.

"Are you injured?" I asked.

"I don't think so," he replied. Looking into my eyes, he seemed to regain his composure. "Can you help me pull over to the side?" he asked helplessly.

Again I put my hand up and stepped forth to halt the flow of traffic, now from the opposite direction. His car wheezed and sputtered as he pulled through the intersection, then parked beside the curb.

I picked up a few sharp scraps from the center of the highway, then helped the woman who was still standing there alone over to the sidewalk by the other driver and child.

Where are we going in such a hurry that we sometimes forget to bring our humanity with us? Those people on the roads that we share are essential to our own survival and well-being. Must we know them by name to care about them?

Gifts in Disguise

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I took guardianship of my cousin when he was 14. He was going through a difficult time in life and had been held back to seventh grade for a second year in a row. I had just opened a middle school with a few partners, and knowing how bright and thoughtful my cousin was, I invited him to come live with me in Los Angeles where I could enroll him in my eighth grade.

Despite his terrific intelligence, he had developed a rather low academic opinion of himself in recent years. We spent much of the summer working to reverse this opinion and restore his sense of intellectual self-confidence. It was at times a rather intense and grueling process for us both. Our first four math sessions were spent sitting together, staring at a closed math book on the dining room table while he cried and trembled at the thought of opening the book.

Six months in he was beginning to thrive at school. He had become one of the leaders of his class and a hero among students in our K-8 program.

One night we were driving home together. I was quite exhausted by the overload of directing a startup charter school, teaching, and serving with 100% commitment as an ad hoc single parent.

We had begun to argue about his attitude toward homework. "Homework is stupid," he complained. "I don't care about it."

"I'm sure that's got nothing to do with why you were held back to seventh grade two years in a row," I replied, quite agitated. The second the words came out of my mouth, I realized what I had said. I turned to him.

Tears began to stream out of his eyes. He turned away from me.

I had to pull the car over. My arms and legs had begun shaking with a rush of adrenalin. "I can't believe I just said that," I told him.

"It's okay," he said. It's not like that was the first time anyone had ever spoken to him that way.

"It's not okay," I told him. Exhausted and utterly disappointed with myself, I had begun to tear up too. "What I said has little to do with you," I added. "I'm trying so hard, but sometimes I feel like I'm failing you."

He took off his seat belt and scooted around to face me. He seemed quite surprised to see my tears, and reached over to take my hand. He smiled, tears still running down his cheeks. "You're doing great," he said.

I felt ashamed for putting him in the position of needing to console me. After all, I was the adult. I felt that I was the one who was supposed to be there supporting him.

Later that night when we got home, I thought back on what I had said, and how I had said it. I winced at the mere remembrance of it. I stopped him by the front door. "I'm really sorry punk," I told him. "I don't ever want to speak to you like that."

"It's okay," he said, and patted me on the shoulder.

A week later we were sitting down to dinner together. "Look," I told him. "I just have to say this one more time, then I'll let it go. You're a really bright kid, and I see how hard you've been working at school. I hope you know that. I hope you know how sorry I am about being sarcastic like that last week. I don't want to be that kind of person."

He smiled again. "Scott," he said. "You keep apologizing about it, but what you don't realize is that it's one of the best gifts you've ever given me."

I raised an eyebrow, surprised to hear him say that. I had a guess where he was going with this, but I was wrong.

"That night," he explained, "I realized that you aren't perfect. It was this huge relief. I realized that I can still be awesome like you, even if I'm not perfect. Thanks for that."

Thank You

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A few days ago I was on a dawn hike, moving at a fair clip while pondering the sequel to The User's Guide. I passed a fellow hiker, and soon heard her yell, "how dare you!"

I turned to see who she was hollering at, and noticed that she was looking back at me, still barreling along the trail. No one else was anywhere to be seen.

"Are you okay?" I asked, perplexed.

"You never stop to let me by!" she hollered, continuing along the trail. "You hit me last week too!"

"I'm sorry," I said, not quite sure what she was talking about. Our arms had brushed when we passed, but that was not uncommon on this particularly narrow and highly trafficked trail. "It wasn't my intention to—"

"You're always in such a hurry!" she yelled, almost out of by now sight.

"It seems the same is true of you," I replied.

To this, she stopped, then turned to face me. "I'm a woman!" she cried, raising her arms in exasperation. "If you had any class, you'd move out of my way!" She added a few expletives, then continued onward around the bend.

Wow, I thought. I might have even said it out loud. I stood there, wondering how I might have found myself in such a hostile exchange on morning that was otherwise so quiet and peaceful.

I began to have thoughts like, I feel sorry for your boyfriends, and so on. Then I realized that I had dropped into the same level of conflict as she. Barreling back along the trail at my own pace, a began to see that our little encounter was a reflection of matters playing about inside me.

What can I take from this? I wondered. I began to realize just how disconnected and caught up in my own thoughts I tended to be while hiking. I realized that regardless of her own complexities, this woman had reflected a lack of respectfulness to me, and that it was a valuable gift—if only I chose to see it that way.

I set the intention to be more aware of and considerate of others as I made my way through each day. I found this fairly easy, except when I was driving about through the bustle of Los Angeles streets. There was work to be done while negotiating those streets, I realized. I indeed had matters of respectfulness to deal with.

The next day I returned to the trail hoping to see her again, hoping to thank her for her for reminding me to be better aware of my surroundings and my fellow travelers. That day, and the week following, she never appeared again.

So it is that I put it out to all of you instead. I intend to be mindful of every person who crosses my path. I intend to be respectful of your path, especially when it brushes by mine. I intend to slow down, and acknowledge your momentum. I intend to see and honor you in those brief moments when we pass along our greater journeys together in life.

Go Shining, my friends!

Our Birthright

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In the natural world, plants and animals are driven to live in peak condition as a matter of everyday adaptation and survival. Human beings are important members of this natural world. By birthright, we too are called to live in peak condition. We are called to cooperate with the various Earth systems and other living beings that surround us. By attaining this peak condition, we enable ourselves to make a minimal impact on the ecosystems that we inhabit, and learn to contribute to our future rather than borrowing from it. How do we fulfill our birthright?

Everyday Magic
Imagine an explorer who encounters a secluded tribe deep within a rainforest. Welcomed by villagers, he offers a lighter as a gesture of friendship. He flicks the flint-wheel and produces an instant flame, much to the astonishment of those looking on. They gaze at him as if he is a magician. There is nothing magical about his actions, of course. The villagers are simply unfamiliar with the natural phenomenon—the everyday magic—that allows him to produce his instant fire.

Much like demystifying a lighter for the villagers, by learning to understand and apply our innate capacities, we demystify many crucial phenomena that influence the unfolding of our lives. We learn to access the everyday magic within ourselves that enables us to heal illnesses, overcome our struggles, imagine grand possibilities, realize our dreams, and make this world a better place for all.

The Art & Science of Self
Many of us grow up believing that only certain among us are artists, that certain others are scientists, and that the rest are neither. This erroneous belief disconnects many of us from our true nature.

Whether you dance, draw, make music, shoot field goals, build houses, tune engines, or sit around all day watching TV, you are an artist. Your single greatest work of art is your self. The more you understand and develop your talents, the more empowered you become as an artist.

Similarly, you are a natural born scientist. You instinctively use scientific method each day in the automatic process of learning and growing. 1. You observe things.
2. You ask questions about the things you observe. 3. You develop hypotheses— possible answers to your questions. 4. You experiment, testing to see if your answers are correct. 5. You analyze the results and then start the process all over again.

The Art & Science of Connection
Art and science are innate aspects of our humanness. Not only do they enable us to consciously shape and advance our lives; they enable us to build extraordinary relationships with the people and things that surround us.

Evident in the gifts of civilization—our media, languages, technologies, businesses, governments, and so on—it is clear that we are a profoundly creative species. How might our lives be improved if we were to fully develop our creative and analytic capacities? What’s the first thing that you would set out to create for yourself, for others, or for our shared world if you knew that you had the power to do so?

We share connections with everyone and everything around us, often in ways that we do not comprehend. By developing the art and science of connection, we enable ourselves to align our efforts with the flow of greater forces that shape our lives.

Fulfilling Our Magnificence
A number of arts and sciences are innately available to us. These inner capacities enable us to maximize our effectiveness in life and love, and to share our potential magnificence with those who surround us. Consider several important examples:

Empowerment—We all have relatively similar amounts of energy available to us, yet most of us squander much of this vital energy through mental, behavioral, and biological processes that run day and night. By learning to understand our nature as energetic beings and to consciously direct the energies available to us, we learn to manage our personal power in a manner that promotes health, radiance, fulfillment, and prosperity. Equally important, we learn to minimize our impact on the Earth systems that support us.

Brilliance—Sigmund Freud once said, “What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child
and the feeble mentality of the average adult.” The improper care of intelligence yields this feeble mentality of which Freud speaks. Most of us go through all our years of schooling without ever learning about what intelligence is, or how to optimize its performance. By learning to care for our intelligence, we awaken the inherent state of brilliance that is available to each of us.

Focus—Attention is the most powerful tool with which we shape our lives. It molds our personalities and relationships. It fulfills our dreams and ambitions. The ability to focus attention enables us to exert great creative power in our ongoing personal growth.

Mindfulness—The mind is like a highly sophisticated computer. It develops programs that automatically carry out our common activities, thoughts and behaviors. Because one’s mental programs run subconsciously, without awareness, they often operate long after their usefulness has passed and tend to inhibit new aspirations that arise as we mature. Mindfulness allows us to direct our own mental programming, designing the behaviors that in turn shape our lives.

Actualization—Actualization is the art of making things happen. It enables us to see our hopes, dreams, and ambitions through to fruition, giving them actual form in our everyday lives. By learning to develop three key ingredients, intention, willpower and resource, we learn to fulfill our highest potential in a purposeful manner.

Presence—By shifting awareness away from the agendas, expectations, fears, and faulty beliefs that cloud our sights, we learn to tap life’s magnificent possibilities, opening our eyes to the abundance of gifts all around us. Presence provides direct access to a wealth of potentiality embedded in each moment. It helps to reveal the inner path to being on purpose in our lives.

Collaboration—Our lives are interwoven with those of countless people and things around us, yet many of us often feel alone.
Collaboration enables us to connect with others through our work, play and shared experiences, nourishing a profound sense of connectedness. It enables us to resolve everyday conflicts in a manner that helps all parties involved to find opportunities for personal learning and growth.

Communication—Psychiatrist Carl Jung once said, “Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate to others the things that seem important to oneself.” By learning to reveal ourselves with clarity and authenticity to those in our midst, we learn to nourish closeness while strengthening the effectiveness of our relationships.

Alchemy—Most of us tend to notice the things that go wrong in life more often than we notice life’s wonders. In doing this, we inadvertently fuel a sense of anxiety, worry, or despair, obscuring the abundance of resources and opportunities available all around us. Alchemy is the art of turning the lead in our lives into gold. By recognizing and appreciating life’s many gifts, we call them to the fore of our everyday lives.

Authority—Most of us grow up believing that the authorities on every topic are people other than ourselves. This tends to disenfranchise us from the vast experience and inner knowing that might otherwise allow us to lead extraordinary lives. By claiming authority and responsibility over our own lives and circumstances, we access the freedom to drive our own destinies.

What great wonders we have available to us! Magnificence is the fulfillment of our inherent gifts and aptitudes. When we learn to optimize the great human capacities with which we are born, we find the power to lead magnificent lives. We offer the best of ourselves to our world, and nurture the same in those around us. We come to remember that we are magical beings, and that life is a playground in which we naturally seek to offer unique expressions of self to all that surrounds us.

How the User’s Guide Material Is Organized

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The User's Guide To Being Human is organized in two books.

Book 1—The Art and Science of Self examines eight arts for personal development. It guides the reader to make use of those arts through a "Personal Growth Project."

Book 2—The Art and Science of Connection examines eight arts for connecting with others and leading an integrated life. It guides the reader to make use of those arts through a "Personal Authority Project."

Each chapter provides exercises, tools and techniques that support readers in developing the various arts presented.
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Table of Contents for Book 1—The Art and Science of Self

Section I: Empowerment

Chapter 1: The Art of Empowerment
Part 1—The Nature of Energy
Part 2—Personal Power
Part 3—The Art of Empowerment

Chapter 2: The Art of Brilliance
Part 1—The Nature of Intelligence
Part 2—Intellectual Nourishment
Part 3—The Art of Brilliance

Chapter 3: The Art of Focus
Part 1—The Nature of Attention
Part 2—Lucidity
Part 3—The Art of Focus

Chapter 4: The Art of Mindfulness
Part 1—The Nature of Mind
Part 2—Mental Programming
Part 3—The Art of Mindfulness

Section II: Creativity

Chapter 5: The Art of Cultivation
Part 1—The Nature of Curriculum
Part 2—Resonance
Part 3—The Art of Cultivation

Chapter 6: The Art of Authenticity
Part 1—The Nature of Reality
Part 2—Ego
Part 3—The Art of Authenticity

Chapter 7: The Art of Actualization
Part 1—The Nature of Freedom
Part 2—Intentions
Part 3—The Art of Actualization

Chapter 8: The Art of Presence
Part 1—The Nature of Imagination
Part 2—Storytelling
Part 3—The Art of Presence

Table of Contents for Book 2—Extraordinary Connection

Section I: Relationship

Chapter 1: The Art of Collaboration
Part 1—The Nature of Connection
Part 2—Conflict
Part 3—The Art of Collaboration

Chapter 2: The Art of Communication
Part 1—The Nature of Language
Part 2—Miscommunication
Part 3—The Art of Communication

Chapter 3: The Art of Appreciation
Part 1—The Nature of Love
Part 2—Flow
Part 3—The Art of Appreciation

Chapter 4: The Art of Partnership
Part 1—The Nature of Polarity
Part 2—Coupling
Part 3—The Art of Partnership

Section II: Integration

Chapter 5: Mentor and Apprentice
Part 1—The Nature of Education
Part 2—The Art of Apprenticing
Part 3—The Art of Mentoring

Chapter 6: The Art of Exercise
Part 1—The Nature of Holism
Part 2—Motivation
Part 3—The Art of Exercise

Chapter 7: The Art of Balance
Part 1—The Nature of Democracy
Part 2—Economics
Part 3—The Art of Balance

Chapter 8: The Art of Authority
Part 1—The Nature of Influence
Part 2—Cause and Effect
Part 3—The Art of Authority

Sailing the Seas of Prosperity

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What if prosperity is not something to be sought out there in the future? What if it is a frame of mind that enables us to tap an abundance of possibilities that are always flowing within and around us?

I've recently discovered a remarkably simple way to hoist a kind of inner sail into the winds of prosperity at an moment of any day—even those moments that feel most challenging or insurmountable. I simply ask myself: what would it look like if I gave the absolute best of myself and my compassion to the moment that I currently face?

This question seems to release all the mental and emotional debris that might otherwise clutter my attitude. It allows me to become conscious of possibilities that I might have overlooked. It reminds me that giving is the essence of prosperity, the only act that truly carries me into the abundant flow of greater forces swirling throughout my life.

Whether it takes the form of offering a kind remark in a moment of social tension, or providing thoughtful attention to someone in need, or providing a valuable service to others, or giving time and energy as a volunteer—this giving allows me to hold prosperity in my hand and heart as I pass it on to someone or something else. The more I do it, the more I find myself in direct contact with prosperity. Like a force seeking opportunities to best be shared, prosperity begins to follow me around.

In this particular moment on a sunny winter morning, I am attempting to give the very best of myself through a spontaneous string of words in order to pass some prosperity on to you. Please let me know if my gesture has offered any value.

Guest Post by Alexis McKenna, Ph.D: Developing our Human Capacities—A Necessity, Not a Luxury

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When you are snared and entangled in the patterns of your fear – feeling so lost, alone or threatened – and in jeopardy-- lift to a quiet -- more still than silence. It is there beyond seeing and hearing that all your dreams and visions are born.  It is there that all your emptiness can be filled.  It is there that wonder waits to open your heart and mind to the profound truths of your goodness and beauty – and to the majestic glory of your love and caring.

Lazaris: Concept Synergy

Developing our human capacities – learning how to go within, be silent, and access the imaginal realms – is a necessity in modern times.  The linear mind – the reasoning mind – that serves so well in times of stability -- is utterly useless in times of chaos, disorder, and disintegration.  In times of rapid change, old ways of doing things simply quit working. Familiar notions of order, predictability, and measurability no longer apply.  Old benchmarks and standards drop away.    The linear mind ceases to function: it’s measuring and observing devices no longer work.

The measuring and observing devices of the non-linear mind – sometimes called the imaginal mind – function better in times of rapid change.  It loves puzzles, mysteries, the unknown and the unexpected.   It works with symbols, metaphors, impressions, patterns, dreams, and visions.  It does not follow logic and reason.  It functions more like a dream: images and ideas are juxtaposed in such a way that new insights and possibilities appear.   It responds to invitation -- not demand.

Most of us have lost touch with the imaginal mind.  As children, we knew it well. As adults, we’ve neglected it – usually because we have been told that spending time there is wasteful or irrelevant.  Not true.  When everything around us is changing, turning to our inner world – learning how to access and use our human capacities – is essential.  At a minimum, it is physically good for us: our heart rate slows down, our tension level and blood pressure drop.  We relax.

It is in these states of deep relaxation that our perceptions shift and alter.  Time slows down.  Our sense of spaciousness and possibility expand.  Ideas and insights, that were hovering on the edge of our consciousness, suddenly take form and solidify.  Possibilities appear where none previously existed.  We feel safe; our sense of separation disappears.  For the first time in days, weeks, or months, we feel truly rested, nourished and at peace with our world.  Externally, nothing has changed.  Internally, everything is different.

In the midst of chaos, uncertainty, confusion, and despair, it’s good to pause and reflect.  When the frenzy of demands, deadlines, and expectations race toward explosion, sit down and take a deep breath.  Turn on some soothing music. Or, take a walk in nature.  Or, recall a precious moment. Or, go to a sacred place.  Still the mind.  Look within; seek out those internal images, symbols, and metaphors that nourish and sustain.   Take a “time out.”  It works well for children; why not for adults?

Guest Post by Alexis McKenna

Alexis McKenna, Ph.D. is an experienced counselor and educator, a natural mystic, and an innovative thinker. Her special areas of interest are symbol systems, music-generated imagery, metaphor, and story. She has completed in-depth training in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, and the mystical teachings of the hermetic tradition of Western Mysticism. She is uniquely skilled in helping individuals integrate spiritual insights and mystical experiences into a grounded and healthy lifestyle.