Process and Reality: A Personal Statement

Times change. Circumstances sweep us along.  And yet we always have the power of choice. Nevertheless, sometimes it seems no matter what we intend, choose, or do, greater forces are at work directing the unfolding of our lives. Gravity?  The laws of physics?  Genes or memes? Secret cabals? Divine purpose? Planetary alignment?  The law of attraction? . . . who knows?

Something beyond our control pushes us along a path not always of our own choosing, and, it seems, the best we can do is enjoy the ride. Come what may, we are always, and inevitably, part of The Process.

Sooner or later, we stop resisting, give up pushing back against the tide, and wake up to the peace, power, and mystery of surrender.

This is very different from resignation. Surrender is not about falling victim to fate. It is simply letting go. It’s not even about trust—in some higher power or purpose that will serve us well in the end.  That’s still hanging on to a hidden residue of hope (and hope is the breeding ground of fear). No, it’s about letting go of letting go.

At times in life we feel so powerful we believe anything is possible. Nothing can stop us.  We could, if necessary, take charge of running the world.  And we create evidence to bolster this belief.  We produce results. Our intentions manifest like water pouring out of a faucet. Just turn on the tap of choice and creativity, et viola!

And then something happens. Circumstances and times change. Our sense of omnipotence gives way to a growing realization that our power was, and is, always conditional.  We exist in a network of what Buddhists call “interdependent causation.”  We are interbeings; our deepest nature is not individuality, but “inter-viduality.” Our power is powerful because it happens to be aligned with the intentions and choices made by countless others.  When that alignment shifts—due to any number of causes, such as natural disasters, economic bubbles and bursts, ruptured relationships, acute or chronic illness—our sense of agency comes into sharp relief.

From time to time in life, we face the fact that the greatest power we have is to choose to accept reality as it is—whether we like it or not.  We surrender.

These are times for regrouping—literally.  Time, first, to return to ourselves, to reconnect with our deepest values, purpose, and meaning in life.  Time for self-clarification. Who are we and what matters most to us?  Time to reconnect with friends and like-minded colleagues.  Time to cultivate and express compassion for ourselves and for others.  Time for realignment.

Time for patience.  The Process unfolds at its own pace, unconcerned with our personal agendas or timelines.

Astrologers talk of the “Saturn return,” a period in The Process when a person’s life erupts into chaos and meltdown—an inevitable storm before a breakthrough and return to calm.  These life eruptions happen roughly every 30 years.  If you are somewhere between 28-35, or 58-65, chances are you know what I’m talking about. Now, I don’t know how much faith we should put in the “fate of our stars,” but, whatever the reason—biology, developmental psychology, sunspots, or cosmic archetypes—I have noticed this pattern of “eruptions” in my own life and in the lives of my friends.

Time to refocus. When the storm strikes, batten down the hatches, and do the inner work. Dust off your “inner compass,” take a long and honest look at your life map, and chart your course. Even in a stormy sea, you are still your own best navigator.

Recalibrating My Mission

Recently, I found myself in the middle of The Process, and decided to recalibrate my mission, my life’s purpose.  The result is what I call my “cellular commitments” because, rather than something I have created, they are what I discovered about myself—my natural essence or “soul’s calling”—as I peeled away layer after layer.  Following months of “self archaeology,” I rediscovered four core drives or purposes that have guided, and continue to guide, my life for as long as I can remember:

Next, I clarified my “Life’s Mission”—a three-tiered process for applying my “cellular commitments”:

Context for ‘Mission Consciousness’

In the last four hundred years, science has achieved almost miraculous mastery of the physical world—giving us the technology and systems that lie at the heart of modern civilization. However this immense achievement has come at a cost.  We now face an unprecedented interlinking of civilizational and ecological crises.

To paraphrase Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In short, the time has come for science and society to tackle the “final frontier.”  We now need to complement our mastery of matter with a comparable mastery of mind. Increased understanding of the physical world, without a matching understanding of the nature and creative potency of consciousness, will not be sufficient to address the crises facing the world today.

The “final frontier” for society, as for science, is to explore the very instrument of knowing itself. Because consciousness is ubiquitous—literally impacting every aspect of our lives—Consciousness Studies is, necessarily, interdisciplinary.  At the very least, it involves, primarily, such wide-ranging fields as evolutionary psychology, philosophy of mind, neuroscience, cognitive science, anthropology, and, secondarily, the application of consciousness knowledge to other fields as diverse as ecology, economics, marketing and business, organizational learning, political science, and educational systems themselves.

Understanding consciousness is useful and informative. However knowledge alone is insufficient.  We also need to apply what we know in ways that also transform consciousness—creating new possibilities for future generations.

Understanding and Transformation

This two-fold approach—understanding and transformation of consciousness—has been, and continues to be, the focus of my career as a professor, international speaker, and author.

Although my formal academic training is in philosophy (specifically, philosophy of mind), I have always championed an interdisciplinary approach to consciousness—my studies and writings have covered, for example, neuroscience, cognitive science, anthropology, history and philosophy of science, history of philosophy, quantum physics, cosmology, theology, as well as Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Using my background in journalism, I specialize in communicating profound and complex ideas in accessible language without compromising the integrity of robust scholarship.

My books explore the deep assumptions we hold about consciousness, collectively and individually. Exposing and engaging with our often unquestioned belief systems is not only central to any comprehensive and effective program in consciousness studies, it is essential for transformation at the personal and societal level. Perhaps more than ever before in human history, we critically need to develop tools and skills to accelerate transformation of our fundamental world views (one of the required courses I teach at John F. Kennedy University, “Paradigms of Consciousness,” is designed explicitly to address this issue).

It seems clear to me that unless we (as a global society) engage in this deep work, we are unlikely to create the kinds of solutions needed to sustain our communities and civilization through the current century. Business as usual is no longer an option. We have reached a point in the evolution of our species where, it appears, we either make a profound shift in personal and collective consciousness or face the prospect of wide-ranging and increasingly complex crises that threaten the well being (perhaps even the survival) of our social, economic, political, educational, and ecological systems.

One way to help bring about this kind of change is to proactively build into our educational institutions new ways of thinking, understanding, and relating to ourselves, our communities, and our world. Based on rigorous interdisciplinary academic and extramural research, we can offer a portfolio of practices for “Consciousness and Transformation” designed to inform and inspire leaders in government, business, and media to embrace new possibilities and options—through creative application of our greatest gift: consciousness itself.

You can find out more about programs in consciousness and transformation at The Wisdom Academy.

Beyond the Power of Story

Imagine you are sitting with your grandchildren and telling them about your life. Or, imagine you are telling your life story to your favorite, most compassionate, therapist; or imagine you have just received a mysterious email from some alien intelligence beyond Earth, and they want to know about you and your life.  What would you tell them?

Who are you? What does it mean to be a human being?  Where did you come from?
What is the purpose and meaning of your life?
When it’s all over, what will happen to you, where will you

The way we answer these questions decides the meaning we give to our lives.

Stories reveal how things came to be the way they are.  They tell of beginnings, and of middles, and, if they don’t always have endings, they point, and leave the way open.

The story that is your life impacts everything you do and dream. Connecting with your story is the first step on the path to transforming yourself and your world.  Writing your Personal Myth reveals who you are and how you came to be.

The most effective and empowering way to create change in the world is through self-transformation.  The Key: Express your deepest self through the power of story and realize who you are beyond your story.

Begin by creating your LifeLine. On a large sheet of paper, draw a long line from left to right, and then mark out the most significant events in your life—e.g., birth, first love, college, first job, marriage, major illness, divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, your own death . . .

“My own death?” you ask.  Yes.  This is your LifeLine—take it to the limit. Create the whole picture. “But I don’t know what my future will be,” you say.  True. But you do have a say in what your future will be. Creating your LifeLine and Personal Myth is an act of imagination. Don’t get entangled in the so-called “facts” of your life.

Retelling the story of your past, how you got to be where you are today, is just as much an act of imagination as envisioning your future. Memory is imagination focused on the past. Intention is imagination focused on the future. What matters is authenticity—being true to your own sense of self and what is real for you.

As you create your LifeLine, note dates, people, and places.

Your LifeLine is a graphical representation of your life from birth to death.  Now use your LifeLine to start writing out your story as though you were telling your most trusted friend or therapist. Be ruthlessly honest. Be authentic (if you feel inauthentic, then be authentic about that).

Yes, each of us has a story to tell—and our stories can empower or limit us.  We live our stories and they shape what we believe about ourselves and about the world.

LifeLines to Transformation—Beyond the Power of Story is a seven-step program offering a unique “Timeline to Transformation” . . .

  • Discover the creative and universal ‘Power of Story
  • Create your ‘Personal Myth’ as your ‘Lifeline to Transformation’
  • Reveal the patterns or ‘archetypes’ that guide your story and your life
  • Identify your ‘Strange Attractors
  • Learn to experience life ‘Beyond Belief
  • Discover ways to connect ‘Self and Spirit
  • Create your life through clear intention and empowered action.

By activating your creative energy and vision you can accelerate and expand your transformational impact on the world.

Download free guidelines for creating your LifeLine and Personal Myth at The Wisdom Academy.

For Earth Day

Are Humans Special?

Q: In Radical Nature and in your talks you challenge the idea that humans are special—yet isn’t it true that we are unique? No other species has developed civilization, constructed cities, created art, invented technologies, sent men to the Moon, built the Internet, or can can engage in philosophical conversations like this.  That makes us special, don’t you think? Besides, isn’t the human species responsible for the ecological crisis that challenges us today? It seems clear to me that humans are special, and to deny that fact is to deny the obvious.  What is your response?

CdeQ: This is a big and complicated topic. It’s big because—as you indicate—our species is responsible for bringing the world to the brink of eco-collapse.  And if we don’t deal with that right now and in a big way we are not likely to survive beyond the next century.

It’s complicated because in order to create a solution we will have to confront both our greatest glories and our greatest shame.

Yes, of course, there is something quite unique—even special—about the human species. We just need to look at anatomical design to see how we stand out. Anatomy has contributed to our emergence as a dominant species on the planet (I say “a” dominant species because, from a different perspective, we could make a case that the truly dominant species in terms of sheer numbers, mass, pervasiveness, and longevity are the various species of bacteria and other single-celled organisms).

Here are some of our special anatomical features:

  • Opposable thumbs—We are not the only species with this ability; other primates share this evolutionary gift. However, combined with our highly developed intelligence, we have used our opposable thumbs to manipulate the environment in exceptional ways.
  • Upright posture—While other species do stand upright, we are the only species to maintain a fully upright posture when walking and running.  We are the only mammal species to completely expose the front of our body (including our genitals), making us highly vulnerable.
  • Fully extended spine—We achieved our upright posture by developing a fully extended spine that enhances flexibility and strength. Plus we have . . .
  • Arched/flat feet—Planting our whole feet (toes and heels) flat and firmly on the ground (plantigrade motion) enables us to stand and walk upright.  We are not the only species with plantigrade feet, but humans alone combine plantigrade locomotion with an arched foot.  This gives us greater stability when walking and running upright.
  • Liberated arms and hands—Through the course of evolution, we have shifted the use of our front limbs from locomotive aids (“gravipodal function”) liberating them for greater manipulative ability, increasing our options for interacting with and changing our environment.
  • Highly developed neocortex—Human brains have evolved a highly complex neocortex, giving us capacities for great intelligence and sophisticated symbolic language.
  • Speech and abstract language—Humans have a rare combination of larynx, tongue, and teeth suitable for vocalizing complex speech patterns. Human languages have evolved to express complex and abstract ideas that enable us to strategize and to communicate plans to fellow humans.
  • Prolonged childhood—As much as 75 percent of our brains’ development occurs after birth.  This involves a prolonged childhood that requires a stable family structure to support and protect the infant, which, in turn, adds to social cohesion and cooperation.

While these, and other, characteristics have undoubtedly contributed to our survival as a species and have enabled us to create vast and complex civilizations, none of these attributes alone is unique to humans.

Other primates have opposable thumbs and have liberated their front limbs from “gravipodal” to manipulative functions. Penguins walk upright and have extended spines.  Bears, kangaroos, mice, rats, hedgehogs, raccoons, and skunks also walk with their whole foot flat on the ground.   Whales, dolphins, elephants, crows, parrots, and octopus are species with highly developed brains, possessing a complex neocortex. Many other species have complex languages and can communicate information about abstract and distant realities (cetaceans, birds, and bees, for example).

What is unique is the combination of these characteristics in a single species.  And perhaps the long childhood of humans is a decisive factor in the social cohesion necessary for developing advanced civilizations—along with the industrial technologies that have drastically disrupted the ecosphere.

Given all this, we can make a good case that humans are special.  Indeed, we are unique. But so is every other species. Possession of unique characteristics defines a species as a species. Some form of uniqueness is what distinguishes one species from another. Yes, humans are special—but we are not especially special. Every species is special—that’s what makes it a distinct species.

Beyond the Myth of ‘Human Specialness’

In Radical Nature (and elsewhere in my work), I point to the myth of “human specialness” as the root cause of the crises we find ourselves in today.  Both modern science and mainstream monotheistic religions support this myth.

Science, claiming that only animals with highly developed brains can possess consciousness, denies the possibility of widespread intelligence in nature. Because humans are assumed to have a uniquely developed neocortex responsible for higher forms of cognition, we are led to believe that only humans possess true intelligence.

Religion, when it draws on Biblical scripture, reinforces the myth that only humans have souls (or consciousness), and likewise conspires in the conceit that “humans are special.”

When we tell ourselves this story, and go to great lengths to defend it with science and religion, we set the human species against the rest of the natural world.  This myth has its roots in philosophy. The bottom-line metaphysical assumption of modern science is materialism—that matter, nature’s essence, is “dead” and insentient, without any intrinsic value, purpose, or meaning. How could it be otherwise? Only creatures with consciousness have intrinsic value.

The logic is stark and final:  Only creatures with brains have minds or consciousness. Nature doesn’t have a brain of its own, therefore it couldn’t have a mind of its own.  Therefore it couldn’t have any intrinsic value or meaning.  Therefore, nature is available for humans to do with as we please.  We are free and entitled to take whatever we desire, serving our own human-centered needs and wishes.

The results of living out this self-serving “story”—of believing and enacting the myth of human specialness—are equally stark and final.

Very likely, within a generation or two—if we don’t radically change our relationship to nature—the world will no longer be able to sustain the survival or our (and countless other) species.  We are victims of our own self-centered myth.

And here’s the clincher:  We will not change our behavior and our lifestyles, we will not change our relationship to the natural world—unless we change our fundamental guiding myth.

Until we give up the myth of “human specialness” nothing significant will change.  Without that fundamental shift in our story, anything else we do to “save” the environment—no matter how ingenous or well intentioned—will amount to nothing more than ineffective band-aids.

At the core of the ecological crisis is a psychological attitude rooted in a profoundly incoherent and dangerous metaphysical belief: that matter, nature itself, is essentially “dead.” That’s the fundamental story we have to give up.

Consciousness All the Way Down

Humans are not special because we have special brains with special or unique consciousness. We are not special because nature itself teems with consciousness—all the way down. Every cell in every living creature, every molecules in every cell, every atom in every molecule, and every subatomic particle, quark, quantum, or superstring—or whatever lies at the deepest level of physical reality—tingles with the spark of spirit.

When we accept this, when we open to the essential sacredness of nature, we will radically alter our relationship to every other living creature and to the wider inorganic environment of rivers and oceans, wind and rain, mountains and deserts—with the underlying geology of the planet itself—we will begin to move through and live in the world with deeper respect.

We will, like indigenous peoples across the world and throughout time—like our ancestors for millions of years—experience ourselves as integral elements in a vast and eternal natural cycle of life and death.  We will live with the knowledge that whatever we take is always returned, viable for future life.  We will be sustained.

God, What A Great Story You Create!

Q: For most of us, including me, awareness doesn’t start at “is-ness.”  Like millions of others, I drive to work every day, I buy food at the grocery store, and I still get mad, frustrated and depressed like everyone else.  The hardest part of this journey isn’t “getting there” (not that it’s easy)—it is “staying there.” How do we turn enlightenment into a “steady state”?

CdeQ: I don’t know if that’s possible.  As long as we have egos that think, we will interpret our experiences, create beliefs, and spin out stories as if they were real, in the privacy of our minds.

The “trick” is to recognize our “stories” as soon as we create them, acknowledge them, then, just as quickly, let them go. It’s a life-long, never-ending practice.

However, with persistent practice, we can train ourselves to develop a more intimate and compassionate relationship with our egoic, thinking, story-making minds, without identifying with them. We can learn to shift the “locus” of our identity, so that we become less and less activated by our stories. We don’t have to live out our stories. We don’t have to believe our beliefs!

In short, we can learn to live more and more as the “Witness” (Creator or Source) of our stories.

Then, like watching a dramatic movie, we can enjoy our marvelous, god-given story-making for the imaginative fabrication it truly is.

We don’t have to—we can’t—give up making stories, it’s what our minds evolved to do, and they do that job really well.  We can, however, learn to simply enjoy them from the front-row seat of the Witness (or better, staying with the movie metaphor, as the Projectionist).

Enjoy the show!

26 Remarkable Questions to Unleash Your


Make 2010 Your Greatest Year

I am excited to share this transformational tool with you, inspired by personal development coach Kevin Eikenberry. These 26 powerful questions (see below) can propel you towards your greatest dreams, but only if you pay attention to them—and think about them.

Actually, you must do more than that. You will also write down what you think. So, be sure to have pen and paper handy.

Find a quiet place where you can be fully present to yourself. If you like, create a mood with peaceful and inspiring music and perhaps light some candles and burn incense. Soothe your senses. Settle in, sit peacefully for ten to fifteen minutes doing nothing but simply relaxing and being present.

Then ask yourself these questions one by one, reflecting on your answers for as long as you want. For maximum impact, think on paper.”

By doing so, you are allowing yourself to use your powerful and natural  learning capacities, sourced in your subconscious mind, to help you achieve more, in any area of your life you choose to focus on, in the coming months.

I encourage you to print out the questions, and write down your responses. Carry this with you, and review it often. When you do this, it will help you unleash your potential in new, exciting, and perhaps even miraculous ways as the year, and your life, unfolds.

Happy New Year . . . to you!

Last Year

  • 1.  What did I learn this past year?
  • 2.  What did I accomplish last year?
  • 3.  Which accomplishments am I proudest of?
  • 4.  Knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently?
  • 5.  What will be my greatest lasting memories of last year?
  • 6.  In what ways did I contribute?
  • 7.  What were my biggest challenges or obstacles?
  • 8.  What obstacles did I overcome?
  • 9.  Who are the most interesting people I met?
  • 10.  How have they changed my life?
  • 11.  How am I different now than I was at the start of the year?
  • 12.  What am I most grateful for?
  • 13.  What else do I want to reflect on?

1. What did I learn last year?

Hopefully your first answer is . . . a lot!

As you think about this question, jot down the specific skills you learned, life lessons you absorbed and the knowledge you gained.

This (hopefully) will be a long list. After some initial brainstorming, take time to narrow your list with a highlighter or using some other notation (don’t cross items off!) to the 5 most valuable, important or beneficial things. You might consider adding a note or two about why those five things lead your list.

2. What did I accomplish last year?

To properly answer this question will take some time.  Allow your mind to continue to work on this and you will find yourself adding to the list over the coming days.

Make a list of the things you accomplished. Maybe you accomplished big things . . .  got promoted, won an award, gave a speech or conquered a fear. Write them all down.

But beyond these big things you also accomplished hundreds of little things . . .  became more patient with a customer, finally finished War and Peace or wrote your own book (okay, maybe that would be a big one), changed a personal habit . . . you get the idea. Write all these down too.

By reflecting on your accomplishments you are reinforcing past success, building your confidence, and telling your subconscious that you can accomplish even more. Building this list will be fun and affirming. Once you’ve written the list, keep it. It will become a great attitude lifter to read anytime you are feeling discouraged or down at all.

3. Which accomplishments am I proudest of?

Take a look at your list from Question #2 and identify the 3-4 things that make you most proud. If you haven’t yet finished your list, take a minute to think about the moments, experiences, and accomplishments of the past year that made you the most proud. Write them down. Don’t worry that you may come up with 8 or 10. Once you have thought of your list, circle or highlight the top few.

Either way you get here, this is an important list! Not as a reason to brag or boast, in fact, you don’t need to share this list with anyone.

Now take the time to read the items again.  Allow yourself to feel proud— you deserve it! Finish this exercise by thinking about and making notes on why you are proud of these things.

4. Knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently last year?

This is a very powerful question to help you learn. (And, of course, you can ask it any time.) Please don’t allow yourself to feel bad, guilty, or to get upset with yourself about what did happen.

The key is in the first half of the question: “knowing what you know now.” You are a different person now that you’ve had the experience. The goal here is to view things through the lens of your experience (which is why people nod in agreement with the old cliché “hindsight is 20/20”). Regardless of what did happen, this question will help us learn from the situation.

You also can use your successes (see questions 2 and 3) as great fodder for this question.  After all, even though you accomplished something you are proud of, there may still be things you would have done differently.

5. What will be my greatest lasting memories of last year?

You’ve made some memories in the past year.  You may have some photos of the event, you may have a program or a letter or a ticket or some other token to commemorate or help you remember the event. Or you may not.

Consider this question as a way to make entries in your memory scrapbook. Mentally go through the year and think of those moments you want to capture forever. Put them on a list. Make your list as long as you’d like, but definitely get at least three memories written down.

If you have time to reflect on the lessons and meanings of these memories, that is great, but the question today doesn’t ask you to do that; it simply encourages you to capture the memories on paper and in your mind.

6. In what ways did I contribute?

We all contribute in many ways. If you don’t think you do, remember George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character) in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

Specifically, think about the people you helped and the ways in which you made your workplace, your neighborhood, your community and your world a better place.

Think about and make note of how you have contributed to the lives of those you care about or who you have helped directly or indirectly.

7. What were my biggest challenges or obstacles?

This question takes a little different focus, but it is extremely valuable.

Thinking about your challenges and obstacles is important. It is in your challenges and obstacles, regardless if you were stopped by them or you overcame them, that you have much to learn.

The challenges could have been faced several months ago; they could be ongoing; or perhaps you have just recently encountered them. Identifying them is one step towards overcoming them and certainly will help you learn from them.

Right now, just make a list of your challenges or obstacles, whether big or small.  We will work with this list in the next question.

8. What obstacles did I overcome? And, how did I do it?

Overcoming obstacles is certainly something to be proud of so you might already have them on your list of accomplishments (see Question #3). If so, that’s fine, just write them down again.

The follow-up question is what makes this different from accomplishments. It is one thing to overcome an obstacle; it is another (and nearly as important) to reflect back and figure out how you did that so you can learn from it for future obstacle-busting.

The goal here is to learn how to overcome, and even better, perhaps avoid similar obstacles in the future. Plus, it’s a great confidence booster to remember that you can in fact overcome obstacles.

9. Who are the most interesting people I have met?

When you think back on your year, think about the people you have met. Some will stand out as the most interesting.

Make a list of these people; make sure to include them whether they have become a friend or you met them only once.

After you have completed your list, reflect on the circumstances under which you met these people. This may give you a clue about what types of situations you want to consciously create in the future.

10. How have those people changed my life?

Yes, this is a follow-up to Question #9.

It is great to meet interesting people. It’s also great to recognize how those people have impacted you. Think about what you learned from them, how they have helped you, the enjoyment and pleasure you have gained from knowing them.

If you have time after thinking and writing about this, take time to send a note, write an email or give a call to these people and thank them. If you don’t have time now, make it a priority on your to-do list for tomorrow.

11. How am I different now than I was at the start of the year?

This is such a powerful question that I get goose bumps when I read it or think about it.

Take some real time to ponder this one and write your responses down. Like the other questions in this series, you may still be thinking about it several days from now!

Many of the first ten questions are meant to help answer this one in meaningful ways, so if you have been writing your responses to the other ten questions (you have, haven’t you?) then reading back over your thoughts will definitely help you think about this question.

And here’s another (similar) question:  Are you happy with the person you have become?

12. What am I most grateful for?

Maybe this has been your best year to date. Maybe it’s been an unusually tough year for you personally or professionally (or both). Either way, we all have much to be grateful for and pondering (and writing) about this question can help you finish your year with a spirit of gratefulness.

Your thoughts here may be a recap of some of your other answers to the previous 11 questions, and, if so, that is definitely okay. It also might help you highlight something you haven’t thought about yet. Gratitude is a powerful attitude—one that can open you up for many future blessings and events.

Make the time to ask this question and be grateful.

13. What else do I want to reflect on?

This last question is yours.
Quiet your mind.
Listen to your intuition.
Listen to the question, and answer it.

This Year

  • 1.  What excites me about the New Year?
  • 2.  What are my 5 most important goals for this year?
  • 3.  How will I best use my skills?
  • 4.  How will I strengthen my strengths?
  • 5.  How will I apply last year’s most valuable lessons this year?
  • 6.  What will I learn?
  • 7.  Who do I want to meet?
  • 8.  What relationship do I most want to develop?
  • 9.  What new habit will I create?
  • 10.  What habit will I alter or eliminate?
  • 11.  How will I become healthier this year?
  • 12.  What lasting memories will I create?
  • 13.  Who will I serve more effectively and/or completely?

1. What excites me about the New Year?

This is a great place to start in looking forward into a New Year.

After answering 13 reflective questions, this question shifts your gaze forward.  A big part of your success in the New Year – or at any future time – is your excitement and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. Spend some time considering this question and let your pen go!

Write down whatever excites you whether it relates to your personal or professional life, your community, your favorite artist’s new music, something on the world stage.

Get excited and write it down!

2. What are my 5 most important goals for this year?

You knew this question would be here, didn’t you? This is an important question. One to embrace and not be scared of (if, for example you aren’t normally a goal setter). If you haven’t thought about this yet, you may need more space than you see below.

You might want to start by brainstorming potential goals, and then prioritizing the top five to place here. Having trouble getting started? Think about what you would like to achieve in the following areas:  You will answer more questions about some of these areas, but for now, brainstorm and prioritize!

  • Professionally
  • Financially
  • Relationship
  • Physically
  • Mentally
  • Family
  • Community
  • Spiritually

3. How will I best use my skills?

In the reflective questions you have had a chance to think about your skills, especially any new skills you have learned over the past year.

Now the question is: How will you apply them towards your goals and the things that excite you about the coming year?

Taking the time now to think of how to apply your skills will help you reach your goals! (Do you need any better reason to consider this question?)

4. How will I strengthen my strengths?

One of the most valuable things you can do is spend time working on things you are already good at. Not only will this strategy improve your performance, but it almost always leads to greater enjoyment and satisfaction.

This question requires that you first recognize your strengths. If you haven’t done this sort of thinking, invest the time to do it! Once you have a list of 1-4 things that you are really good at and enjoy, answer this question.

5. How will I apply last year’s most valuable lessons this year?

The first question on the reflection list was, “What did I learn?”

That should give you fodder to help answer this question. Look at those lessons, and now translate them into action as you look forward.  After all, it is the action that will make those lessons truly useful to you.

6. What will I learn?

Have you noticed how this question (and the other projection questions) are written as if they have already occurred? This question is “what will I learn?” not “what do I want to learn?” or “what do I hope to learn?”  That is intentional. My goal is to help you be intentional! So, what will you learn?

As the New Year unfolds, day by day, experiences will offer tremendous learning opportunities.

Some of these lessons will be serendipitous. That isn’t what this question is about. It is about the things that you are choosing to learn now – the things you intentionally want/need to learn.

Refer to your goals for the year and your strengths — both of these are places to help you identify specific learning opportunities. This is your chance to be intentional about what you learn in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Once you set this intention you will be amazed at how many seemingly serendipitous events provide you the lessons and opportunities you need.

7. Who do I want to meet?

Maybe your goals hint at who you might like to (or need to) meet. Maybe there are just some interesting people who would like to meet — for no special reason, just because.

Maybe it is an author, a speaker, or an entertainer.  Maybe it is your new neighbor.

Whoever it is, write them down! Who we become in the future depends in no small measure on the people we meet and hang out with. Answering this question gets you headed in the right direction.

8. What relationship(s) do I most want to develop?

Your answer to this question might be one of the people closest to you, or it might be one of the people you want to meet but haven’t yet met (see Projection Question #7).

The only right answer to this question (like all the others in this document) is the answer you give.

Consider a relationship that if it were further developed could provide you with greater joy, harmony, success, or whatever else you treasure at this time.

9. What new habit will I create?

I’ll bet you already have an answer to this one — it is the underlying question of many New Year’s resolutions.

Consider, though, how much more valuable and clear this answer will be for you now, considering all the other questions you have answered!

Take a minute to review your answers to the previous questions before starting to settle in on your “final answer.”

10. What habit will I alter or eliminate?

This question is related to the last one, and your answer may be related as well!

Look at the habits that might be stumbling blocks to reaching your goals for the year. Consider which single habit will make the biggest difference if you can alter or eliminate it.

11. How will I become healthier this year?

One of your goals may relate to health, and if so you may already have your answer to this question. Or perhaps you have covered this with your answers to the habit questions (Projection Questions 9 & 10).

However, if none of these address this area, now is your chance. Regardless of who we are there are things that we could do to be healthier; to have more energy; and/or to feel less stress.

As you can see, I am considering this question quite broadly, and I encourage you to do the same if necessary. Remember, none of the rest of this work and goals will matter if you are not healthy enough to enjoy the experiences and achievements that are surely coming your way!

12. What lasting memories will I create?

You likely can’t pre-ordain all of the lasting experiences you will create this year, but you can be intentional about some things you want to happen.

Perhaps you want to attend a certain concert or sporting event, or maybe you are looking forward to a family reunion.

Whatever lasting memories you want to create should make this list!

13. Who will I serve more effectively and/or completely?

This is a powerful question, and while it is the last in this list it could have just as easily been the first.

Rather than give you suggestions or ideas here, just consider this:  Think about serving with a pure intention and from a givers perspective rather than as an “approach” to reach your goals.

Perhaps these two corollary questions will be helpful too:

Who needs my service?

Who can I truly serve more effectively?

Postscript . . .

I suggest that you use these questions — not just read them and think about them. I  strongly encourage you to review your answers (especially to your projection questions) regularly — say, once a week.

Then, when you get to the end of the year, and when you begin to do this process again, review these answers as a part of next year’s process.

Here’s to a great 2010!

Three Bonus Tips

(from Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason)

  • Identify a theme for 2010.
  • Create a vision board (business and personal) related to your theme.
  • Look for ways your theme shows up in your life (daily/weekly).

* * *

The Mind-Body Problem

Light, Consciousness, Action!

Is Light the Missing Link
Between Matter and M

Q: Many philosophers investigating the “mind-body problem” appear to begin with the presumption that existence can be divided into “consciousness” and “matter,” and that this division is comprehensive.  The traditional problems follow from this.

But what about light?  In physics, matter and light are considered distinct.  In these philosophical debates, are light and matter considered all part of the “physical” realm?  Is light believed to “take up space” (a fundamental definition of physical)?  Are there specific debates in philosophy of mind regarding light and consciousness—for example, whether they are the same or different, whether they relate to each other and, if so, what is the nature of this relationship?  In general, does light come up in these philosophical debates?

CdeQ: Great questions . . . First, the simple answer is “no”— philosophers discussing the mind-body problem hardly ever (perhaps never) talk about light as a phenomenon that requires special attention. Essentially, taking their cue from quantum physics (or even from Newtonian physics), they regard light as physical because it consists of photons, which are “particles” or entities explored and experimented with in physics. So, from this perspective, the relationship between light and consciousness is exactly the same as the relationship between matter (or any other physical entity) and consciousness.

However  . . . (and this is a major however) . . . However, philosophically (and even scientifically) the question of light requires a lot more attention (as you have intuited).

First, we know from physics that light (in the form of photons — which are quanta of action) is very unlike other particles explored in physics. Photons do not have any charge (this is also true of, for instance, neutrinos). And, because they travel at the speed of light, they transcend time (at the speed of light, time stops). And because a photon doesn’t use up any energy at it travels through space, this is tantamount to saying that photons also transcend space.

So here we have a “physical” entity that has no charge (and therefore does not interact with charged particles), and transcends time and space. In other words, a photon of light is a close as a physicist could come to giving a description of something non-physical (e.g., spirit or consciousness). In fact, this insight is the core idea underlying the cosmological work of mathematician Arthur Young (see The Reflexive Universe).1

Young asserts that the photon, as a quantum of action, is a quantum of purposeful action. That is, the photon is the source of both manifest matter or energy (“action”) and manifest mind or consciousness (“purpose”). In its unmanifest state, says Young, the photon is precisely the “Divine Light” spoken of by mystics through the ages. He identifies photon as spirit thus:

quantum = photon = light = spirit

Young’s “quantum of purposeful action” is another way of describing what, from the perspective of panpsychism, I call “sentient energy.” Just as purpose (consciousness) cannot be separated from action (energy), so is sentience (consciousness) intrinsic to energy. They always go together. Purpose and action, sentience and energy, form a unity.

Nevertheless, purpose is not identical to action, nor is sentience identical to energy.  They are ontologically distinct, though not separate. Purpose or sentience (consciousness or mind) is the intrinsic ability of matter-energy to feel, know, and purposefully direct itself.

Consciousness (as purpose) creates intention and this is manifested through action (energy). By itself, intention or purpose (consciousness) can do nothing.  In order to do something, consciousness needs action or energy.

We can see this in our own lives:  Having an intention is not the same as taking action (“the path to hell is paved with good intentions”). Having an intention is never enough if we wish to make a difference in the world. We also need to enact the intention. Only then can manifestation follow from intention.

What is so remarkable about light is that it includes both intention (consciousness) and action (energy) bundled up into an indivisible little packet — the quantum of action.

Therefore, one way to “solve” the mind-body problem is to meditate on the light within and to experience first-hand how consciousness and embodiment are intimately related.  Of course, when we do so, the mind-body problem evaporates because we are no longer concerned about conceptual distinctions and are engaged in the actual experience of our own natural embodied spiritual nature.

1 Young’s The Reflexive Universe is not easy to get hold of. However it is a visionary book and well worth hunting down. The essence of his cosmology is expressed in my novel Deep Spirit: Cracking the Noetic Code.

Artificial Intelligence?

Solid State Intelligence?

Q: I saw a quote of John Lilly’s in Alan Combs’ book Synchronicity.  I had run across Lilly’s name before (probably when I was reading Deep Spirit, and trying to figure out what research had been done on interspecies communication.)

Anyway, considering that I had just immersed myself in Ray Kurzweil’s ideas, and was thinking about panpsychism and the mind/body problem, I wondered whether or not machines could ever become conscious.  And then, on Wikipedia, I found this interesting note on John Lilly, and I wondered what you think of it:

Solid State Intelligence, or SSI, is a malevolent entity described by John C. Lilly (see The Scientist). According to Lilly, the network of computation-capable solid state systems (electronics) engineered by humans will eventually develop (or has already developed) into an autonomous life-form. Since the optimal survival conditions for this life-form (low-temperature vacuum) are drastically different from those needed by humans (room temperature aerial atmosphere and adequate water supply), Lilly predicted (or “prophesied,” based on his ketamine-induced visions) a dramatic conflict between the two forms of intelligence.

CdeQ: In principle, the idea of machine intelligence is coherent — if we accept a couple of fundamental assumptions or conditions: 1). If we start with panpsychism as a given, then all matter is inherently sentient and conscious, and it is conceivable that a complex machine might rise in consciousness to the level of awareness we would consider “intelligent.”

However, for machines to achieve that, the second condition would also be crucial: 2). that the interrelations between the parts of the machine would be more than merely physical. The parts would also have to be internally related (nonphysically and intersubjectively) so that the whole would exhibit or express a unified consciousness that transcends and includes all its parts. So far, this degree of internal relatedness has been achieved only by organisms through millions, if not billions, of years of evolution.

While it is conceivable in principle that human-designed (or sufficiently programmed and self-learning) machines could achieve a level of internal relatedness and coherence matching or even surpassing that of higher life forms (e.g. humans, dolphins, whales, elephants, parrots, octopus), so far, I see little or no evidence that machines come anywhere close to matching even a single-celled bacterium in terms of internal complexity and coherence.

The problem with Kurzweil (and many other AI enthusiasts — and, it seems, Lilly may fall into this camp) is a fundamental confusion between intelligence and computation. Indeed, machines can (and already do) compute much faster and more efficiently than human brains and are likely to increasingly accelerate that capacity in the coming years and decades. However, computation is a physical process (involving digital circuits) whereas intelligence is a non-physical conscious process, involving meaning. An information processor (computers) is vastly different from a meaning processor (sentient beings). There is a world of difference between the two.

No Miracle of ‘Emergence’

The fallacy in the idea of “machine intelligence” is, typically, a re-run of the mind-body problem and the notion of “emergence.” The assumption is that when computation becomes sufficiently fast and complex  it will, miraculously, transform into “intelligence.” The ontological gap involved in that assumption is exactly the same, and as impossible to bridge, as getting mind from matter — the idea that material complexity of insentient neurons and brains could produce the “miracle” of consciousness.  That “miracle” is inconceivable (as I discuss in Radical Nature — especially in the Epilogue.)

Final Exit

Final Exit

What Would You Do on Planet Titanic?

Greenland is melting. Before we know it, sea levels will rise dramatically, swamping whole islands, towns, and cities around the world. It is vast. Think of it as a nearly two-million square kilometer iceberg just waiting to strike. We are all on a sinking Planet Titanic.

Some of us are rushing for the lifeboats, some of us a trying to plug the holes, some of us are doing whatever we can to deny the reality, and some of us are facing the likelihood that no matter what we do it’s all too late, anyway. In that case, the best we can do, like a terminal cancer patient, is to be grateful for each remaining moment we have and choose to live it with joy, compassion, and gratitude.

I recently had a long conversation with my good friend Peter Russell (author of Waking Up in Time) who has been closely tracking the details of climate change for many years. I asked him:

“We’re living on a knife edge, in times of great uncertainty. One way lies systemic collapse into ecological disaster. The other (perhaps involving some degree of the first) is a path to collective waking up and the transformation of our species. Which side do you lean to when you wake up in the morning?”

His response stunned me:

“Without a doubt, I see us falling into total systemic collapse.”

I probed a little deeper, and he revealed he didn’t just mean some temporary setback for civilization, but the inevitable extinction of our species—within a few generations! Involving, of course, the great extinction of vast numbers of other species.

I questioned him more, and he talked about how, within 100 to 150 years, climate change will be so rapid and so vast that a band of desolation and desert will circle the planet, with only small regions remaining hospitable for life in places like northern Europe, Alaska,  parts of Canada and Antarctica . . . He thinks that all mammalian species will be wiped out, and perhaps most reptiles and amphibians. Possibly only plants and insects will survive.

I had never encountered such a bleak scenario based on what I understand to be a clear reading of the available data. It overshadows even the most pessimistic scenarios I’ve heard elsewhere. Worse, this may not be a reversible process. It’s not as if the Earth will quickly spring back to life, and the deserts will bloom once again. No, in this scenario, we are already in the early stages of human-induced climate change that will turn our beautiful globe into a planetary desert for many millions of years. And, if all the water boils off, it could even be permanent. It happened on Mars.

(The Mars scenario is only one, extreme, possibility. Over millions of years, the planet may well recover. A similar hot-house period occurred on Earth in the Eocene, 34 to 55 million years ago. However, even if the deserts do bloom again, the chances of humans surviving the furnace are highly unlikely.)

We are living through the end days of our species, and for all practical purposes, the end of life on Earth. Sobering.

What Would You Do?
Given this, what are we to do? What’s the point of spreading such a message of hopelessness?

Pete’s response: There is no point. There is nothing we can do now to change what is inevitably coming—very soon. He then told me how waking up to this reality has changed his life. For a time, he experienced the existential angst of despair and total hopelessness. And then his “ah-ha” moment struck:

“Yes, it is hopeless. But by letting go of all sense of hope, I discovered that I still had a choice: about how to live out my life knowing that it is all over for all of us. I choose to live with compassion and to savor every moment—just like some cancer patients do when the bad news finally sinks in.”

For a few brief moments, I let it in and I felt a deep wrenching sickness in my gut, a profound sorrow for our species and for the millions of other species we will take down with us. But within a few hours, my own denial defense mechanisms kicked in. I find I can no longer actually feel the total demise of our species. Intellectually, though, I know it is a strong possibility.

How would you live your life in the light of this knowledge?

What would you do (what are you doing) when we discover that our planetary Titanic is holed, and that we are rapidly and inevitably going down? Do you dance? Do you panic? Do you rush for the lifeboats (where are they?)? Do you pray (for what?)? Do you offer comfort and solace to your neighbors? Do you head for the bar and get mind-blowingly drunk? Do you stuff yourself with food from the cafeteria? Do you find the most beautiful partners and make passionate love? Do you heroically start giving swimming lessons (knowing they won’t help)? Do you jump overboard before the ship goes down (why?)?

What would you do?

Pete has decided that the most heroic response is for individual members of our species—better, for our species collectively—to immediately stop extracting any resources from the planet, so that, at the very least, we spend our last days minimizing our contribution to the acceleration of systemic collapse. Of course, this would mean not extracting food or water, and so our species would vanish very soon. In doing so, we may give a few more years, perhaps another generation or two, for other species to enjoy.

We might, for instance, leave the planet habitable for species that inhabit the oceans, who just might survive the ecological devastation that will sweep the land. However, as he pointed out, the oceans may be in an even more precarious predicament. “They may collapse first. Coral reefs are already dying fast and increased acidity of CO2  is making life very hard for the microscopic creatures at the base of the food chain. No plankton, no shrimp, no humpback whales.”

It’s hard to grasp, isn’t it?

Final Exit?
Perhaps ecological collapse is the fate of any planet when evolution produces a species with advanced intelligence coupled with the means to manipulate its environment to suit its own needs (e.g., an opposable thumb)—a fatal combination?

As Pete sees it, the one ray of “hope” in the face of dire hopelessness is an opportunity for a profound transformation in consciousness—along the lines envisioned by French philosopher and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin and fictionalized in Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi novel Childhood’s End.

The pressure of breakdown either wipes out the species or pushes it to evolve. Planets, then, serve as seed pods for launching consciousness to higher levels of evolution.

At this point, though, such scenarios begin to sound like spiritual science fiction—the human mind’s ultimate creative response to the realization of radical hopelessness.

What else can we do?

The Big Surrender
Well, we can surrender. Perhaps that is the hidden gift of being shocked, of waking up to our predicament. All the world’s great spiritual traditions teach us about the power of surrender, of letting go and trusting in some greater intelligence or process beyond anything mere mortals can ever imagine.

When we do finally and fully surrender, we open up to the possibility of some unforeseen, unimaginable, event that transforms what seemed like a dire and hopeless situation into an opportunity for a new beginning. The great mystics call this entering the “dark night of the soul” before the dawn of spiritual enlightenment.

Today, we might be facing an unprecedented “dark night” of the collective soul. We may be called on to let go of attachment, not just to our petty personal needs and desires, but to the very survival of our species, and accept the impending “death” of our beautiful planet—the Big Surrender, followed, perhaps, by the Big Breakthrough. Perhaps.

Whatever lies ahead, one fact is inescapable: We are all in this together.

So what can we do? We can continue to live more and more lightly on the Earth, reducing our eco-footprint.

We also have a compelling opportunity to support each other, to relate with compassion, and to communicate authentically from the heart.

We can share our stories.

That is what has held societies together from time immemorial. And it is just as vital today.

* * *
This is one perspective—but I think it is worth paying attention to.
Do you?

* * *

Love. Energy. Promises.

Love Energy

Q: My partner and I recently had a different perspective on the issue of keeping one’s word and honoring how one feels. I had promised to do something with him, but when the time came I felt I really didn’t have the energy. So I changed my mind, and did something else. I decided to honor myself instead of keeping a promise. I don’t think honoring myself is the same as being selfish.

As I see it, love begins by honoring yourself. Energy is transient. Honoring thyself means honoring that energy. It doesn’t override a promise that’s made to a loved one. It means honor your energy. This is one of the truisms of life: Energy is transient! What do you think?

CdeQ: Yes, indeed, energy is transient. That’s its nature. It flows, and comes and goes. And since feelings and emotions are forms of energy, they are also transitory.

Feelings come and go like the breeze, and we have very little control over them. We can choose to attend to them, to ignore them, or to resist them when they arise, but we have very little (if any) control over when or whether they arise. Feelings blow through us like wind over the ocean. And we can let them toss us about like boats on the waves, or we can exercise the power of choice to steer our way through the storms of feelings (and energy).

Giving our word is like a rudder on a boat. It  empowers us to navigate our way through the winds and currents of our always-changing emotions, feelings, and thoughts. That way, we are not at the mercy of our ever-shifting states of mind. We honor our feelings by allowing them to be what they are, just as we honor our journey at sea by paying attention to the waves and currents.

Keeping our word does not mean we don’t honor our feelings. We honor them by acknowledging and fully experiencing them as they occur. This does not mean always giving in to how we happen to feel at any particular moment. In fact, I would say “giving in” to our feelings is the exact opposite of “honoring thyself.”

To me, honoring thyself means honoring who we truly are, and who we truly are is created or declared by our word. We create who we are when we declare who we are. In that sense, honoring ourself means honoring our word, our promises. It is the core of our integrity. Integrity is being constant to our word, even in the face of “transient feelings” or “shifts in energy.”

This does not mean, of course, that we are “forced” to keep to our word/promise no matter what happens. We cannot be “victims” of our promises—that would be a contradiction because the spirit of the promise would be gone.

It is always a choice. We become a “victim” to our word only when we give up the power of choice. And we become a “victim” of circumstance when we give up a promise just because we no longer feel like keeping it.

We choose to keep our word, even when our feelings change. Sometimes, circumstances do change in ways that we may need to renegotiate a promise—that’s where communication is so important. Crises do happen beyond our control, and when they do, we may need to choose to cancel the original promise and recreate a new one. This should never be done lightly, and not as a matter of course. This is a far cry from just ignoring a promise because at some future time we may not “feel like it.” If everybody went around doing just what they “felt like” in the moment, the world would quickly collapse into social chaos.

So, rather than always simply acting on what we happen to feel like in the moment, I’m saying that what works is:

* be responsible for your feelings (own them);
* acknowledge your feelings (pay attention to them);
* allow yourself to fully experience your feelings; and
* nevertheless, keep your word.

Keeping our word cannot be dependent on whether we happen to feel like it at some future time. That would not be a promise. It would be a form of deception—because even if we meant it at the time, we also would know that we might cancel the “promise” whenever we felt like it. (Of course, if we let the other person know that our “promise” could be canceled at any time because we might not feel like it, then that would not be deception. However, the other person would know he or she had not received a promise. Just unreliable words.)

Relationships are built on trust. And trust is built on knowing people will keep their word. It is also built on mutual respect and honoring of the other. If circumstances change and keeping a promise would in some way damage or be detrimental to the other, then clearly it would be time to talk about it, and renegotiate. Love is not forcing others to do what is unhealthy, nor is it enabling them to break their word just because they no longer feel like it. Love is supporting others to keep their word while honoring what they are feeling in the moment. Love is accepting times when promises need to be renegotiated.

My bumper-sticker for this is: Energy is transient. Promises are trustworthy.”

Intention Beyond Belief

Fragments of consciousnessDo Our Beliefs Create Reality?

Without a doubt, consciousness plays a decisive role in creating and shaping our world. So, I want to be clear about something: What I am about to say does not diminish or invalidate in any way the insight expressed in phrases such as “belief creates reality” or “we create our own reality.”

The core insight is valid, and I honor it. I think it gives expression to a profound truth. However, I also think it can be misleading if simply taken at face value, without finer discernment. As a philosopher, I like to burrow beneath surfaces to reveal deeper meanings and truths.

I want to draw attention here to the difference between “belief” and “intention.” When I hear people talk about “beliefs creating reality” they usually mean intention co-creates reality. These are two very different claims, with very different—and important—consequences for our lives and for the world we live in.

Yes, many people do believe in the creative power of belief.  I don’t. I have a different view, discussed in my books Radical Knowing and more recently Consciousness from Zombies to Angels. Here’s my take on this issue.

Frozen Fragments of Consciousness

Beliefs are made of thoughts. Thoughts are abstractions—“frozen fragments of consciousness” taken from the moment-to-moment flow of ongoing experience. Because thoughts are abstractions, they are only fragments of reality, echos of expired experiences that have now moved into the past (near or distant). Thoughts are “mental snapshots” of a moment in time. Thoughts and beliefs are rooted in the past.

Experience is always happening now. Reality, too, is always happening now. The “happy coincidence” of experience and reality meeting in the now means that by paying attention to what we are actually experiencing in the present moment, we have direct access to reality, to what is actually happening now.

When we focus on thoughts and beliefs, however, our attention is fixated on residues of expired experiences that belong to the past—not to present reality. We get mesmerized by our intricate tapestries of thoughts (literally “entranced” by them). We then mistake our abstractions (snapshots of the past) for what is real, and we miss out on what is really happening now, in our in-the-moment experience.

Because thoughts are abstractions, they have no real power or potency. And because beliefs are constructed of thoughts, they are essentially impotent, too. Beliefs are “mental habits” and, like all habits, they are mechanical, having no creativity. As “habits of mind,” beliefs are tools of the ego (egos are mental machines).

However, experience is very different. It is naturally and intrinsically creative. Why? Because at every new moment a new experience comes into being. Each experience is literally an act of creation—a gift from the universe. And the wonderful thing is we don’t have to do anything for experiences to happen. They come built into the very fabric of existence itself. To be is to experience. To experience is to be creative.

Fragments fragmentThat’s why I encourage people to focus on being present—bringing awareness and attention to what we are actually experiencing right now, moment-by-moment. That’s where our power lies. That’s the source of our creativity.

When I examine sayings such as “beliefs create reality” I find that what is really being expressed is the insight  “intentions create reality.” That seems to me to be the deeper truth.

Language is critically important, and so I pay close attention to the words we use. I do so not merely as an intellectual exercise (that would be pointless), but because, as I see it, the words we choose do make a real difference in how we live our lives and, therefore, how we impact the world.

I pay particular attention to the distinction between “belief,” “experience,” and “intention” because a great deal of confusion and strife in the world is caused by people holding onto their cherished beliefs at all costs. People die by the thousands, perhaps millions, every year when different belief systems collide. And countless millions of individuals from other species die, too, because of clashing human beliefs.

I sometimes say, only half humorously, that I’ve never met a belief that created anything—except trouble.

Here’s a quick rule of thumb for choosing experience beyond belief: No experience is ever wrong—or even could be wrong. Every experience simply is exactly what it is. However, beliefs can be wrong because they are interpretations (they are stories), and like all interpretations they can miss the mark, be mistaken, or be misunderstood.

Experiences happen in the moment before interpretation kicks in. Every experience reveals a slice of reality for what it truly is at that moment. Here’s what typically happens:

experience —> interpretation —> belief —> dogma —> ideology —> action

Notice that our actions (how we interact with others and the world around us) are many steps removed from the original experience that connects us with reality. Is it any surprise, then, that so many of our actions just add further confusion and disruption to our lives and the environment? For the most part, for most of us, our actions are out of touch with reality.

Much better, then, to learn to act directly from experience. Cultivating this ability is at the core of most (perhaps all) spiritual practices and effective psychological discipline.

Think, for example, about master martial artists or think of great athletes—men and women who achieve exceptional performance because they have learned to act directly from their experience in the moment—not from their beliefs! In the midst of action, they do not stop to think or to make sure they act from their beliefs. If they did, their performance and effectiveness would collapse.

Intention: The Creative Expression of the Soul

So much for “experience beyond belief.” What about “intention”?

Whereas beliefs are habits of mind rooted in the ego, intention is the focused creative expression of the soul’s natural intelligence.

By paying close attention to our experience in the moment, we open up to expressions of intelligence flowing from the soul—from the innermost depths of our being. Intention is choosing to align ourselves with our deepest wisdom. (Actually, it is not really “our” wisdom. Ultimately, it is the collective wisdom of all sentient beings, expressed through us as individuals at a particular point in space and time. But that’s a topic for another discussion.)

Wisdom, then, involves getting the ego out of the way—getting beyond our mental, mechanical habits—and, instead, choosing to allow the soul’s intelligence its full natural expression. “Intelligence seeks expression,” declares Darwin in Deep Spirit. One way or another, intelligence will express itself. We might as well choose to go along for the ride. Why fight or resist the flow of natural intelligence by trying to mold reality to our beliefs, by trying to shape reality to fit in with our mechanical mental habits?

When we consciously choose to align with this deep collective intelligence, we open to the creativity of intention. Creativity flows from intention, from focused natural expression of the soul’s deepest intelligence and wisdom.

Beliefs don’t create reality; they distort it—inevitably. Beliefs distort reality because they are rooted in the past, and reality is always now.

Of course, I don’t want you to believe a word of this. I do, however, want you to pay attention to whatever you experience as you let in the meaning of these words. What are you feeling right now? Guided by that feeling, what do you choose right now? What is your intention beyond belief?