Monthly Archives: February 2010

Embrace Your Problems

peg So, I’m at a keynote speech in Las Vegas at a conference about data warehouses. I wasn’t really expecting to find good material for self-improvement here, but Frank Buytendijk, a Dutch management consultant at Oracle, surprised me. The point of his talk was that we Americana have a fear and aversion to “problems” that actually makes them difficult to solve.

You all have heard the sayings – “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”, and my favorite “It’s not a problem, it’s a ‘challenge’”. There are, if you’ll pardon the word, problems with this approach.

When we focus on solutions, we end up focusing on our own little piece of the puzzle. As the old saying goes, to the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. What’s missing from this problem-phobia approach is…. communication. We understand our part of the problem, but not everyone else’s. And so we champion the solution that fits our needs, and come into conflict with those who have other issues and problems – problems we are afraid to discuss because of our fear of problems. If we were all open in admitting the issues we are having and bringing them to the table, we might well find that someone sitting across the table has a perfect solution. We may also learn that the solution that meets OUR needs has an unforeseen negative consequence with the person across the table.

Buytendijk suggests a new terminology – if you’re not part of the problem, you’re not part of the solution. If we don’t come together and share our problems, we can’t do a complete job of fixing anything. So let’s admit it. It’s not a challenge. It’s a problem.

Exploring the Fifth Dimension – Parallel Universes, Teleportation and Out-of-Body Travel

astral Exploring the Fifth Dimension – Parallel Universes, Teleportation and Out-of-Body Travel,  by Dr. Bruce Goldberg . Today’s review is for a much more esoteric book than I usually include on the site, but I’m sure that there are quite a few readers who, like me, will be interested in it. I first heard Dr. Goldberg during a radio interview on the famous Coast-to-Coast program (formerly hosted by Art Bell, currently by George Noory). Goldberg spent hours telling stories of past-life regressions, teleportation, invisibility, parallel universes and the like. He seemed completely at home with all of this, and claimed to be able to teach this to anyone. My enthusiasm made sure that the book ended up under the tree at Christmas.

So how is it? Well, the stories are fascinating and reasonably well researched. Dr. Goldberg’s metaphysical view is well developed and corresponds closely with my own. His views on reincarnation, for example, are nuanced and sophisticated. He manages to squeeze a lot of explanation of higher planes and spiritual concepts into a relatively small book.

The heart of the book, however, are dialogues meant to assist you in exploring these phenomena for yourself. The dialogues are meant to be recorded, with music, and listened to in order to induce teleportaiton, out-of-body travel, visitation of parallel dimensions, etc. Dr. Goldberg is primarily a hypnotherapist, and uses hypnosis as a vehicle for this kind of metaphysical exploration. Reassuringly, he has used it on thousands of subjects with no danger or ill effects.

The catch is that preparing these kinds of dialogue tapes to listen to yourself is a bit of work. Dr. Goldberg probably hopes that this will induce you to buy his CD’s – available on his site:, which have already done the work for you. But you have to give him credit – he does give you the dialogues so that you at least have the OPTION of doing it yourself, if you have more time than money and need to do your metaphysical exploration on the cheap.

Do these techniques work? Well to tell the truth, I haven’t had the chance to either order the CD’s or record the dialogues. But I see no reason why they wouldn’t. The method and theory is sound. It’s certainly worth a try. The metaphysical information contained in the book is easily worth the price.

The 48 Laws of Power

Today I bring you a very qualified endorsement for a very popular book – The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. Greene is basically a modern-day Machiavelli, and his book is about how to acquire and hold onto power, by any means available. I nearly put the book down after reading the preface, with its sinister defense of deception, mistrust and treachery and cynical condemnation of apparently honesty and goodness as either foolish or manipulative.

But then I started into the book, and found that there is actually some value in it. Some of the laws are simple social graces, such as not being to flagrant in outshining your masters, and, when change is needed, to introduce it gradually and not reform too much at once. Some are basic social wisdom as you might find in biblical proverbs, such as not speaking too freely and persuading people with your actions rather than your arguments. Some are excellent self-development principles, such as acting decisively and constantly re-creating yourself.  But some of the laws are simply evil, such as keeping people in a state of fearful terror and taking credit for the work of others.

I still think the book useful, however. Spiritually-minded people, especially very committed ones, have a reputation for being gullible and lacking in social knowledge. This was true even back in the days of Jesus, who observed that “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8).

Religions, spiritual systems and the ranks of spiritual teachers down through the ages have been full of clever men using God and enlightenment as tools to acquire power. In fact, one of Greene’s laws (#27) is to play upon people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following. If nothing else, Greene’s book is an excellent education for the spiritual seeker in the methods of manipulation that unscrupulous teachers and organizations may try to use. For that reason alone, it’s worth a read.

And it’s a very entertaining read. For each law, Greene provides fascinating illustrations from the pages of history, from Otto Von Bismark to Nikola Tesla.  Some stories illustrate the laws being followed, and others illustrate those laws being ignored, often with disastrous consequences. Just remember that you’re dealing with an author who is openly praising deceit and misdirection.  Learn from his book, but use your higher judgment.

Below is a video of the author discussing this book.

Transcending Fear

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.. (1 Jn 4:18 NKJV)

While fear is less and less a part of my life, there are still several situations that can cause me to panic. One is hypodermic needles. That’s improving. Another is sudden financial problems. The other day I opened my bank account online expecting to find a healthy balance only to find myself severely overdrawn. It turns out that when I had tried to make an online payment for $100.00 I had instead typed in 100,00 (a comma instead of a period). The company had processed a payment for $10,000.00 instead of $100.00 It took a week to straighten out, and my immediate reaction was panic to the point of having trouble breathing.

Fear is an instinctive reaction designed to make us alert and cautious in the presence of danger. This may be a very useful reaction when crossing a savanna teeming with lions. Unfortunately, our modern minds can create the mental experience of danger when there is no real physical threat. In the case of my mangled bank account, the actual situation was a matter of some pixels on a screen. There was no immediate threat or danger. My fear was the result of mental scenarios that my mind began to construct as it tried to process the implications of the error. Unfortunately, the mental reaction of fear was totally unhelpful in this situation. I needed a sense of perspective, clear objective judgment and cool reason. Instead I got tunnel vision and a body prepared to jump up a tree to escape a lion.

The spiritual roots of fear are even more destructive. Our ego, convinced of its separation from everything and everyone else, and conscious of its own mortality, constantly fears its own annihilation. The mind under the dominion of ego lives with a persistent background noise of existential fear. How do we escape it?

Since fear originates in the mind, practice in quieting the mind is a very helpful discipline to control fear. Meditation has many benefits, and this is one of them. A mind disciplined by meditation, like a well-trained horse, will not panic and throw its rider at the first sudden noise. Even if the horse jumps, like my mind did at the first sight of my negative bank balance, it can quickly be brought under control by the steady hand of consciousness. Meditation also shifts our consciousness away from the fearful ego and toward the greater Self, which is immortal, indestructible and beyond the reach of fear.

The passage from 1st John at the beginning of the article also suggests another spiritual practice that can help us. The way to escape the fear that torments us, says the author of John, is through perfect love. The Greek word for love here is “agape”, which is a rather difficult word to translate. It is not a simple human love. It is a divine, selfless openness and acceptance. It is a complete and total lack of resistance to the reality of the present moment, a surrender to the wisdom of God and the universe. It is a pure love for all that is, including the present situation.

In a post I did earlier, quoting from David Hawkins, I mentioned that this unconditional and universal love and acceptance is the first step to enlightenment. As a side benefit, as you perfect it, fear begins to disappear in your life.

There are other spiritual practices that can help transcend fear. People who have had near-death experiences report that the experience leaves them with a complete lack of fear. While we can’t deliberately have a near-death experience simply to cultivate this benefit, many of the same benefits can occur when we master astral travel, or out-of-body experiences. By having first-hand experience that we are more than just our physical bodies, and that our consciousness transcends our physical life, we lose some of our fear of physical dangers.

For particular phobias, hypnosis and self-hypnosis can also be helpful tools to rearrange our mental wiring.

Have you had good success with a particular method for overcoming fear? Share it with us in the comments.

How to Write a Love Poem

heart So, Valentine’s day is upon us and you still need a wonderful gift. Why not try something that shows more personal effort than a card and will be treasured for years? Poetry makes a wonderful gift, it costs only your time and it is deeply appreciated – even if it isn’t very good (trust me on that). But what if you don’t know how to write poetry? Let me walk you through the process. It’s not really hard at all.

Pick a topic – imagine a scene.

You need to pick a general theme for your poem. The trick to good poetry is good imagery. Poetry should paint a picture with words. So first you need to paint a picture in your mind. Think of the person you want to write for and imagine or remember a wonderful situation with them. It might simply be looking at them fondly at their most beautiful (or handsome) . It might be sitting together by a fire, or walking through a meadow. Imagine the scene in vivid detail. Add as much interesting visual detail to your imaginary scene as you can manage. For the example, I’m going to remember a scene of relaxing in a little beach restaurant in Mexico on a vacation I took with my wife. I’m just making this up as I write the post, so don’t expect Dante.

Pick a format

If you like, you can simply write in “free verse”. Simply use your best words to take little pictures of what you see in your mind. Keep the sentences relatively short. Something like this:

I remember that day in Mexico.
Making our way across the sandy beach to that small cantina.
It was so warm and lazy to sit there with you,
Sipping our margaritas in the shade.

You get the idea. For a conclusion, you can comment on why you remember the occasion or why it is meaningful to you. Using my example, it might be something like:

No matter how busy our life has been since,
A part of me will always be there with you,
Enjoying the sun on a perfect day.

Free verse is great if you have only a little time or little talent for poetry. But rhyming poetry isn’t as hard as you think. Make your poem really impressive and use a romantic rhyme scheme. For this example I’m going to write a Shakespearian sonnet. You’ll see that it isn’t as difficult as you think.

Writing a sonnet

The rhyme scheme of a Shakespearian sonnet is this: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. I’ll explain. You write three quatrains – groups of four lines where the first line rhymes with the third, and the second line rhymes with the fourth. Here’s an example from Shakespear’s Sonnet 54.

O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.

“Seem” rhymes with “deem” and “give” with “live”. Easy. And notice the nice images. But don’t worry if you can’t quite equal Shakespeare. The honor of having a sonnet written just for her can overcome a lot of bad style. The sonnet finishes up with a “couplet” of two rhyming lines. In the case of Sonnet 54, they are:

And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.


One more little detail, a Shakespearian sonnet is written in pentameter. That means that if you read the line, it has five “beats”. If you were reading it in time to a drum beat, the drum would beat five times. Like this:

O HOW/ much MORE / doth BEAUty/ BEAUteous/ SEEM/

A common mistake of beginning poets is to mess up the meter, and put more beats on one line than another. But don’t worry too much about it. The effort counts much more than the meter. Just try to keep it in mind.

Choosing rhymes.

Ok, now we come to the part that stumps would-be poets. Finding rhymes. English is a language that doesn’t rhyme very well, and many of our words have no rhymes at all. A common problem beginning poets have is to write a nice line, and then search around desperately for some word to rhyme with the last word of it. Here’s a little secret. Save yourself some grief and pick your rhymes FIRST, and then fit the writing of your line around it.

Go to a site like (a rhyming dictionary). Now think back to the scene you are describing and think of some simple words that you might use. For example, in my Mexico scene I won’t pick the word Mexico. But some simple words like sand, sun, breeze, day,  sea, blue. Type them into the rhyming dictionary and see which ones have lots of rhymes, and put those on your list to use. You can always use words like love, heart, sweet and similar romance words also. For example, if I type in “blue”, I get a huge list of words. Many of them aren’t going to be useful, but scanning the list, I find such words as: clue, drew, due, few, flew, grew, hue, knew, through, two, true, you, who.

You need to pick out seven nice pairs of rhymes (two for each quatrain and one for the couplet at the end). I’ll pick blue and you, day and way,  sand and stand, sun and done, sea and free, breeze and ease, heart and part, and finally sweet and complete.

Writing the quatrains

Ok, let’s pick two set of rhymes, remember our theme and images, and see what we can come up with. For my first quatrain, I’ll pick day and way, sand and stand.

How beautiful you looked that autumn day
In Mexico, while walking through the sand
Of Mazatlan, collecting on our way
A carving of a saint, kept close at hand

As I wrote, I made a few adjustments. I decided on “hand” instead of stand for a rhyme. I’ve re-scanned the lines to make sure they all have five beats. Notice how I’ve continued the thoughts onto the next l ine. There’s nothing that says you have to end your thought at the end of a line. But don’t use periods.

Moving along, I work another quatrain

We strolled into a cafe by the sea
Escaping from the swelter of the heat
That table seemed a paradise to me
Your lovely presence making it complete.

A couple more changes. I decided on “me” instead of “free” to rhyme with “sea”. That’s why it’s important to pick words with lots of rhymes. It gives you more flexibility. I started off with “escaping from the swelter of the sun” for the second line, but had trouble working in “done” to the last. I finally picked an whole new set and went with “heat” and “complete”.

Another quatrain to go…

The sea was such a perfect crystal blue
The flavors from the meal so rich and sweet
That only through the sharing it with you
Could any happiness be more complete

Ah, that one worked out well. No changes and it flowed nicely. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Writing the couplet

Now we get to the hard part. At least for me. The bottom two lines should rhyme, and they should sum up the theme of the poem. That gives you a little less latitude with the words you choose. I usually save my best rhyming words for the couplet. Here goes…

The day passed on, we needed to depart
And yet it lives forever in my heart

Ended up switching “depart” for part. Not completely happy with the couplet, but I rarely am. Still, It’s not terrible.

Now write it up on some nice paper with your best penmanship, put on a nice dedication, and you have a thoughtful gift. Even if you just went with the “free verse” option, I’ll wager you’ll do well with it.

If any of you try my idea, let me know how you do with it. Or post your poems here (if they aren’t too personal).

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. He is also one of the most interesting and persuasive writers about food, nutrition, agriculture and nature available.

I first ran into Michael listening to the Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’m not sure quite why I picked the book up, but I’m glad I did. What Michael does in that book is trace the history of four different meals from their origin to the table. In the process, he explores topics of agribusiness, food processing, advertisement and natural resources. As one reviewer put it, no one else except perhaps Stephen King can make a corn field seem so sinister. Michel is also one of the minds behind the movie Food Inc.

Readers loved the Omnivores Dilemma, but the reaction he got was “Ok, so what we eat is terrible for us. What SHOULD we eat?” His response to that was to write In Defense of Food, and Food Rules, which investigate nutrition and food science and try to come up with a workable answer to our eating dilemma based on traditional culture.

All of Pollan’s writing is richly researched, but written in an entertaining style. You’ll have trouble putting his books down, as he leads you from one unexpected fact or discovery to another. And he will inspire you with a desire to eat food that is more natural, traditional, locally grown and healthy. Apply his principles with dedication and you may just save your own life AND the planet.

Below is a brief clip of Michael answering questions about his book, Food Rules.

Food Rules

In writing his latest two books, Food Rules and the earlier In Defense of Food, author and professor Michael Pollan had a surprising revelation. With most of his previous (well-researched) books, he found that subjects that seemed to be simple on the surface turned out to be more complx and ambiguous when you looked into them deeply. But when

investigating the question “What should we eat?” Pollan was surprised to find just the opposite. For all the complex and contradictory diet advice coming out of nutritional and food science, all the parties agreed on two very simple facts.

1. The traditional Western, highly processed diet will kill you. It causes obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and a host of other troubles. Every culture that adopts it suffers drastic increases in these diseases.

2. Cultures that do NOT eat a Western diet manage to live on a wide variety of traditional diets, ranging from high-carb to high-fat to high-protien – all without high rates of these chronic Western diseases.

And a related truth:

3. When Westerners stop eating a Western diet – their health improves quickly and dramatically.

You would think that agreements on these points would make diet choices easy and nutritional research simple. But instead of focusing on dropping the Western diet, nutrition and food scientists spend all their time squabbling about exactly what  isolated nutrient or lack of it is the issue. Is it processed carbs? Omega 6 vs Omega 3 fatty acids? Dairy? High fructose corn syrup? Artificial colors and sweetners?

Why this confusion over a simple subject? In a word, money. Food manufacturers don’t get rich by selling you a few cents worth of corn. They get rich by taking a few cents worth of corn, processing it into high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, xanthan gum, malto-dextran – combining it into some unnatural monstrosity of a breakfast cereal, squirting the latest “fad” ingredient into it,  and then selling it to you for four bucks a box. They want to isolate the “good” things in a traditional diet so they can artificially add them to their processed foods, slap health claims on the label, and still make enormous profits. And the health industry isn’t doing too bad either selling us expensive maintenance drugs for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and the like.

So, putting aside the deliberately confusing and self-promoting diet “recommendations” of food “science”, Pollan reaches back into traditional cultures and produces a book of “rules” for how to eat well. They are actually more personal policies. This is an expanded version of the rules he outlined in his previous book, In Defense of Food. This book doesn’t have all the meticulously researched history and science of the previous book. It’s a short, simple guidebook that you can read in an afternoon, full of wisdom that will stick with you.

The rules are divided up into three sections – What to eat (food), what KIND of food to eat (mostly plants) and HOW to eat (not too much). Here are a few examples from each section.

Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

…so much for xanthan gum.

Don’t eat  breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

…no, “Fruit Loops” are not fruit.

Do all your eating at a table

…no, a desk is NOT a table.

You get the idea. A lot of the rules are deliberately redundant. Pollan hopes that of all his rules, a few from each section will be memorable enough to stick with you. All it takes is a few rules from each category to drastically improve the way you eat.

This is the shortest book you will ever read on diet, but it’s all you need. Carry it with you. Memorize as many of the rules as you can, and this small book will make huge changes in your health.

The Habits of Happiness

Today I wanted to inaugurate a new section of – our video theater. I have previously used video links in various sections and book reviews when available. Now I thought I’d devote a new section to inspiring video messages, beginning with this “Ted” talk by Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard on the Habits of Happiness

The Soulmate Secret

The Soulmate Secret by Arielle Ford. As I am coming up on my 28th wedding anniversary, I wasn’t particularly in the market for a book on attracting a soulmate. But I saw this book in the “New” section of the library and thought it would be worth reviewing for the benefit of the many people who ARE focused on finding a soulmate. I’m glad I did, because the ideas and techniques are an excellent roundup of ways to manifest anything at all. They are tailored for finding a partner, but they are also good basic manifestational practices.

The author has been closely involved with many people in the “manifestational” movement, including working on “The Secret”, so its hardly surprising that the book reads like a workbook for “Secret” readers. But the additional detail and examples make it well worth reading.

Arielle deals with techniques like a treasure-map (or vision board), The “List”,  Feng Shui, mandalas, and exercises, activities and visualizations for preparing yourself, releashing old attachments, “feathering your nest”, forgiving yourself, releasing your desires to the universe, and enjoying the waiting time. She illustrates all these points with wonderful stories and quotations along the way. Some of the stories are quite remarkable, such as the man who, in the course of trying to attract his soulmate, woke up from a dream with a phone number running through his head. He sent a text message to that number, and the back and forth conversations with the woman on the other end led to a meeting and falling in love. And lest we think she’s only an armchair expert, she shares the story of how she used her own methods to attract her soulmate and husband Brian.

If finding a soulmate is a big need in your life, I’d highly recommend this book. Anyone who wants to manifest anything at all would also find it a good summary of manifestational methods.

Below is an interview with Arielle about her book.

Related Posts with Thumbnails