Lessons From the Dying

Hospice worker Kathleen Taylor shares insights from the dying that remind us how to live now. “People at the end of their lives are incapable of bullshit” – “at the end, people become these pure, distilled, crystallized, authentic versions of who they are” – “people talk about things they’ve never talked about before – they will reconsider things they’ve been certain about their entire lives – they do brave stuff like change their mind, and apologize, and forgive, they express love where it needs to be expressed, they find joy in the smallest moments” – “other things fall away at the end:  being right, being guilty, being busy, being self-conscious, being important…” The number one regret of the dying? “I wish I had had the courage to live a life true to myself, and not to what others expected of me”. “Dying people teach us that it’s never too late to shed what is false, and to become who we truly are”. “Take a hint from how people live their last days. If you really want to live every day like it’s your last, then do some introspection, discover and express your amazing uniqueness in the world, stop bullshitting, make your life story about how you truly are, because I believe the world needs you  

To Find Forgiveness in Everything

It’s easy to love through a cold spring when the poles of the willows turn green pollen falls like a yellow curtain and the scent of Paper Whites clots the air but to love for a lifetime takes talent you have to mix yourself with the strange beauty of someone else wake each morning for 72,000 mornings in a row so breathed and bound and tangled that you can hardly sort out your arms and legs you have to find forgiveness in everything even ink stains and broken cups you have to be willing to move through life together the way the long grasses move in a field when you careen blindly toward the other side there’s never going to be anything straight or predictable about your path except the flattening and the springing back you just go on walking for years hand in hand waist deep in the weeds bent slightly forward like two question marks and all the while it burns my dear it burns beautifully above you and goes on burning like a relentless sun – Mary  

PopTech 2010

At the PopTech conference this week in Camden Maine. A small gathering of people conspiring to generate positive world change. The format is TED-like, but the demographic seems about 15 years younger, which is a welcome difference. You might enjoy a couple of videos filmed this week at Poptech. The first is a very funny guy named Reggie Watts. The second is from our sail around Camden Harbor with adventurer David de Rothschild, leader of the Plastiki Expedition. David talks briefly about Plastiki and the essential power of storytelling. Enjoy. Reggie Watts: Part 1 from PopTech on  

Six Simple Ideas

A nice little pitch-placed montage of pop scientists singing the praises of objectivity. I resonate with this thread. Science is a kind of poetry of shared reality. As Dawkins chirps, “science replaces private prejudices with publicly verifiable evidence.” World religion is fragmented into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of competing frameworks, with no central mediating idea. And while science can boast of central unifying tenets, it cannot address the depths of the human heart, the human spirit, the reality of hope (see Havel quote prior post). Maybe someday it will, but for now most of us embrace metaphysical metaphor to help make sense of mystery, death, and self. It is here: where objectivity meets mystery — where science meets spirituality — that our most important conversations are taking place. The world of religion can learn much from the scientific method, yet religion persists in trying to jam its clumsy superstitions into elegant, well-establish meta-patterns. Conversely, science, in its assumption that it can eventually objectify all reality, misses the fact that it hasn’t. Science would be well-served by integrating an engaged, conversational respect for the views of transcendence that currently fuel many of the planet’s greatest hopes and dreams. I’ve encountered a number of scientists who, while remaining atheistic or agnostic, have developed a healthy posture towards spirituality. Fact is, most scientists do maintain a sense of spirituality and/or faith. It’s a serious problem that the 5% militant extremes (on both sides) are often seen as the norm. As I mentioned here some years ago, physicist, astronomer, and atheist Marcelo Gleiser (Dartmouth) weighed in on the war between science and religion. He warns fellow scientists that they are becoming “as radical as the religious extremists, as inflexible and intolerant as the movements we seek to exterminate by our oh-so-crystal-clear-and-irresistibly-compelling rationalizations.” Gleiser admits that science cannot offer the humanly essential qualities of hope, peace, charity, and spirit. He concludes, “It is futile and naive to simply dismiss the need people have for spirituality… either science will teach us humility and respect for life or we will exterminate this most precious cosmic jewel. I am optimistic that scientists will teach people these lessons, instead of simply trying to rob them of their faith and offering nothing in return.” My public journal (aka blog) exists, in part, because of my desire to see greater consilience between science/technology and faith/spirituality. Numerous science/spirit resources can be found in the sidebar. What’s needed in today’s rapidly connecting global culture, especially religious culture, is a way towards understanding the nature of unhealthy bias – how it clouds our thinking. Philosopher/scientist Massimo Pigliucci (NYU) offers six simple ideas that can help us overcome this “meta-bias” — our “not wanting to be wrong.” – Divorce your belief from your self – Think of disagreements as collaborative, not adversarial – Visualize being wrong – Take the long view – Congratulate yourself on being objective, not on being right – If you can’t overcome your competitive instinct, re-direct it Until we “become fine with being wrong” we will continue to harbor survival techniques which force us to hold on to irrational meta-biases. I journal this more as a reminder to myself than anyone  

Favorite TED Talks 2010

Great to see Bill Gates taking global energy seriously. In fact, he publicly stated from the TED stage last week what I’ve been saying since 2003:  energy is this century’s greatest structural issue. Fellow TED’ster Richard Branson went public this week with a similar clarion call. Worldchanging founder Alex Steffan, whom I spoke with at length, calls this “the most important climate speech of the year.” Sir Ken Robinson defined once again the highest art of public speaking. TED curator, Chris Anderson, noted after Ken’s talk that he may be the only person who can break all the TEDTalk rules – and we love him for it. Robinson focused on why education needs to change from an industrial model to an agricultural model. I think the same can be said of religion. Echoes of Wendell Berry. Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot took us through a stunning visualization of design simplicity, in the form of fractals. I had a chance to spend some time with Benoit at TED, discussing emergence theory in light of fractal geometry and the Mandelbrot set. The music at TED this year was stunning: David Byrne (who also gave a TEDTalk), Thomas Dolby, and Natalie Merchant melted us with a brand new suite of songs based on romantic poets from the last 100 years. Cheryl Crow showed up, but probably shouldn’t have. Not much there musically. Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon and family, and other musicians were soaking up the TED experience, but not there to perform. Oh, and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro captivated everyone. I’ve never heard a uke played with such subtlety – a true master of the instrument. I understand he gave impromptu concerts back in the lobby of the TED hotel. Anyone who takes the stage at TED is unpaid, including the invited musicians. Drawing from the field of Behavioral Economics, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman presented what amounted to an intellectual foundation for our activist social-media site Compathos.com. Dan asks, “when we return from a vacation, do the memories we bring back have intrinsic value?” Compathos (still in beta) seeks to realign the concept of “vacation” as a proactive event in which we aid or assist our destination with skills we possess (medical, engineering, skilled labor, crafts, etc..) and in doing so, we become deeply changed – bringing back to our own communities a new perspective, a new heart, and transformed motivations – far more than a traditional vacation memory. Sam Harris gave a surprisingly engaging talk. Rather than rehashing his views on atheism, Harris focused on finding an objective framework for morality and ethics. I’m reminded of Arthur C. Clarke, who said “one of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion.” Kevin Bales presented a detailed, moving account of global slavery. It’s Kevin’s academic work that gave us the estimate of 27 million slaves worldwide. His work in slavery has effectively paved the way for most of today’s anti-slave efforts. I was honored to have lunch with Kevin after TED ended on Saturday – what a truly amazing man. Game designer Jane McGonigal sees video gaming as a core solution to many of today’s social problems. Don’t laugh – her TEDTalk is a must-watch. Brilliant. Cell biologist Mark Roth is onto something big. He’s discovered a way to put biological systems into suspended animation. Using his techniques, people who would otherwise die from serious trauma on the battlefield, in car accidents, etc.. can be placed into suspension (heart and breathing stopped – effectively dead) for hours without tissue damage while they are transported to a trauma center. Jaw dropping. Entertainer Sarah Silverman reminded me of those shallow and bawdy Las Vegas night club comedians from my parent’s era (Redd Foxx, etc..). With kids sharing the live TED experience both in Long Beach and virtual associates worldwide, this was not a wise choice. Live and learn. But many of the best talks were those that happened between sessions, in the halls, in the social spaces, at the lunches, and dinners, and parties, and spontaneous gatherings that define the TED experience. To elaborate on all the amazing, emotive, high-energy, a-ha! conversations I had this year might sound like name-dropping, so I’ll spare you the details. I go to TED to get energized, inspired, challenged, and awestruck by and with amazing people doing amazing things. I spend a week of my life here to renew a sense of childlike wonder and remind myself that I’m not crazy – that there are others who dare to dream big. ADDED:  Eighteen-year TED veteran Jack Meyers captures the scope and nuance of a TED Conference in his Huffington Post essay ADDED: Scoble’s excellent summary of attending TED ADDED: Overview of Bill Gates’ energy talk, at  

Keats Tuesday (for Cynthia)

My dearest Girl, This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else “The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you again[s]t the unpromising morning of my Life” My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you “I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again” my Life seems to stop there “I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving “I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love” You note came in just here “I cannot be happier away from you ” ‘T is richer than an Argosy of Pearles. Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion ” I have shudder’d at it ” I shudder no more ” I could be martyr’d for my Religion ” Love is my religion ” I could die for that ” I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet ” You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more ” the pain would be too great ” My Love is selfish ” I cannot breathe without you. Yours for ever John  

Greek To Me

Chris Anderson’s TED organization continues to amaze me. I just checked on my TED Talk page and see that it has been volunteer-translated into nine languages, including Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Portuguese. Each translator donates their time to the broader TED community (the “TED community” is anyone who contributes to, or benefits from, TED talks, blog, forums, etc.). My Greek translator is Nicholas Koutris, a former paratrooper in the Greek Special Forces and masters graduate in Economics from University of Rotterdam. Says Nicholas about TED, About TED I believe that this knowledge distribution is crucial for the development and the consciousness of the people. In ten minutes of ted presentation, you gain knowledge equivalent to hours of lectures. This is Educational acceleration, Exponential learning… you name it! That is what surprises me and makes me feel committed! Arabic translation was given by Anour Dafa-Alla, the first Sudanese to participate in the IOI — and fellow countryman and technologist, Adel Ibraham. Acceleration in learning is real. It is happening all over the planet as the microprocessor creates previously unthinkable bridges between people. Nine people (so far) have translated a talk by someone they don’t know, whom they may never meet, but in whose ideas they found enough value to invest precious time. This is a very exciting and promising time to be alive. We are interconnecting exponentially. One more thought.. Cynthia and I watched a documentary last night called As We Forgive. This movie won the Student Academy Award for its filmmaker Laura Waters, along with numerous top festival awards. Laura was interviewed recently on the Compathos site. I encourage everyone to view this deeply stirring account of raw humanity at both its most terrible and transcendent extremes. Among the most powerful and important films we’ve ever  

Might Against Might

Sometimes a prophet can appear in the most unlikely place. Rushkoff promotes the ideal of small, local, viral, organic change against the idea of fighting power with power. One of the best two-minutes you’ll spend today. Life Inc. Dispatch 01: Crisis as Opportunity from Douglas  

Restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider

from Paul Hawken’s commencement speech at the University of Portland: “…This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way… What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past…” Read  

A Truism for the World

I’m learning many things during this season in Fiji, what I learned today is a truism for the world. Our tribal, socioeconomic, country, and religious lines of discord and division vanish when we’re confronted with a story like Roslyn’s. There’s a place for debate and civil discussion when it comes to our ideas and spiritual understandings, but it can’t divide us. Many of the powers that be, especially those within religion, are at work to remind us of all that we’re not. Reminding us of how different we are, of our divided history, and of the wrongs that have been done to us or to our friends and family. A unifying movement is finding its roots in the world that I’m seeing. Through the dividing lines, tribal wars, and common misunderstandings, deep within our bones there’s a collective goodness that binds our humanity together. It’s in these moments that I’m awakened to this reality often unseen. Reminding ourselves of our intrinsic unity is our continued challenge. A challenge that can start with a seven year old girl who has a brain tumor and continue with erasing poverty or the lack of clean drinking water. It goes beyond ourselves and into our communities and the world surrounding us. This is true not because of where we come from or because of our religiosity. We come together to help one another because it reflects our one humanity.   –  Stephen and Lindsay Mook Stephen and Lindsay Mook are serving at a school for deaf Fijian children. Read Roslyn’s story