Mystic Microsoft: A Journey of Transformation in the Halls of High Technology


Make a DonationOrder Printed CopiesChapter Fourteen

Breakthrough

 

One of my favorite books—out of the two hundred or so that I read during my years at Microsoft—was The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler. It presents convincing archeological evidence that the ancient civilization of Crete was not of the barbaric and primitive variety that we normally assume for its era but rather one that was more culturally advanced than our own. Though lacking in technology, Crete enjoyed harmony, peace, and joy as the norm. In comparison to our hectic world and all its so-called "conveniences," Crete's legacy challenges us to reexamine our fundamental principles about what life is and how best to live it.

Within this context Eisler presents her Cultural Evolution Theory. Every so often, she says, there comes a time when a civilization must make a critical choice: shall it be based on principles of domination or shall it be based on principles cooperation and partnership? With plenty of historical evidence to back her claims, Eisler demonstrates that choosing the dominator model invariably leads to collapse whereas choosing the partnership model leads to new cultural advancements. She then goes on to show rather persuasively that we are facing just such a critical juncture in our own era: we ourselves must make the choice.

When I read the book in early 1995 I was deeply inspired—its profound ideas offered an expansive scope for my efforts to describe OLE's "Life Purpose" (see Chapter Twelve). In particular, I clearly saw how our broader culture's critical juncture was reflected in the software industry. Open-source projects aside, today's software industry is mostly based on domination: millions of users are essentially at the mercy of a few powerful software companies, Microsoft being the foremost. Although these companies take enormous pains to serve customer needs, most consumers have little or no direct influence on the software that they're more or less compelled to use. That is, they really don't get software that works how they personally want it to work: they have to do things the way the software wants it done, no matter how many focus groups and customer studies went into its design. This is the fundamental reason why so many people find computers frustrating and annoying.

This problem is a natural outgrowth of the way we learned to build software in the first place. Way back in the annals of computer science we find that a computer application was a program designed to solve a very specific problem. The earliest computers, in fact, were hard-wired to do one thing and one thing only, like deciphering encryption codes during World War II. "Programming" back then was, in fact, an integral part of a computer's physical construction.

Then someone came up with the basic idea of an operating system—a layer that isolated programs from the specifics of the computer's hardware thereby allowing you to load and run any number of distinct programs on the same physical machine. Programming now became a completely separate field and created, as a result, thousands of opportunities for specialized "software engineers." When someone wanted to use a computer for a particular problem they gave a detailed problem description (the specification) to some programmers who then created a specific solution to that problem: the application. When the application had served its purpose it was archived or tossed out altogether; only a few of these programs could effectively be applied to other problems.

The only difficulty with this approach was that it took a long time to get problems solved—it could take years before an application was perfected. So people began looking for ways to solve multiple problems with one application. Gradually they developed general-purpose programs that each solved a class of problems rather than a specific one.

This was another tremendous boon for the computer industry as a whole. Suddenly you could go to a store and buy an off-the-shelf software package and adapt it to your particular needs. I stress that word "adapt"¯—a word processor only knows about the abstraction of a "document"¯; it really doesn't know about things like a resume or a letter to grandma. A spreadsheet program only knows about pages of interlinked cells—it doesn't really have a clue about things like ledgers and balance sheets.

This means that the users of that software are left with the task of adaptation: they have to bridge the gap between their specific needs and the software's particular abstraction. End-users have to create the document templates, the relationships be­tween cells in a spreadsheet, and all the tables and queries in a database.

This process of mental mapping is exactly what computer users find the most difficult. In response, software companies like Microsoft have done their best over the years to make things easier, even magnificently so. The most notable developments are the templates and "wizards" that automate thousands of specialized tasks—run a wizard, answer a few simple questions, and the computer does just about everything else. In addition, hundreds of customization features—including built-in programming languages like Visual Basic—have brought us closer than ever to having true applications (problem-specific solutions). And all this has brought even greater prosperity to the industry as a whole.

But it has come at the cost of skyrocketing complexity: our software keeps getting bigger, slower, and more expensive and time-consuming to produce; sophisticated programs are increasingly difficult to maintain with a high degree of quality; and despite all the help from wizards and whatnot, end users actually have to understand more abstractions than ever. (At least now they can hire consultants—yet another specialized profession—for this purpose.)

As I reflected on this state of affairs I just couldn't see how it could go on too much longer. We've been fortunate that computer hardware keeps improving at the rate it has (faster processors, cheaper memory, larger hard drives, etc.).[*] But can it go on forever, or even another half-century? I wasn't so sure: someday the sheer complexity of it all would have to collapse under its own weight"...unless"...unless there was some kind of fundamental shift at the very source of the problem.

This is where I saw OLE coming into its own. Rather than just adding more fuel to the fires of complexity, OLE brought a new simplicity. It made it possible to build software in a new way, the catalyst for a real breakthrough.

Traditionally speaking, applications were generally built as a single, massive monolith with everything packaged into a single executable (EXE) file. Over time it became desirable to break out parts of those programs into stand-alone modules that could be shared with other programs, thereby reducing the size and complexity of them all. Technologies like OLE very much facilitated the process. Nevertheless, many applications are still built around a fundamentally monolithic architecture.

OLE introduced a different fundamental architecture altogether: the ability to create complex software from discrete components. Rather than sharable modules being used merely as add-ons to larger monolithic programs, those programs could themselves be built with such components from the ground up. As a result, the enormous processing power available to us today could be focused much more precisely on those features that are actually being used rather than committed to an ever-increasing array of highly-specialized features that many users never invoke.

An associate of mine at Microsoft, Crispin Goswell, demonstrated this potential by assembling, from small OLE-based components, a program that offered most of the same features as Microsoft Word—one of the largest and most complex personal computer programs in the world—yet was significantly smaller and much faster. It was so fast, in fact, that when Crispin scrolled through a thousand-page document with blinding speed I didn't believe his program was actually reading information from the hard drive.

Even more impressive was the fact that each of his components were, in themselves, relatively simple: one person like Crispin was able to understand, develop, test, and maintain everything himself. In comparison, a complex application like Word demands a large team to build and maintain it.[†]

The possibility of such dramatic progress—in both speed and simplicity—was utterly thrilling to me: OLE had the potential to truly revolutionize how software was built. But it went even deeper than that—the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it could also revolutionize who could build applications in the first place.

Consider this thought: systems built on a reasonably large number of simple components allow for significantly more combinations—and are thus far more flexible and adaptable—than those based on a small number of complex components. The ninety or so stable chemical elements of the periodic table can be combined into billions of wondrous forms from the simple to the elaborate. If, on the other hand, our "elements" were a Mickey Mouse telephone, a cheetah, a stalk of broccoli, and a Saturn V moon rocket, the world would be a pretty dull place.

The technological future I saw with OLE's component model, then, was one in which many smaller software companies—even individuals—would produce tens of thousands of highly diversified building blocks as opposed to having only a few large companies like Microsoft produce a mere handful of general-purpose megaliths. With these components it would be a simple matter, as Crispin had already proved, to construct many of today's applications without any loss of functionality. At the same time, those very components could be used to build literally millions of other special-purpose applications more quickly and more economically than ever before.

This was the key: people's real needs would be served better than ever, making computers far easier to use and thereby far more attractive to employ in one's day-to-day activities. This would, in turn, catalyze a tremendous expansion of the entire industry, and within that expansion it would be logistically impossible for any one company, even Microsoft, to grow quickly enough to fill in all the gaps. While big software companies would continue to thrive there would also be innumerable opportunities for many smaller ones. Everyone, in short, could emerge a winner!

And if this wasn't enough of a boon itself, I figured that with enough components, profitably produced, it would become possible to truly build exact solutions to specific problems—true applications—virtually on demand. Users would no longer have to wait months or years for new programs or feature updates: their needs could be fulfilled within weeks, maybe days. I could even see a time when users wouldn't have to wait at all. With likely advances in speech recognition and the ability for a computer to actually understand what you say, there would come a time when you could simply tell the computer what you wanted to do and the exact application that met your specific needs would be built on the spot. All that tedious mental mapping would be completely eliminated.

Power would thus shift from the big software companies to the individual computer user. Diversity, not domination, would be the rule; cooperation—critical to the interoperability of components—would replace cutthroat competition.

My heart overflowed with joy the more I thought about such possibilities. The sheer simplicity of this new paradigm would be not only wonderful for technology but also wonderful for all the people involved. And not just for end-users, mind you, but also for programmers—building small, focused components was far more enjoyable than working on some obscure part of a huge monolith. What's more, cooperation just felt better. If there's one thing that's always saddened me about the software industry it's the degree of selfishness and greed that I've encountered in both individuals and corporations. Anything that might encourage people toward generosity and self-expansion was, to my mind, a worthwhile cause.

"Now isn't that a fascinating thought!" I reflected. "What would be the effect of this fundamental shift on the hundreds of millions of people who might use computers in this new way? If people knew, even vaguely, that a cooperative approach had produced the best solutions to their technical problems, would they perhaps begin to approach the rest of their lives in a more cooperative manner as well? Would they learn, in day-to-day living, to choose cooperation over selfish competition? Would they decide, in fact, to choose partnership over domination?"¯

If so, this simple technological shift could very well be a deciding factor in Eisler's cultural breakthrough. OLE's "Life Purpose" was thus a very deep purpose indeed!

* * * * *

Now you should know that this whole thought process was a somewhat drastic extension of the job I had been given at Microsoft to find OLE's "positioning" (see Chapter Twelve). Even when I shared only the strictly technological and economic aspects with my closest associ­ates, I definitely found myself pushing their limits of comfort and convention.

Nevertheless, I could not ignore such extraordinary possibilities. I was increasingly searching for meaning in my life as a whole and I needed to find meaning in my work. I simply wasn't doing it to just have fun or to make money: I needed a high aspiration, something universal. Without some sense of meaning, life seemed a futile exercise filled with cares and worries over endless trivialities.

I found meaning in my vision of OLE: the more I worked with it the more it seemed a doorway through which I might even find the answers to certain deep philosophical questions. As I mentioned in Chapter Twelve, I almost wrote a paper called "OLE and the Meaning of Life." In any case, doing my utmost to make this vision a reality, even if it took the rest of my career, was the most worthwhile and inspiring activity I could think of. Indeed, I thought of it as my very responsibility to the world and to Life itself.

And Life seemed to respond favorably with new opportunities that supported my resolution. First, I needed to update my book to cover a few things I had omitted before and to include chapters on some more recent additions to the OLE technologies. In the process of editing the whole book again I tried to align even my most detailed discussions with my overall vision. Each chapter led step by step to the last one in which I articulated my dreams for the future. And so there it was—when this new book, Inside OLE 2nd Edition, came out in May of 1995, I had committed my aspirations to print.[‡]

During my work on this second edition came another timely opportunity: one of the original OLE architects asked me to join the OLE design team. His invitation couldn't have come at a better time—Developer Relations was being reorganized, and because OLE no longer needed much evangelism there was talk of having me do the same thing all over again with other upcoming technologies like Interactive Television. Given that I didn't even watch TV and that it was OLE that had really won my heart, it was easy to leave DRG. In March of 1995 I joined the OLE Program Management group where I hoped to guide the technology toward my highest goals.[§]

A third opportunity came through my public status as the "OLE guru" (which had, by now, become so focused on me, personally, that people pretty much forgot that I stilled worked for Microsoft). Invitations to give lectures continued to pour in, each one giving me a new platform from which to share my ambitious vision. One such engagement, the Visual C++ Developer's Conference (Santa Clara, California, June 1995), came right after the publication of Inside OLE 2nd Edition. It was a golden opportunity in this regard—to a receptive audience of over fifteen hundred I gave my talk called "What OLE is Really About." Again, this talk was easily the best technical talk I've ever given, sparkling with joy and wonder throughout all ninety minutes.

The presentation was a complete success—people were both inspired by what I had said and seemed to intuitively understand what I was driving at. This, combined with everything else, gave me good reason to feel that I was onto something of real importance. With coordination, cooperation, and certainly a lot of hard work, I felt wholly certain that we—as an industry, not just Microsoft—could transform the way software was written, improve the lives of millions, and uplift the very consciousness of the planet. More than ever I resolved to dedicate my energies to this purpose.

* * * * *

I had driven down to this conference in Santa Clara from my home near Seattle so I could enjoy a long, peaceful drive up the Coastal Highway as a little vacation afterwards. First I visited my dear friend and fellow author/lecturer, Bruce Eckel, in a small town in Marin County. Then I enjoyed the expansive beaches of Point Reyes before winding my way northward to Humboldt State Park and some silent communion with the ancient redwoods. Farther north, at Arcata, I spent an inspiring sunrise with the residents of a bird sanctuary. On into Oregon I took the opportunity to visit a wild game park where one can mingle with, touch, and even hug an assortment of animals including goats, llamas, and deer. And before heading home I spent several quiet days in oceanside solitude at the small town of Yachats (pronounced YAH-hots), where incoming waves get funneled through narrow, rocky channels and burst into the heavens like the geysers of Yellowstone.

In removing myself from my normal routine, and from the influence of people in general, so many little concerns melted away. Speech became unnecessary; silence reigned. The restless thoughts of my mind slowed considerably, even coming to a complete halt now and then, allowing me time to calmly reflect upon my present life and the future to come.

During this seclusion, a deeper part of myself got an all-too-rare chance to speak. Above the soothing background hum of the ocean, my soul reminded me that something was missing. Was it certain material possessions or extravagant vacations? No, my wife Kristi and I had everything we wanted and the wherewithal to acquire anything else we might desire for years to come. Was it that we had recently decided not to raise a family of our own? No, neither one of us felt drawn in that direction at the time. Was it an absence of values that were important to me? No, those I had uncovered with the help of Richard Brodie's book Getting Past OK (see Chapter Twelve). Love, wholeness, an expanded awareness, connection with life, openness to truth"...these essentially defined my personal religion. And I could clearly see how my future work with OLE would provide many means to fulfill those needs.

So what was missing? Finally it became clear: deep down, at the very center of my soul, I realized I was lonely. There was an emptiness that no outward relationships, possessions, or ambitions seemed able to fill. It was a very real sense of how transitory everything in life truly is. Whether stolen, lost, or destroyed in fire, everything I owned would someday be taken away—by death if nothing else. So too with my relationships—someday either my wife or I would pass away before the other. Children (as have entered our lives more recently) would grow up and leave home without any guarantee that they'd "keep us alive" in them. Parents, friends, teachers, celebrities—countless others!—they would all vanish from the stage of time. So would any company, any job, and any career—including every technological dream I had for OLE. All that would remain is what's inside, the consciousness and love dwelling at the center of my own being.

And I wasn't sure that there was anything in there at all!


The redwoods in Humbolt State Park, California.


Sunrise at the Arcata Bird Sanctuary.


The shoreline in Yachats, OR


A short movie clip of the geyser waves at Yachats, OR (QuickTime format)


* * * * *

When I returned home in mid-June from my (ha-ha!) "vacation," I was in inner turmoil: on the one hand, I cared deeply about my goals for component-based software; on the other hand, I knew that they would never fulfill the deeper purpose of my existence nor would they be able to fill that emptiness in my heart. I kept having to ask myself, "What truly gives life meaning?" Yes, I had some answers in the form of my most important values but I had no idea how to really live them or how to bring them into the very core of my being. What, indeed, was my "being"¯? Who was this "me"¯?

The more I asked such questions, the more I found myself returning out of necessity to matters of spirituality. Did some greater reality—God—really exist? The only time I had really felt sure about this was when I was nine years old and anxiously awaiting a family trip to Hawaii. The night before our departure I couldn't locate my swim mask and prayed to find it. "God must really listen!" I thought, because I found it first thing in the morning. But over the years I had become increasingly dissatisfied with the whole package, especially as presented by the usual religious establishments. Of what use is a God who needed us to flatter him with praise? Why would God prefer that we talk about him rather than to him? And how on earth could God be willing to damn us to Hell for all eternity for the slightest mishap if we ourselves are supposed to forgive even the most heinous offenses against us? Such theology really leaves something to be desired.

I had also become increasingly disgusted with so-called "religious" people who presumed to know God's Will but were wholly willing to lie, cheat, and otherwise act in blatantly unspiritual ways simply because it was convenient or profitable for them to do so. What I heard of God's Will was usually, in fact, nothing more than a set of political ideas about who got the money and who should be labeled a criminal.[††] (Money and power, indeed, are the true deities of our culture.) Nor could I believe that any God worthy of the name, if he existed at all, cared more about how I voted and whether or not I listened to certain radio talk-shows than with the purity of my own heart. I believed in Love and Peace. I believed in Joy and Harmony. Yet according to the judgment of many religious people I knew, I was a prime candidate for hellfire and damnation unless I embraced narrow sectarian views.

One night I felt really ticked off about the whole mess. I openly challenged God and his opposition to clear matters up by sending an angel and a demon, respectively, to hash it all out. "Truth!" my soul cried, "Show me truth!" But all I got was silence"...

At this point I decided that God rarely, if ever, works in this world through explicit supernatural events. Good and Evil are states of consciousness: they operate from within, through those who attune themselves to their respective "vibrations." As I'd started to realize a few years earlier, it is our actions—even our very thoughts—that determine, moment to moment, whether we are in the "heaven" of a pure heart or the "hell" of defilement. So no matter what anyone said or told me it simply had to be true that by choosing to express truly good qualities in one's life, like those in which I believed, one became an instrument for God, and that by expressing the opposite qualities, including selfishness, hatred, judgment, and greed, one became a channel for The Other Guy.

I articulated this conclusion in my personal journal on Independence Day, July 4th 1995:

A human being is the junction between "spirit"¯—all knowledge and awareness—and the physical material world. Only humans can take understanding from spirit and manifest it through physical action. This is the special providence of humanity, and the ability of each individual human"...

We as human beings exist at a unique position, in other words, at the boundary between that which is Spirit—God—and his Creation—Nature. By drawing on God's creativity and inspiration—as I had experienced while writing Inside OLE 2—we can manifest him directly in the world and channel his blessings to others. Well, "can" is too weak—"should" is more like it! Bringing God's grace into the world isn't just a possibility, it is our deepest responsibility! And it's an entirely individual matter: nothing and no one—no church, no religion, no political party, nothing—can define what it means for each unique soul to bring God into manifestation. One has to experience God directly, within oneself, and express that inner connection according to his or her best understanding.

That night, as if to confirm these realizations, I had the most extraordinary dream. It banished any doubts about the existence of something I could relate to as God. While the specifics of this dream I prefer to cherish in my own heart, what I experienced was, simply said, the combined presence of Love and Beauty in a most divine and complete form. I had never imagined such Beauty. I had never felt such overwhelming Love! Yet this presence was no stranger: it was, in a very real sense, my most intimate and eternal reality.

I was completely given to this presence for the remainder of the dream. Everything else—my relationships, my possessions, my job, my life"...each symbolized by some other element of the dream—was utterly unimportant. Love was Everything. Nothing else, absolutely nothing else, mattered in the least.

I awoke with this state of consciousness and discovered that this presence of Love remained alive in my heart: the seeds, the ones that God had planted during my experience with Inside OLE 2 (see Chapter Ten), had finally sprouted! For it was the same heart feeling that I had first experienced back then, only now more distinct and much more intense. From this point on I could recall that feeling with a mere thought, no matter what I was doing outwardly.

As the weeks went by I found myself joyously recalling this Presence again and again: it became my intimate companion.  While it might be shrouded by mists of distractions, I knew for certain that it was forever within me and could never be taken away—not by disaster, not by disease, not even by death. It was truly that one missing piece, that one piece to fill my inner emptiness.

Even so, it was a beginning, not an end. There was still a separation between what I knew as "me" and this Love within me. "I" still had to think about it to feel it.

It was a separation I yearned to overcome. I wanted to give myself to this Love completely, to have it expand beyond the confines of my little heart and engulf my entire being. I wanted to become one with it. Yet I had no idea how—there were so many energies that sought to pull me away—my thoughts, my subconscious habits...I didn't yet own these. How could I give away that which I didn't own? How could I break down those barriers?

Thus I began in earnest to seek some kind of real guidance for inner development. I returned to all the books I had read and all the ones still on my list. "Somewhere in all of these," I thought, "must exist the Truth I seek, the wisdom that can guide me to my goal." But I hadn't found any one book or author that brought it all together—I had only found bits and pieces scattered across thousands of pages. My only conclusion was that I would have to put it all together myself, and for this I felt I needed more data"...much more data.

Accordingly, my so-called "leisure" reading became more intense than ever, consuming many fascinating books about all sorts of seemingly relevant topics: dreaming, the brain, memory, cosmology, religion, psychology, archetypes, immortality, cosmic evolution, consciousness, and one that I'd picked up in England called Human Potential: The Search for that Something More. While I read, I not only absorbed the material but also scribbled in the margins whatever meaningful thoughts arose in my mind. Often times while interchangeably reading several seemingly unrelated books I would discover and record fascinating connections between them. These too I would write down, then continue my reading.

These connections seemed to hold the key. If I read enough books and kept my mind open to their subtle interrelationships I might finally begin to perceive, by a sort of mental triangulation, the central Truth behind them all. I just knew that Truth was in there, somewhere. And when I found that Truth I would have the guidance I sought. I would learn how to free myself from all distractions and by-paths. I would learn how to dissolve myself in that Love.

* * * * *

Now you've probably noticed that I haven't said much about what I was doing at Microsoft this whole time, mostly the latter half of 1995. The fact of the matter is that I was doing very little. I was hardly in my office, "working" from home several days a week. What's more, my new position in OLE Program Management was not what I had expected. Instead of working toward lofty goals I got pulled into an ever-increasing array of mind-numbing details. But since I was still learning the ropes of program management I figured I would just stick it out for a while and see if things improved.

As had happened during my summer internship six years earlier (see Chapter Three), it was difficult to concentrate on my job. Again and again I found myself drifting away from the mundane concerns of Microsoft and back to my inner search. My heart yearned answers; my soul yearned for guidance. I just couldn't think about anything else!

During this time I experienced several "book crises," as I called them. These were flare-ups of desperation when I just stayed at home and read, or worked a few hours before leaving the office (I wasn't doing anything particularly important, so nobody missed me). I also got very serious about reading only those books that I thought to have a high "truth density"¯—I purged my library of extraneous "junk" books, especially cheap fiction and the like that was dense on entertainment but sparse on ideas. Through this intense process of reading and purging I eventually whittled my reading list down to forty remaining titles that together seemed deep enough to provide the keys I sought. Soon, I felt, I would have enough to start piecing together the thoughts that were buried in the margins of several hundred books and five years of personal journals.

Of course, the question here was still how? How would I sift through it all? Certainly I could read and re-read all my entries and find even subtler connections between them. Or perhaps a technological solution was called for—a computer program that could process all these pieces of text and somehow find their common threads.

Yet was it really possible, I wondered, to find Truth like this? No matter how many books I read there would be thousands more I hadn't. Without reading them all, could I really expect to arrive at TRUTH and not just a reasonable approximation? And could I really write the kind of program I had in mind? It was so far beyond my present abilities that it would probably take me decades to complete. Still, I just had to find answers! If I had to spend the rest of my life working on such a program, so be it"....

Then I began to ask myself if there might not be a more efficient approach to this problem. Faced with such a monumental and uncertain programming task—not to mention the enormous tedium required to read books, mark passages, scribble margin notes, and copy them all into a computer—I wondered whether my own brain was actually far better suited to the task. Would it be possible to develop my own mind to the point where I might internally process all the things I've read and all the thoughts I've had? After all, our minds are more powerful computers than those we manufacture. Our culture simply hasn't developed a mental technology equal to our computer technology, that is, some set of specific techniques that would allow us to retrieve and process all the information stored in our minds.

I now remembered those times when I had touched a kind of Intelligence that was far greater than my own—specifically those occasions when I somehow understood things without the usual mental study.[‡‡] Associations were now flying through my mind: concepts of parallel processing within massive distributed computer networks combined themselves with concepts of lucid dreaming, telepathy, and various other extra-sensory phenomena that I'd read about. My own mind was a powerful computer; so too were the minds of all humanity—was it possible that we were already somehow connected, not physically but rather in consciousness? Was this the Intelligence that I had tuned into? If so, was there some way—some essentially spiritual, not just mental, technology—that would enable me to tune into it more deliberately?

If this were indeed the case it would certainly save me a whole lot of trouble! I wouldn't have to read everything that had ever been written—I could instead understand it all from the inside, from within the very minds that had produced those works! And that meant"...

In one great leap of insight my mind suddenly arrived at a final conclusion: to know Truth I would have to tap into whatever consciousness pervaded everything and everyone in the universe—past, present, and future; animate or inanimate. For without tapping into all there was, is, and ever will be to know, without tapping into some kind of cosmic omniscient super-consciousness, I would never be sure that I really had Truth.

                    And what else could that consciousness be but the very Mind of God? Was it simply God that I sought?

 

* * * * *

As if it were merely a technological reflection of what was going on in my mind, it just so happened at this time (the latter half of 1995) that the Internet or the "Information Superhighway," as it was then called, became all the rage. Everyone, it seemed, was suddenly talking about "getting connected."¯

To this point, Microsoft had been pacing itself with regard to the Internet as no clear direction had yet emerged from the industry frenzy. While there were specific teams within the company focusing on Internet-related technologies, such things were lower priorities among other product groups.

All that changed in early November. The media buzz had reached a fever pitch and industry analysts were asking questions. "Microsoft has been very quiet about the Internet thus far. What are they hiding? They must be doing something to establish leadership!" More and more they demanded that we share our story. Finally, Bill Gates promised to reveal Microsoft's plans. This would happen in one month's time at special conference on December 7th.

This was all well and good except for one small detail: we really didn't yet have a coherent story! We had plenty of applicable technology, of course,; but so far as I could tell we lacked an overarching strategy that would bring it all together. With incredible speed and deliberation, then, we began to integrate everything we already had and invent whatever it was we didn't. Everything else was put on hold—the next month was 100% committed to The Internet Story.

It was immediately clear that OLE was a central part of our message: small software components were a natural and obvious way to add powerful capabilities to a web site. Indeed, the implications of component software in an environment like the Internet had been on our minds for years: with only a few minor refinements, if any, OLE-based components would be perfectly suited for use with the web. As a result, anyone and everyone with OLE expertise—especially myself and the whole of OLE Program Management, which now included my old compatriot Charlie Kindel—was shanghaied into the project.

Thus I found myself suddenly yanked down from my lofty mental and spiritual skies to the hard reality of my responsibilities at Microsoft.

In many ways that month was really fun. In prior months we had been mired in hair-splitting minutiae; now, unable to afford such luxuries we just got to invent or re-invent as much as we wanted to! Idealism reigned as the immediate goal was to come up with stuff that at least sounded good on December 7th. Whether it was ultimately practical was beside the point—we'd have time to correct all that later.

At the same time, the unprecedented pressure of these few weeks was incredibly intense. I called it "Internet Hell Month." People were scared—the Internet's sudden importance and our relatively late entry into the game posed enormous threats to Microsoft's success and therefore to the value of people's stock options. In years past, the undercurrent of the company was a joyful aspiration to meet new challenges. Now it became fear. Everyone knew it; everyone could feel it, and it made life at Microsoft more miserable than I had ever known it to be. For this reason I count that month as the worst part of my entire Microsoft career.

Yet again, in retrospect, it turned out for me to be an opportunity that I wouldn't trade for the world.

You see, in the process of making the Internet the Most Important Thing in the Universe, Microsoft shifted its entire momentum. Energy was withdrawn from other commitments and redirected toward the Internet. Things that had been "essential" were no longer so; various long-term goals were thrown out altogether because they simply weren't going in this new direction. The world was ensnared in the web and Microsoft, as a worldly company, had to follow.[§§]

My dreams for the OLE technology were thus, at a minimum, put on indefinite hold. The Internet was, to me, a perfect delivery vehicle for software components—its role, in my mind, was merely supportive of OLE's broader purpose. But the situation was reversed so far as Microsoft and the whole industry were now concerned: OLE, already complete in itself, became merely a supporting technology for Microsoft's Internet strategy. Whatever real significance it had enjoyed on its own was now gone.

I was utterly heartbroken. Helplessly I watched OLE's tremendous potential recede into the technological distance until it finally disappeared over the horizon. And with it vanished that to which I had essentially dedicated my professional life. Not that I still didn't believe in my long-term vision, mind you—even to this day I believe it worthwhile. But without some kind of support within Microsoft I doubted whether I, as a solitary engineer, had the long-term energy and perseverance to make that vision a reality.

More doubts followed. Could component software alone help save the world from a destructive breakdown? I had to admit that the idea was somewhat far-fetched. Yes, the kind of computing environment I had envisioned would be a wonderful thing, but would it really affect mass consciousness? Would it really help people develop a higher sense of cooperation? Would it really be part of a cultural breakthrough? In all the history I had read it was obvious that "advances" in philosophy, sociology, science, technology, the arts, and almost every other field of human endeavor had rarely, if ever, been the direct cause of widespread spiritual awakening unless they were first inspired by a high degree of spiritual awareness. In addition, those advances required a certain degree of receptivity on the part of people in general—for without receptivity, spiritual growth simply isn't possible.

Thus where the cooperative element of component software was concerned, I couldn't fool myself into thinking that anything but a small percentage of people would be open to such a subtle influence. And as for my own level of spiritual awareness? Well, I couldn't even pretend to think that I came anywhere close to the likes of Krishna, Moses, Buddha, and Jesus, let alone many other great men and women of history. For all the good my envisioned plans might bring, I knew that I just didn't have what it would take to make them a reality. There was still much work to be done on myself.

After our presentations on December 7th I decided to take the rest of the year off (I still had a bunch of vacation time to use). Finding myself completely stripped of almost everything that had given any kind of direction to my life, I had nothing left but to wholly commit myself to the one thing that remained: my search for Truth. My goal was to work through all the books still on my reading list, hoping that these, especially—some of the most profound and thought-provoking I'd ever read—would give me some kind of guidance. After I read that one subtitled "The Search for that Something More," in fact, I wrote in my journal, "I'm close with this one...very close now."¯

Yes, I felt very close to the answers I so desperately sought. "Just a few more books," I told myself, "and I'll surely have it!" With redoubled zeal I continued my reading, now at a blinding pace of three or four books a day!

But as the pages wore on I felt more and more like I was caught in Zeno's paradox, the one about how an arrow in flight can only reach its target by first traversing half the distance. Then it must travel half the remaining distance, then half of that remaining distance, and so on. But no matter how many times you halve the distance, you'll never reach zero. Therefore, so Zeno argued, it's impossible for any arrow to ever actually hit the target.

In my case, it seemed that no matter how much I read I kept coming up just short of the Truth I sought. Day by day, as my reading list dwindled to a mere handful of titles, I found myself—to change the metaphor—backing step by step into a very tight corner, finally to realize, like some hapless Greek peasant confounded by the local sage, that I was completely stuck. I had read so, so much, but I had not reached my goal—only exhaustion. What was I to do now? Was there any way out? Was there anywhere left to turn? Was there any resolution? With so much confusion, it seemed that a breakdown—a complete, personal breakdown—was inevitable"...

Little did I know how close I was to a real breakthrough!

* * * * *

You may be wondering by now whether my wife Kristi was aware of my inner upheavals. To be honest, no—save those few times when my intensely inward search leaked out in some way. She, of course, witnessed my passion for reading books. But as I hadn't really been able to broach spiritual subjects with her in the past, conversations typically gravitated toward more mundane matters.

Kristi was nevertheless going through an inner process of her own. In the periods of solitude created by my frequent traveling for sometimes as long as three weeks, she was also searching for answers to her own deepest questions.

Outwardly this search expressed itself as increased stress, which ultimately took a toll on her body. Knowing that this wasn't particularly healthy, she sought ways to relax. One of her co-workers, a good friend with whom Kristi shared some of her frustrations, suggested she take up some kind of meditation practice. As a starting point her friend suggested a visit to a well-known metaphysical bookshop in Seattle.

Taking her advice, Kristi visited the store sometime in July or August of 1995 and bought a couple of titles that she found attractive. When she got home she found a little flyer inside the bag. It was an advertisement for a meditation class being offered by the yoga center affiliated with the bookshop. As "relaxation" was included among the listed benefits, she signed up for the class series in September, during which time I'd mostly be away giving lectures in Europe.

She was not disappointed. She found the mediĀ­tation techĀ­niques marvelously effective and was even more inspired by the genuine joy of the instructors she met. She was so touched, in fact, that despite various mental objections she registered for a follow-up class. This, too, she found instructive and deeply inspiring.

She was also impressed that these classes were not filled with the kind of fluff one encounters in a typical New-Agey or self-help workshop—they were quite serious! When they spoke of qualities like peace and joy and love they spoke of them as aspects of God. Techniques of measured breathing and meditation were offered not so much as methods to produce inner peace and such, but as methods through which one learns to attune oneself to those qualities as they already exist, albeit latently, within your own Higher Self. Thus to truly find peace you must open yourself to Peace as a reality in itself. To find joy, open yourself to the Joy that pervades all creation. Anything else—such as the peace you find by ridding your life of some petty annoyance or the joy found in the satisfaction of some desire—is only temporary. True permanence can be found only in that which is already Eternal.

It was clear to Kristi, then, that the "yoga" offered by this center was much more than just a system of bodily postures. It was the integration of one's small self with a larger Self (the real definition of the Sanskrit term). It really offered a transformative approach to every aspect of living, and one that was based not on belief or any institutional affiliation but on direct, individual experience.

This approach spoke to her and awoke an interest in spirituality that took me by surprise. Having been raised in a secular family, she had firmly stood apart from anything to do with God or variants thereof for almost the whole time I had known her. At the same time, she deeply believed in qualities like love, kindness, and generosity, and practiced them to a much greater extent than most of the so-called "religious" people I had known. My surprise, then, was a pleasant one. I was happy to see her finally delving into matters that had occupied my own thinking for many years. I was even happier to see her more full of joyful inspiration than ever before.

As you might expect, then, I was becoming very interested myself. In fact, starving for some real joy to counteract the intense fear permeating Microsoft, as well as the almost hopeless desperation I increasingly felt in my reading, I was ready to jump right in! Nevertheless, I stayed out of it for the time being. For one thing, I wanted to give Kristi the freedom to explore it all on her own terms. I also wanted keep a keenly skeptical eye on the whole business; my upbringing in a conservative Lutheran church combined with my own distaste for any kind of organized or formal spirituality made me a bit suspicious, especially of anything with an Eastern influence. After some weeks of observation, though, I saw absolutely no cause for concern. Whatever Kristi was doing was having a profoundly positive effect on her life, the people she'd met were wholly sincere, and whatever they taught and practiced was wholly genuine, even if it was a bit out of the mainstream.

I finally ventured into this scene myself at a mid-December Christmas party held at a residential community north of Seattle where a number of the group's members live to support each other in their common spiritual goals. Kristi invited me along beĀ­cause others were eager to make my acquaintance, presumably because of the stories she'd told about me.

As we drove into the community apartment complex a definite sense of belonging welled up within me, that same feeling I'd had over seven years earlier when I walked into my first Microsoft interview: I was home! I couldn't explain it, but it was amazingly clear: I belonged with this community, whatever the heck it was; and all these people—ostensible strangers all—were family. Long into the evening we sang carols and talked together; Kristi and I were among the last to leave.

A few days later Kristi called me from work. She was thinking about taking a short trip over the New Year's holiday to the retreat center located at the group's primary community in northern California. As there was just enough space left for two people, she wondered if I might like to go. "Sure! Why not?" I had nothing better to do—I could certainly use some time away from home, away from reading, and away from all the heavy thoughts that pervaded my reality.

On December 28th, by which time I had become completely stuck in my philosophical corner, we arrived at the retreat and again"...I was home. Relaxing almost instantly to a depth I'd not yet plumbed, I simply dropped our bags in our room and gave myself completely to the retreat's flow of yoga postures, meditation, instructive classes, and the uplifting company of like-minded souls.

As with my time at Yachats, I found so many worries and concerns melting away in the magnetic peace of the retreat. This time, however, instead of feeling lonely or empty I felt full of meaning and joy. That Presence of Love was fully alive in my heart, as if celebrating with delight.

For here I finally came into what I was looking for: a vision of life embracing everything from the lowest mundane needs to the highest spiritual aspirations, directing them all toward the realization of the full potential of every human being. It was a vision that included God, yes, but a God that dwelt within as one's own Higher Self, a God that one could know.

This vision was expressed clearly in a book called The Essence of Self-Realization, a collection of sayings by Paramhansa Yogananda, the widely-revered yoga master and author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. In reading these passages I was amazed to find confirmation of what I considered to be even my more unorthodox ideas. For the first time I was truly given permission (from a recognized spiritual authority, that is) to relate to God in a manner that was meaningful to me. All my life I'd only heard sectarian variations on "Our way is the only way"..." along with its companion thought, "God will punish you if you think otherwise"..." Is it any wonder that I pushed it all away? Now, however, I could conceive of God in a way that I could truly embrace and love—as, indeed, I had already been doing. What's more, I discovered that all those "core needs" I had worked out a year earlier—wholeness, peace, truth, freedom, wisdom, and love—were not only contained in Yogananda's expansive vision of the Divine but wholly transcended by it. My "needs," in short, and what I truly sought, could be summarized in that one word: God. Not as anyone else defined it, but as all my sincere searching had enriched it.

I knew now that all my years of reading and searching were rapidly coming to a resolution. As I continued to read Essence, I was pleased to rediscover many of the same bits and pieces of Truth that I'd marked on so many scattered pages of so many different books; I was even more delighted to find many other things that I probably would never have found on my own along with definite techniques of practice to make it real. And now here it was all right in front of me, all in one place, all brought together with simplicity and clarity!

I cannot say how profoundly grateful I was in that moment. While I'd been willing to try putting it all together myself, I was suddenly relieved of a tedious chore that would have probably consumed many uncertain decades to come. My and mind heart breathed huge sighs of relief.

Of course, now that I had finally found the Truth and the "spiritual technology" I'd been looking for all these years, it was pointless to simply go on reading about it all: it was high time I actually started living it!

It was on New Year's Eve 1995 that my life finally took this decisive turn. At the community-wide celebration that evening I had a chance to reflect on the people I'd met who had been personally, and as a community, living these truths for most of their adult lives. While engaged in outwardly intense activity—of the sort that would grind down most people into nervous wrecks—I yet saw generosity, vitality, joy, patience, considerateness, deep inspiration, and above all, a true centeredness and sincerity. It was a far cry from the worldly-minded people I knew, like a few of my Microsoft associates who seemed to endlessly whine about the value of their stock options.

I was also impressed by the degree of self-offering I saw in them. This was key. Whether one was a teacher, a carpenter, a lawyer, an artist, a doctor, an administrator, a mother, or a computer geek like myself, each shared an inner commitment that produced a deep radiance in their eyes. It came not from who they were, where they lived, or what outward role they played but from the kind of consciousness they held in themselves and supported in one another.

Pondering these thoughts in the glory of a setting sun and reflecting on where my own life was going, everything finally came together. Whether the world or the software industry had come to a "critical juncture," I did not know. But I certainly had, and now I had to make a choice. Would I continue to chase only after worldly dreams or would I give myself into this greater reality that was literally staring me in the face? Everyone I met at the California community and their Seattle branch seemed to have what I most desperately wanted. They'd gone far to develop the spiritual qualities that I sought to develop in myself; some had even achieved great success in almost every one of my more mundane interests. As you might recall from Chapter Five, and as I was now recalling myself, I hoped one day to leave the computer industry to explore things like writing, music, and photography. With so many examples in front of me it became clear that anything I might do along those lines (or even anything I might still do with technology) would have little immediate or lasting value unless they too were inspired—and blessed—by my own self-offering to God!

I thus decided that if dedicating myself to the principles and practices of daily meditation, devotion, self-discipline, and service to others was the most effective way to fulfill both my outer and my inner goals, well then"...sign me up!

 

God must have smiled in that moment. After working patiently on me for years, I had finally accepted his call and set heart, mind, and soul on the life path of deliberate spiritual living. I had felt trapped in a tight corner because I was looking in the wrong direction. I had only to turn around and lo! my life, my world, and my universe expanded outward to embrace Infinity.

 


[*] Microsoft programmers were sometimes challenged on the sluggishness of their programs when run on the most common computers of their day. "Don't worry!" was a usual response, "In a year the hardware will get so much better that you won't notice any longer!" [Return to text]

[†] Crispin, of course, had the luxury of starting from scratch, which was not and is not a practical option for the Word team. Nevertheless, Word—and Microsoft Office in general—is gradually becoming more and more "componentized" with each version, allowing some very powerful features (like speech recognition) to be added without any significant performance penalty to the application's core functionality. [Return to text]

[‡] By then, we had dropped the version number from "OLE 2" and officially referred to it as "OLE."¯ [Return to text]

[§] OLE Program Management was, ironically, part of the Windows NT project, the one that I would have ended up on had I gotten that program management job with OS/2 way back in 1990 (see Chapter Five). [Return to text]

[††] Laws, after all, don't really eliminate certain behaviors—they merely say whether those who so behave should be punished or incarcerated. [Return to text]

[‡‡] I'm talking of those experiences that I related in Chapters Nine and Ten, as well as the story of that presentation I told in Chapter Six where I had "tuned in" to a specific design process. [Return to text]

[§§] Considering the size of the company and the amount of energy that had to shift, it's astounding that Microsoft not only survived the initial threat but has continued to be a major player. [Return to text]

 

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