As much as we're living in the Information Age, it is also an age of dire confusion. We might call it the Mis-information Age! In addition to outright lies, fabrications, and fake news, you can easily find thousands of opinions on virtually any subject from politics and flower arranging to movies, books, and every consumer product imaginable. Many (if not most) of these opinions, however, have not been thought through very clearly—they're often nothing more than someone's random musings, complaints, or, worse still, outright lies. Few of those opinions are subjected to editorial or peer review; sometimes they're only speculation without the backing of experience; and seldom are opinions checked against any kind of timeless wisdom. And there are plenty of thoughts and opinions that are published merely for the purpose of click-baiting people in order to increase ranking on search engines.
Furthermore, one never knows if there's a hidden agenda lurking behind those opinions—people seem all too willing to sell their souls to the highest bidder and become a willing mouthpiece for such interests. Most of the news media, indeed, is driven by ratings, and their sites are heavily instrumented to monitor people's response to different headlines and content. (In short, you're being manipulated whether you like it or not.) Media sites seek whatever generates higher ratings, because that means they can command higher advertising premiums. This is how they make money, plain and simple, and thus it's no surprise that the media (regardless of political orientation) tends to emphasize fear, because that's the most engaging emotion. And engagement is everything where ratings are concerned.
It's difficult to even trust what is supposed to be the bastion of objective fact—science—as we often see "experimental" results omitted, fudged, or outright fabricated to support a favorable outcome for whomever sponsored the study. People also make all kinds of outrageous projections from such sketchy facts, extrapolating, for example, new recommendations for human lifestyle choices based on the physiological responses of a few laboratory mice. Even in a more innocent vein, people have tended especially in recent years to lace every interesting video or article with superlatives like "incredible," "amazing," "the greatest things I've ever seen," or "this blew my mind," simply to stimulate clicks and page views rather than express any semblance of truth.
Thus we also live in an age of cynicism. With so little basis for trust, we habituate ourselves to rejection: jettisoning the true along with the false. Is it any surprise, then, that many consider life meaningless or hopeless? Few have the tenacity to sort through mountains of garbage to find a single grain of gold, if they even have a basis for recognizing that gold in the first place. It's much easier to simply escape into other realities altogether, which our vast entertainment industry, including professional sports, so readily provides. (Notice how often news, politics, and religion are themselves structured as entertainment!)
Antidotes to confusion and cynicism are desperately needed—an antidote being a state of mind in which confusion and cynicism lose their power. Problems, however, cannot be solved on the same level of consciousness that created them. Confusion cannot be solved merely by adding another round of muddled debate or another dozen blogs; cynicism cannot be cured by another act of rejection. A higher level of consciousness is necessary—a perspective that sees things from above, a point of view that looks at problems in relationship to a greater reality.
Darkness cannot be driven out with more darkness, but it flees before its opposite: light. Confusion is dispelled by clarity. And cynicism—the act of rejecting negatives—can be overcome only by embracing positives.
Embracing clarity and light, consciously and powerfully, is the key to finding true solutions. It is this embrace that I seek to exercise and share in my life and thus also the work I share with others.
Problem-solving comes naturally to me. As you can see from my bio, my schooling and professional experiences are in engineering, a problem-solving field for certain. As an engineer I've learned to always ask not whether something seems right or feels good, but rather—to use the words from a mock problem-solving flowchart we had at Microsoft—"does the damn thing work?" If it does, then don't mess with it, or mess with it if it only can be made to work better. And if it doesn't work? As the flowchart suggested: "shitcan it."
The practice of engineering can take one only so far, however. Although it can produce the more efficient means to an end, it doesn't generally ask whether that end is right and true. To use a somewhat tired cliché, engineering can answer whether something can be done but not whether it should be done.
That was my personal point of departure from full immersion in the high-tech scene. I clearly remember sitting in a huge meeting of Microsoft's Business Systems Division in the spring of 1996 while one of our vice presidents shared his complete enthusiasm for the next round of networking/Internet technologies we'd be developing. Although in years past this sort of stuff could spin my jets, I was now more occupied with deeper questions of meaning, purpose, and direction (see Chapters 12 and 14 of my book, Mystic Microsoft).
"Where is all this going?" I wondered. "What does it really mean for people? Is there a greater purpose to all this than just making more products to sell, increasing the value of our stock options, and getting rich so we can 'enjoy' life according to some materialistic definition?" Although I could invent a few answers to these thoughts, I knew I needed to go much more into them—and into myself. Where was I going? What meaning and purpose did my life have? And how did those personal imperatives relate to broader realities?
It was right around this time that my wife and I (she was asking similar questions herself) immersed ourselves in that search both mentally and physically, joining an intentional spiritual community outside Seattle (one of a network of spiritual communities, known collectively as Ananda Sangha). We embraced living among like-minded souls along with intensive spiritual practices like Kriya Yoga. We also studied and trained to become members of the monastic Ananda Sevaka Order, which is open to married people like us, and those with children (as became our reality in October, 2006).
The guiding philosophy for these communities and the monastic order is put forth in the book Cities of Light: What Communities Can Accomplish in the New Age, along with
To live in Crystal Clarity means to see oneself, and all things, as aspects of a greater reality; to seek to enter into conscious attunement with that reality; and to see all things as channels for the expression of that reality.
It means to see truth in simplicity; to seek always to be guided by the simple truth, not by opinion; and by what IS, not by one’s own desires or prejudices.
It means striving to see things in relation to their broadest potential.
In one’s association with other people, it means seeking always to include their realities in one’s own.
It was in these books that I found my engineering background both validated and brought to a higher level: the level of light and clarity. Community life and monastic training taught me how to clarify what, exactly, I was wanting (versus what I merely didn't want), how to embrace it with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and how to give it active, appropriate expression in my own life and in my relationships with others. In this I found meaning, purpose, and hope, whether I was involved in technology, office administration, construction, retail sales, forest management, childhood education, singing, homemaking, ministry, and all kinds of other roles.
After more than twenty years of such immersion, I'm exploring how to expand the sphere of relationship further. There are many questions and problems and issues that need solutions, that need an infusion of clarity and light through which new solutions and opportunities will appear. I've shared some of the results through channels such as my book, Mystic Microsoft, that offers the story of my notable (first) career at Microsoft from the standpoint of its spiritual meaning, even though at the time I pretty much considered myself an atheist!
My most recent book, Solving Stress, applies clarity and light to one of today's most pressing health issues. Instead of trying to fight stress with other forms of stress—as happens with most stress management strategies—this book focuses on how to embrace the opposites of stress: relaxation, calmness, and self-control. The methods given in this book are not new, mind you—you can find them amidst the jumble of suggestions offered by any number of other titles. What I've done is to pull out and present, with focus and clarity, those core exercises that really are the most direct and effective (as the engineer in me demands). The book also explores the further opportunities that those same methods give you to find and embrace what's most meaningful to you.
The follow-on book to Solving Stress, which I actually published first, is Finding Focus: How to Clarify Your Priorities and Live with Purposeful Simplicity. This book addresses a common mental ailment: scatteredness. That is, having so many desires and priorities and interests that little energy is left for accomplishing what truly matters to you. This book offers a series of exercises through which you can discover those true priorities and then apply them in any number of situations to bring the fulfillment you seek.
Books aside, I do find the inspiration to write the occasional essay as well. The most recent is one that I wrote as part of my work with Ananda University, whose home page makes the claim, and as I suggested earlier, that all problems in the world are ultimately problems of consciousness, To prove that point, I tackled a question that doesn't automatically suggest that conclusion. The result is The California Drought: A Problem of Consciousness? For this and others, see Articles, Papers, and Essays.
Moving forwad, I'm hoping to write more articles, but primarily exploring also how to express clarity, light, and solutions through literary writing, music, and visual arts.
Now you might be asking, in light of what I said earlier, whether what I'm offering here is just another opinion and whether I have a hidden agenda of my own. I say No to both, but obviously there's no assurance I can make here that won't be subject to the same doubt. Nevertheless, let me offer a few relevant thoughts.
First, I have no special or commercial interests backing me, period. Though I'm again gainfully employed by Microsoft these days (more in a moment), my core livelihood comes from interest-bearing investments and I have no compulsion to satisfy others for that livelihood. The bulks of those income-bearing investments are also not related to any kind of commercial activity: they instead support spiritual communities in California and Washington, a school in Portland, Oregon, and California public schools. And although the remaining investments consists of mutual funds, a few stocks, and a few corporate bonds, I simply have no need or interest to promote particular companies.
As told in my bio, I've had two tenures at Microsoft. The first between 1988 and 1996 was a period during which my self-serving attitudes were radically though subtly transformed, as I've told in Mystic Microsoft. The second, which started in 2008 and has continued to the present, has been a different experience entirely. When I returned to the company, I did so not to build a career or for ego-gratification of any kind, but from the simple motive of serving and supporting my young son's future growth and education. Although our investment income was sufficient for a simple lifestyle even with a child, it introduced some practical limits on things like specialized education and travel. I mention these because it was apparent by Liam's first birthday (he's now 12) that he would benefit greatly from both in his formative years. As a calm and introspective soul, who seems sensitive to the vibrations of his environment, attending a small, private school (such as the Living Wisdom School of Nevada City, CA) has certainly been important. And he's shown an ease with travel and seems like he'll be, along with many of his peers, no doubt, a "citizen of the world" and thus be interested in experiencing that world.
In my role as father, then, I've undertaken career responsibilities to serve his needs, but this decision in no way alters the life philosophy I'm describing here: it's simply another opportunity to practice that philosophy. It's somewhat foreign to me, in fact, to have to think in terms of "building a career" as employees are asked to do. I really seek only to serve: to do my best with what's assigned to me and to help others succeed in their work. (It was gratifying that I received an unsought promotion in 2017.)
For various reasons, then, I offer much of my work free of charge, such as Mystic Microsoft, and if you simply cannot afford one of my other published books and have stayed on this page long enough to read this paragraph, I'm happy to send you PDFs of other titles. I'd prefer our relationship (e.g. author to reader) to begin on mutual interest and inspiration rather than a financial transaction. I certainly welcome reciprocation if you find something of value here, but I'm just as happy if you donate that money to a worthy cause of your choice.
As for hidden agendas? I have none other than to share clarity, light, and solutions with the world in the hope of encouraging others to focus their own energies in positive, constructive ways. I am not promoting any persons or groups (including Microsoft and Ananda), and have no need to accept "incentives" for any kind of favors. The bottom line is that I need only please myself, or, more accurately, my Higher Self, with honesty, sincerity, and integrity.
You may find this hard to accept. But let me explain that an essential part of monastic training is renunciation of selfish interests, and offering one's entire self into a greater reality. My deepest interest is Truth, not opinion, and I endeavor to attune my thoughts on matters to that Truth, to the wisdom of the ages as taught by great spiritual teachers of past and present. It's a devotion to what is, not what I or anyone else would like it to be. (This is even reflected in my spiritual name, Satyaki, which I use in spiritual contexts such as the Ananda communities. This Sanskrit same, pronounced SAHT-yah-kee, literally means "devotion to Truth.")
Of course, you are free to doubt any and all of these claims, as is your right. And I will openly add that I'm not perfected in my aspirations either, for if I were, I wouldn't need to remain on this planet! In the end, I'll simply let my work to speak for itself. If you find anything inspiring or instructive, if my works offer you a sense of hope or a reassurance that things like love and beauty do exist in the world, then I've done my job. All I ask of you is that you then act on that inspiration and hope in some way of your own choosing, regardless of anything I might suggest.
The key here is for you to become a channel, as I aspire to be, through which clarity, light, beauty, love, hope and all other positive forces can flow into our world. For that alone—not legislation, social programs, military might, a new president, homeland security, or the United Nations—is what makes the world a better place. Don't wait for others to do it. Don't wait for some big movement to get organized. Do it now. Yours is the power. I pray I can inspire you to claim it, and use it.
Ananda Village, Nevada City, CA