Posts

  • If Life is a Game, Are We Playing the Squid Game?
    Like many millions of people around the world, I watched the hit Squid Game Netflix series. At a base level, it is a gripping thriller. At a deeper level, it is an exploration of human nature and culture. I offer some reflections here while trying to avoid any spoilers.  Material gains. Magnified dissatisfaction.  Squid Game resonates with Korean viewers because it speaks to the inequality that has become pervasive there. South Korea, which was once as poor as India in my childhood, is now the 11th wealthiest economy in the world by per capita income, surging ten-fold since 1970. This …
  • Dealing with Disruption: Of Black Elephants and Blind Spots
    Disruption is the word of the day, almost every day. Things that take a long time to build can collapse quickly. Afghanistan is a case in point. And there is disruption from COVID, technological change, and disasters.  Sometimes big and catastrophic change is the result of an unforeseeable crisis like the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. But more often, the patterns are present and hidden in plain sight. In looking at the recent flip in power in Afghanistan it is possible to see all the indicators that we missed or simply ignored because we were not tuned to the …
  • Recalling Rumi in Afghanistan
    I wrote this piece before the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport. The tragic event puts a sharper point on the need to shift how we operate in Afghanistan. A long war has come to a close. The shape of peace remains to be determined.  For many of us watching the situation in Afghanistan, there is a sense of shock. The impact of 20 years of war, the might of the most powerful military aided by troops from other powerful nations, and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, two trillion dollars spent, four US presidents of both parties, and things …
  • Across the Divide — Bridging Belief and Belonging
    I watched a film named The Best of Enemies. It is based on a true story about a Black organizer facing off against a Klan leader over school integration in Durham, NC back in the 1970s. The film revolves around a mediation process that is to end in a vote to integrate the schools or not. The default stance of a few representatives who will cast a vote is not in doubt but there are a few swing votes each side aims to influence. The stakes are high for the Black community. The White school is well resourced. The Black …
  • Outer Space and Inner Space
    Bezos, Branson, and Musk have their sights set on space. These are smart, successful people who have a great deal of determination and wealth to fuel their dreams. Why does a trip to space beckon them so? Perhaps it’s an ego trip. The companies they have created will likely fade in the decades to come but making history puts them in the books for the ages, much like Columbus, Magellan, and Vasco Da Gama. Some say it is about exploration and discovery and the need to escape our troubled planet. I have trouble with this latter rationale.  There are plenty …
  • Are We Wired For Conflict or Coded for Collaboration?
    Are people inherently good or bad? Are we wired for kindness and collaboration or selfishness and conflict? A book I am reading, named Humankind, makes a case for our goodness. It contrasts the fictitious and popular Lord of the Flies narrative about a group of English schoolboys stranded on an island who viciously turn on each other with a real-life but a lesser-known narrative of a group of Tongan schoolboys who were shipwrecked on an isolated island but found a way to survive in harmony for a year until they were found.  I believe that both of these tendencies –for …
  • Where the Underground Railroad Leads
    I am not Black but like so many others, I have a sense of the immense injustice and struggle Black people in America have endured for so long. I recently finished watching The Underground Railroad mini-series based on the Pulitzer Prize book by Colson Whitehead. The film is both shocking and haunting. It is an unflinching look at the brutality of slavery yet presented in an almost poetic way. This mix of brutality and beauty is not accidental. I’ll come back to that.  The Underground Railroad, which was a secret escape route to the North from the South during the …
  • Power: The Love of Power v. Power of Love
    I read a bit of the book The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It is a book about what it takes to win… by whatever means necessary. The laws that Greene offers look like this: Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies. Conceal Your Intentions: Friends are more likely to betray you in haste as they are more prone to envy. Court Attention at All Costs: As everything is judged by appearance, you must stand out.  Get Others to Do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit: Never do for yourself …
  • Wars of the Worlds — the Internal and External
    Our world is caught up in perpetual waves of conflict. And this seems to be the case from the very start. Ancient founding stories of the world in Greek and Indian mythology tell of battles between gods that preceded the arrival of humans. These struggles for territory and power are often framed as battles of good and evil, of the assertion of rights and righteousness.   As humans, we continue this pattern. We are locked in arguments over who are legitimate peoples and who are intruders. Who is oppressed and who are victims. Who has wronged whom. We all have sides …
  • Energy and Enlightenment — Of Sages and Horses
    I was speaking with a new acquaintance (https://www.anniebauer.com/) who has horses and draws on them in her leadership work. Horses, she said, relate to people based on the energy they are putting out. Animals, she explained, that don’t use language are tuned in to read what people are saying that lies beyond words. While humans are less finely tuned this way, research still indicates that more than 70% of human communication lies in non-verbal elements rather than the words that are spoken. This connects with the idea of presence. Presence is a mysterious and mystical space that extends beyond what …
  • Humanity over Enmity — From Narrow Identity to Broader Affinity
    Last week I wrote about moving from DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) to IDEAL (inclusion, diversity, equity + affinity & love) (link). The idea is that cultivating affinity is key to changing the dynamic from apathy or aversion to authentic connection or love. Here is a story that illustrates how.  I was in Hyderabad, India, to do a train-the-trainer program with youth organizations in the country. As part of the program, the trainers had to deliver a session to a live group of participants. The organizers brought in participants from a local slum.  When the participants filed into the room, they …
  • Stories over Stats — The Key to Creating Change
    Facts matter but they simply don’t move people as much as stories. Take this example: I was recently at a community gathering where the conversation was about increasing equity. When asked why this matters, I launched into data from a poll about community needs and aspirations. Another participant, however, shared a personal story.  He spoke about his sister with three children. She was out of work and struggling to get by. She was living in a rat-infested house and was terrified about the children being bitten. The landlord had failed to remedy the issue and it was possible to file …
  • Running the Race that Matters — Faster is not Better
    In the last post, we wrote about how vertical development is more mindset than skillset, Here’s a story illustrating this difference in how we choose wisely about the race we run.  Ganesha and Murugan are the two sons of the Indian deities Shiva and Parvati. As siblings, they often competed. One day, they competed for who would be the first to circle the world three times. They recruited their parents to judge the contest. Now Ganesha is the elephant god and large and slow, but wise. Murugan is an athletic warrior who rides a peacock. Once the challenge was issued, …
  • Growing Up – The Arc of Vertical Development
    Human development unfolds on twin axes – horizontal and vertical. But first, as always, a story.  There was a village in the East filled with boisterous young men who were always quarreling. One day a beautiful young woman showed up in the village market with a basket of fruit to sell. Word of her presence got around and she was soon surrounded by two dozen young men vying for her favor. “You have to marry one of us, they said, who will it be?”  She looked around at them and said, “I can’t marry two dozen men, but I can …
  • The Hero’s Journey (the story of all great stories)
    Spring is in the air. The earth is transforming. Flowers rise from the ground and blooms grace the trees. The birds return and rabbits and squirrels frolic again in backyards. Spring arrives early or late, is long or short, but it always comes. Human transformation is less predictable but always possible and just as magical. The story often unfolds like this.  There was a shepherd who had a modest piece of land with a gentle stream on which he raised sheep and eked out an existence. He would often eat a meal by the stream, usually some bread and fruit. …
  • The Star-thrower (and the gift of giving)
    This fourth post on happiness is about giving it away. A story… A man was walking on a beach one morning. Over in the distance, he saw a figure repeatedly bending down, picking something up, and throwing it into the ocean. He wondered what was going on and walked towards the figure to investigate. When he came closer he saw that the beach was covered with thousands of starfish that the tide had brought in. The figure was a girl and she was picking up the starfish and throwing them into the water. What are you doing? he asked her. …
  • One of Us is the Messiah (And All of Us Can Be)
    A fourth post on happiness In the prior three posts on happiness, we focused on how we focus on our inner selves. Happiness is also relational; it flows from how we engage with those around us. Consider this story. There was a renowned monastery on a hill that had fallen on hard times. People had stopped coming to visit, very few young men were joining the order, and the monks had grown sullen and despondent. It appeared that they would soon have to shut down the monastery and disband. The sadness multiplied. The abbot had a friend, a rabbi, in …
  • The Two Wolves (and the 700 Nuns)
    Part 3 of an exploration of happiness In the previous two posts, we explored how happiness is an intentional choice. How might we manifest this intention in our lives? Here’s a story… A Native American elder was sitting around a campfire with a child. She said to the child, you know there are two wolves that are fighting a great battle within you. One wolf is filled with anger, hate, greed, envy, and impatience. It snarls and howls all day long. The other wolf is filled with love, kindness, generosity, and patience. It smiles at everyone. These wolves are locked …
  • The Now of Happiness (Vs. the Pursuit of Happiness)
    Part 2 of an Exploration on Happiness If you ask many of us what is the purpose of life, we might answer: it is to be happy. The American Declaration of Independence called for the pursuit of happiness as a founding principle. What does it mean to pursue happiness and is it possible that happiness actually flees when we pursue it? Take this story.  A busy New York businessman was persuaded by his wife to take a vacation in Mexico. Strolling on a beach late morning he encountered a fisherman leaning back against his boat on the beach, gazing lazily …
  • Follow your Bliss (the Sage and the Swamp)
    Part 1 of a series on claiming happiness Following the four-part post on suffering, time to flip the coin to the other side and explore the face of happiness. Happiness, just like suffering, is very much a choice.  Here’s a story. There was a wise sage who lived happily in the forest by a swamp. People came to visit him to seek his counsel. Word got to the emperor who sent a team of ministers to invite him to the court. The sage couldn’t refuse the emperor. On the way over, the ministers told him that he would be asked …
  • Love & Liberation — What we can learn from the lives of great change agents (Part 4 of an exploration of suffering & transformation)
    In this final of four blog posts on suffering and transformation, I wanted to explore how hardship is the crucible for helping us become our higher selves. A crucible is a container where objects are subjected to great heat so they can be remade. The lives of great change agents, people who became great souls and transformative leaders, were shaped by suffering that they transformed into immense good. Take Gandhi. Gandhi was a young lawyer during the colonial British Empire. He tried hard to make it in the system. As a young man, he set out to become a barrister …
  • What the Laughing Buddha Knew — Part 3 on Transforming Suffering
    In the last two posts, we explored the nature of suffering (http://spiritualsushi.com/making-sense-of-suffering-part-1/) and how to transform it (http://spiritualsushi.com/attend-befriend-part-2-engaging-transforming-suffering/). This third post in the series is about building the inner capacity to make this shift. There is a story of the Laughing Buddha that helped me see this pattern. The Laughing Buddha was a jolly monk who lived in the 10th century in China. He’s often pictured with a big belly and a giant sack. The sack was key to his work. He wandered around town carrying the sack with things in there to give away to people he encountered — …
  • Attend & Befriend (Part 2 — Engaging & Transforming Suffering)
    In the last Spiritual Sushi post, about the nature of suffering (http://spiritualsushi.com/making-sense-of-suffering-part-1/), the focus was on how do we shift from suffering to acceptance and compassion. Here I offer the most helpful guidance I have found.  As humans, we are wired to react to threats with a fight or flight response. We respond by fleeing the source of the pain or turning around to attack it. Our brains are wired for this. The amygdala at the root of the brain stem is quick to respond automatically — almost unconsciously — to save us from threats.  To turn this around, we …
  • Making Sense of Suffering (Part 1 – Awareness & Intention)
    Experiencing pain and suffering are a salient part of being human. We have all have been served with hardships and loss, some of us to a far greater degree than others. Pain experienced repeatedly and left to fester becomes embedded trauma. Trauma unhealed metastasises and is triggered again and again. In this pattern, a lot depends not just on what happens to us, but how we process and heal the hurt. I had an ‘aha‘ about our response to suffering reading the framing of The Book of Job by Stephen Mitchell. It cast that Biblical story in a new light …
  • Living the Time of Your Life (Sisyphus and Groundhog Day — An exploration of time)
    At the start of the year, I saw a cartoon showing a couple of aliens in a spaceship watching the fireworks flash over the earth. “What’s going on down there?” asked one. The other replied: “they’re celebrating their planet making a loop around the sun.” New Year’s is an arbitrary event that we infuse with much meaning. For many of us, it marks an opportunity for a new start. A chance to begin again. A time to try to make things better. But the opportunity for change comes around more frequently than a circuit around the sun. The issue of …
  • Out Beyond Right and Wrong (Seeing our Way Through these Troubled Times)
    The mystic Rumi wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” We are in a time in history when fierce battles of righteousness are being waged. In the US, in the wake of the bitterly contested elections (and long before), we are outraged by the actions and perspectives of others, who are also outraged by our own actions and perspectives. There are calls for unity but often these call for adversaries to unite behind our own positions. Is there another way? When I worked in Africa I heard a story at a …
  • The Parable of the Stonecutter (and a Message about Goals and Grace)
    The New Year is a time when we focus on setting goals, framing intentions, and sharing aspirations. We think about what we want to create in our lives. Wanting things that are different and better is a part of being human. It is also a delicate dance with acceptance of what we get and may not want. There’s an old story that illustrates this. A stonecutter was laboring chipping away at the face of a mountain. It was hard work, and it was his reality day after day. As he cut the rock, a wealthy merchant passed by, carried on …
  • Leave it at the Stream (Putting the Happy into the New Year)
    We’re at the end of an exceptional year. The passage of one year into another is a time for reflection and intention. What do you leave behind? What do you carry forward into the future? There is a story of two monks who were making their way home when they encountered a woman by the side of a stream. She was on her way to a wedding and dressed elegantly. She didn’t want to wade through the water and asked the monks if one of them could help her cross. One of the monks stepped forward, picked her up, and …
  • Death and Eternity. A Matter of Perspective
    We’re at the end of a remarkable year. With the outbreak, loss and death have also been on our minds. Death seems like a sharp and final event but is there another way to look at existence? There is a story that I heard about Steve jobs. In the story, Jobs was invited to join his child at elementary school for a ‘bring your parent to school’ day. They were given creative tools, LEGO, and erector kits, and asked to spend time creating something together. Not surprisingly at the end of this effort, the Jobs duo had produced something marvelous. …
  • Refrigerators and Relationships
    Our refrigerator stopped working last week. The freezer was icy and the fridge was warm. We had to unplug the unit, empty and defrost it. I was forced to look at what was lurking inside, the things unseen and unpleasant that had been pushed to the back. We then wiped it clean, threw out the bad stuff, and restored the good stuff we wanted to keep. Plugged back in, it was back to humming cheerfully again. It reminded me of relationships that can get taken for granted and gradually accumulate bad stuff in the back. They too need a pause, …
  • What is Real (And What is Water)?
    If you’re like me, you are often caught in conversations about what is really going on, about what is real. So, what’s real? There is a story about a turtle who dropped into a pond and encountered a fish. “How’s the water over there,” he asked. “Huh?” asked the fish, rather puzzled, “Water? What water?”  The story indicates that the things we’re deeply immersed in are often invisible to us. The fish, without an experience of being out of water, didn’t have an understanding of water.  Reality is a squishy thing. What we perceive is a function of our beliefs, …
  • One Love: Two Little Words that Mean a Whole Lot
    The Indian sage Ramana Maharishi was asked, “How should we treat others?” He replied, “There are no others.”  For years I’ve signed my emails with One Love. These are no casual or trivial words. One Love invokes the Bob Marley song but it also speaks to the older and widespread concept of “oneness.” This core idea of interdependence, interbeing, of common humanity and common source can be found in a broad spectrum of cultures, both ancient and modern. This idea is at the ethos of the African idea of Ubuntu, which translates into “I am because we are.” It exists …
  • What the Wise Ones Know
    The Way that can be named is not the true Way — Lao Tzu The menu is not the meal — Alan Watts There is an Eastern story of a scholar who was determined to learn all there was to learn. He was relentless in this pursuit, studying vast bodies of knowledge at renowned schools of the day. What else is there to learn? he asked his teacher as he completed his final course at an illustrious academy. Well, said the teacher, there is a sage who lives on an isolated island in a lake who is said to have …
  • Fall into Winter
    As winter approaches The trees put on their finest garments of red and gold And celebrate in a loud riot of color Then, dramatically, they shed their robes And retreat, naked into the depths of quiet repose For they know that spring follows winter And renewal comes from silence And what is deeply rooted Will return  Renewed
  • Indra’s Net: The Amplified Universe
    There is an old concept from India called Indra’s Net. It envisions the starry skies as made up of a net of gleaming jewels that radiate light. What is particularly profound about Indra’s Net is that the light of each jewel shines in the other, so that it is not possible to say which single jewel is the source of the light. And, because the jewels reflect each other’s light, they amplify the light. There are many messages embedded in the story of Indra’s Net (some of which I will write about later) but one key idea is that we’re …
  • The Idea Behind Spiritual Sushi
    I’m not making art, I’m making sushi. — Masaharu Morimoto This blog is named spiritual sushi because it will serve up bite-sized ideas that I have curated, remixed, and plated to be consumed by myself and others.      Sushi is an eclectic mix of rice, vegetables, fish and seasonings elegantly wrapped in seaweed or artfully layered into bite-sized pieces that can be savored one at a time. The possibilities for what can be created is bound by the wrap and the imagination.  I love food, both consuming and creating dishes. I often mix foods from different cultures and traditions. The foods …