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 of great challenges to take on here and many places to explore on earth. Escape suggests that we’ve given up hope. Yet, the problem is truly not with the planet but we the people. Chances are that even if we are able to make it over and colonize Mars — a foreboding planet that has far less to offer in sustaining life than our troubled earth — we’ll be transporting our human limitations there — our capacity for greed, competition, and conflict. 

Ekskäret Island, Sweden

The greater and more valuable expedition is to conquer inner space. By breaking out of our present-day consciousness, we can change the world within. With this shift, we are more able to constructively engage the challenges that we have rather than try to flee as far away as possible.  With greater consciousness and compassion, we will be more equipped to transform our beautiful and miraculous world — that truly offers everything we can humanly need — into heaven on earth. If we then someday reach for the stars, it will not be to escape our shortcomings but to extend our best selves. That’s a trip I’d sign up for.

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. 

Art by Lyndon

I believe that both of these tendencies –for conflict or collaboration — are within us as part of our nature. Humans have unleashed great violence and horror on others and have also demonstrated the kind of extraordinary collaboration. What accounts for the swing between these two poles? Is it just chance? I don’t believe so.

I believe that these behaviors manifest in response to circumstance and socialization. Stress and threat tend to generate a fight or flight response. Yet, these are not the only choices we have. We can also engage constructively (https://spiritualsushi.com/attend-befriend-part-2-engaging-transforming-suffering/). Social systems also play a role in elevating or reducing our threat response.

These two sides — our individual capability and collective social systems — are both elements that are not pre-ordained or random but can be deliberately cultivated. How we respond is dependent on awareness and self-management, which I have written about at length in earlier blog posts. The evidence is that we need to start to build this kind of social and emotional development at an early age and for all, as part of the fabric of education. This development matters every bit as much as anything else we might learn in school. 

Creating social systems that engender fairness, equality, and collaboration is also possible and essential. That said, all societies haven’t opted for choosing the common good in equal measure. The stark contrast between Scandinavian countries that are high on social cohesion and wellbeing stands in contrast with other technologically advanced and affluent but unequal societies like the US. There is a choice made based on our values and consciousness that in turn hinge on our own personal development and socialization. If we are grounded and happy, we will want it for others as well. If we believe that conflict is unavoidable, we focus on building our capacity for war. It is good to remember that the peaceful Scandinavians and Mongolians of today were once the vicious Vikings and Mongols who violently decimated other societies. These people are biologically the same. What changed is the social construct they operated with. Changing the social construct is a choice. 

In the midst of the Vietnam War, John Lennon pleaded that “all we are saying is give peace a chance.” Yet, the societies that are peaceful don’t leave peace to chance. They make it a strategic priority that is supported by public policy and social practice. Goodness then is not a gift of birth or the result of random chance. Rather it is a choice that we can make, a choice for good.

Art from Deep Roots Sangha notice board

Where the Underground Railroad Leads

A plaque about the Railroad outside the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro

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 era of slavery. The path, which led through the woods and swamps, was marked by safe houses and supported by human conductors who opposed slavery. One of the first conductors — and a man called the president of the Underground Railroad — was a Quaker named Levi Coffin who came from Greensboro, the city where I live. Levi was moved by his faith which emphasized equality and his own experience seeing slavery up close in the South. He was an ally and helping slaves escape was an act of moral courage with great consequences. Yet, attempting to escape as a slave was an act of greater courage. Being caught meant a slow and torturous death that was intended to terrify the other slaves who may think of escaping. 

The Mother Tree in Guilford Woods that marks a station on the Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad series tells of a woman named Cora who flees a Georgia plantation and was relentlessly pursued by a slave hunter. She never gives up. Through the episodes, the series repeatedly offers hope for Cora and repeatedly descends into horror (won’t offer more spoilers) as the potential for a better life is bitterly crushed. This narrative of setbacks mirrors the Black experience in America — brutality, cause for hope, and repeated horror, and somehow hope again. The ability to rise and hope despite all the setbacks shines in Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise:”

You may write me down in history

A piece of art in Haiti

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

I also saw this in the words of Langston Hughes from his poem “I, too, am  America” that I read on the walls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture:

I, too, sing America. 

I am the darker brother. 

They send me to eat in the kitchen 

When company comes, 

But I laugh, 

And eat well, 

And grow strong. 


I’ll be at the table 

When company comes. 

Nobody’ll dare 

Say to me, 

“Eat in the kitchen,” 



They’ll see how beautiful I am 

And be ashamed— 

I, too, am America.

Bob Marley offers this refrain of transcending time and struggle in one of my favorite songs:

Old pirates, yes, they rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong

By the hand of the Almighty

We forward in this generation


What I walk away with from the Underground Railroad is an appreciation for the spirit of the people who have made this horrific journey — stolen from the shores of Africa, bound in chains in the dank holds of slave ships, passed on as property via generations and centuries of brutal plantation slavery, shackled through the era of segregation and overt discrimination, to today’s battles for fairness and equality. Through it all — the horror and hardship — hope prevails with a sense that triumph lies ahead. May that hope be finally and fully redeemed. Soon. And may more of us step forward as modern-day conductors to help those trapped in injustice. 

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Power: The Love of Power v. Power of Love

Mural from Greensboro, NC

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 what the efforts of others can do for you.

Greene doesn’t focus on the ethical considerations and the greater consequences of actions. It is all about destroying foes and friends to get ahead. Yet, the “stories of success” are partial vignettes. I imagine the practitioners of these ruthless actions were constantly looking over their shoulders to see who may be coming after them or fretting about being outdone. Needless to say, peace and happiness were not exactly what they were succeeding at. 

Bailey the Bus from GSO Vibes

The question of power, then, is quite incomplete without asking about power for what ends. Jimi Hendrix placed power in contrast with love. He stated, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” The power of love was the focus of The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, which is about the relationship between the poet Rumi and his philosopher friend, Shams. A sampling of these rules indicates that they are far different from the ones in the 48 Laws of Power: 

  • How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves; we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.
  • Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything.
  • What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. 

The latter set or rules are about conquering the self rather than others. The Buddhist monk Tich Nhat Hanh explained that this is what real power is. It is not derived from the outside but what we cultivate within ourselves. The things we get from the outside — fame, status, beauty, possessions — come and go regardless of how much we may want them. The things we give ourselves — self-respect, compassion, purpose — are the things we control and can hold on to. 

Street mural in Greensboro

Gandhi, Mandela, and MLK found a way to fuse these notions of internal and external power. They used internal power — intention and compassion — as a force to organize and change the world. Gandhi called this Satyagraha — or truth force. It was generated from within. Nelson Mandela, who was less spiritually oriented than Gandhi, also saw this connection. He explained that you can’t truly change society unless you first change yourself.  

Art by Lyndon Rego

The 48 Laws of Power claims to offer a path to success but ultimately sets us up to fail. For power derived from the outside is tenuous and fleeting. And because the things that matter most and make the most difference are not about finding ways to defeat your enemies but to help everyone win. Martin Luther King stated this eloquently in his Love your Enemies sermon in 1957: Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual.

Wars of the Worlds — the Internal and External

Art by Lyndon

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 and a strong sense of what are our side’s rights, and much righteousness for our side of the story. 

When we zoom out things appear more muddy. The Greek gods were often egotistical and ruthless. Human heroes of liberation are also often tainted. Lincoln led the battle to end slavery but also was responsible for expanding the wars against Native Americans, conducting mass executions of Native peoples (the largest executions in US history), and appropriation of their lands. Churchill may have been a war hero but was responsible for a great deal of oppression of people in India and Africa as an agent of the British Empire. 

The absolute and clear claims to lands or righteousness are readily disputed. In looking at the span of history, it is clear that humans have migrated across the globe, fought wars of conquest, and committed genocide to exterminate and evict other people. Many parts of the world today are no longer inhabited or dominated by people who were there earlier. A litany of aggression, suppression, exploitation experienced can be readily recited by all sides. The score is often settled by virtue of power. And for those who have been defeated, the score remains to be settled. When we crush others, we can only expect that they will also seek to respond by the means they have available. The cycle of retribution follows. Are we doomed to endless power struggles — winning by bullet or ballot, fighting with pen or sword, attacking with words and weapons? Is there a way out?

Street mural in Greensboro created in the wake of the George Floyd murder

It is notable that Jesus and the Buddha who lived in times of tumult chose not to fight political battles. Jesus lived under the occupation of Romans and advised people to give to Caesar what was his. The Buddha, who lived in the midst of warring kingdoms that tried to recruit him as a representative of their righteousness, said that those battles were not his fight. Jesus and the Buddha saw liberation as an internal struggle. 

The Bhagavad Gita (the Song of God) is a core Hindu text that is centered at the scene of a battle. In the book, two sets of cousins face-off ready for a bloody war. This book set at the scene of a war was curiously Gandhi’s favorite book. This is because the battle playing out in the book is an allegory for the battle raging within us. It delves into various forms of yoga — the yoga of service, the yoga of devotion, the yoga of mind and body control (the type of yoga popular in the West), and the yoga of knowledge. The word yoga means yoke or what’s joined together and the book is about self-realization and union. 

Art by Lyndon

The insight is that we can’t create peace in the world without creating peace within ourselves. The inner and outer are indelibly connected. 

A teacher asked her students, what do you get when you squeeze an orange. The answer they offered was orange juice. The teacher then asked, “So, what comes from you when you are squeezed.” The answer is: if you are angry, it is likely to be hate and violence. If you are peaceful, it is likely a calm response. If you are filled with love, it is likely love. We express externally what exists within us. 

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within us. If the kingdom of God is peace and justice, we have to find peace within ourselves so as to create it in the world. Cultivating this peace within us is the real battle we must wage. In Islam, there is the concept of the lesser jihad and the greater jihad. The lesser one is fought in the external world, the greater one is within ourselves.  

If we can create peace within us, we can liberate ourselves from the desire to dominate others or seek revenge for the harm we have suffered. Jesus called us to turn the other cheek. This was not an expression of weakness but of great strength to not respond in kind. It takes much inner work. The exercise of yoga — in its broader manifestation — is the discipline of building this capability.
To reframe Gandhi’s famous axiom, We have to be the peace we wish to see in the world. If we create peace within us, it is the kind of change we bring into the world. This is the only path to peace.

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Energy and Enlightenment — Of Sages and Horses

Calodyne, Mauritius

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 we fully understand. 

I just finished a book titled Love Everyone about an Indian guru called Maharajji who inspired lots of devotees from the West in the ‘60s and ‘70s, several of whom became remarkable figures who changed the world — people like Daniel Goleman who popularized Emotional Intelligence, Larry Brilliant who helped wipe out smallpox, and Ram Dass who wrote Be Here Now. Maharajji spoke very little English and was a portly, somewhat dishevelled looking sage but he radiated immense loving presence that drew people and filled them with joy. The book also describes what one of the Western travellers, Raghu Markus (who founded Triloka Records), discovered in Auroville in South India where he went to meet a spiritual teacher known as the Mother, who then was close to 95 years old. Expecting to encounter a “decrepit old woman” he says he found only light. 

The connection between energy and light was made by Einstein and is reflected in various scientific works and spiritual traditions. In the book, The Power of Full Engagement (one of the most insightful books I’ve read), the focus is on harnessing energy rather than managing time. Time is fixed but what we are able to accomplish is dependent on the energy we have. When we are energized and in a state of flow, we perform at a completely different level than when we feel drained of energy. 

Calodyne, Mauritius

So, in all of this, a question is how can we generate and manifest energy? The sun, a source of energy that fuels life on earth, generates energy from within. We are recipients of that energy. And while we can absorb energy — from people who radiate light like Maharajji and the Mother — we can also generate it from within ourselves like the sun. And, energy received can also be reflected outward. This is perhaps why many people who encountered Maharajji did so much good — they became vehicles for light. 

Enlightenment expresses the idea of finding a deeper truth. Yet enlightenment manifests as action to radiate light. So, a great and deep source of energy lies waiting in our own transformation to embody and radiate light and love. The Mother said: “In each world, in each being, in each thing, in each atom is the Divine Presence, and it is man’s mission to manifest it.” Maharajji offered: “The best form to worship God is every form.” The title of the book I mentioned on Maharajii reflects his frequent refrain: Love everyone!

This refrain is also embodied in a classic song from England Dan & John Ford Coley (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QZjJU-mtFU):

Light of the world, shine on me

Love is the answer

Shine on us all, set us free

Love is the answer

…And when you feel afraid, love one another

When you’ve lost your way, love one another

When you’re all alone, love one another

When you’re far from home, love one another

When you’re down and out, love one another

All your hope’s run out, love one another

When you need a friend, love one another

When you’re near the end, love

We got to love, we got to love one another

These words reflect deep truth, eternal wisdom, and just plain and simple horse sense.  We need to find our source of light and let it shine. For love attracts. Love lifts. Love energizes. Love lights up the world. Love is the answer. We got to love one another. 

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Humanity over Enmity — From Narrow Identity to Broader Affinity

Mural by @artistraman

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 sat automatically with those they identified with. The men sat with men. Women with women. Girls with girls. Boys with boys. Hindus picked a seat next to other Hindus. And Muslims with Muslims. Everyone self-segregated themselves into visible identity groups – gender, age, religion. The trainers wanted to shake this up and did so in a clever way. They asked everyone to walk around the rooms while the facilitators clapped their hands. When they stopped clapping, everyone was instructed to stop where they were. 

When they got the group to stop, the identity groups were completely scrambled. They asked people to sit down with the four people who were now around them. They then moved into an activity using a tool called Visual Explorer to get the participants to each share a story about their aspirations. I snapped a picture of a young Muslim woman sharing her story surrounded by a mix of adults all listening intently. These were people who would have never otherwise have stopped to listen to her. While I don’t know what may have changed as a result but mutual respect was visible. I believe that in sharing these stories something shifted in how these individuals now saw and related to one another. 

Street mural in Mauritius

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen pointed out that polarization comes when we focus on a single aspect of our identity, such as race, religion, or class. When we unpack our identities more fully with others, we find many commonalities that we share that can be the basis for forming a relationship. A Muslim and a Jewish man may both find they have daughters, love soccer, and like to play music. What is needed are ways to bring all of who we are into view, into the light, so as to be seen, so as to discover what connects us.

 This insight has been at the heart of my work in leadership development over two decades in more than two dozen countries. In conflict zones, the impact of this is dramatic. Social scientist Ashutosh Varshney studied places around the world to discover why some places that had a similar ethnic make-up saw communal riots while others didn’t. What he found was the places that didn’t have riots had community networks that spanned across the different groups. When trigger events occurred, these networks were able to diffuse the tension and resolve the issues peacefully (https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/sib/egm/paper/Ashutosh%20Varshney.pdf). 

We might notice that the places where we see violence occur in the world are often accented by separation. When we are able to create boundary-spanning networks and ways to see into the lives of others, we find that we often have more in common than the facets of difference that may divide us. What we need then are ways to bring us together and help us see each other more fully. My work with CoMetta (www.cometta.co) is focused on doing this by hosting open community conversations that build empathy and understanding. We can all do this work of bridging in ways that are closer to home. 

My wonderful neighbor Anna Wilkins is a model of how to do so. She organized a series of gatherings throughout the year where neighbors host potlucks that are open to everyone in the neighborhood (https://youtu.be/tt79X0akm4I). Rather than pass each other on the street as strangers, we now have a sense of belonging. 

This belonging can sometimes be a matter of life or death. My wife worked as a social worker for a nonprofit organization based in a slum in Mumbai. Back in the 1990s, Hindu-Muslim riots convulsed the city. Mobs roamed the streets looking for people of the other religion to target but the people who worked at the nonprofit sheltered each other. While nearly a thousand people died in the violence in the city, nobody from the nonprofit organization was hurt.

Creating harmony needs networks and orchestration. It doesn’t happen automatically. If we want peace, we need to build bridges to help us connect rather than walls to keep each other out. When we invite people into our homes and networks, we get to see each other’s eyes and read one another’s hearts. What we invariably find — in expressing our struggles and aspirations — is a common humanity that draws us together rather than an enmity that drives us apart.

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Stories over Stats — The Key to Creating Change

Facts matter but they simply don’t move people as much as stories. Take this example:

Art by @artistraman at Creative Aging Network

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 a complaint with the city. This would result in the family being moved out and housed somewhere for a period of time. But then, they’d be back to having to find a place they could afford and potentially becoming homeless. They chose to stay with the rats. 

The story stuck with me because it was vivid and real. It moved me and reminded me of why stories matter. In the world of changemaking, volumes of stats cause people to tune out because they can’t relate to numbers (see graphic below). But a personal story cuts through it all. 

From Sketchplanations.com

The European migrant crisis became real when we saw the pictures of a drowned Syrian toddler in a red t-shirt and shorts washed up on a beach in Turkey. Suddenly, we saw in the refugee child our own children and felt the anguish of the hundreds of thousands of desperate families fleeing war. It spurred a shift in empathy and public policy.  

In my community work (www.cometta.co), I focus on getting people to share personal stories rather than opinions about issues. This humanizes things. We may dismiss a person’s perspectives but we can’t easily discount their experience. When we hear their story of struggle, we move towards empathy because we know what it feels like too.  

Mural in Greensboro, NC

I think this is important in DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts. There are people who want equality and equity, some who are opposed, and some who sit indifferently on the sidelines. For those who are indifferent or opposed, an unwanted push triggers resistance. And resistance may not be overt but can result in subtle stalling and sabotage that derails change. What we need is to move from DEI to IDEAL (inclusion, diversity, equity + affinity and love).  We find affinity when we share experiences — such as the story I heard about the mother in the rat-infested home —  which create caring. Caring generates love, connection, concern, and compassion.

Cold stats engage the mind but don’t often find a way into the heart. We act not because we know things but because we care. Stories get us to care. And caring gets us to change.

Mural in New York City

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. 

Art by Lyndon from temple sculpture in Mauritius

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, Murugan jumped on the peacock and disappeared over the horizon. Ganesha just sat there contemplating the task. In a few minutes, Murugan flashed overhead having completed a circuit around the world. Ganesha slowly rose and walked to his parents who were watching the contest. He circled them one and then twice, as Murugan whizzed by overhead a second time. Ganesha then circled his parents a third time and returned to his seat as a breathless Murugan descended triumphantly. “I have won!” Murugan proclaimed triumphantly. 

“No, you haven’t” responded Ganesha with a smile, “I have.” 

“What?” exclaimed, Murugan, “you have barely moved!” 

“Well,” explained Ganesha, “I circled our parents three times, and they are my world.” 

Shiva  and Parvati awarded Ganesha the prize. 

Murugan was clearly more speedy, but Ganesha was wiser. He knew his limitations and his strengths. Most of all, he knew what his parents who were the judges would value most. Ganesha, with the elephant form, represents wisdom. He’s not quick but he is thoughtful. 

In our digital age, we tend to value speed and size but the ones that get furthest often do so by flipping challenges in unexpected ways. Netflix did this to triumph over the established Blockbuster. Google best Microsoft in search and browser wars not with more features but with simplicity. Apple is seldom the first to market but it enters by excelling around key choices. Apple’s classic mantra, “think different” is key.  

Thomas Merton, the monk and mystic, pointed out that we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that it is leaning against the wrong wall. In truth, the right wall may not be the same for all of us. There isn’t a single ladder of success. Considering what matters most to us is important. 

The classic fable of the tortoise and the hare suggests that intention counts over hubris. The hare was concerned about winning and grew complacent when victory seemed inevitable. The tortoise was motivated by finishing the race and was not pushed off course by the likelihood of being out-raced by the hare. Beating the hare wasn’t really the race he was competing on. 

In our age of fast-moving change, it helps to slow down, survey the landscape, and choose wisely. I have found that clarity doesn’t come when my mind is busy and harried. Much like a muddy pond, it helps to let the flow of thoughts settle to see to the bottom. Like Ganesha, I might do better to consider our choices and then move forward with clear intent.

Picture from the Bog Garden

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 marry the one who is able to read the sutras. I’ll be back at the same time next month to greet the person who can do this.” When she returned a month later, only half the original group of men were present. “We have read the sutras,” they proclaimed, “who will you choose?” 

Well, she said, looking more radiant than ever, “I can’t marry a dozen men, but I can marry the one who can explain the sutras. I’ll come back at the same time next month.” 

After a month, just four men returned and proclaimed they could explain the essence of the sutras. They were a bit calmer now but still keen for her hand. Again she said, “I can’t marry four, but I can marry the one who can live the sutras. I’ll come back each month at the same time.” 

Art by Katie Klein at the Lotus Center

A month went by and nobody came to meet her. Another month, yet nobody. And six months later, one young man returned. He was glowing and he bowed to her, saying “I have lived the sutras, and I know now what you were trying to teach us.” He now recognized who she was — Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. Kwan Yin bowed silently and left, leaving behind the man who would transform the village into a place of peace by the presence of who he had become. 

In this story, development is not just the ability to know or even explain ideas but to actually live the learning. Horizontal development is knowledge and skills. These can be learned through scholarship and practice. Vertical development is lived wisdom, often acquired the hard way. It becomes the very transformation of being. 

Vertical development expressed another way is about moving up the ladder of consciousness. With each step up comes a shift in our state of being — how we think and how we show up in the world. Those with very high levels of vertical development have a transformational impact. Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Teresa. They manifest values about humanity, unity, humility, service. And love. Expansive love. 

Einstein expressed it this way:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

And so did Chief Seattle:

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

It is easy for me to know these things and repeat them but far more difficult to live them. It will take me far longer than the young man in the village under the thrall of Kwan Yin.