People Who Have Inspired Me

Gail Goodwin, founder of Inspire Me Today

I want to shine the light on a woman who is following her heart and making a difference in the lives of others.

I met Gail Goodwin last fall at a mastermind group event in Chicago. Gail is a force of nature. She’s one of those people who can breathe life into an idea and make it take shape. And the more I got to know Gail, the more I admired her vision for a website that offered daily inspiration to those around the world.

Inspire Me Today (www.inspiremetoday.com) is worth the visit. Go visit the website and have an inspired day.

Yes, Please. Make Mine a Million!

In the spirit of living a life you love, Nell Merlino founded Count Me In – the organization that created the Make Mine a Million program.

Reader’s Digest did a fabulous piece about Nell and her vision for 1,000,000 women- owned businesses doing over $1,000,000 in sales by 2010. Nell is my kind of thinker. This BIG IDEA (Donny Deutsch gets it too) is so compelling (and timely) that OPEN by American Express is a founding sponsor.

I was very blessed to be a regional finalist in the Make Mine a Million event in Seattle in June.

A New World or No World?

Societies never act in totally predictable ways. In response to the global economic crisis of the mid-Seventies, induced by OPEC tripling the price of oil overnight, every country was put to the test. Energy policies proposed by Jimmy Carter, which rested on the notion of consumer restraint (e.g., turning the thermostat down in the White House to 68 degrees), were unpopular, demoralizing, and ultimately a flop. But England, France, the Soviet Union and others adopted widely differing energy policies that were equally a flop.

Today OPEC is enormously stronger than thirty years ago. Thomas Friedman of the NY Times calls the Arab oil producers “petro-dictators.” With unrestrained speculation driving oil prices skyward, Saudi Arabia alone possesses more wealth in its oil reserves than all the stock and bond markets in the world combined — and that was calculated with oil at $100 a barrel. In addition, by silent collusion the Saudis and the American oil companies started keeping more of their income as pure profits while no longer planning adequately for new oil fields. As a result, even if OPEC decided to undertake new drilling today, the first drop wouldn’t enter the pipeline for a decade.

This looks like the making of a global crisis lasting for the foreseeable future, intensified by the sudden and dramatic demand for oil from India and China. No extra production and ever- growing demand means that $200 a barrel oil will arrive soon and stay there (absent unexpected changes like switching to ethanol on a massive scale, as Brazil has done, or radically new car engines that get 60 miles to the gallon). The shock to the American economy has been swift and highly threatening, but the psychological impact is equally severe. Americans are used to being rich and stable. We accept without question that this country deserves to bestride the world as the British did before 1900.

So far, during the disastrous years of the Bush administration, no energy policy has existed, and all the toughest problems were kicked down the road willy-nilly. Denial has lulled the public into thinking that global warming, overpopulation, pandemic disease, and the end of cheap energy would somehow solve themselves. This attitude, based on the right-wing worship of the free market, made the country’s recent economic woes more shocking psychologically. Now the consensus among global analysts is as follows:

1. Severe swings in the economic outlook for America cannot be avoided.
2. Continuing to do nothing would be disastrous on all fronts. Yet no general agreement on what to do has been found.
Divisive politics still trumps intelligent reform.
3. Arab oil producers are absorbing undreamt of profits so fast that its effects cannot be dealt with either by them or their customers.
4. The political will barely exists to cope with emerging problems, much less the radical policies that would solve
those problems.
5. Escalating oil prices threaten the world with food shortages and widespread outrage against OPEC, creating the
conditions for global rebellion and, at worst, an attack on the Middle East to seize their oil fields.
6. Worldwide inflation has begun and could spiral out of control.
7. As China and India rise, the U.S. will slowly but surely become less relevant as a dominant economy. We are already highly dependent on foreign lenders and hugely in debt.

What, then, the future?

We find ourselves at a fork in the road. One way leads to a new world, one being born with frightening convulsions but eventually benefiting every economy. This is the way of globalization. The other way is the road to protectionism, tariffs, anti-immigration, and the shutdown of alliances. This is the way of nationalism. One way is optimistic and evolutionary, the other is pessimistic and reactionary. One way looks outward to the world at large, the other looks outward and puts national security ahead of every other interest. To date, the general U.S. response has tended toward the latter. Nationalism, including toxic xenophobia, is the province of the right wing, which blocks all things progressive and stigmatizes anyone who opposes them.

Until two or three years ago, hesitating at the crossroads was excusable. Suddenly the dam broke with the collapse of the U.S. housing market and the irrational rise in oil speculation. Decisions must be made in a matter of months, not years (the only historical parallel is the first hundred days of the New Deal in 1933 and the immediate postwar era when Stalin invaded Eastern Europe). Therefore, one needs to look carefully at the forces that will drive us to choose one road or the other. In particular, how can we gain enough confidence, will, and optimism to create a new world instead of collapsing into no world that we would ever recognize today?

(To be cont.)

Putting the To-Do List in its Place

Emira and I are both a little, shall we say, to-do-list-centric. We both rely heavily on our to-do lists to get through our days, because a typical day for us requires us to wear many hats, and frankly if we tried to keep all that stuff in our heads we would probably go a little loony-tunes.

I love my to-do lists so much that recently I picked up a copy of OmniFocus, which I use at home to track all of my various personal projects. I don

A Book That Peers into Eternity

There’s a single book that I reread every year: “I Am That” by Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981). The title is a quotation. In India the goal of enlightenment is to see reality as a whole. When all illusion has fallen away, one looks around and can say, with complete confidence, “I am That, you are That, and all this is That.”

What does the word “That” mean? It means the essence of existence. What does the essence of existence mean? There is no adequate definition, and therefore a huge mystification has built up around “That.” Nisargadatta Maharaj, whose name is almost totally unknown in the West, comes as close as possible to putting pure essence into words. In my experience, every reader who has discovered his book considers it magical, and those of us who treasure it feel that it opens a window into eternity, in part because of what Nisargatta says, but much more because of its astonishing ability to change the reader.

The Wikipedia article on Nisargadatta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nisargadatta_Maharaj) informs us that the 1973 publication of “I Am That” made him world famous. That’s a stretch, but the book did rise to the top of required reading in modern Indian spirituality. The text is made up entirely of transcripts of informal talks given above the tiny shop that Nisargadatta ran in Mumbai. He himself couldn’t write, being an uneducated farm boy who moved to the big city. He reached enlightenment in a remarkable way. As he walked behind his plow in his native village, he reminded himself that he was the essence of Being, not a person with human limitations. Or to be precise, his guru told him “You are That.”

It is believed in India that the liberated state, or Moksha, takes hundreds of lifetimes to attain. One supposes, then, that this illiterate farm boy must have prepared a long time for the breakthrough into enlightenment. So far as we know he never practiced spiritual disciplines. As he put it, his guru told him “You are That,” and Nisargadatta believed him.

I won’t give away what Nisargadatta talks about in this book — he is never trivial, however. One is immediately transported into his extraordinary presence. Just as reading one scene of Hamlet is enough to convince you that Shakespeare is a great writer, reading five pages of Nisargadatta convinces you (if you can be convinced at all) that this untutored man is in touch with deepest wisdom — he breathes an air more rarefied than ours. He possesses a quality we struggle to express in English– absolute knowingness. As simply as Nisargadatta speaks — simple enough to be understood by a ten-year-old — the effect upon the reader is powerful enough to cause deep sympathy and trust, and in some readers there is actual transformation. Every time I reread “I Am That,” I close the book convinced that the world would change entirely if everyone in it took Nisaargadatta’s wisdom to heart.

A Clue About Aging and the Mind (Part 2)

Compared to the massive funding devoted to developing new drugs,
there is little corporate profit to be had from mind-body therapies.
Yet for at least five decades evidence has piled up to show that the
mind can play a decisive part in prevention and also in healing. This
is particularly true in the field of aging. Aging isn’t a disease. It
is a normal process whose causes remains a mystery.

The human body doesn’t simply wear out like an old car with too many
miles on it. For a long period of time — roughly from birth to age
sixty — the body actually becomes stronger the more you use it. A
vacuum cleaner will remain new if you leave it in the closet and never
turn it on. But startling studies with young college athletes have
shown that in as little as a week, continual bed rest causes the body
to lose years of muscle training.

In the coming decades, the population is going to skew more and more
toward old age. Already the group 80 and over is the fastest growing
part of the population. Gerontology isn’t going to keep up with the age
explosion, and drug companies aren’t going to stop pushing their
products (as it stands, the average senior is on seven medications a
day). Anti-aging programs that are based on the mind will have to be
started by each individual. Even though the field is relatively new,
the important findings about the mind and aging are not experimental or
hypothetical. The major factors are as follows:

1. Constantly using and challenging the mind helps to keep brain function from aging.
2. Keeping up mild exercise benefits the body at all ages, up to one’s nineties.
3. Social connections with family and friends helps to prevent aging.
4. Isolation, loneliness, and depression rapidly speed up aging.
5. Expecting to remain young is highly beneficial, while expecting to decline with age is very debilitating.
6. Genes play a part in how quickly one ages, but their role doesn’t
override all other factors. People with “good genes” on average survive
only three years longer than average.
7. Reducing stress prevents symptoms of aging, most significantly by improving blood pressure and immunity to disease.
8. Treating depression becomes critical as a person ages. The effects
of late onset depression can be disastrous in older people.
9. Positive thinking per se doesn’t prevent aging. Being emotionally
resilient (the ability to bounce back from traumatic events) is far
more important.
10. In general, the evidence points toward the mind-body connection as the most flexible and powerful agent for healing.

In the next part of this post I will outline how these factors can be incorporated into one’s own personal anti-aging regime.

(to be continued)