THE HAPPIEST MAN IN BABYLON
Copyright ©, November, 2009, Bill Pfeil
[Author's Note: This is a draft of an evolving story. Expansions will occasionally be made.]
THE 'BIG GAME'
Each year we would meet for the Cal - Stanford 'Big Game.' Both college football rivals across the San Francisco Bay had non-winning records at the time, so that name was a bit of a joke. Often, so was the play. But the 'Big Game' is what the late November event is called.
Cal track teammates Steve, Carl, Bobby and myself, Evan, would meet at Kip's Restaurant off Telegraph Avenue near campus, have a few beers to catch up, laugh a lot, then walk up the hill to the stadium, or trek across the Bay, for the ‘Big Game.’ Camaraderie rather than sport was the attraction for our annual get-togethers. Our friendship developed further over the years, despite having very different viewpoints.
1. Steve - - genius, early developer of computer software applications. Later he vastly expanded his business influence and wealth, and was credited with standardizing the language code now used in the world wide web. Steve is our man of action. Each year Steve was listed among the 10 world's richest men.
2. Carl - - after Cal, went to Boalt Law School in Berkeley, and became known for his pro-bono counsel on high-profile cases. Carl is the cynic among us, and has a sarcastic sense of humor.
3. Bobby - - our distance runner, used to pound the laps on the outside lane while Steve, Carl, and I did sprint repeats during our Cal track afternoons. Even in those college years, he wanted to follow his famous father as an evangelistic preacher. Bobby now has a huge religious following, and often seen in TV interviews. He served as host when the Dali Lama visited the U.S.
4. Myself, Evan - - Cal BA in philosophy. I am fascinated with philosophies, cosmologies, and religions of all kinds.
Discussions were always lively and hilarious. We looked forward to our Big Game meetings as one of the highlights of each year. We would sometimes bring our wives or girlfriends-at-the-time to these fun rendezvous. Each year Steve would astound us with a starlet or pop singer who accepted his offer to see a college football game with an equally famous person.
We happily filled hours and hours with stories of successes and misdeeds, bawdy jokes, and dreams for the future. Most people consider birthdays or Christmas or other holidays their most important holidays. Ours was the ‘Big Game.’
At first, we little suspected that these meetings would evolve into discussions of such life-changing importance.
I remember the day several years ago when our yearly rendezvous took an important philosophic turn. Our before-game discussion started as all fun and laughs as usual. Steve brought a stunning model this trip. Carl always brought his wife Dee. Bobby quit bringing his wife because she seldom spoke and never understood our humor. This is the first time the guys met my Thai girlfriend Bee who just arrived on a fiance visa.
Steve would often tell off-color stories and jokes. Carl's humor was cynical, but funny. Bobby the preacher would tell clean jokes and anecdotes. We liked Bobby because of his warmth and charisma. Being a man of God, that encouraged our moral sensibilities. I think my subtle humor produced longer laughs because there was more thought involved.
I noticed the guys taking a growing interest in how thoroughly my girlfriend Bee, when she occasionally understood our conversations, would laugh. She naturally radiates joy, and when she would laugh, she would close her eyes, wrap her arms around herself and writhe around in her chair as if in ecstasy. This was fascinating to the guys. There are many reasons I am attracted to this Thai girl - - her complete, ecstatic laugh was one of them. Bee's displays were so infectious that we would all laugh again in empathy. Carl's wife Dee would observe such overt displays of joy with, what I detected, a tinge of envy. I noticed that Steve's model date had been constantly studying Bee, surely taking mental notes.
These were the best of times among best friends. We felt we had it all. But this opinion was about to change.
The focus of our discussions soon shifted indeed.
I remember Steve saying in a good natured way, "Now what?" That probably started our inquiries which changed our lives. We began to wonder, despite our successes, that there was something important which had eluded us. We concluded that we owed it to ourselves to examine what was missing.
It was nearing game time, so we walked up the hill to the stadium. Steve and Carl both confided in me, "Wow Evan, you sure have a sweet lady."
“I know," I said.
A NEW DIRECTION OF DISCUSSIONS
As usual, we would meet at Spengler's Restaurant on lower University Avenue after the game.
We were among other alumni groups waiting in the lobby for a table. University of California sports fans have learned to be philosophic about football losses. We chose to focus on our good times in college, and were proud that our school produced such productive, successful people. We ignored Berkeley's other reputation for omnipresent counter-culture characters as part of a tolerant university community.
Once seated and ordered, Steve, Carl, Bobby and I resumed our stories about our previous year. And our hopes for the future.
The good humor lasted for about half an hour. The guys again were keenly observing my girlfriend Bee. Often I had to translate a story or joke beyond her minimal grasp of English. She would collapse against me laughing hysterically. That prompted Steve to say, "Wow Evan, your girlfriend sure has an amazing display of joy. Wish I could do that."
Carl said, "I was thinking the same thing. Maybe I should have done a better job prioritizing my life.”
Bobby asked that each of us what we might want beyond our current successes and experiences.
I told the story of my first trip to Thailand which started the desire to change my life. Bee had heard this story before and sat back in her chair and looked into the distance. But the guys didn't know what to expect and leaned forward to the story. I asked a sweet cutie, omnipresent in Thailand, to go with me on a motorcycle ride in the mountains outside Chiang Mai. On a remote jungle road, the motorcycle got a flat tire. My reaction was anger and profanity. Kanya (I'll never forget her name) looked at my odd behavior with giant warm eyes. The total absence of any anger in this girl contrasted so profoundly with my temper display. It was a moment of revelation. She looks at the world from a viewpoint of joy. I suddenly realized this is exactly what I wished for my life. Previously, I knew intellectually that I wanted to hold good feelings all the time, even in adversity. My will-to-act on this wish became very real at that moment.
Carl asked about the flat tire. I forgot to finish the story. We walked the rented Honda back down around the mountain road a few bends to a shack with a lean-to motorcycle repair bay. An old lady came out of the shack, had the tools, and easily fixed the flat. She did not want any money for the repair, but I gave her 1,000 baht, about $25 at the time, an amount she may never had seen all at once.
Dee asked about Kanya. She had no telephone, and stayed with me the rest of that trip. The last time I saw Kanya was at the Chiang Mai airport. This lovely simple girl will never know that she helped me make one of my life's most important commitments to myself. I wanted to develop a viewpoint of joy, prominent over all other feelings. The watering in my eyes showed the guys that this brief encounter touched me deeply.
Carl gave an assessment of his life. He said that his legal work is so time-consuming that his personal life suffers. He is looking forward to retirement to change his life. "Then what?" we asked. "Put myself and my loving wife Dee first." "How?" we asked. He didn't know specifically.
Dee supported her husband with a story. When she and Carl were dating in college, they went to a restaurant after a Jefferson Airplane concert on campus. That restaurant was filled with loud college kids, confident and enthusiastic about their future. Dee said that she and Carl will always remember an older couple, in retirement years, enter that restaurant totally and happily absorbed with each other, oblivious of the young raucous crowd. This couple had a glow and a joy about themselves that was fascinating. Every one of the college kids recognized the significance of this sight, and stopped talking to stare at the older couple. A heart-warming sight. Dee said that she and Carl made a decision right then. This joy is exactly what they want in the future. This is their favorite story.
Steve, having a life of fulfillment afforded by wealth, said, "I have everything. I have experienced practically everything. Every wish fulfilled. Every lust satiated. For years and years I have made decisions to make my life more complete. With every achievement, I ask 'Now what?' Having joy all the time is of course what I want. But I guess I’ve looked in the wrong places.”
Bobby added, "Look at children laugh. They can express that uncontained joy. At one time we knew this feeling. We have lost something most vital.
I added a story. “Exploring rural Thailand and Cambodia and Burma, you see simple shacks built with only gathered materials. The families living there have almost nothing. Barely making a living with subsistence agriculture or fishing. Like Bee's family. But many people there have easy smiles and display a joy about themselves. An enviable cultural difference.”
Steve said, "What a sad commentary that our so-called advanced society does not focus on the experience we want most. I think we should find a way to develop joy into our lives."
OUR FIRST EXERCISE
Bobby then said something that would have passed over us in earlier times. Now we were ready to listen.
He simply said that we needed a way to experience the feeling of joy directly.
Carl objected, “Joy results from doing something to produce it.”
"I disagree," I said. "Our focus on ‘doing' may be the very reason we neglect things more important.”
Steve, having accomplishments greater than any of us, said, "I agree with Evan. Maybe it is time we re-focus our attention."
Bobby asked us if we were willing to try an exercise to see if it was possible to put attention directly on joy, which we are looking for. We were pleasantly surprised that he did not try some religious proselytizing. Instead, he offered a great idea.
“How?” Carl growled.
"Try a joy exercise," was Bobby's simple suggestion.
This moment started the change in our lives.
With a history in sports, exercise was not a foreign idea to us. Steve asked Bobby, “What kind of exercise?
I had been thinking about this, and suggested - - 'FLOOD OURSELF WITH JOY.'
Simple. Too simple? We were quiet. It might put our attention on exactly what we are looking for. Would the exercise work?
Steve broke the silence, "Sure, I am willing to try it." Carl was skeptical, but figured it could at least do no harm.
Bobby said, "OK, as silly and simplistic as it sounds, let’s try the exercise 'FLOOD OURSELF WITH JOY.' Certainly worth the try.” Bobby knew it would work.
This seemed like an odd class assignment from our college days. We would try the exercise 'FLOOD OURSELF WITH JOY.'
Steve offered, “May I suggest that we meet again in several months. Let’s see where this leads.”
We began a journey together to maximize enjoyment of our lives. Four smart guys, best friends from college days, each with very different life perspectives, now with a shared goal.
Within 2 weeks, Steve Carl, Bobby and I began e mailing our results of the 'FLOOD OURSELF WITH JOY' exercise. Putting attention on joy indeed intensified those feelings. But we noted the constant chatter in our minds made the exercise difficult to do.
Steve later reported that, with persistence, the exercise caused the constant dialogue to fade. He felt joy could be experienced directly. “A much better perspective,” he said.
We all reported similar results. Putting attention on joy absolutely worked to heighten that feeling. I noted, “Even more so with longer duration and greater intensity.”
Carl's wife Dee wrote that Carl finally got into the joy exercise, reporting he was losing his grumpy, sarcastic edge, and would sit with a peace she had not seen before.
Bobby told us that he is now using the exercise as a tool as a counselor, “Results in personal lives, with couples, and within families. Possible on a larger scale too.”
Steve thought that the exercise was producing changes in the brain synapses and physiological chemistry. I wrote to him that it would be significant if he could show that our joy exercise actually produces organic changes. He replied that it would be a worthwhile study.
Steve began organizing our next rendezvous.
Fitting to tradition, Steve scheduled our next meeting for a Cal - Stanford basketball game in Berkeley. It was a Saturday afternoon game. We met at the restaurant as planned. This time things were different. Previously meetings were for laughs, have a few beers, see a game, and enjoy good camaraderie. Now we had an additional purpose of greater significance to us.
Carl and his wife Dee were in good spirits. This was a rare time that Bobby was accompanied by his quiet wife. Steve brought his corporate secretary Marlee whom I recognized as Steve's girlfriend at Cal years ago. I asked Steve why he separated from this smart beauty. He replied that they never separated. They made an agreement years ago that he would grant her every wish, if he could act out a rich man's silly fantasies. They had always been a team, and my guess always will be.
The guys were pleased that I brought Bee. They were curious about her. I explained that she grew up in rural Thailand without much. Her loving family most valued highest displays of ‘sanuk.’ Joy. Western culture emphasis on possessions was less important. And her Buddhist philosophy made her keenly aware of Karma.
Then we went right to our challenge of maximizing enjoyment in our lives. We agreed that it would be a travesty if we did not at least try.
We all considered the enormity of our task. We were re-examining basic questions which no one has given adequate answers.
Bobby again showed the charismatic leader we'd seen on his Sunday TV program and occasionally in news interviews. He assumed the role as moderator, asking about our 'FLOOD OURSELF WITH JOY' exercise.
Dee said that the exercise is helping Carl and her to become like that content couple at the restaurant they had seen years ago. Marlee, now a part of our project, said that any lack of energy or focus is immediately corrected by taking a break and doing the joy exercise. “Now I can get centered,” she said.
I reported that the joy exercise could be done effectively in both moments of silence and of high activity. I felt there was an ‘inside joy,’ and an ‘outside joy.’ They felt different, but complementary.
Steve wondered if maybe joy has a ‘shape’ which can be sensed. He recalled the ‘forms’ in Plato’s ‘Cave Analogy,’ and Jung’s reference to archetypes.
The joy exercise was proving profoundly existential - - an experience of basic existence. Of ultimate reality. Of being.
Why did it take so long? Probably because it seemed too simple. I recalled the expression, ‘What we are looking for, is who is looking.’
It was time to walk to the basketball game.
OUR SECOND EXERCISE
At the restaurant after the game, Steve expressed his satisfaction at what we had accomplished. He repeated an earlier phrase, “Now what?”
I had been thinking about this for a while, "OK, another experience which transforms feelings is (and I said slowly), l-a-u-g-h-i-n-g."
Carl questioned, "But laughing is the result of being happy, not the other way around."
Steve responded, “Wouldn’t you agree that people who can laugh easily, laugh often and deeply, are happier?”
Would developing our ability to laugh affect our happiness? Could we put attention directly on laughing?
The rest of the evening, we told funny story after funny story. It became apparent to us that laughing, like joy, is an experience basic to our existence. It gave a glimpse of who we are.
Steve suggested that a LAUGHING exercise should be our second exercise. We knew the feeling of laughing well, so this would be easy and a fun exercise.
Steve suggested that we meet again in several months. Acting the corporate commander made him so successful, he directed us, “Report what you learned.”
Here are four college friends, goal-oriented and successful, now daring to confront a challenge of a most personal and meaningful kind.
For two months we took every opportunity to experience and focus on the intense feeling of laughing.
Steve's girlfriend Marlee engineered our next meeting for the Cal-Stanford track meet which was in Berkeley. This was our first track meet we had seen since our competitive days. So we were excited about recalling those enjoyable years at track practice and in competition. As usual, we arrived at our morning rendezvous within 15 minutes of each other with an enthusiasm that comes with a shared purpose.
Again, we told stories to catch up. Again the guys were fascinated with the intense joy Bee displayed when she laughed. She did so with such total abandon it seemed to consume her whole body. Bee is naturally shy, becoming more so when she notices attention on her. The guys quickly assured Bee that they admired her ability to express joy so totally.
Before Bee's US fiance visa had expired, I married my longtime Thai girlfriend in a beach ceremony in Hawaii. There was another round of congratulations to her. And especially to me.
We liked our second exercise. Putting attention on the intense feelings of laughing was powerful. We expressed that the exercise was helping us re-prioritize what is important.
To follow Steve’s directive to ‘report,’ we presented some research we had done on the subject.
Marlee found studies at universities on the physiology of laughing. She referenced medical journals done at hospitals on the effects on laughing on health. It is no surprise that laughter is scientifically proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, and improve neural mechanism and immune system function. She read stories of those claiming to have been cured of disease by laughter.
Our Googling 'laughing' didn't bring up much for our purposes. There are plenty of joke sites. There were video clips, movie and TV comedy skits. There were standup comedians being hilarious. Fun, but no help in discovering a methodology for creating the feeling of laughing.
Bobby discovered a cult in Japan with laughing their only activity. As strange as it sounds, they sit in a circle and simply laugh. No jokes, no funny stories. They just laugh, trying to teach themselves how to develop that ability and feeling. They claim real improvements in health and happiness in the real world as a result.
Then we got to our personal experiences. Dee said that as a result of doing the joy and laughing exercises, Carl and she are evolving the way they have always wanted. They reminded us of their favorite story of the beaming older couple they had admired years earlier. Dee said they are now that couple. College age kids are now staring at them, recognizing the significance. Carl listened, saying nothing, but spoke volumes as he hung his head in embarrassment as we looked in his direction. Tears were falling.
We noted that putting attention on laughing absolutely worked to develop that ability. Greater with longer duration and more intensity.
Steve reported that he wanted to carry the exercise further than just putting attention on the feelings of laughing. So we were not surprised that he and two corporate executives went to the San Francisco 'Laugh Club.' “Putting attention on laughing so thoroughly made me more aware of myself. I wonder if who I really am comes forward to be noticed. An epiphany.”
Bobby said that when he discreetly incorporates the JOY and the LAUGHING exercises in his services and TV shows, the response is enormous.
Carl took a cheap shot, "Revenue is up." Bobby was not amused.
Steve speculated again the notion that laughing perhaps has a ‘shape.’ He wondered if his body could re-organize or adapt to that superimposed archetype.
He added that it would be a worthwhile study to show that the joy exercise and laughing exercise worked by scientifically demonstrating changes in brain chemistry and function.
We noted that laughing of course needed an appropriate context. I suggested that remembering laughing could be done at any time.
We felt that our lives were turning upside down. Or perhaps more accurately, we were righting ourselves.
It was time to walk down to the track.
DOCUMENTING OUR OBSERVATIONS
It was such nostalgia seeing the track again. Those were simpler times. If it were possible to know, in those days, how our lives would evolve, we surely would have been pleased.
Between events, we had time for reminiscing about our years in practice and meets on that track. We wondered how much effort would be involved in competing in Masters track meets now. We were still in good shape and could do it. But we decided just because we can do something, that does not mean we should do it. Bobby re-phrased that if we are smart enough to do something, we should be smart enough not to do it. Anyhow, our project of developing our personal lives was far more important than just another worldly accomplishment.
The outcome of the track meet came down to the 4 x 400 meter relay (‘mile relay’ during our time). Our anchor leg did not finish through, and was passed at the tape. That miffed Carl.
At dinner afterwards, Carl mentioned the anchor runner not finishing strongly. His pet peeve was people who do not maximize their opportunities. Steve pointed out that this could apply to us in our project. “Maximize life.”
We reminisced further about our competitive days. Sports had been a great teacher. We learned about the importance of being in good physical shape and about physical efficiency. We learned about focus and discipline. Work could produce personal improvements. We learned the importance of friends.
Bobby thought that others should be aware of these ideas which are improving our lives. "Perhaps we should document them."
I said that I had already been taking good notes of our meetings and discussions. "I could write a journal of our observations."
"What, a How to Laugh instruction book?" Carl mused.
Steve suggested that our original goal was to find tools to maximize happiness, so if we write anything, that should be the focus.
I had a brainstorm. "Have you guys read the book The Richest Man in Babylon?" Most of us had read this classic treatise on how to gain and maintain wealth. "We might document our observations in something called The Happiest Man in Babylon."
We all immediately liked the idea. I could fill in the dialogue at previous meetings, and continue note-taking.
This story was launched.
Steve felt the metamorphosis in his life. “Our JOY exercise works. Our LAUGHING exercise works. Let’s continue exploring.”
He offered his mansion in Silicon Valley for our next meeting.
What followed next astounded us more.
OUR THIRD EXERCISE
I had seen computer tycoon Steve's corporate campus in magazines. It was even more impressive in person. Buildings of mixed geometry were built together with nature. Gardens were growing in structures, and structures were extended into gardens. Whole walls were retractable to adjust to weather and mood. There were indoor brooks and waterfalls. Some floors were soft grass.
Marlee lived in the giant dome with spirally-spaced rooms, accessed by an inclinator winding upwards to her penthouse comprising the top third. Marlee was the distance swimmer on the Cal swim team. Now she could take the circular water-slide, or the long jump, into her lap pool for workouts.
Steve lived in a reflective glass pyramid monolith, a giant studio, “to review news, science and tech journals. And play piano with classical, rock and jazz masterpieces,” as he said.
Soon after arriving, we were slowly jogging along the exercise track weaving through Steve's and Marlee's corporate campus. Past hanging gardens and multileveled ponds. The placement of waterfalls conjured thoughts of Escher art.
The elliptical corporate conference complex ahead partly overhung from a mountain slope, and partly built into the mountain. It looked like a moored spacecraft. We entered the inner sanctum which Steve asked the architect to conjure a feeling of being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. His corporate decisions were made there, and now it was ours to explore our own new world.
We continued stories of our lives the past two months. Marlee was particularly looking forward to this meeting. She would suggest our third exercise. As usual, I jotted notes and filled in our dialogue later.
We began calling the joy exercise, ‘joy yoga’, and the laughing exercise, ‘laughing yoga.’
Marlee was excited to report that our ‘yoga’ exercises were opening new feelings. They were creating intense feelings in her heart. “And there is an overwhelming feeling of love associated with those sensations.” This was profound for her.
Steve supported his girlfriend, noting an interconnectivity in the body. “Changes in one part of the body indeed affect other parts. We are a holistic system. There is a definite resonance among ‘dimensions’ of ourselves.”
Marlee continued, “If a joy exercise and a laughing exercise were effective tools to make changes we like in ourselves, a LOVE exercise might work also.
This idea sounded simplistic, but so did the joy exercise and the laughing exercise in the beginning. We understood what she was talking about, and agreed to try a LOVE exercise to see where it would lead.
We knew that putting attention on pure love would be difficult. There are so many physical and emotional associations with love. What a sad commentary for us to have difficulty experiencing or even remembering pure love.
The more we looked at this fascinating dilemma, the more we began to realize its importance. This became our focus. We postulated that something happens during socialization since childhood. Unfortunate associations are made with love, and love gets distorted. This probably is the most personally devastating part of human development.
It was shocking to realize the intensity of what we thought was love consumes our attention. It is amazing how and why we allowed them to develop so strongly. Being aware of this confusion is huge.
Just for fun, Steve, Carl, Bobby and I personally each began to catalogue the astounding number of bizarre associations we had with love. We did not openly admit to all of them, of course.
Well, it can be reported that over time, we began developing the ability to put attention solely on love, free of associations. We concluded that exercising the feeling of pure love could be even more powerful than our joy and laughing exercises. We felt it is a 'common denominator' of all people. We knew that untangling the false associations could solve so many problems. Personal. Between partners. Among friends. And between cultures. If we could only do it. We felt this exercise is probably the most important pursuit a person could do. This was a big one.
After our meeting at Steve’s corporate campus, we went to our hotel in San Francisco and had the finest dinner at a revolving restaurant overlooking the city. Carl thanked us for introducing him to new ideas which changed his life. Looking around to those at other tables in the restaurant, he leaned forward saying, “Why would anyone choose to be anything other than happy?”
Bobby added, "I hear people say 'If I could have what I want, I'd be happy.' But really it's the other way around."
The chapters to follow are grouped by topic, rather than by time sequence.
Exercise is Marlee's passion. She said that the energy she experiences from workouts can generate happiness for her.
We all knew 'energy' well from our Cal track days, so energy is an understandable and comfortable subject. We know the pleasant sensation of power, of energy surges, and the endorphin-induced euphoria of heavy workouts.
Marlee added that she also feels the energy flow through yoga, and tai chi. and being aware of breathing. She reports focusing on breathing, holding the enigmatically thought, "Follow breath back to source."
We knew the importance of energy. Those who do not keep in shape or know intense energy flow have a distinct disadvantage in well-being and being happy.
We knew that without energy, the other exercises would not work. Energy is a necessary component of our other exercises.
But we concluded that energy alone is not a source of happiness.
Earlier we had wondered about other exercises and approaches in our project together. Might there be any insights or self-discovery benefits through the use of psychedelics. We thought it best to proceed naturally.
Steve recalled that meditation was mentioned as a possibility to examine. We were not keen to be like anyone we'd known who advocates meditation. Or to emulate any guru. We appreciated the goal of ‘enlightenment,’ and we agreed that who we are is basic to our thoughts and feelings. But we felt that a philosophy of denying thoughts and feelings to find who we are dangerously leads to isolation and incompetence.
Instead, we decided that 'turning on' rather than 'turning off' is the better route. To maximize experiences rather than minimize them. 'The way out is the way through.’ Experiencing and changing Karma instead of avoiding Karma.
Knowing who we are, and maximizing our worldly life, can be collaborative. We wish followers of gurus trying to escape their Karma ‘good luck.’
We would put attention on our exercises, our ‘yogas’ as we began calling them.
OUR FOURTH EXERCISE
We had already gone farther than we could have initially guessed. Why not continue to see what else we could experience?
Bobby waited patiently to present his suggestion for an exercise. He is careful to not use religious terms. So he told us 'communication' is his best route to be happy.
To Bobby, 'communication' meant communication with a' higher source.'
“Ah, universality,” Steve said, trying to steer clear of religion.
Steve added, “We all have contemplated this concept, but organized religion has distorted its meaning. Let’s use philosophic terms, such as 'mathematical perfection,' or 'the ideal world,' or 'world of forms,' or 'totality,' or ‘fundamental reality,’ ’ultimate dimension,’ or ‘universal viewpoint’.”
Joy, laughing, and love are feelings. This is a concept. Outside human emotions.
Steve continued, saying that historically when he was confronted with a dilemma in business, he would sit still, put his attention on what he called a 'perfect world.' He felt that putting attention on the 'perfect world' would show a resolution to that dilemma. He thinks there is an order underlying the chaos of the world. An order which could be sensed. He thought it would indeed be worth examining the idea of universality.
In absence of a better name, Steve suggested put attention on UNIVERSAL VIEWOINT. Bobby preferred the term ‘Communication,’ but was pleased that we were at least looking at ‘higher realities.’
We found that putting attention on UNIVERSAL VIEWPOINT had value for us. The exercise represented an attempt to direct our attention to ideas beyond our limited viewpoint.
We recalled Plato's philosophic 'cave analogy.' Perhaps the perceptions we have in our present physical world are like the shadow images that the chained prisoners saw on the cave wall. Shadows of a ‘higher reality.’
Bobby pressed his luck, suggesting that there is some 'divine direction' from this 'universal viewpoint.' We wisely steered clear of that discussion.
Steve conjectured that our ‘individualized viewpoint’ and the ‘universal viewpoint’ might be the extremes in the space / time continuum. We guessed that these viewpoints are not contrary viewpoints, but complementary.
OUR FIFTH EXERCISE
We continued our exercises, our ‘yogas.’ Putting attention on joy developed joy. Putting attention on laughing developed laughing. Putting attention on love developed love. By putting attention on universal viewpoint, we gained an appreciation of that greater than ourselves.
Then we put attention on ATTENTION itself.
It was instructive to look around at people apparently sleepwalking through their day, simply perceiving whatever was randomly presented before them, or whatever they fancied at the moment. A rudderless ship drifting in their surroundings.
We knew how easily our minds wander. It was humbling to realize how we allow our attention to drift haphazardly. Perhaps out of laziness. The importance of becoming more aware of our attention became obvious.
We focused on the direction of our attention. What we choose to look at.
Further, we focused on the content of our attention. What we choose to hold in our consciousness.
Steve suggested that ATTENTION be our fifth exercise. Carl objected, “Put attention on attention?” “Yes,” I replied.
This exercise is proving to be the most helpful in dis-covering who we ARE.
[Skip the next several chapters, if no desire for philosophic conjecture.]
At one time in our discussions about who we are, Carl said, “I am only my physical body.”
This started a philosophic disagreement.
I recalled an intriguing theory that who we are is consciousness, not a body." I replied.
Carl quickly replied, “Consciousness is created by chemical computers in the brain. Nothing more. When we die, we disappear, except in the chemical minds of those still alive."
I continued relating the theory, "We have a body, but we are not our body. We have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts. We have feelings, but we are not our feelings."
Carl said that consciousness cannot exist without a body.
I pointed out that many philosophies would disagree. The belief is that consciousness is who we are, observing the world we are in. We are in a body, like tea in a teacup.
Carl adamantly objected, stating that consciousness just 'springs to life' spontaneously in physical neuron synapses of the developing brain.
I replied, “Quite differently, the theory states that consciousness pre-exists.”
“Nonsense,” Carl said. “We are conscious only because the neuron synapses create it.”
“So you believe that when we have joy and laugh and love, this is just a mechanistic process?” I asked.
“Yes, the exercises helped me because I re-programmed my organic body computer,” Carl said
I replied, “If the theory is correct, the exercises helped you dis-cover who you are. Consciousness. Different philosophies have different names for the same idea. ‘Attention.’ ‘Awareness.’ ‘Knower.’ Perceiver.’ ‘I AM.’
“Only conjecture,” Carl concluded.
Of course, for our goal of maximizing our lives, it did not matter which philosophy we believe.
A SEPARATE UNIVERSE
Carl categorically dismissed the idea that consciousness pre-exists as patently false.
Steve wondered, “How could such a theory be tested?”
This subject has fascinated me for a long time. The guys agreed to at least listen to the idea that a universe of consciousness pre-exists.
I recalled that the theory states consciousness has no mass or wavelength, an entirely different ‘substance.’ It cannot be observed directly because it is constantly the observer.
“What?” Carl shouted. “With no mass or wavelength, it cannot be empirically measured. It is nonsense to imagine such a reality that cannot be scientifically demonstrated to exist.”
“What kind of fractured logic is that?” Carl retorted.
“Hmmm,” Steve interrupted. “I wonder if joy, laughing, and love indeed involves more than just a mechanistic process.”
“The conjecture is that consciousness is the perceiver. The mechanistic world is the object perceived. The intellect has difficulty grasping this concept because we have been taught to focus on objects of consciousness. The idea that a separate reality of consciousness, comprised of all sentient Beings in the Universe, is a very old and interesting philosophy,” I added.
“With ot physical laws, but laws of empathy and understanding,” Steve wondered.
Carl complained, "Imagining a separate universe of consciousness just complicates our understanding of the universe."
I replied that it might be discovered that such a wild conjecture might eventually fit the facts better than our present theories.
Marlee paraphrased, "There are far more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies."
THEORY: CONSCIOUSNESS - IS - GOD
Steve is successful because he looks for new ideas. He became willing to consider the idea that a separate universe of consciousness might exist.
So I presented a yet further-out theory.
"Some have even postulated that Consciousness Is God. God is the collective consciousness of all sentient Beings in the Universe.”
I pointed out that the 'Consciousness-Is-God' theory should not be seen as anti-established religion. On the contrary, it could be seen as a possible basic philosophy of all religions. Discovering a commonality of religious beliefs would be valuable.
Carl complained, “Ultimately egotistical.”
I reminded that the theory makes a clear distinction between consciousness versus ego. Ego is part of the world perceived. Consciousness perceives personal ego.
Bobby quoted, "‘I AM the way.’" He Steve was quick to reply, “‘I AM is the way.’” Bobby scowled.
Is the Consciousness-Is-God theory blasphemous? On the contrary, it might be seen as a possible basic philosophy of all religions. Discovering a commonality of religious beliefs could help address the cause of so many of the world's problems.
I took a while for Bobby to conclude that these ideas are not antithetical to his faith. And that they could even support it.
Steve and Marlee visited Bee and me in Hawaii. Bee has a good grasp of English now, but wonders why the fuss about our ‘exercises.’ She is the embodiment of joy and laughing, so ‘why the big deal?’ For us, coming from a materialistic culture, this is a big deal. We thanked Bee for being, in part, the inspiration for our inquiries.
Bee was quite contended running my farm which I gave to her. Steve, Marlee and I got into often humorous debates about these new ideas. New, intriguing ideas.
If we indeed live in consciousness / materialistic universes, what is the interaction? How do humans fit into the scenario? Each question evoked further questions.
If the dualistic theory is correct, is there a hierarchy of dimensions or vibration levels between them? Are there sentient beings on other dimensions? We wondered how consciousness physicalized. And about evolution.
We wondered how each individual viewpoint might relate to the universal viewpoint. We wondered about free will, and responsibility. Would the collective of all sentient being viewpoints agree to a goal? A goal-less game?
How ‘independent’ is each viewpoint to affect the structure and events in the physical world lived in? The concept of Karma became prominent in our discussions.
We wondered about the first ‘individualizations.’ And if the material world began with a form or a vibration.
We wondered if, by understanding the process, we could change forms or affect the outcome of events.
We conjectured that past, present, and future could be seen as a ‘universal now.’ Steve said that if true, a wild science fiction story could be written with characters time-traveling and shape-shifting by simply discovering the track of that time or shape. "Simply?" I asked. "Simple if you figure out how to choose the tracks," Steve said.
Steve and I expressed in humorous detail what we would do if we had the ability to choose our future from our present perspective. "That probably is why we cannot," I said.
We wondered if an individual viewpoint can be ‘captive’ in a dimension by force, by selfishness or stupidity, or by self-perpetuating paradoxes of our own making.
We wondered if it is possible to move in, or to communicate with, those in ‘higher’ dimensions. We agreed that greater ability did not necessarily mean ‘more ethical.’
Steve is thinking of ways to test if consciousness could affect objects or events in the physical world. Could a collective of individual viewpoints improve the possibility? Profound if successful. Being a man of action, I would not be surprised if he showed such a cause / effect relationship. Only speculating, Steve said, “joy may be the doorway between the universes.” He added, “laughing and loving are good ones too.”
I mused that perhaps focusing on both individualized viewpoint and universal viewpoint, ‘miracles’ might result.
Steve thought that science, technology and culture will change by examining these ideas.
We expressed that of all the possible experiences a sentient Being could have in life, being happy seemed the most important. Our exercises worked for us.
DARWIN'S THEORY REVISITED
Bobby asked that this chapter be included in The Happiest Man in Babylon.
There are two sides to Darwin's ‘Theory of Evolution:’ 1. Survival of the fittest, 2. Generation of new species.
There is no doubt that the 'survival of the fittest' part of Darwin's Theory is absolutely correct. Those organisms which are the strongest or best adapted to their environment have the best chance of survival. The proof is seen though time.
But Bobby believes that the second part of Darwin's Theory, the 'generation of new species,' is incorrect. Darwin postulated that new species are generated by random mutations of genes which results in evolution. “Modern science continues to embrace this hypothesis, despite factual evidence which refutes it.”
According to Bobby, “Mathematicians and geneticists should be first to point out the impossibility of Darwin's 'generation of new species' postulation. Simply, the time required by a process of 'chance gene mutation' to produce the myriad of life forms and intricate systems we see is far insufficient. The math is just not there.”
Bobby continued to say the 'generation of new species' part of Darwin's Theory is also shown to be improbable by the fact that physical particles and systems, when left alone, tend to dissipate rather than to organize. Entropy does not favor the generation of new species.
In gene mutations, if they were indeed made by chance, there is only the remotest possibility that they would benefit the organism's survival, and would actually be harmful. Darwin's ‘chance mutation’ does not fit the facts.
Bobby said that perhaps the most glaring flaw in the ‘random mutation’ evolution idea is the fact that complex new forms do not have survivable stages. Sudden massive development is not consistent with ‘random mutations.’
An alternative explanation to the generation of new species hypotheses is that a 'willful intelligence' influences such alterations in organisms. Proponents of this idea would be the first to admit that this idea cannot be defended scientifically.
'Lamarck's Theory' states that changes in form can occur by willpower of the organism itself, and those changes can be perpetuated genetically. Giraffes wanted to reach tall trees, so willed their necks longer, and that trait perpetuated. Cheetahs wanted to run faster, so willed their bodies sleeker and more powerful for them and their progeny. Scientists a century ago discounted Lamarck's Theory by concluding that there is no proof that genetic changes can be individually willed or perpetuated genetically.
It is odd that given the option of believing the 'willful intelligent design' idea which cannot be proven, or Darwin's 'generation of new species' theory which can be refuted, most scientists still prefer to believe the latter.
Science is evolving too. Will a new ‘generation of species’ theory be postulated ? Will we evolve further?
NOTES ON ANCIENT BABYLON
The ancient city of Babylon flourished in various forms from 3000 BC for 2000 years. It was located between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, in what is now Iraq.
Through a succession of wise leadership, Babylon developed and grew to become the most renowned city in the world. It was highly organized and was the first city to reach a population above 200,000. Huge public works projects were undertaken. Irrigation canals between the rivers made the fertile Mesopotamian plain agriculturally productive. Elaborate gardens were created within the city. At one time Babylon was surrounded by huge triple walls, a moat, and had drawbridge entrances.
It became a cradle of ideas. Science, medicine, history and mathematics were advanced. Education and the arts were valued. Religion was allowed to be practiced. Money as a means of exchange was invented. The ideas of capitalism with financing, promissory notes and private property rights were born. There was evidence of a stable political hierarchy, laws, and a justice system. Civilization was advanced in Babylon.
Eventually, Babylon began its decline internally by corruption and unwise political guidance. It was conquered and re-conquered. Plundered and re-plundered. It was abandoned to the winds. All that remains today is rubble and dust.
Babylon is an example of what happens when life priorities are lost. They forgot who they ARE.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
We keep in touch by e mails. And we meet in Berkeley for the first football game of each season, and of course for the Cal / Stanford ‘Big Game.’
The restaurant near campus is always filled with the current crop of college kids, loud and confident. Most seemed focused on the trappings of materialistic life. Like we were.
Some of the kids might begin to realize that there is far more to experience than what the physical world could satisfy. Like we did.
Would they make the decision to maximize their lives beyond their accomplishments? Like we did.
Would they make the effort to evolve? Like we did.
Steve started a new round of thinking when he said, "OK, we learned methods to maximize our life. To be happy. Now what?"
Steve knows exactly what he wants to do: to create an inclusive economic system where everyone can be productive. We warned him with old phrases, 'You can lead a horse to water, but cannot make him drink.' And to be careful to 'give a helping hand, not a handout.' Yes, he knows all that. Steve will focus on creating opportunities for anyone choosing to be competent and be happy. He hopes to refine the productivity / reward economic system, and to make the ideas we discussed more available for those who wish to maximize their lives too.
Bobby plans to show that world religions have more in common than the differences which cause so many problems. He is examining the Consciousness-Is-God theory as possibly the core philosophy of all spiritual beliefs. That certainly would unify all religions. And would include agnostics and humanists. Bobby mentioned in a TV interview that it is impossible to be an atheist, “because we are conscious.”
I am interested in philosophies and cosmologies of all kinds. The conjecture that a universe of consciousness is fundamental to the physical universe, continues to intrigue.
Carl and Dee had interests closer to home. They would be content that our exercises were their accessible doorways to continued joy in life.
We like the phrase, 'Now what?'
Copyright ©, November, 2009, Bill Pfeil
Author's footnotes: feedback is welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org
I graduated from Cal Berkeley in 1966, B.A. in Philosophy, and for many years farmed in Hawaii. Website: http://www.billpfeil.com