Finding Gratitude in the World Series of Poker

In my former life as a mathematics major and actuary, I have always viewed life–and the major decisions that come with it–from a probabilistic standpoint. From a risk-minimization perspective, the How I Met Your Mother episode title “Nothing Good Happens After 2 A.M” comes to mind. E.g. one of my business-school friends asked me if I wanted to go and “hang out” outside the Staples Center during Game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals between the Lakers and the Celtics. While he was posing that question, my mind was running virtual simulations of all possible scenarios that could occur no matter which team won. Obviously–the Staples Center being in the heart of LA–many of the scenarios would have us getting caught in some kind of melee involving bottle-throwing, trash-burning, or Celtic-fan-bashing. My friend–having lived in Singapore for most of his life–could be forgiven for asking such a question. Certainly, a formal education isn’t the “be-all and end-all” and only forms a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to utility maximization and risk minimization.

Of course, living life or making decisions from a probabilistic perspective does not guarantee success, nor does it guarantee bad things from happening to you, as a recent book “Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy” by Cornell Professor Robert H. Frank has attested. It is a cliche, but all we can do is give 100% of our effort, and hope for the best. Professor Frank has argued, however, that the most successful of us tends to attribute our successes to an innate ability or hard work as opposed to luck. On the other hand, the more unsuccessful among us tends to blame it on external circumstances.

This blog entry isn’t designed to be a social commentary. Rather, I want to emphasize one of Professor Frank’s many conclusions: that successful people who attribute some of their success to luck and who express gratitude for their successes tend to be happier people–and who tend to experience tangible benefits such as less aches and pains, improved sleep quality, and reduced anxiety.

Based on my experience, investors or financial traders who internalize their losses while externalizing their successes tend to demonstrate significantly better track records in the long-run. In many cases, this could mean the difference between a winning or losing track record. Successful investors or traders tend to be more cognizant of luck’s role in their successes because their results are highly tangible and could be objectively tracked on a real-time basis.

Watching the action of the 2016 World Series of Poker (WSOP), it is fascinating to see how all nine players at the Final Table expressed their gratitude for just making to the “final nine.” Several of the “final nine” are professional poker players who have never made it to the final table of the WSOP main event. Given the record amount of main event entrants–6,737 in all–this is not surprising. After all, how many of us–even those who possess both the IQ & EQ, along with the right amount of office-politicking–could make it to the CEO or COO position of a Fortune 1000 company? These players understand luck plays a larger role than skills in a tournament setting; we could certainly learn from them. After all, if finding gratitude makes one a tangibly happier person, what have we got to lose?

Finally–for those numerically-minded or just mathematically curious, here are some common probability-based trivia relating to heads-up poker (these answers were generated with computer simulations; credit goes to Michael Craig, author of “The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside The Richest Poker Game Of All Time“). The following is a direct quote from Michael Craig’s book:

In a heads-up poker match:

  1. What is the lowest high card you could have in your hand and expect to win more than half the time regardless of your second card?
  2. What is the unpaired, unsuited hand with the lowest high card that would win more than half the time?
  3. What is the lowest suited hand that would win more than half the time?
  4. What are the highest suited hands that would not win half the time?
  5. What are the worst hands that would win more than half the time?

Following are answers to the quiz:

  1. King. King-deuce off-suit won 52.6% to 53.2% of the time. Queen-high would not always win half the time. Queen-deuce off-suit, for example, won only 48.8% to 49.4% of the time.
  2. Ten-eight off-suit won 51.5% of the time.
  3. Nine-six suited.
  4. Jack-deuce suited won exactly 50% of the time. Ten-four suited won 49% to 49.4% of the time.
  5. Several hands hover around 50%. In two separate million-hand trials, the following hands were the worst poker hands that still won 50% of the time: Queen-trey off-suit, Jack-trey suited, Deuce-deuce, Jack-four suited, Queen-four off-suit.

India Taking Center Stage

I recently embarked on a 16-day trip to India, where I, along with a colleague, visited businesses in four cities: Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, Mumbai, and Pune. I covered the business aspects–and why I believe Indian economic growth will surpass that of China–in a recent article: Opinion – This emerging market has big money-making potential in 2015. Here, I want to discuss my personal reflections instead–including what I learned as well as why I believe India will have an enormous impact on Americans in the next 20 years.

I spent many years in four of the world’s major cities: Hong Kong, Sydney, Houston, and Los Angeles. I spent the last two years living in Orange County, which is about 50 miles south of Los Angeles; in many ways, Orange County is fundamentally different to Los Angeles. Spending time in India reminds me of my childhood in Hong Kong. Even though I was there at the height of the French terrorism crisis (coming so soon after the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2010 Pune bombing) there remains a sense of high, infectious optimism. This optimism was backed by a flurry of real, organized activity–whether it was the sound of programmers clicking away on their computers, the roar of all-new jumbo jets taking off from the world-class Mumbai international airport, or the sights of construction cranes around all the major urban areas.

Of course, I have never lived in a developing country; but India is a fast-growing country and Hong Kong was a fast-growing region while I was growing up there in the 1980s. India needs this growth precisely because of its high poverty and income-inequality levels. India also has the world’s largest youth population, with over 350 million 10-24 year-olds. If India can develop and grow quickly through greater infrastructure and education investments, its economy would create enough high-paying jobs to form the world’s next biggest middle class–just behind that of the U.S. and China.

I believe Indian economic growth will surpass that of China as soon as 2016. It is thus not surprising to see capital and investment bankers flocking back from the U.S. to India. Indian professionals, especially those in the IT industry, are also receiving new growth opportunities. Google and Amazon are offering $200,000 a year packages in Pune where the average annual professional salary is less than $10,000 a year. That said, as someone who is living and working in one of the world’s most desirable areas (our office is in Newport Beach, CA), I am grateful for the privilege to reside in the U.S. and for the Americans who built this country before me. I am sure my fellow Americans know this too; but sometimes, we forget.

China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) transformed the world’s economy in many ways. Among many things, China has transformed the global manufacturing industry–unleashing a tsunami of deflation on the prices of consumer goods and forcing U.S.-based manufacturers to cut costs, automate, and move up the value chain. The next major step is the export of Chinese-manufactured cars to the U.S.–starting with Volvo, and then BYD later this year. India will similarly transform the world’s IT and service economy over the next 10-20 years.

China’s entry into the WTO created millions of jobs for the Chinese manufacturing industry. This was necessary to lift the living standards of millions of Chinese workers; but from the U.S. perspective (where labor has enjoyed significant pricing power over the last several hundred years, with the occasional exceptions when increased immigration levels brought down unskilled labor wages), this was tantamount to “war on the American middle class” simply because American manufacturing wages could no longer complete on a global scale, despite the geographical proximity to their end-markets.

With the massive improvements in global communications–as well as the rise of Digital India (widespread 4G networks and smartphone adoption in India by 2020)–India will finally be able to complete on a global scale in the IT and services industry. Americans will see their real wages depressed still further–but this time, real wage deflation will occur in the IT and other professional industries, including finance, law, and accounting. Living standards of millions of Indian citizens will rise as a result, of course, which will ultimately be a boon to the global economy.

Life is Short – Find & Live Your Core

Imagine you were born in a random time and place over the last 5,000 years of recorded history. Chances are you would have either lived a nasty, brutish, and short life, or a predetermined existence as dictated by societal, cultural, family, or legal constraints. You really did not have much say, or many options even if you did. Even the all-powerful were limited by political, resource and technological constraints.

Only in the last 50 years (just the most recent 1% of our 5,000-year recorded history) have human beings really embraced freedom–the freedom of choice, to work, to marry (sort of), and more important, the freedom for self-expression. And this is only possible in the United States. Most countries today still look down upon those who choose to be different, or to be themselves. Living in the United States (especially California) is akin to having a lover who gives you a long leash. You can use this leash to either: 1) hang yourself, or 2) embrace the freedom it provides you–the freedom to dig really deep to find out who you are, your strengths, passion, and life force. Then channel this energy into the part of humanity that needs and wants this energy.

It takes guts to find your true core; and it takes even more guts–to the point of obsession and blatant stubbornness–to live your core. Men in ancient societies tend to think of war (and all the glory that comes with winning a war), as their core. But this makes no sense. Today, men channel this dark energy into football, gambling, and financial speculation; but men who engage in or embrace these acts as their “core” are no different to the behavior of wild animals stalking and catching their prey. Even Achilles, who chose glory over a life of obscurity, regretted his decision to fight in the Trojan War upon entering the Underworld.

The courage to find and live your core comes from a higher purpose. It has to do with first better knowing and understanding yourself, and from this new-found self-awareness, raising your own consciousness. A person who does not know him or herself cannot be trusted. It is only through this self-awareness can we find, and then live our core. Yes, many of your friends and colleagues will change, but that is for the better. Even your significant other may leave you, but that is also for the better. We live in unprecedented times that demand us to raise our consciousness and own who we are. You will be left behind if you don’t.

The Rising Dragon: Ready for Global Leadership?

In my last post, I chronicled the history of Chinese leadership in the twilight of the Qing Dynasty–a period when Imperial China faced both unprecedented internal and external threats to its sovereignty. Chinese leadership has historically existed, and I called on today’s Chinese (both young and old) leaders to “step up” and rise to current global challenges. Global leadership is sorely needed, especially as the United States and Western Europe deal with the after-effects of unregulated globalization and financial speculation. With China now possessing the world’s second largest economy–and her (self-imposed) historical position as the “Middle Kingdom”–it is simply natural to demand such leadership and statesmanship from her.

The following essay by my good friend, Ryan Kellogg, challenges such a notion. Ryan argues that Chinese leadership is a misnomer. Ryan enunciates four distinct political and humanitarian objectives that China leadership must embrace before she could be considered a legitimate global power. Without further ado… this is a must-read.

The Rising Dragon: Ready for Global Leadership? – by Ryan Kellogg

Since the beginning of the Great Recession four years ago, the story of American decline and Chinese ascendance has become a dominant theme in international affairs. On the surface, the transition of the United States in the public discourse from an unstoppable “hyperpower” and imperial overlord in 2004 to a broken and ungovernable idiocracy a mere four years later has a certain emotional resonance. When global financial markets collapsed in September 2008, there was a distinct feeling that this was different—not like previous economic downturns of recent decades, but more similar to the earthquake of 9/11 in its epoch-changing potential.  The financial crisis had laid bare the rot that had been accumulating for decades in the US politico-economic system: a predatory banking sector devouring economic resources and human capital with no accountability, an ideologically paralyzed Congress incapable of dealing with big problems, overextended state governments forced to slash funding in education, and an anemic labor market that offered little benefit to the majority of its participants, all seemed to offer definitive evidence of America’s decline. When contrasted with the images at that time of a supremely confident China, fresh from hosting the stunning spectacle of the Beijing Olympics and 30 years into breakneck economic growth, it is little wonder that the current picture of US-China power dynamics emerged.

Many, both outside and within the US, have embraced this comeuppance for America after the divisive years of the Bush administration. According to this oft-heard storyline, Anglo-American laissez faire economics and warmongering in the Middle East have invalidated the fiscal and moral authority of American leadership first established in the post-WWII era. In contrast, China’s authoritarian-capitalist system and mercantilist foreign policy seemed to offer the world a new model for prosperity that didn’t involve often messy democratic reforms. The “Beijing Consensus”, an idea originally fulminated by Time editor Joshua Cooper Ramo that encapsulates this governance approach, has been embraced by China’s leadership (and Tom Friedman) in an increasingly assertive bid for global influence. According to a recent Brookings report, the leaders of China believe that the “Middle Kingdom” will be restored to its rightful place as the world’s preeminent power in part because of the appeal of this new development model.

This idea of America following Britain into the shadows of history, while a resurgent China fills the void is now a common part of political rhetoric in the West. Never really examined too closely, this dynamic is often implied in commonly held opinions about how China now “owns” the US (based apparently on the fact that China holds 9% of US Treasury bonds), the dominance of its economy (53% of Americans believe China’s economy is larger despite being half the size), or the rapid growth of its military (As of 2011, total Chinese spending is still 1/5th of the US). But setting aside for a moment this difference in perception versus reality, we should ask ourselves, given this moment of Western weakness, whether more assertive Chinese leadership in the world is desirable or not?

First let’s attempt to define the aspirations we have for a ‘global leader’.  Based on the lessons of the 20th century it seems that an ideal global leader should pursue goals that are not limited to economic growth alone, but should include political and humanitarian objectives as well. The following is a partial ‘to-do-list’ of any responsible would-be superpower: a) prevent large worldwide conflicts, b) support open trade and help secure the sea lanes for this trade, c) encourage the values embodied by the UN Declaration of Human Rights both through example and, when necessary, intervention, and d) coordinate collective action through established organizations to address international problems (e.g. global warming, nuclear proliferation, natural disaster relief, threats of genocide). Given this list of duties, I would offer that current Chinese leadership, as embodied by the unelected Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, has neither the ability nor the will to meet any of these demands for responsible global leadership.

China’s aggressive actions throughout Asia over maritime rights are highly worrisome. In the past few years China has butted heads with Japan, Vietnam, and most recently, the Philippines over territorial claims that have no basis in international law. China currently claims the bulk of the South China Sea, embodied by the ‘nine-dashed line’ map, and has attempted to enforce these claims, driven mostly by the prospect of rich oil and gas deposits, through intimidation both militarily and economically. When combined with longstanding claims over Taiwanese sovereignty and continued support of the world’s most reprehensible regime, North Korea, Chinese leadership has been the primary catalyst in making Asia a powder keg reminiscent of Europe in the 1900s.

While China has benefited enormously from the system of liberalized international trade setup by the United States and her allies after WWII (Bretton Woods), the nation has frequently fallen well short of its obligations since its ascension to full WTO membership in 2001. Beyond currency manipulation, stringent conditions on FDI, and significant government subsidies for many industries—it is the complete disdain for intellectual property that is most troubling. While tariffs and other forms of protectionism are understandable strategies for a developing nation, the aggressive, state-led policy of computer hacking and corporate espionage is not.

Human rights abuse in post-Mao China hardly needs exposition given its infamy in the West. From the bloody crackdown of the Tiananmen uprising to the recent intimidation of human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, Chinese leadership has a long and sordid record of oppression to those that challenge its authority. This is a nation that has severe cultural and religious repression of its ethnic minorities, leads the world in extrajudicial killings without due process, and greatly limits free speech and access to the internet. Although the Chinese record can attempt to hide behind the concept of “Asian values” first espoused by Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew to counter the Western thesis that the principles of the Enlightenment are universal, such a defense flies in the face of neighbors like South Korea, whose citizenry heroically fought a decades long battle with their authoritarian government to win increased political freedom.

Finally China, although only recently reengaged on the world stage, has shown itself to be in constant opposition to the ideals of human freedom and security.  As a staunch ally of the world’s most vile regimes in the last decade it has stood on the wrong side of history in support of a rogue’s gallery of sociopathic leaders: Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong Il, and, most recently, Bashar al-Assad.  While China may not possess any colonies, its increasingly large presence throughout Africa has led to rising resentment from locals seeing neo-imperialism at play.  On major areas of shared global concern from climate change to disaster relief, China’s willingness to offer token levels of support demonstrate a nation, much like America of the late 19th century, not ready to expand its focus beyond domestic concerns.

All of this isn’t to say that the United States is without flaws by comparison, or that modern China ruled by the CCP is the reincarnate of Nazi Germany, but given what Chinese leadership has demonstrated through action, as opposed to rhetoric, do we really think this brand of “global leadership” is a step in the right direction?

We Need Global Leadership

For most of the 19th century, the Imperial government of China was under siege by threats of civil war, foreign invaders, and intergovernmental strife. The peak of humiliation–not only for the Qing Dynasty but for the once glorious Chinese civilization–was the end and aftermath of the Second Opium War in 1860, when the Emperor fled the Forbidden City while the British and the French burned the Summer Palaces.

Emperor Xianfeng’s half brother, Prince Gong, was instructed to remain behind and negotiate with the British. The decline of the Chinese civilization was all too evident as Prince Gong noted (rightly) that the Taiping Rebellion–an “organic disease”–was the immediate concern, while Russia–“aiming to nibble away our territory like a silk worm”–was the second. The British, despite her violent actions, was to trade and thus was not a priority.

The startling defeat and ongoing siege of the Qing Government sparked the “Self-Strengthening Movement.” From 1861 to 1895, the Qing Government attempted to implement a set of institutional reforms to modernize the military, collect taxes on trade, and industrialize the country–the latter of which was particularly controversial as the Chinese was accustomed to generating wealth from their lands. Li Hongzhang, a top-ranking official known for his campaign successes in the Taiping Rebellion, became a leading figure of the reform movement.

We now understand that many of these reforms and struggles were in vain, as the Qing Dynasty ultimately collapsed–culminating in the “Warlord Era” and finally, the Chinese Civil War which did not end until the founding of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949.

But the efforts of reformists in late 19th century China cannot be understated. Conditioned by centuries of dynastic rule and convinced that China remains the “center of the world,” many of those within the Qing Government, including Empress Dowager Cixi (who held the real power) were fundamentally against institutional reforms. Prince Gong was vilified by conservative factions for being “friendly with foreigners,” while Li Hongzhang was stripped of his rank three times–but each time was recalled due to his superior diplomatic skills for dealing with foreign powers. To initiate and urge reforms in this tumultuous period in Chinese history required vision, bravery, perseverance, integrity, and statesmanship.

Today, China has risen to become yet again a world power–but more important, her citizens are living in a era of peace and stability, with access to food, shelter, education, and different life options. Over the last 35 years, Chinese leaders have built a well-oiled political framework for economic success–a political framework that took over 100 years to develop.

And today, we ask more of the Chinese and the Chinese government. We need Chinese leaders to step up as global leaders as the world deals with the after-effects of unregulated globalization (e.g. income inequalities, environmental destruction, bloated government and household balance sheets, etc.). The United States can no longer provide such leadership, and Western Europe is in internal disarray–caused by the deficiency of political and corporate leadership over the last several decades. Neither the G8 nor the G20 gatherings have achieved anything of substance–even in the face of breakdowns in the global financial system.

And finally, we should also ask more of ourselves–to take responsibility for our own lives as the global “nanny state” and corporate pension plans go out of fashion. We are responsible for our own happiness and financial security. Do it today–this is what being a leader is all about.

You Have Free Will!

Happy new year, everyone! Many of us who welcome the new year typically begin with a list of New Year’s Resolutions. Alas, most are never met. This does not mean your goals are not achievable–it simply means that you need to better understand why you are not achieving them so you can better motivate yourself–because we all have free will!

The universe and us are more than a series of physical and chemical processes. Quantum Theory, along with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, suggests that human consciousness is composed of a series of quantum processes. This is why human beings can seemingly create something from nothing, make long-term strategic decisions, and establish deep connections with fellow human beings.  In other words, nothing is set in stone!

Each of us inherently possesses free will. Some of us may be limited by our body or environment (e.g. we cannot run faster than Usain Bolt) but our ability to change our lives for the better is surprisingly immense. The only limiting factors are your ego, fear, and your peers’ judgement. Once you are on your true life path/dharma, the universe will support you in surprising ways.  Try it–you will be surprised and happy at the outcome!

I wish you all the best in 2012 and beyond. I expect more people will try to find meaning in their lives as human consciousness and compassion continues to be unleashed this year, after undergoing significant transformation in 2011 (e.g. Arab Spring). We all need a more conscious and compassionate world. Start early; start now!

Process Coaching

As many of you know, I am going through professional coaching classes and certification through The Coaches Training Institute (CTI). CTI has the world’s most established coach training program and was the first coaching institute to be accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF). I began its training program about three months ago. Aside from attending lectures and obtaining hands-on training in CTI’s classes, I have also started building my list of clients and coaching them. It has been a very fulfilling experience seeing my clients grow–in their careers, relationships, and life.

Last weekend, I attended the fourth in a series of five three-day long coaching seminars. Called “Process Coaching,” this particular seminar encourages the coach to focus on and explore the “moment.” This is important because we want our clients to enjoy the coaching journey and to deepen the learning. The prior two seminars, “Fulfillment” and “Balance,” mainly focused on moving the client forward in a more direct manner (Fulfillment empowered us to explore our clients’ values and motivations, while Balance provided tools to explore coaching issues from different perspectives–both of which are meant to help our clients make tangible progress).

During Process Coaching, we typically uncover deeper issues that may be blocking our client’s overall progress. For example, a client may be expressing disappointment over being passed over for a job promotion. As a coach, it is important to provide a safe environment for our clients to explore that emotion. Why is the client experiencing the disappointment (perhaps because the promotion was more important to him than he initially thought)? How deep is the disappointment? Is it going to impede him from performing his work? Is this feeling of failure controlling his life? What has the client learned from this experience? At the end of the coaching session, we will hold our clients accountable by asking him to confront what we uncovered during our coaching session in a tangible way. In this example, we may ask the client to confront his feeling of disappointment by viewing it as a learning experience through a set of exercises–so that he would have more capacity to deal with disappointment or loss in the future without being paralyzed.

No doubt, there is a sense of discomfort during Process Coaching as the client typically doesn’t want to explore such emotionally-charged issues that are blocking his progress. As a coach, it is our job to ask the client (gently but firmly) to help us go there–otherwise, the client’s life would simply be filled with avoidance. It also important that a coach does not judge and to be attentive/engaged with the client while he is going through this experience.

Common issues may include anger, disappointment, risk-taking, and intimacy. By far the most interesting segment during the seminar was when we–as coaches–were asked: “What areas in your life are hard for you to be with or explore?” We had to explore this question as coaches as these would precisely be areas where we would be reluctant to explore with our clients (and chances are, many of our clients would have the same avoidance issues that we have). This exploration exercise was illuminating. Many of us dug and discovered issues that surprised us. There was quite a bit of sobbing as well. The issue that was hard for me “to be with” was “not being seen for who I am” or essentially, people who stand in the way of my self-expression. It was an intense weekend, but one which shaped us to be more effective and compassionate coaches. I look forward to the final seminar, “Synergy” on December 9.

Accelerated Free Fall Level 2

I did not follow up on my AFF Level 1 experience in an earlier post–I would do this here and roll it into my latest AFF Level 2 experience, which I passed yesterday.

I am literally moving tomorrow and am only halfway through my packing, but both my AFF Level 1 & 2 experiences have been lingering in my mind. An outlet is needed! In my earlier post, I remarked that I got “creamed” during my wind tunnel exercise, as I had difficulty relaxing, arching and performing all the maneuvers required in the set amount of time. It was a very unstable free fall experience.

Interestingly, I subsequently performed a perfect dive, the hard landing notwithstanding! Once I jumped at 12,500 feet, it was just me and the sky… no points of references, and no obstacles or other objects–even gravity did not matter. I relaxed and enjoyed myself while free falling at 120 mph. I felt peace, and connected to the sky and universe. It was a pretty “Zen” experience. In other words, I learned how to relax through skydiving, which was totally unexpected.

AFF Level 2, on the other hand, only went okay. AFF Level 2 (as defined by Skydive Perris) is very similar to AFF Level 1, with one major difference: after the three practice pulls, the student is expected to perform five to six seconds of forward motion. This was really fun; the pull was so powerful that I dragged my two instructors along with ease.

However, the entire sequence (i.e. the dive flow) did not go as smooth as that in AFF Level 1. I simply could not relax in the sky. It could be a combination of my move to Santa Monica, exhaustion from my 3-day long coaching seminar, or haunting memories from the AFF Level 1 “crash landing.” I do not know. I had difficulty maintaining stability during free fall, and I completely lost track of time. By the time I finished the forward motion maneuver, I was already at 5,000 feet–1,000 feet below where I should be! So I just pulled… and this time, my landing was much lighter, thank goodness!

The lesson? Relax, relax, and relax. Things will be okay. Anxiety does nothing for you, and would only impede you in your goals.

I also bumped into my instructor from AFF level 1, and found out that the last group I jumped out with were members of the Canadian special forces. My instructor actually jumped with their commander, a two-star general (he jumped since he wanted to find out what it feels like; he didn’t have to jump). Apparently, he had a very difficult time with all his jumps simply because he could not relax. The second lesson? Don’t beat yourself over it, as even two-star generals are still learning that lesson!

Writing a Book

I am currently authoring a book entitled Reflections on Life, Finance and Business School. For those writers worried about writer’s block, the following time-lapsed video of best-selling author Scott Berkun writing an essay is very inspiring.



Surrender is a key theme I am working on.  Jumping out of a plane–with the faith that I will land safely–is one of my own ways of expressing this.  It’s a knowing, based on intuition, and a faith in a higher power–a faith that everything will be okay as long as I stay true to myself.  Once at that level, everything flows naturally.  During the free fall stage of AFF Level 1–it was just me and the sky.  It was one of those rare times when I felt “at one” with the sky… and the universe.  There was no adrenalin rush.  It was peace personified.

Chapters 29 and 30 of the classic Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching (道德經), had this to say (following is based on Stephen Mitchell’s translation).

Chapter 29

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a  time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

Chapter 30

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counterforce.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon oneself.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.