Spiritual Initiation better than an MBA?

I was just introduced to a beautiful book: The Death of Religion and the Rebirth of Spirit, by Joseph Chilton Pearce. The excerpts below from the book provide what I believe is a fabulous description of why I believe in my Sufi Guide.  Although the author of the book is using the example of Australian Aborigines, this is a great description of why I believe that indigenous cultures have not only wisdom, but actual mental/spiritual/cognitive capacities that have been lost in the modern world:

“Should we as a species become tone-deaf – that is, lose our capacity for tonal discrimination – we would be unable to perceive music as a sensory phenomenon or even comprehend the word music. It would be impossible for us to grasp that we had lost something if we had no neural system for experiencing that which was lost. We might at some point read of an ancient society that had once all but worshiped a phenomenon they called music, but we couldn’t explain this phenomenon outside of its own parameters of sensation because it has no metaphoric equivalents. We can’t say music is like anything. Tone, for instance, is what it is, not what it is like. And, for a tone-deaf species, music would be a useless, meaningless word without referent. If we follow this analogy, we might understand Robert Wolff’s deep frustration at trying to get across to us what the Senoi had opened him to. Indeed we have no idea of what we have lost.

A society or race that has developed a brain system involved in states of consciousness might never be comprehended or even perceived by an object-oriented brain-mind capable only of re-creating objectified things and altering nature, and , at the same time, knowing nothing of subjective internal states or experience. Such an object-oriented society might never know that some people might have nurtured and tended states of consciousness until they had evolved to astonishing heights and even become self-sustaining outside all physical aspects. Only a brain-mind that had likewise developed could comprehend and resonate with such beings.”

Joseph Chilton Pearce The Death of Religion and the Rebirth of Spirit p.180

As I read this, I had to consider the implications of my Guide's belief that I have even stronger powers than he has - a belief that I used to consider to be unimaginable, but  now, because I trust my Guide, I trust completely is true.

The notion of "Be true to your voice," while accurate, is only the faintest shadow of the kind of capabilities we all have within us.  Once you learn to listen, really, really, deeply listen, to the deepest, truest voice within you, you will be truly extraordinary.  In my case, I guess that it is for this reason that my precious beloved Michael suggested a little while ago I spend a few years in Senegal mentoring with my Guide, rather than going to get an MBA (I had been talking about taking time off from starting up Tiossano to get an MBA).  He really was not just challenging me; he believes that for me, apprenticing with my Guide would be a much more valuable use of my time than is getting an MBA.  Now, I agree.  I see on the one hand, that getting an MBA, even from Harvard, would not teach me anything about entrepreneurship.  On the other hand, I see that many of my fears and weaknesses come from not being in touch with my deepest abilities, whereas many of my best decisions and best insights come from being in touch with that part of my being.  And now I am convinced that I myself barely know what I am capable of perceiving, and that an apprenticeship with my Guide would open up entirely new worlds of perception for me, worlds which would make me a happier, better, and more capable human being.

I honestly don't know what the right path is for each of us, but I do believe that we all have truly extraordinary abilities that are untapped within us, that are mostly contaminated with fear and anger and uncertainty and doubt and resentment and ten thousand irrelevant emotions. If we can simply transcend all the emotional crap that keeps us down, we will truly, truly be invincible and amazing and dazzling and beautiful and we will transform the world, completely, and deeply than is the case even in our wildest, most private, most ambitious, most insanely over-the-top "I am great" dreams.  So release yourselves, Gods and Goddesses, for we so need you in this world. Now!

So, spiritual initiation anyone? :)

"Why Art Became Ugly?" & Why We Must Create Great Beauty in the World

Stephen Hicks, whom we met at a friend's home few months ago, wrote this excellent essay.  Here he provides the background on how modernism began the descent into ugliness:

"By the beginning of the twentieth century, the nineteenth-century intellectual world's sense of disquiet had become a full-blown anxiety. The artists responded, exploring in their works the implications of a world in which reason, dignity, optimism, and beauty seemed to have disappeared.

The new theme was: Art must be a quest for truth, however brutal, and not a quest for beauty. So the question became: What is the truth of art?

The first major claim of modernism is a content claim: a demand for a recognition of the truth that the world is not beautiful. The world is fractured, decaying, horrifying, depressing, empty, and ultimately unintelligible.

That claim by itself is not uniquely modernist, though the number of artists who signed onto that claim is uniquely modernist. Some past artists had believed the world to be ugly and horrible—but they had used the traditional realistic forms of perspective and color to say this. The innovation of the early modernists was to assert that form must match content. Art should not use the traditional realistic forms of perspective and color because those forms presuppose an orderly, integrated, and knowable reality.

Edvard Munch got there first (The Scream, 1893): If the truth is that reality is a horrifying, disintegrating swirl, then both form and content should express the feeling. Pablo Picasso got there second (Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907): If the truth is that reality is fractured and empty, then both form and content must express that. Salvador Dali's surrealist paintings go a step further: If the truth is that reality is unintelligible, then art can teach this lesson by using realistic forms against the idea that we can distinguish objective reality from irrational, subjective dreams."

He then goes on to explain the collapse of modernism by 1970, at which point artists were already going weird (as explained below, an artist had already sold a can of his own excrement to a British museum for $40,000), and the descent into postmodernism began, which is where "art" remains to this day. After reading this, you'll see why we need to re-create beauty in the world:

"Postmodernism's Four Themes

Where could art go after death of modernism? Postmodernism did not go, and has not gone, far. It needed some content and some new forms, but it did not want to go back to classicism, romanticism, or traditional realism.

As it had at the end of the nineteenth century, the art world reached out and drew upon the broader intellectual and cultural context of the late 1960s and 1970s. It absorbed the trendiness of Existentialism's absurd universe, the failure of Positivism's reductionism, and the collapse of socialism's New Left. It connected to intellectual heavyweights such as Thomas Kuhn, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, and it took its cue from their abstract themes of antirealism, deconstruction, and their heightened adversarial stance to Western culture. From those themes, postmodernism introduced four variations on modernism.

First, postmodernism re-introduced content—but only self-referential and ironic content. As with philosophical postmodernism, artistic postmodernism rejected any form of realism and became anti-realist. Art cannot be about reality or nature—because, according to postmodernism, "reality" and "nature" are merely social constructs. All we have are the social world and its social constructs, one of those constructs being the world of art.So, we may have content in our art as long as we talk self-referentially about the social world of art.

Secondly, postmodernism set itself to a more ruthless deconstruction of traditional categories that the modernists had not fully eliminated. Modernism had been reductionist, but some artistic targets remained.

For example, stylistic integrity had always been an element of great art, and artistic purity was one motivating force within modernism. So, one postmodern strategy has been to mix styles eclectically in order to undercut the idea of stylistic integrity. An early postmodern example in architecture, for example, is Philip Johnson's AT&T (now Sony) building in Manhattan—a modern skyscraper that could also be a giant eighteenth-century Chippendale cabinet. The architectural firm of Foster & Partners designed the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation headquarters (1979-86)—a building that could also be the bridge of a ship, complete with mock anti-aircraft guns, should the bank ever need them. Friedensreich Hundertwasser'sHouse (1986) in Vienna is more extreme—a deliberate slapping together of glass skyscraper, stucco, and occasional bricks, along with oddly placed balconies and arbitrarily sized windows, and completed with a Russian onion dome or two.

If we put the above two strategies together, then postmodern art will come to be both self-referential and destructive. It will be an internal commentary on the social history of art, but a subversive one. Here there is a continuity from modernism. Picasso took one of Matisse's portraits of his daughter—and used it as a dartboard, encouraging his friends to do the same. Duchamp'sL.H.O.O.Q. (1919) is a rendition of the Mona Lisa with a cartoonish beard and moustache added. Rauschenberg erased a de Kooning work with a heavy wax pencil. In the 1960s, a gang led by George Maciunas performed Philip Corner's Piano Activities (1962)—which called for a number of men with implements of destruction such as band saws and chisels to destroy a grand piano. Niki de Saint Phalle's Venus de Milo (1962, Figure 8) is a life-size plaster-on-chickenwire version of the classic beauty filled with bags of red and black paint; Saint Phalle then took a rifle and fired upon the Venus, puncturing the statue and the bags of paint to a splattered effect.

Saint Phalle's Venus links us to the third postmodern strategy. Postmodernism allows one to make content statements as long as they are about social reality and not about an alleged natural or objective reality and—here is the variation—as long as they are narrower race/class/sex statements rather than pretentious, universalist claims about something called The Human Condition. Postmodernism rejects a universal human nature and substitutes the claim that we are all constructed into competing groups by our racial, economic, ethnic, and sexual circumstances. Applied to art, this postmodern claim implies that there are no artists, only hyphenated artists: black-artists, woman-artists, homosexual-artists, poor-Hispanic-artists, and so on.

Conceptual artist Frederic's PMS piece from the 1990s is helpful here in providing a schema. The piece is textual, a black canvas with the following words in red:

WHAT CREATES P.M.S. IN WOMEN?

Power

Money Sex

Let us start with Power and consider race. Jane Alexander's Butcher Boys (1985-86) is an appropriately powerful piece about white power. Alexander places three South African white figures on a bench. Their skin is ghostly or corpse-like white, and she gives them monster heads and heart-surgery scars suggesting their heartlessness. But all three of them are sitting casually on the bench—they could be waiting for a bus or watching the passers-by at a mall. Her theme is the banality of evil: Whites don't even recognize themselves for the monsters they are.

Now for Money. There is the long-standing rule in modern art that one should never say anything kind about capitalism. From Andy Warhol's criticisms of mass-produced capitalist culture we can move easily to Jenny Holzer's Private Property Created Crime (1982). In the center of world capitalism—New York's Times Square—Holzer combined conceptualism with social commentary in an ironically clever manner by using capitalism's own media to subvert it. German artist Hans Haacke'sFreedom is now simply going to be sponsored—out of petty cash (1991) is another monumental example. While the rest of the world was celebrating the end of brutality behind the Iron Curtain, Haacke erected a huge Mercedes-Benz logo atop a former East German guard tower. Men with guns previously occupied that tower—but Haacke suggests that all we are doing is replacing the rule of the Soviets with the equally heartless rule of the corporations.

Now for Sex. Saint Phalle's Venus can do double-duty here. We can interpret the rifle that shoots into the Venus as a phallic tool of dominance, in which case Saint-Phalle's piece can be seen as a feminist protest of male destruction of femininity. Mainstream feminist art includes Barbara Kruger's posters and room-size exhibits in bold black and red with angry faces yelling politically correct slogans about female victimization—art as a poster at a political rally. Jenny Saville's Branded (1992, Figure 10) is a grotesque self-portrait: Against any conception of female beauty, Saville asserts that she will be distended and hideous—and shove it in your face.

An art exhibition in 2000 asked patrons to place a goldfish in a blender and then turn the blender on.

The fourth and final postmodern variation on modernism is a more ruthless nihilism. The above, while focused on the negative, are still dealing with important themes of power, wealth, and justice toward women. How can we eliminate more thoroughly any positivity in art? As relentlessly negative as modern art has been, what has not been done?

Entrails and blood: An art exhibition in 2000 asked patrons to place a goldfish in a blender and then turn the blender on—art as life reduced to indiscriminate liquid entrails. Marc Quinn's Self (1991) is the artist's own blood collected over the course of several months and molded into a frozen cast of his head. That is reductionism with a vengeance.

Unusual sex: Alternate sexualities and fetishes have been pretty much worked over during the twentieth century. But until recently art has not explored sex involving children. Eric Fischl's Sleepwalker (1979) shows a pubescent boy masturbating while standing naked in a kiddie pool in the backyard. Fischl's Bad Boy (1981) shows a boy stealing from his mother's purse and looking at his naked mother who is sleeping with her legs sprawled. If we have read our Freud, however, perhaps this is not very shocking. So we move on to Paul McCarthy's Cultural Gothic (1992-93) and the theme of bestiality. In this life-size, moving exhibit, a young boy stands behind a goat that he is violating. Here we have more than child sexuality and sex with animals, however: McCarthy adds some cultural commentary by having the boy's father present and resting his hands paternally on the boy's shoulders while the boy thrusts away.

A preoccupation with urine and feces: Again, postmodernism continues a longstanding modernist tradition. After Duchamp's urinal, Kunst ist Scheisse ("Art is shit") became, fittingly, the motto of the Dada movement. In the 1960s Piero Manzoni canned, labeled, exhibited and sold ninety tins of his own excrement (in 2002, a British museum purchased can number 68 for about $40,000). Andres Serrano generated controversy in the 1980s with his Piss Christ, a crucifix submerged in a jar of the artist's urine. In the 1990s Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary (1996)portrayed the Madonna as surrounded by disembodied genitalia and chunks of dried feces. In 2000 Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi paid homage to their master, Marcel Duchamp. Fountainis now at the Tate Museum in London, and during regular museum hours Yuan and Jian unzipped and proceeded to urinate on Duchamp's urinal. (The museum's directors were not pleased, but Duchamp would be proud of his spiritual children.) And there is G. G. Allin, the self-proclaimed performance artist who achieved his fifteen minutes by defecating on stage and flinging his feces into the audience.

So again we have reached a dead end: From Duchamp's Piss on art at the beginning of the century to Allin's Shit on you at the end—that is not a significant development over the course of a century."

Hicks goes on to explain the need for a revival of beauty and meaning, but it is obvious to me :) And that is one of my deeper purposes in life.

And the Best Baguette Prize Awarded in Paris goes to…. a fellow Senegalese born Baker

 

 

The secret to his award-winning bread? Nothing too complicated: “A good baguette needs to look good, have a crispy crust and a good smell and taste,” he said.

I tell you: there is no secret to anything in the world but just EXCELLENCE! It wins every single time!

As a Montmartre lover, I know where I will be getting my baguette this summer  while in Paris:)

Read the full article here

Smart, Sexy Cool

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBI3lc18k8Q]

Although anyone with any intelligence knows that skin color is a perfectly arbitrary aspect of any human being, most people, including a remarkable number of educated people, seem to speak and act as if skin color was important. For that reason, I am always glad to see civilized examples of black people, especially black men, that I can respect.  In the world of black male musicians, Jason Derulo stands out not only for being a great singer and musician, but also for combining sexual cool with grace, elegance, and dignity.

His music video of "Watcha Say" is a great example of this.  The setting is casual and middle class, rather than snooty or elitist, and yet at the same time everything about Jason and the setting is clean, almost preppie.  The dancing is at once sexy and respectful, no "booty-dancing" crap, his jewelry is appealing but not ostentatious. No bling-bling. And I love his watch and "bracelet"!  He has none of the ghetto language that most black male musicians use (no N word, no cursing...), and yet his musical style is as cool and contemporary as is that of the hottest hip hop artists.

The best way to transform perceptions of black men is not to shout about racism; it is for talented men like Jason Derulo to show how they can combine being manly and desirable with being caring, decent to women, and elegant.

Ladies, this is a guy to go for!!! I am already off the market :) !

The Pleasure of Introducing an American into My Thiossane

Last spring I had the pleasure of introducing Michael Strong to my home, my origin, my Thiossane.  He wrote this, which expresses beautifully how I feel about my country: FLOW Vision News - May 2009

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

Rumi

Shuffling through the ankle deep sand of the narrow paths that pass for streets in a traditional Senegalese neighborhood at 2 a.m., guided by a Sufi mystic who has been having visions since the age of 13, we come across a crowd watching a wrestling match behind a makeshift canvas enclosure. Peaking through the holes in the canvas, along with the street urchins who cannot afford the 10 cents admissions fee, by flaming torchfire we see a pair of incredibly powerful men wrestling shoulder to shoulder, dripping with sweat and dust, wearing only a simple loincloth as they throw each other to the ground with great fierceness. We then walk along the beach in the dark, past a graveyard of holy men, with the huge waves crashing and crabs running in the moonlight. And amidst all of this indigenous, exotic romanticism, the marabout wants me to help modernize Senegal.

There is a breed of Westerner who hates our civilization, and wants to return to a more indigenous way of life. But most people who do not have our way of life, long for it. I am reminded of climbing a local promontory in Alaska with an orange-robed Tibetan priest and a group of local hippies, who had asked him to bless the mountain for them. In the blessing ceremony that he was performing, he quite innocently and honestly prayed for them that they would find oil under their land, assuming, as do most people from poor countries, that these people would be delighted to have the gift of sudden wealth. Little did he know that this particular group of people would find the thought of discovering oil beneath their land to be a curse rather than a blessing. Their sudden expressions of repugnance were unimaginable to him.

That said, it is also true that many people from other cultures fear the erosion of their own cultures, even as they long for the comfort, convenience, pleasure, and respect that comes from living the life we enjoy in the "developed" world. A majority of people living on less than $1 dollar per day listen to radio, and a majority of those living on less than $2 per day watch television. They are all watching, at least part of the time, American programs which often show the most tawdry aspects of our culture, unbelievable shamelessness and vulgarity along with unbelievable material wealth.

Senegalese culture is an especially warm, kind, and respectful culture for those who experience it from the inside (for a sense of the warmth and diversity of the music, see herehere, and here). Casual tourists are harassed by beggars and street vendors, so if one does not have personal relationships with individual Senegalese one might not experience the real Senegal. But for those who have the opportunity to develop real relationships here, one can feel a culture that is relatively free from anger, hatred, ego, and vanity. There are, of course, good people and bad people everywhere. But the social norms here are, on balance, more modest than in the U.S. One of the projects I am working on here is the SEEDS Academy, a basketball academy founded by Amadou Gallo Fall, the VP for International Relations for the Dallas Mavericks. Although the Senegalese tend to be very tall and exceptionally athletic, one of the concerns at the academy is to train the players to be aggressive rather than respectful so that they can compete in the NCAA and NBA. To take a different kind of example, in watching a video of a Senegalese concert, most of which was the singing of religious songs, the young people at the concert were as enthusiastic as any American concert crowd. But when a Congolese band came on that, instead of religious songs, sang songs with sexually explicit lyrics and quasi-pornographic dancing, the Senegalese young people became suddenly quiet and visibly embarrassed, en masse. This was a spontaneous response and it was not a behavior that one would see in the U.S., where highly sexualized performances at rock concerts are well received.

So the problem that I am currently working on is how to help a country become wealthy while preserving, as much as possible, its cultural integrity. On the wealthy side, the good news is that Senegal is ready to take off and join the world economy as soon as Americans are ready to invest in and purchase from Senegal. I may be exaggerating slightly by putting the burden largely on Americans, but many Senegalese are frustrated with having France as their primary trading partner, because of the various ways in which they EU economy is formally closed and, even more so, because of the ways in which the Europeans are not as culturally adventurous, open, and welcoming as are the Americans. Plus, relative to the French, the Americans have money and spend it. The Senegalese want to do business with Americans.

Unfortunately, many Americans are burdened with an enormous set of prejudices regarding Africa. Our image of Africa is that it is a land of poverty, violence, corruption, and disease. While there are many Americans who are eager to pity Africa and send money, fewer Americans are ready to recognize Africa as a legitimate place to vacation, do business, and build friendships. And with leaders such as Robert Mugabe in place and the Congo civil wars periodically re-erupting, unfortunately many of the negative perceptions of Africa have a basis in reality.

But most of those generalizations do not apply to Senegal. Senegal has been a stable, functioning democracy since independence. Although one should take malaria pills here, especially in the rainy season, there are no unusual health risks here; even the AIDS rate in Senegal is comparable to that in the U.S. The climate along the gorgeous coast is more moderate than is that of Texas; typical Dakar daytime temperatures range from cool and breezy 70s in the dry season to the high 80s in the brief rainy season.

After forty years of socialism, President Wade of Senegal has, since his election in 2000, put in place a thoroughly pro-market agenda: he has created a one-stop shop business registration service that makes opening up a business in Senegal straightforward for both foreigners and natives, and he has an entire office devoted to setting up industrial parks and free zones, with a determination to attract American investment in the free zones. Senegal has secure property rights and a strong tradition of rule of law and contract enforcement; thus businesses that invest here need not worry about many of the legitimate fears that prevent them from investing in many developing world nations. Only seven hours away via a direct flight from NYC, D.C. and Atlanta, Senegal is, in effect, open for business.

Poverty is the worst problem facing Senegal, and it is clearly the legacy of forty years of socialism. When Senegal achieved independence in 1960, it had one of the strongest manufacturing sectors of any African nation. Leopold Senghor, the first leader of independent Senegal, was educated by French socialists and therefore believed that government control of the economy was superior to capitalistic competition. Until 1986, a hundred and sixty-one different manufactured items essentially had government-granted monopolies due to the misguided belief that competition was harmful to economic progress. The impact was exactly the reverse; sixteen years of government-enforced monopolies resulted in a shrunken manufacturing sector with poor quality standards that prevented Senegalese industry from competing in the global market. A series of reforms starting in 1986 began to open up the economy, but just as the transition economies of eastern Europe struggled when initially faced with global competition, so too did Senegal's economy. Moreover, the combination of ongoing socialism with more open trade resulted in the collapse of the Senegalese manufacturing sector.

The dominant cultural and religious force in Senegal is Sufi Muslim, with more than 95% of Senegalese being followers. Among the Sufi brotherhoods, the most powerful one is the Mourides, founded by Cheikh Amadou Bamba, a charismatic mystic who is beloved for resisting the French colonial powers in the late 19th and early 20th century. Bamba preached a principled non-violence, decades before Ghandi, and hard work as the path to holiness, and one of his first disciples was a highly successful entrepreneur who added entrepreneurship as one of the paths through which work became holy. As a consequence, the Mourides diaspora around the world tend to be successful entrepreneurs wherever they go. Moreover, because Mouridism is ethical first and foremost, Bamba, in his own way, launched the first generation of Conscious Capitalists(R). Thus in a world in which a common prejudice towards Muslims is the belief that they are terrorists, and a common prejudice towards Africans is that they are lazy, passive, and unethical the Mourides are globally distinguished for being especially peaceful Muslims and especially hard working, ethical, entrepreneurial Africans. I don't want to exaggerate; decades of dependence on NGOs and government have undermined the work ethic in Senegal. But if Wade is able to complete his project of releasing his people from decades of socialism, the future looks bright for Senegal.

Unlike many African leaders, Wade is moving in the right direction. But always and everywhere, economic freedom only results in economic growth if entrepreneurs build successful companies, and African entrepreneurs can only build successful companies if they receive investment capital and if consumers purchase their products and services. But if Senegal's beautiful beaches are over-run by the drunken spring break party crowd from the U.S., and if all of the investment comes from the most short-sighted and calloused businessmen from France, the U.S., China, and the Arab world, Senegal may become wealthier but a land destroyed by drunkenness, corruption, pollution, and prostitution. But if the best and most caring people come to Senegal as tourists and investors, and learn to love and respect the music, the people, and the culture, then perhaps Senegal can develop as the first wealthy nation in black sub-Saharan Africa while also providing a model of how to modernize in a culturally respectful manner.

Peace,

Michael Strong  CEO & Chief Visionary Officer FLOW

P.S.: Be the Solution!

Why I love to create…

 

 

 

Even as a kid, I loved to create.  I loved mes classes de travaux pratiques  (practical classes) in school:  electronics, metal, woodworking, sewing, etc.  I loved the magic of creating something out of nothing, I loved the practicality of it (most school subjects seemed like useless crap to me), I loved using my hands, and I really loved using what I made.

The dream of the perfect "thing" in my head, to having to realize it. Going from the perfect one in my head to having my hands make it, and realize the struggle and see how the compromise would almost always enhance it for the best... I used to wonder why and how one could be happy with a wanna-be version of the perfection your mind conceived... it became clear that it had to do with the fact that what is done with love, care, hopes and your own sweat always comes out "perfect" nonetheless. Remember the last time you looked at a mother completely mesmerized at her little one, and thinking to yourself "what on earth???!!!!". And all the sudden you also start to see the child in a different light, for now the light surrounding that child is the light of love, care, hopes and hard work the mother looking at her in this moment is radiating all around her precious little one. 

And I love getting stuff ready.  Even vegetables, when I'm cooking, the process of transforming a raw product of nature into something that will be delicious and beautiful for me - and others - to eat.

 

I love growing food, and seeing the process of planting seeds, caring for plants, and then harvesting them for my own table.  Not only do the fruits and vegetables taste different, I have a completely different relationship to them.  They are meaningful to me in a way that something bought somewhere else can never have.

Could it be why my friends always seem to rediscover the true taste, flavor and aroma of fruits and vegetables when they come to my home?