Book Summary – Beyond Wealth: A Roadmap To A Rich Life

Life is more than money. Beyond Wealth: The Road Map to a Rich Life, Alexander Green discusses wealth not in material terms but in spiritual terms. The book is a collection of essays that contain insights on how to live a mindful, compassionate intelligent, and more full life. Each essay is concise and contains a nugget of truth or a lesson from history that you can apply to your life immediately.


Table of Contents

Introduction

Money plays important role in life. Money is independence. You can’t live a good life if you are spending your days worrying about money. Money determines where you live, where your kids go to school, etc. Wealth is a great equalizer. If you have money, you have power. Wealth is freedom, security, and peace of mind.

But you can’t wear your brokerage account or ride on your bank account. Money is never the end, it’s just a means to an end. Even if you are wealthy, your life won’t mean much if you don’t have good health, good relationships, personal interests, and something that motivates you to get out of bed every day.

Part One

Dollars and Sense

In 2009, Jay, the author’s friend who was an art dealer invited him to dinner because he was worried about his money. Though Jay had made wise choices in his portfolio, his portfolio had taken a hit. Jay was 65 and wasn’t sure if he could retire. The author looks at his financial statement and convinced Jay that he had enough to retire. Jay had nothing to worry about.

Jay was grateful but the author is not sure why. He didn’t suggest any changes to the portfolio. He didn’t recommend any actions. All he did was change Jay’s perspective. That’s all that mattered.

Are the rich smarter than you?

The verdict is clear. The more educated you are, the more money you make. A high school graduate will never make as much as someone who has a doctoral degree. But those who earn more are not necessarily the richest. To determine real wealth, you need to look at their balance sheet – assets minus liabilities.

We associate millionaires with Lexus cars, Rolex watches, big mansions, and country clubs. The ultra-rich fit this description but most millionaires live a completely different lifestyle.

  • They live in a house that costs less than $400,000
  • They don’t own a second home
  • Don’t own a boat
  • Don’t spend much on luxury items

It’s the “aspirationals” who buy the Mercedes convertibles and Louis Vuitton purses.  They act rich but are not rich. These people probably make six-figure incomes but their balance sheets tell a different story. If you spend heavily on consumer goods, you can’t save a lot of money. Saving is key to building wealth.

Savvy marketers convince you that you are what you buy. TV and billboard ads reinforce this message. But millionaires see things differently. They became rich not by winning the lottery or by getting an inheritance. They got rich by maximizing their income, minimizing expenses, and investing the difference.  They are not big spenders.

Millionaires value spending time with their kids and grandkids, planning investments, entertaining friends, visiting museums, and, raising funds for charities. The cost of doing these activities is small.  They are disciplined savers. They understand that success is not about flaunting wealth.  They know that being rich depends on how they spend themselves, not how they flaunt their wealth.

Are you losing your soul?

We spend years at jobs chosen by our younger selves. Many employees are disengaged. Work is not just responsibilities, obligations, money, and benefits. Many people are stuck in jobs due to fear – fear that they won’t be able to make it financially if they quit the job that they don’t love.

Ideally, your job should give you meaning. Find a job that allows you to express yourself. That may mean taking a temporary pay cut.  People who are happiest and most engaged are those who are deeply involved in their work or community. The highest reward for your work is not what you get paid but rather what you become.

Impatient optimism..and radical generosity

When you ask Americans what their important goals are, they tell you that they want to get rich. That’s because money gives you freedom and the ability to make choices.

Wealthy individuals like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford,  David Packard, and Bill Gates made their fortune in business but are very generous. They use their wealth to help people. They know how to make money but also how to give it away.

You can’t Google this

People today are addicted to their phones. They text and surf too much. When they read, they just skim. They prefer scrolling from page to page. But we all have a choice. Log off and pay attention – to things and people. Studies show that spending time close to nature creates greater attentiveness, stronger memory, and improved cognition.

The only thing that really matters

George Valiant, a Harvard Medical School professor conducted a longitudinal study of Harvard students. His study offers profound insights into the human condition. His study revealed that the only thing that matters in life is your relationships with other people.  Your human connections – to parents, siblings, spouses, friends, neighbors, and mentors – matter. True success is “more about us than me”.

The principle thing

Principles are the collective wisdom of our species. They tell us what is valuable and what is not.  There will always be arguments on doctrine but there is little disagreement on core principles such as honesty, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, perseverance, justice, humility, clarity, and gratitude.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best. “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles”.

The one thing that changes everything

Trust is the confidence in an individual or an organization. Trustworthiness is universally accepted as part of good character. Its value can hardly be overstated.

The difference between high trust and low trust relationships is night and day. In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing and the listener will understand you. In a low trust relationship, you have to choose your words carefully and you may still be misunderstood.

Trust must be built up, protected, and valued. It’s the one thing that changes everything.

The trouble with happiness

Every year thousands of books are published on happiness because everyone wants to be happier. But happiness cannot be pursued on its own, it’s a by-product. It is achieved indirectly by producing something beautiful or by making someone else happy. In fact, the search for happiness is the biggest source of unhappiness.

There is no joy without sorrow. Periods of unhappiness are natural and valuable. Contentment saps motivation. Dissatisfaction is a great motivator of progress.

We often equate happiness with money. Studies show that once people are lifted out of poverty, their happiness is not dependent on income but rather on love and meaningful work. Happiness also depends partly on genetics, health, circumstances, and coping skills.

The happiest individuals are those who are busy and unconcerned with themselves.  Real contentment comes from the feeling that life is worthwhile and that it is dissolved into something meaningful and great. That leads to gratitude. Gratitude is an important part of happiness.

The key to personal freedom

Millions of Americans are stretched financially. These folks wanted to improve their circumstances and enjoy the best life has to offer. But conservative spenders don’t lack ambition, imagination, or money. They spent years cultivating an attitude of restraint.

Here are four ways to reclaim your financial freedom.

  • We are wired to feel dissatisfied with our circumstances. Without that, early humans would not have survived.
  • We tend to want things we don’t really need and won’t appreciate things once we acquire them.
  • Stop treating life as an ongoing competition for social status
  • Instead of focusing on what you want, try appreciating what you have – your family and friends

We have the choice to make a conscious choice to reject a consumptive lifestyle and live a simple, happy life.

Change your perspective, change your life

We tend to long for an era long gone. We overlook how good life is today. Our ancestors lived a life of brutality, ignorance, and delusions. They didn’t live long either – a man’s life expectancy was in the 40s.

Today’s world is not perfect. But life is certainly better than your ancestors’.  You can improve your life by just changing your perspective.

How your world will, at last, be built

James Allen, the author of  “As a Man Thinketh” had a rough life. At age 15, he was forced to work as a factory knitter and private secretary. It’s a short book you can read quickly. The premise of the book is that your underlying beliefs shape your character, your circumstances, and ultimately, your destiny. Your thoughts create your destiny.

Be careful what you feed your mind as the food you feed your body. Your life will be largely what your thoughts make of it. A man can only rise, conquer and achieve by lifting his thoughts.  Your life will be perfected by inward development.

Cherish your vision and your ideals. You will build your world.

The most important job on earth

You will hear parents often complaining about their kids – their poor grades, lack of respect, bad manners, and a general feeling of entitlement. What you don’t hear is the role parents play in creating this state of affairs. Parents should spend more time thinking about the way they parent.

Parents should educate their kids about the consequences of their behavior. This requires frequent communication and sometimes punishment. The average parents spend three and a half minutes a week in meaningful conversations with their kids. That’s simply not enough.

Teach the kids what’s right and wrong and the importance of hard work. Set an example for your kids. They watch you like hawk. Parenthood is a sacred task. As parents, we should not live with regrets of “should have told them”.

One of life’s greatest miracles

A Jewish proves says that God created moms because he couldn’t be everywhere. Your mother was your first teacher, your strongest supporter, and your first love. She took care of you when you were sick and she carted you to places.  Moms do everything. It’s hard to overstate their influence.

If she’s around, cherish her. If not, cherish her memory. She is one of life’s greatest miracles. She loved you before you were born. After you were born, she sacrificed everything for you.

Power of negative visualization

Norman Vincent Peale wrote the boo, “The Power of Positive Thinking”.  Peale’s idea was simple. Create your world with your thoughts. Accomplishments start with the faith that you can accomplish them.

But humans are insatiable. We are trapped in a hedonic treadmill. We work hard to achieve something. Those achievements satisfy us for a while. But we soon adapt and become dissatisfied again. We go on and set the bar higher. Our life becomes a pastiche of unfulfilled desires.

To solve this, Stoic philosophers came up with negative visualization. Negative visualization is spending each day imagining that you have lost the things that you value most. For example, think that you have lost your job, your house, and your possessions. This may sound bleak but everything in your life is “on loan” to you and could be lost. Seneca, a stoic philosopher, advises us to live life as though each moment is our last.

Negative visualization has a number of benefits. It works well for people who are happy and those who are not. A good time to practice this is when you are standing in line or stuck in traffic. By thinking about the impermanence of everything in the world, you invest in all your activities with more intensity, higher significance, and greater awareness.

How to reclaim your life

We are overwhelmed with clutter in our homes. Some people even move to bigger homes to accommodate more clutter. Studies show that clutter has severe health ramifications – depressions, anxiety, asthma, headaches, moodiness, low self-esteem, fatigue, and low motivation. Clutter steals your space, makes you forget your priorities, takes up your time, and erodes your spiritual self.

Make some hard choices. Dig yourself out of the clutter. No one else is going to help you get rid of your clutter.

Why it’s one of the seven deadly sins

Pride is one of the deadly sins. A lot of families are proud of their family tree. In some cases, they could use some trimming. It’s great to have distinguished ancestors. But the glory belongs to them, not us. Our responsibility is to work hard and become worthy ancestors ourselves. It’s best to have an inch of a dog than a mile of pedigree.

The ruling passion of the noblest minds

We don’t talk about honor much these days. Honor is the good opinion of others – a natural consequence of character, integrity, and fair dealing. Who we are depends on what we are prepared to stand up for. Honor means standing up for the right principles both personally and as a nation. Here are some questions to decide if you have personal honor.

  • Do we treat others fairly?
  • Do we speak respectfully of those people and institutions that deserve respect?
  • Do we act with courage and personal integrity?

PART 2: Wealth beyond measure

Are you uncurious?

Curious people are interested in the world and all the things in it. They seek out new friends and experiences.  As children, we start out with curiosity. But then we are given rules and obligations that constrain our curiosity. We are told to stay away from controversial topics, not talk to strangers, and not challenge parents, teachers, and pastors. By the time we reach adulthood, we are jaded and close-minded. We only talk to and praise people who share our point of view.

Lack of curiosity leads to stereotyping, discrimination, ignorance, inflated confidence, and dogmatism. Be curious because high curiosity opens up multiple perspectives. It leads to better analytical ability, problem-solving skills, and overall intelligence.

When you are curious, you are energized. You are learning and making discoveries. Curiosity makes you interesting.

The road not taken

In the first half of the country’s history, Americans did tough and physical jobs. Today, most of us work in white-collar jobs and rarely do any physical labor. Regular exercise helps fight off cold, flu, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, and slows the aging process. A brisk 30 to 45-minute walk reduces the risk of stroke and the risk of high blood pressure.

Walking has always had a close association with poets, philosophers, and spiritual leaders. A good vigorous walk will do more for unhappy people than all the medicine and psychology together.

They make us all richer

Art is the quintessential human activity. Art objects are the best creations of the human mind. Art teaches you the significance of life.  Art helps you see things in new ways. It expands your perceptions and mental capacities. It clears the mind and enlarges the soul.

Artists make our life richer. They create objects of beauty and meaning that have the power to move us. Going to an art museum can be a life-enhancing and spiritual moment.

Are you ready for the grand tour?

Travel broadens the mind, increases tolerance, and connects you with fellow human beings. Travel introduces you to exotic foods, great architecture, and jaw-dropping landscapes. Exploring the world is like attending a classroom without walls. Have patience and curiosity. Travel will fill you with surprises.

Foreigners are not people who dress oddly, eat bizarre foods, speak in incomprehensible languages and drive on the wrong side of the road. Traveling abroad teaches you acceptance and humility. But travel doesn’t always have to someplace exotic. There are plenty of places in the US that you can visit to broaden your perspective. Whether you want to visit all 50 states or all seven continents, your travels will give you a new way to see things.

The quintessence of life

Many of us remain interested in music. But music is the universal language of emotion that bypasses the intellect and tackles the heart directly. Music is deeper than pictures and words. It can move us, lift our sports, change our mood and get us dancing.  Appreciating classical music is a skill that can be learned. All you need is a little attention, some imagination, and abstract thinking.

What women really want?

This is a question that men have tried to answer for centuries. But 99% of women like chocolate. Chocolate is the near-perfect food. Eating chocolate reduces your risk of stroke. It improves blood flow and blood pressure. It has antibacterial ingredients to fight tooth decay. Chocolate also slows the aging process.  Chocolate is a luxury anyone can afford. Avoid milk chocolate as it is high in calories, saturated fat, and sugar.

An incandescent drop of American fire

Hummingbirds are a joy to watch. They are the smallest warm-blooded creature on earth. They have the highest metabolic rate of any creature on earth. They are only able to store enough energy for the night.  Since they burn calories furiously, they must refuel often.

Hummingbirds migrate by late October to Central America. They make the 2,000-mile migration with very few places to stop. Hummingbirds are a reminder that the universe is mysterious and sublime, that life is rich and beautiful, and that most exotic things can’t be owned.

The most civilized thing in the world

The US is now one of the world’s leading wine-producing, wine-consuming, and wine-exporting countries in the world. All 50 states in the US have wineries.  President Thomas Jefferson loved wine and had a big impact on the future of viticulture. He loved drinking wine for pleasure.

Winemaking is simple but the process has been refined over thousands of years. A bottle of wine is made for sharing – that can’t be said for a bottle of beer.  Wine is a powerful expression of culture as literature, painting, or music. Drinking good wine with good food with friends is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.

How to eat like a zen master?

Have you ever sat down to eat and in a few minutes the sandwich has disappeared? But you are so consumed by your plans for the day or your conversations that you never actually tasted the food.

Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh insists that we live mindlessly and on autopilot. We are always planning for the future. We miss our appointment with life.  He says that you can change your mealtime into a spiritual experience by taking a few simple steps.

  • Honor the food. Turn off the TV and remove all distractions – laptop, cell phones, etc.
  • Engage all our senses – notice the color, smell, and texture of the food.
  • Serve modest portions – eat small portions. They are healthier and less wasteful.
  • Savor small bites – this allows you better enjoy the taste of the meal
  • Eat slowly – this allows you to avoid overeating. Set your fork down between bites.
  • Eat regular meals – skipping a meal makes you prone to yearn for fast food and vending machines. Plan and stick to regular meals.
  • Eat a plant-based diet – It’s not just compassionate towards animals but it’s also healthier.

Follow these steps and your meals will be more enjoyable. You will also eat less. Studies show that reducing calories is key to longevity.

The sublimest activity of the human mind

Poetry is language at its most distilled and powerful. Yet only 8.3% of American adults read poetry in a year.  You don’t have to struggle with difficult poems, start with the simplest haiku. Haiku uses simple imagery to create images that heighten our awareness.

Drunken Money Ice Cream ..and the wisdom of Thornton Wilder

The author describes his visit to New Orleans where enjoyed listening to music and eating great food. What does it have to do to search for a good life? Enjoy what’s on your plate. Take it in.

The lost art of conversation

The average American watches four hours of TV every day. That’s two full months in a year. We are surrounded by cell phones, iPods, iPads, video games, and the internet.

Before the age of electronic media, people spent time taking long walks, learning musical instruments, fishing, and playing chess. They also read books – to learn and to be entertained.  People also engaged in conversations. They spent talking about their interests and argued about the issues of the day. They told each other their dreams and let those around them know how they felt about them.

What success really means

Kenny Rankin was a jazz singer. He wasn’t as famous as Michael Jackson. He rarely made the news like the big stars. He mostly played in small clubs and bars.

Kenny didn’t have a pretentious bone in his body. Despite his talent, he spent most of his career in obscurity. But he spent his life exercising his talent, doing the things he wanted to do. He never took a single singing lesson in his entire life.

What are your sins of omission?

Sins of commission are well known. What about sins of omission? We all know that it is wrong to drown someone. But what if you watch someone drown and don’t do anything?

Research shows that our decisions about whether we act are based on our upbringing, personal values, and culture. Our culture is based on individualism – a self-centered perspective where we figure out what is best for us, not what is best for everyone.  Our indifference is reinforced by the popular perception, “People get what they deserve”.

There is no cure for moral indifference. Tickling someone’s conscience is not always going to result in behavioral change.

The beauty of flowing down

Many people are financially independent but not wealthy. That’s because their schedules are packed and they have no free time. It’s hard to find a balance between achievement and enjoyment.

Slowing down has a number of benefits. Doctors say that slower breathing is one of the simplest ways to better health. Deep breathing lowers stress and reduces systolic blood pressure. Eat slowly and you will eat less. There is a lag time between stretch receptors in the stomach and your brain getting the message that you are full.  Slowing down prevents accidents. Slowness can even be a part of successful investing.

Slowing down allows you to appreciate the beauty and enables you to connect with people around you. It allows you to enjoy what you have before it’s gone.

When entertainment becomes art

The author found jazz music in his 30s but was immediately hooked. Jazz music can transform your environment and change your life. Yet very few American adults watch a jazz performance.  Refresh your music collection with jazz music or even better, stop by your local club and hear jazz music.

Do you have a secret?

Secrets are fascinating. Everyone has them. Frank Warren started a project in which he asked people to send in their secrets. The secrets people sent in varied – some were heartbreaking, some insightful, and some just nutty. These secrets show that we are all on a spiritual journey, even when we feel most lost.

Are you amusing yourself to death?

Watching TV is not good for you. Is TV more fulfilling than what you would be doing if you weren’t watching TV? Most programming is mindless junk. The time you spend watching TV is the time you are not spending pursuing your goals, living out your dreams, or just interacting with friends and family.

In praise of idleness

Americans idolize hard work, industry, and self-sacrifice.  But many cultures encourage idleness. Success is not always measured by achievement. Too much work leaves us culturally impoverished and spiritually indigent.

Downtime is an energizing force. It allows you to clear your head and gives you strength. It improves concentration, strengthens immune systems, and improves skills.

Best lives are not lived in a hurry. The greatest end of living is the true enjoyment of it.

The tyranny of the new

Newspapers often swoon over a sensational new artist insisting that his work expresses the deepest human emotions. But the works of Mozart and Shakespeare are truly magnificent. But no newspaper or talent agency has the incentive to bring their work to your attention.

Your access has never been easier. Your library will give you access to the greatest books free. Not everyone can afford the fine French wine or the best sports car, but all of us can experience the greatest products of human imagination for little to no cost.

Why you should know “The Indispensible Man”

George Washington led the right against the forces of England and won our independence. He was elected President for two terms. He presided over the Convention that drafted the American constitution. But his greatest act that made him famous was his resignation as commander in chief after the war. This was completely new. In history, great generals had received material and political rewards in line with their achievements. They went on to acquire more power.

Washington also resigned from the Presidency and traveled far and wide. That’s what cemented his greatness – he asked for nothing and took nothing.

Revelation at 4500 ft

The author took a trip to Rancho Santana on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. He took an arduous nine-hour round trip up the volcano that is 4500 ft above sea level.  While the hiking team’s clothes and shoes were ruined by mud, they enjoyed the beautiful view from the top. They even swam in the cold lagoon. His friend compared this experience to going to a church.

Part three: Knowing and believing

Tolstoy’s forbidden book

Leo Tolstoy was one of the great novelists of all time. By his mid-40s, he was wealthy, in good health, and attained fame. But he felt that his life was meaningless.

For 15 years, he researched the greatest spiritual thoughts from Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Pascal, the New Testament. He published his work called “The Calendar of Wisdom” in 1912. But the new Soviet Regime banned the book due to its spiritual and religious quotes.

The book emphasizes that we only live for a short time but that knowledge is limitless. The most critical knowledge is not a particular skill or discipline but rather the wisdom about how to live our lives.  Don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself with perfection. The place we occupy is not important but the direction we move is. Strive for goodness without any expectation of rapid success.

A shameless veneration of heroes

Heroes provide us with vivid examples of excellence.  They show us how the human spirit expresses itself. They inspire and galvanize us. We may not lead like George Marshall or paint like Rembrandt,  but they provide brilliant stars to steer by.

A path to personal freedom

Buddhist principles make you a better person. Buddhism is a philosophy, a code of ethics, and a way of life. Buddha recommended a middle way between extravagance and asceticism. He taught the world that wisdom begins with recognizing four noble truths.

  • There is suffering in every life.
  • Our suffering is caused by attachments and cravings
  • If we end attachments and cravings, our suffering will end.
  • You can achieve this by following the Noble Eight Fold Path to enlightenment.

Here are the basics of the Noble Eight-Fold Path.

  1. Right view – see life as it really is, not as it appears
  2. Right intentions – approach others with compassion and understanding
  3. Right speech – speak the truth in a non-hurtful way
  4. Right action – Behave so as to harm no one
  5. Right livelihood -Earn your living in a legal and nondeceitful way
  6. Right effort – Strive to improve your behavior and character
  7. Right mindfulness – Be awake to the present moment

Buddhism teaches you that contentment is determined more by your state of mind than external circumstances. Many of us fail to recognize how much of our happiness is determined by the way we choose to perceive our situation.

Your greatest risk

Ask anyone want he or she wants out of life. You will hear the familiar – a great job, a loving family, a nice home, or a comfortable retirement, But most people have never paused to consider their grand goal in living. But ancient Greeks and Romans obsessed over these questions. They wanted to discover how to best live. Their answers evolved in Stoicism, a philosophy that is not widely understood today.

The word stoic is used to describe someone unmoved by joy or grief. A stoic is someone without passion. Ancient Stoic philosophers gave a framework to heal suffering and achieve tranquility.

  • Contemplate the transitory nature of the world around you
  • Live in the present without fear of future
  • Banish negative emotions
  • Live according to your own nature
  • Pursue virtue
  • Seek courage and wisdom
  • Live simply and frugally
  • Master desire, to the extent you can

Instead of pursuing and enjoying what matters most, we may wake up one day to find that confusion and distraction have squandered your life. That’s the greatest risk of all.

Are you part of “The Great Conversation”

Perennialist believe that you should learn and pass along to your children and students those things that are of everlasting importance. “The Great Conversation” is a broad discussion of what constitutes the best life. It’s a conversation that is evolving, it’s never static. Perrnialist understood the connection between compassion and successful living.

Absorb as much as you can of 3000-year heritage and take a minute out of your busy life to ask, “Am I becoming the kind of person I want to be?”.

A 2600-year-old manual for living

No one can tell you with certainty what financial markets can do. That’s the beginning of investment wisdom.  The Tao Te Ching is a 2600-year old collection of brief poems that describe a vision of what our lives would be like if we lived in harmony with the way things are.

Tao Te Ching talks about the wisdom of inaction and what you cannot change – the state of the economy, the death of a loved one or the behavior of adult children. Taoism offers an alternative view of abundance – one that maintains dignity over acquiring social position and enjoying free time over acquiring possessions.

Stop feeding your ego and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The experience of inner peace is the true gauge of accomplishment. The art of abundance is often a matter of recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating life as is.

If you knew what Jim Brown knows

Jim Brown is one of the best athletes ever. He liked to wager on his tennis matches. On one occasion, a man approached Brown about a wager on a tennis match with his nine-year-old son. Brown agreed but as soon as he got on the court, he realized that he had made a mistake. The kid he was playing was Andre Agassi.

Every successful investor develops an abiding sense of humility – a respect for the unknown and the unknowable.  Life is one long session in humility. It’s natural to seek experts to guide us. But outside of physics and chemistry, predictions need to be taken with a grain of salt.

The noblest expression of the human spirit

Truth is the noblest expression of the human spirit. Yet it is always in short supply. With TV, radio, and the internet, people watch and read whatever pleases them. It’s called selective exposure. Rather than dealing with the unpleasant sensation of having our beliefs tested, we simply stay clear of information that contradicts our beliefs.

What we believe to be true is dependent on our upbringing and the society we live in. Truth comes from either tradition, authority, or by reason and evidence.

Science does an excellent job of telling us what is. It cannot tell us what ought to be.

The Art of living consciously

Dr. Nathaniel Brandon, a leading authority of self-esteem, believes that our greatest calling is to live consciously. True satisfaction and peace of mind are found only when our values, interests, goals, and behavior are in alignment. For example,  let’s say that a young father views the relationship with his child as a high priority and watching TV as a low priority. But he spends most of his time watching TV. His values and his behavior are out of whack.

Conscious living means being present to what are doing when you are doing it. When you are in the office, focus on your work.  Brandon suggests sentence completion exercises. Write down 5 or6 endings rapidly, without pausing to think.

An example would be: If I bring 5% more consciousness to work,

  • I’d be more productive
  • I’d procrastinate less
  • I’d spend less time on email, etc.

How to let your life speak

The Quakers have a fascinating history. They originated in the mid-seventeenth century in England. They left for the New World in search of religious freedom but didn’t find it among New England Protestants or the Puritans.

The Quakers practiced simplicity in all things – including modesty and plainness in dresses. Weddings were a simple exchange of vows. They never viewed scientific inquiry as a threat. It was just another part of their search for greater understanding.  Take the Quaker wisdom – live by example, let your life speak.

A legacy of Inspiration

Mohandas Gandhi is remembered for a lot of things – fighting against discrimination, poverty, and civil rights. But is best remembered for his contribution to humanity’s inner life.

He lived a simple and unassuming life. He wore modest clothing and ate plain vegetarian food. He fasted for self-purification and as a protest. He also dedicated his life to the purpose of discovering the truth – something that could be revealed only to those with a deep sense of humility.

The only thing new in the world

We think that our future looks perilous. But our ancestors have seen worse. In the 1930s, businesses struggled, unemployment was high and stock prices plunged 89%. There were draughts, world wars, and many other struggles.

Yet Americans have always risen to meet the challenges. History reminds us of the great sacrifices and triumphs of those who came before us. It may look like we are facing tough economic times but the future has always been fought with uncertainty. History gives us a sense of proportion. It tells who we are and where we have been. In difficult times, courage, determination, and patience matter.

The university on your shelf

Books do more than decorating a room. They give the room personality. A room without books is a body without a soul. You will learn more about someone based on what they read than by talking to them.  Unfortunately, many have given up on reading.

Everyone should start collecting books and have a bookshelf. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger read every day for hours.  Whether you are seeking the practical, spiritual or theoretical, there are great books on the topic.

We are all Greeks now

Ancient Greece was filled with discoverers and innovators. Pythagoras proved the math laws. Euclid worked on geometry, optics, and music theory. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle founded Western philosophy. Alexander set out to conquer the world.  Greeks also invented the idea of freedom.

The Greek legacy of reason, investigation, and individual freedom led to the remarkable ascendancy of the West. We are all Greeks, said British poet Percy Shelly.

The wisdom of Hillel

Jerusalem has more history than some continents. It’s home to dozens of dozens of sacred sites and a perennial destination for millions of religious pilgrims. The great rabbi Hillel argued that any interpretation of the scripture that bred hatred or disdain for others was illegitimate.

Religion aligns us with our moral axis. It allows us to live with realities that don’t have any easy explanations and problems that can’t be solved: mortality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at justices, poverty, and cruelty.

We will always fall short as individuals and nations. But the search for spiritual attainment is Jersusalem’s unique gift to the west.

Meditations of the Philosopher  – King

Marcus was the emperor of Rome for two decades until he succumbed to the plague. When he had quiet moments, he composed one of the great works of Stoic philosophy, known today as his Meditations.

The book is an inner dialogue. Marcus wrote the book for himself, not posterity. Here’s a sampling.

  • If you are pained by the external things, it’s not this that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it.
  • Wisdom and right action are the same things.
  • Kindness is unconquerable, so long as it is without flattery or hypocrisy.
  • The noblest way of taking revenge on others is by refusing to become like them.

Marcus wrote in the Meditations, “Stop philosophizing about what a good man is and be one.”

Part Four: Matters of life and death

Americans are deeply religious people but are also deeply ignorant of religion. A significant percentage of the population feels that religion is under attack by modern science. We don’t think twice about getting on a place and crossing the Pacific. That’s because we know that science works. The same goes for medical treatments. But when it comes to modern cosmology or evolutionary biology, many pretend that scientists don’t know what they are talking about. Religion that is afraid of science that dishonors God.

Discovering a new sense of the sacred

The scientific enterprise is not just about discovery. It’s also about humility. Science promotes knowledge and critical thinking. Conclusions are based on observation, experimentation, and replication.  Scientific conclusions are never final, they are always subject to revision.

In 2000, NASA launched the Kepler Space Telescope to discover planets outside our solar system. Space exploration gives us awe and wonder. It is also a reminder that we belong to a planet, a galaxy, a cosmos that inspires devotion as much as discovery.

The highest of arts

A large portion of the population feels like it’s not really living the life. They are caught up in boredom or existential angst. Philosopher Thoreau believed that as we get older, we fall into a routine, gradually and mindlessly beating a track for ourselves. We lose our gusto for living.

Thoreau believed that personal peace and serenity are found only in communion with nature. Nature is key to spiritual attainment. Nature offers the solitude to think about how we spend our time. A successful life is built on simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and meaningful work.

We are only here for a visit. Life should be ecstasy.

Emerson: The quintessential American

Emerson is America’s own philosopher, our first literary giant, the father of the environmental movement, and the founder of the American religion – a distinctive blend of individualism and self-reliance. His interest was in the principles that unite us. He, like Thoreau, believed that solitude in nature leads to true enlargement of mind and spirit.

Emerson recognized that most of our difficulties start between our ears. The key to resolving problems is to upgrade your thinking. He also warned about the trap of materialism. Financial success is never in the amount of money we have but in the relation of income to the outgo. Emerson said, “Nothing is at last sacred, but the integrity of our own mind.”

The life you can save

Today many children around the world die because they don’t have enough to eat. Others die from easily treatable conditions like malaria, measle, or diarrhea. In the West, we think that we are living a morally good life if we are not doing anything to hurt anyone else. But what are we doing to alleviate the suffering of others? It’s not just a matter of ethics, it’s a matter of conscience. If you are considering donating, consider the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Coming of age in the Milky Way

Seven decades of observation and experimentation reveal that the universe kicked off with a titanic explosion approximately 13.7 billion years ago. That’s a tough thing to conceptualize. Explanations of our origin strike a deep chord in most of us. Astronomers, physicists, and cosmologists often are in wonder about the scale, the majesty, the harmony, and the elegance of the universe.

The literature of truth

The number of scientifically literate adults in the US is about 20%. Without minimal scientific understanding, we can’t possibly have informed opinions about important issues. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to change scientific illiteracy. Subscribe to the Scientific American magazine, rent the BBC documentaries such as those made by Attenborough or read The Canon – A Whirligig Tour of the Basics of Science.

Science is a window of truth. Science helps us evaluate the claims, the medical advice, and not fall to pseudoscience.

Your connection to everything

We often confuse science with metaphysics. Metaphysics, which transcends disciplines, investigates the nature of being. Science is more pedestrian, collecting data through observation and experiments, developing theories to explain the evidence, and subjecting claims to scrutiny through peer review.

Do science and religion really need to square off? Science documents the factual character of the natural world, and develops theories that coordinate and explain the facts. Religion delves into the meaning and values – subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate but can never resolve. Science will tell you the age of rocks and the religion the rock of ages. Science tells you how the heavens go, and religions tell you how to go to heaven.

Astronomer Carl Sagan saw irrationality and dogmatism as enemies of both science and religion. He found amazement and humility in the investigation of the heavens, as well as a profound sense of the sacred.

The difference between knowing and believing

Science is a tool for understanding the natural world and advancing technology. It helps us distinguish what we might like to be true from what is probably true.

Religion, on the other hand, addresses more questions beyond the purview of science – questions like “Should I do this?”, and “What will happen if I do”. It underscores the primacy of love, the brotherhood of men, and the value of the individual.

Yet, at their best, both emphasize the important principle – one that scientists and theologians can equally embrace: a deep sense of humility.

Lessons of Haiti

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. An earthquake left hundreds of thousands dead or injured, and millions homeless.  It’s not just Haiti though. Hurricanes, death quakes, and other natural disasters occur with depressing regularity throughout the world.

These crises help put our own world in perspective. The security of your job, the performance of your 401(k), and the size of your bank account are small compared to the trauma of having a child or a grandchild trapped inside a collapsed house.

Your trip to the “Undiscovered Country”

Afterlife is a key component of every religion. The opposing idea is that “when we die, and that’s it”. 80% of Americans believe in some form of afterlife. In non-Western cultures, they approach 100%. There is something reassuring about cosmic justice – the idea that we will each be held to account.

Skeptics of the afterlife wonder why we would fear death or mourn agonizingly the death of loved ones if there is an afterlife. We don’t have proof of an afterlife.

Accepting rather can ignoring death can cause a radical shift in perspective. You realize how important it is to live fully rather than face the pain of not having lived.  Meditating on our health helps you develop an attitude of equanimity, an acceptance of your ultimate fate.

The beginning of wisdom

Our greatest inhibitor is our fear of failure. It can paralyze us, keeping us from applying for the promotion, taking the risk, meeting the girl, asking for the order, and experiencing the unknown. It’s always easier to stick with the safe, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar.

Yet, every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear. We nurture it. Only when we overcome this debilitating emotion we really begin to live. When you overcome fear, you get freedom from anxiety, freedom from a life unlived. Fortune really does favor the brave.

Of lost souls and lucky stiffs

Obituaries don’t always cover the most important milestone. An obituary is not just a notice of death, it’s a story of a life. Summing up life is an awesome responsibility. The goal is to honor the deceased, inform the community, to help families learn more about one of their own members and perhaps about themselves.

Obituaries don’t talk about the pay raises, the financial statements, or the Rolex Presidential. They remind us of the importance of family, friendship, and community, and inspire us to emulate the best qualities of the deceased.

How to pull the universe out of a hat

Science has a long history of upending our nations about the nature of reality. Only in recent times, we have known that time is relative, that the universe is expanding, and that all living things share a common ancestor.

Steve Hawkins, a professor at the University of Cambridge for 30 years, and a recipient of many awards and honors in science says that we live in a multiverse – ours is one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing, each with different laws of nature. Cosmos does not have a single existence or history, but rather every possible history.

There is room for faith to coexist with reason when it comes to the question about the beginning of the universe. Any discussion of the ultimate origins must begin with a basic acknowledgment – we simply don’t know.

It makes everything meaningful

Death is part of the tapestry of life. We couldn’t live without it. It’s sad to contemplate leaving this world or losing someone. But at some point, we become old and frail. Life loses its quality and death becomes a blessing.

Without death, we couldn’t honor those who came before us. We couldn’t set goals. We couldn’t prioritize our lives. Time would not be precious. Death separates the meaningful from the trivial.

The truth about myths

Myths have existed across all times and cultures. Human beings invented tales that placed our lives in a larger setting and gave them meaning and direction. The hero myth is designed not just to provide us with an icon but to allow us to tap into a vein of heroism within ourselves.

Myths are stories of our search through the ages for truth, for meaning, and for significance. We need for life to signify, to touch the eternal, to understand the mysterious, to find out who we are. Myths convey universal truths. They are about self-discovery and self-transcendence, one’s role in society, and the relationship between the two.

Your place in “The Great Story”

Paleontologists estimate that Homo sapiens emerged from East Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. Since then we have claimed from savages to scientists. We have had notable developments in the following areas.

  • Speech
  • Fire
  • Conquest of animals
  • Agriculture
  • Social organization
  • Morality
  • Tools
  • Education
  • Writing
  • Mathematics

Big History: The Bing Bang, Life on Earth and the Rise of Humanity is a 48-lecture course taught by David Christian. Big History is a crash course in your connection to everything – other people, the natural world, the rest of the cosmos. We are united, not just as a global community but as a cosmic one. Big History offers a vital perspective – a map of your place in space and time. We will never stop asking who we are or where we are headed, it’s pretty mind-blowing to discover where we have been.

Seven principles of spirituality

Here are seven areas where people can agree on spirituality

  1. You recognize the eternal mystery. When did time begin? Where does space end?
  2. You are in the genuine sense of awe. The Milky Way is bigger than our brains can imagine.
  3. You appreciate the sacredness of life. No one knows how life began or how widespread it may be in the universe
  4. You are profoundly grateful for your life.
  5. You have a well-developed ethical sense. On morality, there are two primary rules – treat others as you would be treated and when you say you are going to do something, do it.
  6. You strive for higher consciousness and wisdom. It means striving to live the best life while also recognizing the limits of your understanding.
  7. You seek a life of meaning. What is the purpose of life? Where do we find meaning?

If you follow the seven principles, will that make you a spiritual person? Maybe.  Spirituality is not unlike Justice Potter Stewart’s famous litmus test for pornography: we may not be able to define it. But we know it when we see it.

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