Are They Conning You?

To make any kind of successful change in your life you must:

A: Have a mentor who knows the terrain you wish to travel.  Following a mentor who doesn’t know the terrain is like the blind following the blind.

 B: Understand the value of the change to be made.  Unless you truly understand the value that making a change will bring to your life you won’t have any motivation to see the change through.

 C: Be dedicated to making that change.  Without dedication you’ll simply go with what’s easy and never attain the full benefits that a real change can bring you.

Those of you who have college degrees think back to your time in school.  Go through your professors in your mind.  Then ask yourself the following three questions:

1. How SUCCESSFUL were your professors in the industry they claimed to be educating you in

If they weren’t extremely successful in the industry you wished to be in they didn’t know the terrain you wished to travel and it was simply the blind leading the blind. 

A friend of mine who’s a practicing lawyer, who also teaches law and ethics at a college, hates his job and no matter how hard he tries he simply cannot advance in his law career the way he wishes to.  He’s currently teaching students how to be successful lawyers.  How successful do you think they’ll be if they’re being led by a guide who can’t thrive in the terrain through which he’s guiding them?

2. How many of your professors understood the value of change?  Think for a minute about this one.  Were the professors you had effectively growing the scope of their own experience, or were they teaching you about things that other people had done or discovered – or what they had done 20 years ago? 

Teachers who reference experiences they see on TV, in a movies or in books do not themselves understand the value of change.  Their experience is second hand.  And when they teach it to you, it becomes third hand experience.  What kind of events make a greater impact on you: ones that someone else tells you about third hand?  Or ones that you experience yourself first hand?
3. Did your professors help you to become successful and actualized in the industry you wanted to thrive in? 

Unless you are fully actualized in the area you wanted to become educated in—providing you actually recognized the value of the change you needed to make, and were willing to make that change—your degrees failed you. 

Before you decide it’s time to go back to college or send your kids to college ask yourself: Did school make you successful and actualized the first time? 

If your answer is yes, then why do you need to go back again? 

If your answer is no, then why would you continue to sink your precious time and other resources into a system that already failed you once?  If you bought a smart phone and found out that it wouldn’t connect to the web, didn’t text and you couldn’t make any calls on it, would you go just go back to the mobile store and buy another one?

The alternative to college

 1. Is there a way you can find a mentor who has already thrived or is thriving in the terrain  you wish to cross to act as a guide for you? 

 

Student loans are a liability.  They pick your pockets before you ever get a chance to fill them for yourself. Working with a successful mentor who is willing to guide you in exchange for equal value compensation is a way to avoid this trap.  So ask yourself: What can you do to bring value to a mentor’s life that is an equal exchange for his acting as your Sherpa? 

2. Until you truly understand the value that such changes will make in your life you’re likely to lack real motivation. 

This means understanding that you really can become the person you always wished to be: first hand.  That means you have to give up vicarious living.  It’s a lot more work and comes with greater responsibility.  The value: you will become the real deal, empowered, actualized, authentic and able to act as guide to others.  It’s much harder to be a real boy than a wooden one: just ask Pinocchio.  Still he knew it was worth it in the end.

3. College means very little effort and work.  You read a few books, sit in a lecture, take some tests.  But the price is enormous.  It means hungering for the approval of teachers and the constant need for reassurance and grades.  That need for approval and acceptance will spill over into your relationships and effect them.  It also means selling off thousands of hours of your precious time to pay for a degree that comes with no guarantees and is more like a rigged card game than a path to living a full and prosperous life.

Living life first hand demands constant effort and growth. It demands dedicating to yourself, the well being of your family and friends.  It means keeping your oaths and contracts the way the old knights did.  But the fruit that bears in independence, true acceptance and self satisfaction outweigh anything that you could ever get from a grade-point average.

Now, before you think that college is a measure of excellence consider this: if a college flunks you, they lose your money.  If they lose your money, they can’t stay in business.  So, it’s in their best interest to make sure you pass.  No matter what you learn or don’t learn; who you are or want to be. It doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that your tuition keeps coming in.  For as long as they can get it, and during as many times in of your life as they can manage it.

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Birth of a Gravestomper

Maybe it all started that afternoon when I was wandering through the St Francis Borgia grammar school library looking for something to read. Those days reading bored the hell outta me. I preferred being outside: running, biking, lying under the hundred-year-old silver maples in my front yard making up adventures. There was life outside in the open air and things were so stagnant in that Catholic school. There was little of interest to me within it’s beige walls and filthy asbestos ceilings. So much so that in second grade I asked one of the nuns to let me go to the bathroom and I simply walked out of the school and ran away. It took my father throwing me to the ground, beating me and kicking me to make me agree not to leave it again.

 

But anyway: back to the library. I was looking for something that would excite me. I’d already read the only book the school had on Greek mythology about fifty times. I loved the stories of the Gods. They were so much more interesting than the battered crucified curse we had to face above the chalkboards every day. That was a constant reminder that there was no way to win. If the Catholics didn’t lobotomize me with their our fathers and hail mary’s, then someone else would sling me up on a tree and nail me in. Their philosophy sucked. A point I reiterated years later in Catholic high school to a gym teacher who then dragged me into his office and beat me up. Another curse. They were all about curses, these people. But the old Greeks knew the Gods weren’t infallible. They were like us only bigger and more powerful. This seemed important to me. But there was only one book about them in that Catholic library. Looking back now, I admit, I’m surprised there was even the one; but there was, and I’d read it; and I was looking for something else; and that’s when I saw it.

 

It was the cover that caught my eye. It was black. On it was was a black and green winged figure pointing at a couple of tombstones. Behind the figure a purple sky was split by a lightning bolt and above this was the title, Here Lies the Body by Scott Corbett.

 

I checked it out and immediately started reading it. It was about a New England boy and his little brother, who was may age, who got a summer job cutting grass in ‘Hemlock Hill Burial Ground’. The elder brother wanted to be a writer and spent his time making up poems about the names on the tombstones. Turns out there was a mystery surrounding the two old men who owned the cemetery. It was a great read that left an indelible mark on my imagination. I read the book maybe a dozen times after that.

 

As it happed, my house in Chicago was walking and biking distance from at least six cemeteries. I decided to have some adventures like my heroes from the book and started spending my days—and when I was older, some nights—in Acacia, Westlawn, Mount Olive, St Joesph’s and Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove where John Belushi was originally buried before they moved his body to Massachusetts. In my teens I discovered Graceland and Rosehill on the North side where the first communal mausoleum was built. I fully explored the famous Mount Carmel: notorious for all of the gangsters like Al Capone who are buried there and where all of my Irish/Italian family is buried. I was looking for something. I didn’t know what.

 

When my mother found out I spent so much time in cemeteries she was horrified and said: “How can you do that?”

 

Why” I said to her. “It’s not the dead I’m worried about. It’s the living.” Which tells me now that even then I understood one of the principles central to the Tibetan Bon process: a realization that this life is characterized by suffering. But what no one seemed to be able to tell me was: How to we go beyond that suffering?

 

My time in cemeteries instilled a habit in me. One that lead me to search through the dark of this city for something even though I didn’t know what I was looking for. I know now I was looking for the way to go beyond death. I knew there had to be a way and it wasn’t through the crucified curse. I’d read about Easterners who meditated in cemeteries and I was intrigued. Where did the practice come from? I wanted to know. Later I would find out: Tibet.

 

In my late teens I began to explore dark Chicago nights, clubs, smoky bars and glistening city streets the way I’d searched those cemeteries in my youth. Still looking for the answer to what was behind that dark. On the way home I’d drive into Acacia cemetery, which was open all night back then, and I’d sit on the gravestones and stare up at the stars. One those nights I always knew: the answer would eventually come.

 

One night in the late 80’s I was in club Berlin, staring at a New Order video on the screen. I set my glass down hard on the bar and said aloud to no one: “I’m not coming back! This is it for me.”

Evidently I’d made a decision, but about what I didn’t know. By the time I hit 30 I’d fully explored the ‘New Age’ and found it to be to be no different from the religion I’d been raised on. There was no answer to what I’d been looking for in those cemeteries, or on those dark streets. Just an endless string of opinions.

 

By the time I was in my mid thirties I was researching Tibet. I uncovered a reference to these incredible Tibetans who were called Bön. They were in Tibet before the Buddhists got there and indeed the Buddhists had learned from them. I couldn’t believe some of the legends about these incredible people. Could they be true? According to the book they were all but extinct.

 

“Now, where the hell am I going to find one of these Bön?” I said to myself.

 

But I didn’t have to find one. Two weeks later one found me. I was up in Wisconsin doing palm readings at a Spring festival. He was a Bönku or “seed of Bön”. That is, a Bön master. He gave me a meditation to try and I did it. When I’d master it he gave me another exercise. Unlike all the religions I’d grown up around he never asked me to trust him or believe him or follow him. He simply gave me these experiments and said, “Try them. See what happens.”  See, now, if I was a New-Ager, this is the part of the story where I’d tell you that this Bönku told me I had a special gift, great spiritual power and that I was chosen to lead people. That sort of thing is pure bullshit. He didn’t tell me I was ‘special’ or that I was ‘chosen’. In fact he basically showed me how ignorant I was, and I how I was a prisoner of my own life and habits the way all of us humans are. If anyone had told me I was very powerful I would have known it was bullshit because I felt totally powerless back then. Power was the one thing I wanted because I was tired of having any and all power taken from me by others. I’m astonished so few are willing to admit the fact that they want power. They’re so afraid of it. But just because they pretend not to want it, doesn’t mean they’re fooling anyone. It could lead them to great things if they’d just admit it. But he did tell me that if I worked my ass off I could have great power and reach enlightenment: the way all humans can. It’s just that most humans already think they are already enlightened and so they can’t even be bothered to try and grow further. 

 

By midsummer that year I had taken vows of refuge. Meaning, I committed 11 years of my life to Bön training. That first year I learned all about the famous “cemetery work” of the Bön. (Some of it is chronicled in Alexandra David-Neel’s wonderful book, Magic and Mystery in Tibet.) And I realized why I had always been drawn to cemeteries. Lets just say that cemetery practices and all of the practices we Bön do are aimed at ending suffering: our own and the suffering of others. And we’ve dedicated our time here to manging our minds and ending suffering.

 

Now, cemeteries hold a great deal of magic for me. And I, as a Bön “Gomchen” as we are called, spend my time stomping the grounds with a great deal of appreciation and respect not only for the energies present in those places, but in the power of those places to relieve us of suffering, fears and limitations. For me, every trip to a cemetery is another adventure; it reminds me that we are more than mere dust and bones. We are energy.

 

But as my Bönku said to me the first day I met him: “If you’re not managing your energy, who is?”

 

And that my grave stomping friends, is the key to it all…