I read the news today, oh boy…

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh.
— The Beatles, A Day In The Life

I’ve made a decision to avoid reading the news for the rest of 2016. This might strike some as an eccentric, even foolhardy, decision. After all, things are happening in the world: a Presidential election is underway in the USA, Brexit in the UK, conflicts in Syria, refugees in the Med.

The News book coverI’m inspired by reading the provocative book The News: A Users Manual, by Alain de Botton which suggests a number of reasons to treat the ‘news’ with caution. In a trenchant analysis of the news de Botton not only takes issue with the selectivity and bias of the news in the usual way of political critique from various quarters, he raises fundamental questions about the philosophical underpinnings of the activity of reporting and editorial control:

The news may present itself as the authoritative portraitist of reality. It may claim to have an answer to the impossible question of what has really been going on, but it has no overarching ability to transcribe reality. It merely selectively *fashions* reality through the choices it makes about which stories to cast its spotlight on and which ones to leave out.

The news knows how to render its own mechanisms almost invisible and therefore hard to question. It speaks to us in a natural unaccented voice, without reference to its own assumption-laden perspective. it fails to disclose that it does not merely *report* on the world, but is instead constantly at work crafting a new planet in our minds in line with its own highly distinctive priorities.

As important as the stories the news covers, claims de Botton, are those stories that are not considered ‘newsworthy’:

…the cloud floating right now unattended over the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor’s mind as he approaches the patient’s bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow, the small child tapping the surface of a newly hard-bolied egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage, the factory producing the first prototypes of a new kind of engine and the spouse who, despite extraordinary provocations and unkind words, discovers fresh reserves of patience and forgiveness.

So as an experiment I’ll be cancelling my FT subscription, avoiding the TV, unplugging from social media and turning off radio bulletins. I’m not completely alone in this, as I’ve discovered others who have made the same decision, some many years ago. Instead of reading and watching the news, I’ll be paying more attention to the ebb and flow of the tides, phases of the moon and birdsong.

I hope to fill the evening hours considering the Dharma, perhaps reading Proust for the first time, or tackling an epic like the Mahabharata or The Bible.

I might blog as the experiment unfolds, but you won’t find me on social media as I ease into the experience of this fast from the headlines de Botton has enjoyed:

We need relief from the news-filled impression that we are living in an age of unparalleled importance, with our wars, our debts, our riots, our missing children, our after-premier parties, our IPOs and our rogue missiles. We need, on occasion, to be able to rise up into the space of our imagination, many kilometers above the mantel of the earth, to a place where that particular conference and this particular epidemic, that new phone and this shocking wildfire, will lose a little of their power to affect us — and where even the most intractable problems will seem to dissolve against the aeons of time to which the view of other galaxies attests.

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding

Tour de FranceAs the Tour de France peleton rolls through the Alps towards the final stage on the Champs Elysee this Sunday, it’s worth remembering there are other ways in which a bicycle can be ridden. It’s not all high-speed descents of Alpine passes and 100-mile dashes through the French countryside.

Mark HarrisMark Harris is as far from the Lycra-clad racers as he is from the average carnivorous American. As I noted back in February, he has attached a blender to the rear wheel of his bike and is touring the country living off the land on a diet of raw green smoothies.

He has posted a wonderful poem to his blog on The Art Of Transcendental Bicycle Blender Touring which communicates, from the heart, how bicycle touring can liberate us from the concerns of everyday life:

What goes in the bicycle blender is wild and raw,
It is immediate and distinct, unblemished by names,
It goes in at the top, and whirs all the way down the mountain.
It reaches the valley, smooth and creamy,
Having acquired the essence of taste.

The bicycle blender tourist has nowhere to go,
Each moment is a drop in time,
Somehow the mountain descends and rises up again,
With each undulation of the landscape
More names are forgotten

When the bicycle blender heads up the mountain
Much effort is required.
When it coasts down the other side,
There is only ease.
Effort and ease are thrown in the bicycle blender too,
Before long they can’t even be told apart.

But the real magic begins
When the bicycle blender is put in reverse.
Pedaling backwards up the mountain slope,
Eyes wide open, not knowing where anything is,
Green Smoothie is spewed out, over everything,

By the top of the mountain every seeming separate thing,
Has been coated through and through with Green Smoothie,
So that substance itself is a delicious and refreshing drink.

Book Review: A Whole New Mind, by Daniel H. Pink

A Whole New Mind CoverAfter reading Leonardo’s Brain I was inspired by the practical advice for overcoming limited left-brained thinking in Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. While this might not enable us to evolve an integrated body and mind to the level of da Vinci, at least it offers a place to start on the journey that Leonard Shlain says is required if we are to survive as a species.

The Conceptual Age

The first part of the book argues that Western societies are undergoing a change from a left-brain dominant Information Age to a right-brained Conceptual Age. The abundance of material goods and information, where obscure facts can be retrieved instantly with a search engine, lessens the value placed on linear “just the facts Ma’am” thinking. Highly paid knowledge workers are being displaced by low-cost workers in Asia, and routine tasks that rewarded those who excel at left-brained logic and sequential thinking are being automated. According to Pink, the yes men of yesteryear will soon disappear (or at least, move to India and China).

Today’s winners in the West need to explore patterns, abstractions, and designs if they are to “rule the future”. The MFA is the new MBA. The age of the image replaces the alphabetic mind. A picture is worth a thousand words. The Conceptual Age requires we cultivate creativity over calculation. The second half of the book investigates six ways to do this.

The Six Senses

Pink inventories six abilities we can cultivate to succeed in the Conceptual Age:

Design or the cultivation of an artistic sensibility, shaping our environment in ways that give meaning to our lives.

Storytelling to make our communications memorable by putting things into context, enriched by emotion and structured for maximum impact.

Symphony or synthesis of relationships and patterns, crossing boundaries and making bold leaps of imagination. Viewing the big picture and not obsessing over details. (Indeed, he celebrates dyslexia as an indicator of superior intuition and big-picture insights.)

Empathy imagining ourselves in someone else’s position, reading faces not just spreadsheets.

Play as we move away from sober seriousness to experience what happens when humor suddenly returns.

Meaning in our lives including the willingness to embrace our spiritual side.

Practical Portfolios

At the end of each of the six chapters in Part Two, Pink lists a portfolio of practical ways we can help to sharpen that ability in our own lives. here’s a wonderfully eclectic series of suggestions, any one of which has the capability to begin to change how we engage a whole new mind. There’s at least a dozen suggestions at in each portfolio. I especially loved:

Design which includes his audacious recommendation that we choose a household item that annoys us in some way, sketch out an improvement and send the suggestion to the manufacturer to see what happens. (I could start with the iced water dispenser in our refrigerator which *will* leak onto the floor…)

Story Write a 50-word mini saga (or, better yet, tell your life story in six words.) For example, this mini saga titled The Talking Fingers of my Great Greek Grandfather by Bob Thurber. Or, perhaps this 50-word extract of verse from a Welsh poet:

..I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns.

Draw on the Right Side of the Brain.

Empathy by taking an acting or improv class.

Play By visiting a laughter club.

Meaning by taking a technology sabbath one day a week.

At the end of the day, however, muting the left brain in favor of a more integrated view of reality will probably require more profound changes than any of us are capable of in an afternoon acting or drawing class. Indeed, in the decade that has passed since Pink wrote this book, the rise of image-based communication via smartphones and internet video has started to eclipse the stranglehold the written word has on us. It remains to be seen if future Leonardo’s are being incubated in this new environment.

Book Review: Leonardo’s Brain, by Leonard Shlain

Leonardo's Brain CoverLeonard Shlain’s latest, and final, book is a tour-de-force. Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius follows from the spirit of the author’s previous books, most notably The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image and Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light. Taken together, the three books examine the way alphabetic literacy reconfigured the human brain and brought about profound changes in history, religion, and gender relations; review the ways art interprets the visible world while science charts its unseen workings; and describe the manner in which a unique individual transcended the divisions between left and right-brained approaches to the world to achieve exceptional genius.

A Celebration of Genius

Shlain’s work is an unabashed celebration of da Vincis’ staggering range of achievements in the art, science and invention. Despite the five centuries that have passed since da Vinci lived, Shlain marshals evidence to show the scope of his genius resulted on the unique physiology of his brain that allowed him to achieve all he did in both art and science.

Much of the evidence is based on the neuroscience with which the author, a practicing laparoscopic surgeon, extrapolates from the fact that da Vinci was a gay left-handed (but ambidextrous) man and a vegetarian pacifist. From both his paintings and his scientific journals, Shlain infers that da Vinci was able to transcend the division between the left and right hemispheres of his brain and achieve a synthesis that was the engine of his genius:

For creativity to manifest itself, the right brain must free itself from the deadening hand of the inhibitory left brain and do its work, unimpeded… (p.92)

This synthesis unleashed a creative force that allowed da Vinci to recognize novel patterns in the world, seeing with a heightened level of alertness and clarity.

Remote Viewing

Beyond this level of appreciation, however, Shlain proposes a truly startling argument that some of da Vinci’s work, such as the drawings of the town plan of Imola and the scheme for a canal to bypass the Arno could only have been made if he was capable of “remote viewing”, or:

…the skill to enter a space-time consciousness, discard the rational left brain, and acquire a quantum look at the world. (p.157)

This extraordinary level of perception might also explain how he was able to draw a bird’s trajectory in slow motion or stop time to draw water caught in midair, even drawing how it appeared beneath the surface.

Prior Unity

Shlain sees da Vinci’s achievements as a sign of hope for humanity at the start of the twenty-first century, experiencing a transitional stage of evolution as a species. He speculates that we are entering a period in which humanity is changing:

The absence or presence of creativity determines what we believe…Perhaps we will develop into an improved version of Homo sapiens as more of us become less interested in power and more interested in matters of the heart. (p. 194)

As the Western-born Spiritual Adept Adi Da Samraj has written:

I am interested in finding men and women who are free of every kind of seeking, who are attendant only to understanding, and who will devote themselves to the intentional creation of human life in the form and logic of Reality, rather than the form and logic of Narcissus. Such men are the unexploitable Presence of Reality … They will create in the aesthetics of Reality, turning all things into radical relationship and enjoyment. They will remove the effects of separative existence and restore the Form of things. They will engineer every kind of stability and beauty. They will create a Presence of Peace. Their eye will be on present form and not on exaggerated notions of artifice. Their idea of form is stable and whole, not a gesture toward some other event. They will not make the world seem but a symbol for higher and other things.

Shalin’s Legacy

Shlain’s life ended just as he was finishing the manuscript for this book. The terrible irony is that he, who shared so many insights about the brain, passed away from brain cancer. The book was finished with the help of his three children: Kimberley, Jordan and Tiffany. We owe them, and their father, an immense debt for sharing his insights with us.


StairsEver since I studied the sociology of sociology I’ve been fascinated by recursive activity. I’ve heard professional speakers speaking about speaking and read writers writing about writing.

The current edition of the New Yorker features a translation of Wislawa Szymborska’s compelling poem Reciprocity (subscription required). It is a wonderful play on the idea of recursive activity. Of worlds within worlds. Mirror shades.

I found this Italian translation which I have rendered into English for the benefit of anyone who does not have a New Yorker subscription.

There are catalogs of catalogs.
There are poems about poems.
There are plays about actors played by actors.
Letters in response to letters.
Words used to clarify words.
Brains occupied with studying brains.
There are griefs as infectious as laughter.
Paper emerging from waste papers.
Seen glances.
Conditions conditioned by the conditional.
Large rivers with abundant contributions from small ones.
Forests overgrown by forests.
Machines designed to make machines.
Dreams wake us suddenly from dreams.
Health needed for regaining health.
Stairs leading as much up as down.
Glasses for finding glasses.
Inspiration born of expiration.
And even if only from time to time
hatred of hatred.
All in all,
ignorance of ignorance.
and hands employed to wash hands.

The last two lines alone summoned, for me, images of manicurists who don’t know what they don’t know, but (working backwards through the stanza) with every breath they take, have an opportunity to speak tolerantly with occasional customers.

And, of course, the whole silicon chip industry and Moore’s Law has been driven by machines designed to make machines that have enabled tremendous advances in cognitive science by corporations where careers are downsized as often as they advance; where patents filled with footnotes are written on recycled paper; where the sum of knowledge is made up of a multitude of small contributions; where the Light of Consciousness itself can awaken us from this dream of our limited and limiting conditional existence. Klik-Klak, pattern patterning.

At least that’s what the poem seems to be saying, at first glance.

Open systems born of counter-culture (redux)

In response to an interview with Silicon Valley VC Peter Thiel in the Weekend FT on Dec 20, 2013 my letter defending hippie values was published a week later:

Of the many sweeping statements made by libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel during his “Lunch with the FT” interview (“People are not trying hard enough”, Life & Arts, December 21), none seems as wide of the mark as his claim that “when the hippies won … the idea of progress came to an end”. As someone who lives and invests in Silicon Valley, Mr Thiel should be familiar with the well-documented connection between 1960s radicals and innovations around open systems computing and the origins of the personal computer.

Open systems grew out of the variation of the Unix operating system developed at the University of California at Berkeley – hotbed of the 1960s counter-culture in the US. Open systems innovation led to a revolution every bit as real as the one hoped for by those manning the barricades on Telegraph Avenue.

Homebrew Computer Club founder Fred Moore was an anti-war activist. Club members Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs engaged in “hippie pastimes” such as phone phreaking, experimenting with LSD, and seeking spiritual enlightenment in India. They then went on to found Apple Computers, hardly a sign that progress had come to an end.

New YorkerNow, a long article in the Jan 13 edition of the New Yorker by Evgeny Morozov, details various elements of the rebellion against establishment ownership of the means of production–from the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th Century through the Whole Earth Catalog of the 1960s to the hackers of the 70’s and the Maker Movement today.

Whole Earth Catalog founder and computer revolutionary Stewart Brand contrasts the nature of the rebellion on different sides of the San Francisco Bay:

Around Berkeley, it was Free Speech Movement, “power to the people.” Around Stanford, it was “Whole Earth Catalog,” Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, people like that, and they were just power to people. They just wanted to power anybody who was interested, not “the people.” Well, it turns out there is no, probably, “the people.” So the political blind alley that Berkeley went down was interesting, we were all taking the same drugs, the same length of hair, but the stuff came out of the Stanford area, I think because it took a Buckminster Fuller access-to-tools angle on things.

Morozov writes that, in addition to Fred Moore, another leader of the Homebrew Computer Club was Lee Felsenstein. A veteran of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, he wanted to build a communication infrastructure that would allow citizens to swap information in a decentralized manner, bypassing the mistrusted traditional media. He founded the Club to help counter the power of IBM, then the dominant manufacturer of large and expensive computers, and make computers smaller, cheaper, and more useful in political struggles.

Morozov’s notes the irony that today “we carry personal computers in our pockets—nothing could be more decentralized than this!—but have surrendered control of our data, which is stored on centralized servers, far away from our pockets.”

While he criticizes the lack of a willingness of these movements to address institutional and political change, the overwhelming impact of the innovations that the counter-culture unleashed is undeniable.

Interview: Austin Hill Shaw – Creativity Instigator

Austin Hill ShawFor as long as he can remember, San Francisco Bay Area-based Austin Hill Shaw has been enraptured by creativity and the creative process. In 2004, stemming from a life-changing insight gained during a three-month meditation retreat, he began exploring the subject of creativity in earnest, wanting to understand the opportunities and challenges behind creativity’s seemingly universal appeal. Since then, he has amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding creative expression in art, science, and religion, in childhood development and adult maturation, in business and the economy, in product innovation, in both intimate and organizational relationships, and in non-ordinary states of consciousness, delving into the very core of what is means to be human. More importantly, he has striven to embody all that he’s learned, using his own life as an ongoing experiment, testing and refining his methods in his own pursuits as a writer and architectural designer.

Between The Bridge and the WaterToday, in a time of rampant job automation and outsourcing, Austin’s message regarding the importance of creativity and how to activate it is swiftly making its way out into the world. Drawing upon an innovative mix of cutting-edge science, artistic expression, and age-old spiritual wisdom, Austin presents a timely and enlivening understanding of creativity, one that ignites the full-person creative potential of individuals and organizations alike. He just released his provocative first book in his Awakening Creativity Series, a book entitled, Between The Bridge and The Water: Death, Rebirth, and Creative Awakening, and will be releasing his next book, The Shoreline of Wonder: The Path of Creativity later this summer.

Whether he is addressing a large audience or working with an individual one-on-one, Austin combines visionary insight with heartfelt empathy, profound ideas with unexpected humor, sobering seriousness with joyful irreverence, all with a remarkable sense of presence. He is a gifted story teller, one with the ability to unpack the complex subtleties of the creative process and present them in a way that can be put to use immediately. Through his keynote presentations, writing, and one-on-one coaching, and through his work with his architecture clients, Austin Hill Shaw is dedicated to helping others awaken their natural creative capacities and to share their creative gifts with others.

Find out more about Austin, his speaking and coaching offerings, and his other creative pursuits at www.austinhillshaw.com.

Pro-Track Profile

I recently talked with Austin about his background. To hear what he told me, and the plans he has to instigate creativity in the world, as well as his impressions of the National Speakers Association Pro-Track class that he is part of, click on the podcast icon below.

Tiffany Shlain’s stunning autobiographical film

Connected the FilmOn Sunday I invited my daughter to the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley for the opening weekend of Tiffany Shlain’s latest film Connected. Since we both work at Cisco, and the movie trailer promised a discussion of internet and connectivity, I thought we’d both find it interesting and relevant to our day jobs. “It’ll be a nice Father-Daughter afternoon out,” I mentioned to Emily.

I had no idea.

Tiffany Shlain is the daughter of Dr. Leonard Shlain, a Renaissance man who was a surgeon, inventor and author. In May 2009 he passed away after a two-year battle with brain cancer. This film is an emotionally raw account of her father’s life and death; of his influence on her and the ideas on language and the brain he developed in his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image; of
her own struggle to conceive a second child and of her eldest child’s brush with a life-threatening medical emergency.

She started work on the film five years ago, at that time her Dad was one of her principal advisers on the script. His passing both challenged her ability to complete the film and offered an opportunity to make her autobiography a point of departure for a wide-ranging consideration of the effect of the internet, connectivity and collaboration on society today.

Tiffany has been involved in the promotion of the web as the founder of the “Webby Awards” as well as an early proponent of distance learning.

The film uses animated timelines to span developments in science, technology and innovation from the Big Bang to the present day. She focuses on historical figures such as Einstein, Marie Curie and James Lovelock to detail the evolution of ideas from the era of the printing press to the web. The decline of the honeybee is seen as a leitmotif for the many threats to the planet that patriarchal, left-brained thinking has led to.

However, Tiffany takes an optimistic view of the potential for the interconnected world we inhabit to discover a way out of the crisis. By focusing less on linear text and more on pattern recognition and images, she suggests the Web might begin to undo the centuries exaltation of the masculine, left-brained approach to problems.

As Adi Da Samraj has written in Not-Two Is Peace, Only everybody-all-at-once can change the current chaos. Tiffany’s stunning autobiographical film holds hope that the interconnectivity made possible by the network will indeed become a platform for a sensible resolution to the challenges we all face.

Coming to Theaters

Connected is currently playing at selected theaters in San Francisco, Berkeley and Mill Valley, CA. Over the next six weeks it opens in Portland, OR; Monterey, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Seattle, WA; New York, NY and Denver, CO.

Book Review: Tasting the Moon, by Meg Fortune McDonnell

Full disclosure: I first met Meg Fortune McDonnell in 1980 when I arrived in California to join the community that grew up around the spiritual teacher she describes in her memoir. Unlike Meg, who embraced a relationship to her teacher that lasted a lifetime, I was more of a dilettante, dropping out of the community in 1986 and, for the last ten years, re-approaching as a friend and advocate, not a full-blown practitioner. I have a profound respect for Adi Da Samraj, a teacher who has authored over 80 books of spiritual insight, as well as a prolific artist. (For a taste of both, go to www.da-peace.org and www.daplastique.com, respectively.) I also appreciate that the story Meg tells is of value not just to those who share an interest in this particular teacher, or even those who are sympathetic to the possibility of spiritual life in general, but to anyone with an interest in a different perspective on the meaning of life.

Tasting the Moon Tasting the Moon is a challenging book, 723 pages of observations on the meaning of life, death, transcendence and everything in between; fortunately it is written as a page-turner that makes compelling reading. The author, Meg Fortune McDonnell, dedicated herself to learning from an unusual spiritual teacher she met in the mid-70s and she’s stuck with ever since. She tackles the rewards and challenges of spiritual life head-on.

As a first-hand report on what one expert called “the most penetrating social & spiritual experiment on the planet” (p. 199) her story deserves to be widely read.

The things I liked about this book include:

  • She tells a story that is hers alone, with the constant reminder that “your mileage might vary” as well as a gentle admonition “not to try this at home”. The most compelling thing about the book is Meg’s voice. She writes in wonderfully clear prose that speaks directly to the reader and throughout the book she uses “Excellent Phrasing” (a playful name her teacher gives her, pgs. 85-86).
  • Her honesty. I can only guess at the discriminative choices she made as she trod the fine line between being totally honest with herself and yet sensitive to the privacy of her friends. The use of her own name is a courageous “coming out” (p. 221) in a society where having a guru is so controversial. This, coupled with the decision to use fictional names for everyone else except Adi Da is a wise move (even though many members of her community must be having a fine time second-guessing who is who.)
  • Her scholarship and learning, which she wears in a refreshingly light manner. I got a huge kick out of her early references — having read many of same books she had before she encountered her teacher (Castaneda; Kerouac; Orwell; Bettleheim) — and then enjoyed hearing about the many books I’ve not read from the list of traditional spiritual texts Adi Da introduced her to, and the way she weaves anecdotes from multiple traditions into the story.
  • Most of all, her obvious love for the guru and the many wonderful descriptions of her spiritual experiences in his company, occasions in which the power of his blessing fills the room and transports her to remarkable states of awareness.

Her story begins in small town Ohio and encompasses the experimental lifestyles of the late 1960’s and early 70’s. She shares her enjoyment of the “gob-smacking delicious” life in a rural tipi; teaching in the inner city; dance-therapy and improv theater. She followed in the footsteps of Kerouac and Kesey until, as for me and many of my friends, someone gave her a copy of a book by Bubba Free John (Adi Da’s earliest teaching name) and she landed up on Polk Street in San Francisco in 1975 where she met the “earth-mothers with big hair and slight men with big brains who greeted us and helped us get started.”

The next 30 years with her guru includes a comprehensive review of the varied considerations he engaged in with those close to him and the wider community. Topics covered include:

  • The evolution of gender roles and sexual politics as they affect empowered women
  • The challenges and benefits of monogamy, celibacy and alternative lifestyles for intimate relationships
  • Program management in non-profit organizations
  • Understanding the ways photography undermines a singular “point of view” to represent both Art and blessing
  • Public relations and crisis management in times of negative press coverage
  • Early childhood through late adolescent educational programs
  • The role of exercise, diet and yoga for optimal health
  • The importance for public speakers to first relate to people in an audience before presenting ideas: “Love comes first, information second.” (p. 274)
  • The ways by which true prayer can ameliorate global conflict and individual suffering
  • A dismissal of the Oxfordian theorists claims that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays (really!)
  • Irrefutable evidence that the Shroud of Turin is not authentic
  • Zen and the art of unicycle maintenance (again, really!)

Above all, this book is a sophisticated analysis of the process of guru devotion as a path to realization for contemporary men and women. And therein, for most readers, lies the challenge. This is a controversial topic. Meg’s book is a compelling narrative that describes the rewards experienced by an accomplished and intelligent women who dedicated her life to spiritual practice. She reviews the relevance of traditional Eastern and Western religious teaching on the value of a direct relationship with a spiritual master. While she draws on extensive knowledge of the literature, this is no dry scholarly analysis. Her story is enlivened by her first-hand reports of out-of-the-body experiences; dreams; boundary-less awareness and the experience of witnessing at close quarters a being who was able to “compress infinite awareness, the eternal state of being…into a human body” (p. 628)

Her major accomplishment is to have shared what it was like to fully heart-participate with Adi Da during his life on this Earth, to “taste the Moon” and tell the tale for the rest of us to enjoy.

Good drama is surprising and inevitable

An interview with playwright David Mamet in the Weekend FT has a useful discussion on the challenges of compelling writing:

I take the opportunity of having this master craftsman in front of me to ask about writing. He commences by defining where others go wrong. “Anyone can write five people trapped in a snowstorm. The question is how you get them into the snowstorm. It’s hard to write a good play because it’s hard to structure a plot. If you can think of it off the top of your head, so can the audience. To think of a plot that is, as Aristotle says, surprising and yet inevitable, is a lot, lot, lot of work.”

So what is the basis of drama? Mamet gazes at me blankly as if the question is naive, then elucidates in one long sentence. “The basis of drama is … is the struggle of the hero towards a specific goal at the end of which he realises that what kept him from it was, in the lesser drama, civilisation and, in the great drama, the discovery of something that he did not set out to discover but which can be seen retrospectively as inevitable. The example Aristotle uses, of course, is Oedipus.”

Indeed, there are certain truths which speechwriters can heed to maximize the dramatic impact of a talk:

  • Good theater “shows” rather than “tells” an audience.
  • The audience can envisage themselves within the story.
  • A dramatic story is not just based on character and personality, but on plot. Aristotle defined this as the “arrangement of incidents” and the way these are presented to the audience is the structure of the play (or speech).
  • The speech must have a beginning, middle and end: an inciting moment, climax and resolution.

There’s a lot more about the importance of plot applied to corporate presentations in Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate.