US Schools Are Leaving Students Ill-Equipped to Compete with Artificial Intelligence

We have long known that the robots were coming, but now that they are here, the mismatch between our modern education system and the technology-fueled workplace is glaringly apparent. As robots expertly perform routine tasks and increasingly assume broader workforce responsibilities, we must ask ourselves an important question: What is our key human differentiator?

The Power of Creativity

According to Boston University professor Iain Cockburn, who just published a new paper on the impact of artificial intelligence, the human competitive advantage lies in optimizing “what we can do better than machines, which is imagination, creativity, judgment.” In the paper, Cockburn and his colleagues suggest that it’s possible the robots will catch up to us soon in these realms, but they are not there yet. They write:

Instead, recent advances in both robotics and in deep learning are by and large innovations that require a significant level of human planning and that apply to a relatively narrow domain of problem-solving (e.g., face recognition, playing Go, picking up a particular object, etc.). While it is of course possible that further breakthroughs will lead to a technology that can meaningfully mimic the nature of human subjective intelligence and emotion, the recent advances that have attracted scientific and commercial attention are well removed from these domains.

If human imagination, creativity, and judgment are our primary tools for competing successfully with today’s robots, then it would make sense for current education models to focus on cultivating these qualities. The sad fact, however, is that most schooling is stuck in a 19th-century system of command and control, memorization, and regurgitation that may successfully train young people to be robotic workers but not innovative thinkers.

It’s Time to Adapt

Recognizing the inevitable effects of automation, artificial intelligence researchers have been calling for dramatic changes in the education of our youth since computers first appeared. One futurist was Seymour Papert, a renowned mathematician who became co-director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the 1960s.

Papert was a critic of education models based on top-down instruction and passive learning. He believed that “the model of successful learning is the way a child learns to talk, a process that takes place without deliberate and organized teaching.” So firm was his vision of the ways technology could facilitate authentic learning, Papert foreshadowed the end of conventional schooling. In his 1980 book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, Papert writes that “schools as we know them today will have no place in the future.”

Of course, Papert’s vision hasn’t emerged. Other than the ubiquity of computers, most present schooling looks remarkably similar to schooling in the 1980s, and passive learning and a teach-and-test approach to education endures. American public school students now take more than one hundred required standardized tests from preschool through high school graduation—a number that has skyrocketed in recent years. At the same time, their creativity scores are plummeting. College of William & Mary professor Kyung Hee Kim discovered that American creativity scores have been falling precipitously since the early 1990s, with elementary school-age children experiencing the sharpest drop in creativity.

We should all be alarmed. If human creativity is our key competitive advantage against robots, and that creativity is declining, the forthcoming workplace disruption and job losses that will accompany increased automation will be more severe than they otherwise should be. Some educators suggest doubling down on efforts to foster creativity. John Maeda, the former president of Rhode Island School of Design, said in an interview:

I wouldn’t say [creativity] can be taught in the normal sense of adding knowledge and wisdom to someone. I would say instead it can be re-kindled in people—all children are creative. They just lose their capability to be creative by growing up.

But it’s not a consequence of growing up that causes creativity to decline: It’s our antiquated system of forced schooling that was designed to crush creativity in the name of conformity. As I spotlight in my upcoming book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, young people who learn without school, or in other non-coercive learning environments, retain their natural creativity and curiosity. We don’t need to rekindle creativity; we need to stop destroying it.

To compete with robots, we need an education model that nurtures human imagination and ingenuity. Forced schooling is ill-equipped to do this, but models of learning without conventional schooling are ideally positioned to take on the pending robot challenge.

Continue Reading

The Best Things I’ve Learned About Raising Children

I don’t consider myself a parenting expert, but I have helped raise six kids (along with their mothers), and being a father has been one of the most rewarding things in my life.

And while I’m not a perfect father, I think I’m pretty good at it. Mostly because I absolutely love it.

Eva and I also have some slightly non-conventional parenting ideas that might be useful to parents who are always looking for new ways of thinking about things.

So I’m going to share the best things I’ve learned about raising children, not because my way is the best, but because it’s always helpful to have a discussion about parenting.

A really important note: Much of the work of parenting, if not most, was done by my kids’ moms (my wife Eva and my first two kids’ mom). I can only take a little credit.

Here are some of the best things I’ve learned:

  1. Your main job is just to love them. We have to take care of their basic needs, of course, but parents add all kinds of extra things on top of that, and make the job really hard. Parenting is often not that complicated — OK, taking care of basic needs is a lot of work, but the basic job of parenting is to love your kids. You don’t need to shape them, to pressure them to be better, to make them do all kinds of activities to become the perfect kid. They’re pretty damn perfect already. Just love them as they are, and make sure they can feel that love.
  2. Don’t hover — let them fall sometimes. Parents these days tend to be overprotective, to be constantly trying to make sure every need is met, and to be afraid of the smallest fall. Nah. Let them live. Let them have some independence. Let them go out and play without you. Let them fall down and scrape their knee. Let them fail at things. This is how they grow. Imagine if you sheltered kids from failure and pain and struggle their whole lives … they’d be totally unprepared for the adult world! I’m not saying you should never protect your kid, but the less you can do that, without them dying, the better. Then help them cope with the failure or pain on their own, with you helping them to understand how they can do that. Be there for them, but only to the extent that you’re helping them learn to do it on their own.
  3. Harsh disciplinarian methods are more hurtful than helpful. When I first started parenting, I would yell and spank my kids and punish them for all their wrongdoings. It was totally hurtful, and made them afraid of me. Yes, they would do everything I told them to do, but only because they were scared to do otherwise. And often they’d just hide the things they did, so I wouldn’t know. I’ve learned to mellow out over the years, to control my temper and be more compassionate. I’m not perfect, as I said, but now I see everything as an opportunity to educate them, an opportunity for them to grow, and a chance for me to just love them. If your parents were disciplinarian, that doesn’t make it the way you need to do things.
  4. Reading to them regularly is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I read to my kids most days. My wife and I have done that with all the kids, and it’s a wonderful way to spend time with them, to foster a love for reading that will help them for the rest of their lives, and to explore imaginative new worlds together. My kids have found a love for reading on their own that came from cuddling with me and reading Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter (a series I’ve read 4 times over with different kids) and Narnia and Arabian Nights and Don Quixote.
  5. Let them direct their own learning. Four of my kids are unschooled, but all of them have done learning projects on their own, and I encourage them to learn about whatever they’re interested in. Many kids are so used to top-down learning (where they’re told what and when and how to learn) that they don’t know how to direct themselves. They’ll have to learn as adults. But instead, we can encourage them to learn what they’re interested in, help them with learning projects until they can do it on their own, and have them learn like adults do.
  6. But give them fun challenges and encourage them to try new things. Self-directed learning is an incredible method, but sometimes they need inspiration. I like to encourage them to look things up, to dive deep into a topic that interests them, to learn about something they don’t know yet will interest them. I try to talk about these things in positive ways, that show how interesting I find them, and I’ve found that sometimes, that interest and curiosity are contagious. Other times, I challenge them — let’s do a drawing challenge, a pushup challenge … let’s see if we can travel a month with only a backpack each, or memorize the capitals of all the states, or as many digits of pi as we can. Let’s try to program a simple game. Kids (and adults) respond well to fun challenges.
  7. Teach them to do things on their own, early. As soon as we could, we taught our kids to do things on their own. Tie their own shoes, brush their teeth, shower and dress themselves, make their own breakfast and lunch, wash and dry the dishes, clean the house, do their own laundry. For one thing, it made our job as parents easier, if they were helping plan meals, do the grocery shopping, and cook dinners once a week. Soon we didn’t have to do very much for them. But just as importantly, we were teaching them self-sufficiency — they don’t expect things to be done for them, and they learn that they can do anything for themselves that they want taken care of.
  8. Let them take charge of things or participate in work when you can. Along the same lines, we try to get them to take charge of things … for example, planning a trip. They do research, look for Airbnb apartments, plan train routes, book flights. When they get to adulthood, they already know how to do these things. They also know how to take responsibility.
  9. Try a democratic process of decision-making. When we decide where to eat out, or what we should do this weekend, we have a discussion, each contribute ideas, and take a vote. This teaches them to take part in making decisions, instead of having their lives decided for them. But it also teaches them to respect the opinions of others, and that what they want is not the only thing that matters. We do similar things when planning for a trip, deciding whether we should move to a new city, and so on.
  10. Practice mindfulness with them. I have meditated with all my kids. Not regularly, but enough that they know what it’s all about. When my daughter comes to me upset about something, we practice mindfulness of how the emotion feels in her body. Being with the emotion. When my other daughter is feeling anxiety, we talk about how to practice with that as well. They’ve also seen me meditating in the morning, so mindfulness practice becomes a normal thing for them.
  11. The main way you teach them is by your example. Speaking of watching me meditate … this is the main way that I teach them anything. By my example. By how I am in the world. If I want to teach them not to fight, I have to be peaceful. If I want to teach them to be good people, I have to be compassionate, considerate, loving. If I want to teach them to not be on their devices, I have to do the same. If I want them to be active, to eat healthily, to read, to meditate … then it starts with me doing it. And talking to them about what I’m doing and why and what I’m learning and how I’m doing it. They learn almost everything from what people around them do.
  12. Don’t pretend like you know everything. That said, while I try to do my best in life, I have to humble myself and admit that I don’t know everything. In fact, I barely know anything. I can’t always think I’m right, nor can I pretend to have all the answers, even if I’m the dad. Maybe my kids know somethings I don’t. Maybe we can learn together … but it starts with me saying, “I’m not sure, let’s find out!” This mindset of not-knowing is where learning starts, the space that we can explore together, the space where we become open to each other. Many parents (and people in general) come at you with the stance that they know exactly what they’re doing, know the answers. This leaves no room for anything else. It’s fundamentalism.
  13. Admit when you’re wrong. Apologize. Make it right. Along those lines, when I think I’m right, and insist on it … that’s often when I’m wrong. And I’ve been humbled like this so many times. What I’ve learned is … instead of continuing to pretend like I’m right, it’s so much better to admit that I’m wrong. To humble myself. Actually apologize if I’ve done anything to hurt them. And do what it takes to make it right.
  14. Let them earn and pay for things early. And teach them about debt. In our house, we don’t have an allowance. We buy them the basics of what they need, but if they want anything beyond that, they have to pay for it themselves. And earn the money through things beyond their basic chores. They might do things for us, or work for my business, or make things or do services for others to earn money. This also teaches them to save for goals. I also talk to them about the dangers of getting into debt, the high cost of credit card debt, and some simple financial truths that I’ve learned.
  15. Don’t shield them from sex and drugs and technology. Some parents don’t want their children to hear anything about sex or drugs, and shield them from that for as long as possible. This just makes sex (for example) a taboo subject, and gives the kids an unhealthy idea of how bad it is. I’ve found it much better to speak frankly about it, and if I were going to do it all over again, I’d start that frank talk much earlier. Sex isn’t something that should be made dirty or forbidden. It’s a natural thing that all adults do. Kids should get that sense from adults, and be helped through that confusing world by their parents rather than having to figure it out through what they hear from friends or happen upon online. I think the same is true of drugs. Another thing that some parents shield their kids from is technology — no devices ever! But that means that kids don’t learn a healthy way to deal with technology. It’s better to just help them learn to deal with all this stuff, rather than not trust them.
  16. It’s OK to hang out without them, and let them have separate time from you. I love hanging out with my kids. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for them to be with me every second of the day. Sometimes, they can go play by themselves, while my wife and I have alone time. Sometimes, they can have an evening at home while we go on a date (when they’re old enough). Other times, we can drop them with a relative and go on a trip by ourselves, or with friends. I think alone time, and time away from parents, is a healthy thing for kids. Give them space. Let them learn to deal with being on their own (again, when appropriate). Give yourself space to replenish yourself, or find romance with your partner, without them.
  17. Parenting ain’t over when they reach adulthood. I used to joke, “If I get my kids to 18 years old alive, I’ve succeeded as a parent!” Of course, that’s absolute bunk. I’ve learned that parenting is far from over once they reach adulthood. Four of our kids are adults now, and it’s a whole new challenging phase of parenting for us. We’re trying to teach them how to do adult things, how to be financially self-sufficient, how to get the dream jobs they want, how to deal with relationship stuff, and much more. I love it, but it’s not like I can just retire now.
  18. In the end, they will be the person they are. You don’t get to decide who that is. Each kid is already a fully formed person when they’re young. They continue to grow every year, of course, but their personalities when they’re young continue to be mostly the same as they grow older. We don’t shape these kids, they are already themselves. They will choose their own paths, decide what life they want, and grow in the direction they choose. I don’t have control over any of that. In the end, that’s what we parents need to accept — we don’t really control our kids. We just try to guide them when we can. And love them for who they are.

I’m still learning. I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And yet, I hope some of what I’ve learned so far will help a few of you.

I love being a dad. It’s an incredible privilege, and one of the deepest joys in my life. Thank you kids. And moms.

Continue Reading

The Rule of the Edge

In all of my many challenges and habit changes and book writing and learning, I’ve found one thing to be the most powerfully beneficial to all growth, learning and training.

I call it the Rule of the Edge.

Here’s the rule: practice at your edge most of the time.

And this rule is what will help you grow the most, over time.

What do I mean by “your edge”? I mean going just to the edge of discomfort, just to the edge of what is difficult for you, what is pushing your boundaries a bit.

If you’re practicing music, and you just practice the scales all the time, after awhile, doing the scales is too easy for you. You aren’t learning very much by only practicing musical scales. Sure, it’s still a good practice, but you have to push to something that’s more challenging for you.

If you’re exercising, easy exercise is a good thing … but you also need to push yourself. Just a bit.

But your edge isn’t pushing yourself until you’re ready to collapse. It’s not pushing to injury, pushing so that you can’t practice tomorrow. It’s not studying all day long until your brain has melted.

It’s going to the edge, not diving off it.

And when I say, “Practice at your edge most of the time,” notice the phrase “most of the time.” You shouldn’t be at your edge all the time. It’s exhausting, and can take a lot of focus. Instead, try to be there more than half the time. Don’t be lazy, but also give yourself some easy practice.

There’s a lot of value in easy practice — it cements your learning, keeps you in good shape, keeps you sharp. It locks in the easy stuff as easy. And it can be a lot of fun.

You can also experiment with pushing a little past your edge, if you have the experience to know that it’s safe. But best to do this under supervision of a teacher or trainer if you aren’t sure.

So mix it up. More than half of your practice should be at your edge, but anywhere from 20-40% of your practice should be easy stuff. A blend is best — not “all easy and then all edge” but “easy, edge, easy, edge, edge, easy easy” or something similar.

What Edge Training Looks Like in Practice

Here’s how this kind of edge practice might work in real life:

  • If you’re practicing yoga, you might do an hourlong practice where about 60% of the poses (roughly) are challenging for you (but not so challenging that you’ll be injured or exhausted), and the rest are easy ones that allow you to focus on your breath and recover from the edge poses.
  • If you’re running, you’ll mix up your running days — four days will be challenging but not crazy, and some with easy ones thrown in between. And a rest day or two, of course.
  • If you’re learning chess or Go, you’ll do problems or drills that are hard for you, and also a bunch of easy ones. The easy one cement the patterns. The edge ones teach you new patterns.
  • If you’re creating a habit, like learning to meditate, start with just short meditations (let’s say 2-5 minutes), as that will be your edge when you start. But eventually you’ll want to do longer meditations (10 minutes, 20, even more), finding the spot that’s your edge. And mixing in some shorter, easier ones will help you stay sharp at your edge.
  • If you want to train yourself to get comfortable with discomfort and uncertainty, you find a way to make yourself uncomfortable each day, and practice mindfulness in the middle of that discomfort. For example, taking a cold shower might be your edge. But another day, you might just go outside when it’s a little chilly, with only a T-shirt on, for 20 minutes. You might practice at the edge of your discomfort with exercise, speaking on a stage, meditating for longer, etc.

The Way to Practice at Your Edge

When you’re at your edge, it’s one thing to just tolerate it, to grit your teeth and bear it until it’s over … and quite another thing to actually practice with the discomfort and uncertainty of being at that edge.

If you want to get the most out of practicing at your edge, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Go up to the edge and stay there for a little longer than you’d like. You want to collapse, you want to exit. Instead, hold the pose for a little longer. See it as your growth in action.
  2. Now drop mindfully into the discomfort & uncertainty. Drop into your body, noticing the sensations of the discomfort. Standing on stage in front of hundreds of people? Notice the sensations of anxiety or nervousness (or excitement, whatever you’d like to call it). Running a hard mile? Notice the sensations in your legs and torso.
  3. Practice opening in that uncertainty & discomfort. See what you can do to relax into this feeling of being at your edge. Can you bring a sense of curiosity? Explore the bodily feeling for a bit, noticing what it’s like. Relax your muscles around these sensations. Bring a sense of gentleness to it. A sense of compassion. A sense of humor. Open your mind to all sensations in the present moment, including the sense of discomfort but also all of your surroundings. Open up to a vast skylike mind.

With practice, your edge can even be a place where you find comfort. A sense of easy. A sense of joy at the deliciousness of the groundlessness.

Some Rules About the Rule of the Edge

The Rule of the Edge comes with a few sub-rules:

  1. Don’t always be at your edge. Ease off. Do some easy stuff too.
  2. Sometimes it’s OK to go past your edge, if you keep yourself safe. It’s a sense of exploration, finding new edges.
  3. Your edge will change over time. Notice how it shifts. Keep pushing a little further into your edge, if you sense the shift.
  4. Practice mindfully at your edge, don’t just try to get through it.
Continue Reading

Why Steve Jobs, not Bill Gates, Was the True Education Visionary

When it comes to education reform, there are generally two camps: those who want to improve the existing mass compulsory schooling system through tweaking and tuning and those who want to build something entirely new and different. Not surprisingly, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was in the “think different” camp, advocating for school choice and vouchers, while Microsoft’s Bill Gates backed the Common Core State Standards and other incremental reforms within the conventional mass schooling model.

The Efforts of the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into K-12 education over the past 20 years, including $280 million toward Common Core, which people of all political persuasions came to despise for its standardization and government overreach. Earlier this week, the Gates Foundation announced an additional $10 million to train teachers on “high quality” curriculum. The charity is on track to reach its goal of dedicating nearly $2 billion dollars to K-12 education by 2022.

These huge philanthropic efforts, combined with the nearly $700 billion a year that US taxpayers spend on K-12 mass schooling, means Americans spend more on education than any other country but with far more dismal results. Chipping away slowly at standard schooling may not be doing much good.

Jobs Saw the Need for Disruption

Steve Jobs recognized this. He saw that true educational transformation requires disrupting the entire mass schooling model. As he did with his revolutionary Apple products, Jobs envisioned an education system that is innovative, experimental, and individualized for each learner. In a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution, Jobs asserted his support for vouchers and entrepreneurial educators:

 I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting…You could have twenty-five-year-old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is, I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years…But far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now.

For Jobs, vouchers were only one piece of the education transformation puzzle. He realized that an incremental approach to reforming the existing mass schooling model does not work because of the power structures and bureaucratic tendencies inherent in conventional schooling. In the same Smithsonian interview, Jobs said:

I’d like the people teaching my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the company I work for, making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Why should they work at a school for thirty-five to forty thousand dollars if they could get a job here at a hundred thousand dollars a year? Is that an intelligence test? The problem there, of course, is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.

Two Different Experiences, Two Different Outlooks

The vastly different education policy approaches favored by Gates and Jobs may be due in part to their own childhood schooling experiences. Gates attended a private day school, Lakeside School, in Seattle, Washington, and said in 2005: “Lakeside was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Jobs, on the other hand, had a far less favorable reaction to his public schooling. He recalled:

School was pretty hard for me at the beginning. My mother taught me how to read before I got to school and so when I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies. You know, do the things that five-year-olds like to do. I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.

While both of these tech moguls dropped out of college to start wildly successful businesses, their opinions on K-12 education policy reflect many of the differences that came to symbolize their respective companies. Apple’s visionary motto of “Think Different” challenges the status quo, while Microsoft’s “Empowering Us All” may just capture the next incremental change on a well-trodden path.

Continue Reading

Ego Dropping: The Magic of Breaking Free from Self-Concern

There’s a mindfulness technique I’ve been practicing for a number of years now, and when I can do it, it’s like magic.

The practice is dropping the ego — dropping my self-concern, my sense of being separate from everything else, and returning to wholeness with everything.

While that can sound a bit new age-y, what I’ve learned is that almost all of our problems are caused by our self-concern.

Consider these common problems:

  • Angry at someone else: We’re mad because they were inconsiderate to us, insulted or offended us, made us feel bad about ourselves. But that’s because we’re caught up in self-concern. We are thinking about ourselves and how they’ve hurt us. Dropping self-concern, we can see that this other person is hurt in some way, and reacting badly because of it (which we all do sometimes).
  • Worried about failing: We might not try to do a big project, start a business, write a book, found a non-profit organization, create art … because we’re worried we’ll be a failure. This is obviously self-concern. Without this focus on ourselves, we might focus on the people we’re serving, or focus on just getting started without worrying too much about the perfect outcome.
  • Procrastination: We all procrastinate in some way, and this is always caused by self-concern. We don’t want to face the discomfort of a difficult task, which is worrying about our comfort (self-concern). Dropping that self-concern, we can just get started without worrying about our comfort, without worrying about failing, without worrying that the task is too hard. Just get started, serving others through doing.
  • Anxious about a social situation: Going to an event, we worry about what other people will think of us, which is again, our focus on ourselves. Dropping that self-concern, we can think about how going to this even might serve others, we can go there with curiosity about other people, we can go and grow as we practice mindfulness at the event.
  • Eating too much junk: Like all comforts (games, porn, videos, shopping, etc.), food is a way to comfort ourselves, to give ourselves pleasure. Dropping self-concern, we can see that eating more junk food will lead to worse health, which is not only hurting us but those who we serve in the world. Instead, we can put delicious healthy foods into our bodies to nourish ourselves.
  • Not exercising enough: Again, this is usually a focus on our own comfort. It’s uncomfortable to exercise, it’s more comfortable to sit and look at a computer some more. Dropping self-concern, we can see that exercise is necessary to do the work we want to do, to live a healthy and happy life, to be a vibrant member of our community. And it can also be wonderful, if we let go of a need for constant comfort.
  • Too distracted: We’re constantly checking our phones, social media, messages, email, news sites, and much more. What’s going on here? We’re caught up in self-concern — what others think of us, our comfort and pleasure, fears of missing out on things, etc. All of it is self-concern. Dropping self-concern, we can let go of checking anything for a little while, and stay with the discomfort of focusing on one thing so we can get our meaningful work done, or have a meaningful connection with another person or with nature.
  • Addictions: Like comfort food, addictions are about the self-concern we have for our comfort. For example, alcohol addiction is often a way to comfort ourselves when we’re stressed, feeling bad about ourselves, feeling angry or depressed. These are all forms of self-concern. Dropping self-concern, we can go through the discomfort of not indulging in our addictions because we know that they’re damaging not only to ourselves but to everyone we love, and to the work we want to do in the world.

There are many other kinds of problems, of course, but you can see that self-concern lies at the root of almost all of them. Dropping self-concern means that we can serve others, push into discomfort for the benefit of those around us, and serve a bigger mission with meaningful work.

So how can we drop this self-concern, which could also be called “ego”?

The answer lies in mindfulness practices. I’m going to teach you one here, and encourage you to practice it.

The result is nothing short of magical. All of these problems become easier, and life changes.

The Mindfulness Practice of Ego Dropping

This practice can be done anywhere, no matter what you’re doing, but it’s best started sitting still, in a quiet place.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit still and notice how your body feels. Find a comfortable, stable seated position, and just notice how your body feels. Scan your body and notice as many sensations as you can. Then just hold all of your bodily sensations in your awareness at once, or as many as you can.
  2. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the present. Your mind might get caught up in thoughts — that’s OK. Just notice that, and come back to the sensations of the present moment, whichever step you’re on.
  3. Open your awareness to sensations all around you. Next, keep your open awareness, but widen it to include sound sensations from all around you, then touch sensations from outside your body (the air on your skin, clothes on your body, ground beneath your feet), then open your eyes (if they were closed) and notice all sight sensation from all around you — light, colors, textures, shapes. Don’t focus on any one thing, just allow your awareness to open to all of these sensations around you.
  4. Keep a relaxed open awareness to just one field of sensation. Keeping this relaxed, gentle open awareness … just allow the sensations outside of your body and inside your body to become one field of sensation. There’s no outside or inside, it’s just all sensation, one big ocean of sensation.
  5. Drop your sense of separation. Let go of any sense that you are separate from everything around you — it’s just one field of sensation. Relax any boundaries and feel at one with everything, returning to wholeness with the universe. It’s just one big open experience, constantly changing as each moment changes.
  6. Notice that there’s no self — just sensation. There’s no “self” as we normally know it — which means we can’t have self-concern. We have dropped the ego, which is something our minds construct, a “self” that’s separate from everything around us and which we need to protect from the world. It just drops away as we practice this relaxed, open awareness, one field of sensation, one ocean of experience. We are whole with the world around us, just as we were in the womb.
  7. From this open awareness, open your heart. Keeping this sense of wide open awareness, dropping separateness, staying in this field of experience … notice your heart in the middle of it. It’s open, tender, loving. It loves everything in its awareness. In fact, your awareness is love, and it is all-encompassing. You send out a universal love equally to everything in your awareness, because none of it is separate from you. No one is separate from you — we’re all interconnected.

Here’s a guided meditation I recorded on this mindfulness practice (right click to save to your computer).

This takes practice, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it at first. Sit and practice daily. Try it when you’re on the bus or driving, washing the dishes or in a meeting. You can practice anywhere, doing anything.

What happens once you drop the ego and drop into a wide open, gentle, loving awareness? Magic. You don’t have to run to comfort and away from discomfort, you don’t have to protect your self-image from others, you don’t have to defend yourself or worry about failure or being judged. All of that self-concern drops away, and you are left with two things: peace, and an open heart.

Continue Reading

Training in Uncertainty

“We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem.” -Chogyam Trungpa

I’ve been training in uncertainty for a few years now.

I realized that the people I coach and teach are just like me: we feel shaky, scared, anxious, uncomfortable when we are faced with massive uncertainty, when the ground is pulled out from under our feet.

This shakiness is the cause of our procrastination, hiding from overwhelming projects, running from discomfort, and putting off exercise, healthy eating, meditation, writing, reading and all the other things we want in our lives.

And so, if we can train in uncertainty, we can get good at life. We no longer need to fear groundlessness.

What does it mean to train in uncertainty?

It means to constantly yank the rug out from under your feet.

When you get comfortable with something, you have to give it up. When you think you know something, you have to toss it out. When you walk through life with concepts, you have to let those concepts go and see things with fresh eyes.

Most of us walk around thinking we know things — think about how often we think we know how everyone else should act. Training in uncertainty is letting go of the certainty that we know how everyone else should behave, and having no concepts.

Most of us walk around thinking we know what things around us are. We barely glance at the things we pass. Training in uncertainty is tossing all that out, and seeing things for the first time, full of curiosity.

Training in uncertainty is pushing into discomfort when you want to run to comfort. It’s going to an event that scares the crap out of you. It’s setting aside time to write every day even when you want to run like crazy from the writing.

And then when you think you know something about training in uncertainty … you throw that out too. You keep throwing everything away, and know nothing.

What you’re left with is just impermanence — constant flux. Groundlessness. A deeply interconnected world, without separation.

Train with me, in my Fearless Training Program. We’ll have the ground pulled out from under us together.

Continue Reading