Notes from my Journal

Every Tantrum Is a Profit Opportunity

New York City– We were walking through Chelsea Market, Number Three Son, Number One Grandson, and Yours Truly. While Number Three Son was ordering breakfast rolls for the extended family back at the townhouse, I took Number One Grandson on a tour of the nearby gift and novelty shops to distract and amuse him.

He pulled me into a luxury stationery store. I had no idea why until I saw two toy VW buses on a shelf that contained leather journals. These were displays, placed there by some clever decorator to add a touch of fun to an otherwise mundane inventory of elegant products.

Number One Grandson very much admired these two little toys and very much wanted to have them. When I explained that they were not for sale, he pretended not to understand me. (Two-year-olds can be very crafty.)

When I finally had to pull him away to get back to Number Three Son and his breakfast shopping, Number One Grandson dropped to the floor and threw a tantrum.

The salesperson, a young black man sporting an Afro, came over and looked down at Number One Grandson. He was smiling.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “This must happen five times a day.”

I smiled back.

Eventually, I extracted Number One Grandson from the premises. And as I left, I thought, “Well then, if it happens so often, why wouldn’t you move these toys to a higher shelf? Why would you put them directly in eyesight of toddlers?”

And later on, I had another thought: “Why don’t you convince your boss to start selling the damn things? They would probably be among your best sellers.”


Today’s Word: voracious (adjective)

Voracious (vuh-RAY-shus) means ravenous or insatiable. As used by Susan Sontag: “I continued to spend many hours of each day in rapid, voracious reading.”


Fun Fact

The lifespan of a monarch butterfly is just 2-6 weeks.


Worth Quoting

“One recognizes one’s course by discovering the paths that stray from it.” – Albert Camus


From my work in progress basket

Here in the Here and Now

You are walking with your four-year-old in a park. He is looking up at you, jabbering. You have no idea what he’s saying. Not because he’s inarticulate but because you aren’t paying attention. You are thinking about your job. You have to review that document and return it with comments by noon. It’s already ten-thirty. Why couldn’t your spouse have been more understanding?

You are sitting on a bench thinking about work while he plays on the construction of ladders and slides. Now and then you check your email, but only for a few seconds. Once, when you look up, he is nowhere in sight. Your heart is racing. You shout for him. Other parents look at you. He pokes his head up from the platform above the tallest slide.

You get home in time to get the work done. The thought that you had momentarily lost your child haunts you. You realize that being distracted by what you had to do later could have been disastrous.

You chastise yourself with a familiar mantra: “Why can’t I say in the here and now?”

The idea of staying in the “here and now” has been around for ages, having roots in ancient Eastern cultures. But it became widely known in the West only after the publication of Be Here and Now by Ram Dass in 1971.

Dass was a psychologist and student of spiritual philosophy. In the early 1960s, he spent time with Timothy Leary, a fellow professor at Harvard, experimenting with psychedelic drugs as a method of mind enhancement. The results of those experiments left Dass with many unanswered questions. So he went to India to study with the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba.

In Be Here Now, Dass shared what he learned on his own spiritual journey. He argued that one cannot live fully if one is always worried about the past and future or if one’s thoughts and emotions are elsewhere.

To live fully, he argued, you must be conscious of the moment – where you are and what you are doing. You must be aware of the place you inhabit, the activity you are engaged in, and the thoughts and feelings you are having.

I remember encountering the idea – even the phrase – in 1969, the year of Woodstock. (Dass was not the first American thinker to absorb Eastern thought.) I was startled by the idea – not so much because it was profound (and it certainly felt profound) but by how obvious it seemed.

I think that may account for the huge popularity of Dass’s book and the even greater popularity of the concept in Western thought. Today, it’s hard to have a conversation about yoga or meditation without eventually discussing the here and now.

Why is it that this concept feels so profoundly true?

Perhaps its because we all know – all too well – what “being elsewhere” feels like. It doesn’t feel bad, but it doesn’t feel exactly good.

We also know what being in the here and now feels like. And generally (when the situation itself is not painful), it feels good. Not good in a pulse-of-pleasure sort of way. Good in an enduring sense of tranquility – being “at one” (as they say) with the natural universe.

When we are conscious of the here and now, we have a sense of clarity and serenity. We are not lost in thoughts about the past or future. We are alert, yet relaxed. We feel both free and in control.

What we usually feel when we are mentally elsewhere is a low level of anxiety while we push through our concerns. We feel only partially awake. Gripped by the immediacy of such thoughts, we are barely able to sense where we are in terms of time and space.

But this raises a question: If we feel so much better in the here and now, why is it that we allow ourselves to spend most of our time in a lesser state of anxious, restricted consciousness?

The answer, I think, is connected to the fear of death – the fear of opening our minds to a constant awareness of the truth of our temporality.

And yet, when we are conscious of the here and now, our experience is the opposite of fear. It is not tainted with anxiety. It is infused with relaxation.

Curious, isn’t it? We know from experience that being present is the preferable state. But our fear of death (our fear of extinction) asserts itself constantly.

It is relentless battle. We recognize that the feeling of being in the here and now is better than the feeling of being elsewhere. But we cannot sustain that level of consciousness because… well, because we can’t.

We can try and we can get better at attaining this expanded and more relaxed level of consciousness. But it can last only for moments or minutes. The real deep stuff – the real living in the here and now– happens only now and then.

So what do we do about this?

We can, and I think we should, practice the art of relaxing into the here and now. We should, whenever we can, consciously will ourselves to be present.

By the same token, we should not fret about the fact that we will not be able to retain this state of consciousness indefinitely. Sooner or later (usually sooner), we will find ourselves “in our heads” and only partially participating in the here and now.

By accepting our inability to be always fully in the moment, we reduce our anxiety about it and thus increase our capacity to get back into the groove.

It is an irony. The desire to be always in the here and now is an illusory goal that makes it more difficult to maximize the moments of expansiveness we can enjoy.

And this gets us back to the central argument of this series of essays. Human consciousness is an ongoing and inevitable fluctuation between expansion and contraction, between ego-centered impulses and ego-dissolving impulses. Despite the mythology of so many cultures and sects, experience teaches us that it cannot be otherwise.

Some of our experiences are extremely contracted. And some of our experiences are extremely expanded. But most of the time our experiences are somewhere along the continuum – somewhere in the middle ground.

* In this series of essays, which hopes to become a book, I’m exploring an idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time — that our knowledge of the universe and our experience of living can be understood by the metaphor of pulsation – of contraction and relaxation – and that such an understanding might helpful in succeeding in life and accepting death.


Read This…

James Altucher is running for president. I had only about 45 seconds to look at this platform, but it was enough. Unless Bill Bonner runs against him, I’m voting for James.

Who Would ACTUALLY Make the Best US President

By James Altucher