My childhood fascination is now my startup

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My childhood fascination is now my startup

This project is by far the most steep learning curve I’ve ever been on. Over the last 9 months I’ve submerged myself into understanding our world and it’s elements at a sub-atomic level. Still in-stealth, my new startup, ION Energy will build a core layer of infrastructure to enable electric mobility and clean energy adoption in Asia with a focus on India.

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The next 10 years

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The next 10 years

A recent realization of how close humans are to a fundamental shift in human expectations from technology. An exponential leap is closer than we think.

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Art of asking for constructive advice

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Art of asking for constructive advice

Ask your self or any stranger passing by if you/he/she require some guidance towards a prudent future action in life. Almost always you will find your mind looking for validation of your plans through expert advice. I do too, nothing wrong with it.

Although we seek it, only a handful feel comfortable explicitly expressing their need for it. The ones that do, momentarily overcome their ego and extend themselves in the hope to learn from those whom they deem as experts. This choice is critically important. Whom we make ourselves intellectually vulnerable to defines how we allow them to mould our opinions and sometimes decisions.

In perpetuity, I find myself playing roles on both sides of this fence. My curiosity and obsessions with human experiences fuels my need to speak with people that I respect about problems that I care about. And from time to time, readers of such essays, aspiring entrepreneurs, and friends of friends reach out to me for advice, putting me in a position of responsibility as their guide.

One such person scheduled a call with me today. He had a flamboyant background working with a successful tech startup before their success took an unfortunate turn for the worse. He is currently employed with a large insurance firm where he acts an insignificant small gear in a slow moving massive machine. I don't mean to undermine his position but simply express what I heard as I heard it.

He asked me, "Akhil, I'm in this slow paced job that I despise. I wish to quit and get back into something more exciting. I would love to leave the country and maybe work for a company abroad. I know you've done all of this before. Can you please give me some advice?"

I replied, "Is your highest priority getting a fast paced job or leaving the country?"

Him: "I want an exciting job. I don't mind working in India, but my top priority is to leave the country."

Me: "That doesn't answer my question. What is your highest priority?"

A not so convincing answer from him, led to a digression in conversation. I shared with him an out of context yet unimaginably important piece of advise. Something I wish I had learned earlier in my career.

Whether asking someone for advice or trying to win a legal battle in court,

The quality of answers you get will depend upon the quality of questions you ask.

I continued to explain the importance of preparing for a conversation instead of going all commando. Having an objective in mind and a notepad in hand can help steer conversations towards constructive action items instead of simply an exchange of opinions.

I suggested that Instead of asking me for generic advice, it would serve him better to ask for help/guidance towards a specific goal. With this I laid down a few options in front of him:

  1. Do you simply want to quit the existing job and look for a fast paced, challenging role in another startup?
  2. Is money your focus for the next 2-3yrs? If so, would you take up the next opportunity that paid you 3x your current salary?
  3. Is your highest priority looking for a way to leave the country and move to a certain part of the world?
  4. Or would you want to take time off, learn a new skill and put yourself on a steep learning curve that makes you valuable for industries of the future?
  5. If nothing else, are you reaching out to me hoping to explore the opportunity of contributing to a project that I'm working on?

With these options, he immediately realized that he seeks advice not because he needs my help with something, but because he is confused. He thanked me for giving him perspective on how to approach his next steps and asked for sometime to think about these options.

Most people seek advice when they are confused, not when they require actionable guidance towards a specific goal. These both are very different conversations and you should know that going in.

My simple rule in life: Whenever in doubt, make a list.

Knowing and sharing your options are a great place to start conversations. It gives structure to thoughts, help avoid digression and act as agenda items for deliberation. I highly recommend knowing 3 things before you enter any conversation:

  1. A higher level priority in life/career/business that you are hoping to optimize for (eg: Find an exciting job, Get an introduction to someone etc..)
  2. The options that lay in front of you (Eg: Work for a startup/corporate, Start a business venture, etc..)
  3. A list of questions that would get you answer that point towards one or more of your options. (Eg: In what kind of environments do you think I can best use my (x,y,z) skills?)

Sit with a notepad to list down learnings and write about the learnings you've had either on a blog like this or a journal (I use Evernote for the ones that I don't publish) .

Without this asking for advice can be an infinite exchange of random opinions that may sound amusing but don't lead to constructive outcomes.

Next time you find yourself reaching out to someone for help, try this approach.

If it helps, please tell me about it. Write me to on me@akhilaryan.com or simply leave a comment below.

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5 ways of amassing substantial wealth

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5 ways of amassing substantial wealth

Making money to earn a living and enjoy the shallow luxuries of life has long been the objective of common man. Across nations, cultures and communities earning respect through amassing wealth (and sometimes power) has been the primary goal for every ambitious mind. This holds true especially for the stereotypical Sindhi community of Hindu descent in India. I am the youngest son of Sindhi parents in Mumbai and I feel exactly the opposite of what I must (as per the perception of our community) about wealth creation through a miserly mindset.

My parents groomed me to focus on earning money instead of penny-pinching. This early exposure led me towards learning of new skills and building a personality that attracts others of its own kind. But this is not always the case. More often than I would like, I encounter intelligent people with great potential whose sole objective in life is making enough money to fulfill their mouthwatering desires. Sure these desires are endless and have no limits of sanity. But these encounters have obsessed me with a question.

How can we achieve a world where humans focus on unlocking their potential and adding value instead of making money?

I learnt over time that these two are not necessarily exclusive of one another. So my attention moved to another question that optimizes for the former.

 

If you had to create an alternate currency to replace what we know as ‘money’ what would it be? And why?

 

This question has stirred some of the smartest conversations I have enjoyed in the last decade. The answers and discussions around which are not meant for this essay. But I will write about them, perhaps as a follow-on to this piece.

In this same context, I shared my desperate need to eliminate conversations about scarcity of money in any and every context with my friend, Sid Vora over lunch yesterday. I enjoy conversation with him because he comes with a unique background of balanced family wealth and wisdom. I believe this equips him with a certain worldly exposure needed to engage in serious discussions about important problems and actionable opinions around potential solutions.

So Sid asks me how I propose to do this. He says, “You can only fend for yourself. What can you possibly do to ensure no one around you speaks or showcases their need to have more money?"

That is a good question. In fact it might actually be the question if answered correctly that puts us in a direction towards eliminating poverty. Without answer, I asked him to share more.

With a CFA & CA degree under his belt, he continued to explain his understanding of the 5 ways to amass wealth in the world. He said,

 
“There are 5 ways of creating substantial wealth on this planet.
  1. Entrepreneurship - Industrialists, Businessmen, Skill Leveragers, Trend Setters, Freelancers & More
  2. Investing - Debt, Real Estate, Financial Markets, Venture Capital & More
  3. Employment - Jobs, Consultants, Contractors & More
  4. Invention - Scientists, Philosophers, Creators, Nobel Prize Winners
  5. Special Skill Development - Actors, Model, Sports People Etc..
The last 2 ways (#4 and #5) require every bit of serendipity (if not luck) for the success of oneself. The world is unaware of most talented people because of their inability to come into the spotlight captured by the ones who already are. Its a path of high volatility and bleak chances of success. For those do make it, garner success at a pace faster than most other humans.
Employment ( #3) is a risk-averse option which can also be quite time consuming. One must have patience and dedication for their success is irreversibly linked to that of their employer. While every candidate carries the burden of the hopeful attainment of wealth, less than a handful acquire what maybe considered a large sum.
We’re left with Entrepreneurship & Investing.
Investing (#2) is for the risk-thirsty. In lots of ways for an investor, not investing is more risky than actually investing. Its a careful dance with entrepreneurs and the opportunities they endorse. It also requires one to either come from wealth or have the ability to put together the wealth of a set of investors.
This is why today we see many representatives from the well-exposed youth giving entrepreneurship a shot. Many of them have little or no idea of what they’re getting into, but it seems like a reasonable thing to do because as you might realize there is nothing else to do."

...our conversation continued.

I find this list particularly resourceful as a simple higher-level choice that each one has while shaping one's career.

I believe that society conditions us to transition from “Learning to Earning” right after we exit university. There is a social pressure to know what one must do with their lives in order to start earning. In some cases socio-economic conditions force one to make this decision even earlier.

While some of us may have a career calling out to us or have the resources to work towards one, there are quite many who never get a clear picture of the options in front of them.

I hope that some of this information can help those who feel confused about their direction in life. No matter which path you choose, a mandatory skill is required - The ability to evaluate choices and make decisions. So start with this one, choose a path and start working towards it.

 

On your way if you need some help, write to me@akhilaryan.com

I like connecting dots between like-minded people who can be helpful to the journey of one another.

 

p.s: I have consciously avoided the inclusion of religious and spiritual leaders from this list. I know for a fact that they too have the ability to amass large sums of wealth, but I lack the wisdom to categorize them in one of these 5 paths. 

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Tips/Advice while Fund-Raising

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Tips/Advice while Fund-Raising

Recently I was asked for "few tips/advice for fund-raising" by a fellow friend whom I had met through a mutual advisor. He is a single founder who has raised $250k but burning through it quickly and needs to close another round of financing.

Here is my answer.

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An experiment to improve productivity

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An experiment to improve productivity

Inspired by this article that talks about productivity hacks, I've decided to change my morning routine for one week. Its an experiment to see what works best for my productivity.

Maybe, you should try it too :)

Moving away from To-dos, giving a shot to Scheduling.

My current routine: I wake up, brush my teeth, complete 2 sets of push ups and then dedicate sometime to list down the tasks I want to accomplish.

Starting tomorrow (20th Jan), I will stir things up a little. I will estimate and assign time for each of those tasks on my calendar instead of simply noting them down in a list of things to get done. The expected outcome is to actually tackle every single item on the list without forgetting about the lower priority stuff that keeps lingering on the bottom of my list.

If you're taking the experiment with me, comment below with "I'm in".

After one week, I will sync up with you to exchange results :)

 

Update (7/16): I tried this for one week, but realized that the environment was in at the time was not conducive for the a fair choice. Starting today, I am giving this another shot. Will update in a few months.

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Why are we perpetually looking for social acceptance?

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Why are we perpetually looking for social acceptance?

It was 2005 when I first started reading about reality distortion. I was trying to find my answer to one single question. What is the definition of 'reality'?

It was only in 2011 that I found that answer. Keep reading to find out how I define 'reality'.

But since then, I've been asking this question to almost every person I meet more than one time. This activity helps me gain perspective and potentially alter my definition, should someone have a new way of looking at our world. The deep dive into this question led me to discover my answer to another question,

Why are we (humans) perpetually looking for social acceptance?

The filtration of what we choose to post on our Social Media profiles, the books we read, the people we want to be seen next to and also the projects we choose to contribute to. All of this has one single common thread. How we want the world/society to think of us.

Early in our lives, we're conditioned by formal education, 'Man is a social animal'. We share the planet Earth with other humans and the Galaxy with potentially other beings. There is a code of conduct that must be followed to be accepted in the subset of "normal" people. One must adhere to the norms of society. A natural extension of this is that if society chooses to perceive you as a specific kind of person, you are it. Perception is reality.

Here is how I define reality,

Reality is an opinion accepted by a large subset of society.

So if you wanted to be good looking, you simply had to attain social acceptance on your looks. You could be abnormal looking, but with social acceptance, you can be most desirable. This is why platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are so popular. They allow you to try and portray only those parts of your life that boost the perception you wish to create about yourself. The followers on the other side with this limited glorified view, try to create a perception of your lifestyle and personality. You might say #nofilter on the image, but is there really "no filter" while choosing what you post? This is reality in action, being created and reinforced, everyday.

Many Lamborghini owners might not know what 'torque' actually means. But, they think that it can help them pick up girls from the street by simply honking. The latter makes a sticky story in memory, the former is "meh! some technical gibberish."

In today's world, to achieve happiness, what you truly need is social acceptance on how you wish to be perceived. It could be as simple as being someone with a nice ass. You derive more pleasure from the world knowing that you're beautiful, than feeling beautiful yourself. That in my opinion should not be the goal of our actions. Its far more fulfilling to truly feel good than be perceived to be the best.

So when I tell people that I distort reality, only a handful understand that I simply take some "rules" of society and bend them with the objective of making a positive impact. I ask of them, not to turn rogue, but to create their own opinions about things. Question and sometimes challenge the opinions that are widely accepted. Chances are that behind every widely accepted "fact" lies the answer to questions that have not been asked yet.

So next time you snap (chat) a moment of your life, think not only what your followers will think of you, but also of the person you really are.

My ultimate goal in life is to create a new consciousness. One that is more enlightened and present than the society we live in today. If you like what I say and want to hear more from me, please enter your email below. No spam ever, I promise.

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Project of the Month

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Project of the Month

1:12pm on 11th December 2015, I ordered lunch from FitKitchen. This was not the first time I was calling. In fact this was my 3rd order in that week. They serve appetizing portions of freshly made healthy foods. Yet something happened that day which led me to invest time into a new project. For the 3rd time in one week, they asked me to repeat my delivery address.

If you know me, you know that I'm constantly on the lookout for new exciting projects that I can contribute to. Not all of these are startup ideas that will go on to raise millions of $. They are things that bother/irritate a fairly large number of people in a lifetime. Their frequency is often enough for me to justify investing pro bono time and effort into building tools to solve the problem.

Turns out, on average we're entering/repeating our delivery address to people, restaurants, mobile apps etc. close to 6 times every month. Doesn't sound like a lot, right? But I know the frustration of explaining an address on the phone or having to type it out inside every new mobile app that I download.

Why is there no central repository of shipping/delivery addresses? Why cant I simply remember a PIN (like by credit card) that is linked to a specific address? Why can't I allow anyone to access my address with my mobile number + PIN?

Well, the best way to answer 'why' questions is to 'try' them.

So I did. Working with a super talented friend, we're building http://www.savedaddress.com/

This project aims to make sharing addresses safe & simple. We want to open source the complex CRM systems that restaurants need to save your addresses securely. But more importantly to maintain a central repository, so if you move to a new location, the data that everyone accesses is always up to date.

SavedAddress is 100% free to use for everyone, no bullshit.

Please click here & SignUp to save yourself the pain of repeating your address again.

Optionally, click here to search for anybody's address using just their mobile number.

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One absolutely essential question you should ask EVERYONE

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One absolutely essential question you should ask EVERYONE

We're all recruiting. Always.

From friends, colleagues and employees, we get to choose who we spend most of our time with. I find it useful to ask this question every time I decide to spend time with someone.

What is this candidate amazing at?

The answer allows me to do 3 things:

  1. Decide what kind of work I can accomplish better with the help of this candidate.
  2. Estimate the potential synergy with my skill sets and things I can learn from him/her.
  3. Choose the team members this candidate should collaborate with to optimize results.

There are different ways to find out what a person is amazing at. The easy way is to simply ask them about it.

Cyriac Roeding from ShopKick once asked me, "Imagine a global competition with every human competing with you on a skill of your choice. On which skill would you be able to defeat each one of the 7.2 billion people?"

*answer below

Other strategies would be to look for things that excite a person the most, or something they have repeatedly done for a long time in the past (I don't mean work exp). It could be a skill, or a trait, or simply the ability to do something. I try and conduct this activity fairly soon after meeting a person, which allows me to stir better conversation.

However, I try and remain objective in my judgement of 'amazing'. I actively try to detach my personal opinion or understanding of their domain. Because more often than not, I meet people whose work I don't completely understand. They are much smarter than me in the work that they do. I must keep an open mind to understand the objectives behind their work and their contribution to the projects. In general, I look for signals that help me choose the people I spend time with.

If you're amazing at doing something, it means you could be amazing at something else too. It would only require a change in perception, discipline and learning. Now thats something I could potentially help with.

If you're amazing at doing something, which you most certainly are. I'm looking for you. Come say "Hi".

 

* I told Cyriac that I could beat every single person on the planet at 'Selling Garbage from the Streets'. I was trying to highlight my hustler "get shit done" attitude to him when I said it. I tend to ask myself this question from time to time as an introspecting activity.

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Are you truly working for happiness?

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Are you truly working for happiness?

There is a wildly accepted belief, that happiness is the end goal that one tries to achieve from everyday actions. A debatable conversation can easily be put to an end by bringing out the 'happiness card'. Say I were trying to explain to you why you should quit smoking. Assuming, you're not wise enough to accept it as an addiction, you will not allow someone to help you rehabilitate. In this case, your best chance at ending the conversation would be to say something like, "I know its bad for me, but it makes me happy. Isn't that why we do anything?"

You could easily derail the conversation and move it to a tangent whereby your opposition, in this case me, would be forced into proving why happiness is not the end goal.

Happiness, very similar to beliefs in general, cannot be reasoned with. However, one thing that intrigues me about this is why people use happiness as their defense mechanism to justify things that they might secretly know to be hurting them. We're not prioritizing happiness when it comes to the important things in our lives, our jobs for example. Why not use happiness to decide what you should be doing with your everyday? Imagine a world, where people's professions were actually defined by what made them happy. This "thing/activity" that gives you happiness may change from time to time and thats okay. Just for fun, think about shifting professions and learning skills, simply to feed the desire to be happy. I think people would create better things if it truly made them happy. 

In order to create beautiful things, you just need to give a shit about them. If you care about something enough, if you want it enough, you'll make it happen.

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Wrong > Right

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Wrong > Right

I just completed reading a stimulating book by Paul Arden - Whatever you think, think the opposite.

I remember having impulsively bought a copy of this book at the Tate Modern  earlier this year when Drew Winget, my dear friend from San Francisco was visiting me in London. After a quick 60min read to the book, I gifted it to my father who loved it too. He passed it around to a few of his mentees, before one of them lost it at an unknown location. 

After 9months of being invisible to me, I saw it on my father's desk at home a week ago. It seems the boy has the courtesy to replace my father's collection with a new copy from Amazon. Its not the same, but it is.

We try to make sensible decisions based on the facts in front of us. The problem with making sensible decisions is that so is everyone else.
— Whatever you think, think the opposite, Paul Arden.

Oh well, I read it for the second time in parts this time. It was a good start to reading before sleep regiment I have started this week. Now the book is with Shanay Shah, my friend and brother from another mother, here in Mumbai. 

Next in Line 0 to 1 from Peter Thiel

 

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Don't be Sheep

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Don't be Sheep

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
— Oscar Wilde

Your opinions will define your reality. Are you living life for yourself or for the appreciation of others?

I guess it all comes down to a single question. 

What's your opinion?

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Say NO to the Resume & CV

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Say NO to the Resume & CV

I've been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. Right from trading pokemon cards in school, selling software at in high-school, and then the multiple companies I built, sold, shut down since then. Apart from the odd internships I took up while still working on side projects in High School, there was never a point in my life when I found it necessary to write myself a CV or Resume.

But I knew that a lot of my friends were making these 2-3 page detailed structured documents that desperately try to exaggerate the abilities, achievements and multi-faceted interests of an individual. From time to time, I was lured into searching for formats online and making one just for the heck of it. But, I never thought I'd have any use of this document.

In 2009, I started hiring for my first proper startup, Ion Education. This is when I realized how commercial this document had become. Every single candidate walked into my office with 1-3 pages of paper which was cluttered with a lot of text, boxes and tables. 

 

A curriculum vitae (English pronunciation: /kəˈrɪkjʉləm ˈviːtaɪ//ˈwiːtaɪ/, or /ˈvaɪtiː/;[1][2] CV)[3] is a written overview of a person's experience and other qualifications. In some countries, a CV is typically the first item that a potential employer encounters regarding the job seeker and is typically used to screen applicants, often followed by an interview.

 

I dislike the concept of a resume or CV, but I love stories.

I believe that short & structured stories have the power to attract your reader's attention. More importantly, its the best form of content to keep them engaged in your life's work by giving it context. Its difficult to showcase your passion and depth in a bullet list. Stories on the other hand have the ability to paint a life-like picture of the path you've taken.

For the longest time I was against the concept of having a resume all together. But when the time came to document my journey so far, I decided to write (probably) the first ever Anti-Resume.

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Surround with Awesome!

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Surround with Awesome!

This is one of the most valuable learnings of my life. 

I will become like the 7 people I spend most of my time with. I must choose them wisely.

Play chess with a madman for long enough and you'd have cured him at the expense of your mental stability.

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Truth, a double edged sword

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Truth, a double edged sword

Truth is the only thing that can set you free.

But if you're going to lie about something, you've probably done something you shouldn't have. The self-guilt should be your suffering for having done the act. The truth will let you come clean, but forever add burden on the one who is hurt by hearing the truth & who should never have suffered for your mistake.

What must one do?

 

Update (7/16) - I've invested time to learn more about how humans feel about this subject. My learnings over the last year have led me to an important realization. There is no excuse to justify consciously holding back the dissemination of truth. Knowingly holding back truthful information, even in the best interests of someone else is an anarchical way of addressing this issue. Sure I'd love to rule the world, but I would not want to be on the other side of this coin. As someone who could be kept away from the honest truth makes me feel like a puppet being played. Feeling handicapped by decisions made in the past that cannot be changed is something I wish for no one to experience. Hence, I must not become the cause for someone else to feel this way.

The truth sets us free and free we all must be.

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Conditioning the Frog

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Conditioning the Frog

 

They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap out right away to escape the danger. But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant, and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late. The frog's survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes.

This is a story that is used to illustrate how people might get themselves into terrible trouble.
This parable is often used to illustrate how humans have to be careful to watch slowly changing trends in the environment, not just the sudden changes. Its a warning to keep us paying attention not just to obvious threats but to more slowly developing ones. 

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Attention please!

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Attention please!

Excerpt From: Ruiz, don Miguel. “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book).” iBooks. 

 

Everything you know is a conditioned opinion.

“Humans are dreaming all the time. Before we were born the humans before us created a big outside dream that we will call society’s dream or the dream of the planet. The dream of the planet is the collective dream of billions of smaller, personal dreams, which together create a dream of a family, a dream of a community, a dream of a city, a dream of a country, and finally a dream of the whole humanity. The dream of the planet includes all of society’s rules, its beliefs, its laws, its religions, its different cultures and ways to be, its governments, schools, social events, and holidays.

We are born with the capacity to learn how to dream, and the humans who live before us teach us how to dream the way society dreams. The outside dream has so many rules that when a new human is born, we hook the child’s attention and introduce these rules into his or her mind. The outside dream uses Mom and Dad, the schools, and religion to teach us how to dream.

Attention is the ability we have to discriminate and to focus only on that which we want to perceive.

We can perceive millions of things simultaneously, but using our attention, we can hold whatever we want to perceive in the foreground of our mind. The adults around us hooked our attention and put information into our minds through repetition. That is the way we learned everything we know.

By using our attention we learned a whole reality, a whole dream. We learned how to behave in society: what to believe and what not to believe; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; what is good and what is bad; what is beautiful and what is ugly; what is right and what is wrong. It was all there already — all that knowledge, all those rules and concepts about how to behave in the world.” 

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Moh-Maya!

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Moh-Maya!

We're hypnotized by the concept of ownership. I realize that I am possessive about the things that I’m most attached to. Human nature or even more male tendency you might call it, and you might be right. But it surely is something. I will nullify within myself to achieve a state of nothing.

Moh - Maya! 

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