Category Archives: Service

Flow Like Water: Financial Samurai

…the sage, traveling all day, does not lose sight of his baggage. Though there are beautiful things to be seen, he remains unattached and calm.”Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching (Feng and English translation)

If we’re on a quest for spiritual self-transformation, we need to give our best attention to how we are with money because it’s one of the keys to a big part of our human nature.  A human being, according to the great spiritual teachings of the world has two natures or aspects: a side that is meant to be engaged in the activity in the world, making and doing…the other side has to do with the spiritual, the transcendent . . . We are called on to find the relationship between these two opposing parts of ourselves and to develop the kind of awareness that relates each to the other in a harmonious way.  –Jacob Needleman in Personal Transformation Winter 2000


I used to do a series of “Mind, Body, Wallet Workshops” to encourage people to think about money. Sometimes money is a reflection of thought patterns that obscure reality. Surfing is great but if your mind is ruled by these unobserved and uncontrolled waves it can lead to trouble. (Drawings are by Ken Polotan)

I have this habit of overcoming challenges, doing a lot of research, and then sharing what I’ve found with the world.  I did this 15 or so years ago when I got out of debt and started thinking about the role of personal finance in my life and my so-called consciousness.  I still firmly believe that you need to “do money” or money will do you.  I need to think about money so that money concerns don’t affect my health, my relationships, and my ability to learn more.

Versions of this article appeared in magazines over a decade ago.  (BTW magazines are these paper objects with articles and photographs that people read.)  The articles appeared in New Age magazines.  Yes,  they were written when my crystals still smelled of patchouli.   But I still stand by a lot of what I wrote, specifically these three steps:

  • Watch –your financial patterns without judgement
  • Build–a base by eliminating debt and thinking about your life purpose
  • Move–invest and find work that you love

I am not a financial expert.  Consider me more your financial cheerleader (or coach if you don’t like facial hair on cheerleaders.)  Check out the storef or helpful books and specific resources.  Continue reading

How to get better in one easy step. Show the Samurai Up!

All I need to know is how much is enough.   —James Heisig’s translation of  saying on a small stone basin at Ryonji,  a Zen temple

Buddhist poet Saigyo tried to live “one inch above the ground.”  . . .not with one’s feet planted firmly in the everyday, not walking on the clouds, but floating a thumb’s length above the ground.   –Heisig,  Dialogues at One Inch Above the Ground

Stop being a jerk to yourself.  You did your best given what you knew at the time.  Now do your best now. —from a Silverspoon email.

Remember, in order to actually get better at guitar you need to actually take the guitar out of its bag. —Dan Emery, head of NYC School of Guitar in a postcard to all the students

I decided to shut up and show the samurai up with guitar. I picked this book to begin with because it will reinforce my Japanese. Of course, it has a mangalike character on front. If you are interested, here is the closest version I could find on Amazon Japan. Two birds. No killing. Just a rolling stone gathering no moss.

In my last post, I focused on Heisig and how he examined his systems and perfected them.  Heisig  optimized his learning and the learning of many more through his system for learning kanji.   I also suggested that it’s great to examine your methods, find your weaknesses and reassess.   I still believe that is true, but I also believe you also just have to show the Samurai up!  If you can’t think of the “right”  thing to do, do something! In short:

  • if you can’t think of the most fun or targeted learning activity, do the “boring” one until you are inspired
  • inspiration sometimes comes through “work”–sometimes it doesn’t
  • keep your brain myelinated …keep the mental and physical conversation of the skill going
  • still, don’t forget the fun–what’s really great is when some fun activity or experience reinforces the work and seals the deal on what you have learned
  • stay “one inch above the ground”…grounded in the practice of what you are trying to learn and also dreaming and enjoying it . . . watch experts and children who still enjoy learning and model them
  • use a timer to get through the blocks

I need to practice what I preach. 🙂 Lately, I decided to start playing guitar again.   I have no dearth of materials, in Japanese and English.  I was getting my underwear all in knots thinking of which set of materials to use:  a Japanese guide,, or the many English DVD’s and books that are hidden in different corners of my apartment.

Did anyone notice how good Japanese graphic arts can be?  In addition to these homey little characters (this one is showing you how to hold a guitar correctly) there are also very precise and sharp schematic drawings about how to hold the pick and hit the strings.

I finally to stop fretting (guitar joke!) about all the materials and just get started.   I had an old flashcard deck devoted to guitar playing and started with some scales.   Then I decided to open up one of the many guitar books I have and just go through it.  It includes a DVD and I fired up an old Dell that I now use as a spare DVD player.  The first few lessons are really simple, and explain how to hit the strings with your pick. The first few video lessons show how to hit one string with different rhythms.  It’s kind of boring but hitting the strings and doing it rhythmically correct is fundamental to a lot of guitar playing.   Hey, someone should write a book called Zen Guitar!  (It’s an actual book!)

This is a reference manga for the manga series, “Beck.” The manga is about a 90 lb. weakling who joins a rock band. (I didn’t end up following the manga or the anime.) The music guide gives background to all the characters and all the real-life music influences that run throughout the manga. If I read this, not only will I know more Japanese, I will also know more about rock and roll music history. Amazon Japan Link.

After doing scales for a few days, I thought about perusing the lessons at and found a new series on the guitar playing of Eric Clapton.   I went through a beginning lesson that covered the style of the Yardbirds doing a song called “Boom Boom.”  I listened to this song and the many versions of the original by the blues-man John Lee Hooker.  It’s so much fun to watch what the masters can do with their guitar.   (of course you never hear what they sounded like when they were sucky beginners)

The Beck Music Guide is fun and encyclopedic. For example, one character is really influenced by the blues, so here you see the character and then all the real-life albums that “influenced” his playing. It’s great to see the cover art of all these great blues albums from Bo Diddly, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, etc all in one place.

But all of this happened because I decided to show the samurai up!  Use a timer if you need to do but do something daily instead of fretting about the methods.    Stay grounded but not at the point where you are digging your own rut.  Get inspired by the masters but not to the point where it looks impossible and you stop practicing. Work.  Have fun.  Stay “one inch above the ground.”

Online Guitar Lessons

Happiness, Service, and the Power of Love: Martin Luther King, Jr Quotes

In my last post I discussed the happiness decision, or the power to make a decision to turn your mind towards positive things even when you don’t feel happy.  Lately, I’ve also been pondering the question of how do you confront the darkness without becoming dark.  I was thinking specifically of two people I really admire Mahatma Gandhi and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  Many people focus on them almost as heroes or saints, but they were just human beings.  Yes, they wrote and spoke of great things, but they laughed, they cried, they had faults.  They were human.

They laughed and gathered and consulted with the people around them.  They made the “happiness decision” in countless ways.  I think this is a forgotten reason for why Gandhi and King were able to lead these social movements.  I googled, “Martin Luther King, Jr. and happiness” and stumbled upon these great quotes gathered by goodreads.  They really helped to power my morning and I want to share a few with you:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his I Have a Dream Speech at the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. 08/28/1963 ARC Identifier 542069 / Local Identifier 306-SSM-4D(107)16

Part of what I think made Martin Luther King Jr. a great leader was his capacity for joy and reaching for people.   From the National Archves.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his I Have a Dream Speech at the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. 08/28/1963
ARC Identifier 542069 / Local Identifier 306-SSM-4D(107)16

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from “Loving Your Enemies”)”
Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

I hope this all helps.  Enjoy your mind.  Share your heart.  Thanks for reading.

Do Money or Money Will Do You: Rich Samurai/Poor Samurai

Screen shot 2013-07-18 at 1.42.14 PMSorry about the Rich Dad/Poor Dad reference.  I just had to.  Truth is, I found that book in our book sharing shelf in the building and I haven’t gotten around to reading it.

Now, remember, I am just a motivational speaker who lives in a van down by the river.  I am not a Rich Dad or a Poor Dad.   I am a dad.   However, I have stopped “being done by” money.

Take care of finances, so finances don’t take over your life

I made that decision in the middle of the wilderness in Western North Carolina.  I was at a base camp of the North Carolina Outward Bound School, where I went to learn how to be an outdoor educational instructor.   I woke up that morning to the hooting of barred owls outside of the rustic cabin I was staying in between wilderness trainings.   Someone came to my cabin and said,   “Juan, you have a phone call.”  I put on my fleece jacket and shuffled down the trail to the base camp office and picked up the phone.  It was a collection agency.  My credit card and college loans debt had caught up to me. Continue reading