Tao of the Zentropist

January 1, 2015

Perspective: When in Doubt, Get Some!

It is natural for many at this time of year to engage in introspection and take stock of things. That can be admirable, especially when it leads to further evolution and development. To that end, I offer the following thoughts…

Photographer: Tom Hall

“Mountain” Photographer: Tom Hall Image courtesy of Flickr

When a mountain comes into view…

Do you see it as an insurmountable obstacle? Or do you wonder what the view is like from the summit, or what lies on the other side?

The very things which may challenge us may also reveal great rewards. We can embrace the challenge and advance forward, or we can remain rooted to the spot or return to the comfort of what we think we know, only to invariably discover, that place is not quite the same as when we left it.

Scarcity and abundance…

Are always intertwined. One never exists without the other.

Mindset reveals our most closely held beliefs. Sometimes what we most desire is indeed scarce. But if we take stock of what is in abundance, how can we use this to obtain or acquire what we really want?

Perception is reality…

Pierce the veil. 

What we perceive to be true inevitably becomes our truth. Objective fact can be inconvenient under this circumstance. Remember that what another perceives will define his or her truth as well. If you cannot find mutually satisfactory definition, given the binary nature of “true or false?” conflict will result.

Use what you know today…

With rare exception, we all know more today than we did yesterday.

Experience may be gained through action or inaction. We learn from the outcomes of both. When outcomes are deemed not desirable, examine what led to them without rancor, bitterness or excessive regret. And avoid repeating the mistakes of yesterday today.

Do more…

Talk less.

Action ultimately trumps flowery talk and academic theory. Far too many pontificate and bloviate. Strategy requires execution. Execution emerges from tactics. Without the right tactics, applied at the right time, even a well considered strategy will fail.

Now is always available…

Use it wisely.

What has happened previously is over and done with. What may happen in the future is subject to change. Unless you believe in predestination. In which case, you will do what you will and the future will happen accordingly.

Trim your sails, adjust your course…

We cannot change the wind and the tide.

But we can harness them, and by keeping a weather eye, adjust as necessary to get where we want to go.

Acknowledge the Monkey Mind…

The Monkey Mind is rarely quiet and is ruled by emotion.

Emotion all too often clouds our judgment. Pause. Inhale. Exhale. Orient and find your center. Decisions made when ruled by emotion may in hindsight prove less than optimal, and sometimes quite poor. Seek to buy enough time to let the most unguarded moment pass. And then act decisively.


The past should always inform us. But never define us.

What happened yesterday and all the days before was the result of things both within and outside of our control. The past is only prologue if we fail to exercise what we can currently control. Wiser decisions are always possible. Our fate, driven by unfolding possibilities, is fluid and always in motion.

Celebrate, mourn, move on…

Retain the lesson and those memories you cherish, but do not cling to what has passed.

There is a time and a season to every purpose under Heaven and Earth.


We’ve all got them. But seek to make them, “Too few to mention.”

Sometimes things don’t work out as we planned. Or if we are truthful with ourselves, as we desired, even if we failed to properly plan. Some opportunities, once lost, are not regained. But this is not always so. Do not punish yourself a second time. The moment of lost opportunity is punishment enough.


This too shall pass.

It is our attachment to things which are the source of pleasure and pain. Life will contain such highs and lows. Things happen in their time.

Beware those who claim to have all the answers…

Those who possess true wisdom understand that which they do not know.

We live in an era where self-proclaimed experts abound. Always consider the source. Good intentions with ill-conceived counsel or inappropriate action can be as detrimental to our welfare as those who act with indifference or outright malice.

Decide what matters…

This is your touchstone.

Over the course of your life, your answer may change. That’s not necessarily good or bad. But you must always be clear on what matters to you if you wish to make decisions aligned with your values.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on 30 December 2014.


September 12, 2012


“I am haunted by waters.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

There is something that is truly sublime about paddling a traditional style kayak, in which the paddler sits inside of a cockpit (typically enclosed by a spray skirt to prevent water from entering) and practically “wears” the craft, attuned to every nuance of movement and the thrumming of water passing mere inches beneath one’s backside. Not to denigrate the sit-on-top designs, which have made kayaking more accessible and user-friendly to the masses, but the experience is simply not the same. And for those who have known the challenges and simple joy and freedom of paddling, whether at sea, running whitewater, or even navigating placid lakes and inlets, there are lessons, both overt and more subtle, to be applied to one’s life.


Kayaks, by design, are not particularly stable craft. Like a canoe, they can tip and roll very easily if the paddler misses a stroke, or fails to paddle brace, or is hit by unexpected wave action and does not react in time. This lack of inherent stability, however, allows kayaks to be highly responsive to the paddler’s input, and can allow course corrections and adjustments with reasonable efficiency.

In order to remain upright, particularly when running a fast-moving river or operating in a surf zone or in heavy wave action in the open sea, the paddler must maintain balance and this requires focus. It is easy in our modern world to lose focus; with so many obligations as well as distractions competing for our attention, following a path can be difficult. More so if that path is not clearly marked or is filled with obstacles which challenge easy passage. Without balance, we lose our center, and without command of our center, we are prone to loss of control.

We cannot control everything that happens, but if we maintain balance, we can quickly recover and avoid the worst outcomes.


The more time that one spends immersed in nature, the more one understands that everything has a natural rhythm. Things are as they are, and all things interact with each other in fairly predictable ways if you understand the dynamics of the relationship and the context of the environment. There are predators and prey. There are symbiotic and parasitic relationships. For sailors, no wind can be a curse, but too much wind can be a nightmare. Water is the essence of life, yet it can sculpt landscapes and kill with no compunction if present in sufficient volume, force or even based on its temperature.

Piloting a kayak forces the paddler to fall into a rhythm, and this rhythm will naturally mirror the given environment. The double bladed paddle requires some degree of ambidexterity, alternating strokes on either side of the boat or requiring the paddler to perform a brace by placing the flat of the blade on the water’s surface and leaning into it (which may feel counter-intuitive at first) to avoid rolling over.

The nature of the kayak is to become unified with the particular rhythm of the water upon which one is traveling.


Both whitewater kayaking and sea kayaking require knowledge of water’s behavior, and an appreciation and respect for what nature can unleash with little or no warning. Whitewater, while exhilarating and majestic, can also be terrifying and deadly, as the power of a tremendous volume of water, coupled with obstructions which can snag, pin and trap the boat and paddler in deadly circumstances, is not to be trifled with. Paddlers running rapids must quickly learn how to gauge safer routes of passage, and must respond to the feedback of the river instantaneously if not to be overturned.

At sea, even close to shore, the paddler can experience both wave action and currents which may thwart forward progress, force the paddler severely off course, or threaten the stability of the boat. Being able to track on a particular course requires skill and constant effort, and understanding when and how to expend energy efficiently.

Navigation is essential to a successful journey. Even if the destination changes en route.


Arguably, what many people find most intimidating about traditional style kayaks is the experience of being confined in a fairly tight cockpit, which can present challenges should the boat overturn. The traditional response to overturning in such a craft is to perform an “Eskimo roll” in which one snaps the hips and twists the body, using the paddle for leverage, in order to return to the water’s surface from a fully submerged position.

This maneuver can be tricky and requires patience and practice to learn. Sometimes it is simply easier, or perhaps more expedient, to “eject” from the kayak by pulling the spray skirt and swimming free, although there is danger in being separated from the boat for an extended period of time. And it is not necessarily an easy matter to climb back into a kayak once one has “gone for a swim,” particularly if kayaking solo. For this reason, having at least one other party that can be relied upon is always preferable to “going it alone.” There are times when this is not possible, but companionship on a journey can make all the difference.

Life invariably throws surprises at us. Our ability to “self rescue” and adapt to changing circumstances, or to come to the assistance of another, is vital to our ability to persevere.


Unlike most other watercraft, kayaks sit low in the water, with very little separating the paddler from the water itself. In some manner, this forges a “connection” with the very medium in which one travels which is arguably unrivaled, and incredibly intimate. It is an easy thing to stretch out one’s fingers and touch the surface of the water, or to plunge one’s hand or arm into the depths as one contemplates the hidden mysteries below.

In life, much is hidden and perhaps even unknowable to us. We must operate with the faith that our efforts are not in vain, and our expenditure of time and energy is bringing us closer to a destination that will resonate with the very core of our being. That which is unseen does not by definition, not exist. It is merely our perception, or lack thereof, that informs our observations and beliefs.

Water is as elemental as the mountains, and it is water which can often alter the shape and character of those topographical monuments. Something to ponder from the seat of a kayak…

July 24, 2012

Inauthentic Authenticity

Image courtesy of StockFreeImages.com

There seems to be quite a bit of chatter and advice on the topic of “authenticity” as it applies to social media. For all the talk that people, as well as brands (and many like to emphasize that individuals are now “brands” too) need to be authentic to connect with their intended audience, there’s something rather disingenuous about all of the attention focused on this subject. Perhaps like “non-scripted television,” a.k.a. “Reality TV,” what is presented to us in social media behaviors is more often than not artifice, until proven otherwise. And it’s the “until proven otherwise” part that is of greatest interest…


No one likes to be played for a sucker. Surely this is not a controversial or debatable point. And while social media presents the opportunity to reveal a lot about an individual’s personality, passions and beliefs, it is also not immune from manipulation. For example, some celebrities have massive Twitter followings in part because those connecting to them believe on some level that they are now part of this person’s “inner circle.”  I guess the allure of 140-character tidbits leads some to believe they now have a “relationship” with the other party, but if that’s what passes for meaningful connection, it’s a rather shallow and contrived arrangement. Being authentic is not necessarily about “being on message” and “building a brand” but rather, remaining true and constant to the core values and beliefs that one holds. The moment that a conscious decision is made to “spin” a message or behave in a proscribed manner is the moment in which “authenticity” is lost and play-acting begins.


For those who want to present the world with a “window into their life,” social media can certainly be a useful tool, but there’s a fine line between genuine behavior, whether learned or instinctual, and performance. We may strive to uphold a certain ideal, and present to the world a certain image, but if we truly don’t embody the phantasm which we’re selling, inconsistencies start to quickly emerge.

Trying to cover up mistakes, errors in judgment, or past shortcomings is about rewriting history and does not preserve authenticity. It actually undermines it. Arguably, it’s easier to respect someone who is striving to evolve and attain certain far-reaching and ambitious accomplishments, and who may encounter failures and setbacks along the way, than those who claim flawless results each time they go to bat or squabble over the lowest hanging fruit.

One is reminded of the wise and perceptive words of Marcus Aurelius who stated, “The measure of a man is the worth of the things he cares about.” One can learn a great deal about someone by the subjects, triggers and stimuli which provoke a response while they are busy engaging with others on the Internet. It’s not difficult to be brave and combative when sitting behind a computer or tapping into a smartphone or tablet when one is not facing another party; consequently, social filters often come off and reveal what someone really thinks and their true nature.


Image courtesy of StockFreeImages.com

So how do we avoid the frauds and schemers and delusional self-promoters? Can it be done? Should it be done? Ultimately, one has to look for consistency, because over time, it’s hard to maintain a false face without cracks appearing in the veneer. I find people’s off the cuff remarks, comments and answers to often be far more revealing than what might be posted in a blog, or a profile, or even a discussion thread which are more subject to editing and even ghostwriting. Emotional responses to another party’s question or posting or tweet which are triggered without much forethought may give greater clues to a person’s character and psychological makeup than more measured and considered responses delivered after a longer delay.

Most people struggle to reconcile the person who they wish to be, and want to portray themselves to be to others, with who they actually are in the moment. I don’t believe that people can remain static indefinitely; they need to evolve and change or they will find themselves relegated to a category of either caricature or irrelevance. I personally subscribe to the notion that, “Action reveals character,” and all pontification aside, it is how people behave, particularly in times of stress, when quick response is demanded, or when they think that they are unobserved, which truly reveals who they actually are. All the rest is measured commentary.

You cannot manufacture authenticity, and slapping a label on something doesn’t make it so. We simply are who we are until we change; whether that change is conscious and deliberate, or forced upon us by circumstance, is simply the mechanism and should not be mistaken for the result…

February 16, 2012

The Cult of “Me”

The Digital Age has brought us many benefits, including a near ubiquitous mode of communication, and with those benefits, it has also unleashed the floodgates. Never before in the recorded history of humanity have so many had so much to say, yet amid the ensuing cacophony and din, one can’t help but observe that many, and perhaps most, have nothing original to say, opinions (informed or otherwise) masquerade as fact, and few take the time and effort to listen.

Ours perhaps is not the First Age of Shameless Self-Promotion, but it may very well be the most far reaching, and the narcissists among us cannot help but bend their knee or even throw themselves prostrate as they worship for all to see before the Cult of Me.


Modern life in industrialized societies moves at a blistering pace, and few of us have to be told that competition among even the well skilled and qualified for desirable jobs and clients can be quite fierce. Social media outlets such as LinkedIn have created new channels of connection and networking, and even a cursory review of user profiles will also reveal a proliferation of individuals who boast of impressive accomplishments and skills, yet if you start to scratch beneath the surface, the substance and even veracity starts to come into question.

Photo courtesy of iStock

The Internet seems to encourage and foster the notion that we live in a world of experts, yet somehow conveniently overlooked is that many of these experts are self-proclaimed, and therefore suspect. Malcolm Gladwell has famously commented upon the “10,000 Hour Rule” which suggests that one becomes an expert at a task by practicing it for 10,000 hours. There’s likely some element of truth to this, although a corollary which should not be overlooked is that one must practice well and thoroughly for those “10,000 hours” and ideally is receiving real-world feedback, particularly from those more adept at the given task. For example, as Chief Instructor Eyal Yanilov of Krav Maga Global once remarked to me when we were discussing the process of mastery in the martial arts, there’s a big difference between the practitioner who trains hard, consistently and constantly for 20 years, and the one who has flitted from one thing to the next for 20 years. They both may have been “at it” for 20 years, but one is arguably an expert while the other is generally at best partially trained and at worst a dilettante.


Those in leadership positions, particularly when the individuals are in actuality far more “managerial” in nature  and capability (i.e. those who delegate and more often than not cannot execute) than “visionary” and “inspiring” can be especially susceptible to self-aggrandizement and over-confidence, particularly when it is not warranted. The ranks of Corporate America and even start-up environments are filled with people convinced of their own brilliance and aptitude, or doing their best to convey this image to others. Sometimes those in positions of responsibility mistake success and/or competency in one particular endeavor to convey upon them universal wisdom and knowledge and therefore fail to actually listen to or learn from others, particularly if they feel somehow challenged or threatened by colleagues, particularly subordinates.

We’ve all seen people try to “fake it” and be something, or someone, they simply are not. It’s instructional to witness, for example, an individual with an inflated title, and an unjustifiably high opinion of his own capabilities and worth, pose questions (which reveal striking ignorance and lack of resourcefulness) to colleagues which readily could have been answered with a Google search on the computer within comfortable reach. The fact that this individual wasn’t embarrassed to be doing so was remarkable.


Perhaps the observations above brook the question, “If self-promotion is wrong, am I to remain modest and potentially invisible?” I would counter that this is a false dichotomy, and the answer comes back to the hoary old (yet demonstrably true) axiom, “Action reveals character.”

We are defined in life but what we do (or fail to do) and there is no escaping this at times inconvenient truth. And eventually the illusion spun through misdirection, refusal of accountability and unwillingness to take the occasional bruising for mistakes and omissions catches up to the posers. With focused effort one can change who one is to address deficiencies and weaknesses, but ultimately, one can never hide from who one is.

Many people may be familiar with the Jewish philosopher Hillel’s rhetorical quote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Yet, interestingly, some of these very same people seem blissfully unaware that this statement is part of a couplet, and the oft-omitted second part of this adage is quite revealing: “And if I am only for myself, what am I?”

What makes this particularly interesting is that in the second phrase, the question posed is not “Who am I?” but rather, “What am I?” This choice of wording is unquestionably deliberate and suggests that those who are selfishly only invested in their own ego and satisfaction of their wants at the expense of everything and everyone else sacrifice the essence of their own humanity, and are therefore no longer considered a person, but a thing.

So remember, as wise and accomplished as you may perceive yourself to be, do not blind yourself to the realities of your own limitations, and most certainly, don’t fall for the mistake of believing the hype created by sycophants, especially if the chief among them dwells within your own being…

February 3, 2011

Drawing the Line Between Respect and Reverence

Early on in our development, most of us are taught the notion and meaning of “respect,” usually within the context of the culture surrounding us. For some, respect is something granted automatically based on occupational titles, personal or professional achievements, chronological age, family or clan relationships, etc. Others emphasize that respect is something that must be earned, and is not conferred automatically.

No matter one’s upbringing or cultural values, there are times when the distinction between Respect and Reverence is blurred, and this can be problematic. We live in a world filled with both Light and Darkness, and consequently, there are many shadows. As the eloquent Oglala Lakota Medicine Man Black Elk said, “It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. Among these shadows, men get lost.”

The line between respect and reverence is oftentimes a thin one, but worth heeding with caution; we must temper our idealism with a measure of objectivity to safeguard ourselves from being led astray.


Respect is defined by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary in two very relevant ways:

“An act of giving particular attention” (consideration) as well as “High or special regard” (esteem).

Depending on one’s religious/spiritual beliefs, we all are granted, or get to enjoy, a decidedly finite amount of time in this world. For many years, our wants and needs are quite simple, and in most cases provided for by others until we reach a stage of development to start providing for ourselves. However, during these early formative years, we are to some degree or another socialized to pass judgment on people, institutions and things, in part to determine what is worthy of focusing our most precious commodity (time) on, and in part allowing us to interact within the societal mores and accepted standards of the larger culture.

Consequently, sometimes we are taught to respect certain things reflexively, without much further thought or analysis. Depending on perspective, this may or may not be appropriate, or even ultimately healthy for our own future development.

Personally, deciding on who or what is worthy of your respect is largely a personal choice, guided hopefully by one’s conscience and some objective analysis of the reasons why the target of the respect is worthy of purposeful consideration and emphasis. Those who deliberately choose to go “against the grain” may be viewed as mavericks and even malcontents; sometimes these people change the world for the better (as it might be commonly and universally defined), others lead themselves and others down twisting paths filled with deceit, strife and more often than not, hatred.

Whenever you are unsure, I would suggest to respect those people and things that are worthy of such admiration and emulation by virtue of the good which they return to the world around them through their actions or by the very fact of their existence; those that shine a beacon of light when the darkness closes in and step forward to be counted without thought of personal reward , much less risk; and those that facilitate and recognize the universal interconnectedness which binds all living things.

This is as good a starting point as any.


Invariably at some point, perhaps out of idealism or a willful and deliberate blindness to the faults and imperfections that mar all things, respect is transformed into reverence. Under certain circumstances, this thinking can become exceedingly dangerous, and cause us to adore and perhaps “worship” false idols.

In traditional Eastern martial arts, for example, students are often taught unquestioned obedience to a Master, and even more senior disciples of that master, because it is presumed that they are further along the path than the more inexperienced student. In one context this may be true – knowledge and command of a particular “art” or fighting style – yet this does not necessarily suggest that the Master or senior disciples are any wiser. Bruce Lee famously rebelled in part against such thinking, and faced enormous resistance and opposition from those who felt that he was disrespecting traditions because he lacked the discipline and appropriate mindset to demonstrate the proper obsequiousness to “his betters.”

In my own personal pursuit of the path of martial arts mastery, I have been fortunate to train under and with some individuals who are considered to be “masters,” and while I greatly respect the skills and understanding which they may have within their particular expertise, I do not automatically revere them as paragons of spiritual, ethical or philosophical wisdom. Some perhaps do have components of such knowledge, and if so, are given greater weight outside of a more narrowly defined context. Certainly none of them have demanded any unreasonable demonstration of respect based solely on their rank or experience; those that do, in my opinion, are the ones to be most leery of. Those who would coerce reverence, or falsely manipulate others to create such a feeling, are dangerous indeed.

To be reverent of someone or something is to imbue it with great power. We would do well to only cautiously extend such favored treatment and create such vulnerability to ourselves after very deliberate and careful consideration.

While respect is a gift which should be freely given, reverence is a sacrifice of some piece of ourselves upon a higher altar, and therefore must be reserved for only the most worthy recipients…

January 5, 2011

What Power Balance Bracelets Teach Us About Belief

To quote Captain Renault in the classic film Casablanca, I was “shocked” to learn via the Associated Press newswire that the manufacturer of Power Balance bracelets, in response to an Australian consumer protection inquiry, has admitted, “There is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims,” in reference to its televised marketing campaign boldly stating that wearing its silicone bracelets improves balance, strength and flexibility.

Gee, you think? Plastic bracelets with “magical” holograms don’t really interact with the body’s chemistry, or alter your “chi” or encourage the instantaneous development of more fast-twitch muscles and neurological pathways? For those seeking instant gratification, this must be disappointing news indeed. But what this does reveal is how powerful belief can be, and how psychological conditioning can lead to positive outcomes.


What science does seem to suggest is that an individual’s mental state does have a measurable impact on not only athletic performance, but a wide range of human endeavors. Indeed, much of the “self-help” industry, including the cottage industry spawned by “The Secret” and the notion of the Law of Attraction, is based upon affirmations of positivity and reinforcing an attitude of belief that one is capable of achieving whatever goals one desires. You just have to want it badly enough.

Psychological mindset is important, and at elite levels of competition, any potential edge over a competitor is widely sought out. As Henry Ford is credited with saying, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

The danger, of course, is that it can be very difficult for most people to maintain the focus and discipline necessary to remain positive 24/7, especially in the face of challenging circumstances which undermine confidence and perhaps speak to nagging self-doubts or feelings of inferiority. That’s why many Eastern traditions speak of focusing on the NOW, or the present moment, because it is the one thing that we have direct control over. Quantum mechanics aside, for all practical purposes the past is behind us (although as Shakespeare wisely noted, “The past is prologue”) and the future is still unwinding and unknowable. But we do have the ability to act in a certain way at this very moment, and adjust our attitude accordingly.

Of course, part and parcel to our mental attitude and maintaining a “Can Do” belief system is also recognizing where our talents and interests lie, and finding the sweet spot where these intersect and we can excel. Returning again to the topic of athletics, competition at the elite levels in every sport requires the right combination of genetics, hard work (physical and mental) and even a healthy dose of luck; absent any of these factors, just believing that one can become a highly compensated professional athlete is ultimately an unhealthy delusion.


Now what’s interesting, and frankly, not too surprising is that Power Balance has also admitted that some of the sports figures raving about the efficacy of its product are actually paid endorsers. We can be cynical about this, as vested financial self-interest is a powerful motivator, but I suppose that it’s also possible that people like Shaquille O’Neill and Lamar Odom really believe that their performance is enhanced by wearing a talisman which invariably is manufactured overseas by people who will likely realize in their lifetime less income than these gentleman do in a single season of athletic competition.

Based on interviews, I’ve come to the conclusion that Shaq is probably a nice guy whose heart is in the right place, but I wouldn’t hold him up as a paradigm of intellectual horsepower or as someone experienced in the art of critical thinking. And the Power Balance “demonstrations” featured on their television commercials and Website of haplessly weak, out of balance people suddenly “centering” themselves and resisting a tug on the arm are comical as any competent martial artist knows; notice how a subtle change in angle when force is applied can make all the difference between being able to maintain some semblance of balance and toppling over. I’ll be more impressed if someone can maintain their center (not to mention their equanimity!) with the aid of the magic bracelet when confronted by a well-trained fighter.

Yet even still, I would draw an important lesson from yet another scam tapping into the tendency of most people to want instant results with minimal or no effort; belief is a powerful tool in support of achieving one’s goals, so long as it is also backed by what Buddhism identifies as the Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.  One doesn’t necessarily have to agree with traditional Buddhist definitions of each of these, but rather the spirit of how they apply to each of us individually.

That’s something that all of us, regardless of religious affiliation, can potentially believe in…

Jonathan S. Ross is the founder and principal of Black Rock Consulting, a boutique management and communications consultancy based in Los Angeles offering strategic planning, project management, marketing and writing services to start-ups, early stage and more mature businesses. Feel free to send an email to schedule a confidential discussion of your needs. Initial consultations are FREE OF CHARGE and WITHOUT FURTHER OBLIGATION.

Blog at WordPress.com.