Mar 22, 2018
Check out Francis' Company Invisible Technologies
Stewart asks Francis: What does meditation mean for you?
He says that being in the present is a bad response because it
doesn't accurately reflect what the present is. The future merges
with the present. He says you can continue to meditate when doing
something mundane like thinking, planning, or abstract reasoning.
He says that state of meditation is being connected to source or
flow. When you are connected to everything else. This is the state
of meditation. He says that meditation is about fully expressing
yourself in the cosmos. Meditation is not anti-thought
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Stewart responds by saying that sounds like a non-linear reality. Francis says that there was a time when he meditated for 8 hours a day. He did the Santiago de Camino in Spain and started to use headspace, he took an art class in Florence and then continuously increased the time that he meditated until it was eight hours a day. He ended up in monasteries in the east, particularly in Thailand.
At some point, he realized that this meditation practice had permanently shifted him and he could either bring it into his daily life or he would stop living his life and end up in a cave. He said that spending time in Buddhist monasteries leads him to realize the falseness of secluding yourself in a monastery. Practice is meant to be lived.
Francis talks about the Buddhist ideal or messiah, the bodhisattva. He explains that the first movement of Buddhism is realizing that the world is suffering. The second movement of Buddhism is that through meditation we can experience the unity behind all duality. He says that meditation is an act of living death. Its the act of getting used to death before it happens. He says that this consistent with Stoic forms of meditation. He says that if it ends there, then you have a pathetic religion. Francis says that its great that Buddhism doesn't end here and that the third movement of Buddhism is coming down from the mountain and sharing what you have found and fully expressing yourself.
Francis gets into the idea that people who are fully expressing their truth are what the Buddhists refer to as Bhoddisatva's. He says that Donald Trump is a Bhodisatva, that Genghis Khan is a Bodhisattva. That horrible historical figures are more enlightened than your average person who is not fully expressing their own truth or dharma. He says that people like Martin Luther King or other "good" historical figures are also enlightened or bodhisattvas. All of these people, both "Good" and "Bad" fully expressed themselves. They took a position and risked being wrong.
From here Francis gets into the historical evolution of Zen and how it is a combination of Buddhism and Taoism that merged in China. He talks about the great historical loss of great temples in China under Communism. He discusses the Yin Yang symbol of Taoism and how it represents duality and how duality becomes one. Male and female are one. Good and evil are one. Past and future are one. They are both present. We are all playing our part.
Stewart talks about how Enlightenment itself is misunderstood and that the actual state of enlightenment is not a concept but a way of being or an experience. He says that this whole comparison of enlightened beings kind of misses the points because each experience of enlightenment is a unique and subjective awareness of unity. He expresses that talking about enlightenment and comparing different historical figure's state of enlightenment gets into murky territory. He questions the validity of comparing different states of enlightenment.
Francis responds that validity itself is a dogmatic word. It implies that there is one right way to do things, a scripture or a code that will tell you how to get there. How to find enlightenment. He offers that the explanation of enlightenment as someone who continuously comes back to the present is a trite one. True enlightenment comes from fully expressing your own truth, no matter what that entails. Essentially Francis says that if you are red, be red. If you are blue, be blue. But if you are blue, do not try to be red, blue, green and everything else. You have to choose to be who you really are.
He returns to the idea of Trump being a bodhisattva because he believes that the person who is fully expressing their truth and triggering everyone around them is challenging everyone else to live their truth and express what reality wants them to become. He says that this is why he doesn't like normal people. They are ignoring their god given destiny and hiding from reality. He likes villains and heroes because at least they are playing in the drama of life.
Francis brings up an important point about the three movements of Buddhism he mentioned earlier in regards to movement two and how meditation brings on a sort of psychological death. He says that with this psychological death comes the philosophical underpinnings of nihilism and that this is a dangerous field to play in. He says he considers himself a Taoist and Taoism has managed to fully move past this stage of nihilism.
Francis talks about how in Zen monasteries they tend to decondition new participants harshly so that they come to find reality faster. They ask questions and any verbal or intellectual answer comes with a slap in the face. The proper answer could be something like a shout, something that fully expresses the terror or joy of a life being lived as opposed to the dry intellectual understanding of life. This leads to the realization that the truth is beyond words.
Stewart asks Francis about how the three movements of Buddhism played itself out in Francis' own life.
Francis explains that his own journey through these three movements of Buddhism was precipitated by the failure of his first company, Everest, along with the failure of his first ideology. He explains a little bit about his own life story. He grew up in San Diego, in the suburbs. He says its so nice that its horrible. It's purgatory.
He says that his first blessing in his life was taking a five-year course on the great books of western history. He says that going to Cornell barely taught him anything, but he kept on reading the great book and his education flourished on its own as opposed to the schooling. After university, he started his first company which tied in with his first ideology. He built an app that helped people complete their goals. He thought technology could be used to make humans better at being human, i.e. accomplish their goals. He thought he could build an ecosystem to support this. He was building an educational system
Francis explains his story of developing his own ideology while he develops his first company, Everest. He says that he believed in truth, a final truth. He believed in Good and Evil. He thought that questions have answers. That it was possible to develop a unified theory of everything. He believed that someday humanity might grasp objective reality. He realized through reading that when reading an amazing book he would feel enlightened, he would feel like he would understand reality. Then, of course, he realized that feeling would go away and he would realize that he doesn't know.
He explains how this ideology and his company failed. He made the mistake of not charging users and tried to use the Facebook strategy of growing very large and capturing a small amount of value. He and his team thought that everyone has goals so it would be a universal app that anyone could use to achieve goals. This failed because he realized that most aspirational products are just that, aspirational. Nike doesn't make money when people exercise, it makes money when people want to exercise. Amazon doesn't make money when people read books, they make money when people want to read books, etc. The failure to achieve goals is a deep-rooted human issue that technology might not be able to fix. People fail to achieve what they set out to do and building a business that tries to solve this problem didn't work.
Francis realizes that goals themselves are a flawed construct. Goals are a really bad way to frame decisions or actions. The goal "get fit" is a very vague one. Goals are preconstructed blueprints that we try to fit on top of reality instead of listening to what reality makes clear. Humans are bad at defining goals and really anticipating what the human will need in the future. Reality is very complex and even though our brains are very advanced, they have very little chance of developing theory or goals that accurately map reality.
This failure broke him. He spent $3 million. His team lost their jobs. He was distraught and undertook his mindfulness journey through the world. This brought him to the point of nihilism and lack of meaning.
He puts this into the perspective of the 20th century where we had complete destruction with WWII and then it turned into peace and a golden age for the world. People thought that History had ended and we were all good from here on out. Then people realized that's not really the case, we are just in a break. We are actually in what TS Elliot calls the wasteland. Francis says that the West started to turn towards the east for answers to more deep questions of human consciousness and existence.
Stewart argues that instead of looking at the West looking towards the East for answers, he says that the West actually looked back in time at what the East had written. Just as what happened in the dark ages in the West, the East also experienced a period of darkness and a loss of the wisdom that they had developed. We are still only just discovering much of the wisdom of the past.
Francis argues that this loss and then rediscovering of what had happened in the past lead to the rise of nationalism and stories being created that lead to the rise of national consciousness and thus fascism in places like Japan and Germany.
He says that the best person to read for understanding the world today is Rene Gerard. Rene says that we need enemies and that if we don't find one we will invent one, a scapegoat. Society will unite to kill the enemy and sacrifice the scapegoat.
Stewart says that again when the west looked towards the east for wisdom they also looked at it with their own filters and perceptions. When we rediscovered Buddhism we changed what Buddhism was into something we could understand. Francis says that we have created a monstrous caricature.
Francis explains how he sees a consumerist culture in New York that creates a political correctness that is false and superficial and is based on fear. He goes on to explain the beauty of Nietzsche.
David Foster Wallace ended up grappling with this nihilism and ended up committing suicide. To combat this humans end up in commercialist paradises like Sweden or San Diego. We try to mold the world so that we feel secure and safe with our creature comforts. Francis says that most of his millennial friends want to move to Sweden and look up to Sweden.
He describes Nietzche as the romantic nihilist. He was able to complete the Buddhist journey and have a victory over nihilism. He was able to say I'm not sure if God exists, I'm not sure if heaven exists, or if there is a goal. He was able to see that society was also confused. Amongst all this confusion, Neitchze was able to assert that his values were correct and true, even though he was not able to really say for sure that they were. Essentially he will do his best and accept the consequences of acting without full knowledge. I don't know what absolute truth is, but here is my version of it.
Francis brings up an interesting point which is that you have to choose what you believe and that when you choose you are choosing not to believe something else. You cannot have both privacy and security. You cannot both express yourself and be politically correct. You cannot be both red and green at the same time.
This realization leads him to start his next and current company Invisible. He realized that the biggest problem is the problem of finding a solution that works for you. There is now technology that can do anything to the problem becomes harnessing the technology to do work humans don't want to do. He built one single bot that coordinates humans and automates the repeated tasks. They automate repetitive work.