Aum Versus Om, Round 2

Little word with a big sound.How can something so simple become so contentious?

A while ago, I published a post about saying the opening sound for a yoga class in different ways.  Some people are very passionate about how they say it.  Great!

Then the other day I visited this fantastic exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  They have a special going on with treasures from Japan, highlighting the shinto aspects of their religion.  Very interesting stuff.

But what touched me most with respect to yoga was what they said about the entry statues to a temple.  In many cases there would be a dog and a lion.  You’ve seen the pair.  Very popular.  People even put them in front of their houses nowadays.

Typically they would be poised with one mouth open, one mouth closed.

Here’s the cool part.  They symbolize infinity.  One represents the beginning.

The other one represents the end.

Both of them are speaking.  They are uttering a single syllable.

The open mouth represents the syllable “ah.”

The closed mouth represents the syllable “um.”

Guess what happens when you put them together?



PS: I’m not making this up, this is from the CMA, a world-famous institution, especially for its Japanese collection.  Many of the items in this current exhibit are from Japan, and are designated as important cultural objects.  That would be like sending the US Constitution out for a world tour.

Oh, and this other excerpt is always worth checking out, from Bill Moyers site 
(go to the bottom of that page)

Family Measures

When Dad died, some surprising family dynamics emerged.  My youngest brother disowned me, vowing to never return.  My “older” brother (I’m the oldest) was executor, and blocked me from understanding what was going on.

Later on, the older brother gave me a lecture.  He declared our family dysfunctional and decried the ineffectiveness of holding a grudge.  He was diplomatic enough so that I couldn’t be sure who he was accusing, if anyone.  I sat there attempting to be a calming influence given that he had a lot on his shoulders, even though I found his words inconsistent and insulting.

Months later, my younger brother returned to our fair city.  His wife has cancer, and our hospitals are world famous.  We learned they’d come and gone too late to visit or offer support.  But this event did trigger a discussion among our little family about what it means to be a family.

Here’s my take.  More importantly, it’s something that you can measure and record.  It’s one small step towards making all those soft sciences a little bit harder.

Sharing information.  Let’s not worry about what’s true or false, what’s gossip and what’s important.  In a tight-knit family, information is shared quickly.  In today’s age, it can be shared among everyone instantly.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about Mom’s breakfast or sis-in-law is town for chemo.  Who knows what and when, among the family, is very important.  In our case, we found out through a very roundabout non-family member.

Mi casa, su casa.

Many times in the past my older brother came to town, sometimes with his wife, but never notified me, and never stayed with us.  They could have, but generally I didn’t find out that they’d arrived until they’d always booked accommodations.  Yes, we extended an invitation every time.

In the case of the sis-in-law, they also booked rooms.  In fact, their hotel wasn’t too far from us.  In both cases, they could have stayed with us.  The comforts of home, more time to spend with each other, more time to share experiences and give emotional support.

I know of families that always stay with each other, even if they live in trailers.  They can’t stand it for too long, after all they are human.  But they try.

You might argue that it’s a money thing, or a culture thing.  You’re partially right.  But you can ignore those factors and look at the willingness of people to be together, to be close.

My older brother lectured me that families are comprised of people who are different.  That’s a given, everyone is different.

What defines a family is the willingness of “different” people to be together, argue politely together, and support each other.

Measuring how fast they share information, how closely they spend their limited time together when able, how open their homes are to each other, that’s a great measure of family integrity.

My extended family scores fairly low, but our nuclear family is tight.

How about yours?


Business Lessons

There are many things you need to have your own successful business.

Yes, but avoid potholes.

Money is a good start.

You also need enthusiasm, your own and that of your friends and relatives.

You’ll need optimism, and perseverance for when things get tough.


I’ve been blessed in that my family had all these things, and more.  I’m going to touch upon little things here and there that you’ll also need to think about, that aren’t normally covered.  In our case, many of these things were mistakes.

We can learn a lot from the mistakes of others, but for some reason, most business people don’t like to admit them.  They think it makes them look weak.

Since I’m more of a teacher than a business person, I don’t mind.  Here’s the mistake.

Remote working locations.

Not remote as in someone telecommuting from their home.  No, this remote has to do with how our offices were set up, or not set up as the case may be.

As a young growing manufacturing company, we occupied rental units.  Each rental unit was about 1000 square feet (about 100 square meters).  Each rental unit had a front door, a back door, a bathroom, a garage door in back, and some office space in front.

Our little business grew, and we started in one rental unit.  The next year we needed two units.  Over the next few years we needed four units, and a few years after that we had five unit.s

Here’s the problem.  Only a few people could work in the office space of the first unit.  As we hired more people we had to put them in offices in some of the other units.

It’s taken me twenty years to figure this out, but the further away people were from everyone else, the more likely it was for them to “go rogue” and do something harmful to the company.  It was also more likely that they would goof off and try to get away with being lazy.  We put lots of other measures in place to catch them, but the fundamental truth was this.

We were spread too thin.  Many people like being secluded, closing their door, and doing what they want to do at the expense of the company, their coworkers, and the customers.

So, next company I start, everyone works in the same space, whether they like it or not.

Everyone watches everyone else, because we are all in this together, whether they like it or not.

I hope this helps you, too, you budding entrepreneur.

Good luck.


Grumman Human Experiments

During the years of 1940 to 1945, there was a great war.  We call it the second great war, or World War Two, WWII.

During this war, a company that made aircraft took their jobs very seriously.  So seriously, that the Navy asked them to slow down.  They were making about 600 aircraft every MONTH.  Since they were working around the clock, that means about 20 aircraft came out every DAY.

The plant manager knew he had about 20,000 people working in the factory, and thought about one of the great maxims of behavior.  If you have 20 people, there’s a good chance that one or two of them don’t work as hard as the others.

He asked his managers to choose one person out of every 20 so that they would be fired.

Word of this got around, fast.  And as a result everyone started working harder.  Jobs back then were scarce, and people in general had good work ethics.

Still, one of every 20 people were let go.  Guess what happened next?

Everyone else was working so much harder, that production went UP.  The Navy complained again.  Grumman was delivering too many HellCats.  (That was the name of the aircraft, the most successful airplane of WWII.)

So the plant manager did it again.  He went to his managers, and asked them to fire another one thousand people.

The result surprised him.

Production went up again!

When his bosses asked him if he was going to fire any more people, he said he couldn’t.  He didn’t think the Navy could handle the increased production!

That’s the funny side.

On the serious side, he probably knew that his people were working hard.  They cared, and they wanted their jobs.  They also knew there was a serious war going on.  Many of the workers were women, and that made a difference as well.  They had more personal stakes, because their husband’s and children’s lives were on the line.  Declare it a sexist statement, but in general women seem far more aware of the costs of war than men.  Perhaps that’s why most wars are started by men.

Anyway, it’s a good story showing that people do work at different levels of competence, and that organizations can produce more with fewer people, when necessary.

We should think about that the next time we think about how many government workers it takes to screw in a new light bulb.

PS – If you are at all interested in the HellCat (the forgotten warrior of WWII) please visit the site hosting the above image.

Aum Versus Om

Little word with a big sound.Is it possible to turn my yoga class into a battlefield?

Sure!  Why not?  After all, as a writer, we have absolute power.  Don’t let it go to your head, however.

So, what’s the story?

The story is one of Aum.  Or Om, depending on who you listen to.

I’ve been doing this long enough to notice that some people like saying “Oh-mmm” as if it were two sounds.

Then there’s the peeps who enjoy saying it as if it were more sounds.  At least three.  Maybe five.  Maybe ten.

According to the guy at the bottom of this post, you should try and say every possible vowel sound.  Sweet.

According to many of the masters, including BKS, you should hear three.

Then again, according to my teacher, it’s alright to stick the “AU” together into an “O” sound.

Who’s right?

Everyone is “right” in the sense that each person is doing it the way THEY want.  If there was some great social cause in which the sound of AUM made a difference, then we could have a more logical discussion.  Since there are no external, quantifiable objectives, then this becomes a discussion about BEHAVIOR.

Part of the issue is that people like changing things, sometimes simply to have fun or be different.  This lends itself to something linguists call linquistic drift.

Let’s check out history.  Let’s look at videos of the old people saying it.  Let’s visit all around the world and compare.  Collect lots of data, find out that it is said many different ways.  And then what?

Look at the impact of what it DOES.  Are there bona fide physical implications about this “word” and how it’s pronounced?  (Disclaimer, there are, but that’s another column.)

How does it impact the preferences of the person arguing the issue?  Fact is, if it’s important to them, no matter what the reason (for now) then that’s a factor.

Finally, how does this impact every possible combination of people?  Starting with that one person, to that person’s partner and family, to that person’s neighborhood, to their country, and to humanity as a whole.  How does this behavior impact each of those different configurations of “peopleness?”

There you have it.  A way to answer OM versus AUM.  Personally I’m going for what this guy says below.  But getting the “right” answer to the question?  It’s the same process for AUM as it would be for capital punishment, or trading off democracy for autocracy.

That’s what science is all about.  Consistency of methods in understanding the universe around us.  And that concludes today’s practice.




This excerpt from Bill Moyers site  (bottom of that page)
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, that’s what people are doing all over the place. That’s what people are doing all over the place, dying for metaphors. And when you really realize the sound Aum, the sound of the mystery of the Word everywhere, then you don’t have to go out and die for anything, because it’s right there all around, and just sit still and see it and experience it and know it.
BILL MOYERS: Explain “Aum.” That’s the first time you’ve used that.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, “Aum” is a word that, what can I say, represents to our ears that sound of the energy of the universe, of which all things are manifestations. And “Aum”, it’s a wonderful word, it’s written A-U-M. You start in the back of the mouth, Ah, and then, Ooh, you fill the mouth, and M-m-m, closes it, the mouth. And when you have pronounced this properly, all vowel sounds are in that pronunciation: “Aum”. And consonants are regarded simply as interruptions of “Aum”, and all words are thus fragments of “Aum”, as all images are fragments of the form of forms, of which all things are just reflections. And so “Aum” is a symbol, a symbolic sound, that puts you in touch with that throbbing being that is the universe.
And when you hear some of these Tibetan monks that are over here from the Rgyud Stod monastery outside of Lhasa, when they sing the “Aum,” you know what it means, all right That’s the zoom of being in the world. And to be in touch with that and to get the sense of that, that is the peak experience of all. “Ab-ooh-mm.” The birth, the coming into being, and the solution to the cycle of that. And it’s just called the four-element syllable. What is the fourth element? “Ah-ooh-mm,” and the silence out of which it comes, back into which it goes, and which underlies it.
Now, my life is the “Ah-ooh-mm,” but there is a silence that underlies it, and that is what we would call the immortal. This is the mortal, and that’s the immortal, and there wouldn’t be this if there weren’t that.
BILL MOYERS: The meaning is essentially wordless.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Yes. Well, words are always qualifications and limitations.
BILL MOYERS: And yet, Joe, all we puny human beings are left with is this miserable language, beautiful though it is, that falls short of trying to describe…
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: That’s right And that’s why it’s a peak experience to break past all that every now and then, to realize “oh, ah,” I think so.