In February I studied ancient wisdom in India. In March I returned home to a virus. And a crazy Netflix documentary about big cats.
I’m still processing exactly what happened.
While people around the globe huddled at home, wondering if humanity was about to get wiped out by a virus, a ray of light appeared on the horizon.
Tiger King has taken the world by storm, the timing perfect. The spread of COVID-19 has shaken everyone to their core, turning many worlds upside down. Locked inside, some people are going stir crazy. Others worry about their loved ones or their financial future. Times are daunting at best.
But in comparison to the train wreck that is Joe Exotic’s life? Tiger King re-framed the situation. Many of us aren’t worried about how we’ll feed 177 grown tigers if Walmart runs out of expired meat. No one is trying to rub sardine oil on our shoes in a bid to get us killed by a big cat. Last I checked, I still have all my teeth. My business partners (as far as I know) aren’t informants for the FBI. Life, in comparison, is good. We’re trying to avoid the virus, pay our mortgage. And, in the back of our minds, wondering if we’ll have the courage to use our left hand when we run out of toilet paper.
Like many people, my life has changed quite a bit since the beginning of 2020. One of my main roles in life is the founder of Simpler Trading, an online stock market education company. In January, we took the team of 50 and their plus 1’s to Cabo San Lucas to celebrate a great 2019. In February, my wife and I went to India to spend a week at Vedanta World, studying “Ancient wisdom for modern times.”
In March, reality started to change.
We canceled our family spring break trip to Grand Cayman on the day of our flight. We issued work at home orders for our team of 50, switching over to a virtual environment. We moved to the country outside of Austin, TX, to better self-isolate. We canceled our travel through June, hunkering down with our kids. We waited to see what would happen next. The news was dire. Online arguments exploded. Toilet paper had vanished. Eggs were a luxury item. The stress started to take its toll. Is this the end game?
And then we watched Tiger King. With our kids.
To be fair, our 10-year old opted out after the first 15 minutes. “Dad, this is stupid and gross. I’m going to play X-box.” Fair enough and a wise choice, as there are things in Tiger King that can’t be unseen. For the rest of us? We hung on, fascinated.
I started to make notes on my own reactions to the events, as well as the comments, shouted out by my kids.
Dude, a lot can go wrong when you hold onto a grudge that hard.
Bruh, Carol is an evil hypocrite. And she totally did it.
I’m never trying meth.
I sat mesmerized as if I were watching a great white shark’s stomach slit open. My brain flowed with recent insights gained studying the Bhagavad Gita. In this state of mind, I wrestled with the new-found knowledge emitting from my TV screen.
It’s hard to summarize our week in India with a few sentences, but I’ll give it a shot. The learning stems from the eternal principles of life and living. There is a focus on taking action in the world while maintaining mental peace. The ultimate goal being self-realization. It was a fascinating study of desire and attachment. And how the pressure of new desires never ceases until we find our original Self.
It was in this blissful state of mind that I slid down the rabbit hole of Joe Exotic. I watched in horror as his story unfolded before my eyes. Here are my top 10 takeaways.
Don’t Make Decisions When You’re Angry. In my own life, I’ve seen people sue their business partners, shout at their spouses, and send career-altering emails. I’ve seen revenge trading after a big loss, physical fights, a relapse on drugs . . . all because of anger. Tiger King takes these examples of self-destruction to the next level. It lays out a very clear path for what can happen when we allow anger to rule our decisions. Many of Joe’s problems stemmed from his prolonged, unbridled anger at Carole Baskin. This rage influenced a chain reaction of decisions that ended with his going to prison. How would his life have turned out had he been able to set that anger aside and focus on his zoo?
The best book I’ve read on managing crippling emotions is Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David Hawkins. It has saved me, and many people I know, on many levels.
You Don’t Need A Reason To Cutoff Toxic People In Your Life. If you are in a situation you don’t like, or around people that raise a red flag, stand up and walk out the door. No explanations are necessary. In trading, when we no longer wish to be in a position, we make it a point to GTFO. (Get the “heck” out). It’s part of our plan on how to best manage our portfolio. Let the winners run, cut the losers quickly. It’s the same with people. Have a plan to manage the people in your life. Some you keep, some you cut.
There are a lot of good people out there. To open the door for them, you first have to close the door on the toxic people around you. What happens if you don’t take action on his principle? Tiger King shows us the end game of what happens when you tolerate toxicity in your life.
Let Go Of What You Are Most Attached To. There’s that one thing you covet the most. That you think about all the time. That you can’t live without. Whether it’s an idea, an object, or another human, it doesn’t matter. It’s what you have to let go of. The stronger the attachment, the greater the destruction. Joe’s iron-strong attachment to being a famous reality TV star left carnage in its wake.
Actions Taken For Self Validation And Ego Boosts Will Come Back To Bite You. If you get a companion, or car, or business partner only for showing them off, life will teach you how shallow you are. Joe turned into a character living out a role, longing for continual validation. His pursuit of the United States Presidency exemplified his hunger for self-validation. What he thought important, everyone else viewed as a joke. Where were his supporters when he went to trial?
An Unrelenting Need To Compete With Others Is The Thief Of Happiness. A bigger house. Elite credentials. A visit to the plastic surgeon. Pursuing a famous person to get a selfie. Sneaking a tiger cub into your hotel room to attract women. It’s easy to enter the competition of impressing others. What’s hard is stepping out of the race to pause and think about ourselves. What makes us happy? I remember going on safari in South Africa a few years ago. We were talking to one of the staff and asked how she got there. “I worked in marketing, as a VP in a big company,” she said, stroking her safari hat. “When I realized I was impressing everyone but myself, I ended up here.” Her smile radiated warmth. Her eyes sparkled.
A Constant Need Of Attention And Approval Is How We Cope With Challenging Childhoods. One of the most consistent factors in happy adults is happy childhoods. Children that didn’t feel love or acceptance from their parents find many ways to fill that hole. These methods drive us at an unconscious level. In fact, there are times where we don’t understand our own motives for the actions we take. Or the reactions and triggers we experience. But once we become aware and look back on our lives, we can see the threads.
Joe took this to the next level. He didn’t get the love and attention he needed as a child. This led him to spend his life in search of acceptance and validation. This creates an unsustainable clash of energies. One that’s begging for acceptance vs. another that doesn’t feel worthy of love. A recipe for continually destroying the relationships in your life.
To combat this, it starts with loving yourself first. A great book or audible is, Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It, by Kamal Ravikant. This book is magical, short, and heartfelt.
Once you start loving yourself, life can start loving you back.
Unrestrained Indulgence Is Not The Path To Happiness. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Meth addiction can lead to many, many poor choices. As we learned in India, “When our intellect has no hold on desires, the mind indulges them all. Each fulfilled desire leads to further indulgence. Such indulgences lead to addictions.” In Joe Exotic, I saw a mind run amok. A constant chasing of more, more, more. Chasing the happiness that was always out of reach. And I saw the end result of that behavior. It definitely did not involve smiles and warmth.
The energy of desire, if not contained, leads to ruin. This is something that got hammered into us in India. And it threw itself into the light while watching Tiger King. Our instructor, Swami Parthasarathy, would get angry at times, banging the lectern. He’s 93 and that took a lot of energy. When I asked him why the concept was so important, his eyes bore into me. “You all are like infants, about to topple over a cliff,” he said. “I’m trying to save you. As you would try to grab and save your own child from a tragic death.” So what did tell us?
Desire, if left unchecked, turns into a manic energy source. It is always there, always present, always running your life. It’s never extinguished. It lives on and transfers to the getting of the next external thing. You get the car, then once the joy from that dissipates, the energy pushes you to get the next new thing. The latest model. A new color. It’s a pang of constant hunger. Like throwing logs on a burning fire, the unchecked mind is insatiable. It only stops when forced to stop, when you go broke, go to prison, or die. Or . . . when you become aware and learn how to manage it.
It’s ok to want things. But think it through. Are you making the decision, or is the manic energy pulling you along the path of destruction? The moon doesn’t produce light, it reflects it from the sun. The external world doesn’t produce lasting happiness, it is a reflection of our inner self.
Attachment and possessiveness cause all sorrow and suffering. This is another principle that hit us hard in India. Attachment is the true virus that infects all humanity, rich and poor alike.
The child jumps with happiness when he or she receives a new toy and is sad when it’s lost. The businessman or woman is angry when the deal falls through. The gambler rages when his team loses. The diner is impatient with the food’s speed. The boss is furious at the employee’s attitude. The unchecked mind is always attaching itself to things, people, and outcomes. It creates bondage, enslaving us to particular ideas, other humans, things, and concepts. This leads to possessiveness. It’s the first step towards estrangement to that person, to that outcome, to that object of attachment. It is the law of nature, creating a never-ending cycle of disappointment and suffering.
This keeps a person complaining about the world around them. All the time. It’s always someone else’s fault. Yet in the end, all grumbling is tantamount to, “Oh! Why is the lily not an oak?” When we imprint our desires, we miss the true nature of things.
How to let go of attachments? Fire the arrow at your target, and leave the rest to God. (Or the universe, or whatever makes sense to you).
What about love? Aren’t we attached to someone we love? Yes, attachment, free from self-centered motives, is love. And it is love that produces peace and harmony.
The most fascinating part of Tiger King was watching everyone’s extreme attachments. And how these attachments destroyed everyone and everything around them. It was a playbook on how and why strong attachment can ruin your life.
Is Joe Exotic An Extreme Example Of The American Consumer? Is this why the show is capturing the nation? Are we looking in a mirror that shows our behavior at the upper levels of desperation? Are we seeing what it’s like to be fodder for large corporate marketing departments?
Self-isolation has me questioning my pre-quarantine lifestyle. Pre-COVID-19, I was a good consumer. Great, in fact. I bought the latest gadgets. I booked vacations. I went on business trips. My friends remarked, “Nice airline status, man.” I networked. I ate out. I shopped a lot on Amazon. My calendar burst with meetings and calls. Forward progress was the name of the game. I was busy, busy, busy. Now?
The treadmill has stopped, with many people forced to catch their collective breaths. At the same time. The Great Pause. This has never happened before in modern times. We can’t go anywhere with stores shuttered, restaurants empty, venues locked down. No one is flying anywhere. When will this end? What is going to be the new normal?
In the meantime, I’m spending more time with my wife and kids. I’m exercising more. I’m walking. I’m trying to reduce my attachment to a future I can’t predict anyway. My material things seem silly when compared to my children’s health and safety. I’m not adding things to my calendar. Our credit card bills have dropped by 80%. We are filling our gas tank once a month instead of twice a week. The air is cleaner. While parts of this situation are horrific, other parts are not so bad. In fact, they are better than before.
When we heard that the government was going to start opening up the economy again, my wife and I looked at each other. Mixed feelings! Yes, of course, we want things to start up again. People are suffering. We need to get things going. But we both blurted out, “I don’t want to go back to the way it was.” A frantic chain of non-essential activities. Too busy to hang out as a family, quick hugs to the kids before bed. Wake up and do the same thing all over again.
Right up until we are dead. Or thrown in prison, of course.
It’s been a crazy year so far. Lessons learned in India. Lessons from the Tiger King. An economy shut down due to quarantine. What’s on the other side of this? How do we take what we have learned and move forward with a simpler life? A happier life? With less non-essential stuff and activities?
A friend sent me a 3-minute clip of Alan Watts talking about life and comparing it to music. It struck a chord, no pun intended. Is it as simple as waking up and getting off the treadmill . . . for good?
In the clip, Mr. Watts discusses an end-of-life realization. He says, “But we missed the point the whole way along. It’s not about success or a journey or a serious purpose or getting to the end. It was a musical thing and we were supposed to sing, or dance, while the music was being played.”
If you’d like to watch the quick, and powerful, 3-minute video, click this image below.
As the toilet paper runs low, and we keep each other sane while in self-isolation, I’m thankful to Joe Exotic for showing us the extremes of human behavior. Maybe it is through understanding the extremes, we can best learn to be grateful and show appreciation for the little things around us. And let go of the attachments that no longer serve us.