I hate to do this, as we’ve had so many good times. But I’m breaking up with you.
You see, the main reason I enter a relationship with a phone is… to make phone calls. And you’re just flaking on me constantly. I really believe I’ve tried here. Sometimes I’ll even completely ignore real people around me just to talk on you, and you drop me like I’m week-old Chinese food.
But I must say, I think I may never have the same excitement at the beginning of a relationship as I did with you. It’s like you’ve raised my standard for what a phone could be. And because of that, I’ve found someone new…
I know this must be hard for you to hear, but The HTC EVO really meets my needs. It has most of your apps, it has 4G cable modem speeds, and it’s a wifi hotspot. And on top of all that, it’s a lot less money every month.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I told you I was done with Sprint and I’d never go back. But in all these years, Sprint has improved everything. They’re a totally different company now, even their customer service.
I have to let you know, I’ll be staying good friends with your family. I love your uncle Mac Book Pro, and your cousin iPad. And hey, if you’d like, you can stick around as my iPod with benefits.
Thank you for all the great years we had together.
P.S. – I’ve heard the rumors that you’re network-curious now. I’m glad to hear you’re so open-minded to change!
4:30am. I’m up before my 5am alarm.
We have to be in our chairs, ready to start by 7. If I’m there at 7:01 I have to start the entire month over with a new class. It’s a brilliant accountability-building ritual that’s built into our training. Just one of many techniques to learn our culture.
And despite the ungodly hour to be awake, I’m excited to be a part of this group…
“Having fun?” I ask my classmate.
“All day, every day,” he says, without skipping a beat, in a tone of total confidence. I couldn’t help but smile.
I can see why some people have called the Zappos family a cult. Some find it jarring to see so many people smiling in one office. For others, it’s life changing… A few weeks ago I sat down with a world class journalist who said to me, with tears in his eyes, “I have reported on every major company and met with the heads of states, and I have never felt so welcomed and embraced as I have here at Zappos.”
“Zappos is a spiritual experience…”
I was completely taken aback when the head of Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute (arguably the most successful institution in the field of modern philosophy) had this to say:
“Zappos is a spiritual experience. This is not hyperbole. After touring Zappos for three hours I immediately recognized the state of consciousness that the Zappos environment induces is the same as the deep meaning states of awareness that are often characteristic of spiritual events.” – Robb Smith
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
Zappos has become well-known as the gold standard of customer service. However, what most people don’t realize is that the Zappos family culture is what powers the service. The idea is simple – treat your people well and make them happy. Happy employees then make your customers happy.
Of course, the process starts way before that…
“Harder to get into than Harvard.”- jokes COO Alfred Lin.
Zappos accepts 1% of all applicants. That’s less than Harvard University.
Then there are four weeks of training before the job even begins. Many people find that absurd, to invest that much time in employees who start at less than $12 an hour (and then offer them $2000 to quit, in order to make sure they really want to be there).
I am finally now going through the Zappos customer service and culture training, after being at the company a year and a half. I had come in as a consultant to re-launch Zappos Insights. And then I was always so busy running the business with Donavon, that I never had time to take the full-time training. But thanks to my amazing team, and Scrum, I finally had the time.
“I think this saved my marriage.”
I had heard that Zappos customer service training changes you as a person. I had no idea how much that was true until I started hearing my classmates’ feedback just a few days into the process…
“I’m able to connect with people in a totally new way. I used to just mind my own business, but now I’m looking people in the eye, saying hi, asking if I can help. I talked to an older gentleman in a wheelchair at Walmart and his entire face lit up.” – Eric
“I think this saved my marriage. I’m talking to my husband in a totally different way. We used to be so quick to get on each other’s nerves, and now I’m really listening, I’m not overreacting and I’m seeing him in a new light.” – Jen
Can you believe this was three days into the training?
We learned so much that by the time we finally got to the phones I was so excited I couldn’t stop smiling. This wasn’t just customer service. This felt like a performance. How could I wow people today. What are they going to throw at me? Bring it on!
Putting on the head set, I did not feel like I was in a call center. I felt like I was part of NASA mission control. It felt that important to me.
“…we just happen to sell shoes.”
If you’ve been reading my blog recently, you’ve seen how much I’ve been writing about dreams, Inception, The Matrix, and waking up from trance states. I’ve come to believe that’s what we’re up to at Zappos. We’re about waking people up to how they can be happy. (Insider’s Hint: To get happy, try delivering happiness). Yes, that’s a double entendre (see the second half here).
Tony, our CEO, is fond of saying, “We’re a service business, we just happen to sell shoes.” I didn’t realize how true that was until I started this training. We’re always looking for new ways to connect with people, to WOW! our customers and to WOW! each other.
What’s most interesting, is that this really doesn’t take much time or money.
It all starts with looking someone in the eye, and with the utmost sincerity, saying “Hi! How are you?” When it’s done right, you can really light people up.
In the default world, we’re in a trance. We move in lock step to each destination.. work, gym, store, home. And when driving in between them, we’re anywhere but here as our minds wander into whatever fantasy or fear is in our thoughts.
Now imagine if someone interrupts that trance… when a stranger walks up to you and starts talking to you. Suddenly we go into fear… “Who is this person and what do they want? Now I might be late to dinner. I gotta get outta here!” …and back into that safe trance.
But what if you knew it was all a dream? What if you knew that you’ll be waking up to your warm cozy bed later? Well that would mean you could simply explore, learn, play, have fun. Nothing really matters, so there’s plenty of time to just enjoy the moment.
This is what it’s like to wake up within a dream and know you’re dreaming. So back to Burning Man and the Advanced Dreaming Class.
How to Wake up in a Dream, and Take Control
Ever wonder why you could dream a pink elephant walks by singing Michael Jackson and you never think to yourself, “This is really weird. Maybe I’m dreaming.” It’s because despite the circumstances, you’re still in a trance. You’re still in the same state of mind as you are in the real world, which accepts everything at face value. So the only way to really notice you’re dreaming is if you start to question the real world.
You’re reading my blog post right now in the real world. Are you sure you’re not dreaming?
The Reality Check
Here’s how you question reality throughout your day:
If you’re in the real world, it will stay the same. If you’re in the dream world, it will change to another number, or perhaps change shape, or color, or turn into a muppet. Who knows. But it certainly won’t be the same. (Note: It’s important that you only use numbers. I’ve tried this with words and it does not work as well).
If you do this several times a day, you will start to do it when you’re dreaming. And it’s like receiving a message from yourself to wake up within the dream. Once you do, it’s like the holodeck on Star Trek. It all feels totally real, and yet you can do anything you want!
Ground Yourself in the Dream
Before you go flying, or talk to God, or whatever it is you want to do, it’s very important to ground yourself in the dream world. There is such a rush of excitement when you realize you’re dreaming that it’s easy to go into emotional overload and quickly wake up. The most advanced lucid dreamers are very good at tempering their emotions.
To ground yourself, pay attention to all your senses. What are you hearing, seeing, smelling? Look at your hands to connect with your body in this world. Take a moment to breathe. This will help extend your dream time.
You can do whatever you’d like at this point, but here are a few interesting points that came from the Advanced class:
1. Nightmares and Dream enemies
These are often people who have a message for you. They represent something you’ve pushed out of your conscious. You might try asking them what they mean. Or give them unconditional love (Note: I tried this technique after Burning Man. My enemy turned into a child crying, but I couldn’t get him to tell me what he signified. Ah the power of repressed thought!)
2. Bring dreams into your reality
To become more aware, try telling people about your dreams. It’s important for you to be able to remember your dreams before you can try all of this. If you can’t remember your dreams, set your alarm clock to 4am, when you’re very likely to be in an REM state. Wake up, write down your dream and go back to bed. (Note: I like to record mine on the voice recorder of my iphone)
There are supplements you can take such as Huperzine-A, Mugwort and Galantamine. There is a book all about this, as well as Tim Ferriss’ blog post below. Note that while these supplements are very safe, there may also be a downside to long-term use, as very experienced lucid dreamers have said that it can reduce your number of lucid dreams once you go off of it.
Best Resources for Further Exploration:
I believe this is one of the best skills you can possibly learn, because you’ll be dreaming your whole life. In fact, I’ve begun to wonder… perhaps this entire world we’re in now is “one level deep” to quote Inception. Perhaps each earth life time we have is like one day in our lives as a soul. So when we die, we go back to the real world for awhile, and then dream into another life.
The Red Pill is real.
I got this email last week:
“Thanks for the playa gift! I’ve tried it several times and prescribed it to other folks, and it really works!
A friend of mine may be emailing you to obtain his own “prescription.”
After the dream class, I gave away 10 bottles, and 10 more people wanted them so they followed me back to camp to get their own.
Do you want your own? Email me your address. I have 10 left.
The Ski Party.
That night I waited for my camp to get ready to go out. This can take hours, easy. It’s herding cats in the real world, but add all the confusion of camping, dressing in the dark, creating crazy costumes, and hooking lights up to your outfit.
As I waited, I heard the most amazing music in the distance. It was a combination of bands like INXS with amazing break beats mixed in. Upon hearing the happy vibe, I got up and left the group to go out on my own…
I walked into a huge geodesic dome to an Apres ski party!
There was snow falling, everyone was in ski outfits, and I don’t know how to explain this but it felt like we all knew each other.
Next time:The utopian French Cafe, Costco Soulmate Trading Outlet, and Mental Foreplay.
In the last episode, I took the red pill before going to bed, with the intention to know reality. And by the morning I knew it.
Now I before I tell you what it is, I just want to define what I meant by “reality” when I created these intention-setting placebo pills. The “reality” is what’s in your unconscious that you may have ignored, repressed, denied or simply forgotten. By denying that true reality, we spend our time chasing something that we think will bring us happiness. The most basic example would be a man in the conquest of many women when he has denied the reality that he wants a truly deep connection. But it can be much more subtle and nuanced.
For me, I wanted Burning Man to be about service and presence. What I did not realize was that I chose those two because I thought they would give me something much deeper. Something I never would have accepted straight-on. But after taking the red pill, I woke up and it hit me, first as an emotion and then I put it to words…
“Oh my God,” I said. “I want to be present and in service, because that allows me to love myself.”
It suddenly felt like the meaning behind my whole year was unfolding, like in “The Sixth Sense” when Bruce Willis realizes he’s a ghost. There were so many signs along the way, and yet something in me denied it. Something in me said there is so much I have to do before I can earn that respect of myself. And I could see how much pain that belief caused me, and how many people I pushed away (even as they tried to reveal this to me). It was the core behind a mantra in my mind that had always said, “I’m not there yet.”
Now this is one half of what the pill is about.
I actually include about 20 pills in each gift, because accepting one’s own reality is not always easy. There’s a reason we push it down, and acknowledging it brings up a deep discomfort that can make for a bad trip.
So that’s why I included these instructions with it:
Take your daily Red Pill.
I’ve found that this exercise can change one’s entire view on life. Taking the pill with this exercise makes it into even more of a ritual. I discovered how powerful ritual can be later in the trip. (In part 5 I’ll tell you about the “Emotional Equalizer” device I created).
From then on I would carry the pills with me, and what’s amazing about Burning Man is everyone not only understood it immediately, they believed it immediately. Some people grabbed it out of my hands before I was even done explaining it. Some people pushed it away in fear. Others said it was exactly what they were looking for. Especially the people at the next class I went to:
Inception: The Class
There was a two-part series on how to lucid dream. Much like the movie Inception, this is where you become fully aware that you’re dreaming, and have the power to alter your dream, as well as do fun things like break the laws of physics.
I have been lucid dreaming for awhile now, but I only have a few a year and they tend to be short. Also, the field has been evolving. In a recent book on lucid dreaming, Robert Waggoner describes how they can be used for personal transformation. Rather than simply controlling the dream, one can speak directly to the dream and ask its meaning. This means instant interpretation rather than trying to find out the meaning later, and dealing with dream dictionaries.
This was an advanced class, attended by a continental congress of highly skilled dreamers.
The Difference Between Dream World and “Default World.”
We started with a talk on what exactly is the difference between the dream world and the “default world.” There were about 40 different explanations. Here’s mine:
Past, present and future are an illusion in this world we call reality. To get this, imagine that your life is a movie, much like a DVD on your shelf. There’s a beginning, middle and end to the story, and yet the whole thing exists in its entirety.
If you imagine that movie as a reel of film, you can imagine that your life already exists, but YOU are the light coming through the projector, watching it all unfold.
Now imagine you and I are together, talking at a coffee shop. You have your projector on, and I have mine. And each of our films is crossing over and overlapping. We both believe we are each seeing the same reality, but our films are actually different. The visual scene looks the same (or not, since I can’t see through your eyes), but the meaning, story, and emotions are all different. Almost like it’s the same scene with two different soundtracks.
Reality is a beautiful interweaving of many films, all crossing over each other, surrounded by the blinding light from billions of projectors.
Now, to define the dream world…
When we dream, the fim is paused, and we go to a place where all those proverbial projectors are housed. To extend the analogy, it’s more like the editing room floor where we can combine various scenes of our memory, look ahead to future ones, as well as meet other voyagers. (And yes, I mean that dream characters can actually be real people).
I’ve come to believe that Burning Man is the only place I know that sits in space and time between these two worlds. It’s a realm that’s completely created from nothing. A world where intention becomes reality within days, expectations are shattered on an hourly basis, and each moment is filled with the pure peace (or terrible terror) of knowing we are completely free.
Many people say you cannot describe Burning Man. That it’s impossible to know without experiencing it. And it’s true, because each person’s experience is so completely different and somehow magically perfect. But let me do my best to bring you in…
Burning Man is where a totally barren desert (imagine the flat brown lands where they break the land speed record)…is transformed into a city of 50,000 people:
But before we go into the city, let’s take a step back…
Burning Man is an “experiment in temporary community” where people gather to live in radical self-reliance (all they provide are porta-potties). People live life as art, completely expressing themselves as living performances through music, dance, installations, and experiments.
It’s a Gift Economy.
Aside from ice and coffee, there is no money exchanged. Everything is a gift. And that’s why this journey starts way before you get to the desert…
People spend all year preparing their gifts. This year I saw huge statues, A 90-foot yacht on wheels with a roving dance party, an entire french cafe bistro, a human car wash, several kissing booths, and the “bad idea theater.” These are a few among thousands.
But the gifts don’t have to be so complex. Some people spend hours spraying a fine mist over the hot desert wanderers. Others give massages or hand out bacon. And it gets more random than that. My first year I created the NOW watch, a watch with no ability to tell time, but simply had the word NOW with funky colors and a glitter gloss. I love experimenting with my own fascinations… I was blown away that you cannot even buy a watch that cannot tell time but just says NOW. (There’s a good legal reason for that, which I eventually found out the hard way. It’s a long, sad story).
This year, I became obsessed with another item of contraband…
The Red Pill.
Did you know that it’s pretty much illegal to sell placebos? There have been studies documenting how powerful an inert pill can be. They can even outperform anti-depressants. But go ahead and try to buy a placebo. You can’t! But since Burning Man is a gift economy, I could create a placebo to give rather than sell. And that’s what I did. I created the most powerful placebo I know…
In the Matrix, Neo is offered the choice of the Red Pill or the Blue Pill. Taking the red pill signifies the desire to see what is truly real. As Morpheus says, “I offer the truth, nothing more.” The blue pill allows Neo to go back to the Matrix, the falsely constructed reality.
So I created my own Red Pill…
I ordered real pharmaceutical bottles, printed up labels, glossed them over with Mod Podge, and filled them with Red Tic Tacs. Cute? Maybe. But that’s not what happens when you put the full intention on them and take them to Burning Man.
I created an invocation to use them:
“I want to know the true reality.”
“I accept reality.”
“I love reality.”
And it was more powerful than I imagined. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s get back to the story….
As I said, all they provide are porta-potties, so you have to bring everything you could possibly need. At a bare minimum that includes dust masks, goggles, gallons of water, food, shelter, etc. I had planned to go with my girlfriend in an RV to her previous camp but we broke up two weeks before the event. That’s another story for another time, but for those who know both of us, I’ll say that I’m a very lucky man to have been with such a radiant goddess for so long.
So I quickly had to find other arrangements. While it’s possible to simply throw some stuff together and get out there, I don’t recommend it. It could easily turn into “Harold and Kumar go to Burning Man.” Luckily my friend, known as Princess Jedi had teamed up with a group of Google people called Suburbia and they welcomed us into their camp. We had a beautiful yard, picket fence, stove, couches and shade. I consider it vital to have a good home there. Reality is so strange that one can easily feel completely alone.
This year I created an entire spreadsheet, with items, costumes, gifts, and camps to see. Color coding to show what I had, what I needed, and what was in progress.
We all have intentions. But some of us get really conscious about them. It’s easy to slip into the base desires – sex, drugs, adventure, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s truly what you want. But often, we want something deeper that we think those things will bring us.
My intention was twofold:
1) Service – On my first trip I realized how fun it is to give. If you’ve got great gifts you can really light up people’s day.
2) Presence – It’s so easy to go into what they call “FOMO” Fear of Missing Out. There’s so much going on that you often think, “I wonder what’s better than I could be doing?” And you start to worry that you’re missing something amazing. But I find that when I imagine that where I am is the only place in existence, then time disappears and I feel connected to everyone and everything.
Getting there was relatively easy for me. I flew into Reno. PJ picked me up after she picked up all the food supplies, and we drove for 2 hours east. We set up camp rather easily, but a storm was brewing. I somehow had a vision of this before we left.
Just as we had our tents up it started to pour. And then something ridiculous happened…
A double rainbow:
Into the Unknown.
My first time I regretted that I had never gone deep into the desert, so this time it was the first thing I did. And I found something amazing… It’s called the Starfuckers Oasis (a pun on Starbucks) and it’s a coffee shop oasis in the middle of nowhere, where they served us frozen lattes:
I had incredible conversations there for hours.
When I went to bed that night, I decided to take the red pill for myself. I had to know it before I could give it to anyone else. When I woke up the next day, reality hit me very quickly…
All of the sudden I knew the real reason I was at Burning Man.
(to be continued in Part 2)