Russ Volckmann


Leadership Coaching TipphilosophernotesBrian Johnson, founder of Zaadz, the popular integrally informed social networking site (which he later sold to Gaia and they have shut it down) went to Bali and developed an online series, PhilosopherNotes ( Now those notes are available in print and audio files. Here is the way this material is presented:

Brian Johnson’s PhilosopherNotes: More Wisdom in Less Time.

Since I had not read many of the notes from the original series, I was looking forward to seeing the product of Brian’s work. It arrived in a large three-ring binder (which has accompanying CDs if you would rather listen to the Notes). I looked at the table of contents and found entries such as these randomly picked Notes:

  • “A New Earth” Eckhard Tolle
  • “Everyday Enlightenment” Dan Millman
  • “Integrative Nutrition” Joshua Rosenthal
  • Ken Wilber
  • “The Success Principles” Jack Canfield
  • Tony Robbins
  • “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” Robert T. Kyosaki
  • “Flow” Mihaly Csikszentmilalyi
  • “Love” Leo Buscaglia
  • “The Book of Understanding” Osho
  • “The Fountainhead” Ayn Rand

And several entries by Joseph Campbell, including the “Power of Myth.”

The first question that came to mind was, “Are these Philosophers?”

Well, certainly Ken Wilber is. And Marcus Aurelius, Rumi, Confuscius, Krishna (the author of the Bhagavad Gita?), Buddha, Epictetus, Nietzsche and a few others; Most of these can be found in the closing section of the notebook titled, “Old School Classics.” Ayn Rand was the perpetrator of self-aggrandizing philosophy. But the others? Victor Frankl? Rollo May? Krishnamurti? Certainly these might qualify. But the rest are principally spokespersons for methods and affiliations to promote self-growth. New Age to the core–with a strong dose of spirituality.

Nothing wrong with that. If you want a way to fill yourself to the brim with some of the best practitioners, thinkers–and dare I say it, marketers–of the New Age, this collection is a steal. Getting the essence of the publications of these thinkers will save a lot of money, rather than buying their books. And the time saved in getting the essence of their teachings and attractors. They may hope, of course, that once you read the note, you will want to know more and buy the book.

Lest the tone of this treatment of PhilosopherNotes be inferred to be dismissive, I do want to acknowledge up front that Brian Johnson has performed a very useful service. Working through this material will no doubt provide food for thought and even some new practices. Old Stogie that I am, however, I had wished for a more serious treatment of centuries of philosophy. I guess I want my own short hand way of discovering the essence of Hegel and Heidigger, Burke and Bentham, Kierkegaard and Kropotkin, Schiller and Sartre. So it has been decided, I must be Old School. Perhaps I can find a copy of Philosophy for Dummies.

The thing is that I have lived through the writings of many of the people included in this collection. I have read or read about almost all of them, although you might no know it by my worldview, actions and life style. And this brings me to the question posed by encounteringPhilosophersNotes: What have I learned from these (and others) and what difference has it made. I have made a bunch of mistakes in my life (even after filling my brain with many of these authors) and I have done some things that I hope have made a positive difference in the lives of others and the quality of my own life.

Brian Johnson’s work is intended to be helpful. Each Note can be taken out of the binder and worked with. By “worked with,” I mean explore the questions and challenges you will find there. I pulled out Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth.” Here I found background information for this section (the Moyers-Campbell interviews on PBS), quotations and the challenge to consider how we are or are not following our hearts. There is “workbook” space to list what puts us in touch with our bliss–following this wonderful quote from Campbell:

“Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat, Chit, Ananda. The world ‘Sat’ means being. ‘Chit’ means consciousness. ‘Ananda’ means bliss or rapture. I thought, I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to the rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.’ I think it worked.”

Campbell also advises us to read, read a lot. And when we find an author who really touches us, read everything you can get your hands on by them. Then read what s/he had read.

Remember, too, that Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Johnson seems to have followed Campbell’s advice and read a lot. He quotes Campbell, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” How different this is from our notions of heroic leadership that may include this element. But also include successful outcomes as a requirement for the heroic.

Brian closes this section, “Here’s to transforming our consciousness as we create a life of meaning, ananda, smiles and laughs on our precious journeys.” What’s not to like about sentiments like that?

Perhaps the lesson here is that it is useful to know about those included in PhilosopherNotes (and many not included), but ultimately it is what we do with this knowledge that is the meaningful concern. Many of the authors included here have prescriptions for what to do. I do wish Brian had included a few others, like Fritz Perls, Brad Blanton and Sheldon Kopp. The latter, of course, is the author of If you Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! Since it is far more likely that many of these authors may manifest on the road you travel, I am not suggesting you kill them. However, I am suggesting that it is important for each of us to thoroughly digest the things we can learn from them and spit out the rest.PhilosophersNotes is a great beginning if you are not already familiar with these authors and a refresher for those who have grown up and aged with them.

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