Out For Summer

Out Fishing

I've put this blog on hold so I can devote more time to my podcast Money For the Rest of Us, where I address many of the themes that are on this site.

I also write on money, investing and the economy at jdavidstein.com

Hearing From Ourselves

Every era suffers from information and social media overload. While the form of distraction changes with the generations, the human tendency to drown out our inner voice with news and gossip remains.

In 1861, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the perils of the most prominent 19th century social network: the post office.

"In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while."

Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle

For Thoreau, information overload was reading a weekly newspaper.

"I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper a week. I have tried it recently, and for so long it seems to me that I have not dwelt in my native region. The sun, the clouds, the snow, the trees say not so much to me. You cannot serve two masters. It requires more than a day's devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day."

Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle

Thoreau believed creatives need to feed their souls. To tap their creative depths, poets and artists must be immersed in life and nature, not waste their hours and days reading and conversing about trifles.

Paul Jarvis recently tweeted "the opposite of social media is meditation."

How long has it been since you heard from yourself?

-J.D. Stein | May 2014

Mt. Hood, Oregon

Webster Loop ‒ Idaho ‒ May 2014


We have a lot of moose in Idaho. They like to forage near rivers and lakes, eating the leaves from wetland shrubs.

Moose have long legs so they can stand in rivers and swamps and conveniently eat greenery at eye level.

Biologists classify moose as browsers‒leaf and bark eaters. Moose are not grazers‒grass eaters.

The moose pictured above begs to differ. We found him grazing near the road, several miles from the river. The only way he could reach the grass was to kneel.

Despite his vegetarian diet, this inventive moose does not have tangled weeds clogging up his mind.

Tangled Mind Weeds

About 400 BC in China, the philosopher Zhuangzi conversed with a man named Huizi.

Huizi said, "The King of Wei gave me the seed of a great gourd. I planted it, and when it matured it weighed over a hundred pounds. I filled it with liquid, but it was not firm enough to lift. I cut it in half to make a dipper, but it was too large to scoop into anything. It was big and all, but because it was it was useless, I finally just smashed it to pieces."

"You are certainly stupid when it comes to big things," said Zhuangzi

He then told Huizi about a man from Song who was skilled at making a balm that protected hands from chapping. His family had used the balm for generations to protect their hands while they washed silk for a living.

A man heard of the balm and offered to buy the recipe for one hundred pieces of gold. The family sold, pleased at their good fortune as they had never earned more than a few pieces of gold per year washing silk.

The man who bought the recipe presented the balm to the king. The king was pleased with the balm and appointed the man to be a general to lead his army through a winter battle. The balm protected the soldiers from the harsh conditions, allowing them to win the battle. The king, now even more pleased, appointed the man to be a feudal lord over a large estate.

After finishing the story, Zhuangzi said, "The power to keep the hands from chapping was one and the same, but one man used it to get an enfeoffment (i.e. a feudal estate) and another couldn't even use it to avoid washing silk all winter. The difference is all in the way the thing is used.

You, on the other hand, had a gourd of over a hundred pounds. How is it you never thought of making it into an enormous vessel for yourself and floating through the lakes and rivers in it? Instead, you worried that it was too big to scoop into anything, which I guess means our greatly esteemed master here still has a lot of tangled weeds clogging up his mind." - Zhuangzi, The Essential Writings


A mark of creativity is the ability to repurpose what we already have, even if like the moose, what we have might not be the perfect solution.

-J.D. Stein | May 2014

Mt. Hood, Oregon

Mt. Hood ‒ Oregon ‒ April 2014


Don't you know the story of the praying mantis? It flailed it pincers around to stop an oncoming chariot wheel, not realizing the task was beyond its powers. - Zhuangzi, The Essential Writings

Sometimes we need outside help.

Ask for it.

-J.D. Stein | April 2014


There was a cook who butchered an ox for a king. Each stroke of the knife was perfect, never hitting a bone or getting caught in a tangle. The whizzing sound the knife made was as music and the smoothness of each cut left the knife as sharp as the day it was made even though it had never been sharpened.

The king, noticing the grace with which the cook prepared the ox, said,

"How wonderful that skill can reach such heights."

The cook put down the knife and said, "What I love is The Way ‒ something that advances beyond skill. When I first started cutting up oxen, all I looked at for three years was oxen, yet I was unable to see all there was to see in an ox.

But now I encounter it with the spirit rather than scrutinizing it with the eyes. My understanding consciousness, beholden to its specific purposes, comes to a halt, and thus the promptings of the sprit begin to flow. I depend on Heaven's unwrought perforations, and strike the larger gaps, following along with the broader hollows. I go by how they already are, playing them as they lay. So my knife never has to cut through the knotted nodes where the warp hits the weave, much less the gnarled joints of bond.

A good cook changes his blade once a year: he slices. An ordinary cook changes his blade once a month: he hacks. I have been using the same blade for nineteen years, cutting up thousands of oxen, and yet it is as sharp as the day it came off the whetstone.

For the joints have spaces between them and the very edge of the blade has no thickness at all. When what has no thickness enters into an empty space, it is vast and open, with more than enough room for the blade. That is why my knife is still as sharp as if it had come just off the whetstone, even after nineteen years.

Nonetheless, whenever I come to a clustered tangle, realizing that it is difficult to do anything about it, I instead restrain myself as if terrified, until my seeing comes to a complete halt. My activity slows, and the blade moves ever so slightly. Then all at once, I find the ox already dismembered at my feet like clumps of soil scattered on the ground.

The king said, "Wonderful! From hearing the cook's words I have learned how to nourish life."

Zhuangzi, Zhuangzi, The Essential Writings


Butchering is not often used as a metaphor for life, but there is wisdom there.

They key is to concentrate on the open spaces, not the obstacles. That means our path will not be straight, but it will be less prickly.

Drawing a straight line upon the earth and try walking along it ‒ danger, peril.

The brambles and thorns, which so bewilder the sunlight, they don't impede my steps. My zigzag stride amid them keeps my feet unharmed.

Concentrate on the hollows of what is before you, and the empty chamber within you will generate its own brightness."

Zhuangzi, Zhuangzi, The Essential Writings

-J.D. Stein | April 2014


Marlene's ‒ Sugar City, Idaho

"The flow of my life is bound by its limits; the mind bent on knowledge never is."

‒ Zhuangzi

Mud Lake Trees

"The tailorbird lives in the depths of the forest but uses no more than a single branch to make its nest."

Zhuangzi, Zhuangzi, The Essential Writings

The Bird

My son and I once took a nighttime tour in the Daintree Rainforest on the northeast coast of Australia.

Our guide had us hold our flashlights against our foreheads near eye-level as we walked. This allowed us to better see the light reflected off the eyes of the jungle critters staring back at us.

I had hoped to see a cassowary, a shy flightless bird, but we mostly saw tree frogs and smaller birds.

The birds we came upon delicately rested on the ends of tender vines that were attached to tree branches. In the darkness, they appeared to be sleeping in mid air. They slept in this manner for protection. If a green tree python or other tree snake approached, the vine would vibrate, alerting the bird well before the snake got too close.

"When the beaver drinks from the river, it takes only enough to fill its belly."

Zhuangzi, Zhuangzi, The Essential Writings

The Dog

My dog likes vegetables. Tomatoes, spinach and especially carrots. Of late, when offered a baby carrot she will take it and then keep it in her mouth. She doesn't chew or swallow. Just guards her carrot from predators.

Her record for this bizarre behavior is four hours. Four hours of not being able to drink water, yawn, bark or even comfortably rest.

She finally decided to eat the carrot when she saw a piece of spinach on the floor and realized her hoarding was preventing her from enjoying other goodies.

The Choice

Who are we most like? The unencumbered birds who light upon the nearest vine to sleep and can relocate at a moment's notice.

Or are we like my dog Maggie who holds onto a carrot for dear life, not willing to enjoy it but equally terrified someone will take it from her?

-J.D. Stein | April 2014


Maggie ‒ Hailey, Idaho

"It is not only the physical body that can be blind and deaf; the faculty of understanding can also be so."

‒ Zhuangzi

Teton Deers

In Achieving the Buddhist Mean, I wrote there is a mystery to music that cannot be put into words.

That mystery is revealed when we listen to music on a vinyl record versus listening to a digital reproduction on a CD or iPod. There is a difference between the two experiences.

Vinyl records are analog. The music is an exact replication of the live session because sound waves physically impress themselves on the recording medium.

Digital recordings take the live session and translate it into a series of bits.

The gathering and interpretation of those bits require an intermediary. A mathematical translation. A simplification.

When something intervenes with the original reverberations of the notes then a part of the music is lost.

Analog is a physical impression of the original. There is a direct link between the live performer and the recording.

Digital is an abstraction. The link between the live performer and the recording has been severed. The connection is lost.

The human ear is analog. Sound waves strike the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. The vibrations are passed to three small bones in the middle ear, which transmit them to a series of tubes. Within some of those tubes are tiny hair cells that pick up the vibrations and convert them to nerve impulses which the brain interprets as sound.

What is still up for debate is whether the brain's interpretation of sound is an analog or digital process.

Does the brain sever the link with the live performance when it converts the physical impression of music to nerve impulses? Are nerve impulses an abstraction in the same way digital music is a series of 1s and 0s?

Or does the brain keep the physical impressions in tact as it interprets the sound?

Edward Singlerland in Trying Not To Try ‒ The Art and Science of Spontaneity argues that the brain is analog:

"No one would deny that our sensory organs are analog: sound waves and light waves impress themselves on our embodied mind in much the same way that analog recordings and photographs are made.

However, even the "higher" regions of our brain, like the cerebral cortex, look a lot more like an old eight-track player than my iPhone.

The neural architecture in the cortex seems built to manipulate two-dimensional, imagistic maps rather than digital symbols.

There is also a huge and constantly growing body of experimental evidence suggesting that the way people actually think looks imagistic rather than abstract. We think of our lives as journeys, reason about fairness by drawing upon physical balance, and viscerally experience evil as darkness or pollution, good as light and purity."

Edward Slingerland, The Art and Science of Spontaneity

I am in the analog camp. The sounds and images I experience impress themselves upon me. They change me viscerally. Imprint my soul.

I believe there is direct link between a phenomena and how I see, hear and feel it. The connection is not severed by my brain nor is the experience manipulated into abstraction.

It is real.

-J.D. Stein | April 2014

Robets, Idaho

Roberts, Idaho

"Music has the ability to enter inside and pluck at the heartstrings."

‒ Confuscian saying

Sandhill Crane Market Lake

To see and to do is better than to know and to speak.

To know something is to wrap our minds around it intellectually.

To speak of that something is to label it.

To see and to do is to immerse ourselves in a phenomena with our entire being. To experience it completely, such that most of what we feel cannot be put into words.

Soetsu Yanagi writes,

To "see" is to go direct to the core; to know the facts about an object of beauty is to go around the periphery.

Beauty is a kind of mystery, which is why it cannot be grasped adequately through the intellect. The part of it available to intellection lacks depth.

He who only knows without seeing, does not understand the mystery. Even should every detail of beauty be accounted for by the intellect, does such tabulation lead to beauty? Is the beauty that can be neatly reckoned really profound?

Soetsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman

When I visit an art museum, I move quickly through the gallery. I rarely read the descriptions of the paintings or sculptures. Sometimes I'll take a picture of the work and the name of the artist for later reference, but I mainly want to experience the art without thinking about it too deeply.

I want my intuition to lead me to what is beautiful, not my inner art critic with an assist from the museum curator.

Similarly, I rarely hire a guide or take a tour. I don't want to experience a phenomena through the eyes of another, nor at their pace.

I'll gladly sacrifice the "learning" and "knowing" I can get from an expert for seeing and doing as a novice.

Besides, I forget most of what I know‒the facts and the figures, the schools and the movements, the dates.

But I never forget what is truly beautiful. I don't forget because instead of reading or hearing, I immerse myself and let the beauty pass through me and leave its imprint on my soul.

-J.D. Stein | March 2014

Sandhill Cranes, Market Lake, Idaho

Sandhill Cranes, Market Lake, Idaho

"When everyone in the world knows that the beautiful is beautiful, it is then ugly."

‒ Laozi, Daodejing

Snow Geese Mud Lake

A Blog Post From 2006

I have lived in the fly fishing mecca for five years now. People come from around the globe to fish the rivers and streams just a stone’s throw from my house. I have bought a box of flies in Jackson, taken a casting class with my son, purchased books on the best fishing spots along the Henry’s Fork, consulted local guides and fishermen and both watched and read A River Runs Through It.

But I haven’t caught a fish because I’ve never gone fly fishing.

I am what they call a theoretical fisherman. I like to dream about standing in the river and watching the rise of the midge hatch and the trout jump. I can see the osprey soar overhead, hear the distant call of the sandhill crane and feel the tug of a rainbow trout on my line.

It is a perfect picture. One I don’t want to spoil by actually fishing and finding out the water is frigid even with waders on, that my feet tire after thirty minutes of balancing on river rock with twenty miles per hour winds blowing. That I won’t catch a trout, because I am in fact the world’s worst fisherman, having proven that many times over, especially during the week I spent in Canada in lakes where the pike hadn’t seen a fisherman in decades and were hopping into my friends’ canoes, sometimes even dispensing with the whole get captured on the lure enterprise.

Yet they ignored my line. Real pike and trout can sense amateurs and avoid the shame of being caught by one.

So I tell myself I will fish when I am sixty and I’ll buy a pretty red boat. I’ll let it float along, and I’ll lean back and watch the osprey soar. Sometimes I might even cast my line just so I can say I’ve gone fishing.


This week instead of writing I fished. Three times on the Henry's Fork in 40 degree temperatures with wind. But the sun was shining and the fish were biting. Overhead I could hear the sandhill cranes arriving from their winter sojourn.

I balanced on the rocks in the middle of the river, knowing a misstep would lead to an icy plunge. At times my hands got cold as did my feet.

The trout tugged on my line and occasionally jumped from the water in their attempts to escape. Sometimes they got free and sometimes I netted them and let them go myself.

I am no longer the theoretical fisherman I wrote about eight years ago. The real thing is so much better than living it in my mind's eye.

My life now is quite different from back then. I no longer fly over 100,000 miles a year and spend night after night away from my family.

I no longer roll out of bed and stumble to my office for early morning conference calls with my colleagues in the eastern time zone.

I no longer plow through 150 emails a day and spend hours on the phone.

I have no clients and no deadlines.

It's been two years since I quit my job and "retired". The proverbial last straw occurred eight months prior in an empty conference room at a resort in Carlsbad, California.

I was forty-five minutes from speaking to a group of financial planners and expected to share my market insight. I glanced at that week's performance numbers and realized I could no longer keep doing what I was doing. I had to escape.

The fear of quitting had finally succumbed to the terror of staying in place.

I called my wife and told her I was done. She agreed and I booked a red-eye flight back to Ohio to let my partners know I was quitting. Then I went on stage and gave my speech to the financial planners.

-J.D. Stein | March 2014

Sheep Falls Henrys Fork

Sheep Falls on the Henrys Fork, Idaho

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it."

‒ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Tetons March 2014

To find the sweet spot in life where there is neither excess nor deficiency we have to make changes. To experiment.

We need to adjust our routine, try new things, to act.

There are two ways to make changes. The right way focuses on the parts. The wrong way focuses on the whole.

What do I mean?

We can only change one thing at a time. Those that recognize this are what Karl Popper calls piecemeal engineers.

"The piecemeal engineer knows, like Socrates, how little he knows. He knows that we can learn only from our mistakes. Accordingly, he will make his way step by step, carefully comparing the results expected with the results achieved, and always on the lookout for the unavoidable, unwanted consequences of reform;"

Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism

A holist is impatient with the slower pace required to change one thing at a time and observe the results. Holists desire complete overhaul of the whole so they attempt multiple large changes at once.

Often the result is confusion and chaos.

"The reason is that in practice the holistic method turns out to be impossible; the greater the holistic changes attempted, the greater are their unintended and largely unexpected repercussions, forcing upon the holistic engineer the expedient of piecemeal improvisation. It leads to the notorious phenomenon of unplanned planning."

Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism

Holists and piecemeal engineers both make one change at a time. The difference is holists make changes in rapid succession without waiting to assess the results of the initial change before embarking on another.

Changes should be measured. Undertaken with mindfulness. Otherwise, the echo chamber of multiple changes will make it impossible to determine which change to keep and which to discard.

-J.D. Stein | March 2014

Snow Geese, Mud Lake, Idaho

Snow Geese ‒ Mud Lake, Idaho ‒ March 2014

"Our main concern in philosophy and science should be our search for truth."

‒ Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge

Venice Wall

I watched the Oscars the other night. An evening filled with beautiful people.

Several, though, seemed to have lost their way. They had not embraced the impermanence of their lives.

Instead, they were trying to stop time.

When someone attempts to thwart the natural flow of aging‒the sags and wrinkles‒it is like damming a river. Pressure builds behind the blockage. The face seems to plump out as if a reservoir is filling. The look is strained and uncomfortable.

We feel uncomfortable for them. For they are hiding nothing. And we sorrow for their insecurity.

-J.D. Stein | March 2014

Manarola Elderly

Watching The Sunset ‒ Manarola, Italy ‒ February 2013

"Wabi Sabi acknowledges three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect."

‒ Richard R. Powell, Wabi Sabi Simple