Round Trip Tickets

One of the stories that supposedly sets hairless monkeys apart from all the rest of the animals is our ability to recognize that life comes with a round trip ticket.

As the self professed brainiacs of the planet, we could acknowledge that while today we are sleek and glossy, filled with hope and plans for a shiny future and a happy meal, there will come a day when we are not here to enjoy this earthly trade show.

I'm thinking, well, maybe.

Maybe we could imagine a day when we're not here.

But mostly we don't.

Mostly our monkey minds are busy, busy, busy with everything but the return trip!

Story, experiences, sensations, possessions, chemistry, light, gravity, family, everything now and then - but not that.

Maybe some of us think about it too much. And others not enough?

Some of us pretend we don't know. Some of us know, but stay firmly on the banks of a river in Egypt.

Some of us use it to justify whatever bad habits we express, taking quite a cavalier attitude about the havoc we reek on our lives and the environs.

Some of us create a formula for it where "a" is the outbound leg and "b" is the return trip and "c" is the rewards program for our particular carrier.

So, if "a" is true then "b" equals "c".

And whenever we remember that "a" is an outbound leg, which might not be very often, we can say "b equals c". There are some pretty impressive buildings filled with monkeys that agree with this one.

You'll find this group singing and calling back "b equals c" and experiencing the added benefits of the music and community, knowing that "c" will always be there for the truly faithful. (You'll need to sign up for these programs and present your card to get the rewards. And like any good carrier program, it comes with first, business and coach sections.)

Some of us are packing all the time for the return trip.

We imagine it's one of those genetic things, where we're descended from the upright walking monkeys who were successful because they were always packed to escape from the big cats.

Today, since most of the lions and tigers are working in the entertainment industry and aren't lounging around in the grocery store parking lot, we'll have to practice surviving by imagining our own demise, and in our minds, that staves off the inevitable.

By having this laser-like focus on being packed for the impending experience of mortality, our little gene bucket will survive it.

Actually, I think that's anxiety.

Some of us end up thinking about the return trip to the exclusion of almost everything else. On the one had, this group has done a great job of branding a truly miserable set of stories. On the other, most of us can't actually follow the logic of an existential crisis, much less sustain one.

This group takes comfort in trying to explain to the rest of us some really convoluted stories from a bunch of dead monkeys. Unfortunately, the ones who've died didn't send a postcard explaining once they got home. (No postal service?)

I'm thinking that whatever story I'm telling, it's just that.

And at some point my ticket is punched and I've gone home. Which is my story about a central terminal, where all the trains, planes and automobiles pass through on their journeys.

And being a survivor of my imagined demise, I'm partially packed.

How about you?


Silly rabbit

I'd always been a seeker.

Maybe not the kind as envisioned by J.K.Rowling, but now that I think about it, maybe she meant something by inventing that game?

Fiction writers are always doing stuff like that.

I'll leave it to anyone who can draw a straight line from this to that and say "I've got it" - with that self satisfied air of knowing - meaning that according to their reading of her story, they've crawled under her covers and understand what she really meant and isn't it all just so obvious?

Look, they've made up a story about a story, and in their story, they found the truth! Surprised?

Anyway, back to seeking.

My interest in getting things into mental boxes and having answers and knowing stuff was pretty strong.

Are there secret patterns, probabilities of pot holes, predictable trajectories? Where does this all lead?

I liked seeking answers to big questions - like people, natural laws, the order of the universe, the mind, relationships, biology, happiness and a personal favorite - the big kahuna - birth, life and death.

And of course the answers to little questions like, where'd I leave my keys? Why'd I agree to come to this meeting? Is this guy ever going to shut up? When's lunch? Will there be dancing? Is there any room in this price?

In my early days of seeking, I found lots of answers. And that felt really great. OMG!! Answers!

Like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I did a high five leprechaun dance and happily flung my new answers around in the sunshine. Feeling good, me and my answers, snuggled up, safe and cozy. A virtual security blanket, a comfortable life, clear skin, healthy gums, certainty, freedom from chaos, cholesterol and cellulite.

Life was good.

Then the whole seeking thing kicked in again.

And answers appeared that contradicted the answers I had found before.


I couldn't yet imagine that there might be multiple answers, so I substituted the new answers for the old ones. This was a particularly satisfying process. The new answers were accompanied by an internal sense of righteousness at correcting my own mistakes.

In addition to righteousness, replacing earlier answers was also coupled with what seemed like wisdom, really deep throated, a James Earl Jones voice over murmuring, "oh yes, this is it". These were the answers that every seeker ever sought.

Kind of like basil gelato. Unexpected but delicious, these answers were far superior to those earlier answers!

I pointed to history and found comfort from other seekers. I looked into the future and saw only peace, security and infinite parking spaces. I'd arrived at the holy land of answers and basked there in my certainty.

And of course, as soon as I got good at swapping one answer for another - I'm mean really good, rock star good, avatar good, so-nailed-it good - the seeking started again and new set of questions arose.

And the new answers said "blow up all the questions".

Since I'd already blown up all the answers several times, I wasn't too freaked out by the prospect of blowing up all the questions.

Of course, being a genuinely clueless seeker, I had no way of knowing.

So, I started blowing up all the questions. And as each successive round of munitions went off, the edifices of my certainty, security and wisdom crumbled.

It was too late to turn back. I had blown up so many questions that I couldn't ever go back.

I kept setting charges until there were no more questions to answer.

In the ensuing silence, cleaning up the wreckage of my earlier seeking, I wept as I swept.

I wept for all those shiny answers to familiar questions that had seemed to be the truth. I swept away the comfortable cave of knowing and let go of all that righteous, deep throated wisdom.

Now a refugee, nomadic and untethered, a seeker adrift without answers and all the questions in ruins.

Ahead, a tiny flash, barely a glimmer, a long way off, at the edge of my awareness, hardly visible in the distance.

A little question I'd missed rises alone and peeks out on the horizon.

Are questions the answer?


A tale of two rivers

Although I’ve never lived on a river, I’m pretty sure I was born pushing them.

When I wasn’t in denial.

There is a middle way. Somewhere between denial and pushing.

Or so I’ve heard. My yoga teacher says it’s right between the last little bit of exhale and the first little bit of inhale.

Sounds awfully small.

Denial is a much larger country.

It’s especially easy to identify in others and there are lots of applications – cosmetic surgery anyone? Italian sports cars? Gambling? Thigh-Masters? Trophy wives? (“I heard he's got a mansion on the banks of a river in Egypt.”)

We’ve seen how denial is part of the cycle of addiction and that we’re vulnerable to substances and experiences that alter our basic biology. And once the chemistry is set in motion, the mind follows with whatever story fits.

Enough human wreckage to keep several related industries in revenue for years.

Denial is big. We’re all attuned to the shape shifting, life rutting, reality TV, phenomenon of denial.

The other river exists between our ears.

Balancing on the pinhead of duality, our little monkey mind is constantly playing the game “this and not that”. Down is not up. White is not black. Good is not evil. You get the idea.

And since denial could be considered “not doing”, then there is an opposite and equal force in place that is deemed “doing”.

Our hero. Pushing the river.

Forcing whatever situation we're in to a chosen resolution –accomplishments, monuments, legacies, getting the job done, crushing the other guy.

Winning! Lots of adrenaline! High fives all around!

If denial is about what we ignore, then pushing the river is absolutely for clinging to outcomes.

We slip on the mental glory robes of identification and write our names proudly on the list of doers.

River pushed. Check. Next river.

Always another river.

Wait a minute.

If we ever pause between victory laps we might notice, isn’t the river already moving?

And consider what happens without pushing?

Are we attached to an outcome and confused our pushing with being right? In charge? All about me?

If denial numbs us to vulnerability, does pushing the river calm us with the illusion of control?

What if our little monkey minds weren’t constantly hopping back and forth between the two?

Did that “pause between the breath” place just get a little bigger?


Over 6 billion kindnesses served daily.

I'm not a very religious person.

Raised in a Christian country, my family practiced a mildly orthodox version of the Catholic faith, including the requisite sinners, saints, holy days, miracles and the value of a good education.

In a class on the impact of the black plague during freshman year in college, I discovered that the Bible had more authors than the Reader's Digest. Much to my amazement I also learned that there were multiple "versions" of all of the stories. (And that one of the crusades promoted the opportunity to kill off competing authors. Talk about cut throat publishing practices!)

Digging a little further into history, virtually all of those stories - addressing the same mysteries - were actually floating around the world in oral traditions before writing was invented.

Thanks to the vibrancy of these oral histories and the commonality of the lessons, it occurred to me that literal translations weren't going to hold up for me. Maybe more like guidelines?

As an adult, I appreciate the highly personal and diverse interpretations of natural phenomenon and human behavior. What anyone chooses to believe, might in fact be true - for them - and for anyone else who needs to believe it.

As the Australians might offer "good on ya" or in Florida "whatever floats your boat".

If someone needs to have found the answer, I'm okay with that.

At this juncture, I accept the mystery. And that cruelty is a non-starter.

If I had a personal creed rattling around in here somewhere, I'd probably go with kindness.

Too short? Not enough guilt and damnation? Too easy?

Trust me.

Kindness is a lot harder than it sounds. And it isn't an original idea.

Kindness - charity, generosity to foe and friend, self, stranger and family - is foundational to the practice of all the world's religions and faiths. Some begin with self kindness, others with broader incentives or motivations.

It comes with directions, rules, laws, mandates and even youtube videos.

Depending on the scripture, the goal of kindness might be an E-ticket to a postmortem paradise, a leg up on the material plane, payback for earlier selfish acts, or exchanged for a future upgrade on the jet stream of reincarnation.

The Buddhists pull it together through the "metta" practice. Christians proffer multiple variations of the "golden rule" (the first version, not the one about the gold).

The Hindus set up principles for a good life around "ahimsa". The Jewish faith points to "chesed" and laws of "gemilut chassadim".

Islam gives both obligatory - "zakat - and voluntary - "sadaqa" - directions for the practice of charity and kindness.

New Age philosophy suggested a "random acts" approach.

With all this focus, how is practicing kindness still so difficult?

My thought is that if something doesn't make it on the agenda, it doesn't happen.

And when was the last time you saw "be kind" on the agenda?

Okay, so maybe in your house of worship, but does it make it out of the building?

Is kindness on the agenda for others, but not for you?

How's that working for you?

How might our lives be different if kindness were at the top of every agenda?

Buddhist "metta" practice http://bit.ly/1yU6pX
Hindu "ahimsa" http://bit.ly/O5iRm
Jewish "chesed" and "gemilut chassadim" http://bit.ly/uwjKx
Islamic "zakat" and "sadaqa" http://bit.ly/pptVi


Welcome to the holodeck

I'm a fan of science fiction.

My introduction to the final frontier played out on a tube TV in the den. The inventive writers of Star Trek introduced the idea of a "holodeck", basically a software program where characters could act out stories of their own design. For those of you who didn't grow up watching 'Star Trek' while eating Ritz crackers and drinking Nestle's Quik, http://bit.ly/hkahS.

In general, drama mostly boils down to morality plays - good vs. evil. Science fiction is drama with much better graphics.

Amazing visions of gigantic space ships filled with flawed humans rocketing through a universe inhabited by mumbling, slime exuding, gun toting aliens.

(Wait. If aliens are all that advanced, why are they shooting at us? Couldn't they just hand us some sugar, turn on the television and pretty much walk off with the whole planet?)

And yet somehow the hairless monkeys with credit cards triumph.

Unless it's one of those "you are actually not so smart monkeys" and we get our cosmic comeuppance from a holier than thou alien in an eight foot rubber suit with LEDs. Or some blood sucking reptile thing that wants to inhabit our bodies.

Emerging from the theater a couple of hours later, rumpled and blinking in the light, we bask in the warm satisfaction of winning once again against impossible odds.

The depth of our satisfaction being directly related to the quality and depth of our identification with the story.

Starting to sound familiar?

Reflecting on the fiction of what we've watched, we realize that when our minds are identified with a story, we don't naturally discriminate between that story and reality.

Most of the time, we're living on the holodeck.


In the case of entertainment, a part of you knows that you're watching a movie. You remember buying the ticket. You might feel your rear in the seat, smell the popcorn, hear the music, be irritated with that guy texting.

But for some part of the experience, you were "in" the movie.

And your mind, experiencing itself through this soup of flesh, identified with and entered the story.

Our minds are inextricably linked to the surround-sound perception of the auditory system, high quality graphics of the optic nerves, blazing speed of the neural networks, filtered through layers of tissue, infinitely complex chemistry and changing environmental cues, and does not naturally or reliably discriminate between story and reality.

In other words? When you leave the theater, you're still at the movies.

And either you know you're living on the holodeck or you don't.

What planet is your boss from?


"Heads I win, tails you lose."

Wait a minute.

Those grimy whiskers, that rank smell and trashy abode?

A rat hole.

You know the scene.

A gallery gathers taunting "fight, fight, fight" and a petty despot blocks your path.

Reacting instinctively, the mind grabs the wheel and plunges head first into the province of the schoolyard bully.

And before you can complete three rounds of "are to, am not", the fight or flight responses kick in and you're completely awash in heart pounding chemistry.

Mind racing, your blood boils and you launch into cascades of defensive and offensive maneuvers.

Swinging wildly, with the battle cry "this isn't fair", your mind wages war with yesterday on the battlefield of today.

Or, to your great shame and humiliation, you scramble for cover, vanquished and trembling with anxiety, renouncing your right to breathe, sleep, eat or to be at ease in the world.

Wait. Wait a minute.

Haven't the schoolyard bullies long since faded in the rear view mirror?

Aren't we all grown-ups here?

Apparently the mind has other ideas!

Whether applied directly within the tender confines of one's family, or meted out through broader social or political injustice, the memories of past abuses shape our reactions to the present.

And when exploring the mind's rat holes, each of us discovers the topography of the victim inside.

"Emotional abuse is an intentional assault by one person on another to so distort the victim’s view of self, that the victim allows the abuser to control him or her." G.L. Jantz, Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse

Does your mind distort your view of your self?

Do the memories assault you as a means to control you?

Can you see your mind retelling these horror stories? Assuring you that this time there will be a different ending?

Wait. Wait a minute.

The mind is not bounded by time or space. It possesses the ability to construct memories and travel through them.

Through this ability we experience the villains of the past appearing as regular cast members in the stories of the present.

Is your mind replaying all three roles? Bully, victim and rescuer?

Like ghosts inhabiting a play, the aggressors drift in and out, awaiting the chance to start the action anew and open our eyes.

The helpless victim suffers mightily, wailing the story to an attentive gallery as the rescuer fastens her cape and prepares for her big entrance.

A shove here, a rejection there. An outrageous offense. An injustice that must be righted. Our minds draw us again and again into the story.

Ready to vanquish evil at a moment's notice, the costs of war be damned!

To be human is to suffer.

Depending on your own story, it may have been no small thing.

And practicing assertiveness in the presence of aggression is a hallmark of compassionate maturity.

Just be sure to check the expiration date on that story before you begin.


Carbon-based bags of water

This description amuses me.

I heard it many years ago on television. It was an observation made by a silicon-based life form when confronted with a human being.

Over the years I've reflected on both its accuracy and usefulness.

Stunning in its simplicity, it stops my mind in its tracks. And anything that can throw the brakes on that puppy is a keeper!


Consider that biology tells the story of our physical relationship to the moment. This particular, specific, fleeting arc in time and space. Observation confirms that our bodies are electrically charged carbon-based bags of water, sloshing about, programmed to replicate.

Above all else, to reproduce.

And funnily enough, the machine language programming of the body operates WAY below our conscious radar.

So, basically, we're charging around most of the time without the slightest notion of why. Our nature, unbounded and intent on it's own evolution, is unrelated to the stories we tell ourselves later.

The mind is arrested as it considers the implications.

If consciousness rests atop such a self directed system, surfing surges of adrenaline, seeking opioid peptides and oxytocin, can the mind be much more than errant gusts of neurochemistry?

Telling stories, after the fact, of triumph, loss, power, glory, fame, recognition, comfort - dare I say love?

The rants of a hyperbolic tabloid journalist held hostage by a chemist?

Precious, careful, important stories reduced to the interpretations of a dramatist perched inside a slurping, burping, sleeping, eating bag of chemicals?

What possible dominion could the mind possess?

The mind's struggle slows.

The chance to observe the story expands.

Something peaceful unfolds.


"Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Home Soil".

"Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex", R. Baker, http://tinyurl.com/qku63e


Down the rabbit hole

I love direct statements.

"Personal growth sucks," one student announced in the early months of noticing her thoughts.

Well said!

She'd been assured that observing her mind would eliminate her suffering. Instead, things quickly headed in the opposite direction.

Ever google "personal growth"? ( Code words for forays into the sharp, pointy teeth of the mind's defenses.)

You'll get a long list of fuzzy, warm, soft, muted, easy listening, quick fixing, miraculous pain reducing promises of everlasting peace, love, patience, wisdom, understanding.

How about discovering a seriously bad attitude, wrecked relationships and substance abuse problems?

Trust me. It wouldn't sell.

Remember that scene in the "The Matrix" where Morpheus offers Neo the choice to know the truth?

"You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

There are lots of really good reasons to take the blue pill.

But can you really keep your eyes closed once you know they're designed to be open?

Is curiosity enough?

Or does the bonfire of your life make that whole "frying pan/fire" dilemma really not an issue?

Your mind is prepared to defend its secrets.

And at times, it ain't gonna be pretty.


Observing the Mind

Ever think that the "Wizard of Oz" and "Harry Potter" might be revealing a key to personal development and transformation?

Modern films follow the classic arc of story telling. The hero or heroine is innocent, experiences a challenge or loss, then struggles, triumphs and is transformed by the journey.

We see ourselves in the characters and internalize the resilience and hope of their success over adversity. * For more on the power of stories, see Joseph Campbell , who made a life's work out of presenting these stories from around the world.

Dorothy and her crew are transformed when the "little man behind the curtain" reveals that they "had the power within" but their abilities were unclaimed.

Our boy Harry Potter brings the hero's journey to the next generation. His epic battle with the "dark wizard" shows him struggle and ultimately triumph in integrating his own darkness and is empowered.
These stories reveal the path to transformation.

How do we experience more personal success, persist in the face of adversity, be of greater service to others and "vanquish evil" as we see it?

How do we manifest our goals to live with grace and compassion? Balance the mesmerizing specter of our deaths with the irrational pursuit of personal immortality? Suffer and then transform the pain of losing everything that we ever held near and dear?

Our youth fades. Our children move away. We grow frail and weak, perhaps unprepared to exit the stage with unfulfilled visions and memories of regrettable decisions.

And all along we possessed this power.

The central organizing engine of amazing, life changing, once and for all peace, wealth, gratitude, personal power and freedom.

The super power at the core of all human transformation. Way better than invisibility cloaks or flying?

The power to observe our minds.

Opening the door to our true nature as infinite, timeless. As one. Being.

This moment. Now.

The power of observation to witness the mind.

The power to observe our minds generating everything. Our actions. Our values. Our possessions. Our loves, appetites, faith, losses, triumphs, histories and regrets.

The power to witness the mind at the center of every story-telling, history keeping, fault finding, ego exalting, fantasizing, fortune telling, globalizing, catastrophe predicting, rescuing, self justifying, and righteous-victory-speech-I-told-you-so-vindication epic.

The power to observe the mind.

How might the power to observe the mind change your story?


Fondness for physics

Relax, I can't do the math either!

The "ah ha" for me is in the process of change.

In physics, what we accepted as "laws" were actually the limits of our observation.

From Newton's basics on the behavior of matter into Einstein's light bending time, then on to the frontiers of space, we now see that matter is organized in waves flowing through the universe.

(I especially enjoy the idea that close to 99% of what looks "solid and stable" is actually empty and moving!)

Through asking questions, and employing enhanced powers of observation, new insights emerged. And the "laws" came apart.

The same process holds true for personal development and transformation.

As we hone our willingness to question and develop our powers of observation, new insights shift our perspectives.

And the "old laws" of who and what we are, come tumbling down.



What centers you?

Do you know where your center is? Do you feel it? See it? Sense it?

Can you name it? Has it changed over time?

If it changed, how did you know?

If you discovered your center was outside of you, did you wonder where you were?

Had you lost your center?

In some deeply confusing way that left you lacking in something important, like confidence, purpose or joy?

Then somehow, over time and maybe struggling, or maybe just time, mysteriously get it back?

And then vowed solemnly never to do THAT again?


Baby Steps

A pithy bit of advice. Applied to any and all events requiring persistence and the currently accepted laws of physics.

And like most pith, perhaps a bit bitter?

If you ever reflect on the monumental task of learning to walk, you'll notice this is a damn difficult endeavor. A long and careful balancing act really. Employing a construction marvel of levers and pulleys, based on a twisting, bending, sliding stack of oddly shaped blocks , perched on jointed sticks and capped off by an overly large, heavy, unwieldy block of flesh and bone.

I suspect if we were shown the early plans of those first steps, we might respond with, "yeah, right and where do the monkeys fly out from"?

Catch a baby going through this arduous process and take a good look. The relevant bit to personal development being the ratio of upright moments with fall-down-go-booms.

A long and careful balancing act.


Everything starts somewhere

This is mine. The first post. Now it's done. That was easy.

Why so short?

I remember reading somewhere that using three word sentences is a great way to practice writing. The exercise is supposed to make you more creative.

It stumped me. But since then, I've tried. Lord knows. I've tried. Even went to two word sentences when I could.

Don't know if it worked, but it made me think about getting to the point a lot quicker. And how three words often do quite nicely. Anyway, it's something to think about. And credit to the person who suggested it.

Don't remember where I read it.

Wish I did.