David Deida, Rabindranath Tagore, Mark Nepo, Chuck Palahniuk (author of “Fight Club”), Stephen Levin on Learning How to Better Engage the Full Intensity of Living and Loving

Living with an Open Heart versus a Closed Heart

Whenever you feel anything fully—i.e., your parents’ indifference or hate, your own bodily knots and pains—you actually live a bit more free even amidst your pain and hurt. Whenever you practice opening yourself, you add less rather than more self-created suffering to life’s natural and inherent fluctuation of pleasure and pain.

To be born is to be guaranteed some mix of enjoyment, discomfort, boredom, satisfaction, distress, and certain death. Regardless of how much comfort or distress, satisfaction or guilt, you are presently experiencing, you can surrender and open as you are and thus add less suffering to the mix, or you can shrink and knot yourself closed and add more self-created suffering to the mix.

To remain open as you are, in the midst of all experience, both heavenly and hellish, is the way of living that adds the least amount of self-created suffering to the mix. This is what “living the questions” or living and loving on life’s terms is all about.

Regardless of how much pleasure or pain a moment brings you, the truth is you are openness. When you resist any aspect of the moment, when you close to an emotion, a person, a situation for fear of being overwhelmed or being unable to cope with the full intensity of it, then you deny the openness you are and you create and cause separateness which also causes additional suffering.

Your deepest heart always knows the truth of who you are. And who you are is openness—courageous, luminous, free. In every moment of your life, your deepest heart is tacitly comparing the closed suffering that you are doing with the potential bliss of being more open, which is who you are. “This moment can be deeper.” “I can be braver.” “This love can be more full.” “I can be more open and feel more and love more.”

Your deepest heart knows the truth of who you are and suffers the tensions and pain of your lie of closing yourself off and knotting yourself up.

Even though you may have deeply ingrained habits of fear and closure, you can always practice opening to feel. You practice openness by opening up. By opening to feel your breathe moving in and out and noticing when it’s tense. You practice openness by opening to feel the posture of your body. You practice openness by opening yourself to feeling and noticing more and more of the motion and space around you, the sorrow and suffering in the world and in yourself, the lives beginning and ending everywhere, your own fears and apprehensions.

If we are not open, our lives can quickly become the effort to avoid pain, pretend everything is okay, and we can begin contorting and distorting and knotting our lives up mis-shaping them by chasing imagined securities and avoiding imagined fears.

How trapped we feel in life is entirely a reflection of the depth of the openness that we are willing to consistently meet life with. To the extent that we close and pull back from intense and or difficult experiences, we separate ourselves and thus feel separated, knotted, anxious, tense, isolated, and alone. To the extent that we close down and protect our heart and opt for security, we disempower ourselves and feel helpless and small.

Open deeply and courageously and we are free. Give in and close ourselves, and we feel trapped.

We build our own traps in life by our unique patterns of closing.

Whether we open or close makes all the difference in whether we feel trapped by our situation or whether we can open to our deepest heart and live as love’s means and as an offering of love. Only facing ourselves fully fulfills our deepest longing and allows us to be free and alive as love.

The contour of our closing—the form of our suffering—is defined by what we won’t embrace, feel, open to for fear of being overwhelmed, trapped, hurt. If we don’t embrace and open to our desire to be ravished, then that will define itself as tense armor around us.

We feel trapped by that which we are afraid to face or fully feel. We feel trapped by that which we recoil from, only partially feel, or refuse to feel.

As long as we are alive, we can never be free from pain, loss, suffering, death. We feel trapped whenever we try to minimize our chances of suffering, whenever we diminish the full intensity of life and of our emotions.

Whenever we feel trapped by life, we should take it as a sign that we are clenching from within by the confines of our own refusal and stubbornness and neurotic patterns. We are refusing some experience that our deepest heart recognizes might work in our benefit, we are resisting some person or interaction, we are trying to avoid some feeling that we sense to be too overwhelming or we think ourselves to be too ill-equipped to deal with.

Freedom is openness to our deepest heart. The gift we give others is either the gift of our own openness or the clench of our own refusal and stubbornness.

But we can’t actually know and live this if we are still thinking and acting as if life goes on forever.

Every moment of life we live with a closed heart is wasted life.

(Abridged and adapted and riffed on from David Deida’s book “Blue Truth,” pp. 11-16)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

What does it mean to be a “spiritual warrior”?

What does it mean to be a spiritual warrior?

It is the sincerity and honesty with which the soul faces itself in a daily, moment to moment, way.

And it is this courage that keeps us strong enough to withstand the heartbreak through which enlightenment can occur.

Spiritual warriors have a broken heart—and alas must have a broken heart. Because it is only through the breaks in the heart that the wonders and mysteries and depths of life and our deepest self can enter us.

It is by honoring how life comes through us that we get the most out of living, not by keeping ourselves out of the way. The goal is to mix our hands with the earth, not to stay clean.

Until the heart becomes opened, we can not be free.

(adapted from Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening,” pp. 55-56)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Second Skin”

We may insist that we are not in pain, that we are not miserable, unhappy, afraid. But that may only bear witness to how much we have had to become numb, how much grief and sadness we have had to harden our belly to and protect ourselves from feeling. This armoring is the “second skin” we have grown; it is devoid of nerve-endings, it is impenetrable, it allows nothing either in or out. But death can be a gentle kick in the ass if we can still feel it and if we don’t just intellectualize it or compartmentalize it.

(adapted and riffed on from Stephen Levine’s book “A Year to Live,” pg 88.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Dungeon” – Rabindranath Tagore

He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon.
I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into
the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.

I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand
lest a least hole should be left in this name;
and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

(from the motion picture “Fight Club”)

Scene: Kitchen at night. Jack and Tyler are each stirring a boiling pot.

As the fat renders, the tallow floats
to the surface. Like in Boy Scouts.

Hard to imagine you as a Boy Scout.

Keep stirring. Once the tallow hardens
you skim off a layer of glycerin. . . .
Now . . . ancient peoples found their clothes
got cleaner if they washed them at a
certain spot in the river. Why?
Because, human sacrifices were once
made on the hills above this spot on river.
Year after year, bodies burnt. The rain
fell. Water seeped through the wood and
ashes to create lye. (Tyler holds up a plastic
bottle and shows it to Jack)—This is Lye:
the crucial ingredient. Once it mixed
with the melted fat of the bodies, a thick
white soapy discharge crept into the river.

May I see your hand?

Tyler licks his lips and kisses the back of Jack’s hand.

What’s this?

This . . . is a chemical burn.

Tyler shakes a bunch of the lye flakes onto Jack’s hand. Jack’s whole body JERKS. Tyler holds tight to Jack’s hand and arm. Tears well in Jack’s eyes; his face tightens.

It will hurt more than you’ve ever been
burned, and you will have a scar.

JACK (voice over)
If guided meditation worked for cancer,
it could work for this.

Quick cut to a shot of a bright green forest in gentle spring rain. Resume scene in kitchen. Tyler JERKS Jack’s hand, getting Jack’s attention…

This is your pain. Don’t shut this out.

Jack, snapping back, tries to jerk his hand away. Tyler keeps hold of it and their arms. UTENSILS are KNOCKED off the table as Jack twists in agony.

Look at your hand. The first soap was made
from the ashes of heroes, like the first monkey
shot into space. Without pain, without sacrifice,
we would have nothing.

JACK (voice over)
I tried not to think of the words “searing” or “flesh.”

Quick cut to shot of green forest. Then a shot of trees engulfed in hellish forest fire. Resume kitchen scene:

Stop it! (Tyler JERKS Jack’s hand again)
This is your pain. This is your burning hand.
It’s right here. (Tyler smacks his own hand
on the table getting Jack’s attention)

JACK (voice over, stammering)
(Closes his eyes) I’m going to my cave,
I’m going to find my power animal.

Quick cut to shot of the inside of Jack’s frozen ice cave. Resume kitchen scene. Tyler JERKS Jack’s hand again. Jack re-focuses on Tyler…

Nooo! Don’t deal with this the way those
dead people do. Come on!

(Pleading, bargaining, stammering)
I get the point okay please . . .

No, what you’re feeling is premature

Tyler SLAPS Jack’s face, regaining his attention…

This is the greatest moment of your life
and you’re off somewhere, missing it.

(Pleading, stammering) No I’m not…

Shut up. Our fathers were our models
for God. And, if our fathers bailed,
what does that tell us about God?

I don’t know…

Tyler SLAPS Jack’s face again, bringing him back to his pain…

Listen to me. You have to consider
the possibility that God doesn’t like
you, he never wanted you. In all
probability, He hates you. This is
not the worst thing that can happen…

It isn’t… ?

We don’t need him…

We don’t… ?

Fuck damnation. Fuck redemption. We
are God’s unwanted children, so be it.

Jack looks at Tyler—they lock eyes. Jack does his best
to stifle his spasms of pain, his body a quivering, coiled
knot. He tries to wiggle free, but Tyler holds on.

You can go to the sink and run water
over your hand and make it worse, or—
look at me—you can use vinegar and
neutralize the burn, but first you have to
give up. First, you have to know—not fear—
know—that someday you’re going to die.

Jack spasms, he is a wide-eyed zombie of pain …

You … you don’t know what this
feels like. . . .

Tyler shows Jack a LYE-BURNED SCAR on his own hand.

It’s only after we’ve lost everything
that we’re free to do anything.

Jack slows his trembling, takes the pain. Tyler grabs a bottle of VINEGAR and pours it over Jack’s wound. Jack closes his eyes, holds his hand, and slumps to the floor in an orgasm of relief.

Congratulations. You’re one step
closer to hitting rock bottom.


“Why Love if Losing Hurts So Much?”

Why love if losing hurts so much?
I have no answers anymore, only the life I have lived.
And twice in that life I have been given the choice:
As a boy…
…and as a man.
The boy chose safety.
The man chose suffering.
The pain now is part of the happiness then.
That’s the deal.

( – from the motion picture “Shadowlands“)


God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan


We shall only draw nearer to God not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in love, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; by throwing away all defensive armor.

If our hearts need to be broken—and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break—then so be it. Hiding away our hearts for fear of their being broken, is like hiding away a talent in a napkin and burying out back, and for much the same reason—because “I knew that thee wert a hard man.”

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; become a relationship nomad, run away and emotionally cut others out of your life at the first sign of trouble; and lock your heart up safe in the casket or coffin of your own selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; rather, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

( – C. S. Lewis, from “The Four Loves,” pp 120-122)


One way or another, you will be forced to face the truth: everything you acquire is eventually lost. Every body you hold eventually dies. You have been waiting to give your deepest gifts, waiting to love and invest safely without the possibility of loss or rejection. You have been holding back while your life—everyone’s life—passes. You have traded in your true destiny for one of false comforts and muted agony.

If you are afraid, if you are waiting for more comfort or security, if you are holding back your gifts or closing down your love, then feel your act of closure fully—feel the tension in your muscles, the clenching in your jaw, the hardening of your heart—in short, the wasting of your life.

(David Deida, “Blue Truth,” pp. 8-9)


Affirmation” – Donald Hall

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.


The sooner (and more completely) I can wrap my little head around this and live in accordance with this, the better.

And it’s not that I have a death wish and want to court relationships where the instability is inherently and wantonly high because the other person has set their life in diametric opposition to this fact of life and therefore is prone to flinch, spin out, shut down, run, self-preserve by throwing others under the bus or into the fire or just plain throwing them away period whenever the going gets tough.

No, I don’t want that.

But if that’s what life presents me with, then it is my duty as a man and not a boy to live that reality and that relationship at the highest level that I can and that I am able to muster. There can be no shrinking permitted from myself.

Or else all of these fine words and excerpts are just words, and I’m just kidding myself with them by citing them and quoting them. I have to live and behave myself into what I aspire to be; I have to be willing to fight myself—my smaller frightened avoidant self—tooth and nail, even when I’m scared. Especially most of all when I’m scared and feel my heart about to get wrung and broken again.

If this is the way that God or the Universe chooses to break my heart fully open, then so be it. The Universe or God or Life is always in the right. And the Universe and or God will keep breaking my heart again and again and again until I get it, until I realize that there is no safe investment, that everything will be taken from me—us—eventually, that everything is temporary.

So how do I want to live my life in the meantime, until the eventual end comes? As a coward? (Cue up the movie “Fearless” with Jeff Bridges and that wonderful scene on top of the skyscraper downtown where he declares in fear and trembling that he won’t live his life as a coward.) Or do I want to live my life as a man, with as much courage and openness and integrity as I can muster?

Both the long and the short lesson in life is loss. It’s not a particularly cheery lesson, especially not at first, and perhaps not ever, but picking and choosing our life lessons—the lessons in life we decide to learn—on the basis of their cheeriness or how well they appeal to our congenital preferences and temperament and emotional limitations and current level of differentiation doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly healthy or ennobling or even an honest way to live.

To set ourselves, heart and mind and soul, in opposition to the fact that loss is inevitable, that everyone dies, that no one gets out of here alive, that life and health and security are all fleeting and tenuous and temporary at best, seems to be a foolish way to live. And the more we set ourselves against this set of unavoidable “brute” facts of life, then either the more dishonestly or the more discursively and superficially we will have to live (“taking ruins to ruins” as Emerson put it, which is the same as the gist of Cavafy’s poem “The City”). There’s really no depth or personal growth possible except by wrestling with accepting this fact. —In fact, isn’t that what all real true personal growth is?—learning to better and more courageously and heroically accept life for what it is instead of what we escapistly wish it would be?—learning to better live and love on life’s terms and not on our own? (to lessen our inner control freak?) “He must increase, I must decrease” – John 3:30 (God I love that Gospel!). Yes, Truth and Light and Love and our level of courage and clear-headedness and honesty and clear-thinking must increase, and our own personal flighty discursive self-deceptive avoidant escapist control-freak tendencies must decrease. That’s the gist of genuine personal growth—coming to live more honestly and courageous, becoming more and more dedicated to truth and reality. And we each have a unique path we must take, one full of hardships and difficulties to be met and faced if we are to truly grow as a person. Or else in a very significant sense we end up wasting our lives, wasting the time we have been given—whatever modicum of time we may be given, living and dying as emotional children and cowards, living as “just another troubled guest darkening the earth” (Goethe, “The Holy Longing”). Which is not how I am at all interested in living or loving—as just another avoidant troubled guest darkening the earth. . . .


The Holy Longing” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tell a wise person or else keep silent
For the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive
And what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm waters of the nights of love
Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the quiet candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught
In this obsession with darkness
And a desire for higher love-making sweeps you up.
Distance does not make you falter.

And now, arriving in wonder, flying,
And, finally, insane for the light,
You are the butterfly,
And you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t
Experienced this—to die
And so to grow—you are only
A troubled guest darkening the earth.


The City” – C. P. Cavafy

You said, “I will go to another land,
I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found,
One better than this.
My heart, like a corpse, is buried.
How long must I remain
In this (self-made) wasteland?
Wherever I turn here, wherever I look
I see the scorched and blackened ruins of my life
Where I have spent so much time
Wandering and wasting away

You will find no new lands,
You will find no other seas.
The city you are
and constantly trying to flee from
Will follow you everywhere.
You will roam the same streets elsewhere
Age in the same neighborhoods
Grow gray in the same houses.
Always you will arrive again and again
At this same doorstep
In this same city.
Do not hope for any other.
For there is no ship for you,
There is no road.
As you have destroyed your life here
in this little corner,
you have ruined it in the entire world.

Mary Oliver, Jane Hirschfield, Rilke, and David Deida on Not Evading the Full Intensity of Living & Loving

Mary Oliver on Not Evading the Full Intensity of Life and Love

West Wind #2” – Mary Oliver

You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me. Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me. . . .

There is life without love. But it’s not worth a bent penny or a scuffed shoe. It’s not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks—when you hear that unmistakable pounding—when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming—then row, row for your life toward it.


Rilke on Not Evading the Full Intensity of Life and Love

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XII” – Rainer Maria Rilke
(translated by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy)

Will the change. Want the transformation. Be inspired
by the flame where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself into sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to live gray and numb?
What’s frightened turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain. Flow into
the knowledge that what you are seeking
often finishes at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming
a laurel, dares you to become wind.


Jane Hirschfield on Not Evading the Full Intensity of Life and Love

Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World” – Jane Hirshfield

If the gods bring to you
a strange and frightening creature,
accept the gift
as if it were one you had chosen.

Say the accustomed prayers,
oil the hooves well,
caress the small ears with praise.

Have the new halter of woven silver
embedded with jewels.
Spare no expense, pay what is asked,
when a gift such as this
arrives from the sea.

Treat it as you yourself would be treated
if you were brought speechless and naked
into the court of a king.

And when the request finally comes,
do not hesitate even for an instant—

stroke the white throat,
the heavy, trembling dewlaps
you’d come to believe were yours,

and plunge the knife.

Not once
did you enter the pasture
without pause,
without yourself trembling.

That you came to love it, that was the gift.

Let the envious gods try to take back what they can.


So what is it that holds us back? Why do we shrink from life, not live more daringly, not live more courageously, not push ourselves to enter more of life’s and love’s strange pastures, not live with more passion and a greater sense of wonder and adventure, not row row row for our life towards the long plunging falls?

Why do we live a life where we are safe and numb and grey?

We’re only as good as our courage in our most pivotal moments allows us to be. That’s what defines us and the quality of our lives and relationships—the willingness to feel the fear and do something daring and potentially life-altering and expansive anyways; the capacity to choose courageously from what’s best in us when the going gets tough and not live avoidantly or evasively and shrink from the full intensity of life.

Riffing on something David Deida wrote—“The way love—and not fear—moves us, and moves through us, is our true destiny.”

How many of us are living this way?

How many people do you know who are living and loving this way and fiercely committed to living out their true destiny?

Are you?

And if not, why? What are you waiting for? What would it take for you to live this way?

What would you have to lose? What would have to be taken from you? What diagnosis? How much time would have to be left on the clock for you for you to start making a “two-minute drill” of your life? (“There’s eight seconds left in overtime and she’s on your mind, she’s on your mind” – The Fray, from the song “Cable Car”)

What do you think it would it take to “wake” you up and prompt you to carpe more of the diem and seize more of the day and live with more passion and intensity and depth?

Your thoughts and comments and any sign of sentient life in the on-line universe are all greatly appreciated. 🙂

(and you can read more of what I excerpted of David Deida from his book “Blue Truth” at my other blog http://www.realtruelove.wordpress.com )

Get Busy Loving or Get Busy Dying. . . .

In some future “now”-moment—a moment as real as this present one—your life will end.

Are you ready for that? Are you ready for your death?

Are you ready for the death of your children, your parents, your friends?

Have you loved fully and given your deepest gifts? Have you addressed the part of you that holds back, that is tense, insecure, unfulfilled, that craves safety and security?

A life that is being well-lived embraces death by being open, from heart to all, in every moment. Wide open, you are able to offer freely without holding back, and you are able to receive freely without pushing away. Wide open, heart and all, you are openness, unseparate from this moment. Every part of you and this moment comes and goes as openness.

Right now—and in every “now”-moment—you are either closing down or opening up. You are either waiting stressfully for something—more money, more security, more affection—or you are living from your deep heart and opening yourself to this entire moment and giving what you most deeply desire to give, without waiting, without reservation.

If you are waiting for anything in order to live and love without holding back, then you are wasting this moment of your life and causing yourself needless suffering.

This moment is the most important moment of your life. No future or more favorable moment is better than now for you to let down your guard and open and love.

Right now you are choosing either to open and give fully or you are waiting and holding back. Feel your heart beating in your chest. Feel your belly. Feel your jaw. Are they tense and clenched and knotted? Or are they relaxed and open and free?

How does your choice feel?

How would you live if you were fearless? How would you live if you lived your life as an expression of your deepest heart and as love’s means?

(David Deida, abridged and adapted from his book “Blue Truth,” pp. 3-7)


“Affirmation” – Donald Hall

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

Are You Wasting this Moment of Your Life?

“This is your life; and it’s ending one minute at a time.” – Chuck Palahniuk (from the novel and motion picture “Fight Club”)


Our life is an offering.
Our unoffered love is our suffering.
Our ungiven love clenches in us as stress.
Relaxing now into this moment opens us
and frees the gift our love wants to be.
You and I are love’s means.
Will we die fully given?
Or will we die ungiven and still waiting?
Now is our chance.
If you are waiting for anything
or anyone
in order to feel more full,
more free, more open,
more relaxed, more happy
or more loving,
then you are wasting this moment of your life.

(David Deida, adapted from “Waiting to Love: Rude Essays on Life After Spirituality,” pp. ix-xi)