For the Class of 2013 (& People Everywhere) — Four Brief Pieces of Advice




If I had one piece of advice for people everywhere, it would be this: think critically more often.  Try to spend some time every day thinking critically, examining yourself, your life, your relationships, your own deeds and words, your basic assumptions, your conscience and your principles.  Be a more reflective person.


My second piece of advice would be to try to spend some time every day reading something of substance.  Not just something that affects you emotionally, but something that makes you think, that makes you go wow! or a-ha! or I hadn’t thought of it that way before.  Books and reading are too often abused; intellectually we Americans consume far too many books that only entertain us or that only speak to our biases.


My third piece of advice would for people everywhere would be to learn to deal better with criticism.

I don’t mind criticism.  I really don’t.  The rejection part of it still stings, but nowhere near as much as it did at one time.  I learned these things about criticism (and dealing with it) long ago —

Don’t mind criticism; if it’s untrue, disregard it; if it’s unfair, keep from irritation; if it’s ignorant, smile; if it’s justified, learn from it.” — unknown

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” — Winston Churchill

I’ve found that the best way to deal with criticism is to make the decision to detach emotionally from it and instead think critically about it.

Criticism rarely is the enemy; our reactions to it more often are an issue; once we learn better how to deal with ourselves and our emotions and calm and soothe and talk to ourselves (talk ourselves down), then we become much more inwardly peaceful and much better able to deal with criticism.

If you’re not being criticized, you’re not really living.  A person can easily avoid criticism by saying nothing, doing nothing, standing for nothing, being nothing. (I think a quote similar to this has been attributed to Aristotle).

Or as Winston Churchill said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  The same goes for criticism:  You’re being criticized?  Good  It means maybe you’re standing up for something.

Or it means that maybe you’re in the wrong and you have something to learn.  Either way, it’s a win for you if you can reign your ego in and not let it get in the way of things.

(And here’s a link to a blog post that might be helpful. —


My last piece of advice to people everywhere (including myself) is this: whether you are young or old or somewhere in between, get your house in order.

Living constantly under perpetual threat of dying or of losing those around you, or of losing your health, can be exhausting, not to mention highly unnerving, anxiety-producing, and panic-inducing.

But what other option is there really?  Ignoring all of this?  Living in denial?  Only thinking every once and while about our own mortality?

If we don’t reflect at least occasionally on our own and others’ mortality, we tend to live badly, without much appreciation.  We tend to take other people and life and our own health and the good things we have in our life for granted.  Reflecting on death is one of the surest ways to cut through the morass and muddle and get to what matters most.

Of course thinking too much about death can completely unnerve us, cause us to take too many chances, live desperately, do rash things.

So what’s the solution?

Find an optimal balance.  Think about / acknowledge death just enough so that you don’t go off the deep end (or too far off the deep end) and live foolishly and recklessly, but think enough about death so that you don’t take life and those around you for granted, so that you live in a more deliberate but not desperate way.  Live in a way so that you focus on the things that will matter the most to you in the end.  Death is inevitable for each of us and for all of those whom we love and rely on.  This is not negotiable.  It’s a hard fact of life—the hardest, if we’re honest.  But how much time we and those around us each have is a bit more of a mystery, and it’s this leeway that tends to get us each in trouble.  We tend to play games with ourselves and others because of this leeway—taking them and ourselves and our health for granted, or we numb ourselves, we don’t live from our highest and best self, we don’t live a very examined life, we go through life on autopilot, we don’t live deeply and passionately and intensely enough, and we don’t live in such a way that we put our house in order.

Thoreau’s oft-quoted words about life and death still make for some very sound and good advice—

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms. . . .”

Bonus point to ponder:

“The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive.”

How awake are you?

How awake do you want to be?

How much discomfort and unsettledness are you willing to endure to become more awake?

And is it possible to live a very meaningful life if one is not very awake?

Camus wrote, “everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it.”  Great spiritual masters and leaders have spoken throughout the ages of human beings tending to go through life asleep, blind, deaf, and needing to “wake up.”  What if awareness is where it’s at?  And what if the more aware we are—the more we see and feel and think about—the less settled and less comfortable we are?  How aware are you willing to be?


The World Needs *More* Warriors

The World Needs More Warriors

.     (This is my abridgment and adaptation of Sakyong Mipham’s article “We Need to . .
      Be Warriors
,” on pages 15 – 19 of the January 2013 issue of “Shambhala Sun”)

As the speed of life continues accelerating, more and more people—which is to suggest that more and more of us—are doing more and more things in perfunctorily—in half-steps, in a routine, rote, mechanical, cursory, even superficial way, with little interest, attention, enthusiasm, or engagement. Parenting, work, driving, shopping, eating, conversations, relationships, sex, all done in a path of least resistance / only partially engaged way; not in a wholehearted deeply present and attentive way.

Because of all of the distractions and horror in the world these days, it is getting harder and harder to show up deeply for the present moment and truly engage our lives. And as a result, our kindness and care are on the wane. In part because our advertising culture keeps lulling us into thinking that somehow someday life is going to get easier, better, et cetera.

As the speed of life continues increasing, what the world actually needs is more engagement, not less. We need more people who are willing to care more; not less, be more attentive, not more distracted; be more thorough, not less; be steadier, not more up and down.

In short, the world needs more warriors—more people who are willing to show up and engage the moments of their lives—the everyday, seemingly ordinary and even mundane moments of their lives—with greater attentiveness, clarity, wisdom, and bravery. The world needs more people who are dedicated and determined to engage life wholeheartedly and with an inquisitive, focused, steady mind.

Steadiness—resolve, not having a lot of ups and downs—along with bravery, is one of the basic qualities of warriorship. In this culture, most of us are constantly flip-flopping—mentally, emotionally, physically, and in every other way possible. So many obstacles and distractions are unknowingly empowered by us to sway us and drag us away from what we’re doing. And this is just an inescapable byproduct or consequence of engaging life in a half-hearted, half-focused, cursory way—the more indifferent and shallow our attention, the more easily distracted we are and become. One feeds and increases the other, and vice versa.

The process of being truly present—and remaining so—takes energy. But it also creates it. But first we have to surrender our patterned ingrained ways of escaping. When we surrender to reality, we have to keep showing up in order to make progress. And that takes effort, discipline, dedication.

Fifty percent of engaging life is just showing up, being there physically—be it showing up on the meditation cushion, classroom, work environment, home, family life, et cetera. Just showing up is fifty percent of the battle.

But it’s only fifty percent.

The other fifty percent is in how we show up. And the most important element in this is care—having a sense of respect and real interest in what we’re doing. Without care and respect, we become disengaged, and even something as potentially profound and centering as meditation becomes hollow. So how we show up is crucially important. When we pay attention to what we do, we naturally care. They feed each other.

These days, when people pursue a spiritual path and a more spiritual approach to life, they can be very enthusiastic at first, but then at a certain point some people will tend to just want to shelve it; they think they’ve practiced enough, seen enough, gained enough, and they just want to hold and stay where they are now, or even cash out and revert back to their comfort zone.

Many people seem to want a spiritual path on their own terms. And this is not possible. When we are truly engaged, we are actually giving our body, our speech, and our mind to the world.

Personally, the more my path unfolds, the more I see the need for the kind of steadiness, discipline, structure, resolve, and paying attention that keeps us on the spot, that allows us to be more deeply aware of how we show up, how we speak, what we do, how we engage with others. Because even with practice—even with a spiritual practice—and even as we are trying to practice something as noble and as profound as the dharma, it’s still easy to develop little places to which we escape, little cocoons of comfort where we withdraw when life gets uncomfortable or stale. But the training of warriorship is there to help us with those neutral and uncomfortable moments, to help push us through to an even deeper and a more profound form of practice—a deeper and more profound engagement with our practice. Without that sense of steadiness—devotion, determination, fixedness—we are always in the back of our minds looking for our retirement—a place where after we have worked hard and invested ourselves for a while, we can flop ourselves and relax and just let everything hang.

But the path of engagement does not get easier. There is no retirement on it. There is however a profound sense of delight to be developed from it. But no retirement. Engagement is the path. And this is the way of a warrior—engagement without the aim of retiring.

Real Love & The Examined Life

We naturally tend to speak to others in our own love language, meaning we try to love others in the way we would want to be loved, in ways that speak love to us.  This is just part of being human, part and parcel of being a see of awareness born into one set of five senses, an ego limited to a particular skin bag of bones and nerve endings.

But Love—real love—means stretching ourselves to learn how to speak love in a way that speaks to those we love in a way that is more native and natural to them (so long as that way is healthy, of course).   Real love means learning how to speak in other dialects of love—the other person’s dialect.  It means learning to love another in a way that is meaningful to them, even though it may (initially or for a while) be foreign or difficult to us.  That’s part of the self-extension of real love. 

And it involves a lot of paying attention and noticing and thinking.

The other side of the self-extension of real love means stretching how we receive love.  Real love means stretching ourselves and our hearing so that we can receive love from others in a way that is native to them even though it may be foreign or alien to us—meaning even though it may not be our preferred way of being loved.

This is a huge part of what it means to be in a conscious relationship. 

In a truly conscious relationship, both people are focused on increasing their own awareness of themselves and their real underlying motivations and needs and patterns, as well as their awareness of the other person and his or her real motivations and needs—and intending this level of awareness or being fully present 24/7/365.  This is what makes a relationship, by definition, a truly conscious relationship. 

And it’s an inescapable part of leading an examined life. 

And, truth be told, to live anything less than a very mindful and examined and consciously aware life is to waste one’s mind—to forsake it—and live asleep, unconsciously, as if one had never been born.  Or to live as if one had never been born human but instead was an animal.  Perhaps a very successful and pleasant to be around animal, but essentially an animal nonetheless. 

What makes us most human—and what simulaneously most frightens/terrifies/haunts us—is our capacity for self-awareness.  Self-consciousness, self-awareness, is both a tremendous blessing and an onerous curse.  Because the more aware of ourselves we are, the more keenly aware we will be as well of our own mortality, our own finitude, the possibility of a vast pitch-black eternity of nothingness to come after our meager little life has run its course.

“I stick my finger in existence—and it smells of nothing.  Where am I?  Who am I? How did I come to be here?  What is this thing called life? What does it mean?  Who is it that has lured me into the world and why was I not consulted?” – Søren Kierkegaard

We might say that the child is a ‘natural’ coward.  Most of us, by the time we leave childhood, have repressed our vision of the primary miraculousness of creation.  We have closed it off, changed it, and no longer perceive the world as it is to raw experience.  The great boon of repression is that it makes it possible to live decisively in an overwhelmingly miraculous and incomprehensible world, a world so full of beauty, majesty, and terror that if animals perceived it all they would be paralyzed to act.

But nature has protected the lower animals by endowing them with instincts.  It is very simple: Animals are not moved by what they cannot react to.  They live in a tiny world, a sliver of reality, one neuro-chemical program that keeps them walking behind their noses and shuts everything else out.

But look at man, the impossible creature.  Here nature seems to have thrown caution to the winds along with the programmed instincts.  She created an animal who has no defense against full perception of the external world, an animal completely open to experience.  Not only in front of his nose, in his ‘umwelt,’ but in many other ‘umweltsen.’  He can relate not only to animals in his own species, but in some ways to all other species.  He can contemplate not only what is edible for him, but everything that grows.  He not only lives in this moment, but expands his inner self to yesterday, his curiosity to centuries ago, his fears to five billion years from now when the sun will cool, his hopes to an eternity from now.  He lives not only on a tiny territory, nor even on an entire planet, but in a galaxy, in a universe, and in dimensions beyond visible universes.  It is appalling, the burden than man bears.  He doesn’t know who he is, why he was born, what he is doing on the planet, what he is supposed to do, what he can expect.  His own existence is incomprehensible to him, a miracle just like the rest of creation, closer to him but all the more strange.  Each thing is a problem.

Man had to invent and create out of himself the limitations of perception and the equanimity to live on this planet.  And so the core of psychodynamics, the formation of human character, is a study in human self-limitation and in the terrifying costs of that limitation. 

(Ernest Becker, from “ The Denial of Death,” pp. 50-51)

This double-edged sword nature of awareness is what keeps many people from ever becoming very aware of themselves, others, life, and instead forces them to unconsciously, unknowingly, stunt themselves psychologically and emotionally and remain narcissistic, impulsive, unthinking, unreflective, unaware.  Because it just seems easier (meaning less frightening, less terrifying, less disorienting and bewildering) to live that way.  Why trade in a bunch of little niggling nuisance even luxury problems for a set of bonafide and likely irresolvable and unanswerable and perhaps endlessly terrifying existential questions? 

Why submit or surrender oneself to this—to living this honestly?

Why not limit one’s awareness, live dishonestly, and do like the vast majority of other people do and not dedicate oneself to truth and reality but instead dedicate oneself to trivia, distraction, and the art of dissipating oneself and immersing oneself in this and that illusion or fantasy or lie?

This is one of the fundamental philosophic and psychological questions in life, if not THE fundamental question in life: How self-aware to permit ourselves to be?

Or: how much denial and self-deception and dishonesty to allow ourselves to generate and buffer ourselves with.

Real love is based on—and is the fruit of—real self-awareness, real self-honesty, intense soul-searching and self-scrutiny, in other words, a very very examined and highly mindful life.  Or in still yet other words, it’s based on having a truly high-functioning conscience. 

Thus, if a person is not leading a highly mindful and examined and reflective life, then one is not capable of truly loving others or one’s self: one’s love will at best be hit or miss—a mix of acting out one’s feelings, good and bad, and perhaps the fruits of a decent upbringing and many Sunday sermons—or at worse it will be some form of exploitation, robbery/thievery, narcissism, parasiticism.

This is the choice we are all faced with: How aware to permit ourselves to become of ourselves, others, life.

To not permit ourselves to become very aware of ourselves and others and life will mean we will have to live superficially, dissipate our mind on popular fiction and the worst of bestsellers, live in the shallows relationships-wise and conversationally as well, insulate ourselves from those things that (not to mention people who) might overwhelm or frighten us.  It means to commit ourselves to a life of comfort first, a life of ongoing dedication to the path of least resistance, to laziness, to cutting corners, to not extending or stretching ourselves, to stagnating as a person, to stunting and blunting and dulling our awareness, to listening to lots and lots of SportsCenter or Entertainment Tonight, et cetera.  It means committing ourselves to never growing up, to never outgrowing our innate narcissistic (self-centered) and antisocial (unconscientious), and borderline (impulsive, avoidant, emotionally reactive and volatile) tendencies.

On the other hand, to become ever more self-aware and lead an increasingly mindful and examined life will entail a life of discipline, facing challenges, facing reality, thinking, reflecting, reading decent books, courage, non-avoidance, honesty, deliberateness, facing our fears, extending and stretching ourselves and growing vertically or perpendicularly as individuals spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, intellectually.

From M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled,” page 303—

A young woman who had been in therapy with me for a year for a pervasive depression, and who had come to learn a good deal about the psychopathology of her relatives, was exultant one day about a family situation that she had handled with wisdom, equanimity, and facility. 

“I felt really good about it and myself,” she said. “I wished I could feel that way more often.”

I told her that  she could, pointing out to her that the reason she had felt so well was that for the first time in dealing with her family she was in a position of power, being aware of all of their distorted communications and the devious ways in which they attempted to manipulate her into fulfilling their unrealistic demands, and therefore she was on top of the situation.  I told her that as she was able to extend this type of awareness to other situations she would find herself increasingly “on top of things” and therefore experience that good feeling more and more frequently.

She looks at me with the beginning of a sense of horror.

“But that would require me to be thinking all the time!” she said.

I agreed with her that it was through a lot of thinking that her personal power would evolve and be maintained, and that she would be rid of the feeling of powerlessness at the root of her depression.

She became furious.  “I don’t want to have to have to think all the goddamn time!” she roared.  “I didn’t come here for my life to be made more difficult.  I just want to be able to relax and enjoy myself, have fun, and enjoy a comfortable life.  You expect me to be some sort of god or something!”

Sad to say, it was shortly afterward that this potentially brilliant woman terminated treatment, far short of being healed, terrified of the demands that real mental health would require of her.

Gurdjieff on Self-Deception and Truth

One must learn to speak the truth.

This may sound strange to you.  It may seem to you that it is enough to wish or to decide to do so. 

But it isn’t.

People comparatively rarely tell a deliberate lie.  In most cases they actually think they speak the truth.  Yet they lie all the time—both when they wish to lie and when they wish to speak the truth.  They lie all the time—both to themselves and to others.

Therefore nobody ever understands either himself or anyone else.

Think about it—could there be such discord, such deep misunderstanding, such animosity and hatred towards the views and opinions of others, if people were able to understand one another? 

Of course not.

So people cannot understand because they cannot help lying.

To speak the truth is the most difficult thing in the world; and one must study a great deal and for a long time in order to be able to speak the truth.  —The wish alone is not enough.

To speak the truth one must know what the truth is and a lie is, and first of all in oneself.

And this nobody wants to know.

(G.I. Gurdjieff, in P. D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” pg. 22)

Bhante G on Developing Self-Discipline, Patience, and Mindfulness as a Way of Learning How to Better Engage the Full Intensity of Living and Loving

(The following is riffed on from the book “Mindfulness in Plain English,” by Bhante Gunaratana, pp. 86, 122-125, 146, 170.)

“Discipline” is a touchy subject for many of us. It conjures up images of somebody standing over us with a stick, keeping us in line, correcting us harshly when we’re wrong.

But real self-discipline is different. It’s not self-scolding or self-denial. Rather, it’s the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting of the vast majority of our impulses and piercing their secret—that they have no real power over us, that it’s all a show, a deception, a misdirection, a bluster. Our urges scream and whine at us, they cajole us, they coax us, they threaten us, they seduce us, they con us, but really the vast majority of them carry no allure, no substance at all. We give in out of habit. We give in because we never really bother to question or investigate them or ourselves. We never really bother to look beyond the allure or noise, beyond our urges and see how empty most of them are—do I really need this? Will this matter in the end? What am I really after? What would happen if I didn’t give in to this urge or temptation?

There is only one way to learn this lesson, though. And the words on this computer screen or page won’t do it. Instead, we have to look directly within and observe the stuff coming up—the restlessness, ennui, anxiety, pain—just watch and observe it but not get involved. That is self-discipline—watching ourselves in an uninvolved way. Because, much to our surprise, the vast majority of what comes up will go away. It rises; it passes away. It’s as simple as that.

There’s another word for self-discipline. It’s called patience.

If you truly want to change something, the first thing you have to do is to see it the way it is. Self-discipline, patience, not immediately gratifying our every urge, is what allows for this, is what allows us to see how the vast majority of our desires are simply distractions, discursive, a chase after our own tail, and they simply arise and then fall away if we don’t give in and get involved trying to placate and gratify every one of them, but instead just watch and observe ourselves.

Questioning ourselves and our desires is a particularly useful way of remedying our monkey mindedness and impulsiveness. Do I really need this? What am I really after? What will I have wished I would done right now if I were to die tomorrow? What would happen to me if I didn’t define myself in this way by giving in to this urge or temptation? In order to answer these questions—in order to even ask these questions—we must learn something of the quality of the distraction. To do that, we must divorce ourselves from it, take a mental step back from it, disengage from our id or our monkey mind, and engage our higher brain and view ourselves more objectively. We must stop feeling the feeling or thinking the distracted discursive thought if we are to step back and view it as an object of inspection and observation. And this very process is an exercise in mindfulness, in uninvolved, detached awareness. The hold of the chain of distractions is broken, and mindfulness is back in control. The key is not to fight distracting thoughts or urges, not to strain or struggle, because the energy we put into resisting tends to only make the thought or distraction stronger. Instead, just observe the distraction with bare uninvolved attention—mindfulness. Mindfulness—the Pali word “appamada,” means clear-thinking or the absence of madness. By observing more and more what’s going on in our minds, we eventually reach a state of ultimate sanity. As genuine mindfulness is built up, the walls of the ego are gentled and taken down, craving diminishes, defensiveness and rigidity lessen, and we become more open, more flexible, and we grow more in wisdom and compassion and equanimity.

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.