just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness
March, 2016

Dedicated Time to Still the Restless Mind

Thursday, March 31st, 2016


The mind trained in stillness has raised awareness to balance. We’re pulled from balance with feelings and thoughts of dissatisfaction. The mind at peace in the moment, freed from thought and images that remove us from awareness to the moment, will generate more balanced action. It may be one of the more important actions we can take in feeding consciousness. The cerebral cortex plays a key role in memory, attention, perception, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. Putting attention and perception to the nonverbal, pre-thought experience has been shown to improve awareness and raise consciousness. The social, biological and mind/body benefits from this disciplined practicing of stillness have been dramatically documented in recent research. Ancient cultures have been aware of the positive benefits of collective breathing and/or toning. The focused awareness on direct experience before thought/image settles the mind from all of the linguistic chatter that stirs us up. This practice has a harmonizing impact that fosters collaboration and communication over violence and attack. It’s a practice that feeds one’s strength to embrace uncertainty with an open mind over fighting to persuade another from the closed mind.

These minds are beautiful. The brain alone has over 86 billion neurons. The digestive system has trillions of living microbes. What we’re learning today about the microcosm and the macrocosm must humble us all to how little we know. And our minds are continually working to figure things out, to make sense of what’s happening, and to create a story that works to relieve our restlessness. Yet, real peace comes when we can surrender in stillness to the moment. It comes when we can just let go to the ground of being. This letting go requires practice because our linguistic brain is continuously feeding a monologue that’s impossible to stop. Yet, this awareness training increases our sensitivity to this chatter. The more we practice the sooner we recognize how we’re being carried away by these thoughts. The less time needed to observe these thoughts, the more we can extend our experiences into the nonverbal.

Why is this important? In addition to the physical and mental health benefits that come from training the mind in stillness, one’s attentive ability is dramatically increased. Perhaps the most important skill in life is to love. Many would define the key element of love as attention. The greatest gift we can give to another is our undivided, focused attention. Yet, how often have you truly been listened to? This type of active listening is rare because it too requires a great deal of practice and training. Most of us are rehearsing a response to the person speaking. A multitude of judgments and comparisons may be coming up. We’re built to try to make sense of another’s experience from our limited experience. Yet, no one can have your experience and you can’t have their’s. We can only have our experience of what we gather the other person’s experience to be. And so it goes with them. If we’re both really good listeners, we come closer to understanding. All to often, our distracted minds have us taking turns in our narcissistic monologues, totally missing the mark on the meaning the other was really driving at. I suspect this is why we focus today on superficial topics like the weather, sports teams, our toys, and gossip about other people. Yet, we’re all craving attention to go deeper, to be listened to in a safe and supported environment, free from attack and persuasion. That’s the real power in training the mind to stillness. Essentially, can I hold ground in a groundless situation, can I ‘just be’ in the face of turbulence and attack, can I hold a balanced posture when the earthquake happens? This is what I call ‘response ability’ as opposed to unbalanced reactivity. It’s what leads us to actions we can look back on and say we’d do it again in clear consciousness. It’s action that’s solid, grounded in the Golden Rule, and leaves the world a better place.

Today over fifty nations meet to discuss how to better keep nuclear materials from threatening states and individuals. It would be my hope they could all sit together in stillness, collectively breathing, touching their gratitude for the opportunity to participate…to just be. It’s my hope that this process would increase their sensitivity to the gravity of the situation. Today’s nuclear bombs make the Hiroshima bomb look like a firecracker. Even the smallest regional use of a nuclear warhead would hurt us all by depleting the ozone layer, global black rain, and a dramatically impacted food supply. To me, the only human response to nukes is to recognize their lack of utility and move forward once again in dismantling them. I recently recalled a cartoon depicting aliens from another planet viewing life on earth. A fellow alien asked if we had intelligence. The reply was, “It seems they do. They have discovered fusion and atomic energy, however, they’ve developed bombs and they’re pointing them at themselves.” We ultimately come to see how precious life is and how we’re all connected. Hopefully we have the sensitivity and awareness to realize this before it’s too late.  It’s my experience that training the mind in stillness leads to more “response able” actions.

Transforming to a New Mythology

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016


Since the beginning of man, the predominant myth was “us vs. them”. We’ve been programmed to live in a mindset of conquest. There are those who win and those who lose. The warrior was time honored and we were taught to believe the harm we caused our perceived enemy had little or no negative consequence upon us. I suppose the gift of modern technology is in showing us how flawed this myth is. The reduced value of conquest was most blatantly shown with the introduction of the atomic bomb. It became clear that what we do to each other we do to ourselves. With the strength of today’s nuclear weapons there is no winner. No conquest. With the further advent of communications and transportation we see there’s simply no way to live in an isolated universe. Those who cling to the old mythology try with all their power to insulate their subjects from the transforming paradigm. We can see the resistance to change in Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and many within our country who would attempt to build walls rather than bridges. No doubt, the pace of change is accelerating and it’s only human nature to want to cling to the old mythology. Yet, it’s the closed mind that refuses to open to a broader global consciousness that threatens the existence of us all.

When I was younger I thought an invasion from outer space would bring us together. It was clear we needed to get bigger than our differences. The Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam and now the vague war on terror have woken many to the fog of war and the conquest mind. As a child I relished the game of Monopoly. It coached me well in the conquest mind and greed. Today I find it humorous that many of those who won that game in real life have come together to see how they can give their wealth away for the betterment of humanity. They are some of the clearest examples of this transformation from fear and greed to healing and nurturing.

The new mythology is not based upon attack and separation. It’s based on communication and the desire to understand and join together in the pursuit of a higher quality of life for all things and beings. It recognizes that everything is connected and no one is immune from the pain and consequence of selfish actions. This new paradigm has been perceived as ‘soft’ by the divided conquering mind. It will do all it can to hang on to it’s perceived notion of dominance. Yet, there’s no escape. Those who hang to their belief in holding ‘the right religion’ clearly see their future is threatened as the old military mythology is promoted. Those who cling to wealth from the use of polluting fossil fuels will tire of insulating themselves from air too dirty to breath. Those who hold the belief that climate change is to be ignored will see their beach front property flood. Those who would deny education and health care to the poor will see anarchy from the uneducated and the spread of disease from those we refuse to care for. The old mythology necessarily imprisons the conquerer in fear of being conquered through their ignorance of our interdependence.

While the old mythology was based on the divided mind, the new mythology puts emphasis to the wholeness of the living experience. The old mind is caught with individualistic survival thinking and the new mythology would be driven through collaboration and communication. This transformation is happening, being pushed along with greater speed by the closed minded actions of today’s militarists and right wing. We can see the threat brought to our freedoms and our very planetary existence. I believe we can all agree that we’re living in uncertain times. We’re living in times that require balanced actions that carefully consider the experience of those we perceive as our enemies. The most dangerous words we can say to each other are, “I know that”. It’s the clear mark of the closed mind. The new paradigm recognizes the need to empathize, to seek understanding, and to work together for peace and harmony. The new paradigm invites us to sit together in silence before taking actions from old paradigm thinking. It places deeper respect to one another, surrenders the righteous thinking/belief of the conquest mind, and moves to wholeness.

Our current political setup shows us clearly how we’ve outgrown the old mythology. Like a cancer, our various political parties fight one another to the level of disfunction at a time when we need dramatic stewarding actions. Our supposed system of checks and balances has cracked as fixed beliefs/ideology block us from our curiosity to find better solutions. The new mythology would put a media emphasis upon those trained in the skills of dialog and open minded diplomacy. It would be dominated by exploration from questions like, “What do you want?”, “What do you think we can do together?”, “Tell us more.”, “We hear you saying you want __________. Is that correct?”, “We hear you say you expected ______________, but you got ________________. So now what?” The new paradigm would show us more interviews like this. The new paradigm would see this as the most important skill our world leaders could hold.

The old view, driven from fear, greed and ignorance of our interdependence, is the view of “No.” The new, global consciousness is driven from the “Yes” to belonging. It puts focus upon how we can serve one another as the turbulence of climate change, rapidly advancing technologies, a widening wealth/power gap and warfare to mention a few, threaten us all. It’s time to ‘just be’ as we discover the bubbling up of real questions and solutions rather than the absurdity of the questions currently being asked from our political candidates. Big money in politics has failed us. Profit driven education and health care without moral conscience have failed us. Devoting most of our national budget to military expense has failed us. Distracting our populace with conquest sports entertainment has put us to sleep. Numbing the populace to TV, drugs and bad foods has failed us. Pushing ideology has failed us. Arming our populace with guns has failed us. Ignoring the stewardship of our environment has failed us. Lobbyists and special interests have failed us. It’s time to wake up to the global consciousness myth before it’s too late. It’s time to sit together, to join, to communicate, to breath the same air in gratitude for the opportunity to participate in our healing.

Expanding our Notion of Silence

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016


We commonly view silence as the lack of auditory sound. Most of us believe it has something to do with ‘not talking’. Yet, we all know the talking mind continues. Our thoughts are based in language and we forever have a monologue going on in our heads. These thoughts have great power to carry us away, dramatically impacting our experience of the moment. They draw us from our capacity to hold awareness and balance to the moment. We see how the highly reactive mind suffers from these attachments. We can define ‘belief’ as an attachment to thought. The more we feed the belief, the more invested in the thought, the more emotional we can become about it. We then fill with a craving to have others believe the thoughts we’ve attached to. This process is quite different from education. The education process would recognize our duty to share with others ‘what works’. The scientific method is based on the law of efficacy. When we test this thought, using consistent methods, does it work every time? It’s my contention that taking time to ‘silence the mind’ works every time. Certain foods we consume work every time to nourish. Certain physical activities work every time to energize us. Letting go the verbal chattering in our minds is now being shown to work for mental and physical benefit by a number of recent research projects.

So let’s define this process as ‘silencing the mind’. In effect, we’re opening the hand of thought as we witness the workings of language in our minds. We’re training in the practice of stillness. Obviously, a stilled mind requires a stilled body. Several states attempted to go around the public school prayer controversy by stipulating a morning time of silence. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court viewed this as religious since students could still be verbalizing religious thought in their heads through the concept of traditional, petitionary prayer. In fact, it was referred to as silent prayer and was struck down as a violation of the separation of church and state law. So what can we do?

Prohibiting the practice of silencing the mind has not been helpful. Students come to school agitated from a variety of thoughts running through their minds, unable to focus and balance. We see this in our government and business. There’s a focus upon expression over compassionate listening. Communication moves to debate with the very notion of dialogue made impossible. Curiosity and an open mind seeking understanding moves to the mind closed to diversity and new ways of seeing things. This is what happens when we don’t put energy, time and effort into developing body/mind/spirit skills. We lose our grounding as we find ourselves driven to compete against one another. Our world moves to “us vs. them” as we feed conflict over our intentions to collaborate. The capitalistic economy fails as survivalist greed and hoarding are fed without conscience. So what can we do?

It’s my contention that materialism and moral decay thrive on our misinterpretation of ‘separation of church and state’. It’s quite humorous and tragic that public schools are held to one standard and our U.S. Congress is held to another. We stumble on this issue as we continue to print money that says, “In God we trust”, as we require a Pledge of Allegiance that says, “One nation under God”, and as our government continues to open with Christian prayer. Our political candidates struggle on this issue, some using it to get votes from the majority of Americans who’d still like to see prayer in the schools. Others using it to claim their better understanding of the Constitution, remarking on the freedoms lost from allowing a religion to be pushed in a publicly funded arena. I’ve got two things I’d propose that won’t violate this law, yet will go a long way in the evolving of the freedoms set forth in our Constitution.

First, let’s recognize that religion is derived from ‘beliefs’. These ‘beliefs’ are thoughts a group of people have chosen to attach to. Holding the principle of education high, it would behoove us to introduce the study of religions into our schools at an early age where students could analyze similarities and differences in the various world religions. Also, they could take the teachings of these religions and see which hold up to scientific study and which are beliefs passed down through second hand story telling. Those weak in their faith may feel threatened by such an approach, but I contend they’d more than likely find their religious belief strengthened when seeing how similar the teachings are across the planet. It would reduce our tendency to ‘think’ we’re right, and reduce our willingness to fight those who don’t think what we think.

Second, let’s redefine ‘silence’. Let’s call it ‘stilling the thoughts of the mind’ in a quiet setting. Recognizing this is a life long practice that requires skill, we could implement this as a critical skill set aimed to benefit one’s educational performance and quality of life. This is not prayer. It does not promote a religion and it does not threaten a religion. This is a practice proven to have dramatic benefits in health, reduces anxiety, increases awareness to the transient nature of life, and grows awareness to the interconnection of all things. It’s a skill set that deepens our compassion, gratitude and ability to forgive, all major attributes of a healthy society and most world religions.

Expansion of ‘silence’ to ‘no thought’ or ‘stillness of mind’ and elimination of the trigger words ‘meditation’, ’prayer’ and ‘God’ should go a long way in meeting the requirements of the Lemon test and slowing the materialistic/secular momentum we’ve seen from such limited legal decisions.

The Problem with Language and the Need to Train the Non-discursive Mind

Monday, March 28th, 2016

The field of linguistics teaches us that language is made of arbitrary symbols. General Semantics teaches us that ‘meaning is in the person’. By definition, communication means ‘to join’ and attack means ‘to separate’. It’s basic human nature to fill with dissatisfaction, desiring things to be as they were or as we hope they could be. Yet, we find our greatest peace and most skilled action comes from practicing the art of awareness and presence to the moment. Our notion of separateness feeds the conflict in our lives. The more we hold on to the illusion of our separateness the more we suffer. When we attach to our beliefs (held thoughts fed from the discursive mind), the more we’re willing to fight those who hold different thoughts. Yet, the wisdom of all great spiritual teachers is to hold reverence to life, practicing balance and peace in the midst of a turbulent changing world. The key to effective communication is developing the skill to suspend belief in dialogue with those holding different thought. The joining of humanity comes through this reverence to the other with sincere intention to understand. Our governments become rigid from lack of training in this. Millions of people are needlessly killed from unbalanced reaction to perceived threat. Perhaps the greatest example of balanced action in the midst of extreme threat is when President Kennedy took time to pause before approving the requested nuclear action from his military advisors. A more contemporary example is seen in the flexibility and openness of Pope Francis.

So let’s look at two words highly charged in our society today: prayer and pro-life. Today we’re not able to educate our children to the benefit of comparative religions because of the Supreme Court’s difficulty in understanding the intent of our constitution. Pushing one’s ‘belief’ (fixed thought) on what happens when we die was clearly seen as disruptive to the educational process. For thousands of years various societies have created stories to explain this and the study of these various religions could go a long way to opening the minds of our youth. The refusal to study various religions in the academic setting inadvertently has us inhibiting religious freedom as we ignore the study of common elements and differences. This ‘ignoring’ results in the political discord we have today as we attach ‘right vs. wrong’ thinking to beliefs we’re willing to kill for, violating the very essence of our faith. Similarly, the word ‘pro life’ has been hijacked to mean someone who doesn’t believe a woman has a right to abortion. Yet, the core of all religion is based on reverence for life. It’s based on respecting the unknown, honoring life in each encounter, moment by moment, person by person. It’s not an idealistic practice, but an immediate one requiring respect, openness, and the willingness to dialogue beyond one’s fixed belief system. In the quest for reverence to life, it’s continually examining who/what gets harmed.

So let’s drop the heavy semantic reactivity to prayer and pro-life and see what happens when we have faith to approach life with the open mind. This is the mind that lets go the ‘I know that’ position in willingness and ability to go deeper. Let’s not call this religion. Let’s call it the foundation of effective communication, a pre-requisite to dialogue. It’s a skill that I believe should be central to the educational process. First, we train to settle the discursive mind. We can simply hold stillness with a focus on the breath. The feeling of well being is fed when we practice gratefulness (great fullness). This skill may be spiritual, but it’s not to be confused with religion. Basically, with each breath in we experience opportunity. The opportunity is to participate. It’s essentially the confirmation of our freedom to say ‘yes’ to our belonging. With each breath out we can experience gratitude for this gift of opportunity. It settles the restless mind, balances us to better receive what’s coming up, and leads us to more skilled action in whatever we do. So let’s not call this prayer, meditation, or any other word affiliated with religion. Let’s honor our freedoms and simply refer to it as ‘awareness training’. It’s something I think could be central to the educational curriculum as we face a world demanding more and more skill in effective communication. Finally, joy is the necessary consequence of gratitude, and aren’t peace and joy what we all want for our children, our community, state, nation, global community and planet?

The Public School Prayer Problem

Monday, March 28th, 2016


In 1971 the Supreme Court came up with the Lemon test after the Lemon vs. Kurtzman case. It laid the following as criterion for prayer in schools:

1.Must have a secular purpose;
2. Must neither advance nor inhibit religion; and
3. Must not result in an excessive entanglement between government and religion.

I maintain that whoever can crack this nut will win the next presidential election and I have a way to do this. Our democracy and capitalistic economy crumble when we inhibit the spiritual element of our life journey. The secular purpose for respecting and honoring that which is bigger than our own selfish interests is peace. When we practice the Golden Rule we’re motivated to care for one another, to offer a deeper stewardship to the gift of just being, and to recognize the interdependence of all things and beings. When we limit ourselves to rigid thinking, attacking diversity, accentuating fear and greed through violent rhetoric and persuasion technique, we freeze our growth. Our current government system is frozen and I suggest it can be thawed through the re-introduction of prayer. This is not a prayer specific to a religion. It’s not a linguistic petitionary prayer to a personal god. And rather than entangling government and religion, it will offer the deepest respect to the need for shared common sense as we face a rapidly changing world.

Here are a few quotes from our founding fathers and a couple contemporaries about the necessity of bowing to that which is bigger than us:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.

Ben Franklin

Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give the earth itself and all it contains rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you. Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly. Encourage all your virtuous dispositions, and exercise them whenever an opportunity arises, being assured that they will gain strength by exercise, as a limb of the body does, and that exercise will make them habitual. From the practice of the purest virtue, you may be assured you will derive the most sublime comforts in every moment of life, and in the moment of death.

Thomas Jefferson

I think human history, for the most part, has been a cycle of hatred and revenge and indifference and callousness to the weak and vulnerable. But we’re experiencing an awakening. That’s what happens in America. Right when America is about to go under we get a spiritual and moral awakening.

Cornell West, 60 Minutes interview March, 2016

I believe that in the twenty first century we have to be open and must not put anymore ideological differences in front of the best solutions.

Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina, 60 Minutes interview March 2016

[I]f we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity.

Daniel Webster

So when the constitution was written almost all of the founders had a Christian tradition. As the world has grown smaller through migration, global trade and education, we’ve come to see better how we language the Divine. No doubt, there are those who believe it’s their religious duty to convince others to believe what they believe. Any attempts to persuade another to a religious belief would fail the Lemon test. Yet, can’t we argue that any attempts to deny a time of spiritual communication inhibit religion? So how can we solve this problem?

Just as ‘how’ we language our various religions has resulted in most of our conflicts and threatens our world today, moving to prayer without language can be our best chance for healing and touching peace. Indigenous cultures recognized this power for centuries. Silent, collective breathing creates that unified space for the Divine to bubble up. It lines up to a place that’s bigger than our hopes and fears. We can touch a real faith to that which is supporting us in ways beyond the thinking of our small minds. It’s a space that readies us to communicate with one another for a stewarded ‘joining’ rather than attacking one another in survivalist ‘separating’. The ancient Hawaiians referred to the Christian mission workers as ‘haole’, translated as breathless. They referred to them as ‘those who prayed without breathing first’. Traditionally, they recognized the aligning, humbling power of collective, silent breathing before uttering words.

Today our government has been captured by big money and special interests that fail to carefully examine harm caused from their positions of belief. We’re facing a time where the power of listening and silencing the mind have appeared to have lost favor. I tend to agree with Cornell West that America is on the verge of a spiritual and moral awakening. The politics of attack, hatred and greed have been accentuated through the rhetoric of our current political campaigns. As a populace, we’re following the lead of our elected officials, refusing to deeply listen to one another for common sense.  We’ve lost our in faith that Divine Providence that will produce a bigger, better solution. We have to be open to the limitations of language and the need to move beyond our ideologies, high ideals and noble thoughts. Our spiritual work is to offer “caring and kind attention to our breath, our children, to the trees around us, and to the earth with which we are so interconnected.” (Jack Kornfield). In his book A Path with Heart, Kornfield writes:

When we listen as if we were in a temple and give attention to one another as if each person were our teacher, honoring his or her words as valuable and sacred, all kinds of great possibilities awaken. Even miracles happen. To act in the world most effectively, our actions cannot come from our small sense of self, our limited identity, our hopes, and our fears. Rather, we must listen to a greater possibility and cultivate actions connected with our highest intentions from the patient and compassionate (Divine) within us. We must learn to e in touch with something greater than ourselves, whether we call it the Tao, God, the dharma, or law of nature. There is a deep current of truth, no matter what happens, our actions will be right. p. 300

Our founding fathers inserted this in the end of The Declaration of Independence and referred to it as a reliance upon Divine Providence.

So I challenge us to find our grounding once again through shared, silent, collective breathing and close with a poem written by a child immediately after 9/11:

For Our World

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment
Before anybody says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else
We need to be silent
Just silent.
Silent for a moment
Before we forever lose
The blessings of songs
That grow in our hearts
We need to notice
Just notice.
Notice for a moment
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life
No chance for peace.

Mattie Stepanek, 9/12/2001

Skillful Means in Communication

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016


Science and life experience seem to validate that we continually look for ‘what works’. Most spiritual traditions are founded upon the Golden Rule. For centuries, the notion has been validated that we are healthier and happier when we do to others what we’d like them to do for us. Yet, our survival brain continues to draw us to our own selfish concerns. We use our rational minds to contradict the Gold Rule. We draw conclusions and claim our righteousness from our limited life experience. Yet, all spiritual traditions are based on the vast mystery of life. We’re to be filled with wonder and awe at the unfolding manifestations put before us. We’re to hold an open mind and heart in our movement to deeper understanding. Yet, this becomes increasingly more difficult when we’re under attack from another. Truly skillful means would have us hold our center for balance, open our hearts for understanding, and listen deeply for growth. It would have us compassionate in meeting the suffering of the person we’re communicating with. It would surrender the desire to persuade the other from a position of our ‘rightness’. It would recognize the illusion of our separateness and experience the truth that stewardship, seeking the best for all, is the most effective. It’s with this awareness that our actions line up. Jack Cornfield, in A Path With Heart has captured this in the following:

When we listen as if we were in a temple and give attention to another as if each person were our teacher, honoring his or her words as valuable and sacred, all kinds of great possibilities awaken. Even miracles can happen. To act in the world most effectively, our actions cannot come from our small sense of self, our limited identity, our hopes, and our fears. Rather, we must listen to a greater possibility and cultivate actions connected with our highest intentions from the patient and compassionate Divine within us. We must learn to be in touch with something greater than ourselves, whether we call it the Tao, God, the dharma, or the law of nature. There is a deep current of truth that we can hear. When we listen and act in accordance with this truth, no matter what happens, our actions will be right. p. 300
In these current times where so many preach so much fear it becomes more and more evident that our actions must come from a sincere desire to understand one another’s experience. Dr. Martin Luther King has said we lose our influence when those we’re trying to influence can smell our contempt. When I think I’m right and try to push you to think like me I generally find a push back on your position of difference. In Transactional Analysis we’d see the failure in this communication as the Parent speaking down to the Child, leading the child to more rebellion. Erik Berne has spoken to the “I’m OK, You’re Not OK model” and the violence it engenders. Yet, we see how skillful communication means I have to meet you in respect and open inquiry. It’s from an “I’m OK, You’re OK”, “Adult-Adult” communication model.

Today’s political climate clearly illustrates the lack of ‘skillful means’. Our candidates are punished for any attempts to understand one another. Aggressive, angry and hurtful comments are hurled at one another. The media available to us thrives on conflict, violence and controversy. The current debate programs have done very little at showing who has developed strong listening skills that would lead to effective actions and strong stewardship for the nation and planet. As diversity and change continue to speed up, the common reaction seems to be a desire to hold it back. People are nostalgic and want things to be the way they were. People are afraid of the unknown and hold a belief in holding onto a homogenous community free from rapidly approaching diversity in religion, language, culture, education, race, sexuality, etc. This fear is not just limited to America. Throughout the world there’s growing fear of the unknown and our “us vs them” survivalist thinking jeopardizes us all.

The common misconception is that ‘progressives’ are pushing this change. Yet, the reality is that ‘change happens’. Those who would attempt to stop change have done little but to obstruct our capacity to meet change. One political party has recently prided itself in being the ‘party of No.’ Yet, the Golden Rule instructs us to say “Yes” to a bigger belonging. The first steps in this stewardship process are developing skills in compassionate speech and deep listening.

Just as our cell phones and computers continually need updates, so too must we look at the need to update our business and government practices. If we’re to evolve, we need to expand our capitalism to include a moral conscience that seeks to examine harm caused from actions. Whether a bank, insurance company, energy company, pharmaceutical or weapons manufacturer, we have to demand that success is not limited to the next quarter’s profit. In respect to the Golden Rule and our interdependency, we have to include impact on employees, customers, community, state, nation, international, and planet and environment. Socialism without providing opportunity to participate corrupts well-intentioned welfare. Capitalism based on ‘us vs. them’ survival, greed, and the next corporate profit corrupts our well intentioned free enterprise system as wealth and power become limited to the very few who can never have enough.

We all want to breath healthy air. We all want to be happy. We all want our family to be happy. We all want our children and their children to be happy, to let go resentments and to live in peace. We all know that no one is going to do this for us. We are all asked to learn the skill and art in honoring life “in each encounter, moment by moment and person by person”. This is skilled communication that’s not an idealistic practice but an immediate one. Jack Kornfield quotes a beautiful phrase from William Blake:

If one is to do good, it must be done in the minute particulars. General go0d is the plea of the hypocrite, the scoundrel, and the flatterer.

Skillful means isn’t about lofty thoughts. It’s about practicing caring, kind attention to the gift of our next breath, to our children, the plants around us and the earth to which we’re so interconnected. This comes from openness, flexibility and a heart willing to practice deep listening.

The Practice of Growing our Feeling of Belonging

Thursday, March 17th, 2016


To what do you belong? How do you respond when someone attempts to diminish your feeling of belonging? Life continually presents us with situations that threaten our feeling of ‘being joined’. Our technology and reduced communication skills forever push us to feel separated. Nothing seems to unravel us more than when we perceive another as attacking us. Yet, in following the Law of Non-defense, we hold our grounding and see through the illusion of separateness. A deeper spiritual practice would have us never forgetting the impossibility of our ‘not belonging’. In truth, we’ve always belonged, belong and will always belong. Real peace comes when we can rest in knowing it’s impossible to be alone, to be separated. Yet, in some weird design we develop a notion of being separate, our ego, and somehow we believe that when this notion of our separateness is challenged we need to fight. Isn’t it strange how hard we work to get the approval of others? We can see this in animals as well as they test one another’s strength in the pecking order.

I’ve worked hard to develop skills in the study of how language shapes our experience, body/mind skills in yoga and meditation, boardsports, and playing the trumpet. My attention has been spread across these so I don’t have the focused performance skills of masters in these various interests. Yet, I’ve pursued my development of skills in these areas for decades and have received a sense of ‘belonging’ from those more focused in any of these areas. My perception of their acceptance came over years and my ego screams at me whenever I sense their judgment of my skills. When this happens and I’m losing my center I know it’s time to sit on the cushion and witness how the mind is working. The process is to let these thoughts of insufficiency go, breath in, connect, and cultivate the sense of here, now, belonging with all beings and all things. It may start with Eric Berne’s ‘I’m ok, you’re ok’ mantra. It means to wake up to this present moment gift of opportunity, to be alive and creative. It means seeing the surprise in each new arising moment. Attachment to a thought robs us of this and I can say personally, when another attacks my perceived sense of belonging it’s extremely difficult to let that thought and the associated feelings go.

Yet, with a solid practice I can better see myself as a person of hope instead of hopes. I’ve lived long enough to see hopes go down the drain. The key to quality living is coming back tomorrow with new hope…open for surprise. This takes skill at growing the feeling of belonging. It requires an open mind and heart. We have to be open to receive that everything will not come out well. It requires patience and curiosity. We continually work on saying “yes” to belonging with our whole being. Some have called this the working definition of love. One of the leading authorities on gratitude, Brother David Steindl Rast, contends that you can’t have gratefulness without acknowledging your belonging. Katagiri Roshi instructs us to move through life as though in the ocean, one foot always connected to the floor of the ocean for grounding, no matter how turbulent the surface of the water becomes. Another analogy is that of the wave’s relation to water. We can see our ego as the form of the wave. We may fill with thoughts of our importance and separateness, yet, when the wave finally crashes on the shore it wakes up to the truth that it’s always been water. There’s a deep peace and courage that comes from this cultivated sense of interdependence. It’s the stuff that defeats the poisons of fear, anger, hate, greed and other illusions of our separateness. It’s where we really come alive.

So next time you feel restless, fleeing from the opportunity of the present moment, driven from feelings of separateness and dissatisfaction, try growing your sense of belonging. Some have said depression can be defined as lack of vitality. Nothing feeds vitality and our sense of aliveness better than growing a bigger, deeper sense of belonging that moves past our need for approval from others. Just Be.

Patience, Collaboration, Skillful Means, Humility, Expanded Circles of Belonging

Monday, March 14th, 2016


History and our great spiritual leaders all ask us to develop the above skills in our journey through this life. Gravity works us throughout the day. We’re forever bombarded with the illusion of our separateness. Yet, our very survival depends upon our capacity to experience ourselves as one another. The Golden Rule stresses this. Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara stressed this as the most important lesson learned through his experience with the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam. The lack of patience fed by the illusion of our separateness results in reactionary behavior that more often than not leaves us in a worse situation. In the early ’60’s Kruschev was determined to humble America’ pride. It wasn’t military strength that caused him to alter course. He loosened his desire to hurt/compete with the United States when President Kennedy gave his American University speech addressing our joined humanity:

“For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal. It is our hope— and the purpose of allied policies—to convince the Soviet Union that she, too, should let each nation choose its own future, so long as that choice does not interfere with the choices of others. The Communist drive to impose their political and economic system on others is the primary cause of world tension today. For there can be no doubt that, if all nations could refrain from interfering in the self-determination of others, the peace would be much more assured.”

It’s this call to humanity, understanding and collaboration, delivered with skillful means that moved us away from WWIII.* When we’re militarily reactive, bent on pushing what we ‘think is right’ from our smaller circle of belonging, we risk our very existence. Our real heroes are the ones who can muster the strength and courage to get inside the shoes of the perceived enemy with a sense of compassion and understanding. We seldom see them on the news. They aren’t receiving medals of honor. It’s a much more subtle skill that when exposed touches us all. It creates a loosening of our frozen minds, opens our hearts, and ultimately makes us safer. The polarized, didactic mind views these skills as soft. History shows us they are the most effective at moving us to a safer planet.

*Kennedy’s speech was made in its wholeness available in Soviet press so that the people in the Soviet Union could read it without hindrance. Additionally, the speech could be heard in the Soviet Union without censorship because jamming measures against the western broadcast agencies such as Voice of America didn’t take place upon rebroadcast of Kennedy’s speech. Khrushchev was deeply moved and impressed by Kennedy’s speech, telling Undersecretary of State Averell Harriman that it was “the greatest speech by any American President since Roosevelt.”
After 12 days of negotiations and less than two months after the president’s speech the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was completed. The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed by the governments of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States (represented by Dean Rusk), named the “Original Parties”, at Moscow on August 5, 1963. US ratification occurred by the U.S. Senate on September 24, 1963 by a vote of 80-19 and the treaty was signed into law by Kennedy on October 7, 1963. The treaty went into effect on October 10, 1963.