On Waking Up — Awake as compared to Asleep

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Parallel Paths

On Waking Up — Awake as compared to Asleep It’s hard to admit, but our lives are mostly lived on autopilot. While there are plenty of reasons for “sleeping while awake,” (brain efficiency, etc.) the main reason we do it it is that we fear the work being awake entails.

waking up

We had an interesting visit this past weekend, with a lovely 25-year-old. She was talking about being stuck. The pattern was like this:

1. I’m hard on myself.

2. I judge myself for being hard on myself.

3. I try to talk myself out of it, and then get down on myself for not being able to stop.

4. I want to change, but it’s hard.

5. I’m just lazy.

6. Wash, rinse, repeat.

We’d call this living on autopilot.

While there seems to be a fair amount of self-reflection going on here, if you look at the pattern, you see that everything is being run, rapidly, through the same filter.

Another friend:

1. I’ve spent 12 years looking to others for who I am and how I am doing.

2. I need to figure out why I do this.

3. I keep doing it.

4. I’m miserable because I can’t; figure it out, and I can’t get others to stop telling me who I am.

5. I’m so excited because someone told me I’m special! I want to do what they do!

6. But what if I’m no good at it? People will judge me!

7. Wash, rinse, repeat.


in the box

The danger for her and for most, is thinking that all of this effort at exploring “the small, tight box” is actually a mark of being awake. “I can’t understand why it isn’t different this time!” is a weird thought when all that is happening is a re-hashed pattern. The topic being re-hashed changes, but the pattern applied is the same.

It takes incredible alertness to notice this, and incredible courage to make another choice. And then to make that choice endlessly, until you die.

In Eastern thought, being awake is a state in which the person focusses on allowing thoughts to drift along. seeing what arises, without latching on (grasping.) In our approach, Open Palm Solutions, we are interested in observing the interplay between what the mind thinks (the stories we tell ourselves) and what is actually happening. The greater the correlation between the two, the more awake you are.

On the other hand having the mind go one way and “life” another requires endlessly being asleep.

A couple of examples: (somewhat lame, but hey”¦)


A couple of weeks ago, I had a headache, (I’ve got one right now, and here I sit, working…) and I needed to make a bank deposit, including depositing a US cheque. I decided to deposit the Canadian at the bank machine, then go to a teller to convert and deposit the cheque. My head hurt a bit, and I was “non-present.”

I was not “zoned out.” I ran the bank machine flawlessly, right up until I stuck the cheque in the envelope with the cash, and shoved it into the slot. I then stood there for a moment, looking for the cheque. Sigh.

Which matches the pattern for most of us.

Few of us are totally incompetent, zoned out, completely lost in the fog. Most of us are functional. However, and it’s a big however, most of what we are doing is not actually conscious. It’s like driving to work, getting there and not knowing how. Functional, but not mindful.

Example 2, which is from some years ago:

I was driving up to my office in Port Elgin, and decided to stop at Timmie’s. (Canadian reference, for a Tim Horton donut shop — of which there is one, or one like it, on every corner of every intersection in Canada — we do love our donuts.) I was listening to an audio book, pulled into the lot, parked, got out, said hi to the nice lady I passed, and made it the 50 feet to the door of the shop, when I heard, “Hey mister. Your truck’s moving!!!”

I quickly registered that she might be talking to me, as I, indeed, drive a truck. I whipped around, and there was my truck, heading backwards through the parking lot. Standard transmission, and a flash that I must not have left it in gear. OK. There’s the mindless part. Now, the mindful piece.

I took off running across the lot, covering the 60 feet pretty quickly for a then 50-year-old. As I ran, (much like when you are falling — there’s a certain slowness to time, and clarity) I thought about what I was going to do next. I eliminated running behind the truck and trying to stop it — dopes get run over that way. Couldn”t grab the front bumper and stop it — it weighs more than me. That left getting in and applying the brake.

Now, I come from Buffalo, via Chicago, so even after 25 years in Canada, I lock everything. So, as I ran, not missing a step, I extricated my keys from my pocket, picked the right one, and caught the truck. I ran alongside, shoved the key in the lock in one try, turned the lock, pocketed the key and opened the door. I then sped up my running, pivoted and vaulted into the seat, not whacking any portion of my anatomy. I applied the brake. The truck had traveled about 50 feet back.

I drove it back to the parking place, left it in gear and turned it off. The lady was still standing where I’d passed her, on my 100-foot dash. She applauded.

Me too.

Being awake requires one thing, and one thing only: to wake up.

If you stand there, metaphorically focussed on the rolling truck, you end up with a mess. If you see what you are doing, and notice that every time you do it, you get lousy results, AND continue to do it, you deserve your fate.

If you confuse “figuring it out” with actually doing something, you’re going to end up in the same place. If you expect to be able to do what doesn’t work, and get different results… well… you know.

Being awake is all about noticing everything, and realizing that what is happening in your life mirrors what you are choosing (including choosing to, at some level, place the cheque in the envelope…) then you’re on the way to solving your issues. Sure, you may be pre-disposed to being moody, or critical, or as I mentioned last week, melancholy, but so what?

That’s the hand you were dealt. What you choose to do next, is always optional.

Being awake is seeing clearly what’s right in front of you, making a clear choice, and implementing. No excuses, no, “It’s hard!” Of course it is, until it isn’t — just like everything else you’ve ever learned. There’s no escaping the truth that who you are and where you are is endlessly determined by what you do, and what you do, without effort, simply mirrors your worst story.

Have a breath, sit down, learn to focus in through meditation, and then… do something different, just to see what happens.


1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me, either. Just leave me the hell alone.

2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire.

3. It’s always darkest before dawn, so if you’re going to steal your neighbour’s newspaper, that’s the time to do it.

4. Don’t be irreplaceable. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

5. No one is listening until you fart.

6. Always remember you’re unique. Just like everyone else.

7. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

8. It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a bad example.

9. It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.

10. If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

11. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile way and you have their shoes.

12. If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

13. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will sit in a boat & drink beer all day.

14. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

15. Don’t squat with your spurs on.

16. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

17. Some days you are the bug, some days you are the windshield.

18. Don’t worry, it only seems kinky the first time.

19. Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

20. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your pocket.

21. Timing has an awful lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

22. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

23. Duct tape is like the Force. It has a light side & a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

24. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

25. Generally speaking, you aren’t learning much when your mouth is moving.

26. Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.

27. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

28. We are born naked, wet, and hungry. Then things get worse.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

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Being Present — and the Perils of Non-Presence

Being Present — and the Perils of Non Presence — habitual behaviours are the chief cause of being stuck. We do what we do, and refuse to consider alternatives. We get so locked in to our ways of being that there seems to be no choice. Our friends think we are predictable, and we can’t see that, either. Bringing our patterns into consciousness, and experimenting with other choices is the key to getting unstuck.

The Waterloo Update


Hard to believe. 11+ years ago, I was delighted to announce the birth of our “niece” Anjuli, daughter of 2 of our favourite people — Adrienne and Debashis Dutta (he even used to write articles for us… hint, hint.)

Anyway, Anjuli made her TV debut a couple of weeks back, as an actor in a local production. I’m so proud of her and her sister Joya!

Congrats and lotsa love from Auntie Wayne and Uncle Dar…


Darbella just downloaded a new book on her tablet, and I’m liking it a lot. It’s called [amazon_link id=“1907396543” target=“_blank” ]Flex: Do Something Different[/amazon_link], by Ben Fletcher and Karen Pine.

Today’s quote:

The rather unpalatable truth is that most of our seemingly conscious intentions are just illusions. Our past habits, which make up our personality, hijack our ability to exercise free will or act differently. They inhibit awareness and take the decision out of our hands. Many intentions to act, or choices, are not the result of having judged the situation and made a conscious choice.They are more likely to spring from past behavioural patterns. pg 4

The authors, with data firmly anchored in brain research, suggest that the brain, while only 2% of our body weight, consumes 20% of our energy. Thus, for the sake of efficiency, we develop habits designed to short-circuit the need to rethink situations.

In realms where such habits are helpful (Fletcher mentions being glad to have developed the habit of putting on his seatbelt when sitting in a car, for example,) not exercising choice makes sense. In interacting with an ever-changing, world, however, not so much.

Those of you who have read my books, and especially [amazon_link id=“0968444628” target=“_blank” ]This Endless Moment[/amazon_link], will recognize familiar territory. And those of you who have worked with me personally will also think, “Hmm. Same story, even balder author!”

Being a Zen sort of guy, I see presence all over what I’m reading. In a sense, we can’t have it both ways. We need to be conscious and present with our habits, too

When I sit in my car, being present means noticing I’m sitting there, while my background habit of buckling up runs it’s course. I don’t have to rethink the need to buckle up — it is, however, in my best interest to notice that this is what I am doing.

OK, so how does this fit with our current topic, concerning Next Steps?

Most people in distress are caught in bad habits. I find it interesting to listen to clients after they “wake up” to what they have been doing. There is all kinds of language around “not aware,” “didn’t notice,” etc. What’s happened is that they have slid out of the trap of habit to the bright dawn of presence.

I have been enjoying many warm, happy, and tingly feelings… Feelings that I definitely didn’t have in the past 10 years, or perhaps… ever? Funny that. And of course, when I think about these wonderful new feelings, I don’t beat myself up over how much I clung [to the past] last summer.

When we fall into habit, we miss what is happening, and sometimes what is happening is that a hole is opening up, right in front of us, and we topple in, yet again.

Clues to non-presence


The word “but.”

Of course, there’s discipline involved in coming into presence, and the “first discipline” is listening to yourself.

One of the “worst” bad habits is confusing reality ( the actual world) with your stories about it (the subjective world.) Not only confusing the two, but preferring the story version.

So, you drag your but out.

    • But… I’ve been thinking about this for years.”
    • My father left, but I’m not angry.”
    • But, I just know that she’ll hurt me…”

    But, but, but.

    The ego controls the habits of a lifetime — Your ego wants you to keep doing what you’ve always done. One woman I know is convinced that she is both special and smart. So, for 11 years, she’s been trying to figure out why she keeps choosing to do stuff that gets her nowhere. I suggest she “Do something different,” and out comes her but. “But, I have to know (the outcome) before I do something different!” Knowing, in this case is a bad, bad habit.

    Missing the repetitions


    One client described her husband as, “A little boy. Once in a while, he acts like an adult, and then boom, right back to irresponsibility.” At one point, she was beaming. He’d changed! Her manipulations had worked! A few weeks later, “He’s so irresponsible!” I described all the other times this had happened, and she looked genuinely perplexed. “Really? This has happened before?”

    Habits repeat. That’s why they’re called habits. We do something, get lousy results. People who are present try something else. Most simply repeat the non-working behaviour, louder. And think, because the volume is louder, they’ve done something different.

    Not listening to your body

    Your body is not habitual. Can’t be. Think about it. 100,000 generations ago, your “father” is walking along a jungle path, and a tiger appears. If he was habitual, he’d have frozen in place, or kept walking, gotten eaten, and you wouldn’t be here. His body reacted before his head could get scared, and here you are!

    Bodies react to what is right in front of them. It’s why, when you see someone attractive, you get turned on. When you are confronted with danger, you are immediately in “fight / flight.” Why, when angering yourself, your fist tightens. Stimulus, response.

    Notice, however, that we can divert the behaviour by paying attention. Anger can be directed to a nearby mattress, for example. (Bodywork 101.)

    The key is, those tight muscles and aches and pains are your body’s way of screaming, “Wake up!” So, figure yours out, pay attention, and then shift what you can — your next behaviour!



    You’ve made your bed, now lie in it!” Most people choose habitual behaviour out of guilt, or obligation, or resistance to change. Paying attention requires focus, energy, and perseverance. For many, entirely too much to ask. So, out come the predictable reactions. Of course, they are only predictable if you notice.

    Settling for “what is” simply keeps us stuck. Thinking that your stories are real, or describe the reality of others, is patently absurd. It boils down to, “Here is what is in front of me, and here are my choices.” That, at least, is the “door out of habitually being stuck.”

    The Way of Presence

    Begin choosing

    The chief skill for presence is finding anchor points to presence. For example, physical ones. I monitor the back of my neck and my stomach for tension, as paying attention to my experience has taught me that either or both will tighten up if I’m missing something. For others, it’s the small of the back or butt, shoulders up around ears or sagging. Or headaches, acid indigestion.

    I guess that really, the first step is a willingness to pay attention at this “small level.” If you aren’t willing to exert minimal effort toward your body, you’re doomed to stay stuck in habituality.

    Secondly, begin to experiment


    We break habits not by stopping the errant behaviour, but by choosing to do something different. I was speaking with a client yesterday, about one of her intimate relationships. Hasn’t been going the way she wanted, and she was resisting talking about it with her friend. I did my “pitch for honesty.” She told me that she immediately thought she couldn’t, that it wouldn’t end well, etc.

    Today, in an e-mail, I read that she had the conversation that very evening, it went well, and the two were talking at another level.

    She did what she was scaring herself over, and got different results (Of course. When you change something, you get different results. The only question, then, is, “Are these the results I want?” If yes, do more, if no , stop and try something else!)

    Figure out, as you explore your sticking points, what scares you, and do that next.

    Explore yourself, body, mind, heart. Notice your habitual behaviours, and play around with doing something else. Open yourself to dialogue, to Bodywork, to other experiences and approaches. Of course, meditate, as learning to be present requires it.

    Shift your doing, and you’ll shift your being.

    Make Contact!

    So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

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    The Shocking Truth about The Stupid Zone

    The Stupid Zone is a place where our wants over-ride the evidence the real world is presenting. It’s how we get stuck, injured, blocked. Time to wake up!

    The Kitchener Update

    rainbowFlying home… from sun to snow

    We’re back home in Canada, looking for a place to live, having survived both the flights. More info about when and where I’ll working next issue!

    stupid zone

    I’ve been thinking about all the dramas that play out in the average lifetime. I can’t seem to get away from the idea of a benevolent universe, and the abundance of learning opportunities that occur, minute by minute. Thus, each drama is a lesson in disguise.

    We’re a few days back home — having flown out of the sun and warmth into an Ontario winter. We came home to snow, and today, it’s raining. Weird. Unpredictable.

    And that’s the point, really.

    You just don’t know, in advance, much of anything. We learn in the moment, and especially “in the midst of it” — in the middle of drama. Life lessons almost always involve adrenaline.

    I just remembered a story that comes from multiple years ago — back when I had an office in the lovely beach town of Port Elgin, Ontario. Not such a lovely place for a drive in the month of January, however. I finished a long day of counselling, and it was around 8:30 pm, and I wanted to go home. I took a look out the window, and there were a few, cute flakes of snow coming down. I decided that the weather was good enough to drive.


    I got 10 minutes outside of town, and drove into whats called, by the locals, a “streamer” — that’s a band of snow coming in off of the lake — in this case, Lake Huron. It’s like hitting a wall of snow and wind. I was engulfed, could only see 3 feet in front of me, and there was 8 inches of new snow on the ground, and a couple of tire tracks.

    I proceeded, slowly.

    Meeting cars going the other way was a treat. For a moment, I could see better, but then we each had to slow down to decide who got the tire tracks. This means that pretty quickly I had to find the (quite invisible) shoulder of the road. What was required: no panic, edging over gently and carefully, and no quick moves.

    This seems to be, in business and in life, a good piece of advice if ever there was one.

    More cars began appearing out of the glooming snow, but they were sideways, in the ditches. This, I have heard, is not good. I suspect that people get into this fix when they scare themselves. They lose sight of the little clues about where they are in relation to, well, the ditches.

    What they forgot was what we just mentioned: no panic, scanning without fixating (look where you want to go, not at what you’re trying to avoid. When we fixate on where we don’t want to go, we end up hitting it) and allowing for keen observation. There’s a wealth of information floating around, if only we will get quiet and listen. (For example, mailboxes are just off of the shoulder, and before the ditch.)

    Imagine. Gently scanning the path for clues as to our location, not panicking, and assuredly never aiming at what would best be avoided. I wonder why I’m writing about this?

    I was beginning to question my ability to get home.

    tracksWe always leave a trail

    Now, there were tire tracks I could have continued to follow — indeed, trucks were heading south (toward home) and I could have followed one of them. There was just one problem with that approach. I didn’t know where they were going. What was their final destination? Why should I follow someone somewhere on faith? We could all end up in the ditch. Or in Sarnia or somewhere.

    Having finally decided that carrying on would likely result in me visiting the ditch, I bailed and decided to head back to Port Elgin, via the country road I always take.

    Except the country road was covered in virgin snow.

    And the wind picked up. I drove very slowly, imagining the curve I’d have to navigate in order to cross the one lane bridge over the river. A farm loomed in the distance, lane-way snowed in. I stopped and thought about pulling in, turning around. I decided to press on. (Notice another pattern here?)

    About a quarter mile later, I gave up. There was no way I could determine anything. I couldn’t even make out where the ditches were, and it was only luck that had kept me out of one. I needed to turn around. But how?

    I rolled down the window, looked backwards at my tracks and realized I had a clear and elegant tire track path back to the highway. I could drive in reverse, and follow my own tracks back to the point where I knew there were other paths to follow.

    I’m not John Wayne nor the Lone Ranger. Just because I’ve decided to try something, to head off in a certain direction, doesn’t mean I have to go full speed ahead when all I’m getting is lousy results. It’s tempting. Very tempting. I even had a little voice in my head, as I backed up, say, “What are you, a wuss?” Yet how often does disaster result from the endless repetition of what doesn’t work?

    How often do we end up ass over teakettle because we refuse to stop doing what doesn’t work?

    I made it back to the highway. Turned left. The snow was worse, more cars in the ditch. But I’d covered this part of the road before. Unlike the other drivers, I also knew that the tracks I could see to the left of me, in the other lane, were mine, and they led home.

    An hour after I left, I got back to my office, having driven maybe 6 miles total.

    I’d stopped at a Convenience Store to buy a magazine to read, as I’d be sleeping in my office. I mentioned my adventure to the nice lady behind the counter, who smiled and said, “Not from around here, are you?” I agreed that I wasn’t. She replied, “Locals call this part of town The Stupid Zone. People look outside, see clear skies and say, “I think I can drive south,” despite what they’re saying on the radio. Glad you got back safe.”

    What a nice way to call me stupid! I love it! “I think “¦ you’ve entered The Stupid Zone!”

    And she, of course, was right. I knew it was snowing, and snowing bad. I decided that I wanted to be home. My desire to be home outweighed my knowledge of the conditions. (Just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s always in your best interest.) I, in other words, made a stupid choice. I didn’t listen to all of me. I only listened to the one, dumb voice that wanted to go home.

    snowAlternatives abound!

    So, lots of lessons here, most of which I’ve mentioned as I wrote.

    Life is played out, for many of us, exactly the same way. We’re drawn by a silly little voice to do something (again!) that we know gets us lousy results, lost, stuck up to our bumpers in drifts, tilted over and in trouble. And like lemmings, off we go, doing it again. And again.

    Yet, even though we chose to head down “the stupid path,” there are ways to turn around, to navigate safely to safe harbour (or, as Darbella puts it, “All you have to do is change your position.”)

      • This requires a willingness to admit that heading down that path was dumb, just plain dumb.
      • This requires focus and attention.
      • This requires accepting our ‘mistaken direction,’ stopping, and finding a way to turn around. Going back has markers. Plunging ahead leads to the ditch.
      • To do this elegantly requires working from a non-attached place of saying, simply, “This isn’t working.”

    This is a place of non-judgement. What possible good would it have done me to beat up on myself for heading into the snow? I needed all my faculties to scan the road and find my way home.

    I may talk about The Stupid Zone, but I don’t consider myself (or anyone) stupid. Stupid choices, yes. For sure and in spades. The wise soul is not the person who makes no mistakes.

    The wise person recognizes the mistake and corrects. Immediately. Without whining.

    From this place of non-attached observing, clues to “making it home” always appear. Markers. Hints. The signs are there, all the time, if we look. And then, we are required to act — to do something different.

    One of my friends sent me an e-mail. She wrote:

    I warmed myself reading your words. My how I appreciate you and am forever grateful. Everything you said makes sense. I had an interesting experience this morning, speaking of synchronicities,” I was in a meeting this morning and a co-worker and I were discussing the topic of perfectionism”¦ and guess who knows about that! I said, “I know about that, I am a certifiable perfectionist wanna be,” and just after I ended that sentence a light plate (one of those big clear plastic covers) fell from above me and missed my head by about a foot!! My colleague had a bird and I certainly freaked myself out! I immediately thought — what is the universe telling me here? TO STOP EVEN REMOTELY SUGGESTING THAT I AM PERFECT!!! Very amusing. Did I learn my lesson yet or do I need the bloody thing to hit me on the head?”

    Neat, the way the cosmos works. I often want to give people’s heads a shake, in proper Zen fashion. Nice to see the ceiling beginning to fall in on what doesn’t work.

    Have a look at your life, your dramas, the things you continually set in motion. Stop whining about how hard it is to stop. Just think, Is this path safe? Clear? Helpful? Does it lead where I want to go? Am I on it out of habit? Do I have the courage to turn around?

    Then, turn. Just Turn.

    Make Contact!

    So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

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    Waking Up

    This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series The Zen of Letting Go

    Waking Up is all about seeing what is right in front of you, without adding a layer of judgement.

    waking up

    Well, here it is, September of 2010, and Darbella and I are into our last year here. Which is rather ironic, as the main reason for our being here no longer exists. (See the foot of the article for an update on our projects.)

    I’ve spent the summer reading and videotaping. Read some great, and some not so great books, mostly Zen books. And we listened to one interesting audio book, called “Taoist Sexual Secrets.” I was amazed at how much of what they described was stuff I was already doing in bodywork.

    So, that said, here’s my plan for the Fall writing schedule.

    By way of a brief review, Dar and I have been working on a new website, which may just get off the ground by October or so. (I thought September, and got close…) The membership site consists of an 8 week video course that arose from our work with injured workers.

    I wanted something for people who were struggling with finding their place in the world, and decided that 56 videos was the way to go.

    Given the way we do life and the way I do therapy, the breakdown of the course makes perfect sense. Each day of the week has a different theme—the first four are physical, (yoga, meditation, Qi Gong, and Breath work) the remaining three are life approaches.

    What I’ve been doing this summer I jokingly call “talking head videos.” These are the life approaches videos, and consist of me describing aspects of living life fully. Thus, I am the “talking head.”

    At first, I tried writing out scripts for each of the videos and using a teleprompter. Things really bogged down, so I decided to just wing it. Given how much talking I do, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it in the first place.

    Anyway, it should come as no surprise that common themes keep arising. Naturally, it’s the same stuff begin talking about here since 1999. Things like using the communication model, letting go of blaming, watching how your mind works, and figuring out who you really are—this is a short list of some of the topics covered.

    The physical side of things is fairly predictable too. I’m demonstrating yoga stretches, meditation, in breathing, and Darbella is teaching Qi gong. There’s only a passing reference to Bodywork,because that one’s a bit tricky to teach without hand-on experience.

    A friend was kind enough to let me video her for the breathing videos—and we’ve got a couple more to do this week.


    I’ve been quite impressed with some of the things she’s experienced during her last couple of Bodywork sessions. The story I tell myself is that she has found a way to stop story-telling (something she’s good at…) so that she can fully experience what’s going on in her body. The last time, her experience lasted for days!

    I suspect that she is simply being with what is happening, without judgement, blocking, or attempting to “push.” In the audio book I mentioned above, the authors talk about falling backwards into the experience of chi—that you can’t force it by forging ahead. My friend certainly asks questions and asks specifically for want she wants, but it’s clear that the letting go aspect is paramount.

    Her work and the books and the filming have coalesced into this series of articles.

    I want to start with Zen 101 and talk about how letting go is the only way to shift from being stuck to truly experiencing.

    One of the key Zen texts is the Heart Sutra, and a familiar line is, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” This line, poorly translated from Sanskrit, has led Westerners to think that Buddhism is akin to existentialism or nihilism—that it’s saying that life is meaningless. This is not so.

    The idea of sunyata (translated “emptiness,”) is that things have no (are empty of a) singular essence. If, for example, we look at a cup, there it is. However, the cup is not a singular thing. It’s made up of parts, including the space contained, of “constituents.” You can break it apart, and never find a “thing” called a cup. Another illustration is to look at a car. What makes the car a car? Any description you give will also apply to other modes of transportation, and no part has any “car-ness” about it. In fact, I have a neighbour that uses his car as a storage bin, so a car is not a car.

    Recently, scholars have attempted to resolve the emptiness conundrum by translating “sunyata” as, “as-it-is-ness.”

    I like that. It matches a line I love from Stewart Wilde, a famous Taoist, who writes, “The way it is, is the way it is.” If we use this definition, the line in Heart Sutra becomes,

    Form is as-it-is-(ness), as-it-is-ness is form.”

    See how that helps?


    OK, here’s the real help. A situation (let’s call it a thing, but a thing is “what’s happening,” a person, an object, the weather, a war—whatever) is exactly and precisely “as it is.” No more, no less. Our tendency is to add personal interpretation and judgement to the thing. As this is an activity of our minds, and our minds do this whether we like it or not, the path is to de-emphasize our addiction to the process of judgement.

    This is why we sit zazen. To see the operation of our mind.

    Most people have no clue how much of a mess they are making of things, by adding in judgements, pronouncements, and demands. The mess comes as “I”:

    1) “see” what’s right there, and

    2)compare it to my fantasy world, and

    3) find “right here, right now” lacking as compared to the fantasy.

    4) I then must begin to judge “right here, right now,” by hanging blame, judgement and demand on it, like moss on a tree. And THEN,

    5) I turn my attention from the simple “as-it-is-ness” to demanding that the “others” accept my fantasy and start acting as if my fantasy is real.

    And I do this without any awareness that this is what I’m doing.

    Here’s a quote from the book, “Stepping Out of Self-deception,” by Rodney Smith:

    Our defense mechanisms can work overtime mediating the influence of our honest self-awareness. If we give over to our defensiveness, we end up seeing and understanding only what we already know: listening to the world, we hear our own opinions; viewing the world, we see our own conditioning. Nothing changes, because our resistance will not allow us to see through the screen of our conditioning. Page 66


    …it is a willful ignorance, a not wanting to know the truth, a direct avoidance and denial of the obvious. To turn this around and see a reality for what it truly offers, we have to consciously establish an intention to do the opposite of our habitual responses, and hold the second level of intention to a razor — sharp scrutiny.

    But the limitation is only half the story. We would not be perpetuating this inverted view time and time again if if we were not getting something out of it. What does this narrative offer us? What benefit are we receiving from this particular desire-pattern? We begin to see how we are entwined within the story, how we need it to reinforce our stance, to assure us of our worth were lack of it, to reconfirm our meaning and purpose. page 87

    If I work only from within the story I know (“I’m a victim,” “I’m wise and all knowing,” “I never get angry,” “Other people make me,” “There’s something better down the road,” etc.) then I can take the “as-it-is-ness” of the thing “right there in front of me,” and paint it over with “what I always do.” And as I do—here’s the punch-line: I get what I expect to see!

    Change comes at the price of stopping the enacting of our judgements.

    But first, we need the light of zazen—looking inward, seeing, and then walking down another path. And dealing directly with the residual energetic blockages. This is the premise behind our new membership website—that participants actually do what we suggest—actually practice walking this other path. Even the seemingly weird exercises, such as moving energy through the microcosmic orbit by breathing and doing Kegels… stay tuned!

    Here’s an example of this “as-it-is-ness” mentality.

    I grew up fairly pampered, and fairly short. I got picked on, and likely deserved most of it, given my propensity for being sarcastic. I even got stuffed into a gym locker once. I leaned my approach to life from my parents (this isn’t “blame the parent” — we learn through someone telling us what our experiences mean. We don’t know until someone tells us — that’s what all kids experience) and especially from my mom, who often said, “They can’t treat me like this! Don’t they know who I am?”


    When stuff happened, I had learned (as have every one of you!) to look for someone or something to blame. Mostly, we blame others, or circumstance. Some blame themselves. This is what Smith describes as the “screen of our conditioning.” If you look at the world through blue glasses, things appear blue!

    In truth, I was angry. So, I blamed bullies, or teachers, or my parents. I got angry with co-workers, lovers, friends, and especially people whose opinions differed from mine. I’d fight back, or argue. I’d blame.

    Then, I decided to try being nice. I’d feel the anger, stuff it, and be polite and understanding. But it was still all about, “They shouldn’t treat me like that!”

    It wasn’t until I really started looking that I saw that “they” weren’t doing anything, and even if they were, I had a choice to drop the filter of “They shouldn’t treat me like that!” in favour of “as-it-is-ness.” This process is ongoing and endless. I am better at seeing stuff and circumstance as “as-it-is-ness”, and my reaction as the place to work.

    So, I can point my finger, or I can deal with my anger, each and every time.

    When I receive bodywork, then, I can yield to the pressure, and see what comes up. Usually, some anger and then a lot of laughter, and then some charge. And an increase in my energy flow. And then, lunch… or whatever.

    This is what my friend does, in spades. Just has the experience, on the table, that she needs to have, and leaves the story-telling alone.

    In the coming weeks, we’ll look at approaches to energy, feeling, living and “as-it-is-ness.” If you’re willing to suspend judgement, not lock down and refuse to open to something new, you might actually learn to let go of the conditioning. Let’s see where we go with this!
    A quick note about stuff.

    1) As I noted above, the membership website is close to done. We’ll keep you posted.

    2) The main reason we’ve stuck around past Darbella’s retirement date was our project with injured workers, working with the Province of Ontario’s WSIB. That project, due to politics totally unrelated to our project, got canned a few weeks ago. I am sad, and Dar is sad, as we really liked the work, and the people we were working with. We’re now open to perhaps leaving for parts unknown before July 2011, but we shall see.

    Make Contact!

    So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

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    Seven Ways to Live in the Endless Moment

    Seven Ways to Live in the Endless Moment

    1. Now is all there is

    If I had to condense down all of the client issues I’ve dealt with in 25 years, I would say it comes down to this: living in the past or the future is deadly.

    It is easy to latch on to some tragedy from the past or pine for some glimmer of hope in the future, and thereby to waste one’s life. Yet, the pull to look inside is strong.

    Inside? Of course. No matter how much you believe your version of your past story, no matter how you imagine your future will be, it’s all a fantasy.

    Nothing you think happened,
    happened the way you think.
    And nothing you imagine,
    is going to work out
    as you imagine.

    The key to these seven ideas is how they relate to the seventh one. The Middle Way is the Buddha’s discovery. It lies between austerity (starving and abusing himself) and excess (a life of luxurious, conspicuous consumption.) Notice that the Middle Way is not a replacement for the other two, but rather an acceptance of all of it, by choosing the equanimity of the Middle.

    It is so that we will endlessly reflect upon our imagined past and imagined future. It is non-helpful to try to stop, and also non-helpful to give yourself grief for doing it.

    Alternative: Embrace the Here and Now

    Remind yourself that past and future is illusion. Neither direction is helpful, and mostly keeps us stuck in what is not working. Hold your stories lightly, without judgement, and bring yourself back to this moment.

    Ask: What can I do right now that will strengthen and broaden my experience of myself?

    2. Life isn’t fair

    Shift (and shit…) happens. If you think life is supposed to be fair, you are in for a rocky ride.

    Life is, and all kinds of stuff happens. Birth, living, death—and much of it out of our control. I can guarantee you will experience the death of others, including people you love. You will experience betrayal, often by people you love. You will be abandoned, often by people you love. You will be unjustly blamed, judged, punished. And then, you will die.

    I know. You think you ‘should’ be special, and that stuff like this ‘shouldn’t’ happen—and especially to you. After all, what did you do to deserve this? (I hear that exact line, often, from clients…)

    Many people waste their lives trying to get others to treat them ‘right.’ Somehow,
    a) it never happens, and
    b) they meet, again and again,
    people who do not treat them right.

    Maybe they are looking for the wrong thing.

    Alternative: Life Just IS

    Two articles ago, from Sheldon Kopp’s list: 32. We must live within the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge.

    What’s going on out there is, for the most part, out of our control. Declaring, “It’s not fair that the world isn’t fair!” doesn’t make the world fair. You’re here to be you, discover you, and to live out your path of purpose. Part of that walk is to deal efficiently, elegantly, and firmly with whatever the world throws at you.

    Ask: What can I do right now to let go of my judgements and do what I need to do, for me?

    3. No one is coming

    I’ve written about this line before—it’s on a framed sign on my supervisor’s wall. Another ridiculous belief is that rescue is coming—either in the form of a celestial cowboy coming to end the world and take you off to live in the clouds, or in the earthly version of rescue from the man or woman who will ‘complete you.’

    Hollywood loves rescue fantasies. The good guy saves the damsel in distress, and vanquishes the baddies.

    Nice. Not valid, but prevalent.

    No one is coming. No one is going to make it all better for you. No one is going to cover the puddles of your life with their cloak.

    Many of you will have been wasting your life trying to be ‘nice to others’ so they’ll be nice to you. Same idea. Sacrifice your life for another, and they’ll do the same for you. Ever notice that it doesn’t work, you’re miserable, feeling put upon, and no one has come to rescue you?

    Back to # 2 – life isn’t fair. It’s not a zero sum game. Waiting for rescue or giving your life away in hopes that someone will do the same for you is a mook’s game.

    Alternative: Rescue Yourself, from Yourself

    Make rescuing yourself your top priority. The only person who can end the games you are stuck in is you. Let go of waiting, wasting your life, doing your life as others demand. Be yourself.

    Ask: Is how I am acting and viewing my life, right now, helping or hindering my understanding and my performance? Who (or what) am I waiting for?

    Then: let it go and move on.

    4. Be grateful

    Most gratitude is conditional. As in, I’ll be grateful to you after you’ve done something for me. You go first.

    My mother-in-law has a needlepoint in her bathroom. It’s of a bear looking into the mirror.
    Text: “Smile!”
    “You go first.”

    I mentioned in a previous post that my nature is to be somewhat morose (god, I love that word…) and I notice that all I have to do is look at Darbella and I’m suffused in gratitude. Because we accept each other as we are, not attempting to fix each other, but simply being with each other, gratitude is what is left when the drama goes.

    It’s easy to be grateful for stuff we judge to be good. Harder, much harder, to simply be grateful for (as Zorba says) the whole catastrophe. How can you be grateful for death, tragedy, sadness, betrayal?

    Well, it’s one of those Middle Way answers. If you bitch, moan and complain about it all, what changes? Gratitude is not condoning the evil that happens. Rather, I am grateful for having survived yet another lesson. In a sense, I am grateful for having (so far) survived and learned.

    Easy? NO! Essential? YES!

    Alternative: Adopt an “attitude of gratitude”(Robert Schuller.)

    You are who you are because of the life you have lived. If you want something different, do something different. But let go of harbouring anger and resentment. Not because whatever happened wasn’t difficult, but because whatever happened was what happened, and is thus ‘the stuff you’re made of.’

    Ask: what in my life (body, mind, spirit, history) am I refusing to accept and ‘bless?’ How is this helping me?

    5. Give it away

    I want to give a shout-out to Skellie of skelliewag.org I read a lot of stuff on blogs, and her site and her style is amazing. She did a free review of The Phoenix Centre site, and the Blog, with the view to simplification and utility. I immediately implemented all of her suggestions—she’s that good.

    But what I like is her attitude—she sees giving as a way of being of service, and assumes that such a life-choice benefits both herself and others. In a sense, she’s Karmic, in the best sense of that idea—what goes around comes around.

    Another shout-out to Hugh Johnston—he bought me coffee the other day, as we hadn’t seen each other in a while. Turned into a 3 hour gab fest, mostly around Hugh coming up with thoughts about me and my work. He selflessly gave of his expertise, just because he wanted to.

    Both Skellie and Hugh demonstrate this point:Your job is to give yourself away.

    Now, of course, we all need to make a living. But most people tend to wait and wait to find the perfect moment to be themselves. They withhold their passion, their talents, their gifts, waiting to be “appreciated.” Or, they get into the “I’m not doing this if I don’t get paid” mentality.

    Again, remember the Middle Way. This not a paean to ‘free.’ It’s a suggestion, like all of these, to make yourself—your skills, knowledge, gifts—available to those around you.

    My mom, lovely woman that she was, was
    a) a good cook, and
    b) a lay minister.
    I mention those two things together because,
    a) when asked for a recipe, she’d agree, then leave out ingredients, so the person making the recipe would end up with something ‘not quite as good.’
    b) in all her years in the ministry, she only she had 10 sermons to her name, which she trotted out when asked to preach. People would ask her for a copy, and she’d refuse.

    Now, here’s the punch-line. After she died, we cleaned out her ‘stuff.’ None of her ‘special’ recipes were written down. And she had a little lock box in her closet. In it were her 10 sermons, which we threw out, not knowing what else to do with them. Thus, nothing survived her.

    Alternative: Your mission is to put yourself out there

    Do this so that some gift of yours remains after you die. If someone asks for help, an opinion, whatever, give freely.

    DO NOT give (advice, opinions, etc.) if others do not ask, (that’s just rude.)

    Ask: What am I doing, right now, to make a difference, as I share my gifts?

    6. Be passionate

    Passion is all about being engaged. Immersed. Overcome. To do so, you have to let down your guardedness, and tear into life and living, with verve and pleasure.

    Many, many choose to disengageb based on fearing, “What will people think?” They are strongly pulled to passionate, full, juicy living, and back off because of the pressure to conform.

    Now, of course, there is a price to pay for being passionate, and it is exactly the consequences of living passionately that lead so many to repress themselves.

    I tend to be pretty clear about where I come from and what I expect of myself, and I am equally clear with my clients, customers, and friends. Many think I push the envelope way, way too much. I disagree.

    Alternative:Throw Yourself into Life

    What is it, exactly that you are waiting for? You only get one time through, and to sit on your hands while dressing in gray sackcloth is not what you or the world needs. Without waiting for permission, be yourself, and throw caution to the wind. Put yourself out there, with full understanding of the consequences.

    Ask: What do I bring to the table that is uniquely mine, that is my gift to the world? How can I passionately engage with life, with others and with myself?

    7. Live the Middle Way

    Of course, this is all about living the Middle Way. This path is about recognizing the fallacy of black and white, rules based living and thinking. Most lives stall on the “What is the right way to live?” question. They stall because all that ever happens is an internal rehashing of the same old thoughts, dreams, fears.

    Alternative: Just Do It!

    Walk. Do. Act. Be. Learn. Inspire. Create. Be passionate. Be alive. Be juicy. All without attachment to results, opinions, pressure to conform.

    Ask: What is my next step, and how can I walk it with passion, verve, and purpose?

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    Letting go of Assumptions

    This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Illuminated Life

    Letting go of Assumptions

    Back in the 70s, many were looking for another path. EST, Encounter Groups, Meditation Groups—and a common idea.

    You Have to Develop a Self
    Before ‘Losing’ Your Self.

    This Does Not Happen Naturally!


    The creation of a personal and social identity (this is not the self—this is the ego identity) is the work of the first 16 years or so of life. (If you think about the average 16-year-old and her monumental lack of knowing who she is and how the world works, you will get my point.)

    Creating a personal and social identity involves learning live in 3D, in a physical world. You learn how to ‘operate’ people and things—for example, how to turn on a stove, how to address others, how to act in relationship to others.

    This is a mechanistic model, and is decidedly rules based. It is good to know, for example, that stepping off a ladder typically leads to a fall.

    The Ego Project

    The first 16 years is all about what I call the “Ego Project.” It is important to note that the personal ego created in this process is self–aware but not self–reflective. I know that I am I, but I do not really know who ‘I’ am.

    When asked about himself, the average young adult might recite a list of characteristics— height, weight, age, sex, etc. He might identify with a particular philosophy, political direction, or religions stance, or other belief system.

    Example: what is a car? Most list characteristics—engine, brand, colour, horsepower—but this fails to identify the car’s essence—its ‘car-ness.’ Thus, the car’s car-ness is a being-state that cannot be reduced to parts or characteristics.

    In Buddhism, these sorts of lists fall under the category of maya, or illusion. The person holds on desperately to definitions, for fear of the emptiness that seems to be right under the surface. Humans at this stage exhibit one common characteristic—they suffer. We feel this suffering as a pervasive sense of unsatisfactoriness.


    The cause of suffering is grasping. Grasping comes in three flavours—

    attraction, repulsion, and indifference.

    For our present discussion, you can think of grasping as clinging tightly to personal definitions, beliefs, and prejudices (pre-judgements.) This is the young adult’s desperate tactic to avoid facing the maturity of letting go.

    It is Hard to Move Past your Conditioning

    It is important to remember that our parents and tribes teach us to cling to tribal assumptions for a good reason—they want to socialize us. The unfortunate part is that most reach adulthood thinking that this is the only way to live and to be.

    Our culture has failed abysmally at teaching people to use personal and social identity as a tool. Without learning this, young adults are doomed to grow old as nothing more than the total of their assumptions.

    The development of a True Self

    Typically, there are bountiful opportunities to shift our perspective. Usually, they come as the result of a tragedy or crisis. There are then two choices.

    1. We defend our conditioning in the face of its failure (95% choose this approach,) or
    2. we let go by paying attention to the programming of our minds, with the goal of making choices as opposed to unthinking reactions.

    Watching Your Mind

    How you appear to yourself (your ego-image) is, if you watch, a mental process. In other words, how you feel about yourself is an internal evaluative process.

    It is not caused by external situations
    or the judgements of others.

    What happens is that you (often arbitrarily, or out of boredom,) select some aspect of your history, some characteristic of your ego-self, or you select your whole self, and then apply one of the three ‘grasping’ categories. You like yourself, you hate yourself, or you are indifferent.

    If you watch, you begin to see that your mind is selecting aspects of yourself (or inventions of your mind—I have one friend who is a tri-athlete and often thinks she’s fat…) and adding an interpretation. How something appears, then, is clearly not fixed in stone. How something appears has everything to do with how I choose to describe it. And then, how I judge it.

    It is not possible to stop this evaluative process. It is programmed into our cellular structure. What is possible is to shift our identification with the stories, descriptions, and judgements. This process begins with reflective questioning.

    Ask Yourself this…

    Go inside, and speak to yourself. Ask:

    1. Is this belief helping or hindering me?
    2. Is what I am doing helping or hindering me?
    3. What would another, more helpful story and action be?
    4. Who is it that is asking me these questions?

    Only 5% Will Choose This Path

    The step the 5% take is to ask these questions, and others, on a very regular basis. The purpose of the questions is to challenge the necessity of hurting yourself with your judgements.

    Remember, the stories you react to will pop up until you curl up your toes. The stories and the facts of your life ‘just are.’ The optional piece is torturing yourself. I call this bashing yourself in the forehead with a hammer.

    What to do?

    Get up, get out, go for a walk, meditate, study yoga or tai chi, get a life.

    Sitting there stewing is mental abuse, and you’re doing it to yourself. Here’s a hint: never, once, did your internal torture do a single thing the change things in the physical world.

    Thinking changes nothing. Acting changes everything.

    After 27 years of this work, I still torture myself over the same sad stuff. Briefly. I now notice what I am doing and give myself permission to shift my thinking and my ‘doing’ to something else.

    This, and nothing else, is the essence of letting go.

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