3 weeks ago

You’re holding on, and that is what hurts

Holding on is what hurts.

It’s so, so, so tempting to blame something, someone.

The whole world “out there” is based on blaming something, someone.

The whole world out there is based on cause and effect. Someone or something did something that causes you pain, suffering, hurt.

We’re so accustomed to seeing through the lens of something or someone causing our hurt, pain, suffering…that my suggestion that it is not true may seem ludicrous.

After all, SURELY if someone hit you, they caused your pain. Right?

And notice how quickly the conditioned mind leaps to these edge cases, these worst-case-scenarios, these things it is CERTAIN of as a way of dismissing anything that challenges the status quo. It wants to do away with anything that could radically alter the habit of misery.

I’m like you. My conditioned, habitual mind says the same kinds of things. It says that this claim that I’m making is wrong. Insane. Dangerous. Possibly even criminal.

But here’s why you read what I write. I don’t believe my conditioned, habitual mind. I simply look for myself and tell the truth. And when I do that it is abundantly obvious that my conditioned, habitual mind is…how to put this delicately…wrong.

And I’m encouraging you to do the same. I’m not encouraging you to believe my radical claim. I’m asking you to to look for yourself.

Look sincerely. Look now.

Look to your actual experience.

Don’t look to memory. Don’t look to projections into the future.

Look now to your actual experience.

The conditioned, habitual mind will object. It will say that looking is a waste of time. It will say that it already knows the answer.

It will say that CLEARLY someone or something causes your pain, suffering, misery, hurt. It has a long list of things it knows for SURE cause these problems. War, rape, medical malpractice, car accidents, abusive relationships, heavy metal toxicity, birth trauma, etc.

But do you want to live under the oppressive rule of your conditioned mind’s certainty?

I see bumper stickers that say “love is greater than fear”. Well, let’s test it out. Let’s find out for sure, for real. Right now, let’s find out.

To find out, we have to first recognize fear. We have to see that the mind’s rule is entirely fear-based.

Looking honestly now is not a true threat to anything real. But the mind will put up such a fight. It will do anything to try to prevent sincere looking.

Why? Fear. Isn’t that obvious? It is fearful of looking.

Why? Well, take a look and find out.

Look sincerely now at your actual, direct, unmediated experience.

That means you don’t think about your experience. You just stay with the immediacy of it as it is. There’s no time for thinking here. Thinking is too much. So just stay with the immediacy.

Now, what happens?

If you’re honest, you’ll have to admit that what happens is totally unknown, totally fresh, totally free.

Is there any holding on in this moment of direct perception?

No. Of course not.

Look again now and see this clearly.

Holding on – or we could call it grasping, gripping, tension, thinking, worrying, solving, fixing, figuring out, getting somewhere, getting rid of, etc. – is only an IDEA that happens after the fact.

In this moment now of pure seeing, there’s only this pure seeing.

This is truly radical. If you think you know what I’m saying, be willing to drop that idea. Because even I don’t know what I’m saying. I can’t because that would only be an idea based on some past conclusion.

But what I’m pointing to here is way more radical. It is always here now. It is not something that will give us anything. It is not something that will fix our problems. It is not something that will make us invulnerable. it is not something that will make us more spiritual, more gentle, more loving, or anything based on our ideas of what that should mean.

It is not something that we can understand in the mechanical way we are used to.

Sooner or later you catch a glimpse of this. Hopefully now. Just look now. Look purely, simply, effortlessly now.

And if you can honestly say, “Gee, I don’t know what this is,” that’s what I’m talking about.

It’s just simply this. Not something special. Not some “spiritual experience”. Not something that you think is a better or more desirable experience.

It’s just this as it is, unmediated by the conditioned mind.

Don’t try. Don’t try to get rid of thoughts. Don’t try to achieve a different state. Don’t make any effort. Just drop it all for a moment and see as you already see before all the complications.

That’s it.

Now, once you catch a glimpse, you’ll probably wonder “How can I get more of this?”

Well, you can’t. But what you can do is just watch for the holding on that happens. Watch for it. See it. See the gripping, grasping, tensing, figuring out, solving, worrying, etc.

And don’t try to get rid of it or fix it. Just see it.

As you do this, you’ll eventually see that you’re seeing at more subtle levels. And eventually you start to recognize a great cosmic joke. Which is this: You’ve only ever just been simply seeing.

4 weeks ago

The only thing in the way is you

We humans suffer. Isn’t that your experience? Don’t you suffer? Don’t you find yourself somehow tortured, seeking for a remedy, a way to find relief?

We know we suffer. We experience the anguish. We know it is real. Whether we suffer physical pain, psychological pain, emotional pain, or whatever else. We know it is real.

But I challenge you to successfully identify the actual suffering. Can you pin down the suffering itself? Can you find it?

You cannot. I know you cannot because no one ever has.

I have not. And I’ve been looking and looking and looking for decades with great intensity.

But it’s not only me who reports not being able to find the suffering. Every sage, person of wisdom, true teacher, authentic guide, or whatever you want to call them has reported the same.

They have all pointed us to look for ourselves. They say, “Look and find the problem. Look and find the boogieman.”

But most of us keep thinking that we’re going to actually find it. We settle for an assumption that the problem exists. And so we keep on suffering.

So let’s look together now. Let’s look to see what the actual nature of suffering is. Let’s see if we can find the cause, the thing that does this to us. Let’s be bold, courageous, and relentless. Let’s be serious.

Look with me now. Don’t fall for your usual traps and habits. Don’t numb yourself or lull yourself to a stupor. Look soberly now. Look fiercely now.

Ask yourself what is the core of this suffering. Look for it. Feel into it. Follow your direct sensing to the heart of the misery, the pain, the nightmare.

Don’t lie and say it’s not a nightmare. Don’t lie and say it’s not so bad. Tell the truth. Remember those sober moments in which you have seen clearly that there is no escape, no hope. Remember those moments in which you have acknowledged that it truly is worse than you’d ever let on. And stare directly into the darkness you’ve avoided with your hopes and dreams and ambitions and fantasies.

What do you find?

Can you name it?

Can you provide a reference for it?

Do you know what this is?

Do you know its intention?

Do you know anything about it?

Can you truthfully say anything about this?

Now tell the truth. You have no idea what this is. You simply assumed this was a problem. You assumed it was here to harm you. You assumed you needed to move away from it. You assumed you needed to protect yourself.

All assumptions. But now when you look clearly and tell the truth, can you see that you don’t know? Can you see that this is unknowable? Can you see that your assumptions can’t hold up in the reality of this as it is?

Now, let’s look again at the nature of suffering.

In light of this clarity, look again at what the actual experience of suffering is. And you’ll perhaps see more clearly what suffering actually is.

It is you trying not to suffer. Suffering is recursive. It begins with you trying not to suffer. Which produces suffering, validating the assumption that there is something to avoid. So you seek not to suffer. Which simply produces more suffering. And so it goes…

Until you see it and stop.

Stop now. And let it unwind.

You must have the courage to let it unwind. That is essential.

Freedom is for the courageous.

Courage is the willingness to sacrifice everything. To lay yourself bare and find out what the truth is *directly*. Not theoretically. Not second-hand. Not intellectually.

Directly.

Stop now and let it unwind.

Stop. Look. Don’t move.

There are many ways that people IMAGINE that they should go about not moving. But most of those involve more movement, more tension, more trying, more avoidance.

There is only one way to truly not move. And that is to rest and watch for the habits of movement.

Don’t get hung up on judging your movements. You can’t help it. You’re afraid. You’ll move because you’ll get spooked.

But just see it. And then stop and be still.

The more you stop, look, don’t move, the clearer it becomes.

It was only ever your habit of trying to avoid that was the suffering.

The clearer it becomes, the subtler your vision. So don’t dismay when you start to see more and more of your subtle habits of avoidance/movement/tension. Don’t dismay when you start to see just how much you get spooked. Don’t dismay when you start to see how angry, fearful, and reactive you are.

Just stop, look, don’t move.

This is so simple. But the most difficult thing.

And the most rewarding.

4 weeks ago

Choosing God

The word God may make you uncomfortable. If so, good. Let yourself be uncomfortable.

Whatever makes you uncomfortable, when it happens, let yourself be uncomfortable.

Notice your habit of avoiding discomfort.

Now ask yourself these questions: What about this discomfort is so terrible? Am I sure that I will be better off avoiding this discomfort?

I have asked these questions hundreds if not thousands if not tens of thousands of times. And no matter what – no matter how seemingly terrible the discomfort is, no matter how horrible and scary the stories I might have may be – when I tell the truth I have to admit that I cannot find what is so terrible about this discomfort.

The truth is it is only my habit of believing that the discomfort is terrible that I can point to as evidence that it is terrible.

That is hard thing to admit sometimes. So if you find yourself struggling to admit that fully, that’s to be expected. But just be honest. Keep being honest. Because honesty is your ally. Honesty is what liberates.

Truly I tell you that honesty is what liberates. It is not the desired outcomes that liberate. In fact, the desired outcomes (i.e. attachments) are what BIND you to suffering.

So have courage and tell the truth. Don’t stop short of the truth. Don’t settle for a belief or habit. Look unceasingly with courageous honesty. Tell the truth about what you discover now and now and now.

I cannot find what is terrible. There is only discomfort. It is nothing more, nothing less. It is what it is. Nothing needs to be added to it. And this is honesty, and it liberates.

Secondly, am I sure that avoiding this discomfort will be better? My habit is to avoid discomfort. The whole external world, the world of thought and objects and beliefs and social contracts says: “Avoid discomfort because that is the way to salvation. That is the way to relief. When you succeed in avoiding discomfort you will find comfort.”

But look honestly. Is that true?

No matter how many times I look, I find over and over and over that avoiding discomfort delivers me not to salvation but to suffering.

Avoiding discomfort is the way to hell. It IS hell.

Even when the discomfort is great. Even when the discomfort seems unbearable. Even when it is crushing. Even when it seems that I cannot possibly go on even another second. Even when it is beyond excruciating, beyond what I thought was the worst possible torture.

Even then, avoiding discomfort is the way to hell.

Now, of course, your mind will look for exceptions to this. It will seek to argue for when this is not true. It will ask questions that start with ,” Okay, but what about…?”

All of which is designed only to maintain the status quo. Which is hell. Which is suffering.

So we have a choice. Just one choice as far as I can tell. And I have looked so many times for any possible alternative. Because what I am telling you would appear to the conditioned, habitual mind, the conditioned, habitual identity, to be the worst possible way. So of course I have looked for alternatives.

But I’m telling you truly that this is the only choice I have found. The only true choice. And I’m going to tell you this choice in a very loaded way. So be prepared for your eyes to involuntarily roll and for your hackles to be raised.

The choice is this: Choose God consciously or choose the Devil by default.

God is the truth. God is beyond your habitual, conditioned ways and beliefs and identity. God does not conform to your ideas. God does not care what you think or want or believe.

God is unerringly perfect. And God is the ONLY truth.

I’m using the word God exactly because it is such a loaded term. I want to address this head on. Because if I use another word – spirit, life, wholeness, etc. – your mind will translate that as God which it already has an idea about. And if we don’t address this head on, you’ll allow yourself to keep lying to yourself.

So let’s address this directly. What do I mean by God? Do I mean a man in the sky? Do I mean a benevolent creator? Do I mean someone you can have a personal relationship with? Do I mean the judge of moral correctness?

No.

I mean the truth that is. The truth that is beyond concept. I mean what is beyond understanding. Beyond you. Beyond reach. Beyond grasp. Beyond attainment.

You can choose God. But if you don’t, you default to choosing the Devil.

The Devil is your habits. It is what is known. The Devil is the promise of control, attainment, and self power.

The Devil is the belief that “I am responsible for what is. I need to fix it. I need to get it right. If only I had enough power, enough control, I could be okay.”

The Devil is the illusion that salvation is found in this world of attainment, objects, thoughts, etc.

The Devil is the belief that self protection is my number one mandate. That’s an important one. So re-read that. The Devil is the belief that self protect is my number one mandate.

The Devil is what you have identified with. The Devil is attachment. But not just attachment to things, to wealth, to people, to status. It is also attachment to the idea of non-attachment. It is attachment to being good, pure, spiritual.

The Devil is like a hall of mirrors. It reflects back to you distortions of what you project. It gives you what you think you want until you are nauseous and dizzy.

And if you succeed in escaping the hall of mirrors, the Devil has other forms. It is the entire carnival, feeding you cotton candy and putting you on rides that spin around until you vomit.

Most people never even learn that there is something outside of the Devil. Their idea of God is the Great Big Carnival Boss who can grant them big prizes and help them win lots of games.

The Devil is all about winning.

The truth of God is all about losing. Which makes God the least popular attraction.

Most people will not choose God. They’ll choose the Devil and call it God. And they’ll keep seeking comfort through avoiding discomfort. And wonder why it never works out well.

Choosing God offers true comfort. But here’s the catch: true comfort is Gods nature. True comfort is BEYOND you. It is not your idea of comfort.

Your conditioned mind, my conditioned mind, anyone’s conditioned mind will reject God’s true comfort because it is beyond our idea of comfort.

Our idea of comfort is another carnival ride, another prize, another cotton candy, another time through the hall of mirrors. It has to be that way. We can only know what we have already known.

The mistake we make is in deceiving ourselves into believing that is God or that God can be had so cheaply.

God demands much more. God demands everything.

You and I are like fussy babies held at Mother’s breast. The fussy baby is tired, hungry, worried, uncomfortable.

Mother offers the remedy.

The fussy baby rejects the breast. The fussy baby effectively communicates, “No, that is not what I am wanting. I want to do it myself. I want to fix this.”

God is like Mother. We can find true comfort by choosing God.

But we can’t then claim victory. It will not be on our terms. It won’t be how we thought it had to be. And we will not win. We will not arrive there and be able to say, “I did it.”

God demands everything. To choose God is to choose this now as it is. To choose God is to truly surrender. To surrender so deeply now, now, now, unendingly now that I am humbled beyond what I thought was possible.

It is not to “surrender” momentarily to win a bigger prize. It is not to bow down but keep one eye open to see what is forthcoming.

It is surrender all the way. It is to fully admit the truth by SEEING it truly: that I am powerless to help myself. That in fact all my attempts to help myself are only the Devil.

Now again, the conditioned mind will look for exceptions. And the conditioned mind will seek to understand this and formulate a plan. The conditioned mind will say, “Yeah, but does that mean I should not work to feed my family?”

And what I am saying is let go of that. Don’t look there. That is choosing the Devil. The Devil says “You need to understand. You need a plan. You need to find loopholes. You need to have certainty in advance.”

And tell the truth. The Devil is the hope that you can find the escape plan that gives you permission to leave your family, leave your responsibilities, leave this world, leave all the difficulties and complications…with impunity because *God* mandated it.

The Devil is the promise of the easy way.

But it is a way. Always a way. A way to the promised land. Always in the future.

God’s perfect comfort is now. Only now. Always now. Immediate. And unconditional.

Well, except one condition. Which is to choose God.

Choose what is beyond yourself. Beyond your seeking. Beyond your grasping for self protection. Beyond your aspirations to escape the struggles and complications. Beyond your hopes of finding the truth and salvation in this world of understanding, thought, objects, attainments, time.

Whatever happens, I promise you this is available here now. Choose God now. And see what I am pointing to.

The Devil whispers in our ears that we have to get right first. We have to be good enough. We have to be pure enough. We have to FEEL right. We have to think right. We have to understand right. We have to behave right. We have to forgive right. We have to earn it. We have to win it.

That just keeps us spinning around on carnival rides. Always with the promise of salvation *just* ahead. Just after the next attainment. Just after the next effort. Just after we get it right.

God is Mother. We are the fussy baby. We don’t have to get it right. We only need to stop fussing.

Just stop now. Just stop. Stop.

Don’t try to stop. Don’t plan to stop. Don’t have a plan for stopping.

Just stop.

This here now is perfection. This is God’s perfect comfort.

You don’t think so. But so what? Stop believing your thoughts. Stop lying to yourself.

How do I know that this discomfort is terrible?

Or here’s another question. What happens if I simply stop trying to avoid this discomfort?

Now find out.

last month

A prayer of true peace

I used to think that I wanted transcendence. I thought transcendence would be the answer to all my problems.

To be honest, I never really, really, REALLY got clear on what exactly that transcendence would be. But if I had gotten really clear on it, I’d have discovered that what I was actually after was Supreme Avoidance.

In other words, I had dressed up something rather unattractive by giving it a more desirable name of transcendence. Or I could use other words in place of transcendence – other fancy sounding, highfalutin words like enlightenment, awakening, etc.

In reality, all my actions revealed the truth of what I was actually pursuing.

Because all my actions were based on a single (assumed) mandate: “Get rid of this terrible, horrible, unbearable feeling.”

I assumed that the goal of my life – not only my life but LIFE ITSELF – was to “transcend” (i.e. get rid of) what I didn’t want.

I didn’t want the tense feeling. I didn’t want the scary feeling. I didn’t want the dull feeling. I didn’t want the sharp feeling. I didn’t want the bad feeling.

I STILL think I don’t want many feelings.

Case in point. This morning was cold. Cold to me, that is. Maybe not cold to a polar bear. But to this hairless animal it was cold.

And that cold provoked all the cold-provoked conditioning in me. The fear. The anxiety. The worry.

My wife and my kids and I are effectively camping as we are building our housing in preparation for the winter. So I had nowhere to go to get warm.

This feeling – the feeling I am calling cold – seems undesirable to me.

Find something in your recent experience you can relate this to. What recently have you felt that you think is undesirable? Maybe a bodily sensation. Maybe anxiety seemingly about money or world events. Maybe awkwardness or tension in relationship with other.

And follow along with me so we can explore this together. Me with my cold feeling and you with your feeling. Whatever we think is undesirable.

Now when I have a feeling that I think is undesirable, I start thinking about how to solve the feeling.

Isn’t that funny? A feeling isn’t a problem. It’s not something that needs to be solved. But that’s what happens. I start thinking about how to solve it.

In order to try to solve a feeling, I have to take a step away from the direct experience and instead start to imagine that some CIRCUMSTANCE is CAUSING my feeling.

So I start thinking about things, events, circumstances, people, situations, etc.

Do you do this too?

Of course you do. This is what humans typically do. It is so commonplace that most of us don’t even notice it. Even when someone points it out, we often don’t see it.

We mistakenly believe that our feelings are caused by something outside of us.

In order to remain entranced in this way, we need to allow ourselves to believe that if and when we solve the problem-feeling, all will be well.

But let us stop and tell the truth! We have done this before. Countless times we have done this. And what happened?

Every time, without fail, the next feeling-problem came along. And what’s more, 99.9999% of the time, the next feeling-problem is fundamentally identical to the one we supposedly just solved.

It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. Except that we don’t recognize it. We’re so entranced that we believe that this next feeling-problem is different.

Until we wake up. When we wake up – which can happen now – which IS happening now if we tell the truth – we see the truth. The truth is that all that has ever been happening is that we were trying to avoid the same essential feeling.

We told all kinds of stories about it. We created big dramas about it. But at the heart of it there is just this bare naked, raw vulnerability here now.

Everything I do – no matter how I dress it up otherwise – is an attempt to fix or solve or get rid of this feeling-problem. My friend, John Veen (“Hi John!”), will remind me that in Shin Buddhism this is called “self power”. I’ll just call it “everything I do”.

And I’ll differentiate “everything I do” from another possibility. That other possibility is what I’ll call “what actually is”. John Veen will remind me that in Shin Buddhism this is called “other power”.

“What actually is” always trumps “everything I do”. This is plainly obvious for all of us to see…if we only stop and tell the truth now.

So let’s stop and tell the truth now. Can we see this now? Let’s look sincerely. Let’s let it be simple and light and effortless. Let’s just drop all the pretense that we’re getting somewhere and figuring it all out and winning (or losing or whatever our particular trance-du-jour is). And let’s just see this plainly as it really is.

Everything I do is based on habit. It is nothing more than a repetition of the conditioning from the past. It is unconscious, by definition, until I stop and see it.

The moment I see it, something miraculous happens. Everything I do stops and what actually is becomes clear. “Everything I do” and ‘what actually is” merge into this now. (Or, perhaps more accurately, I see that there never was two.)

And moreover, I am unburdened of all suffering.

Because suffering – by any name we choose to call it – is nothing other than “everything I do”. That is to say, my habitual, unconscious attempts to solve my feeling-problem.

Because suffering is simply that. It is the arrogance that somehow I know what this is. The arrogance that I can know that this should not be as it is.

The arrogance that I know that this present feeling means problem.

Which is perhaps why I really like the story of the Chinese Farmer that I learned from Alan Watts and recount to you often. In summary, the Chinese Farmer story illustrates that whatever happens, we don’t know its meaning or value.

Or look at it this way. I woke up this morning – on this cold morning – and saw a sliver of a crescent moon and maybe 10 degrees to the west, Venus. These are two of Earth’s nearest neighbors. But both are so far away that I will never visit their surfaces in this human lifetime.

The Sun, which warms this planet and allows my human life to be is so far away that it takes 8 minutes for light to travel from it to me.

Lately in the evenings on clear nights I see Jupiter and Mars. Both – you guessed it – really far away.

And then there are all the stars. Those in the Milky Way are nearest, and most of those are unthinkably far, The rest are so far that they are beyond unthinkably far.

And beyond those that are visible to the naked eye, more stars. Those so beyond beyond unthinkable that we can’t even begin to think of them.

And my human animal life is certain to come to an end. Fifty billion years from now it will matter so little that no one will even know to think that I existed. In other words, I will be to them like the stars so distant from me are now.

In fact, we don’t even need to go fifty billion years into the future for my life to be so insignificant. Just a few generations and I will be forgotten.

But on cold mornings I have the arrogance to think that I know better.

This is not just about cold. This is about all of the things we worry about. All the feeling-problems we try to fix. All the energy we squander trying to figure out how to get ahead or get more comfortable or even to survive.

We can’t help it, of course. So let’s not make the mistake of trying to fix that! Which would be only more “self power” trying to fix the supposed problem of “self power”.

Instead, here is a possibility. This is just one possibility. I am not saying it is the best. But it is one possibility.

Non-duality purists, hardcore hardliners, will be deeply offended by this possibility. It won’t be pure enough for them. But then, nothing is.

But this is a possibility that I believe is valuable. And it is true to my heart.

This possibility is prayer.

The prayer that I will propose is a prayer of thanksgiving.

There are as many variations on this as there are stars in the universe. You will find your own authentic variation. Your own song-prayer.

Here’s something to riff off of.

Oh Lord, thank you for this perfect moment. Thank you for this gift of discomfort that offers the opportunity to wake up from the trance of winning and losing.

Thank you for the possibility of humility and the discovery now of my inherent innocence.

Though I notice my impulses of reactivity – the lashing out, the writhing, the despair, the anger, the fear – I choose to stop now. I choose now to receive your Grace.

I see in this moment of Grace my arrogance in believing that I knew better when in truth I know nothing at all. I confess that I truly know nothing at all. And I look sincerely in my heart of heart and see the truth of this confession.

I give thanks for the miracle that is occurring right now. This present miracle is the revelation that what I had wrongly imagined was my enemy is in fact none other than Grace. What I had worked so hard to get rid of is my most perfect salvation.

It is a salvation so perfect and so instantaneous that it is completely beyond all concept and all striving. Your perfect Grace in this moment now reveals inescapable humility.

With gladness and thanksgiving I bow down and receive this Grace now.

Amen.

Like I said, this is something you can riff on. Allow an authentic expression to come forth from your heart.

You can substitute words if my words offend you too much. Maybe words like “Lord” and “God” and “Grace” are too charged for you. Fine. Do what you need to do.

But hear me on this. Don’t think you know better. Don’t believe that you have some pure and perfect way that transcends this simple, innocent way.

Be willing to be humble and to receive the Grace that is so freely and endlessly offered every moment. All it takes is to soften your heart enough to allow your authentic prayer-song to express.

last month

Fear Is a Choice

Fear.

Just the word “fear” probably triggers a fearful response.

Because it’s always there. If not overtly, it’s just below the surface, ready to bubble up at a moment’s notice.

Most of us think our goal is to extinguish fear. We think we are to get rid of it once and for all. And then we’ll be spiritually victorious!

Isn’t that so? Isn’t that the goal of most so-called spirituality? In fact, we don’t even have to be so lofty as to reach for spirituality to have this goal. It is the goal of most of human activities, isn’t it?

It’s why we try to amass more and more wealth. It’s why we try to “better ourselves”. It’s why we try to be healthy.

We want to defeat fear.

And what happens? Have we won?

Tell the truth. The more we try to defeat fear, the more it grows. It looms large in the shadow that grows ever larger as we try to ignore it.

Let’s switch gears for a moment to a biology lesson.

There’s a guy named Stephen Porges who is a fancy professor at some fancy college. I don’t remember which. It doesn’t matter.

He has a theory. He calls the theory the Polyvagal Theory, which sounds fancy.

His theory says that organisms on this planet have evolved three layers of strategies – specifically within the vagus nerve – for dealing with possible threats. Each layer can be conceptualized as being more evolved (i.e. more advantageous) than the others “below” it.

The first and least advantageous is the freeze response. Possums demonstrate this well.

When a possum is threatened, it is well-known for “playing possum”. That is, it appears to be dead. It becomes motionless. Its vital signs diminish. Poke it, prod it…it is dead as far as you can tell.

But it ain’t playing when it “plays possum”. It is in a freeze response. It is a biological reaction. And according to Porges, this is mediated by the lowest layer of the vagus nerve.

For you and me, it doesn’t matter whether this is mediated by the vagus nerve. We don’t care. I’m only mentioning it just because of the context of this explanation. But you really can ignore that part if it sounds too complicated. Just know that this is one possible reaction.

Possums do it. They don’t have a choice. That’s their biology. And I think that Porges says that reptiles do it and many fish do it. Lots of animals that have vagus nerves that aren’t highly evolved do it…and don’t have a choice.

You and I could also “play possum”. This happens to people. But we have a choice. We have other options available to us.

And for us, freeze is the least desirable option.

Why? Because it is very, very stressful. It’s not “play”. It’s for real. The body actually mimics death.

And sometimes possums and reptiles and fish…and humans if they do it…actually DO die from it. Because it is the body trying to get as close to death as possible without actually dying. Which is a fine line.

This is useful if, for example, you’ve been pinned to the ground by a 200 pound angry mountain lion who mistakenly thought you were trying to hurt her young. You aren’t going to outfight the mountain lion. So maybe your best bet is to appear dead. Maybe she’ll leave you alone then.

But otherwise, it’s not what you want.

The next more evolved option according to Porges is the fight-or-flight response. Animals with less evolved vagus nerves can’t do this (so says Porges). But you and I can.

Which means we can try to protect ourselves. We can even try to protect others.

This is great…if there is a real threat.

But 99% or more of our perceived threats aren’t real. And while this response is useful for real threats, it comes at a cost. Because it is distressing. It exhausts us. And it conditions us to expect threats, to become paranoid, to be on guard. When we are conditioned to be on guard, we are constantly churning, never truly at rest. Never actually enjoying life.

Stop now and take an honest inventory of the perceived threats in your life. Tell the truth. They are almost entirely imaginary.

Yes, they *might* come true. Of course, of course. But are they real RIGHT NOW?

Clearly they are not. No actual harm is coming to you now. No TRUE threat is upon you right now.

99% or more of your perceived threats are entirely in your imagination.

And this is why you should be glad to know that as a human you are gifted with a wonderful capacity for what Porges called the soothe response. This is (according to Porges) the most evolved response.

It doesn’t matter if Porges is right about any of the biology. We can actually just observe this in our own experience. Just observe what happens if you start to worry, get uptight, react fearfully, keep up your guard, etc.

And then observe what happens if you choose – yes *choose* – to stop that. Choose peace. Choose to acknowledge that your perceived threats are imaginary. Choose to acknowledge that you truly don’t know.

At first this may seem difficult. It may seem impossible. Because you’re not practiced at it. You may be practiced at freaking out.

But don’t give up just because it’s challenging.

This is why in spiritual traditions there have been many who have reported that they simply had to trust their teachers.

You and me, us mere mortals, us flawed and imperfect humans…we have to choose to trust out teachers when they assure us that something greater is real and true and possible.

We have to choose to believe that and to continue to choose and act in accordance with that. Because if we don’t, we will only repeat what we’ve always done.

And you know what you’ll get if you keep doing that. More of the same. In other words, more fear. More choosing fear.

So trust me. I have trusted my teachers, and I have glimpsed this truth that I tell you.

I tell you from actual experience that fear is a choice.

And peace is a choice.

When the reaction occurs, let that be a reminder. Let it wake you up.

In the moment of the reaction is a powerful opportunity to wake up now.

Wake up now and CHOOSE peace now.

The habitual mind will throw a fit. It will churn up all the images and memories and reasons why to continue to choose fear. It will scream about how there’s not enough good and life is unsafe and nothing ever works out and you’re a failure and blah blah blah.

If the reasons sound familiar, that’s a really good indication that they’re just repetitive untruths passed down from countless generations of unhappy people.

Don’t choose the same.

Choose to wake up now.

It’s not hard. It’s easy. Waking up is easy.

Choosing peace is the difficult part.

Not impossible. And not unpleasant. But I won’t lie to you…it is difficult sometimes when the habitual mind is churning up all the reasons to choose fear.

But you and I can tell the truth. Telling the truth is our great tool that gives us victory.

Simply tell the truth by looking honestly and relentlessly. Is there a true threat now? Is the mountain lion about to pounce? Is the gun to your head now? Is this your last breath now?

If not, choose peace now.

Choosing peace does not mean the intensity goes way. It does not mean the feeling goes away. It does not mean the situation suddenly looks the way you think it should.

Choosing peace is choosing to tell the truth. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know.” Is the truth.

You can’t make that mechanical. You have to see the truth of it deeply now. Always now.

Seeing the truth of that now is peace.

It means that even if I am down to my last penny, even if I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, even if I have made terrible mistakes, even if I am in pain…I don’t know what this means, I don’t know if this is bad, I don’t even know what good or bad truly is.

Again, it doesn’t work to make this mechanical. This is not about applying some dead philosophy to try to anesthetize ourselves. It is not about getting rid of anything.

It’s about opening our eyes and hearts and minds to what is actually here and telling the truth deeply, which is that I don’t know that this is a threat. I truly don’t know.

And if I don’t know – if I can see that sincerely – then I also see that remaining with not knowing in this alive and open way, in this fully feeling way, is peace. The truth of peace. An alive peace. A peace of total possibility. A peace that knows no opposite.

This is to be completely alive.

And you can choose it.

9 months ago

Does Manifesting Really Work?

You’ve heard of the so-called Law of Attraction. You’ve heard or read about other people “manifesting”. But you’re skeptical.

Does manifesting really work?

As I’ll share with you in this article, the simple answer is “Yes, it really does work”. But to get a better answer, we have to ask a different question: How does manifesting work? And perhaps more importantly, do you have a role to play in manifesting? Can you affect what manifests in your life?

When we understand how manifesting works, we don’t need to be skeptical. Neither do we need to be fearful or superstitious. Instead, we can understand that this is a natural process that is always working – whether we’re aware of it or not.

If we’re unaware of how it is working, we see ourselves as victims in life. We wrongly believe that life is happening to us. And then we are fearful of our circumstances in life. All we can do in that case is hope and scheme for a good future.

But when we truly see how this process is already working in our lives, we cease to see ourselves as victims. When we understand this process, we can begin to choose powerfully in our lives.

In this article I will guide you to discover how manifesting works. I will point you to look for yourself to see how this is true for you. And you will discover how you can begin to consciously make use of this insight.

Manifesting Is Already Happening

The simple and obvious truth is that manifesting is already happening. Every moment in which you are aware, you are witness to manifestation.

Anything we can perceive or conceive is a manifestation. The screen you are looking at, this article – these are manifestations.

An obvious example of this – and one we easily overlook – is that all sounds come out of silence and return to silence. This may seem like an unimportant observation, but it is actually quite useful. We can directly observe that prior to the manifestation of a sound, there is silence. And after the sound there is silence. The sound arises from silence and returns to silence.

When we observe sound arising from silence and returning to silence, we have proof that manifesting is real. It is actually happening.

Although it may seem more difficult to observe, the same is true of all experience. All things we see or feel are also arising from silence or nothing, coming into being, and then dissolving into the silence or nothing from which they came.

Therefore, rather than asking whether manifesting is real, a more useful question is how does manifesting work? What we really want to know is whether we are safe and okay in life. We want to know if we have a participatory role in the manifestation process. Because we may secretly fear that life is just happening to us.

Many of us believe that life is happening to us because things happen that we don’t like. And when these things happen, we may feel that we are victims. We wish we could control our life so that only the things we think we want happen.

Therefore, many of us develop a naive idea about the process of manifesting. We think that for manifesting to be real, it would have to work something like this: I want something -> what I want appears or happens.

If I want something and it doesn’t appear or happen, I might then think that I have no role in manifesting. I may think that I am just a victim.

But this is not true. All this proves is that we don’t have a good enough understanding of the process of manifesting.

Consider an analogy of a radio. Imagine that you don’t understand how a radio works. The radio is on and tuned to a particular station. You don’t like the station. Let’s say it is a classic rock station, and you would rather listen to an experimental jazz station. Because you would like to listen to experimental jazz but the radio is playing classic rock instead, you may think, “Well, I guess I don’t have any role in this whole radio thing. I want experimental jazz, but the radio is playing classic rock.”

If you accept this is true without exploring further, you may then just be “victim” to whatever the radio plays. But that doesn’t mean it is actually true.

However, if instead you carefully observe, you may discover that you can tune the radio to different frequencies. And when you do, you can hear different stations. Maybe you find an experimental jazz station. So now you know that you do have a role to play. You can tune the radio.

On the other hand, you might not immediately find an experimental jazz station. Maybe there are none in range. So you could then give up and again think you only have a very limited role to play.

But if you observe more carefully, you might discover that the radio can pick up broadcasts from anywhere if you have the right means. You might find that with the right technology in place, you are able to tune into an experimental jazz station.

So it is with manifesting. The process is real. And you are playing a role whether you choose to become aware of it or not. If you choose not to become aware of it, you may mistake yourself to be a victim. But through careful observation, you can discover how this process works. And as you become aware of it, you can begin to choose.

The Important Key to Success in Manifesting (What You Want)

As you’ve already hopefully started to see, manifesting is happening. You are manifesting all the time. The question is not one of whether you will manifest, but rather what you will manifest.

If you are unhappy with what you manifest, you will want to become more successful in manifesting what you want instead of what you don’t want.

There are plenty of experts who will tell you their system or formula for manifesting what you want. Many of them are based on the so-called Law of Attraction. (I will suggest to you that the Law of Attraction is a misunderstanding of the actual nature of manifesting. We don’t so much attract as we do express.)

And while formulas are sometimes useful, a much more powerful approach is to have a clear understanding and repeated experience of the actual process. Whereas formulas tend to lead to superstition, having a true understanding (and experience) leads to mastery.

Where formulas alone can actually lead to anxiety, frustration, and depression, a true understanding of the actual process can give confidence and peace of mind.

My Introduction to Manifesting

I grew up with a mother and grandmother who were believers of the teachings of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, the founders of Unity. Although I can’t say that I really understood their beliefs at the time, I suppose that I was primed by that early exposure to such ideas about manifesting.

I remember books by Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer on the bookshelves as a child.

When I was 19 and I had moved out on my own to Los Angeles, I briefly joined a Unity church there. But soon I gravitated toward the Church of Religious Science – an organization founded by Ernest Holmes that drew inspiration from similar sources, including Emma Curtis Hopkins.

For several years I was a practitioner in training within the Church of Religious Science. I learned the organization’s formula for affirmative prayer. And as a practitioner in training I was strongly encouraged to make use of it daily. (And I did!)

Around that same time, I received an initiation in Transcendental Meditation, and I practiced daily. I also attended weekly meetings with my TM teacher in which he would give a talk and we would do a group meditation.

Between these two things – daily affirmative prayer (plus practitioner training) and daily TM practice (and weekly meetings) – I received my formal introduction to manifesting.

I will also add that it was during this same time that a friend loaned me a cassette tape recording of some Taoist meditations recorded by Ken Cohen. (Ken Cohen is a truly wonderful teacher and human being. I feel tremendous gratitude to him.) These meditations also gave me my most profound experience of the nature of reality up to that point.

Prior to this, I had assumed that life was just happening to me. But through these experiences, I began to explore whether that was true.

My TM practice revealed to me that what I had imagined was the entirely of reality is but a small fraction. What I see, taste, smell, hear, and feel supposedly “out there” is not as great of a part of reality as I had previously thought.

Through TM practice I regularly encountered stillness within, and I could see how everything that I experienced came out of this stillness.

Through daily practice of affirmative prayer, I started to see how fearful and reactive my conditioned mind was. I could see how this fearful, reactive conditioning filtered my perception. And I could see how this shaped my reality.

By sheer quantity of affirmative prayer, some changes took place in my life. However, my understanding and clarity of the actual nature of the manifesting process was still fairly poor. As such, I developed a lot of superstition.

This is common among spiritual people. As I have already suggested, formulas may sometimes work, but they tend to produce superstition. And therefore, many practitioners who use formulas become increasingly superstitious or fearful.

I certainly did. And this brought out pre-existing tendencies of anxiety, obsessiveness, and fear.

The Years of Hell

For many years my anxiety and obsessive tendencies grew and grew. As an adolescent I had developed anorexia and compulsive exercise habits. In college those habits had grown and expanded.

But it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that things developed into full time hell. I have described this hell elsewhere, including my article on stopping compulsive behavior. Therefore, I won’t go into great detail here. But I will say that it was so severe that all day and night I was consumed by counting, checking, repeating, avoiding, hand washing, and on and on.

It wasn’t until I was 34 years old and nearly dead – living in a cabin in the woods of New Hampshire with my wife and newborn first child – that I finally moved beyond mere formulas.

Formulas may or may not work. But formulas alone can’t give us what we really want. To manifest what we really want, we have to move beyond formulas. We have to observe carefully and discover for ourselves.

That is what finally happened in my life. Only through having exhausted all other options, I finally began to carefully observe my experience. And through careful observation I began to be witness to the actual creative process. That is, I started to see how manifesting is actually happening.

Witnessing Subtler Levels of Experience

In order to be witness to the actual creative process, we need to be sensitive to the subtler layers of experience. That is because creation occurs at the subtlest level of experience.

Everything less subtle is not strictly creative. It is merely an outward movement of what has been created. We can rearrange what has been created, of course. And that can be a useful skill to have – to learn how to rearrange what has been created. But if we want to truly learn how manifesting works, we will not be satisfied with mere rearrangement. We want to observe the subtleties of creation.

Think of the image of a pebble thrown into a pond. We all have experienced this, so we know that ripples form and spread outward. Each ripple grows in size as it moves outward.

Each outward-moving ripple is an effect of the ripple that precedes it. But the actual creative moment is at the point at which the pebble struck the pond and the first ripple formed.

Many people who are interested in manifesting are focused on the outermost ripples. They are busying themselves with rearranging effects rather than observing the actual creative process.

But it is at the subtlest level of the creative process that we have the most leverage. To return to our pebble-in-pond metaphor, we have the most leverage when we control where we throw the pebble into the pond. Rather than trying to shift existing ripples into different locations, we have greater control by choosing where to throw the pebble in the first place.

…Or whether to throw the pebble at all! In fact, my experience is that the most important part of the creative process is consciously choosing whether to manifest. Otherwise, we tend to simply get caught up in the momentum of manifesting. We manifest and then react to that manifesting.

A much more powerful approach is to rest in the unlimited potential prior to manifesting. The great secret is that in this space prior to manifesting we find fulfillment, peace, and joy.

See, most people wrongly think they will get fulfillment, peace, and joy from what they manifest. They are mistakenly believing that their happiness is conditional. And that is disempowering and a recipe for suffering.

This is a very, very important point. Most of us want to know how to manifest for the wrong reasons. And if we don’t see this, we will only generate more suffering for ourselves.

Instead, what is possible is to first discover the true source of fulfillment and happiness that is prior to manifesting. When we know this, we are free to manifest…or not. Then, what manifests can only be an expression of that joy that we already know. We cannot generate suffering when we know our inherent freedom and happiness.

Therefore, before you try to manifest anything consciously, I strongly recommend that you first acquaint yourself with the space of potential that is prior to manifestation.

I intend to add more articles to this series. In those articles I will share more insights for how to know the peace and freedom in that infinite potential. I will also share ways you can become more conscious of the creative process and make use of that in your life. The best way to ensure you receive those articles is to subscribe to my free email list (see form below).

9 months ago

How to Stop Compulsive Behavior (and Find Happiness Instead)

I know what it is like to struggle with compulsive behavior. My struggle was so severe that I nearly died in the process.

For eight years I have lived free of compulsive behavior. I’ve shared the solution with thousands of people and personally coached dozens to complete recovery.

You might struggle with mildly disruptive compulsive behavior. Or your struggle might be as severe as mine was. Or maybe your struggle is even more severe. In any case, I will share with you how to stop the compulsive behavior.

In this article I will share with you how to understand what is really driving your compulsive behavior. And I will tach you how you can transform that into happiness, freedom, and confidence.

If your struggles are severe, you may find that last claim to be difficult to believe. But I promise you that by the end of this article you will see how this is possible. Once you understand what is really happening, you’ll know that you can make changes for good.

What Is the Real Cause of Compulsive Behavior?

The underlying cause of all compulsive behavior is the same. This is true whether the compulsive behavior is:

  • repetition
  • eating
  • hand-washing
  • fingernail biting
  • gambling
  • counting
  • checking
  • sex
  • exercise
  • or any other compulsive behavior

Most of us find the behaviors themselves or the consequences of the behaviors to be problematic. We don’t typically peer beneath the surface, so to speak. We experience such an urgency in the compulsion that we don’t give ourselves enough time to reverse engineer the problem.

I know well what the consequences of this can be. I began to struggle with compulsive behavior when I was 11 years old. And I continued to struggle until I was 32 years old.

In my case, the compulsive behavior began as compulsive exercise and compulsive counting. I would lift weights at night while my family was sleeping. I felt compelled to do every exercise in sets of 13. And as soon as I stopped doing one set – no matter how exhausted I was – I felt compelled to do another.

Over the years this grew into a long list of compulsive behaviors. I indulged compulsions to turn around in particular patterns while showering. I felt compelled to avoid stepping on crack in the sidewalk. I ate compulsively until I was sick and then kept eating. And on the other hand, I would often compulsively starve myself.

I compulsively stacked my mail. I compulsively meditated (compelled to meditate for longer and longer stretches). I compulsively checked my door and windows to ensure they were locked. I compulsively checked the stove. I counted everything, including my thoughts, my steps, the number of times I rubbed my hands together when washing them, the number of sheets of toilet paper I used, and on and on. I compulsively rinsed my hands. I compulsive tried to avoid certain thoughts. And if I thought of those things, I would compulsively perform all kinds of difficult to explain and internal rituals.

All of those compulsions had the same underlying cause. Furthermore, in the years since my recovery, I have coached dozens of people to recover from compulsive behavior, Everyone I have coached has had the same underlying cause for their compulsive behaviors.

What is the underlying cause?

The answer to that question is actually extremely simple. And because it is so simple, many people overlook it or dismiss it. However, I assure you that truly recognizing this holds the key to a full recovery from compulsive behavior.

The underlying cause a feeling of aversion. That feeling of aversion is a reaction to fear.

The specific behaviors are, in some sense, arbitrary and unimportant. Although they may sometimes be disturbing or painful, focus on the behaviors themselves won’t resolve the real cause.

Furthermore, simply trying to force yourself to stop the behavior without recognizing the real cause rarely (if ever) works. Instead, trying to force yourself to stop the behavior typically results in extreme discomfort, relapse, or some alternative compulsive behavior.

That is because the behavior itself is not the cause. The compulsion is a reaction to fear. The behavior is a coping strategy we have learned in an attempt to avoid the underlying fear.

We assume that the fear is because there is an actual threat. But there is no real threat. We’re only reacting to conditioning. That is it. There is no real threat.

This is very good news. Once we truly recognize this, we hold the power to make real change and fully recover. The next step is to discover how the aversion to fear takes shape and grows into a compulsive behavior.

Watching the Compulsion Move into Action

Compulsive behavior is a habitual response to the feeling of aversion to fear. The specific behavior can and sometimes does change over time. The behavior itself is just a habit. And since there is no real threat, we don’t actually need to do anything to avoid the threat.

We could change the habit with enough will power. But as I suggested earlier, on its own, this rarely gives satisfying results. At best, using force we can substitute one compulsive behavior for another. Which is not really what we want.

In order to satisfyingly stop the compulsive behavior and resolve the underlying compulsion (the discomfort, anxiety, aversion to fear), we need to use awareness rather than force.

Awareness is difficult to define in normal language. But it is a very real thing, and it is something that we can make use of to bring about real change.

We can cultivate awareness by doing something simple. That simple thing is to slow down.

I’ll share with you a few ways in which to slow down throughout this article. But regardless of the means by which we slow down, the internal slowing down generates greater awareness. And that awareness indicates a fundamental shift in the state of the nervous system. That shift in the nervous system is what we are wanting. That helps to change the conditioning in the nervous system. And that gives us the results we want.

If you think back on anything you’ve ever learned, you may see how when you first start learning something new, you go slowly and deliberately.

Whether it is walking, talking, playing an instrument, riding a bicycle, or anything, we learn by slowing down.

Once it is a habit, it moves fast. Fastness in the processing within the nervous system indicates the utilization of a part of the nervous system that is for habit. We can’t make fundamental changes at this fast level.

We can make fundamental changes when we slow down.

The simplest way to slow down is to simply observe your own experience. And the most direct and relevant observation practice in this case is to watch how the feeling of discomfort – the compulsion – takes shape as a compulsive behavior.

Logically, you can see that there is a point between the sensing of the compulsion and the beginning of the compulsive behavior. Let’s take the example of compulsive hand washing. I used to wash my hands dozens of times every day. My hands were dry and cracked, and I still washed them.

When I started to observe this carefully, I discovered that the compulsion was a feeling of discomfort. Up until this point everything happened so fast I hadn’t really noticed. But it was obvious once I slowed down just enough to see it.

Do this when next you experience a compulsion. Pause for just a second and slow down inwardly enough to observe. See how there is a feeling of discomfort.

This feeling happens before the compulsive behavior.

Next, you can watch to see what happens just before the compulsive behavior starts.

When I first started observing this, I saw that between the compulsion (the feeling) and the start of the compulsive behavior there was a subtle tension in my body. Sometimes this tension was in my belly. Sometimes in my head.

As I continued to slow down my experience, I observed that the subtle tension would cascade into increasing tension until it was so uncomfortable that I found myself moving into the compulsive behavior.

Having coached many people through this exploration, I am confident that this is the same basic mechanism that operates in all compulsive behavior. I strongly believe that if you slow down and look at your own experience, you will see this to.

When you next experience compulsion, pause for a moment. Observe your experience. And see if you discover a tension in your body.

At first, many people tell me one of two things in this exploration. They either tell me that they don’t find any tension (less common) or they tell me that they find a lot of tension everywhere (more common).

In the case of those who say they find no tension, more careful observation eventually reveals this is not true. The nervous system may numb itself to the tension. But with enough observation, the nervous system eventually awakens to the tension.

In the case of those who say they have tension everywhere, they may sometimes find this to be overwhelming. They don’t know where to start. Yet more careful observation will eventually reveal that there is a subtler layer of tension that is easier to work with.

Next, I will share with you more ways to slow down and relieve any overwhelm you may experience during the process of observation.

Using Breath Awareness to Slow Down

We’ve probably all heard the advice to “take a deep breath” in order to calm ourselves.

Well, it turns out that is some bad advice. Breathing “deeply” usually means breathing more. And breathing more is unlikely to help bring calm or balance. If anything, it is more likely to lead to anxiety.

However, breath awareness is a very powerful tool to help slow down. Breath awareness brings our attention from our anxious thoughts and uncomfortable feelings to an activity that is happening all the time (our breathing) that can capture our interest. Furthermore, when we are aware of our breathing, our breathing naturally begins to even out and become more regular. This produces physiological changes that shift the state of our nervous system. Our brain waves literally shift to a slower frequency.

We literally slow down through breath awareness.

The wonderful thing about breath awareness is that you can do it anywhere and you don’t have to have special skills or knowledge to do it. All you need to do is to observe your breath.

Because this is so simple, most people will dismiss it as “couldn’t be effective”. But it truly is very powerful. The one catch is that you have to actually do it.

Shifting our attention to our breath requires that we do just that. We have to be willing to give our attention to observing the breath. This is a fully immersive practice. We can’t be doing this and thinking about fearful things at the same time, for example. Neither can we be fully giving our attention to our breath while we are indulging compulsive behavior.

Most of us are so habituated to giving attention to our thoughts and indulging compulsive behavior, we may find it challenging at first to give our attention to our breath fully. If you do, then it is especially helpful to find regular times when you can do this. Perhaps you can make the space for it while lying in bed at night or first thing upon waking.

With more practice, it becomes easier and easier. And it also becomes increasingly pleasurable.

Here is how to do it. Many people will find it is easiest to do while lying on their backs. But you can do this from any position.

Notice your breath. Don’t try to change it. Just observe it.

Notice if it is smooth or choppy. Are you holding your breath at any point?

Again, just observe. Awareness will change things if you allow it. But if you try to change the way you breathe, you will introduce more strain and stress. So it is important just to observe.

If you notice any choppiness or breath holding, be curious about that. What is happening at these times? Are you holding tension in the body? Can you become aware of that?

Start to observe where in your body you can feel the breath. And importantly, notice where you do not feel the breath. Observe the front of the body, the back of the body, and the sides of the body. Observe the chest as well as the abdomen. Observe the pelvis. Are there places that feel rigid, restricted? If so, just observe if you are exerting yourself to hold those areas rigid. You may discover that with awareness, these areas begin to soften.

In general, don’t try to take bigger breaths. Allow awareness to guide the volume of the breath. Most of the time what we think we should do to correct our breathing is wrong. We have incorrect perception. So we need to allow ourselves to simply become more aware. That awareness allows the uninhibited functioning of the autonomic nervous system to regulate the perfect breath. All without us having to “do” anything.

As you observe, simply allow the breath to become increasingly under the control of the autonomic nervous system. Don’t inhale rhythmically. Instead, let your body determine when to inhale. Likewise, don’t exhale rhythmically. Let the body determine when to exhale. The body has its own rhythm that is uninhibited. Let it move to its own needs.

This practice of simple breath awareness is a very powerful way to slow down. As I have stated, it literally slows down the frequency of brain waves. It literally produces a shift in the functioning of the nervous system. And this allows you to perceive very differently.

From this slower, calmer state of the nervous system, you will find that you have a greater sense of choice. You may still experience the habitual compulsion, but you will notice more space around it. You may experience less urgency.

This awareness is not in and of itself necessarily the magic cure for compulsive behavior. But it is an essential first ingredient. It forms the foundation that allows you to begin to choose rather than react.

Using Somatic Awareness to Slow Down

Personally, I find breath awareness to be the most effective method to slow down. However, a close second is simple somatic awareness. That is, giving attention to the felt experience in the body.

There are many ways you can approach this. Don’t think that the way I am describing here is the only right way. But do let this be a starting point for your exploration.

Start by feeling your feet on the ground. Notice how much of the bottoms of your feet are making contact with the floor, ground, or inside of your shoes. Are the bottoms of the feet relaxed against the surface they are resting on? Or are they holding tension?

Don’t try to make your feet do what you think they should. Don’t try to flatten them or force them to make more contact. Just observe your felt experience. And allow that awareness to gently release and relax any unnecessary tension.

Again, don’t try to force the release of tension. That won’t work. Be patient and just observe and allow for a natural softening.

You can continue this kind of exploration throughout the body. I find it to be particularly useful to explore feet, hands, pelvis floor, belly, shoulders, chest, throat, tongue, eyes, and forehead. But you can feel free to explore any parts of the body in this way.

The basic exploration is to bring attention to one “part” of the body at a time. Let your attention rest with this area of your body. And be curious to observe any unnecessary tension. Without trying to force anything, just see if awareness of the area and tension can soften it.

Keep Slowing Down

The truth is that the only step in the recovery process is slowing down. If you persist in slowing down, that helps to cultivate awareness. And awareness plus commitment does everything for you.

As hard as that might be to believe, it really is true. Awareness (which comes from slowing down) plus commitment (which is about continuing to slow down over and over) completely cures compulsive behavior.

Consider what I have proposed to you about the actual mechanics of compulsive behavior and this becomes easier to understand. Compulsive behavior is a habitual reaction to discomfort (the compulsion). The discomfort (compulsion) is a reaction to fear. There is no real threat, meaning we don’t need to react to the fear.

The compulsion moves into action through a subtle tension. And if we allow it to play out, that tension cascades into the compulsive behavior.

But if we have sufficient awareness, we can soften and allow the compulsion to ease rather than indulging the habitual tension.

Done persistently, this undoes the habit. This is actually just Pavlovian conditioning at play. We can undo the conditioning as long as we don’t indulge the habit repeatedly.

The key to success is to quietly observe. As I have said previously, if we try to use force, we are failing to properly undo the conditioning because we are not sufficiently aware of the entire process. Therefore, if we just use force, the underlying compulsion remains. We might forcibly stop a specific compulsive behavior. But if the underlying compulsion habit remains, it will show up as a different compulsive behavior.

For that reason, gentle awareness is the key.

What a Recovery Looks Like

Many of us – myself included – have been taught to be impatient. We want immediate relief, and we want that relief to be lasting. If we don’t get immediate and lasting relief, we may give up and move on to seeking for another solution.

However, in my experience, what actually works to produce a full recovery from compulsive behavior is persistence. A commitment to this approach that I have outlined in this article is what has worked for me and for many others I have coached in this process.

It is important to understand that your expectations about what success should feel like or look like are distorted. As difficult as this might be to believe, I promise you that your perception of what true relief and true happiness and true peace actually is, is all wrong. That was what happened to me for 20 years. I kept seeking for what I thought relief and happiness should be, but the more I chased after it, the worse things got.

True recovery is a shift in perspective. Our nervous systems reset and our conditioning changes. This allows us to begin to see clearly. We then recognize peace and happiness as it truly is. And we stop chasing after something else, believing wrongly that what we’re chasing after is peace and happiness.

Again, I know that might be hard to believe. But if you’ve struggled long enough with compulsive behavior, you may be ready to admit to yourself that what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working out so well. So it is at least worth considering that maybe you’re perception is distorted.

The process that I have outlined in this article works. It is based on my own intensive observation of my own experience. It is supported by research. And it has proven to work in dozens of people I have coached one-on-one in this process.

It can work for you too. The important thing is commitment. The gentler you can be with yourself, the better. And know that you are doing something rare and courageous. Be kind to yourself. You are doing something amazing.

Doing this alone can be challenging. Having support can make a big difference. If you aren’t signed up for my mailing list, I recommend that you sign up below. I send daily emails with insights, encouragement, and sometimes humor that can inspire and help you. You are not alone. This does work. You can do it.

Also, please post comments below if you have any questions or feedback for me related to this article. I value your feedback so that I can make this article ever more clear and useful.

11 months ago

On Love

I rent a yurt from my landlord and landlady to use as an “office”.

Yesterday I was in the yurt and a yellow jacket was crawling on the floor nearby.

The yellow jacket looked to be in distress. It was struggling to stay upright.

It was dying.

I felt sad. Was this preventable? Could I do something to help?

But what could I do? It is fall. The yellow jackets are downsizing the hive in preparation for winter. This yellow jacket was dying.

I was powerless, as I always am, to fix things and make them how I think they should be.

The yellow jacket flipped over. Legs moving. Righted itself. Then flipped over again.

The yellow jacket died.

I didn’t get to be the hero. I didn’t get to save anyone. No one survived.

Life seems to keep communicating this message. “You have no power.”

That doesn’t sound like a message of love in the traditional sense.

But it is. To me it is. It is the greatest love.

I have no power. And yet all is taken care of. Life and death completely taken care of.

I will die. That will be taken care of. I won’t have to do it.

Meanwhile, I am alive. Oh, sure, we could argue the finer points of whether there is anyone to be alive, yada, yada.

But for now, let’s just say I’m alive. And that is also taken care of.

For all my grasping for power, it is not needed.

Life is telling me “you have no power”. And it is like Mother’s soothing touch. “Shhh,” she says. “You have no power.”

I have no power.

The power can’t be had. Not for all the gold or silver in the universe. Not for all the wanting. Not for all the pleading.

Thank goodness it can’t be had.

I don’t need to have it. It has me.

last year

Everything Is Falling Apart

Everything is falling apart.

This lifetime. These ambitions. Security. This body.

All falling apart.

I can try to fix it. Try to hold it together. And I can look around and scream for help.

“We’ll help you hold it together” some say.

Others say “Pull yourself together, man!”

But it is falling apart. All slipping through my fingers like water or air.

No solutions. No hope.

So finally, let’s let it fall apart. It is falling apart anyway.

Does that mean that we should do nothing? Should we not try to feed ourselves? Should we not take care of our children?

No!

Should we hide out in “It’s all delusion anyway”?

No!

No need to hide. No need to reject.

Instead, let us allow the falling apart to wash over us. And through us. To cleanse us of all that never was. All the burdens. The burdens of hope. The burdens of holding it together.

Let us discover our essential freedom. And then let us tell the truth, which is that despite the delusion and illusion and emptiness, we are still here. Showing up. Showing up fully. Choosing this. Choosing this not because we are virtuous. Choosing this because there is no other choice.

And though it is empty of what we thought it was made of, it is not precisely empty. Not truly. It is only empty of hope. Empty of things. Empty of holding it together.

But it is full of wonder. Full of aliveness. Full of us.

Then perhaps we can celebrate.

Not a celebration of things or of holding it together or winning or hope. A celebration of us as we are. Flowing. Hopeless. And free.

To me, this is true love. I know that’s a dirty word. “Boo!” call the hardliners. But fuck it. If we’re to call anything love, isn’t this it? Here we are. Despite all the reasons why not. Despite all the fears. Despite all the emptiness. Despite all the hopelessness. Despite all the delusion. Despite everything.

In the midst of falling apart, I declare this love. And I welcome you to discover it too. Not as you thought it was. Not the love of future security. Not the love of having or holding.

The love of this as it is. Open. Free. Whole. Alive. You. Me. Now.

Say yes. Say yes. Say yes.

last year

Seeing Through Conditioning

My friend, John Veen (https://johnveen.weebly.com/), just sent me this lovely and clear image. I like it so much I asked if he’d be willing to let me share it with you, and he said yes. So here it is.

It was serendipitous that John sent me this image because on Saturday during the second of the workshops of the workshop series I’m offering a similar thing came up.

I had been describing how it is that in my experience it is valuable to be able to shift from fixation on the conceptual overlay to recognizing the unified nature of direct experience. In my experience this ability to shift focus and recognize the wholeness or vastness that is actually here – what is merely getting filtered through a conceptual overlay – offers us the opportunity to stop fixating on all our problems.

To me, that is freedom. And that freedom isn’t the freedom to solve the problems of the conceptual filter. It is the freedom to recognize what is here always that doesn’t have a problem.

By the way, I am not an advocate of trying to remain forever with your focus shifted to non-conceptual wholeness. I find that to be just another unnecessary trap that leads to more unnecessary suffering. So this is not a practice that I am advocating that you should do in the aim of trying to maintain some perfect state.

Rather, I’m just saying that if you look, you might notice that in direct experience, if you just shift attention or focus from objects, places, people, things, ideas, and all the conditioned conceptual overlay, you can notice that simultaneously (and inclusive of the conceptual overlay) there is simply this non-conceptual. unconditioned aliveness that is perfectly obvious. You don’t have to see something other than what you see. You only need to let your focus soften and then you can recognize that all that is happening and appearing is actually already unified, non-separate, whole. There is no boundary or distinction except in concept. And even concept doesn’t have a boundary or distinction. It’s weird, but it becomes obvious if you just catch a glimpse.

To me this actually translates to benefits for the person. And I know that’s probably offensive to many people. But that’s my experience, delusional or not. I find that this shift saves me, as a person, from an awful lot of unnecessary suffering. It doesn’t have to be all the time. Just when I remember. Then it wipes clean all the mess that seemed to have built up. In this instant of seeing all the problems that I had disappear, and even when I find myself again imagining problems, there remains this little whisper that I can’t deny. The vastness and wholeness that instantly dissolves all problems is still here.

During the workshop I was suggesting that one way to notice this is to notice that we are in the habit of hearing sounds through a conceptual filter and so we assume that when someone is speaking that the meaning is innately there in the sounds and in the hearing. We assume that the sounds are coming from over there and that I am here hearing the sounds coming from over there. But if you just soften your auditory focus you can notice that the sounds are just happening in a unified flowing way and that there is no meaning inherent in the sounds. And the sounds aren’t even happening over there and being heard here as a place separate from there. All that is just the conceptual overlay. In the softening of the auditory focus and the loosening of the fixation on the conditioned conceptual overlay, it is obvious that there is just this flowing happening that leaves us (me, at least) in wonder.

I also suggested that the same kind of exploration is possible with visual experience. We normally believe we see things. But we don’t see things. We see. Or, rather, seeing is happening. And the conceptual filter that we fixate on gives this whole story about objects and distance and location and separation.

Well, anyway, John Veen’s image says it better. Just look at it. It is so clear.

I’ve been saying so many word lately. But I guess it really is true that a picture is worth 10,000 words.

Bless you, John. You’ve saved me even more unnecessary talking.