Living With Not Knowing

Have you ever found yourself in a state of change or transition when everything you thought you knew, and depended on, suddenly no longer seems so self-evident? It’s like the very ground under your feet has dropped away. Even your sense of identity is in question. You may find yourself wondering, “Who am I?”

While this can be a scary experience, it’s also a very rich one. Your initial impulse may be to grab onto the first thing that comes along offering the hook of a new sense of identity and knowing. But chances are, if you’re honest with yourself, it won’t be something that lasts and eventually you’ll be cast back into the sea of uncertainty.

Learning to live with not knowing is a challenge worth embracing, for it’s probably closer to the truth than anything else you’ll be offered. Once you’ve made the leap into the abyss, you’re likely to find that any view of self and the world you land on can only give provisional security. Better to develop those sea legs and learn to navigate the waters of profound uncertainty, becoming a deep sea diver and explorer.

Truth is a funny thing. The more you grasp at it, the more it eludes you. What if you settle back into the wordless experience of not knowing? Then you can watch the process of grasping at certainty and see it unfold before you. The coming together and falling apart again of anything you take for solid, while disconcerting to experience, can also be very freeing.

Even as I write these words they fall away…as if I know what I’m talking about. Ha! Ha! Of course you’ll settle for some approximation of the truth. Like the monkey swinging from branch to branch you’ll grab onto the next one in your quest until it dissolves you into free fall again. That seems to be the way we do it.

Until we don’t….

Until then we have those brief moments between branches in which we get a glimpse of freedom and develop the muscles of trust and courage in our hearts.


Keep on Paddling!


My partner and I have been kayaking up the Rio Grande from Cochiti Lake every summer for the last 15 years. The river has been progressively taking back the lake as water levels decline. Places we used to be able to get to by boat are no longer accessible. There’s one part of the river by Cochiti Canyon that has dried up entirely and is now solid land.

While paddling against the current, I often think of the Buddha’s words that the path he taught is about going against the stream. What he meant is that it takes effort to liberate ourselves from habits and conditioning. It’s hard work. If you’ve ever tried to quit an addiction you know what I mean. It requires dedication and determination, and another d-word: desire.

It’s ironic because the Buddha’s path is seemingly all about letting go of desire. Or is it? The Pali word used in the suttas is tanha, which has been translated as craving and sometimes as thirst. It’s the idea that what drives us in life is an unquenchable need that always leaves us searching for more and better. We can never be satisfied, at least for long.

Wholesome desire, on the other hand, is the kind of dedicated commitment that looks past immediate gratification and keeps its eye on the long-term benefit, the freedom at the end of the road. But it also appreciates the journey, even the difficulties, understanding that there are unexpected gifts along the way. Sometmes we don’t even see or know them except in retrospect.

As I’m paddling upstream, very slowly making progress, I’m surrounded by breath-taking natural beauty and wildlife. If I fail to take this in, I can feel frustrated and even angry at times about how hard I’m working and barely moving. But where am I going? Only further upstream to enjoy the beauty and silence there. I have to remind myself to look around. It’s right here, right now.

Joni Mitchell wrote a song back in the 70’s in which she sang “we don’t know what we got ’til it’s gone,” and “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” It’s as true today as it was back then. Even more so. We are living in the world that such short-sightedness gave rise to.

So I urge you to stop and look. Take in the beauty all around you. Witness this incredible miracle we call life. Witness your own life and the beauty inside you. Whatever problems or difficulties you may be having, put them aside for a moment and focus on the blessings in your life. Breathe deeply and allow them in with your breath.

Then as you release your breath, send compassion to yourself for the ways in which you may be suffering. Be especially kind to that part of you. And then send compassion and kindness to the rest of the world, too.

And keep paddling!

I hope this was helpful, and would love to hear from you either way. Post a comment or share this on Facebook.


The Path of Freedom


As the Fourth of July approaches, I find myself contemplating the concept of freedom. Like most Americans, I place a high value on feeling and being free. We live, after all, in “the land of the free.”

As a psychotherapist and meditation teacher, I am interested in the inner landscape. Freedom there is a different matter. I define inner freedom as the ability to respond in the present from a non-reactive place inside and make choices based on wisdom and compassion rather than habit and fear.

It’s easy to believe that if you were able to do this consistently, life would be a picnic, everything would turn out wonderful. But I’m not so sure that’s true. We don’t live in a vacuum. Our choices affect others and if they’re not also able to respond from this place, your responses can still trigger them.

In close relationships, what often happens is one person gets triggered and his or her reactivity triggers the other person, which in turn triggers the first again. Then we’re off and running, spiraling out of control. Nobody is truly present, or free. I’m sure, like me, you’ve been there, done that.

It’s a truism that we hurt most the ones we love and there are a host of reasons for it: 1) we’re drawn to people based on our early wiring and so more likely to be triggered by them; 2) we feel safe with them and make ourselves both more vulnerable to be hurt and more honest when we’re angry; 3) we spend more time with them; and 4) we know them so well we know exactly what to say to hurt them when we’re mad and out of control.

When we love someone, however, there is motivation to change this dynamic. There’s no magic formula for this other than a commitment to doing the hard inner work. The willingness to apologize after we’ve, yet again, gone down the well-worn path of reactivity before we could stop ourselves, is a necessity. The path of blame and shame is a slippery slope leading to a dead end.

If you wait for the other person to apologize first, it might never happen. So if you truly love someone, muster up the courage and humility to be the one to make the first move. Even if you know your partner or friend is in the wrong as well.

The path of freedom begins with taking responsibility for yourself. It can pave the way for the other to do it too. And even if he or she doesn’t, at least you know you’ve taken the high road. (And keep in mind, a healthy relationship is only possible if both people are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves.)

We can only free ourselves in the moment, and every time we do we make it that much more likely we’ll be free in the next moment.


Life From Death

Last weekend while hiking in the nature preserve near where I live, I noticed hundreds of young piñon trees sprouting up in the forest. They were growing in the vicinity of the decaying remains of the piñons that died about a decade ago from the drought and bark beetle infestation. I remembered how sad I felt at the time. The devastation of the trees had felt ominously foreboding of a dark and gloomy future.


Yet here is that future today, and it’s quite different from what I imagined then. From the death of the old trees has come all this vibrant new life. It’s a good reminder that our perspective is often so limited. We forget that whatever is happening now is only part of a much larger cycle. Hope and resiliency lie in the understanding that this too will pass, and that death and loss is inevitably followed by rebirth and regeneration.

It’s not that grieving is wrong. Quite the contrary. It is a human need to grieve our losses. Grieving is the way through, how we surrender and let go. When we feel stuck, hopeless and depressed, it is usually because we are not grieving. Instead, we are resisting the part of the cycle we are in at the moment. It feels like it’s going to last forever, and afraid to surrender to the feelings, we go numb instead. And, ironically, it prolongs and adds to our misery.

Life is made up of so many cycles. At any one time we can be in the middle of multiple ones. I am drawn to astrology for this reason. The planets are always moving. When people come to see me I like to look at how what’s happening in the sky currently is affecting their birth charts. It can help put their experience into perspective.

There is something consoling in knowing that the process is bigger than we are. It’s easier to surrender to what is when we understand it as part of a larger process that is leading us somewhere, even if we don’t know exactly where. Part of my job is to hold that understanding when the other person forgets.

And for sure, those little piñons wouldn’t be here now if the conditions hadn’t been right for the seeds to germinate and sprout. It took precipitation. Our grief is nourishing to our psyche in the same way. It cleanses and softens the outer shell of our hearts that wants to harden against loss. Our tears, and even our anger, provide the conditions necessary for new life to eventually burst forth.

If you like this post, please share it on Facebook and/or comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


The Art of Time Traveling


Everywhere you look, you’ll find people coaching you to be more present. It’s the catch phrase in psycho-spiritual circles. The reason for that is the mind has a propensity to travel through time. It doesn’t recognize the boundaries we place on experience. If you watch your thoughts you’ve inevitably noticed that more often than not you’re thinking about the past or the future, not “the present moment.”


Rather than make that a problem like so many seem to do, I want to suggest we get creative, utilize the mind’s tendency to be elsewhere, and develop skillfulness with it. There’s a reason the mind works the way it does. It actually has our best interests at heart.

By going back to the past, it lets us know we have unfinished business that is keeping us from being present. It’s calling us back there to retrieve the energy and parts of ourselves we left behind. The next time you find yourself “lost” in the past, ask yourself what you are looking for there. Is there something you said or did that you regret or are anxious about? Or perhaps you feel proud of yourself and are uncomfortable with the feeling.

Instead of yanking yourself out of the past and feeling guilty for being there once again, take some time to look around and explore. Become curious about what’s drawn you back there and what you can do to complete with whatever it is. Your mind won’t let go of it until you do so anyway. You’ll find yourself going back there repeatedly until you come to some peace with it. Instead of fighting yourself about this, embrace it as a gift.

Exploring the past may require a guide at times. The younger parts of yourself may need a kind of help you aren’t yet equipped to give. It depends on how much of this work you’ve done already. Following the thread of the past can take you all the way back to birth, or even the womb and conception. Here you can reclaim your life at its origin and the energy that brought you here. How exciting is that!

We go into the future with our hopes and dreams and fears. The fears are really projections from our past, so if you follow them they’ll take you backwards. That’s good. Again, you’re looking at unfinished business. Where do these fears originate? How can you transform them and free that energy to fuel your hopes and dreams?

Hopes and dreams are the play of the imagination. Have fun. Be creative. Paint a clear a picture of what you desire. Elaborate with gusto. Enjoy a multi-dimensional sensory experience of living in a future of your own creation until you’re fully saturated with it. Don’t be afraid of giving into your desire. (Or if you are, know that you’re back in the past again.)

If you play with desire by listening to your heart and following it to your deepest longings, it will take you right back to birth and the reason you came here. As you can see, no matter which way you go, forward or back, it brings you full circle. Eventually you’re thrust into the present, fully informed as to why you’re here, with more energy to live your purpose.

What do you think about this? I’d love to hear your response. Write a comment below or share on Facebook and comment there!


The Gift in Slowing Down


It’s so easy in the fast pace of modern life to get going at such a pace that we forget to look around and notice where we are. This is especially true when we’re focused on a specific goal or destination. We lose sight of the journey itself and all the sights along the way.

Rock Wall

I was hiking the other day with my partner, who is a photographer. He took the photo above while we were walking the trail. It’s a close up of a rock. Now I would have completely passed this rock by in my rush to get some exercise, but Merlin, my partner, was taking his time, enjoying the beauty of where we were, and so this slowed me down, too.

Suddenly I found myself seeing my surroundings through new eyes. There were so many incredible rocks and boulders along this trail. Many of them had colorful markings and stripes, others had interesting shapes that made them look like animals. One of them I called The Mother Rock because she was round and bulged in a way that seemed very feminine and goddess-like.

My whole nervous system shifted as I changed my focus to take in the natural beauty. I came out of the thoughts in my head and more into connection with the dusty trail beneath my feet. I felt calm and happy. No longer in a hurry, I could relax and enjoy myself and notice more. It sparked my creativity and made me want to write this post.

As a regular meditator, slowing down is not foreign to me. I do it every morning before I begin my day. So I have a commitment to mindful presence. But even still, I can get into a goal-oriented frenzy at times, and lose sight of what’s important. And that, of course, is the gift in slowing down. We remember.

How about you? What slows you down and helps you remember what’s important?


The Magic of Rosen


I recently began trading Rosen Method Bodywork sessions with a colleague. It’s been a while since I received this work and I am feeling grateful for the opportunity. I had forgotten how powerful it is, and how profound it is to be touched in this way. There’s something very special about the touch used in Rosen. We use the phrase “to meet the other” to describe its intention.

I think we all long to be met right where we are, as we are, and when I work with someone whether on the table or sitting and talking, I always make that my intention first and foremost. In Rosen we do this with touch. It’s challenging to describe what that means from the practitioner’s standpoint. We spend a minimum of three years to learn how to do it! But from the inside, as the one being touched, it feels like the other person sees you with their hands.

The effect of this amazing touch is to be invited to feel and know oneself from deep inside. There’s so many places inside our bodies where we’ve abandoned ourselves for various reasons. The invitation is to reclaim these places and parts of ourselves. In my last session I felt a place under my right lower rib cage where I had put away the feeling of awe and wonder. At some point in my childhood it had simply not been okay to have those feelings and so I closed off from them. It was incredibly moving to reconnect with them in the session. It felt like a portal had opened up inside me to other realms.

I think some people fear bodywork because it has this power. We usually imagine the worst, such as repressed traumatic memories coming to the surface. And this can certainly happen. But often it’s also positive feelings or memories we’ve had to repress in order to survive. We make decisions early on in life about what’s safe or real. What is cynicism but the repression of hope and optimism in the face of repeated and/or extreme disappointment.

The process of reclaiming the self from the insults and injuries of the past is only one aspect of healing. As we occupy more and more of our bodies, so much more of who we are is revealed. It is an awakening to new possibilities, new ways of being and moving through the world.


Anxiety as Gatekeeper II


I wrote before about anxiety as the gatekeeper, and specifically addressed how it can be safeguarding other emotions that you’ve learned from your family are dangerous or taboo. But anxiety can also be the guardian of the threshold as you venture forth into life and new territory for yourself. A new job, a new social situation, an exam — all of these things can start the gut churning, sending fearful thoughts through your mind. Other sources of anxiety can be finances and money, where your basic sense of security feels threatened.

A certain amount of nervous system activation is necessary to get things done. It can motivate you to study for an exam or prepare for a job interview. It’s when it gets out of your window of tolerance that it becomes a problem. It’s letting you know that you need to pay attention to what’s happening inside. I find it helpful to imagine the part of you that’s anxious as a small child who needs reassurance and soothing.

If you pay attention to what you are telling yourself, you will probably find you are making up stories about worst case scenarios, maybe even catastrophes. Chances are, you’re also berating yourself. Now we don’t have to get into an argument here about which came first, the stories or the anxiety, because the process is a vicious cycle which fuels itself. And the problem isn’t the stories, per se, but the fact that, like a small child being told scary tales, you’re believing them. You’re scaring yourself! And being unkind to yourself to boot.

So what would you do for a child in this case? You’d take her/him into your arms and reassure her/him that these stories are made up, not real, that she/he’s okay, and there’s nothing to be frightened about. Simple, right? Maybe. It depends on how convinced you are that they are true. We’re getting to core beliefs here about self and the world. These beliefs are the lens through which we perceive and construct experience. They decide the plot lines in our internal stories and in our lives, too. It’s like we get lost in a maze of our own making (with a lot of help from others early in life!) and can’t find our way out.

The way out is to go deeper into the maze, to the very center, to your core. Your core is deep in the mid-line of your body, and it’s connected to the mid-line of your brain, so ultimately it will help quiet the mind and bring some peace. Paying attention to the sensations in your body, often in the areas of the heart or the gut, is like taking that small child into your arms. You may even want to put a hand on your heart and/or belly, to reinforce that you are there to that child. Then just gently breathe into the areas that are calling your attention. Stay there with yourself as long as you need. Think of it as a meditation.

As you get quieter, the stories will start to slow down and you’ll get some distance from them. Then you can start asking yourself if they are true. Usually these stories are based on the past and projected onto the future. They’re not about what’s happening right now. By staying with your sensations you can keep yourself grounded in the present. And at your core, you know what’s true right now. There’s a lot of wisdom there that you can come back to anytime.


Anxiety as Gatekeeper I


I’ve come to think of anxiety as a gatekeeper. It lets you know when you’re getting too close to some internal or external experience that’s off bounds. This can take a variety of forms. For example, internally it can mean you’re getting close to some emotion or feeling that has been too overwhelming to digest in the past and so you’ve had to wall it off. Often families have rules about which emotions are safe to feel and which ones aren’t. In some families anger isn’t allowed and in other families it’s the only emotion ever expressed. In another family it might be sadness that’s excluded, or in another joy. What was it in your family? Next time you find yourself anxious, ask yourself if there’s some emotion you’re defending against.

Some people feel if they open the door to these emotions, they’ll drown in them. But it’s really about learning to body surf. Emotions and feelings come in waves and if you learn to ride the waves, letting them move through your body fully, they’ll flow on, and be done. It’s when you stop them by tightening against them, holding your breath, and telling yourself scary stories about them, that they get stuck. That’s when you know you need help containing and processing your experience. It’s better not to be alone with overwhelming emotions or anxiety as that just recapitulates the original trauma that caused the problem in the first place. But eventually you can learn to do it for yourself.

A big part of regulating and working with emotion and anxiety is becoming aware of your body. Grounding yourself by feeling your feet against the floor is a good first step. You can also imagine that you’re connected to the earth below, that you have roots going down into the earth from the soles of your feet. The tendency with anxiety is for our energy to rise up into our neck and shoulders and head and this can help to counter it. Take your time really feeling your feet and the pressure of the soles against the floor. Again, imagination can help here. Picture all the little lines in your feet making contact, wiggling each toe individually as it connects to the floor. Notice how your legs feel.

Once you feel grounded, bring your awareness to the mid-line of your body. Be curious about the sensations in your abdomen and chest. This is where your viscera live, which are so much a substrate of emotion. If you feel tightness or other uncomfortable sensations anywhere, try putting your hands gently there and see what happens. The idea is not to get rid of anything or make it go away, but to find a way to be with yourself and your experience that is more nurturing or nourishing. Deepen into the sensations and allow yourself to get underneath them, closer to your core.

Curiosity is your friend here. It’s the antithesis of anxiety which feeds on itself, fueling the very fear from which it is born. Getting curious slows things down, whereas fear speeds them up. Bringing your attention down from your head, where your thoughts are going a mile a minute, and into the body and sensation, you come right to the gateway. You might be surprised what you discover. At the very least you’ll feel calmer and more connected to yourself.


Post-Perú Musings III


When I was in Perú, communing with the plants in the jungle, I was told by one of the facilitators there, that all the shamans in the jungle came to the decision to make the plant medicine available to the wider world at the same time. The plants told them that it was time. How incredible is that? I became aware of how deep inside ourselves we need to drop in order to access and listen to the wisdom of our hearts and bodies, and the earth and the cosmos, of which we are a part, in order to respond creatively to life.

We live in an amazing time on planet earth when our very existence as a species is being threatened. And what makes it so poignant is that it is our own actions that have, if not caused the problem, at the very least accelerated it. Sadly, we are taking a lot of other life forms down with us in the process. Modern life is full of things to distract us from fully acknowledging to ourselves what we are both witnesses to and participants in, perhaps because it is such a painful, and as Al Gore said, inconvenient truth. If the threat were from outside of us, we would more easily martial our forces against the common enemy to combat it. But this is an inside job. We are doing this to ourselves.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we stand at the brink of extinction. But is there another way to look at this? From an astrological perspective we are in a transition from one age, the age of Pisces, to another, the Aquarian age. This is a mythic view that can perhaps guide us through these momentous times with more hope than the despair that the apocalyptic prophecies engender and that we seem so intent on fulfilling. The myth of the Aquarian Age first emerged into consciousness during the sixties and seventies of the last century, which were a time of great upheaval and idealism.

I came of age during those times and was greatly shaped by the idealism and hope that was carried in the social movements birthed in them. The fact that people came together to protest the Vietnam war, demand equal rights for women, people of color, and those of different sexual orientation was exhilarating and empowering. Many of the progressive changes happening today were seeded then. But so also were many of the opposing ones. Fearful reactions to these upsurges of populist power and the chaos that accompanied them has led to equally strong repressive and regressive political and social movements.

This division in the collective field of consciousness is a dramatic play on the world stage right now. What I learned from my experience with the plants was that although it can feel from an ordinary view that nothing we as individuals do matters, giving rise to apathy and feelings of helplessness, from this deeper perspective, it’s clear that everything we do does matter. In fact, the imperative now is for as many people as possible to wake up and live their fullest potential. We are the collective. You and I are essential ingredients in the collective consciousness, and whether we express ourselves fully in life is of upmost importance. It makes a difference.

One of the big things I see standing in the way is fear. This has been called the age of anxiety for good reason. While anxiety or fear may be a reasonable reaction to the current state of the world, it is not a healthy or helpful response. It clouds awareness, creating background noise, that makes it difficult to perceive the signal of one’s own inner voice and wisdom. I find that the people who come to see me, however, are not talking about the state of the world or viewing their anxiety as anything more than a personal flaw or condition. And truthfully, there is probably a very good reason stemming from their personal history that their nervous system is so dysregulated that they’ve come for help. But we are all affected by the collective fear whether we are aware of it or not, and our own fear adds to it if we don’t work with it and take responsibility for it.

My main intention in going to Perú was do just that, confront my own fear. In doing so I learned a lot about fear and my own mind. I came back intent on not allowing fear to derail me anymore. I also came back with such a larger perspective in which to hold the experience of fear, whether my own, or the people with whom I work. I will be writing a lot more about working with fear and anxiety in future posts.