BAQA4 – In Here vs. Out There

Myriam from the French West Indies asks: Intention + action = results, and if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you always got. Given that changes begin with the self, isn’t it so that if we want to achieve changes around us we’ll have to go out there and physically take action to get the changes we not only desire to achieve but that are also so necessary in our society?

A: Yes. One of the best ways to work on the world is to work on yourself. One of the best ways to work on yourself is to work on the world.

One without the other is incomplete and ultimately ineffective. Why? Because, just like form and emptiness in Buddhism, the self and the world cannot exist without each other. They are two sides of the same mobius strip.

The work you do in each realm also serves to refine your work in the other. Awakened Activists and Engaged Mystics are the great bodhisattvas of this century.

Susan from Bethesda, Maryland asks and comments:

I didn’t quite catch how you advise the handling of “the primitive part” (aka “the amygdala highjack”) in the midst of a crisis. Getting to acceptance thru… HeartMath? Body (or Insight) meditation? Practice, practice, practice?

Seems like working alone is sometimes tough. We need each other, to “hold” each other (LL quadrant), yes? This seems to allow the softening. Evolutionary means to bridge the “from self to all”.

On that note, do you guys know of Jane McGonagal and how gaming may change the world through practicing changing to world (and ourselves) through “play”? The amygdala seems to calm down when we enter into play vesus “work”.

A: I like all the methods you referenced. The more options the better, for sure. And we are certainly not meant to do it alone, so I’m totally with you on the needing each other piece.

My own contribution is what I call emotional surfing. Lots more about that on my Website ( and in my books, but here’s a quick summary: The attention is placed directly on the physical location of the greatest intensity, then kept there gently, spaciously, non-interferingly, as the sensation moves, shifts, changes, and ultimately dissolves.

This simple practice can be taught to children as early as seven, and of course to all us remedial adults. For those interested in its spiritual derivation, you could say the emotional surfing is a collapsing together of three great meditative streams – vipassana, metta, and tantra.

On the subject of gaming, for those of you who don’t know, I was one of three game designers on a splashy graphic adventure from the 90’s called Obsidian. We aimed to make a beautiful world that combined dreams, surrealism, and the evolution of consciousness. With that background, perhaps surprisingly, I’m not a fan of the games-will-save-us school. Jane McGonagal thesis follows a similar one expressed by Steven Johnson in his book, Everything Bad is Good for You.”

While I haven’t read J.M.’s book and have only seen her on TV, I can say that my “take” continues to be the same: games usually lack context. You can’t really learn about the history of Afghanistan, for instance, by playing a shooter about the current war.

To be relevant in the world, and to counteract the dangerous twitchiness they engender, games would have to include actual learning about the world. Which brings us to the important work of Dr. James Paul Gee, who touts new methods of learning that actually feel like play. And in which students’ progress can be assessed not by sterile tests but rather how well they master the “game” itself. This sounds really promising in a new, hybrid way. (Although I’m a bit stuck thinking about how to create a truly compelling game out of something like quadratic equations or the Wobblies. If any of you have visions to share in this regard, please do.)

Finally, in regard to play as a way to soothe a brain in amygdala hijack, that could work if one was first aware that triggering has occurred, is able to step out of the challenging situation, and then massage their brain, so to speak, with some immersive play.

But then it would be necessary to return to the triggering event, and actually re-address it from this calmer place. Otherwise, of course, the game would become just another form of distraction and repression.


About Raphael Cushnir

Raphael Cushnir is a popular contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine. He has also been a teacher, activist, screenwriter, and film director. His own heart was rekindled after a period of profound grief. His first book, Unconditional Bliss: Finding Happiness in the Face of Hardship, was twice nominated as Best Personal Growth title of the year and introduced the "Living the Questions" process. His second book, Setting Your Heart on Fire: Seven Invitations to Liberate Your Life, is used as a teaching tool in churches and spiritual centers around the country. His third book, How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment, was named one of the "Best Spiritual Books of 2005" by Spirituality and Health magazine. Raphael shares his work in talks and workshops worldwide. For more info:;;;
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