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.

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Beyond Awakening Q&A – Part 3

Carrie asks: How do you develop confidence to start putting yourself “out there” as a leader? Sometimes I feel wise and semi-enlightened, and other times I feel like a mess. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, and I don’t want to be built up as a “guru.”

A: The old adage applies – “We teach what we need to learn.” All of us are works in progress, especially teachers. That’s why the best teachers aspire to transparency, telling stories about their own foibles, triggers and vulnerabilities in order not just to instruct but also to remind everyone that we really all are the same. Plus, in this way the message always gets across in the warmest, most beneficial way.

No one who doesn’t want to be built up as a “guru” will be. If you find that happening, the all-important question is, “What am I doing to promote this?”

From a perspective beyond awakening, it’s clear that a teacher plays his or her role in the great Oneness of all things, just as the student does the same. In this sense neither has something the other doesn’t, or is missing anything. And the roles can reverse in an instant. Understanding this leads to a natural, authentic humility.

Final thought: Why do you want to be a leader in the first place? If this desire comes from a deep, heartful call to serve, go for it. If it comes from anything else, or if the answer isn’t clear, it might make sense to let things cook a little longer.

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Beyond Awakening Q&A – Part Two

Ed asks: Whether Jesus Christ is mythical or a historical fact or even both, isn’t he the very model of the task that lies ahead for all of us in our evolving?

A:I’d have to say no, and here’s why. Which Jesus are we talking about – the one who counsels to turn the other cheek, or the one who rails against the moneylenders? And from which of the gospels? Especially when they contradict one another.

The point here isn’t to start any biblical debates, but to say that we’re all lost as soon as we look to any single being as our model. The world needs each of us to show up in our own unique and powerful way. One of us might need to bring new theories to the world, while another must only dance. The actual best model, I suggest, is the person we already know ourselves to be, but perhaps haven’t yet fully embodied.

Eric asks: Is there a universal criteria for what is moral not based on ‘belief’ but on root emotivity that isn’t just being wafted around by passing moods and feelings but is rather connected to the Divine through the human emotional body that has not been bypassed or strategically managed around to avoid pain?

A:Sounds alluring, but I don’t think so. Because, since emotions are so internal and subjective, there’s no way to judge whether any one of us is acting out of avoidance at any particular time. If there is such a universal criteria in the abstract, my sense is that it would always allude we humans in the specific. And all the more so if and when we begin seeing ourselves as able to apply it.

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Beyond Awakening Q&A – Part One

As you may be aware, when appearing on Terry Patten’s Beyond Awakening Teleseminar, I offered to answer all questions from listeners. Well, be careful what you wish for, right? I’ve got a very long cue of questions lined up, and a hopefully patient group of inquirers.

Over the next while I promise to get to all the questions, in order that they were received. Let’s start with Stewart, from Paris, who asks:

Q: “All others forms of life here on Earth (animals, plants) seem to be able to be in harmony/balance. What will it take for the human to also reach this harmony?”

A: For the most part, other life forms live in balance without conscious awareness or choice. Species propagate or die out all the time based on environmental conditions outside their control. They also have limited abilities and resources available to address any challenges to their own survival, or to any overall disharmony.

Therefore, humans are in an entirely different category and will never be part of the same harmony and balance in the same way. Instead, humans have the opportunity to make conscious choices, as individuals and as a “herd,” that, to the best of their understanding, serve the greater whole.

Today, we see many examples of such choices, as well as many more examples of the opposite. If we were to conceptualize the current situation as a race, then certainly the forces of disharmony are “winning” among humans.

Yet many evolutionaries see a possible “critical mass” arising, which could lead to a kind of quantum shift, or 100th Monkey phenomenon (even though the original story of the 100th Monkey has been debunked).

When looking at those opposing forces of disharmony and re-harmonizing among people, I can make a good case for doom, or hope, or even a kind of muddle of them both.

But that doesn’t seem to be the best or most helpful way to view the situation. For me, it’s best to zoom out and take a larger view, in which humans are part of a spiritual ecosystem, sometimes referred to as All That Is. If we see the whole drama of the unfolding universe as a Divine Dance, in which nothing is bad, wrong, or excluded, then the greatest human folly, and even earthly destruction, are possible eventualities that would also be parts of the Divine to be accepted.

When I look at our predicament this way, it softens me, opens me, and releases me from attachment to any particular side or outcome. From there I can see how much I love the earth, and all its species, and how much I’m driven to be a harmony restorer.

But I can also then see myself as just one part of the Divine Dance, neither better or worse then those other dancers I may oppose with my personal and political activism.

More radical still, I can then feel liberated and expansive when advocating for the balance and harmony that are so important to me, even if — and here’s the hardest part to grasp — all my efforts come to naught. In fact, even if I knew before setting out to heal or bring balance to any particular species or aspect of our planet that my efforts were already doomed to fail, I’d still make those efforts.

Why? Because they’re a part of who I am, which I’m therefore honored and privileged to express. No matter what.

Seeing the “dance floor” in this way enables me to fully embody the one individual dancer I am. In peace. And hopefully with grace.

Living this way, no doubt, requires that we embrace paradox. It asks that we be able to navigate the realm of the “relative” while always remaining aware of, and connected to, the “absolute.”

Ken Wilber, I believe, was first among contemporary thinkers to articulate the paradox in this way. In my view it’s own of his most essential contributions.

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Benefit of the Doubt

Among the people closest to you, how many can you say truly have your best interest at heart?

Just one person? Two, four, more? Whatever the answer, reflect upon how often these very same people push your buttons, causing you to contract and react. Be honest – it happens to all of us, all the time.

With these special individuals, however, we have a choice. We can give them the benefit of the doubt.

Whenever you become aware that your buttons have been pushed, focus on the fact that the offending parties mean no harm. Perhaps they acted carelessly, or spoke harshly. Maybe a flash of anger or irritation high-jacked their communication skills. Yes, it stings. Yet this occurred out of human imperfection, not ill will.

You can’t say this in every case, because people often do mean us harm. But with those in your sacred circle, you know, for sure, that they don’t. And reflecting on this knowledge changes everything.

Why? Because it allows your primitive brain to relax. Its threat response system can safely stand down. Without the benefit of the doubt, it may take hours, even days, before you can come back to a place of presence and trust. With it, the whole thing usually happens in a matter of moments. From there, you and your counterpart can clear the air quickly, efficiently, and compassionately.

For me, this technique works wonders. Let me know if it does the same for you.

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Self-Compassion Amid Financial Stress

Last week I launched a contest to mark the publication of my new book. Via a hidden “Easter egg” on my website, I asked participants to share how they are compassionate with themselves during times of great financial stress.

The responses poured in and were truly inspiring. Reading through them, I was touched by the collective wisdom we share as a loose-knit, global spiritual community. I found myself to be the real winner of the contest in getting to bask in so much heartfelt, practical sharing.

And so I decided to pay it forward by including excerpts of the entries here. I couldn’t include them all, and edited the ones selected. Since I didn’t have the chance to ask for an okay from the contest participants, I’m listing them anonymously.

To all of you who took part, thank you! To all of you who read something here that stirs your own writing inspiration, please add to the list by contributing a comment.

Here’s to self-compassion, especially when it’s the most difficult to come by.


I get plenty of rest.

I find the beauty in small things.

I pray more.

I appreciate more.

I give something. A few dollars to a homeless person, a few minutes of my time, or simply holding a door for several people before I enter myself. When I think I am in need, I give.

I slow down, get present in my body, notice what’s there that wants my attention, and listen, listen, listen.

I get outdoors with my dog – the exercise is a relief from all that worry, and connecting with strangers feels right, too. I regain a sense of being connected to humanity, and most humans have things to worry about. The small connections help me feel that I’m not so alone, and my troubles are not unique.

I meditate for 20 minutes each morning before the day starts. I am able to clear my mind of past failures and future worries, and focus on just
“now”. The quietness and groundedness of this “now” allows me to keep my perspective throughout the day.

I hike with my partner of 36 years in the woods. We take one two hour block of time for complete silence. We focus on the moment. The sounds or in the winter after fresh fallen snow the stillness, bring me back into connection with the universe. It serves to remind me that the most precious gifts have nothing to do with the current economy.

I go through a whole list of the blessings that I have rather than the things that I don’t have….and it always makes me feel better.

Now it is my time. I am taking care of me. Me – finally. What a concept!

I read books that I have bought and never yet had the chance to read.

I find other ways to reduce my spending so I don’t have to give up Pilates. It helps clear my mind, and is great for my body as well.

I pay attention to the scary stories I tell myself about the future and inquire directly into their source.

I focus on what I have, see, feel, taste, smell, touch, and know.

I talk to friends – it’s free!

I pour a tall glass of water to start the day. As I drink it, I imagine it filling me up with fresh ideas and hope and washing away the “old.”

I am kind to myself by eating well, lightly and with choice in every bite.

I try to be kind in my speech to myself and others. When I’m not so kind, I make a point of going back to clean it up.

I am blessed to be learning in these times that right here, even now, I get to decide whether to contract or expand. I am kind to myself by accepting the astounding contraction that I have met.

I remind myself that I am enough, that I already have everything I need, (and more) and that money is not what I am made of (literally). Instead I am a part of that pool of sacred energy where everything and anything is possible and I am a direct descendant of the divine intelligence that radiates throughout infinity. That intelligence is me.

I stop, breath, and drop-in to core-self/source/joy. However, this is often difficult to do when I am under ‘great stress’ which is a product of old habitual fear. Then, I either take time to have a conversation with my fear/ego/child to listen and reassure, and/or find a friend with whom to have tea and laughter, and/or go for a walk. It sometimes takes a while to recognize that I need to take these steps, but once I have then I can address the problem with much greater clarity, ease and equanimity – not to mention greater receptivity to possibilities and solutions.

One healthy way that I’m kind to myself in this time of financial stress, is to remember that finance is only one form, or representation, of energy. The energy remains in other forms. I connect with friends and concentrate on heart-felt projects. While maintaining some touch with financial “realities,” I do not let worry about what might happen hinder my ability to enjoy now.

I take a long bike ride.

My dogs – They always forgive me, don’t hold grudges and are happy to see me when I come home.

I notice my anxiety and stay with it in awareness until it lightens. Then I follow threads of ideas that come up in that calmer context. However, I must say that no concrete strategy for financial change has jelled, so I am just letting the process repeat. I suspect that in time some pathway will emerge.

I acquired a down jacket that is light enough to be worn indoors yet warm enough to let me keep the thermostat off. It has more than paid for itself in gas heat saved over the past six weeks. And I have a jacket that will serve for years to come. This may sound too superficial for your drawing, but I am grateful to myself every time I put it on. I think that qualifies as self- kindness in a very concrete form.

We coined the phrase, “Living the High Life Parsimoniously!” We take a walk together, buy the Wednesday NY Times ($1), go to the library and check out a movie, buy a used book.

I get pots at thrift stores and yard sales and buy ‘clearance’ plants and bring them back to life. I find when I’m tending to my plants I am Present and I feel connected to the Universe. Besides being beautiful, the plants provide oxygen and filter the air in my home.

I recently created a little financial stress for myself by going on a little spending spree. First, I fell into the old pattern of berating myself for my poor judgment…had a good little tirade against myself.

Then I recognized what I was doing, and that it wasn’t helpful to me. My way of being kind to myself was to separate into the “witness” persona, then have a compassionate talk with all of the other selves that were showing up–the judge, the mean parent, the helpless child, to name a few.

Then I was able to better understand why I spent money I
didn’t have, but forgive myself for the mistake, and
move on.

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Relaunching, with Caffeine

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, with my attention being diverted by podcasts and two books about to come out. But now, as I get ready to launch the new website,, I realized it’s time to check in.

In doing so, I’m presenting an interview I did last summer with Stephanie Gunning, of the wonderful free Web learning program called The Great American Think Out. To learn more about the program, click here.

This interview makes me laugh because I’m so amped during it. Truth is, I had just drunk my daily matte and was huffing around the backyard, headset clinging to my ear and one year old daughter in my arms. As a result I’m much more freewheeling and unguarded than usual. I hope you enjoy it, and I promise to steer clear of caffeine at all our upcoming retreats!

To listen to the interview, click Here.

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