Psyche and Mind Soul and Spirit

10 Percent Less A$$hole

“The cancer changed me. . . After my illness I am 10 percent less asshole.” My friend laughed. Something touched me about this mirthful comment. After decades of meditation, shadow work, and spiritual integration I thought “10 percent less asshole? I’d take that”

Why? Transformation is rare and oftentimes really difficult. A cancer diagnosis, the threat of physical disfigurement, significant hearing loss, potential loss of taste and smell due to months of chemo. That’s a pretty arduous path to transformation and for many people even that does little to change them. 

For those on transformational paths be it spiritual, psychological or both, there often seems to be little change in their day-to-day personality. Are they doing something wrong? Are the tools and practices flawed? Not necessarily. The difficulty of transformation lies in the complexity of our psyche. 

The human psyche and personality is organized around something very primal: Animal survival. Our habits, mannerisms, relationships, and vocations all echo back to this primitive drive to survive. Our smiles might hide feelings of anxiety, lust, repulsion, loneliness and emptiness. Of course we might just be happy or warm, but all too often we human beings have turmoil just a few inches below the surface.

That turmoil when brought to the surface in times of loss, illness, conflict and uncertainty is the fuel for our transformation. It cracks our shell so to speak. It sparks or fuels what some call the enlightenment drive, the desire to know what is deeper and more true within us, even to know what transcends death.

It is of course not enough to know this in some didactic or performative way as do so many frauds and charlatans. The true enlightenment drive will settle for nothing less than direct experience of something greater than ourselves. We become thirsty for the waters of deeper wells: peace, wisdom, compassion, courage, joy, clarity . . .

Transformation comes by drinking these waters. But as appealing as they sound, they are deadly to our sense of self our defenses and protections. They threaten our survival. So we turn away, or we take sips and then run back to safe ground, or we try to imitate the qualities in hopes of having them without having to pay. Since however it doesn’t work that way, we end up with some new language and maybe cooler clothes, but with little real change. 

For true change we have to give something. Maybe it is giving up control, maybe the need to prove ourselves, or feel powerful. The list is long, but at the beginning, middle, and end is giving up being so fucking hard on ourselves. This means our self judgments and ridicule, our harsh expectations, and our comparisons with others. 

After decades of my own work and working with others here is my message: no one is complete. If we are all pearls we all have flat spots, we are all bumpy in places, in others we do not shine. We grind, and polish and fill our craters, but we will never be that great singular ornament that shines with perfect luminescence. 

The more we understand this, the more we let the great world spin, the more our shells soften and we become transparent to the luminous waters of the deep well. So while we as people are not complete, our deepest nature is completeness and drinking from that well of completeness brings more glimmer to our rough surfaces, shines up some of our uneven patches, and rounds out some of our flat spots. And if you are as lumpy and bumpy as myself you will deeply appreciate even 10 percent. 

Meditation Psyche and Mind Soul and Spirit

Hacking enlightenment

I recently heard about a high tech “Master Program that brings you the benefits of 21-40 years of advanced Zen meditation in”—get this—5 days! To be clear I subscribe to the idea of “whatever works” and would happily try this combination of bio-feedback, diet, “pod-practice” etc. If I had the disposable $15K. 

It is not the program, but the claim that grinds against my sense of truth. First of all there couldn’t be anything less zen than distilling zen into a commodity.

Break open 

a cherry tree

And there are no flowers,

But the spring breeze

Brings forth a myriad of blossoms


We human beings are an ever unfolding universe. The Universe as humanity and as the unique human individual. Like nesting dolls we are within everything and everything is within us. We succeed or fail, shine or dim within the fabric of all things. The terrible and wonderful truth is that each soul has her own pace of growing and blossoming. 

Have you ever had your heart torn open? For those that have, the last thing they need is to be placed in a sleek pod with electrodes on their scalp. What we need is connection.  And just now:

Eclectic and comfortable cafe, writing in a cozy chair near a ceramic log fire and a large lounging tabby cat with his own leather armchair, the thud of a little girl falling to the floor behind me. Dad sweeps her into his arms and Mother says “that was scary wasn’t it?”. Moments later she is laughing once again.

No diet, nor pod, nor brain scan can repeat or replace this experience, nor can it provide it for those who fell to the floor and sobbed without response in their own childhood. Forty years of meditation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life and death are happening. Countries are rising and falling, great joys and calamities befall us. In most mystic spiritual traditions it is understood that the self is assembled and then dismantled only to reform and be scattered to the wind once again. Our lives are as much the turning of the leaves as they are winning a contract or securing a bank balance.

The culture that cajoles us to success and achievement is missing the point. The scriptural question of what it means to gain the world, but to lose our souls should bring us to our knees. Humankind could weep for a thousand years over this loss. There is no heart in seeing ourselves as a commodity. We desperately need an inner life, a place to be touched and from where to touch.

Sometimes I sit quietly, 

Listening to the sound of falling leaves.

Peaceful indeed is the life of a monk, 

Cut off from all worldly matters.

Then why do I shed these tears?


Climbing out of our pods, the world needs our empathy more than it needs our success, our appreciation rather than our domination, and perhaps most of all our humility. To start, how about an intention to reclaim our hearts? Let’s do it fiercely. Not in a fawning, sentimental, or cloying way. How about looking at ourselves, the world around us and even our enemies and saying “I will never kick you out of my heart. Even if I fear you, am angry at you, rejected by you, or hate you, you will never be utterly out of my heart.” [a caveat here: in cases of abuse and deep inner work we might have to explore annihilating our abusers in order to reclaim our power]

Importantly we cannot leave ourselves out of this fierce heart embrace. In this case “ourselves” means the entirety of our experience, in particular our inner lives. Splitting away any part of ourselves is compartmentalizing reality. Good/evil, human/nature, God/devil ultimately divide us from the direct experience of life. 

In practical terms, think about which of your own experiences you describe as “positive” and which as “negative”. To go further, what do you do with the “negative” experience? Do you stuff it, talk yourself out of it, act it out on the world around? How about meeting it, nodding and saying “I see you there, I know there is a reason for you, and I also know your perspective is not the whole story”

Next we turn our fierce hearts towards truth. As confusing as truth has become in the world today, we can learn to stop and say “this is true for me now: I am hurting; I am sad; I am angry; I am alive and filled with wonder.” Frankly this is easier for some than others. This phase can be helpful: your feelings are non-negotiable. We can ask ourselves multiple times a day “where am I now, what is my experience now” right or wrong has no bearing on this. Your emotion may be based on a false reading of reality, or on a past experience superimposed on the present moment so it isn’t an ultimate truth, but it is a step toward deeper truth. 

Stopping and looking directly towards the center of any emotion, or feeling will inevitably reveal something deeper, something more true. Anger for instance is often a defensive emotion. To stop, acknowledge without judgment, breathe, and really feel that anger in the body will usually reveal something like . . . “I am hurt” or “I feel alone”

But why? Why the laborious truth telling? The secret is this: the passion with which you direct your fierce heart to truth is the flame that keeps you passionate for life. This is also a process through which you become an authentic human being, one who can touch and be touched. You become a dynamic core that radiates outward and receives feedback in a continuous cycle of creation. You are the universe dancing the unique form of your individual self, and that form can implicitly understand the dance of all forms.

If you cannot find the truth within yourself, where else do you expect to find it?


Meditation Psyche and Mind Soul and Spirit

The biggest secret about meditation

The biggest secret about meditation is that people don’t do it. They think it is a good idea, they know the benefits, they believe “everyone else” is doing it,  they beat themselves up for not doing it. And . . .they don’t do it. 

There are a lot of reasons. 

1.  Unrealistic expectation: One popular form of meditation directs practitioners to do an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. That’s great for the first week out of a life changing retreat, but it’s probably not going to stick. It is especially easy, perhaps we are even encouraged, to set ourselves up for failure. 

We need to master our strokes in the lap pool before we head out into the open ocean to swim the channel. I often suggest that people start with five mins a day. Same place, same time when possible. Let the habit start to form. it is less of a struggle that way

2. Uncertainty: people are often unsure that they are doing it right, if their experience is what it should be, or if they are “getting anywhere” with the practice. 

The truth is that like anything we come to meditation with what we have, not what we wish we had. A busy mind, impatience, distraction, unsettling feelings in our body and of course a demanding and sometimes demeaning inner critic. This cannot be said enough: it is not about doing meditation right or even what happens when you do it, it is simply that you do it. Yes you will learn things along the way . . .you may even get better at it, but overall the generosity of meditation practice is that all you have to do is show up.

3 Commitment and Support: Creating a new habit in our lives requires a surprising amount of commitment and sometimes we need the support of others to help us follow through. We also need a strong intention. 

Being part of a meditation group and or working with a teacher as well as setting well defined, achievable, and verifiable goals with a meditation partner(s) can be of tremendous support.

4.  Intention: Sometimes a part of you really doesn’t want to sit still. Maybe we subconsciously don’t want to be told what to do. Perhaps our inner animal is hungry for connection, nourishment, or excitement and we look to others, to food, to phones to meet those desires. Maybe we are physically tired, in flagging health, or even pain. Sitting alone with ourselves is a hard-sell if the above conditions are present.

We really have to want to meditate. This means we have to connect it to our deeper heartfelt intentions for ourselves. It is not enough to want to meditate in the way that we think we should eat more kale. We need to find the place where we really want more for ourselves than just survival. This may mean therapy or working with a spiritual teacher. It leads directly to our next reason.

5. Dispiritedness: This can be at the root of any of the above impediments. There are variations on this theme, but essentially deep down we feel that we are alone in our lives, that there is no greater meaning or value, no deeper nature. To use a popular phrase: we feel empty inside.

At the core of so much human heartache is our disconnection from spirit. When we look at the state of the world (especially through the lens of media), when we see our own shortcomings and failures, it can be hard to feel connected to a deeper sense of goodness and meaning. Our innate sense of wonder and mystery gets ground down under the weight of survival and productivity. Our worth becomes reduced to what we have or what we achieve. We lose what we love and we face mental, emotional, and physical pain. 

This dispiritedness, even when it is hidden beneath a veneer of positivity and optimism runs deep, so deep that it dissuades us from doing the very things that might return us to a sense of connection. Not surprisingly it can take a dramatic turn—a loss, a chronic disease, broken relationships, social upheaval to wake us up enough to do what we know we have needed all along. To sit down, slow down, focus our attention, and be with ourselves.

To boil this down to one thing, it is about engaging our lives with heart. Our hearts are the vehicles that deliver meaning into our lives. My work here at Being Real is to help uncover and rediscover your true heart.