Archives for the month of: September, 2015


Our minds are magnificent liberators. They are also bedeviling oppressors. Much suffering in life is linked to the entrapment of our minds, as we become attached to the pleasurable highs and find the oppressive lows aversive. How can we mitigate the debilitating messages and harness our minds for happiness?

I am working on three strategies. The first is to interrupt the chatter. When the messages seem to be high jacking my thoughts or feelings, I find that a momentary deep breath or a change of activity provides a sufficient time-out to break through the static and allow me to refocus.

The second strategy involves the decision to create a new routine. Research on the brain is finding that a significant percentage of our daily behavior (40%) is habitual. The more the brain can relegate its management of repetitive situations to habit, the more it devotes its energy to paying attention and solving new problems. Two helpful resources for this are Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and Daniel Goleman’s Focus.

For the past several years I have begun each day with a period of yoga, reading and sitting meditation. That routine has helped me diminish old patterns and pay attention to new potential.

The last strategy is the most difficult to do: let go of outcomes. That isn’t to say let go of dreams, setting goals and advocating for our beliefs. It means that despite our best planning, our most committed effort and our most devoted advocacy, results may turn out differently. Rather than bemoan the loss of what we had envisioned, we have the opportunity to open ourselves to possibilities we had never considered.

Taming the mind is both a daily opportunity and challenge. What strategies are working for you?



For those of us with more years in the rear view mirror than on the road ahead time takes on greater importance as a teacher. The lesson is “there is only now.” It’s a message that younger folks can opt into as well, although it is easier to embrace in our later years.

First, a disclaimer: by “only now” I do not mean living merely for the moment without caring about the impact of our behavior on ourselves and others. That is an indulgent prescription for hurt and harm.

My point is that most of us spend too much time reliving the past, even when part of us knows that it can’t be redone. Or, we fast forward to a fanciful future as an anesthetic for our stress. Much is going on in what we call now. Recognizing it and integrating it can alter not only the instant but the trajectory of the day.

My work with horses has reinforced this. They are fully present, reading and responding to the energy of the moment. Their survival depends on it.

As you read this, what thoughts are surfacing? What do you feel going on inside? Why is that? Paying attention to now may be providing a decision point for transforming your day. If not, whether intentionally or mindlessly, the moment has passed and with it the possibility of insight and a new beginning.

When we are with another person, are we truly present? What message is she communicating? What feelings does he express? What does her sharing surface in us? Are we truly hearing him, or are we focused on fashioning a snappy reply?

When we pay attention, each now opens a new world of possibility.


When the news of the week drags me down with the dysfunction, vitriol and violence of our species, I search for a framework that provides a meaningful counterbalance. How do we gird our spirits to withstand the tsunami of negativity?

For me it entails shifting a paradigm. Instead of portraying ourselves as the center of the universe as our venerable traditions teach, what if we understand ourselves instead as a precarious experiment in one small laboratory at the margins of the cosmos? It seems like a reasonable possibility, especially as our capacity to love, nurture and create seems to be succumbing to our propensity to vilify, confront and destroy.

Maybe our task in our short span of life is simply to find our calling, pursue it with passion and love those around us. Maybe the energies of love extend out beyond the gravitational pull of our planet to combine elsewhere for the greatest good. Because our perspective is lost in the tall grass around us, we may not know if it makes a difference to anything larger than ourselves and our immediate circles of influence.

Nonetheless, a much larger world beyond our grasp may depend on our persistence in generating love. Mary Oliver raises this prospect in her poem Song of the Builders.

On a summer morning I sat down on a hillside to think about God –

a worthy pastime. Near me, I saw a single cricket; it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way. How great was its energy, how humble its effort. Let us hope

it will always be like this, each of us going on in our inexplicable ways building the universe.


In his novel, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn describes two cultures of people. Takers think and act on the premise that the world belongs to humans. Leavers behave as if humans belong to the world. Recognizing that you and I are most likely a mixture of the two, on balance which posture dominates your own actions?

The question has particular relevance this week. Unprecedented wild fires continue to burn and drought persists in our country’s west. The president’s trip highlighted Alaskan communities imperiled by melting glaciers, sea ice and permafrost. Anticipating conflicts over access to water, land and food, senior pentagon officials identified climate change as one of our country’s top security threats.

It is easy for us to view our individual footprint on the planet as inconsequential. After all, we are but one individual or family. However, when we add up all the energy that goes into creating and sustaining our ways of living and the effect of producing that energy on the quality of our land and air, the footprint increases considerably.

The planet’s growing population and our propensity to transform the earth’s crust into products of comfort and entertainment for the privileged rather than basic needs for all compound our imprint.

In a two-minute video gone viral Julia Roberts narrates the voice of Mother Earth speaking to humankind. It is a different spin on Ishmael’s takers or leavers. “I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you. My oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests…they all can take you or leave you.”

The concluding line is the compelling question for all of us: “I am prepared to evolve…are you?”