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Just When You Thought It Was Safe . . .

From college campuses and corporate cultures to social media, workshops, seminars, and therapy sessions, the issue of safety and creation of “safe zones” is rapidly becoming the latest concern that one cannot question without being regarded as insensitive at best. This concern with safety has strayed far past the standard consideration given to context and material so that factors such as culture, gender, and race are respected. It is manifesting as censorship and intimidation and goes hand in hand with our increasing national obsession with micro-identities, which not surprisingly tends to be more divisive than unifying and fosters resentment rather than compassion.

But why is the focus always on how someone is going to make an environment safe for us, rather than acknowledging to what extent we ourselves may be a threat to that safety?

What does this safety look like and what does it ensure–that someone will be so scared to be perceived as unsafe that they cannot act and express themselves honestly? Is there some twisted assumption that this will facilitate honest communication between human beings? Because, I don’t know about you, but I find that honest human interactions are remarkably rare. And now we’re encouraged to be increasingly dishonest in our interactions through suppression of expression that is deemed offensive.

The belief that diversity is always supposed to feel enriching. harmonious, and inclusive is one of the royal lies of these United States. We use euphemistic language such as “melting pot” and “a rich cultural tapestry” to gloss over fundamental human nature, which is to be suspicious of differences, resistant to change, and focused on self-preservation. If we cannot get real about the train-wreck we call a human being in all its contradictory, confused, conflicted glory, then we will dress it up in the name of safety.

Now, some of us are very skilled at appearing to be completely safe, but really are not, which describes myself for at least the first 40 years of my life. It was intensely embarrassing, enlightening, and liberating to discover that I wasn’t the safe and secure person people believed me to be, but was, in fact, a passive-aggressive nightmare.

I was recently reminded of this when I chose to respond to a Facebook post regarding the interpretation of a quote. Looking back on it, this was like those movies where the newly reformed career criminal decides to do “one more job” before retiring into respectability. We all know how that typically ends. Yes, my ass was summarily handed to me by a gentleman who generously informed me not only of the quote’s correct interpretation, but that I had also “missed the point.”

So, what was my response to my learned friend? Was it, “Well done, old boy, for that bracing bit of sportsmanship, but it seems we shall agree to disagree”? No, what I really felt was a white-hot rage surface instantly in the midst of which (thankfully) I couldn’t even verbally respond. All I wanted to do was kill the cocky motherfucker.

Not only did this cause me to instantly renew my commitment to diligently avoid social media discussion other than “liking” cat videos, I was also grateful (after my blood pressure normalized) to have been shown that my only reason for responding to the post was to demonstrate that I was right, with no room for dissent.

For decades I projected a false modesty to make myself tolerable to others–a common malady in American culture—until it finally toppled in the face of years of honest scrutiny. Besides, it may work as a child, but as an adult presenting oneself to the world in this way is neither fun nor interesting.

As a result, I’ve had a lot of catching up to do to acquaint myself with the arrogance that lurks under that artifice. However, I’m clearly still sufficiently conflicted about that arrogance that I didn’t catch my underlying agenda for responding to the post and preferred to believe that I was innocently sharing my opinion. And that is what makes me about as innocent as a mongoose in a hen house when it comes to social media.

Let’s get real: When was the last time you went into a situation thinking, “I’m so freakin’ stoked to have my assumptions and beliefs challenged, revealed as fraudulent, and possibly altered!”? Um, like never, if you’re me. The dashing of beliefs and exposure of hidden agendas only comes in unexpected bursts due to our carefully scripted interactions.

Consequently, staged events such as town meetings, debates, and panel discussions are largely a presentation of polarized positions for which the participants have exhaustively prepared to make a case for their respective platforms. It is not about coming to an agreement or compromise, letting down one’s guard, or breaking down barriers. The only value these events provide is a stage to witness the tragicomedy of the ego and possibly recognize ourselves in the stultifying spectacle.

It is painful and embarrassing to have a light shone on one’s hidden bigotry, pettiness, and insecurity, but having the vulnerability to reveal these shortcomings to oneself is in the only way to bring polarized positions closer together. These difficult realizations are denied to us when someone–in his or her patronizing benevolence–decides that we need extra shielding from the world. We are on a mission to eradicate the very elements that might cause us to face our fears and grow from that encounter.

A facilitator, counselor, boss, teacher, etc. can obviously do some very simple things to ensure a basic degree of safety: don’t hold a meeting or workshop in the stairwell of a crack house; make sure there’s a bathroom nearby; check any firearms at the door; have ample water and snacks on hand to reduce the chance of low blood sugar aggravating any already-primed feelings of outrage.

If he or she has not provided for the basics, then head for the exit, because safety is clearly not going to be in the works on any subtler levels as well. And, if you can’t get your money back then chalk it up to experience and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again, because you certainly didn’t end up in an unsafe place by chance.

If the facilitator has provided for a basic level of safety, then whatever happens after that is either sourced by the guarding of identities or being vulnerable to their exposure. There is very little that the facilitator can do to assuage the fears of a person who is already searching for evidence of an unsafe world.

If the person sitting next to you forgets one of the letters in LGBTQ, is unable to discern the difference between Hispanic and Latino, has a confederate flag decal on his truck, calls his girlfriend his “old lady,” etc. are you seriously going to stand up and announce that you don’t feel safe, and hold an entire room hostage? Oddly enough, these points of righteous annoyance might be referred to as characteristics of diversity, which the whole theme of safety is ostensibly trying to preserve. If we don’t accept diversity in all its beauty and ugliness, we end up cherry-picking the aspects we find offensive.

Just because we feel uncomfortable it does not mean the environment is “unsafe.” And if we cannot tolerate these perceived slights to our identities in a controlled setting, then how are we going to handle ourselves in a situation where someone intentionally means us harm?

If someone says, “I just don’t want to be judged,” well good luck because that’s just what the mind does—anyone’s mind—it judges non-stop. And, if you don’t realize that your own mind is doing just that all the time, then your status as a safe person is very questionable.

An ideal situation is a room full of people who are capable of being fluid with their judgments, who can witness their minds judging and not act from that script. A facilitator needs to be especially good at this, as his or her energy will be much more available to the group if there is not a constant effort toward suppressing his or her judgments.

There is a dangerous illusion of false innocence in not wanting to be exposed to someone’s negative energy, while believing that we are not generating our own negative energy by what we refuse to acknowledge about ourselves. Yes, it’s become a cliché to suggest that the person whose presence you find most toxic in the room is the best mirror for you, but if the shoe fits . . .

I knew a guy who went through gurus and teachers like they were potato chips, because he eventually found something about the individual that didn’t quite match up to his standards (“this one talks about us behind our backs, that one gets too cozy with his students, this one can’t be so vulgar and be spiritual,”)

He was constantly on the lookout for the chink in the teacher’s armor and when he found it (or became convinced of it) then he was out the door and shopping for the next one. Some misguided souls interpreted his behavior as being uncompromising in his search for the right teacher to support his precious spiritual path.

Do you think it ever occurred to him that if he’d made himself vulnerable to his fear of never finding perfection that he may have realized for once that he was in the right place? Do you think it ever occurred to him that he was not a safe person to have around because of this hidden agenda driven by insecurity? No, he placed the onus of responsibility for safety squarely on the shoulders of the person in front of the room.

I attended a seminar series for several years in which we didn’t refer to it as safety; we called it containment and it didn’t have to be verbalized because you could feel it. It was understood that you were there to lay yourself bare to have a ghost of a chance of leaving the gathering a somewhat different person than the one that entered.

When containment was no longer present, it was palpable and time to end for the day or take a break. It was a valuable demonstration of how the dynamic of any group is being determined on an unspoken level and its ebb and flow depends on what is being discussed and how close it is to lunch time.

In an environment of containment such as this, taboo, insensitive, and seemingly inappropriate verbalizations, opinions, and outbursts can be weathered quite easily by the group because there is no atmosphere of hyper-vigilance around offensive opinions and behaviors. It just occurs to the group as human behavior and very familiar, honest behavior at that.

That’s how to recognize whether an environment is safe or not: from a level of feeling and not through the mind’s multitude of internal states and filters that have nothing to do with being in the present moment, such as: “I’m afraid of being rejected,” “I’ll only be vulnerable if someone else goes first,” “I’m surrounded by idiots,” “I won’t be the one to rock the boat,” ad infinitum. At that point, it doesn’t matter what presents itself in the external environment, because the interpretation of it will be sourced from a mélange of childhood emotions, beliefs, traumas, and skewed perceptions. It may just as likely result in interpreting an unsafe setting as a safe one as vice versa.

If safety is presumed to require protocol and prescription with stilted rules governing the language and behavior of the assembled, then it is much more difficult to access any real feeling of safety and vulnerability because spontaneity is being sacrificed in favor of rote mental gymnastics to avoid offending someone.

We’re dodging our human responsibility to develop our intuitive sense of safety by-focusing inward to assess ourselves first and then our environment, and turning instead to rigid, lazy defaults based on fear and guilt. You are only as safe as you know your own mind.

The Matrix: You Can Check Out, But You Can’t Leave

Although it’s too late to rescue the idea of The Matrix from pop culture irrelevance—the patient died of over-exposure and ex-sanguination, which passes for natural causes when it concerns anything of real substance in the American psyche—it’s never too late to do a post-mortem.

It has become the undisputed embodiment of evil, soon to usurp the Devil, the Ego, and Hitler and the Nazis . . . our favorite alternatives to looking in the mirror for the roots of our alienation, suffering, depravity, and insanity. It has become synonymous with “the mess we’re in” or “the human condition on steroids,” or, if you’re a child of the 60’s, “the Man,” or “the Establishment.”

These days “The Matrix” trips off the tongues of grandmothers and political bloggers alike, which is hilarious because it has acquired a rich diversity of mouthpieces to talk about itself. The hot topic of conversation is whether we live in a simulation or not, without realizing that the conversation itself is a product of the simulation that initiates a never-ending loop of contrived investigation.

Now that The Matrix has become fodder for breakroom banter its hold on us is even greater, because nothing pleases us more than to replace incisive examination with superficial chitchat. At least when it was still wrapped in a warm cloak of conspiracy theory intrigue The Matrix had a level of gravity to it. Now it’s about as compelling as Russiagate. What a relief it must be for The Matrix to be able to remove the corset from its bloated abdomen and let it hang out without shame, like a middle-aged man who doesn’t have to retract his stomach anymore around the ladies.

I recently saw a posting on YouTube of a talk by David Icke entitled, “Who Built the Matrix?” and tuned in to witness the unmasking of the scapegoat du jour. Mr. Icke scrolled through the Rolodex of Pure Evil and ruled out the usual suspects–“it’s not the corporations, intelligence agencies, central banks, illuminati, cabal, oligarchy, shadow government, or deep state”—and with each deletion my anticipation mounted. Is he really going to say it, I wondered, is he going to tell the truth in this posh auditorium full of well-dressed followers?

And here was his public enemy #1: “It’s extraterrestrials . . . “ Groan. Anti-climactic doesn’t begin to describe this bail-out of an answer. Once again we tiptoe to the edge of the pool, dip our bare foot in, shudder, and conclude: “Nope, too fuckin’ cold. Maybe tomorrow.”

Now, I can groove on a discussion about ET’s as much as the next person, but in demonizing extraterrestrials we conveniently opt for a source that is even more difficult to corroborate and pinpoint than an earth-based one, such as central banks or the intelligence community. It’s another example of the mind feigning ignorance of its own creation so that it can make a pretense of exploring itself, while twisting the investigative storyline into an exercise in arbitrary judgments and observations based on agenda, identity, and preference.

So, the spotlight gets turned even further from the real architect—it’s us, the human race, homo sapiens, John and Jane Q. Public, who created the Matrix and continue to do so! The Matrix is a product of thought as are we, and we hold it aloft as long as our thoughts make it so. As individualized aspects of consciousness and a collective mind, we all share in the blame because we determine what is real through the persistence of our thought patterns.

Since we’ve constructed the Matrix as a landfill for those aspects of human nature we feel we should revile, it is correspondingly imbued with the cream of humanity’s repressed material. It is little wonder, then, that we resist recognizing it as our own creation and prefer to see it out there as a nemesis and not as a messenger that has something profound to tell us about ourselves. It doesn’t help that we put the Matrix on the largest stage possible, because the higher the drama quotient the easier it is for us to not feel personally involved.

We love watching programs that depict a brave individual who refuses to kowtow to the Matrix and escapes with her fierce individuality intact, and we never identify with the amorphous force of oppression that seeks to squash that hero. (We love to hiss and boo when Mr. Smith enters the scene). We are both, but we fail to recognize ourselves in the latter even as the medium provides us the golden opportunity to see ourselves in all of our paradoxical glory.

And now the spoiler: We don’t really want to be free of The Matrix because we’ve built it according to our own specifications, making it the designer prison that we love to hate. Potentially, there is enormous liberation in recognizing that we are both the jailer and the prisoner, but we prefer a path to freedom that skirts personal responsibility and mortifying recognitions about ourselves and our species.

The only deliverance that can be achieved is freedom from the person within us that constructed the Matrix and accepts it as our fate. So, the self-image has to take a major hit if we want to at least see our role in the Matrix and the life story has to be deconstructed, because it is the blueprint we followed when we built it. Effectively, we have to write ourselves out of the script.

This is a formidable undertaking, since it requires swimming against a treacherous current of non-stop information that reinforces the Matrix both collectively and individually, leaving us very little room to imagine an alternative. A suitable analogy might be trying to find the exit in a hall of mirrors. Collectively, we fashion group agreements about the components, boundaries, and purpose of the Matrix, and use convenient elements from our existing stories (American culture, the military, intelligence, politics, banking, historical references) to construct a convincing argument that it is something separate from us.

At the individual level The Matrix provides a sticky canvas on which to lob and cement our identities of victim, outcast, unlovable, martyr, avenger, righteous one, the oppressed, and a host of other beauties.

Our imagination—currently hijacked and neutered by The Matrix–is waiting to be unlocked, if we can only wean it from the limited menu of myths, fantasies, and possibilities served to it through entertainment, cultural institutions, the educational system, and from our personal contribution to our brainwashing that we call our life story. The imagination can be programmed as easily as any other aspect of a human being, so that its deeper expression is virtually ignored through an IV drip of minimal stimulation administered by the culture at large.

If it sounds like I’m suggesting an escape from reality, it’s actually the opposite. It requires us to deeply examine the beliefs, lies, and misperceptions of our personal narrative that we’ve used as an unreliable guide to navigate this mess. If we can allow the restoration of our personal myths while deconstructing the limited version of ourselves that keeps us safe and miserable, we can forge an alternative experience that both transcends and exists concurrently with the Matrix. For example, will I embrace my destiny as an independent filmmaker or settle for a fate as a weekend wedding videographer?

Even as we consciously dive into these stories we’ve kept hidden and stunted, the price is that we risk becoming an even greater egomaniac than the one that unconsciously maintains the Matrix, because there is tremendous personal power to be reclaimed from liberating the life force expended to keep us immersed in the Matrix. That is one reason it feels safer to just talk about it. We’d rather assume the identity of the oppressed than risk becoming the oppressor. We see abuse of power all around us in every possible context, yet we believe we can somehow stay on the right side of knowing how to responsibly administer power without actually accepting the responsibility ourselves.

We will only flip The Matrix when we stop trying to figure it out or escape it, and instead be willing to engage with the lost parts of our totality that have assembled themselves as its building blocks.

Your Pet Has Something to Tell You

Even if our pet is a valued member of the family, we still tend to think of it as having a life independent from our own, unsullied by human foibles and driven by simple motivations such as food, good napping spots, and a friendly slap on the ass. However, largely unbeknownst to us our pets are enmeshed in our lives in an intimate and codependent manner apart from our affectionate attachment toward them.

Before we go any further, we need to trot out the well-worn yet frequently ignored principle that we are both individual articulations of consciousness as well as inseparable elements of a unified field. Hence, we are simultaneously having an experience that we describe as my life as well as one in which we are unknowingly influencing the lives of others simply by being in their presence.

Our lack of awareness regarding this latter, hidden dynamic reflects our resistance to seeing ourselves in an honest light. Because of our frequent collective inability to stay grounded and vulnerable, most human interactions end up being exercises in avoidance, suppression, compensation, sidestepping, projection, sleepwalking, and any other euphemism we can muster for checking out. Deep down we desire wholeness, but are so relentlessly programmed to fear it that separation is our default mode.

By “separation,” I’m referring to the fragmentation of a fundamentally whole event—a human being—into a collection of components that rarely communicate with each other, if at all. And so we move through out lives as a motley assembly of selves: emotional, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, body, heart, soul, psyche, etc. Because this model is drilled into us right out of the birth canal, it occurs to us as the baseline condition of a human being, but is actually a form of brainwashing. Separation results in repressed feelings and emotions, accepting fear as a way of life, and physical symptoms. In short, it is the ultimate source of our pain and suffering.

If it occurs to us at some point in our lives that operating within this framework dramatically limits our creativity, capacity to feel, ability to love and empathize, then our life may take a turn to recover some of our lost wholeness.

Enter the pet, the unwitting arbiter of wholeness and barometer for the level of suppression/repression in a given situation. The animal’s natural state of wholeness magnetizes to it the destabilizing element of separation created by the ungrounded humans in the vicinity.

The pet takes on these disowned parts of ourselves and mirrors them back to us. At the individual level we are hiding from ourselves, and at the unified field level we are attempting to reveal our inner state to ourselves through an agent that we regard as separate from us (our pet). We could not make this more convoluted if we tried.

The pet’s role is analogous to the way a lightning rod stabilizes the erratic and chaotic nature of lightning. Unacknowledged feelings and emotions can easily be described as chaotic and erratic in their own right, as they have a sabotaging effect on our lives.

Another way to frame this phenomenon is through the conservation of energy within a system: If one element is not openly demonstrating its entirety then whatever is suppressed will find a way to express through another element in the system. The energy of suppressed emotion is not destroyed through its suppression; it simply finds another avenue by which to surface.

This is by no means a tidy or seamless means of achieving homeostatis, as it requires a sacrifice to cobble together the best possible representation of wholeness as the setting will allow. The animal’s presence provides the opportunity for some semblance of wholeness to be demonstrated in the midst of the separation inherent in human interaction, an attempt at psychic damage control via self-sacrifice.

The sacrifices of a present-day pet are subtler than back in the day when people sacrificed animals to appease or please the gods because they instinctively knew that animals were naturally grounded and a more stable connection to a higher source. However, short of its death, the toll on the pet can be enormous in terms of physical ailments, baseline stress level, and emotional suffering.  (And, I’ve seen the price be death as well.)

This is why the notion of a service animal to assist in emotional and psychological rehabilitation is a lethal redundancy, because the animal is already performing this role by its very nature and we just aren’t aware of it. When we apply the label of service animal we are asking it to perform double duty, adding a level of conscripted empathy to its already formidable task of navigating typical human behavior.

In addition, if the owner who is recovering from trauma does not take responsibility for his/her own healing process, then the trauma will likely be transferred to the animal, resulting in a cycle of displaced repressed emotion by the owner and acceptance of abuse on the part of the animal.

No one is really innocent or guilty: this is a production that runs itself by virtue of our resistance to consciously participating with it, which would require a level of personal responsibility that we are rarely willing to approach. Besides, there are no random events, so the fact that the animals have found themselves in their situation is part of their karmic blueprint.

We could easily substitute “pet” with “child,” “stomach (or any other organ),” because in the absence of an animal these will assume the same function of being a sacrifice to separation in the name of wholeness.

Here are a few recent examples I’ve encountered in my work:

1. A family gathering (always an emotional avoidance extravaganza) where two dogs were present. The dogs both became ill, one violently so, after they took on the anxiety, fears, and chronic digestive problems of a couple of family members.

2. A cat who took on her owner’s fear of aging, mortality, and menopause and manifested changes to her own reproductive organs to approximate her owner’s menopause as closely as possible.

3. A cat who became a conduit to express painful memories from Native American trauma embedded in the property, resulting in his becoming immbile and depressed.

4. A man who micromanaged his dog’s health regimen because of his fear that the dog would die and leave him alone, reflecting back to his mother’s death when he was a child. The dog, wanting to please and taking on his owner’s hidden fear of abandonment, manifested a chronic illness so that his owner could periodically “heal” him and feel that he was healing the loss of his mother.

The best thing we can do for our animals (or ourselves, children, or partner for that matter) is to maintain as honest a connection to our inner state as possible. This will relieve the pet, child, spouse, or organ system from shouldering the entire load of whole-making, in the event that we ourselves are the main source of separation in the environment. It requires venturing outside of separation, which is the mother of all comfort zones.

To do so, we have to overcome our resistance to being “the only one in the room” who is holding a grounded state. It requires vulnerability to feel our conflicting inner states and transcending our conditioning that regards vulnerability as presenting ourselves as fresh for the slaughter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Add to that our ingrained belief that we are incapable of acknowledging multiple contradictory mental and emotional perspectives without being a hypocrite, an insult of the highest order to our egos.

The more we are able to be present to the disordered, irrational nature of our inner life, the more we will be able to look our pets in the eyes and see ourselves, for better or worse.

Colds and Flu: Don’t Believe the Hype

As we careen toward the holidays, just remember that the “cold and flu season” is a fiction cooked up by the health care industry, which is undeniably brilliant at creating a demand and serving it, grooming a client base and appearing to cater to it.

In a nutshell, here’s how it’s constructed:

We are highly suggestible creatures and the health care industry exploits this human foible enormously. Since we’re taught by multiple sources to fear ourselves and the world when we’re children and at our most malleable, it only takes subtle reinforcement throughout our lives on a daily basis to keep this fear in place. The world is consistently represented as a place that is out to get us, rather than one that we’ve created and are holding aloft moment to moment through our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. We love to point out the stories about the frog that boils to death as the heat is increased incrementally or the elephant that is held captive only by a rope and a chair. However, we easily forget that these examples of perceived powerlessness reflect our own predicament as well. It may be funny to see a hypnotist make someone act like a chicken, but if it’s that easy just think how readily we can be manipulated around our emotions.

The fear that is instilled in us results in a profound state of disconnection between our minds and bodies, and the notion that we have any influence over our own well-being is sacrificed. This has the effect of making the health care system appear to be our only option and sets the table for the expert to enter the scene and allay our fears, tell us what’s wrong with us, and make us feel better. Mission accomplished—we’ve successfully abdicated our responsibility for healing ourselves. Since it is this disconnection between mind and body that is the source of illness in the first place, the health care system is well-positioned to play us a like a violin, All it needs at this point is to activate those fears by creating random bogeymen in its running narrative about health, so that it can cheerfully serve the illness that it creates.

Whether we succumb to a cold or flu turns on whether we are grounded or not. Being grounded is a state of the human energy field and it fluctuates many times throughout any given day. Whether we are grounded or not in any given moment depends on many different factors, but for this post we’ll just talk about fear. When we’re grounded we have at least a basic communication between our mind and body and we’re literally in a place where we can choose not to get ill. When we’re not grounded, the mind separates from the body and we are subject to whatever our mind makes up about health and that usually means defaulting to our conditioning, which is to be afraid. Now we’re a siting duck for a self-fulfilling prophecy around illness.

Here’s what it looks like:

It’s the dead of winter and I’m enormously grateful that I haven’t picked up the “crud” that seems to be taking down everyone else. I go into a meeting where there are a couple of people sniffling and in that instant is my appointment with destiny. Because of my aforementioned conditioning around health, my mind starts to perceive the conference room as a dangerous place. If I entered the conference room in a grounded state, I’m now in danger of becoming ungrounded based on how my mind is evaluating the environment through a filter of fear.

To make matters worse, I’m resistant to recognizing that I’m afraid, ‘cuz you know I’m an adult and all. Instead, my mind only recognizes its outrage (“Who the hell let those sick people in here?!”). Now I’ve lost my connection to both my body and my true emotional state, which is fear. Now I’m sufficiently ungrounded that I’m no longer in a position of choice and by the time I leave the meeting I’m starting to feel a familiar scratchiness in my throat. All the evidence now points to my own inevitable encounter with said crud. My appointment with destiny has degenerated into a blind date with fate.

Here’s how it could have gone:

If I have some experience with knowing the importance of staying grounded, the sniffling people in the room are my cue to make sure I’m grounded rather than a source of fear. Without a doubt, there is still some fear that surfaces but it is of the healthy sort that elicits vigilance rather than a fear that creates a state of helplessness. Throughout the meeting I check to make sure I’m still grounded, because I know I’m on the knife’s edge of either being in a position of choice or falling into my conditioned fear response. The more I can demonstrate to myself that I can be in a room with sick people and not get sick, the more it will override my conditioning. I used to get colds and flu as much as anyone until I became a chiropractor and recognized the connection between staying grounded and not picking up a sick client’s illness.

Here is the easiest way I know to get grounded: Sit down and make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Visualize the soles of your feet connected deep into the earth and bring your breath down into your belly. Imagine a line passing vertically through the length of your spine into the earth. Lightly touch the top of your head with your fingertips to bring your energy down from your head and into the rest of your body. Lastly, make sure the tip of your tongue is resting against the hard ridge of the palate just above your teeth. Rotate your attention between the soles of your feet, the line through your spine, and your breathing. When you’re grounded again, you may feel a subtle shift of being back in your body, more connected to the earth, or just in a more relaxed or stable state.

It can make a huge difference to start your day in a grounded state. For an investment of just a couple of minutes you can insure that you’re not leaving the house with a bulls-eye on your forehead. Checking to make sure you’re grounded throughout the day has many benefits. For starters, you’ll be much less susceptible to colds and flu.







An Epidemic of Healing

I’m going to start this post by invoking the spirit of Emily Latella and asking, “What’s all this I hear about healing?”

Whether it’s our leaky gut, our traumas, our inner child, our relationships, the nation, the planet, or humanity as a whole, it all seems to be up for a good healing. It is rapidly acquiring the status of a word drained of identifiable meaning as a result of its generalized application across disparate contexts. Healing the planet is perhaps the most dubious one of all, since the planet will attend to its own healing, thank you, and all it needs is for us to stop destroying it.

Not surprisingly, this is also a banner time for healers of any ilk. The prevalence of the word healing in the mass consciousness magnetizes the healer to the forefront, just by virtue of resolving the similar language (healing requires healer). The healer identity needs to find something to heal, of course, and is enlisted to both initiate the healing process as well as judge whether healing is taking place or not. This takes full advantage of our resistance to recognizing that we are our own best healers, and our inability to reverse this conditioning from the systems that own us. We are unfortunately not encouraged to see our practitioners as partners, but rather as those primarily responsible for our health and recovery.

And yet, if all this healing were actually occurring, wouldn’t the world be a much different place? Let’s talk about what may be going on behind this word instead.

The logical starting point is language, because first and foremost we are intellectual creatures regardless of how badly we’d like to believe we’re feeling creatures. Language is occasionally useful for clarification, creative expression, and having a good laugh, but is more often a tool for obfuscation, justification, rationalization, ass-covering, and intimidation. Let’s face it, we’re talking about human beings here.

Language is also the interface between the repository of our acquired beliefs and the reinforcement of those beliefs. It’s a sobering exercise to review what beliefs we hold simply because someone told us they’re true vs. the ones we’ve developed ourselves on an experiential or visceral level. It goes without saying that the former outnumbers the latter by far and language is a key component to holding this imbalance in place.

We’re doing this all the time in many different situations: behaving and operating from our assumptions around language because we believe we understand or know what we’re talking about, when really we’re using language to describe as best as possible our experience of the unknowable, which is human existence.

The original meaning of the word heal is, “to make whole,” but the spirit of its present usage as delivered by our health care system and its associated institutions is “to fix that which is broken, to return to a non-symptomatic state.” The assumption is that we’re broken or damaged and require fixing (by someone else), not that we’re trying to be more whole, which means becoming more of who we are. It is the difference between coming out of the other side of healing an authentically altered person rather than just returning the system to a non-symptomatic state. The typical strategy to return a system to a non-symptomatic state is suppression, in contrast to expression and integration, which results in more wholeness.

The farther a word has drifted from its original meaning the more power it acquires and the more people can be manipulated around it. Ambiguity of language is a powerful weapon for manipulation because it keeps us off balance not knowing exactly what’s being said, while at the same time we’re reluctant to look foolish and admit that we don’t know, or we lazily adhere to a meaning we believe is mutually held.

Until we’ve experienced healing first-hand as something other than suppression, then our mind will continue to frame it as such because it has no other reference point for the word. It doesn’t matter if your choice of treatment is alternative if you can’t get beyond the meaning of “healing” that has been drilled into you by mainstream western medicine and the culture at large.

The belief that we’re broken is a convenient departure point for building and supporting personal agendas. Our pursuit of healing can become another chapter in the life story we’ve meticulously constructed and a distraction from real growth that requires vulnerability and letting go of beliefs and identities. A stable of practitioners may be employed to massage, tweak, medicate, and salve the boo-boos, to demonstrate to myself and the world that I’m a responsible person who really wants to improve and do the right thing for my healing.

We may allow our practitioners to suppress our symptoms just enough that we can bear living with our pain and justify continuing with our healing agenda, because the mind knows just how much pain it will tolerate to be reassured we haven’t completely healed yet. In effect, if we ever completely heal (whatever that means) then it is a threat to our identity of being in healing or recovery mode, and who would we be then? I served that merry-go-round for 10 years as a chiropractor until it began to feel like both myself and the client were missing something much bigger here, like maybe an actual experience of healing.

All of this effort can be a very convincing alternative to simply focusing one’s attention inward and hearing the message the symptom(s) is trying to deliver, which is usually something devilishly simple like, “I’m going to twist your intestine into a pretzel until you admit that you hate your sibling because he was always the favored one.” At least the Smother Brothers worked that out in public.

I’ve seen entire families and hospital staff willingly held hostage by a person’s perceived attempt to heal, simply because everyone feels as though they’re doing the right thing in the whole mess. The ones who persist in the delusion that they are healing are gladly served by those who yearn to be of assistance because it gives their own lives meaning, not to mention a way to earn a living. Meanwhile, nothing resembling “wholeness” is occurring in this love fest.

One person’s trauma is another person’s adventure, rite of passage, or amusing story to tell the grandkids, but we’re being gradually coerced into believing that all trauma is equal. Do we really think that someone who was groped once at a party has suffered the same level of trauma as someone who was held captive and gang-raped daily for months? No, but that is where the language is heading due to the increasingly misguided goal of inclusivity. Pretty dangerous stuff considering how we human beings will milk an angle of entitlement for all its worth.

It has even become standard for contestants on shows like The Voice, American Idol, and America’s Got Talent for contestants to shoehorn in a description of the trauma that they are healing through their music or other talent. What could be powerful in small, isolated doses is instead an exercise in emotional manipulation when it becomes as predictable as the person saying what instrument they play. This is an aspect of American culture that is insidiously dehumanizing: the dulling of our potential to feel compassion through overexposure and subsequent desensitization.

When someone announces to the world that “I’m attending to my healing,” this often implies that there is something positive and empowering going on here and don’t you fucking forget it. Such pronouncements around healing have become dialogue squelchers on par with “She’s a racist,” “He’s a deeply religious person,” “It’s a matter of national security,” and “I have special needs.” The group agreements and unspoken quid pro quos around these statements is deep and far-reaching, as evidenced by the shit-storm that is unleashed if one questions their legitimacy. Rather than voicing an intention to heal, it would be refreshing just once to hear someone say something like, “I’m getting to know myself better,” “I’m trying not to blame my body anymore,” “I think I’m starting to grow the hell up,” or “I’m learning how to get out of my own way.”

There can be a significant difference in what constitutes healing between someone who starts with the belief “I’m broken and I need to find someone to fix me,” vs. “I know I need to stop blaming other people if I’m going to stop this cycle.” There is a little matter of personal responsibility and holding oneself accountable for how one’s life has played out. Believing you need to heal can be a way of being right about the perceived trauma because it suggests something was done to us and misses the point that it was a necessary event in one’s life to get them to where they are today. Indeed, a self-indulgent, myopic focus on healing can result in the erosion of relationships, significant limitation of life experience, abdication of responsibilities, and being a real drag to be around.

Just as those who are truly helping others in need do not need to put out a press release about their latest philanthropic venture, the people who are truly healing are rarely the ones talking about it. They realize the effort they invest in sharing their story with the world subtracts from the precious energy that could be applied toward an honest vulnerability that results in that healing. The ostensible motivation for sharing one’s story is that it will help others to heal. That can certainly be the case provided the overriding motivation is not to be the center of attention or fill the coffers, and the person has come to a different perception and appreciation of his/herself from where they started their healing journey.

White Guilt Revisited

White Guilt Revisited

I’m a middle-aged, white, heterosexual male and as such I’ve been the ethnic embodiment of evil and unjustified privilege in the United States for centuries. My heritage includes slavery, the KKK, the Native American genocide, the oppression of women and gay people, and even though it wasn’t founded in the U.S. we have to throw in the Nazi Party as well. I’m the face of Big Oil, Big Pharma, the corrupt banking system, corporate America, Christian fundamentalism, and now I’m sitting in the White House.

There is a thread that runs through us white males (who will henceforth be referred to as “Whitey”) that makes us prone to a massive sense of entitlement, greed, power lust, paranoia, and a need to dominate and control. To claim that this is an unfair characterization would be to deny a mountain of evidence that grows daily.

This thread may be described as a primal identity, a DNA pattern, a blueprint, a parasite, a biological program, or a variety of other euphemisms. It has had many different hosts throughout recorded history: Pick any empire-building culture and there you’ll find Whitey at the helm, regardless of the culture’s ethnicity.

No, I’ve never participated in any of the aforementioned atrocities in this life, since I was too busy well into my 40’s trying to be a good boy and please mommy. However, even though I have not demonstrated the worst of Whitey, the predisposition can still be found within me. It can lie dormant, waiting for the circumstances of its unfolding like a cocked pistol. This also means that it can be accessed just like any other part of my mind, if I’m willing to see the truth about myself.

I was born into a white male’s body and I can either accept the ramifications of that biological signature, or I can simply fall asleep in the illusion that I’m one of the “good ones.” It has been a long process, but once I gave it permission to start rolling, there has been no end to the recognition of Whitey inside me.

White guilt is not an expression that we hear much these days because, you know, we’ve come so far with race relations in this country that we don’t have to think about it anymore. I believe, however, that it continues to be one of the most insidious elements perpetuating America’s racial divide.

With a historical track record like the above, I suggest that it is actually a healthy emotional response to feel guilty about being a white male. That may be a statement that is hard for a lot of people to stomach, but feeling guilt is not the problem; It’s what we do with the guilt that creates the nightmare.

But first, a story of the roots of my own white guilt and how I’ve come to an uneasy peace with it. If I don’t use humor in this post, it would only reflect the sadness, shame, and anger that this subject elicits in me and it would never get written. I realize this blogpost is not very coherent, but the process by which white guilt is instilled and hopefully acknowledged is not linear, to say the least.

I was born and raised in Upstate NY and enjoyed what I’d describe as an Opie Taylor childhood. All that was missing was the stream running in the backyard. My parents loved me and my five siblings and each other, did not beat us, and when not at school my days were spent reading, drawing, and playing all manner of sports and games.

I was insulated from the world at large and not a lot was asked of me, other than to do well in school and not get arrested. I only had to walk 10 minutes to both my grammar school and high school, both of which were Catholic institutions. My friends were exclusively from Irish, Italian, or Western European heritage and I never said five words to a Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Jewish person before I was 14 or so. Without a fancy DNA test to factor in any nuances, I know that I’m Irish-German right down the middle and it doesn’t get much whiter than that.

The only glitch in an Opie Taylor childhood is believing that it reflects the rest of the world and that it will continue into adulthood. After decades of focused exploration I’ve been able to see through a great deal of the naivete engendered by my childhood environment. It’s been a fascinating trip, albeit a profoundly sobering one. For example, to think that I used to believe the government cared about individuals, or that a man in a black suit with a white collar had a special connection to God is incomprehensible to me now. But such is the power of indoctrination.

My hometown was very segregated, especially for a such a large city in the Northeast that has always considered itself progressive. For much of my childhood, black and Hispanic people were like an urban myth: I knew they existed, but they lived in certain neighborhoods that most white people took pains to avoid.

It was the 60’s and Catholic school was changing to include education on the civil rights and women’s liberation movements and the injustices that gave rise to them. I learned of the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow laws, ethnic ghettos, concentration camps, and the eradication of Native American culture and genocide of its people in the wake of Whitey’s relentless push to conquer North America. I was taught Negro spirituals, songs by oppressed Irish railroad workers, and Jewish folk songs (even though we were also told they were going to hell).

Against the backdrop of racial tension and segregation in my Upstate NY hometown I was taught that the South was where the bad, racist people who had supported slavery lived, while us free-thinking Northerners saved the day and freed the slaves. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling in retrospect.

In the midst of this litany of crimes for which any moderately moral person would feel ashamed, I was informed of manifest destiny and the fact that–wink, wink–all of it was necessary for us to become such a great country. So, the guilt is the price we pay for having what’s “rightfully” ours, even though we destroyed cultures and murdered millions in so doing. Catholicism provided the ready-made framework of original sin to funnel all this through and not blink. If we’re already fucked in God’s eyes right out of the gate, what’s a little more stain on the soul?

All of this was absorbed by little Opie who desperately wanted to be a good boy and ignore his own potential for hatred, revenge, violence, and rage. He just wanted to do his best, not get into trouble, disappear, not make waves, and have everyone think the best of him, while obsessively drawing peace symbols and swastikas on the covers of his notebooks.

In a subtle and seamless manner, reinforced by ideology from church and state, I was being encouraged to hate my own race as well as develop a superficial, patronizing empathy for oppressed minorities. This is what is known as a lose-lose proposition. Black people, Native Americans, and other people of color first and foremost were depicted as helpless victims who needed our assistance, in the absence of having any real interaction with those same people. This type of objectification is just as dehumanizing in my mind as the objectification of a slave as a piece of property or a woman as a collection of body parts.

Opie’s fevered brain started to do the math and the uncomfortable question became apparent—If I’m a white person and all these horrible things were done by white people, does that make me a horrible person, too? He wanted to take it all in and still come out of it a good boy, but the tension of holding all this contradictory information was too much for his overburdened mind to hold.

I still remember that moment when I couldn’t stave off the bigoted voices in my head any longer: nigger, spic, kike, wop, faggot, slut. But how could those thoughts possibly belong to Opie, who only wanted to be a good boy and have everyone peacefully coexist? So, I did what everyone does: I split the world in two, and decided that certain thoughts were mine and others were not mine. I call this standard maneuver the on-ramp to the highway to hell.

I believe that is one thing Whitey banks on as he conditions young white American minds: Most children want to be “good” as their identity preference, so they reflexively ignore the monstrous truths about our race and retain what makes them feel good about themselves and gains them acceptance by the world. Whitey can thus reveal all his sins to the children, knowing that the guilt that is being cultivated and repressed will keep them in a virtual state of paralysis as adults when it comes to race relations.

As Opie experienced more of the world, the pedestal he’d placed all his victims on began to get very rickety as he realized that people are just people. Since we’re encouraged by many sources to remain falsely innocent in this life, we resent those who remind us that we’re not. White guilt is a good fit for the superior-inferior duality that we all play out in some form. If I can’t feel inferior to the victims anymore because they’ve shown themselves to be less than saints, then I’m forced into the very uncomfortable position of being superior. Uh, oh.

And, if my mind won’t allow me to feel superior (which it certainly did not as a boy), then I have the magic third option, guilt and shame, which bridges the gap between inferior and superior. Actually, it is just a cheap curtain to hide feelings of superiority, so shame is a safe place to be, especially in Catholic school.

Although resentment is one of the most toxic human emotions, it appears to be one of the least understood or talked about, because it can be so hidden and wrapped in contradiction. As soon as resentment sets in, then what might be a source of compassion–witnessing someone’s suffering–instead feeds my resentment and reminds me of my own self-loathing for being white. This became my loop of white guilt.

We take on other’s beliefs from the day we’re born and we come to believe that they’re our own, because a child doesn’t realize it’s being brainwashed. It’s up to our “adult” selves to dismantle this network of personal and cultural lies or allow the conditioned child to drive the car into the sunset or at least until the wheels fall off. Indeed, in our desperate need to construct an image we can present to the world it wouldn’t occur to most of us to undertake such an examination. In the end, though, we need to take ownership of all of it, but not take it personally.

Since we think our thoughts and beliefs belong to us, then we only pick out those thoughts that we feel okay about and want to represent us and the rest are thrown on the dung heap of our repressed selves. In other words, we try to control our thoughts, and if there is a greater source of pain and suffering I’d like to know what it is. Our thoughts are there for us to witness and observe, not to take personally, protect or suppress.

That is why meditation is an invaluable tool: It presents at least the possibility to not take our thoughts, beliefs, and lives personally. In my early 20’s I started meditating and as I learned to witness my mind, Opie very gradually grew up, because he began to accept his unsavory aspects without stuffing them down. And, here comes Whitey, because he is being pulled to the surface by freeing other, seemingly unrelated repressed elements of my mind.

When someone says, “Just free your mind, man” they generally don’t know what they’re asking for and undertaking. If you’ve ever tried a meditation practice for any length of time you have likely found that your mind has very little interest in being free. In fact, it resists freedom like crazy and wants to keep itself small, rigid, narrow in expression and understanding, all so it can avoid the intense fear of chaos, the possibility of not being right, and the reality of its own death.

Since pushing Whitey back in the closet was not an option or a desire at this point, I had to put him right in my face so I could see him clearly. So, I watched programs like “The Murder of Emmett Till” and saw myself in two of the most despicable creatures to crawl out of a woman’s womb, watched “Triumph of the Will” and saw myself in the exhilaration of hatred, and saw myself in photos of white men proudly standing next to open graves of freshly slaughtered Native Americans as though they were big game hunters.

And if you think I’m patting myself on the back for all this inner work, then you’re missing the point. The result is that I’m more like Whitey than ever because he’s been invited to the table, but I’ve got him where I want him and I can watch him like a hawk. The point is not to cleanse myself of him, but rather to have as much of me in clear sight as possible, so I can see what I’m up to.

It is the difference between living my life out of fear that he might be me, rather than living with the recognition that he definitely resides in me. The only way I get rid of Whitey is to put a bullet in my head, because he’s part of my inner landscape and he ain’t going nowhere.

And because I’ve been fortunate enough to make peace with my monster, I’ve realized he has gifts to offer that I never could’ve imagined—gifts of creativity, passion, vitality.  All he ever wanted was the opportunity to show them to me, but was always denied by the bully masquerading as a good little boy. I’ve learned a lot more about compassion, for instance, from getting to know my Whitey than I ever did while trying to become spiritually evolved. And if Whitey is kept caged up for too long, that’s when the dirty deeds begin.

If I‘m the only white person in a room, I can feel the white guilt threaten to dominate my awareness and my ability to act like anything but a frightened child. The joke is that what I really fear is being exposed as a white person, which couldn’t be any more evident. Does this happen 100% of the time? Of course not. Like anything, it’s situational and is just one of a complex of fears that reflect my own insecurities.

The same type of fear arises in other contexts: Can I have an honest conversation with a lesbian when I fear that she hates me because I’m a man; Can I interact with a gay man without him thinking I’m coming onto him; Can I talk frankly with a Jew about Israel or the Holocaust without being called an anti-Semite; Can I have an honest discussion about gender with a woman who describes herself as a feminist?

Now, what do I do if I can’t go to Standing Rock and I’m left with no one to hear my confession of guilt and tell me I’m not a bad person? What if I do get that opportunity and my apology is not accepted, my poor little Opie self?

I’ll tell you what I do: I keep that motherfucker Whitey on a short leash and give him some bones to chew on, so that he doesn’t have to find his expression “out there” in the form of death and destruction. I give him uncut violent fantasies, movies and TV shows in which I imagine myself in the villain role, take it out on inanimate objects, go to the shooting range, and most of all I don’t censor his thoughts when he has the floor, but just watch them, because suppressing them will only ensure their expression in physical reality in some context.

The only way I know to live in integrity with my Whitey is to not be his food source anymore, and as much as possible extricate myself from the systems he perpetuates and prove to myself I can have a relationship to other people and the earth that is not primarily about domination, consumption, and destruction.

Betrayed by Sacred Sex?

This post is a response to the article “My Tantric ‘Awakening’ Turned me Off Sex” by Janet Hardy. link here

Although this is a response to an article written over two years ago, I feel that it highlights some of the timeless misconceptions and pitfalls around what we term “sacred sex,” “sex magic,” or “sexual energy work.”

First, I want to thank Janet Hardy for writing this article and her book “The Ethical Slut.” It was very influential in expanding my perspective on relationships and sexuality.

I’d like to start with several quotes from Janet’s article to frame my response:

“In the spirit of research, we added tantra and other quasi-religious practices into the mix and took classes in those, too.”

“Of the little that has been written about kundalini-awakening-or-whatever, the vast majority has been written by people I frankly think are kind of weird.”

“Maybe it’s also because she does not share my aversion to the language of, well, woo-woo.”

“ . . . they frame their knowledge in a faux-Eastern haze of abstraction and mysticism that makes absolutely no sense to me and does not fit in with the way my world works.”

It’s with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and 20 years of stumbling my way through various systems of sexual energy work that these quotes make me think, “uh, oh.” While I admire Janet’s pioneering spirit, it seems that she began her Tantric exploration with very conflicted feelings.

I, too, have a major problem trusting the language around spiritual practices and the mind-sets of a lot of people leading the charge. Just as, in my own work, I advise people to steer clear of health care practitioners whose models of health and language do not make sense to them, it is even more so the case with the models found in transformational work such as Tantric, Taoist, or Kundalini Yoga. Otherwise, there is little common ground for communication and frustration may arise when assistance is needed.

It’s easy to forget that practices that are intended to bring about personal transformation can result in, well, transformation, and that these effects cannot be predicted, as they are the result of opening up to forces over which we have no control. That’s supposed to be part of the fun, by the way.

It is one thing to study an esoteric discipline from the perspective of an uninvolved researcher, and quite another to engage in the practice and lay oneself bare emotionally, physically, and psychologically. I can only imagine that the contrast of being vulnerable in this way and trying to maintain the critical viewpoint of a sex researcher created a tension in which something had to give. And, if the vulnerability is deep enough, it is the mind’s conditioning around sexuality that crumbles.

Vulnerability has the potential to undermine the mind’s agenda and take us to a place that we could never have foreseen that is entirely based on feeling. If you don’t follow sensations and feelings to take you more deeply into the unknown, then all you’re left with is what you think you know about life, yourself, and sex.

Like a lot of people, I was drawn to sexual energy practices in search of more intense orgasms and a deeper level of intimacy. Without a doubt, the techniques found in these disciplines can have numerous profound, practical benefits such as increased sex drive, ejaculation control, deeper intimacy, and an expanded range for sensual pleasure, just to name a few.

Over time, though, it became obvious that I was courting a presence in my life that was digging its own channels and rewiring my fuse-box. Although it’s a phenomenon virtually unknown to the Western mind, the raw energy underlying sexual desire, romantic relationships, procreation, fantasy, and fetishes can be liberated from these customary contexts and experienced as an independent force.

In other words, the impulse underlying sexuality can be teased from the clutches of the conscious mind and allowed a broader expression in aspects of one’s life seemingly unrelated to sex. This untethered impulse has its own intelligence and does not give a hoot about whether we want to live a quiet life in the country or a rowdy city life as a dominatrix. This experience of sexuality as a non-contextual form of energy can provide a perspective on how sexuality has been mercilessly crammed into societal agendas, stunted by cultural and religious shame, and hemmed into a corner where it is beaten back into submission if it acts out too much.

Transformational work involves the real possibility of sacrificing everything we own, have worked for, and think we know about anything. When this really sinks in, then it’s like “Um, can I change my order, please?,” but by then it’s too late to stuff the genie back in the bottle. If you don’t want to risk the chance for something different and unexpected to barge in on your life, then it’s best not to take that first step toward dismantling yourself.

Whether Janet was conscious of it or not at the time, something beyond her researcher’s mind was asking for acknowledgement. If you keep knockin’ on that door, someone you’ve never met before may eventually answer it. And, if you don’t learn how to dance with that stranger, they can make your life hell.

This isn’t a topic that is discussed very often in sexual energy work, because it kind of takes the shine off the peak experience aspect and it’s difficult to describe why it’s desirable. However, if one is sincere about transforming one’s life through sexual expression, it can manifest an agent of sabotage not chosen by the rational mind to break us out of rigid ways of thinking, believing, and behaving. It can catalyze the surfacing of repressed character traits, strip away illusion, and retrieve a depth of feeling that is long lost to most adults. It can become the teacher that so many of us look for Out There.

We often forget that a sacrifice is required in order to acquire certain knowledge or experience. When it comes to sexual energy work, the heart will demand its sacrifice and unfortunately, when the sacrifice occurs on its own without our conscious participation, then it’s often viewed as a punishment or a source of regret that requires healing or repairing. In Janet’s case, she didn’t like the form of the knowledge or the sacrifice: the earth-shattering orgasm or the disappearance of her sexual desire.

If the sacrifice is a loss of desire for sex, then other areas need to be examined to see where your sexual energy has been funneled, and know that it will return one day, albeit fundamentally altered. What else is being intensely inspired within you? Where is there renewed momentum and passion? Is there a pursuit or activity for which you’ve previously had intractable resistance that now presents little or no inhibition? Although the scientist who proposed the law of conservation of energy probably wasn’t thinking about bangin’ the missus at the time, it nevertheless applies perfectly to sexual energy: It isn’t lost, it is simply transformed.

I also have gone through periods of disinterest in “normal” sexual activity as the result of cultivating and channeling sexual energy. As always, the first thoughts are of a worst-case scenario (“Omigod, it’s gone and it’s never coming back!”), because the mind hates anything that deviates from the standard script. During those periods, though, I’ve written two books and made numerous recordings of my own music, two things I’d never been able to accomplish before.

I had the benefit of years of watching sexual energy work create other dramatic changes in my life, so I eventually knew that a loss of desire was just another turn in the road. It was reassuring to me that I did not feel depleted on any levels and that this was solely a change in the outward expression of an impulse. It was critical for me to realize that this was something I’d asked for, whether I liked the presentation or not. And, it really helps to have an understanding partner, of course.

If this phenomenon is misinterpreted as sexual dysfunction and attempts are made to resolve it through medication or hormone supplementation, this will short-circuit the change that is trying to occur in that person’s chemistry and may create health problems where none previously existed.

When one’s attention is exclusively devoted to getting help for something that isn’t a problem in the first place, then it exhausts all the vitality that has been liberated and could have energized another area of one’s life. Identifying it as a problem only serves to separate oneself from the experience and massage the egos of the so-called experts who want to “help.” There is no intervention required here, because the intervention has already occurred in the form of the unknown. Janet literally changed her internal circuitry and that is where the power of vulnerability lies. What is it that Janet needs to recover from–an encounter with herself?

Honestly, most of us are not prepared to let go of the notion that we have control over our sexual impulses and expression until it becomes painfully evident that we are not in control. As long as the sexual impulse remains embedded in the habitual context of sexual activity then the mind can sustain the illusion of being in the driver’s seat. Our vain attempts over millennia to twist the irrepressible drive behind sexuality into something acceptable, predictable, and manageable is truly astounding, and a testament to its incredible potency.

This is one reason that, for centuries, only emperors and high priests were privy to sexual energy practices. We wouldn’t want Joe or Jane Six-Pack discovering a source of vitality that made him or her equal to the boss man, would we?

Yes, I can sit here alone at the computer and create what I call an “energy orgasm” out of nowhere: no sexual fantasies, pornography, or tactile stimulation. Nothing but a simple mental focus on my body that creates a powerful movement of energy. I could make it last for quite a while and even cause some involuntary shaking and flailing about. Most people would not remotely consider this a sexual experience, but that’s precisely the impulse that is being channeled.

And your response may be, “So what’s your point?” And you’d be right. There is no point. This is just how I prefer to live my life. I feel that unless I actively beckon forces into my life that may humble me when I least expect it, I will never know what it’s like to get off the hamster wheel.

Systems, models, and techniques are not ends in themselves, especially when it comes to transformational pursuits. They provide a context within which the mind just might trick itself into recognizing that it really knows nothing. The mind thinks it knows what S&M or Kundalini is and then it becomes an expert on the subject, and vulnerability goes out the window in order to preserve one’s status as an expert.

Aspiring to be a Tantric master, for example, is a delusional goal that misses the point. No one can master sexual energy. A person might, however, be able to get his mind out of the way sufficiently to experience sexual energy in its naked ferocity, and in the process recognize that she is being used by something and not the other way around.

James Rolwing, DC, is the author of the e-books “Multiple Orgasms for Men Made Simple” and “Activate Your Inner Physician.” Available at

How to Join a Cult, Get What You Need, and Move On

The term “cult” has been applied throughout history to groups that pose a threat to the existing establishment because they encourage independent thought and action, or a loyalty or commitment to someone or something other than the accepted authority. The word is utilized with precision by that same accepted authority and its supporters to stigmatize such groups, or by those who consider joining a cult as a pursuit to which only the gullible and weak-willed need apply. The lucky recipient of the term is almost exclusively a group or organization that promotes personal or spiritual growth.

Over the last 30 years I’ve been involved with no less than five groups or organizations that American culture would likely classify as cults, and I have not regretted my participation in any of them. My time in some was brief, while others lasted years, but all of it was valuable. So, in this post I’ll be using the word “cult” with great affection. I’ll also be using the abbreviation GMT (guru, master, teacher) to cover most of the bases in describing the person who calls the shots in a cult.

It is not my intention to trivialize the trauma that can result from unquestioned allegiance to a charismatic authority figure, but that could easily describe a considerable range of cultural icons and their relationship to their entourages, fans, students, and hangers-on: athletic coach, politician, CEO, rock star, motivational speaker, government bureau, Hollywood celebrity, talk show host.

My purpose, with hindsight, is to provide a few hard-won guidelines for evaluating one’s participation in a cult that I wish someone had given me a few decades ago. A lot of it will sound like common sense, but common sense can often go out the window when you have found your ideal cult.

With the psychological and emotional weight of apocalyptic scenarios that are presented to us daily—destruction of the environment, climate change, water and food shortages, global economic collapse, J-Lo’s wardrobe malfunctions, or an imminent World War III—we may see a surge in the popularity of cults. As we increasingly witness the corruption of previously trusted institutions and systems, people will naturally seek the perspective of a non-mainstream source to make sense of a frighteningly chaotic world.

Is it risky to join a cult? Of course! It’s also risky to get married, have a child, submit to a “routine” surgery, take out a loan, have unprotected sex, drive a car, quit your job, move to a new city, or simply haul your sorry ass out of bed in the morning. The common thread here is that we trust that the results will be worth the risk, and without risk we never learn anything new about ourselves or about life.


A logical starting place is the question: Why do you find yourself considering joining a cult at this time in your life? Your motivations will consist of a mixture of conscious and unconscious drives, and these will shift and change over time. In fact, uncovering your true motivations for joining a cult should be a cornerstone in the foundation of the journey itself.

It is reasonable to assume that you are attracted to a cult in the first place because you feel your life is lacking something. However, the mind can spin a sense of lack in a thousand different ways. A good rule of thumb may be: If you are not there to experience something different about your life, then you are there to ensure that your life stays the same.

The personal/spiritual growth industry is one of the biggest perpetrators of lip service around, because the majority of us are not sincerely interested in infusing our lives with any tangible change. Rather, we want our lives to stay the same in a different sort of way. I do not feel this is a cynical observation, just a realistic one, and it can be corroborated by observing our own behavior, the behavior of others, and the general history of humanity.

The crux is we aren’t willing to pay the price required to willingly allow the unknown to enter our lives. That price may be letting go of a relationship, friends, a career, financial security, reputation, or all of these. The most difficult sacrifices, however, are the beliefs and identities that comprise the image we have of ourselves.

We are conditioned to cling to routine and habit as sources of comfort, stability, and sanity, even as we loathe the predominance of those same elements in our lives. Consequently, a significant percentage of the other cult members are there for reasons other than growing, maturing, or transforming and are pursuing an alternative agenda unbeknownst to themselves, and one of those people may be you.

My own initial motives involved a curiosity about the limits of human consciousness, a craving for mental and physical self-discipline, and a desire for practical tools that would serve those aspirations. I was in search of peak experiences and believed that an accumulation of them would culminate in some sort of consistent wakened state. Essentially, I wanted to make my life one long drug trip without having to rely on drugs.

After several years of involvement, though, I realized I was using the language of spirituality to delude myself into thinking I was growing or waking up, and that having a well-defined spiritual path was a way for me to feel superior to others. I believed that because I could drive a shit-load of energy up my spine, assume various hatha yoga poses, and talk the esoteric talk that I had become someone other than the self-absorbed prick I’d always been. At that point I had to decide whether to continue with the sham, give up entirely, or begin deconstructing myself for real.

Certainly, you want to find an environment and a GMT that make you feel welcome. However, if you’re there for no other reason than it makes you feel good, then you’re already on thin ice and better off at home on the couch with a pint of Haagen-Daz. At best you’ll be quickly disillusioned and leave, and at worst you’ll be road-kill somewhere down the line, because we all know that feeling good is an ephemeral state and not a reliable long-term indicator of a situation’s integrity.

My first suggestion, then, is to have a motivation other than—or in addition to—the sensation of being high on life that accompanies being in the GMT’s presence or hanging with the other cult members. Even if your initial reason turns out to have been a total delusion, at least you judged your experience against something concrete. You can also take solace in knowing that you exposed your own delusion, which is significant in itself and may compel you to periodically rediscover the purpose of your involvement. This keeps the experience fresh and interesting.

A common misconception about cults and GMT’s is that they operate in a rarefied realm where our family dynamics and past traumas will not pollute the atmosphere. If you don’t come down to earth from that fantasy on your own, someone else will be happy to assist you in that free-fall, solicited or not.

To that end, it is a good idea to have a friend or two among the members who have been around the block and have moved beyond the initial honeymoon, star-struck phase of involvement. They may provide you with a sober point of view on what is actually happening around you and be honest enough to inform you when your focus is misguided.

A familiar motivation is to find community or the family you never had. If pursued too blindly and persistently, this agenda will likely get you into a lot of trouble from projecting your desire for siblings or parental figures onto the other cult members and the GMT. Without exception, we all do this in any group setting. The extent to which we recognize that we’re doing it, however, will dictate how creatively we can use our time in a cult.

If you’re using the GMT to gain the approval you never received from your parents, it is likely to be expressed through the persona of the good student, which serves as a replacement for the good son or good daughter identities we are so fond of repeating on unsuspecting victims throughout our lives. Striving to be the good student was my way of sustaining my self-image as someone who didn’t make waves, avoided confrontation, and preferred to think the best of people and myself because that just makes the world a hell of a lot simpler.

This is not to say that a cult cannot be a valuable source of supportive relationships implicit in family and community, and foster a sense of belonging and being appreciated simply for who you are. That source of emotional and psychological stability should, however, also contribute to the development of an independent spirit and not just blind loyalty to the pack.

The GMT is there to challenge your illusions about everything, and your willingness to accept that challenge will give you an idea of the basis for your involvement. If you’re there primarily for community and stability you may hold all the more strongly to those illusions and find yourself judging the GMT as a disruptive influence to your connection to the other members.

Ideally, a cult is somewhere you can feel safe, but cannot hide, either. It should be place where you can make yourself vulnerable without fear of humiliation or reprimand. At the same time, it is an environment that may cause you to realize that any situation is only as safe as you know your own mind.

If you do not learn some extremely unflattering truths about yourself through your participation, then you are not paying attention. Over time, I got a good look at some of my less admirable qualities: cowardly, passive-aggressive, elitist, emotionally abusive, willing to look the other way regarding questionable behavior as long as my needs are met, just to name a few.

Looking back, you will inevitably be embarrassed by some of your behavior and naiveté, but that can form the basis for a newfound humility and empathy. The challenge is to face these perceived failings without falling into chronic self-loathing, which is just another mental strategy to avoid emotional maturity. Learning to accept yourself as you are involves embracing a lot of orphaned attributes that you kicked to the curb early in life in order to fit in and feel accepted.

Danger, Will Robinson!

The following are some cautions and pitfalls when considering a cult that can spare you a lot of grief if you recognize them in time. Some will be obvious upon your initial exposure, and others only become evident after some degree of involvement.

If you are required to refrain from certain activities and habits in order to become a member, this should give you pause. While you may not care, for instance, if you have to give up red meat or alcohol in order to join, you may still consider whether there is a worthwhile reason for the restrictions, and not just to make you a powerless child who cannot make her own lifestyle choices.

Is it tithing or highway robbery? If you are asked to surrender your life savings as a demonstration of your commitment to a non-material focus, it will likely pad your cult’s wallet instead.

If you are required to cut off communication with your family and friends, or if there is any indication that you cannot leave whenever you want, that should send you running for the exit.

If you’re required to perform any type of demeaning ritual acts that will prove you’re worthy of membership, then you are better off pledging a college fraternity because at least free beer may be forthcoming.

If the cult does not provide a means for moving beyond the cult and the GMT in the form of tools for self-growth, that is a red flag in my book. I’m referring to techniques for increasing awareness of energy flow, releasing repressed emotions, improving mental focus, developing intuition, getting and staying grounded, and fostering a connection between mind and body. Without such tools, to flog a well-worn cliché, how will the student ever become the teacher? If the lack of these aids doesn’t seem to faze you, then you may be on the path of the “eternal seeker,” which is analogous to someone who collects advanced degrees and never pursues their practical application.

However, those same tools for self-growth can be used to reinforce your current situation rather than to find a way out of it. For example, meditation can easily serve to suppress feelings and emotions. So, the way you use the tools is as important as their availability.

If you do not have the self-discipline to eventually use the tools in a moment-to-moment context to have an embodied experience of the principles underlying them, then your mind will only associate spiritual or personal growth with the setting of retreats, workshops, or classes.

You can attend workshops and classes till the day you die, all the while convincing yourself that each one is moving you further along a track of progress, and it is really just the mind whispering the lie that waking up is about acquiring more knowledge. The mind will make a habit out of anything in order to preserve its primacy and avert its un-doing, and your precious spiritual path is what’s for dinner. It, too, can easily become just another rote exercise consisting of an obsessive focus on regular attendance at workshops and classes.

If the GMT espouses only love and light and characterizes certain emotions and feelings as bad and others as good, this indicates a lack of wholeness and maturity. Unfortunately, the New Age movement has been riddled for decades with so-called teachers who peddle a Pollyanna, rose-colored version of the human condition. In reality, the splendor of humanity is more than matched by the horror of humanity and a GMT worth his or her salt will encourage you to find both equally within yourself.

If you are honestly looking for a visceral experience of the truism, “the entire universe resides within you,” you do not get to cherry-pick which universal aspects to embrace based on your preferences.

Beware of the cult that tries to sell you “enlightenment”—a word whose regular abuse has consigned it to a status of utter irrelevance. The notion of enlightenment now occupies the same level of credibility as the 72 virgins promised to suicide bombers after their glorious demise, or the hackneyed version of heaven with harp-toting angels. It is yet another Eastern concept of substance—similar to hatha yoga—that has been watered down during its transoceanic voyage to the West.

The Western portrayal of enlightenment resembles yet another pain-free state of reward for being good and virtuous, and a refuge from the baser aspects of being human. Our humanity is presented as something to transcend rather than fully experience, when we’re not remotely aware in the first place how it feels to be fully human. How can you transcend what you haven’t experienced yet?

If you are like me, you will repeatedly run into the assumption that a reward awaits you contingent on “right” behavior and thinking. It’s one example of how our enormous sense of entitlement as Americans insinuates itself into a context ostensibly concerned with selflessness. If the only reward turns out to be that you feel more alive than you ever have, would that be enough?

My last GMT asked, “Do you want to have a life before you die?” and that was good enough for me to hop on board for seven thrilling years.


Why are we conditioned to be so disconnected from ourselves that we need permission from another to simply be who we were born to be? Instead of pondering this unanswerable question, it’s more fruitful to consider the purpose GMTs serve: We view them as someone who has found the thing in his/her life that is missing in ours. They provide us with a model for a life based on something other than fear, and encountering that impels us to look inward for that same experience. Bearing in mind this function of a GMT as a force that catalyzes self-examination is very important, because our unfortunate inclination is to use them as an object of worship to corroborate our feelings of inadequacy.

A skilled GMT can demonstrate the power of surrender, vulnerability, and witnessing one’s mind, elements for living a fulfilling life that are extremely rare in any mainstream context. By making yourself vulnerable to a GMT you open the door to glimpsing the forces that truly determine your life’s expression, as opposed to the delusions of control and free will under which we hazily operate. If you cannot make yourself vulnerable to the GMT, ask yourself whether that is because you don’t trust him or her, or because that’s where you draw the line as far as wanting to know yourself.

GMT’s are often intimidating presences, but are as deserving of your compassion as they are of your respect, because they willingly set themselves up to be targets of criticism, blame, comparison, and suspicion and that is not an easy mantle to assume.

The roles of a GMT are varied and complex: parent, psychotherapist, authority figure, friend, confidant. Being a GMT requires the self-discipline and awareness to be non-reactive, ruthless, neutral, detached, humble, vulnerable, and have the discernment to sense when each quality is needed. You will probably find your GMT everything from confounding to adorable in the span of a couple of minutes, because they act as a model for the paradoxical in human nature. It is no wonder that so many of them go off the rails.

If you’re on your fourth GMT in two years because the previous three did not pass muster, you’re probably looking for someone who does not exist and even if they did would teach you nothing. What are they going to do if you find them, show you how to be a perfect human being, which is the antithesis of a whole human being? Checklists are useful when shopping for a used car, but not a GMT.

A GMT is, above all, a human being with all the accompanying faults and desires. If she/he claims to be anything other than a human being—e.g. a saint, the reincarnation of a past teacher, an ascended master—I recommend politely excusing yourself. If too much energy is wrapped up in celebrating how awesome the GMT is, then you are involved in a personality cult. A GMT can only do so much to deflect such unwanted adoration, so it’s up to you to determine if he or she appears to bask in and encourage such behavior.

If you are exclusively attracted to GMT’s who are no longer alive, but have a large following, you may be avoiding the confrontation with a live GMT that could shake you to your core and initiate the unraveling of your life. It practically ensures a difficult route to finding the teacher inside you because you can never measure up to a beloved GMT whose memory is preserved, protected, and exaggerated by a legion of devotees. It can be a convenient device to stay small and convince yourself that you’re growing at the same time.

There is no one GMT who will be all that you need, nor will he try to fill every void in your life. And that’s a blessing, because if she did it would make it that much easier to fall asleep in a dependent relationship.

If you find yourself wanting to be your GMT’s buddy, it may be an indication that you are a bit power-hungry yourself and believe that close proximity to the big cheese may rub off on you. This makes it harder on the GMT because they have to deal with that projection as well as others you may have. It is their job to destroy your illusions about yourself and we usually don’t acquire friends based on their willingness to call us on our shit.

This is further complicated if you enter into a sexual relationship with the GMT. If the cult practices the conscious cultivation and channeling of sexual energy, it may ensure a mutually agreed-upon, grounded focus for the experience. In that case, a sexual relationship with a GMT is not inconceivable.

Otherwise, pursuing an emotional and sexual relationship with a GMT is likely a big, fat neon sign that your cult involvement is motivated by something other than a desire to grow up. We Americans are generally not capable of staying emotionally detached in a sexual relationship (I know I’m not), and emotional detachment is likely what the GMT will bring to it. If you bring attachment rather than detachment to such a coupling, there is likely to be pain, misunderstanding, and feelings of betrayal. Indeed, this has precipitated the downfall of many a GMT, and caused disillusionment for countless cult members.

If you feel you have been betrayed by the GMT, you have to ask yourself whether they acted the way they always have, but that this time you took it personally, or whether they truly behaved like an insensitive asshole. It is critical to recognize your own contribution, because no one is innocent in such a scenario. After all, you chose to make yourself vulnerable to an individual you believed could help you discover who you really are, when in fact that information can be known by you alone.

When an event is perceived as a betrayal, it is usually an indication that it was not a good fit in the first place or that one or both parties stayed too long in a situation that was clearly over, but neither had the courage to end it.

This is where you are on a knife’s edge in a cult: It is no easy task to balance surrender, vulnerability, critical thinking, and monitoring your feelings, but it is possible. Staying receptive to a variety of different sources of information will give you a fighting chance to maintain a grounded perspective.

When your GMT honestly tells you or demonstrates who they are, you need to pay attention! If they behave in ways you find difficult to accept, you may only hear and see what reinforces your idealized image of him/her. You are there to find the GMT within yourself and not to clean up the one in front of you. If you find yourself wishing the GMT would change or grow in certain respects, then it may be time for you to leave the cult.


Any GMT will tell you that your path is ultimately a solitary one and only you can navigate its crooked turns and cul de sacs. This may sound mercenary, but you are using the GMT to get to yourself and at the point you trust yourself as much as you trust him or her, then it is time to leave. This does not preclude feeling immense gratitude for whatever valuable experiences you have had there.

It is important to frequently reflect on why you are participating and how you have benefited thus far. It requires a balance of critical thinking and honest evaluation of your inner state. Simply put: “Am I happy here? Do I feel fulfilled here? Is there something I’m not getting from the GMT that is important to me?”

The external expression of your life will also tell the tale: Have you still not found the courage to leave a loveless marriage, reconnect with your estranged family, refrain from self-destructive behaviors, find a career that is worthy of you? A consistent sense of numbing familiarity is a sign that either you are not using the cult to honestly examine how you’ve created your life, or that this particular cult is not for you. This is not an easy separation, but the longer you stay for the wrong reasons the harder it is to leave.

You will need to trust your own answers to these questions, because ultimately you have to rely on how you feel to guide you and not what the community or GMT may tell you, because it is naive to assume that they always have your best interests in mind. Every last one of us is functioning with a stunningly incomplete knowledge of who and what we really are, so it is easy to allow others to make such decisions for us.

It goes without saying that a cult is one hell of a place to observe the power of collective agreements and beliefs, and you will witness your own tendency to either take them on or challenge them. At times, the group-think will make it difficult for you to form your own impression of what is right and meaningful. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll experience the uncomfortable recognition of our mental default mechanisms that have ultimately led us to the brink of our own extinction.

One of the most useful pieces of wisdom ever given to me by a GMT was, “the purpose of a spiritual path is to exhaust the student,” but I never fully got it until I reached that exhaustion. At that point, the notion of spirituality collapsed and blended with every other category of human experience intended to make one person feel more special than another. It was actually a source of enormous relief and gratitude.

I realized what I had invested so much time and energy in was the slim opportunity to find a departure point, and not a security blanket of spirituality in which to wrap myself. And, if you do experience the dissolution of your spiritual path, it means that you’re free to create instead of seek.

Abandoning the search for meaning can release a tremendous amount of bound-up energy and invigorate your life in unexpected ways. It can result in some deep despair as well, of course, but if your practice has not prepared you for this, then it was never really intended to put you in touch with the full range of your humanity.

Although we tend to idealize the search for meaning as a noble pursuit, actually pursuing it can expose it as a major cause of human suffering. It’s not meaning itself that is the problem, it’s what we do with meaning once we’ve found it. We can’t be content with it on our own; we need a consensus to agree that this one is better than any other meanings. It becomes another source of separation instead of unity, another identity to protect, and a basis on which to dismiss others in comparison.

Because of our vastly overblown opinion of the human species, it cannot be enough that we exist simply to fully express who we were meant to be as individuals. No, good heavens, there must be some overarching meaning to all this that reflects our inherent majesty.

After your cult experience, if you trust your own definitions of “spiritual” or “sacred,” and know that it’s okay if those definitions are continuously evolving and self-contradictory, then you have a way of being that is rooted in feeling and personal experience instead of dogma, ideology, or a tired narrative that was recorded millennia ago.

Joining a cult can be an attempt to drop out of mainstream society, but what you learn is that you can never escape your own mind, and that it is a reflection of the collective mind in all its messy glory. You can, however, become intimately familiar with the workings of your mind, and therein lies your chance to rediscover what a cult and GMT can only point you toward.

Why Is It So Hard to Find Urgency? Part 2

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Art of Getting Out of the Way.”

3. Until we’re willing to experience the nature and extent of the pain we’re in, we have a limited perspective on our situation and how to find a way out of it. Urgency springs from a transfer of energy that occurs when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the pain underlying an habitual behavior or emotional state. The energy that was applied to suppressing the pain becomes available when we stop the suppression. It is a shift from a mental effort—suppression—to an effortless act—being vulnerable to our feelings.

That available energy is what we draw from to stay grounded and make a conscious decision to change an undesirable situation. Without that available energy, having a choice in the situation is in name only, because we will reflexively choose our conditioned, default behavior time and time again.

By the time we’re young adults, we’ve portioned out all almost all of our life force toward propping up a persona that we can live with and display to the public. Unfortunately, the script written for that persona is based on childhood adaptive strategies, traumas (real and perceived), borrowed beliefs, misinterpretations, fantasies, and false information. Besides making it very difficult to have a direct experience of what is right in front of us, it is our unwillingness to disassemble this web of misperceptions that stands between us and urgency.

In addition, episodes of illness and injury are woven into the story of our life and become associated with repressed emotions, such that a complete healing of the physical ailment requires revisiting the unresolved emotional component. We often fear what may lie on the other side of healing, because it will likely include the exposure of our hidden agendas around maintaining a certain degree of pain in our lives, and those agendas have to be sacrificed in order to achieve real healing.

In my 15 years in health care, I’ve watched clients (and myself) repeatedly choose chronic pain and illness—even death– over honest self-examination. We permit a depth of healing that corresponds to, but does not exceed, the degree of self-exposure that our ego can comfortably handle. In other words, the depth of our healing is directly proportional to how badly we want to know who we are and what motivates our behavior.

4. The mind leverages small discomforts to exert maximum control over our access to urgency. There is a whole universe of sensations and feelings that informs us about our emotional, psychological, and physical state at any given moment, but our mind dutifully chooses which ones to recognize and which ones to ignore and suppress based on the version of reality we’ve painstakingly assembled.

On cue, our mind-body produces mild, context-specific discomforts that signal the very tip of the pain we will have to confront in order to create change in our lives. However, these physical annoyances are not consciously acknowledged as heralding fear, rage, shame or whatever taboo emotion threatens us so profoundly. The more undefined the danger, the more the mind can keep us under its thumb. These discomforts and annoyances surface in that slippery interface between our everyday awareness and the unconscious, and may take many forms: jaw clenching, chest tightness, holding one’s breath, drowsiness, sour stomach, dizziness, and neck pain, to name just a few.

The discomfort’s message is a subtle, but powerful implication that whatever repressed emotions are uncovered will result in a worst-case scenario: death, destruction, public humiliation, or total loss of control. Until the repressed emotion is actually allowed expression, it is only indicated by this sensation-based signature of the repressed emotion.

Here’s an example. A man desperately wants to tell his father he loves him, but every time the thought occurs to him it is accompanied by a tightening of his throat. This has occurred so many times over the years that he no longer notices the discomfort, although without fail it has the effect of squelching the simple words, “Dad, I love you.” The throat tightening delivers the message that if he were to tell his father this simple fact, something bad will happen. It also masks the real reason he cannot say these words: a deep resentment for something that happened in childhood for which he’s never forgiven his father.

Not telling his father he loves him is the son’s way of withholding love in payment for that episode that happened so long ago. The underlying statement is, “I won’t tell you I love you until you admit that you were wrong.” The throat constriction is tied to the son’s inability to relinquish being right about the incident, and the trade-off is the loss of emotional connection to his father.

Since the son will not consciously admit to himself that he cannot let go of a petty grudge against the person who raised him, all that remains is the throat tightening to control his behavior. The end result is the son’s rationalization, “It just wasn’t the right time. I’ll tell him the next time I see him.” And urgency is successfully sidestepped yet again.

This is one of the mind’s primary methods of keeping us in our prison, both at the individual and collective levels. In this way, our past is always informing our present experience, and spontaneity, hence urgency, is kept at bay.

5. The mind may create a constant crisis state to avoid real urgency. This is a very successful strategy as evidenced by people who use rehab like a vacation home, make a hobby of attending multiple support groups, use permanent disability as a gravy train, or spend all their time putting out other people’s fires. If a person’s baseline state is to be in a crisis situation, how will he possibly be able to discern when he actually is in a crisis?

Hitting bottom for these people will be elusive, since bottom has become the norm. This phenomenon also attests to the extremely subjective nature of pain. Someone may, for instance, be willing to subject himself to the physical pain of heroin withdrawal, but not have the courage to confront the shame that fuels the addiction.

For someone to escape from this horrible trap, they have to recover a baseline experience of well-being, or at least neutrality. For someone who has lived her entire life in a crisis mode, this can be extremely threatening because feeling good has become such an alien experience and is not easily trusted.

If healing completely is too much of a threat to a victim identity, then the mind knows precisely where to draw the line to feel just well enough to keep the identity operational.

Why is It So Hard to Find Urgency? Part I

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Art of Getting Out of the Way.”

Have you ever found yourself envying someone who has received a terminal diagnosis or had a near-death experience, because he claimed that it dramatically enhanced his appreciation for life? Did it lead you to ask yourself, “Am I capable of creating that urgency within myself without needing to look death in the eye?”

Or, we all know a friend or family member whose inability to hit bottom has caused us to shake our heads and say, “Jesus, what’s it gonna take?!” And, in unguarded moments, we may ask that of ourselves as well.

Where does urgency come from and why is it so hard to find? The question becomes even more formidable considering the range of possible reactions to the aforementioned terminal diagnosis. For every person who finds a new immediacy in her life, there are many more that simply give up, hand their fate over to the health care system, or sink into depression or rage because of perceived powerlessness.

Beyond the typical dictionary definition, I would describe urgency as a force that compels us to overcome our habitual behaviors and beliefs to seek a more fulfilling life, and align our actions with our deepest aspirations.

Urgency is required to change many types of situations: quitting a self-destructive habit, ending an unhappy relationship, healing from a chronic health problem, and leaving a soul-sucking job are just a few.

This chapter will not attempt to address our collective inability to find urgency as a nation in rapid decline or as a species that is rapidly destroying itself and its environment. I feel that our individual barriers to urgency are an accurate microcosm of these broader contexts.

The factors that derail urgency are so insidious and varied that it makes sense to identify a just a few of the primary culprits:

1. We don’t give ourselves permission to desire what we actually want. If all we know is that we want a shitty situation to change, but we don’t identify why it has persisted and what we want in its place, it causes us to look for urgency where it does not reside in the situation.

For example, a person may say she wants a partner who is a good provider, but what she really yearns for is someone with whom she can express anger and not be rejected for it. However, she has never given herself permission to feel anger without feeling guilty about it.

In order to have a fulfilling relationship, she would have to find the courage to tamper with her carefully constructed identity of being a person who is above feeling anger. The real reason for her unhappiness in the relationship remains hidden because of her inability to honestly name what she wants due to its personal taboo nature. Until she is able to acknowledge that need she may not even be able to imagine herself in a different situation, and will likely continue in relationships with a partner that does not allow her to express anger.

We’re generally not taught to want something substantive from ourselves like learning to put our own needs first, how to be self-sufficient, how to recover our ability to cry, or be less inhibited. We often look to a therapist or teacher to give us permission to desire these things.

Instead, from an early age we’re handed ready-made constructs to chase such as financial and material success, romantic fantasies, fame, family obligation, patriotism, career, and advanced degrees. So, when our deeper desires gnaw at us they’re often not recognizable as real aspirations but rather as empty, vain pursuits, when compared to the prescribed goals of our culture. In other words, recovering our individual humanity often takes a back seat to being a productive citizen, a cooperative team player, or a good little consumer.

I wasn’t aware of what I really wanted from my life until I was 49, and since then I’ve held on for dear life because my own mind and the pressures of the world are constantly trying to convince me that I’m insane, irresponsible, and self-indulgent for desiring it.

2. We believe that we’re never going to die and that we’re entitled to a pain-free life. If asked, any sane person would deny holding these beliefs, but they are nevertheless clearly demonstrated through our individual and collective behaviors and are reinforced moment-to-moment by the health care system, mass media, our government, the entertainment industry, our educational system, and various other institutions.

Of course, we need only examine our own lives or anyone around us to know that death and pain are hallmarks of being in human form. So, how do we reconcile this massive contradiction in our minds and sustain beliefs that are disproven at every turn? Presto, the magic of suppression and repression enables us to occupy unlimited contradictory positions and avert pain or a spontaneous recognition of our mortality.

We can either choose the pain of staying the same or the pain of growing up, and that can seem like a bleak outlook unless we develop a relationship to pain and discomfort other than our ingrained default response of aversion and suppression. Unfortunately, we most often choose the pain of staying the same because familiar pain is our twisted security blanket, and the latter is an uncomfortable leap into the unknown. It is ironic that we often chastise teenagers for taking unnecessary risks with their lives as though they were immortal, while as adults we express this same belief in immortality through a profound lack of risk taking.

We are rarely encouraged to move toward pain and discomfort as a doorway to healing and change, and in fact, we’re likely to be labeled masochistic and mentally unstable if we do. If we voluntarily chose the discomfort of vulnerability and self-exposure more often, there would be little need for a self-help industry, spiritual gurus, or motivational speakers.

So, we look for urgency in a package that is anything but painful or threatening. However, urgency does not hang out in a warm and fuzzy place, and when we do not find it there the mind serves up a generous buffet of justifications and rationalizations prepared for just this occasion. We pat our ego on the back for at least making an effort to find urgency, but alas, it just didn’t answer when we called.