Friday, December 3, 2010


             It’s been a hard few days, I must confess. Not sure why. I think it’s the economy. People are struggling. I feel under-utilized. My circuits jammed on me. I had a meltdown. Found myself very frustrated. Negative. Physically upset with a headache that wouldn’t respond to meditation or medication.
Who wants to hear about a helping professional and life coach having a trying few days? 
“I have enough of those, myself,” I can hear you saying, “I don’t need to hear about yours.”
I was worried. How could I write something that might help someone else when I can’t keep myself from feeling this way?
I felt like a bit of a sham.
I sometimes envy people who seem to glide through life, like the old James Bond, seemingly without a sensitive, self-reflective moment of doubt, worry, weakness, or a bit of despondency.
Do those people really exist? They might, and bully for them. Oh, I have my days, and even my weeks and months, when things are just going swimmingly and everything is great with the world, days when I could probably kick 007’s butt.
Then there are, what I call, the ‘drowning’ days, days when I have to work hard to keep from sinking. And though they’ve gotten fewer and further apart and less severe, I still have my drowning days. That’s how it is.
I know there are billions who have to struggle. Maybe everyone struggles, sometimes, and James Bond is a big fat liar. He leaves out the parts where he’s lonely, and worries about that arthritic shoulder and, well, sometimes, even with a beautiful woman, he just doesn’t seem, well, as solid down there as he once was.
Know what I mean?
Sure you do.
Anti-depressants, anxiety medication, joints, pints, and kegs are sold by the boatload each hour to help us get through the tough work of being a human being.
Maybe that’s what it’s all about: how you make it through the tough times, how you behave, how you show up, how you keep going.
Do you get your work done, the real work of living? Can you keep loving those around you, lending a helping hand and a listening heart? Can you forgive yourself when you fall so that you can get up stronger and more quickly?
The Prophet Mohammed said, “There will always be times tougher than these.”
The Buddha said suffering is part of the world.
So, it’s all about how you handle the tough times. How you learn from them. How you take responsibility and action. How you move on.
The tough times will always be with us.

But why do I compare myself to others, even James Bond, or to myself on better days?
It was the teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti who first showed me the damage we cause by comparing. I can hear his high distinctive voice with his British-Indian accent and I can see his raised finger as he admonished his listeners, “Never to compare.”
What would a mind be like if it were never to compare, but to simply be with itself just as it is from moment to moment?
There is a Buddhist practice of labeling our thoughts and feelings as they are happening. You experience a thought and you label it, “thinking,” for instance. You feel an emotion, and you label it, “fear”, and so on.
But that already has a separation between the part of you that is experiencing the emotion or thought, and the part that is labeling it.
It seems you have to compare your experience to something else to be able to know it is fear, or anger, or desire, or joy.
You have to compare it before you can label it.
But what if you could never compare?
But what did I do just then? Did I compare my good-old comparing self to some amazing me who might someday never compare?
What a drag, because obviously you can’t use comparison as a way to get to a point in your life where you no longer compare, just like you can’t go north by going south.
            Never to compare, and to go on doing your work and living your life from moment to moment. What would that be like?
But if I don’t compare, you might ask, how will I know how I’m doing?
Why does it matter? Why do you need to know how you are doing? Who will tell you? How will you keep score? What will it mean?
Of course you might use a scale to see how your weight is doing, and things like that, but you would not use anything to tell you how you were doing. That’s the kind of comparison we’re talking about, not whether this box of cereal is a better deal than that box. Never to compare your self with anyone and anything, but to simply be yourself from moment to moment.
What would that be like?
I don’t know, but I do know the pain of comparison. That I know. Comparison has often made me miserable.
There’s an old eastern teaching that says, “You suffer because you spend 99% of your time thinking about your self, but there isn’t one.”
I think comparison gives rise to the self. When you are not comparing, but just being and doing in the moment, it’s like you, your self, are not there. You forget about yourself and simply drop into life. When you’re really happy, you don’t know about it in the moment, because you’re so in the thick of your happiness. It’s only afterwards, when it’s over a little bit, that you can compare and notice how happy you were. You have to come out of your happiness a bit to even know that you’re happy.
 It’s like a great orgasm. In the middle of it, you’re gone. That’s what we love about it. Great sex or lovemaking is one of the best ways to get out of your own head so that you’re not there for a while.
And then, of course, we return and say, “Wow, that was great. Can we do that again?” It's amazing how good it feels to have your doors blown off for awhile so that you're gone, even if only for a moment or two.
 Check it out for yourself. Observe how comparing serves you and hurts you. Let me know what you think.
So, there it is. I wrote it. My commitment is two articles per week and this is article number two. That’s all I can tell you. You put one foot in front of the other, eyes open, mind quiet or mind in turmoil, you do what you can to keep walking the walk. You walk through fear, confusion, doubt, worry, moodiness, and even depression. You walk like you’re on some great mission like Frodo, in Lord of the Rings, because you are. You are walking the path of your one and only life—at least till you get to heaven or you reincarnate.
             I can be reached at or 805/680-5572.

Monday, November 29, 2010


For some, Monday morning is a hard day. For others, it’s Tuesday, or Thursday, or maybe Sunday. Any morning can be especially hard if you’re unemployed or under-employed. It can be especially hard if you’re unemployed and over fifty. I’ve read that many unemployed men over 55 are not expected to ever work again, even though they want to and need to.
What’s up with that?
If you’re expected to live to be 80 or so, and you’re now 55 and unemployed, that’s 25 years of being an unemployed monumental pain to yourself and everyone around you.
Of course, we may find that unemployed men and women just don’t live that long, and that will solve the problem.
Well, my response to that is, “To hell with that.”
            Now, I know that strikes a different tone for a guy like me, at least in writing. Usually, I’m a touchy-feely, let’s talk calmly, understanding-the-other-guy’s-point-of-view, kind of guy. 
            Not today.
Today, my attitude is, “To hell with that.”
            I say this quietly, not stridently. I’m not shouting it out my second floor window like Albert Finney in Network, who screamed, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I won’t take it anymore.”        
A lot of us are getting our butts kicked, one way or another, by the changes in the American and global economy. While one-third of Americans can’t pay their mortgages, corporations have their most profitable quarter ever, and an Andy Warhol painting sells for a record-breaking 71 million dollars.
To those inclined politically, I say continue to fight the good fight to get this country more equitable, and to re-direct some of the cash that relentlessly and dangerously keeps floating to the top of the economic pie where it accumulates in the portfolios and bank accounts of the ever more wealthy top 1% of the population.
But here, I’m not talking only to the political types. I’m talking to the rest of us who have to do our best while the machine whirs away, sometimes grinding us down as we go about our daily business.
            There are many empowering emotions. Just a few days ago we celebrated Thanksgiving, and I, along with a host of others, put out a few words in praise of gratitude.
            But that was yesterday.
Today I feel the need to offer a few words in praise of attitude, the attitude captured by the words, “To hell with that.’
            I can hear some of you now. “Oh, John, please watch your tone, and your language. You’re starting to sound like one of them.
Them, being those people who get upset and make loud noises that make finding solutions even more difficult.
I’m not offering, “To hell with that,” as an addition to the noise.
            “To hell with that”, is a strong way of saying ‘no’ to what we don’t want, and “yes” to something else.
The ‘yes’ part is crucial.
Mother Teresa embodied the, “To hell with that,” attitude towards the idea that the poor always suffered and there wasn’t anything she or anyone else could do about it.
She said, “To hell with that,” rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
How about Martin Luther King Jr.?
What was his attitude towards, “The Negro in America would never have rights and opportunities equal to those of Whites”?
And what did he do about it?
What about Gandhi?
Can you hear a little of the, “To hell with that,” attitude spoken with love, but with the strength and conviction of shifting tectonic plates?
            We all need a bit of that, “To hell with that,” attitude sometimes.
But attitude can get us only so far. After attitude comes the hard of work of making things better.
            I heard a very insightful person say that to live effectively you need to be able to take your life in your hands like a crisp apple, bite it, break off a piece and chew.
What’s the energy that helps us do that?
That’s what I’m calling the, “To hell with that,” energy.
There’s the energy of inertia, the resistance that says, “No, you won’t work again. No, you will not solve that problem. No, you will not write that book, or get that job, or overcome that illness, or make that contribution. No. No. No.”
            Then there’s, “To hell with that.”
“To hell with that,” is Yes. Yes. Yes.
Or it’s just feckless noise.  
To those who say we are down for the count, we have to say, ”To hell with that.”
“To hell with that depression.”
“To hell with that anger.”
“To hell with that stuff about the glory days of the past.”
 “To hell with that stuff about Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, and Socialists.”
I’ve got work to do. Decisions to make. Things to learn. People to meet.
Life itself is nothing but an epochs-long struggle with inertia and resistance, a counter-force to increasing disorder.
Life is one big, TO HELL WITH THAT, to decay, death, and nothingness.
You need gratitude, but sometimes you need a little attitude.
“You can never find peace and liberation from the suffering created by your own mind.”
            Can you hear the Buddha’s response to that?
            Maybe, if Buddha were from Brooklyn rather than from India, instead of chanting “OM,” we’d be chanting, ever so slowly, but clearly, “To hell with that.” 
            I can be reached at Or 805/680-5572.