Compassion: It’s What We Find at the End of the Spiritual Rainbow

In traveling the spiritual path these past many years I’ve noticed that my favorite teachers consistently place compassion at the top of the pyramid of human behaviors. Everything they teach seems to culminate with showing compassion for others.

Over many years of practice, we quiet our minds, let go of our egoic baggage/attachments and inner peace builds. But, according to all the teachers I’ve studied, that’s not where it ends. It ends with what we DO with that peace.

Who are these teachers?

The Dalai Lama

Probably the most influential spiritual leader in the world for the past fifty years, the Dalai Lama places compassion at the center of his teachings. He has famously said:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.


The topic of compassion is not at all religious business; it is important to know it is human business, it is a question of human survival.”

How does he describe compassion? He says it is “love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit and warm-heartedness.”

People with these traits don’t go into a personal encounter seeking something for themselves. They go in with the intention of serving that person in some way, especially if that person is suffering.

Thich Nhat Hanh

The other teacher who made a lasting mark since the 1960s was the late Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Here again, in the many interviews and talks I’ve heard him give, Thich Nhat Hanh consistently mentions the importance of compassion over everything else. Here are my two favorites:

I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

“Look at flowers, butterflies, trees, and children with the eyes of compassion. Compassion will change your life and make it wonderful.”

Eckhart Tolle

While Eckhart doesn’t often use the word compassion, his central teachings are synonymous with it. He teaches that we are not our thoughts but the consciousness that can only be present in the absence of thinking.

He states that only when we are conscious like this can we be there for and with another human. In other words, the purpose of presence is to exhibit compassion toward others.

Neem Karoli Baba

The highest human being I’ve come across in my years studying this spiritual stuff, Neem Karoli Baba was Ram Dass’s guru. In fact, he’s the one who gave the former Harvard professor and psychedelic revolutionary Richard Alpert the new name of Ram Dass.

As I wrote in this article (link here), Baba taught his devotees only this: Love everyone, serve everyone and remember God. Underlying that teaching is compassion. It’s all the same.

Mickey Singer

Mickey also doesn’t use the word compassion very much, but he too teaches concepts that describe the same thing. He teaches that we all have a beautiful, loving energy inside us that is blocked by the emotional scars (samskaras) we’ve trapped inside ourselves. Remove those scars and the energy will flow. He describes that energy as pure love for others, i.e., compassion.

Jesus Christ

While I’m not a practicing Christian, I do subscribe to the core teaching of Christ: Treat others the way you’d like to be treated, especially the less fortunate. You don’t need to be the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury or the president of the Southern Baptist Convention to conclude that compassion for others towers over Christ’s other teachings.

Great. So the central teaching of these master spiritual beings was for we humans to show compassion toward one another. What can we take from that?

The endpoint isn’t bliss

That the endpoint of the spiritual path is not our own self-realization or some blissful state of nirvana. Yes, that happens to the realized human.

But the endpoint is what we do with that self-realized bliss. And the answer is, we use it to shower compassion on others.

Personally, the best I feel in life isn’t when I’ve won an athletic contest or achieved some professional advancement. Those things give me a rush of upward energy, but it all derived from ego and, by definition, no authentically good feeling comes from that.

Compassion produces the highest feelings

The best feelings I’ve ever experienced have always come from offering compassion to another. Like helping an elderly woman stow her bag in the overhead bin on an airplane. Or talking a friend down from the ledge. Or calming my six-year-old daughter when she’s in the middle of a meltdown.

Those things actually make me feel good. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think it’s universal that people feel their best when they’ve shown compassion to another.

Why is this so? Is it some Darwinian, evolutionary dynamic where we have some inner, genetic impulse to help each other because that will perpetuate the human species?

I don’t know. And I don’t think it matters.

The takeaway

What does matter? In this time of political insanity, wars in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine and global warming wreaking havoc across the globe, it behooves all of us to remember the aforementioned great masters who all taught the same thing:

Compassion is the answer.


This Practice Will Strengthen Your Mindfulness and Curb Your Ego

Most people, including me, get confused on the subject of what the ego is and how it manifests. We think it’s restricted to the “bad” things we do.

Like what? Like blowing up at your kids when they fight with each other or dance on your last available nerve. Or those with weight issues getting thrown into a mini-depression when someone suggests they opt for the mixed berries rather than the chocolate mousse for dessert.

Yes, those are examples of the ego rearing its susceptible head. But the ego’s reach is far broader than most of us think.

The “I, me, mine” ego

Mickey Singer has an apt, pithy description of the ego. He says it’s the voice in the head constantly spitting out thoughts of “I, I, I, me, me, me, mine, mine, mine…” Sound familiar to any of you? It does to me.

One area where almost all of us do this is in conversation. Whether talking with an acquaintance, friend, spouse, your mom or your kid, most of us drift away at some point from listening to them to focusing on what WE are going to say in response.

Who’s going to pick up your kid at practice

The negative version would be an argument with your spouse where she lists the reasons you should pick up junior from soccer practice. You check out at the outset, knowing that whatever she says and for however long she says it, you’re going to say the same thing: “I pay our bills. I’m exhausted from a long day at work. You pick him up.”

But the ego worms its way into positive situations, too. You ever been chatting with a friend who’s struggling and something like this plays out?

Friend: “I find that I get so wound up at work that I can’t even concentrate. It’s just this low level of anxiety that plagues me throughout the day.”

You hear that and immediate get the “I” thought of,

I know exactly what I want to tell him. When he first feels that swarm of thoughts invading his head, he needs to catch it right then. Stop. Close his eyes and then take five deep, long, slow breaths. Also, be sure to exercise before work. Those endorphins take us a long way.”

Right after your friend says what he says, you check out. All you can think about is what you’re going to say when he stops talking. And you might even get annoyed with him, this friend who is suffering to some degree, because he won’t shut up and let you shower him with your brilliant ideas!

Most of us have done it. I know I have.

Try this practice

So here’s the practice. Next time you’re in a conversation and you find yourself tuning out because you know what you’re going to say next, first, just become aware of it. Say to yourself, “Bob just told me X and I’m going to respond with Y when he stops.”

This in itself is hugely important. As I’ve quoted many times before, my favorite Eckhart Tolle teaching is:

Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

Once you’re aware, take one or two deep breaths to re-center yourself in the moment.

Park your suggestions

Then see if you can redirect one hundred percent of your attention to your friend and what he’s saying. Park whatever brilliant suggestion you have on your mind’s sidewalk.

And then…simply listen. With no thoughts. No agenda. Just total presence.

This gets to a central point of this piece. It’s something that ALL of my favorite teachers have emphasized. I’m talking Ram Dass, Mickey Singer, Eckhart Tolle, Yogananda, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh. The whole lot of them.

It’s this:

The greatest gift we can give somebody is our presence.

Put another way, it means giving our full attention. There’s great strength and power in our presence.

Not that our advice isn’t valuable, too. But it pales in comparison to simply offering presence.

Truth be told, our presence is what most people want. They want to be seen. And heard.

Because our consciousness is the best salve the universe has to offer.

The takeaway

So give this a try. When in a conversation, be aware when you get all excited knowing what you’re going to say next, then stop.

Breathe. Park your thoughts. Tune in.



Want to Boost Your Mood? Go Outside and Listen to the Birds

I live a stone’s throw from one of the top birding sites in America, the Back Bay in Newport Beach, California. It’s an important rest stop and winter home for birds migrating from Canada and Alaska. Upwards of 30,000 birds can be seen there, on a single day, in the winter months.

When writing, I’ll often take a break and walk over to the Back Bay. I walk to a tree with lots of branches that birds usually perch on. Why? Because I absolutely love to stand there and watch and listen to them. I find it incredibly peaceful and relaxing.

Birds pull us into the moment

I also find it to be a beautiful, spiritual and meditative experience. Why? For one, it pulls me into the present moment.

The birds I’m listening to are singing right now. And the sounds are so mesmerizing that my mind (for once!) doesn’t want to drift off. My focus wants to stay right there, on the sublime songs.

The innocence of birds

Second, there is something so sweet and innocent about birds and the sounds they make. When you look at them chirp away, it is so obvious that they have no idea what they’re doing. They’re just doing it. By instinct.

And not to get too “out there” about it, but it’s like God/Nature/The Universe is expressing itself through these tiny, cute creatures. They’re vessels of God.

Which is why birds are so inspiring to me — because I believe we humans are at our best when we “just do it,” and don’t get caught up in all the crazy thoughts and emotions that block us from being vessels of God/The Universe or whoever you think is in charge of the cosmic show.

Why birds sing

If you’re wondering why birds sing, the scientists aren’t exactly sure. They think it is mostly for two reasons.

First, a strong male singing “voice,” (and yes, it’s mostly males who do the singing) is a signal to the females out there that the dude has strong genes, giving her offspring the best chance at surviving. It’s classic Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Second, they sing to mark their territories and ward off competitors. The stronger the call, the better chance that the other birds stay out of your area.

Actual health benefits of listening to birds

To get you enthused about actually trying this, you should know that there is scientific evidence that listening to birds reduces stress. Scientists at the University of Surrey in England have been studying the “restorative benefits of birdsong,” testing whether it really does improve our mood.

They discovered that, of all the natural sounds, bird songs and calls were those most often cited as helping people recover from stress, and allowing them to restore and refocus their attention. (Stephen Moss, “Natural high: why birdsong is the best antidote to our stressful lives,”The Guardian 5/4/19).

What to do

So how do you do this bird listening thing? That’s pretty self-evident. You go outside and listen. And watch.

Couple other suggestions, though. First, bird singing is obviously most pronounced in the morning. So one thing to try is getting your coffee, going outside in your bathrobe and slippers and just sitting and listening.

It doesn’t have to be an hours long deal. Even a few minutes will put you in a better place.

Second, it’s best if you can actually see the birds as they sing. Watching them allows us to truly soak in their zen-like innocence.

No need to identify the birds

Finally, I wouldn’t concern yourself with identifying the birds and making lists of them, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you get into all the facts about birds and species, it will tend to divert your attention from the main intention: Experiencing the birds and their ethereal, majestic presence.

As Eckhart Tolle says, someone who knows absolutely nothing about honey but who has tasted it knows far more about honey than a guy who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on honey but has never tasted it.

A great book

Your best bet is to get a book my birding fanatic sister-in-law gave me called Ornitherapy: For Your Mind, Body and Soul. It offers myriad ways to use birds for your mindfulness practice. I recommend it highly.

Trust me, watching and listening to these adorable creatures that weigh all of one ounce will put you in a better mood.


Venting Is Healthier Than Suppressing, but We Can Do Better

This is another one of those articles where I’m taking on a commonly accepted behavior and turning it on its head. Of course, this sometimes results in readers wanting to tar and feather me, but that’s the risk I have to take.

What’s the behavior that everybody says is so healthy and fabulous?


Let’s start with what I mean by venting. In brief, it’s when we get something off our chest. Something that’s bugging us, tormenting us, aggravating us. Like what?

– You’re passive-aggressive colleague at work weasels his way, yet again, into getting the better assignment. You get home from work and vent to your wife that you’d love nothing more than to knock his block off.

– A mom at your kid’s school acts as if she hasn’t met you when you’ve met her at least five times. You vent about this to another mom friend of yours at school pick up.

– Your mom blows off babysitting your kid, her grandkid, forcing you to cancel dinner plans at your favorite restaurant. You vent to your husband, for the 1,568th time, about how awful and selfish your mom is.

– You see an Instagram post with your ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend looking annoyingly happy, even though she broke up with you only three months ago. You call your buddy up and vent about what a shallow person she is, and was.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these reactions. It’s just unloading a pile of frustration and tension. Great.

Mickey Singer’s three responses

Before moving further, though, let’s take a page from the Mickey Singer playbook on the three ways we can respond in a stressful situation. They are: Suppress, express and watch. (I wrote an entire article on this subject, link here.)

I’ll explain using the grandma who blows off babysitting her grandson. Suppressing would be if the daughter tells her husband, “It’s alright. Maybe she just isn’t feeling well. I didn’t really want to go out for dinner anyway.” In other words, she’s taking her anger and pushing it back down.

Doing that over and over normally results in a volcanic explosion down the road. This is the least healthy option.

Second, she could do what she did, which is vent. “Man, I can’t stand her! She’s just awful. Always has been. No wonder my dad kicked her to the curb!” This is expressing. Yes, it’s healthier than suppressing because we at least release some of that angry energy. But it’s only a temporary release. The underlying problematic energy remains.

Watch and let go

But the third option, watching, is the charm. This is where the daughter allows the angry feelings to surface, but instead of engaging with them, by telling off her mom or venting to her husband, she would relax, lean away, and watch those feelings…And then let them go.

What’s the benefit garnered by doing this? She actually releases some of the stuck energy inside her. In this case, it’s energy she has held onto for most of her life concerning her feelings for her mom.

Why is that healthy? Because those feelings/that energy is just sitting in her lower self. Every single moment of every day. And that energy is toxic. It’s what prevents us from feeling peaceful inside.

We vent when the ego gets poked

Which brings us back full circle to venting, the subject at hand. In many circumstances, venting is fine. But we would all do well to be aware that almost all venting derives from someone poking our ego.

The mom who doesn’t remember meeting you, the mom who bails on babysitting your kid and the guy who weasels his way to the better job assignment are causing us to vent because our egos got stirred.

So try to remember that the next time you find yourself venting. See if you can add the relax, lean away and watch component to your vent session.

Even more important, and the main reason for writing this article, is to be aware of what you’re venting about. Is it something you vent about a lot?

Because I see this all the time with friends and family. See what?

People venting about the same damn thing over and over and over. Year after year.

An example from way back when, in the late 1980s, was a girlfriend of mine who vented about her mom every time I was with her. It was constant. And always about the same few issues. Over and over.

Venting about bad bosses

I’ve also experienced several examples of this in relation to venting about one’s boss. Again, an almost identical venting session repeated over and over, not for weeks or months, but for many years.

It’s this type of venting that we need to take a look at. Yes, it’s better to “get it out” and talk about it rather than suppress it until we explode.

Two proactive actions we can take

But why not go a step further? See if we can’t:

  1. Let go of that bag full of angry energy by relaxing and watching it rather than engaging with it; and/or,
  2. Dive in and see if we can’t come to a healthy inner resolution on the matter.

With the bad boss example, maybe we try simply acknowledging to ourselves that Mr. Boss is just a jerk. Plain and simple. For reasons you probably know. He’s incredibly insecure. He’s a narcissist. Whatever it is.

You ain’t going to change him

And you acknowledge that nothing you or anybody else does is going to change him. Which means that his behavior toward you and others probably isn’t going to change much, either.

So what you do is resolve to accept this person as he is. Which doesn’t mean you have to like it, or him. But accepting that he’s a jerk will result in you not constantly resisting his jerkiness. And the result of that will be that, eventually, you won’t feel the need to blow up and vent to your spouse every night when you get home from work.

That’s an example of being proactive in handling the situation for yourself rather than venting on and on for years about the guy.

The takeaway

Ultimately, that’s the point of this article. I hear people talk so much about how good they feel after a good vent session. And again, that’s fine most of the time.

But wouldn’t it be better if you took it a step further by doing some inner work, to the point that you didn’t feel the need to vent in the first place?


Why I Pay Eckhart Tolle $200 a Year for Access to His Website

Any of you who’ve read my stuff these past four years knows that I’m a major fan of Eckhart Tolle. So much so that I’ve paid 200 dollars a year for the past twelve years for access to his paid website,

What’s on his site? Mainly recordings of his talks, most of which come from the retreats he and his wife, Kim Eng, put on around the world.

How I use Eckhart’s site

My main “use” for Eckhart’s talks is to listen to them for around fifteen minutes right before meditating in the morning. Experiencing his presence smooths my transition into attaining presence in my meditation sessions.

Yes, I loved his iconic book The Power of NowAnd yes, I value his basic teaching that we are not our thoughts, but rather the deep, spacious presence that is aware of those thoughts.

But I find that listening to and watching Eckhart is a spiritual practice in itself. People like Eckhart, and there aren’t many, who are so conscious — i.e., they project almost no ego — have the ability to tap into that deep essence awareness that all of us possess…but that is mostly buried by our egoic baggage.

Why Eckhart makes me feel better

So every time I listen to Eckhart or, more accurately, experience him, I just feel better. Calmer. It’s as if his awakened self-talks to my awakened self. And that feels good.

Truth be told, most of his talks sound the same. There’s little variety in his subject matter.

But it doesn’t matter to me because, again, it’s about his consciousness, not his teachings. Bottom line: I just love the guy.

Eckhart is like Ram Dass’s guru

He’s like a modern-day guru in that people learn by simply experiencing him. Much like Ram Dass’s relationship with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba (Baba) who apparently taught very little, but whose mere presence was enough to literally transform people’s lives.

There are countless instances, many of them recounted in Ram Dass’s book Miracle of Loveof people crumbling into a pile of tears merely by looking into Baba’s face. It’s almost eerie how they all describe the “why” of it in the same way: The look on Baba’s face was one of pure love, and that look melted their hearts.

In a good way, of course. For many, including Ram Dass, that look and the subsequent opening of the heart, was a moment that changed their lives forever. In Ram Dass’s case, he devoted the rest of his life to serving Baba.

Sitting with Ramana Maharshi

In the case of one of my other favorite gurus, Ramana Maharshi, he said that the highest teaching he could offer anybody was to simply have someone sit beside him and experience the silence. He would not utter a word. It was a form of spiritual osmosis. It was all about simply being in his presence.

No words. That concept was so central to Lao Tzu that he opened my favorite book of wisdom, the Tao te Ching, with this line:

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

(I wrote an entire article about this — link here.)

The takeaway

So what does all this mean for you? There’s a goldmine to be learned from why I pay to simply be in the presence of somebody, Eckhart Tolle, who exudes presence itself.

The lesson is that the deepest spiritual experiences and teachings come not from the written or spoken word. Yes, there is a place for those teachings…like this article!

But connecting with and accessing that deep “I” within you, your eternal consciousness, is a thousand times more important than anything you’ll read in a book or article.

We can achieve that connection through getting quiet inside, via meditation and other spiritual practices.

And also through simply being in the presence of those, like Eckhart Tolle, who’ve shed so much ego that the eternal consciousness they exude mingles with our own.

Which is why so many broke down in tears being in the presence of Neem Karoli Baba.

And why I’ve subscribed to Eckhart’s site for twelve years.


My Acceptance/Non-resistance Work Is Paying Off — Here’s How It Can Help You

Today’s article is going to be like one of those weight-loss ads where they show a photo of someone looking fat next to one of them looking trim. All due to the particular diet, pills or workout regimen they’re hawking.

The difference is, I’m not selling anything. My “product” is free.

And the benefit of this product, acceptance/non-resistance, is infinitely more salutary than slimming down. What is that benefit?

Greater ease and peace inside.

Not total peace and ease. Just more of it more of the time.

I wrote an article recently (link here) about how this work on accepting and not resisting was the spiritual practice that produced the greatest benefits for me.

Let me give you an idea of what I mean by this work paying off. Here are a few examples.


A big one would be the early morning rumination thing. You know what I mean. It’s that awful scenario where you find yourself, at four or five in the morning, stuck in a stream of anxious thoughts.

This one seems to affect everyone I know to some degree. Luckily it hasn’t been a debilitating problem for me, but it does happen periodically. And it ain’t fun.

How have I handled this in the recent past? I’ve simply trained myself, when this arises, to 1. Immediately relax, mostly by taking a few deep, conscious breaths, then 2. I just tell myself to accept that those thoughts are happening. They’re there. That’s reality.

But just because they’re there doesn’t mean I have to get involved in them. I just stay relaxed, breathe and watch the thoughts rather than diving in and engaging with them.

What happens? They drift away, like clouds passing through the sky. Then I drift away, back to sleep.

Some of you might be thinking, “Well, that’s just avoidance. Or suppression. All you’re doing is pushing away your problems.”

Not so. When has anyone solved anything at four in the morning as they writhe in bed, tortured by a cyclone of thoughts? If you want to figure out your marriage or your son’s troubles in school, you do it most effectively from a place of conscious presence. From a place of lucidity.


I took a trip last month to the East coast and missed my connection on the way back. They put me on the standby list for the last flight out of Dallas and told me it would be touch and go whether I made the cut.

Years ago this would have resulted in me fuming about how awful American Airlines is. Then my anger would have turned to having to spend the night at some depressing airport hotel. Bottom line: It would have completely thrown me off.

But this time I did none of that. I accepted the fact that I missed the connection and may have to spend the night in Dallas. I didn’t have any big appointments the next day at home so it wouldn’t have killed me to stay the night.

In conjunction with accepting my circumstances, I focused on relaxing and breathing deeply. Luckily, I made the flight.


This latest Medium rejigger has resulted in a huge nosedive for every one of my numbers. Followers, engagement, earnings. The whole ball of wax is down precipitously.

Years back this would have hit me hard. Not now.

What did I do? I handled it like any of the other challenges sent my way of late. First, I accepted the reality of it. What good does it do to resist reality? It’s actually insane if you think about it.

Second, there’s nothing I can do about it so why get all spun up? After reading several articles about Medium and its changing algorithms over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s futile to bitch and moan and waste energy on it.

Medium does what they want to do. I don’t understand any of it. But if I, or anybody else, thinks things have gotten bad enough, we can leave. Which I might do. But while I’m here, I refuse to waste psychic energy resisting what they do. Because I’ve learned there are two entities we can’t beat: City Hall and Medium.


After watching my six-year-old daughter acting particularly cute a few days ago, I engaged her in the following conversation:

ME: Is there any chance you could give me some tips on how I could be as cute as you?

VIOLET: Stop being so fat.

ME: (Absorbing the blow, then…) Okay. Anything else?

VIOLET: Brush your teeth more. Your teeth are yellow.

ME: Is that it?

VIOLET: Grow some hair on your head.

At which point I chased after her. Unfortunately, she got away as she is faster than a cheetah. Thus ended my quest for cuteness advice.

All I had to do on this one was accept that my daughter is funny. Cruel, but funny.

I have more work to do

I still have areas that need work on the acceptance/non-resistance front, mostly on the kid front.

The other day I picked up my teenage daughter from tennis at around six and on the way home her friend invited her over for dinner. A friend who lives a relatively long drive away. I was absolutely dead tired as it was a Friday and I’d both written and played a brutal tennis tournament match earlier in the day.

Exhaustion leads to dad meltdown

All I wanted to do was go home and vegetate. Bottom line: I absolutely lost it with my daughter. I did take her to her friend’s, but I was a complete jerk about it. So I still have work to do.

But in a whole host of other areas, I’ve made big strides. And the thing is, it’s starting to happen automatically.

Like on the rumination front. Once I find myself in one of those early morning thought loops, I don’t even need to think about it. I just go to relaxing and breathing. I don’t have to summon gobs of will anymore.

The takeaway — How this affects you

Which is a long way of coming back to the only thing in this article that matters: How it affects you. Because this automatic acceptance and non-resistance that’s been happening is 100 percent the result of my just practicing over these last years. That’s it.

And YOU can do it, too. If impatient, irascible me can do it, anybody can.

That’s the whole point of this piece. It’s not that tough. You just need to practice it.

The how-to of it all

How? When stuff comes up that irritates you or hits your stuff, relax and accept that it has happened. Don’t resist. Gather yourself, then respond from a place of presence.

Doing so will, over time, yield the profound benefit I stated at the outset: Greater ease and peace inside.

NOTHING is better than that. NOTHING. Not Lamborghinis, yachts, Romanee Conti, vacations in Hawaii or anything else.

So do yourself the biggest favor you can bestow on yourself.

Practice accepting and not resisting.


Ram Dass’s Brilliant Quote About Our Prison Predicament

I listened a few days ago to yet another fantastic golden oldie Ram Dass talk. It was from 1976 when he was at the height of his spiritual influence. I sensed the masterful force of his being permeating what I presume was a huge audience at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

By the way, if you’re somebody with even a scintilla of interest in Ram Dass and/or all this spiritual stuff, you’re nuts if you don’t go to and check out these talks. They are a free treasure trove of wisdom. (Ditto Mickey Singer’s talks at

So, on to the Ram Dass nugget that I found so compelling. He said:

You can’t escape from prison until you acknowledge you’re in prison.

How’s that for dramatic imagery?

The prison of the mind

First up is tackling the characteristics of that ‘prison’ so many of us are trapped in, without even realizing it. There are a zillion ways we could describe it, but I’m going with this: It’s the prison of the mind.

How do our minds serve as prisons? They produce tornadoes of involuntary thoughts that swirl around our heads.

What do I mean by involuntary thoughts? They’re thoughts that we don’t ask to think.

When you’re driving home from work and you find yourself ruminating about whether you think your spouse is having an affair, in all likelihood you didn’t say to yourself,

“Hmm. I have a half hour to kill on this drive. What should I think about? Ooh, I have it. Let’s think about whether Paul is boinking his assistant!”

No way. It just happens. Involuntarily.

These thoughts drive most of us crazy. In fact, Ram Dass could just as well have called it a torture chamber instead of a prison!

Our thoughts aren’t us

Fine, so our minds drive us crazy. The point is that most people don’t realize that their minds confine them in a prison. They believe that all those crazy, swirling thoughts are just who they are.

But our thoughts aren’t who we are. We are the consciousness that is aware of all these thoughts. Those last two sentences form the basis of Hinduism, Buddhism, the teachings of Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, Mickey Singer and a slew of other teachers and traditions.

The best thing for our world

It’s my belief that nothing would change the trajectory of humanity more than people simply realizing that their minds incarcerate them in a psychic prison. Why is that so important? Because, as Ram Dass says, only when we realize that we’re in prison can we escape.

What did Ram Dass say we do once we know we’re imprisoned? This:

“Once you’re aware you’re in prison, you bend all your efforts toward figuring out how to escape.”

This awareness involves realizing you not only constructed this prison, but you’re also the warden. You can let yourself out any time.

It’s hard to escape mind prison

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as turning a few keys and walking out into the bright sunshine of freedom. It takes significant work once we realize we’re in prison to actually spring ourselves from it.

Any of you who’ve read my stuff know what that work comprises. It’s the daily sadhana of meditating, practicing mindfulness and letting go of the emotional baggage we’ve accumulated over our lifetimes.

The whole path in two simple steps

Leave it to the great Ram Dass to so eloquently sum up the entirety of the spiritual path in one short metaphor. It’s just two steps:

– Realize that we’re in prison.

– Do the work that frees us from prison.

Step one is the easy part. But, as Ram Dass notes, it’s indispensable. Because without it, we don’t even know there is a step two.

How do we achieve step one, knowing we’re all imprisoned by our minds? By reading articles like this.

Better yet, by reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now or Mickey Singer’s The Untethered Soul. They explain all this clearly and beautifully.

The takeaway

So if you still aren’t clear on this concept that you’re stuck in your own mind jail, get those books and read them. Then move on to step two…the escape.

If you’re done with step one, get to work on the Great Escape. Get quiet inside. Let go of your ego.

Freedom awaits…


Attention Parents: Most of us Violate Buddhism’s Central Tenet…Constantly

I’m not a Buddhist, but I do like its main idea: We suffer in life because we desire things to be a certain way. I think Buddha is right on the mark with that.

The word desire, though, can be a bit misleading because it conjures images of lusting after a woman’s body or craving a nice big piece of apple pie ala mode. That’s only a small part of what Buddha meant by desire.

It’s about preferences, not desires

What Buddhism is really saying, and what Mickey Singer teaches, is that preferences cause suffering. We prefer to get what we want (the promotion, Dom Perignon) and we prefer to not get what we don’t want (getting fired, our boyfriend breaking up with us).

Another way of expressing this is that we cling to what we prefer and resist what we don’t prefer. This is the don’t resist, don’t cling axiom of Buddhism.

Which leads us to the main item on today’s menu: Most parents, myself included, cling to and resist our kids. A lot.

How I resist my kids

How so? We parents are bigger on resisting so let’s start there. These are my own examples.

My teenage son’s hair covers his eyes so I can’t see him half the time.

Me: “You need a haircut!”

Him: “No, it’s fine. I like it.”

He’d wear shorts and a tee shirt to school every day, even when it was cold and raining. I resisted.

He gets a girlfriend. A sweet girl we really like. But not-so-deep-down I’m resisting it because I don’t think having a relationship at age 15 is healthy.

My daughter is lukewarm about playing sports, even though she’s a talented athlete. I resist that because I think she’ll miss out on a lot. She’s far more interested in studying and doing well in school. Many of you are thinking,

“Are you INSANE?! Thank your lucky stars your daughter works hard in school!”

Yes, I am insane. Parenting can have that effect…

My son, on the other hand, is not that interested in his schoolwork, something I resist to the hilt.

We also cling

We also cling to the things we prefer for our kids. Like what?

My son had a great freshman season in lacrosse last year. He was the second-leading scorer on the junior varsity team. It boosted his confidence a ton as it was the first time in his life he’d been one of the top players on any team.

Now I’m worried he’ll either get stuck on the JV team while his peers get bumped up to varsity, or they’ll bump him up to varsity and he won’t get any playing time. Bottom line: I’m clinging to the good year he had and hoping it happens again. Not good. For him or me.

So what should I do? Don’t resist, don’t cling.

There are times when we need to resist

There are obvious caveats to this. If the girlfriend said she wanted them to take off and move to a cabin in Alaska, you bet I’d resist that. Or if my daughter told me she wanted to start a marijuana business…You get the drift.

My point is that most of the stuff we resist or cling to isn’t a big deal. We resist or cling not because of our kids, but because of us. In other words, it’s about us, not them.

It’s reflexive. They do something and BOOM, we resist. At least that’s been my experience.

We cling and resist out of FEAR

Why do we do this? I can sum it up in one word: Fear. We go around every day fearing for our kids. That they won’t be smart enough, successful enough, have enough friends, and on and on.

The thing is, it’s not good for them. The model we’re giving them is to live life in fear.

“If you don’t do well on your math test, you won’t get an A, so you won’t get into a good college, so you won’t get a good job, so you won’t make any money, so you’ll be poor, become homeless and die alone in an alley…”

That’s no way to live a life.

The takeaway

So, what to do? Step one is to simply be aware. See if you can catch yourself resisting what your kids do. Then ask yourself if it makes sense to do so. Ask the key question: Is your resistance helping them?

What this all boils down to is this: We need to let our kids be who they are as much as possible. We need to let them evolve, rather than try and shape them into our preferred mold.

Sure, if your kid refuses to crack open a book, you need to do something about that. Or if they have ADHD or Dyslexia, of course, you do everything you can to help them.

But it’s my view that evolving into their authentic selves gives our kids the best chance to achieve what I think (hope!) every parent wants for them: Happiness.

And the best thing we parents can do to enhance that evolution is to not resist and not cling.


Why Decision-Making Is So Hard for So Many

It’s my experience that most people struggle to make decisions, on matters small and large. Why they agonize is obvious, but most people don’t realize it. Understanding the underlying dynamic will help any of you who struggle on this front.

First, let’s talk about what I mean by decisions. Here are examples of “small” ones:

– Should I order the grilled pork chop or the spaghetti Bolognese?

– Should I buy the white blouse with ruffles or the simple black top?

– Should I see the latest Mission Impossible movie or Oppenheimer?

None of these decisions are going to alter your life in any major way. And yet, they still cause a slight anxious twinge in your gut.

Examples of “large” decisions would be:

– Should I marry this man/woman?

– Should I take this job offer, which would mean moving from Los Angeles to New York?

– Should I do psychiatry, orthopedics or general surgery residency after medical school?

These decisions could have massive impacts on the trajectory of your life. Thoughts of

“He’s a great guy, but what if he turns out to be an abusive jerk? He’s got a fiery temper. What if we have kids and everything goes south? My whole life will be ruined!”


“I love the weather in LA. I’ll probably get depressed if I move to New York. Then again, the people in LA are pretty superficial. Much more interesting people in New York. But I love my house in LA and if I sell now, I won’t make much on it…Blah, blah, blah.”


“Psychiatry would probably be the easiest, but I’d also make less money. Not to mention, I’d be seeing troubled people all day every day. That could be a bummer. Then again, orthopedics…blah, blah, blah…And general surgery could be blah, blah, blah, but…blah, blah, blah…”

Any of this line of thinking ring a bell with any of you? I’ll bet it does. Most of us make decisions like these and most of us struggle.

Why decisions are hard

The $64,000 question is: Why? The answer is obvious.

People struggle with decisions because they aren’t confident they’ll be “okay” if they make the “wrong” decision.

That’s all it is. “If I order the pork chop and don’t like it, it might put me in a bad mood.” “If I get the wrong blouse, I’ll feel bad when I go out wearing it.” “If I take the New York job and I hate it, my life will be ruined.”

So how should we handle this? First, let’s talk about what we DON’T do. We don’t expend energy and attention on trying to get better at making decisions by doing things like amping up our due diligence efforts, like reading everything there is to know about living in New York, etc. That’s working in the wrong area.

What do we work on in order to better handle decision-making?


Yes, you read that right. The anxiety elicited by decisions comes from a lack of inner confidence.

What we need to do is get to a place where with ALL of these decisions, both big and small, we handle it from a place of, “Hmm. I’ll go with the Bolognese. And if it sucks, I’ll be fine.” “If I hate the white blouse, I’ll return it. No big deal.”

Most important is how this works on the big stuff. Like, “I think he’s the right guy for me. I can’t be 100 percent sure. But if we get married and it doesn’t work out, I’ll land on my feet. I always do.”

Handling life

That is the key to decision-making. It’s about being able to handle life.

I was lucky in this area because I learned from my mom. She was so Zen about life (I even wrote an article about her which you can find here). Her attitude was always to make the best decision you could with the information you had and then make the best of it.

This is such a great way to live! And the opposite is really tough. Agonizing. Second-guessing every move you make. It’s paralyzing.

The takeaway

The key point is that getting better at decision-making is not about getting better and more analytical in your process. It’s about lightening up and developing confidence in yourself…in life…in the Universe.

It’s about getting good at flowing with life rather than agonizing over it.

How do we become lighter so we can flow better with life and become more confident in it?

That’s easy. It’s our egos that paralyze us with fear about all these decisions. So the work lies in quieting the ego.

How? Meditate. Practice mindfulness. Do any practices that calm your mind and allow you to let go of your ego.

I hope you’ll decide to dive into these practices. Don’t overthink it.

Just do it…


A Ram Dass Quote That Made My Head Explode

First, let me be perfectly clear: When something makes my head explode, that’s a good thing. It means it blew me away.

Every now and then I come across something that Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, Mickey Singer and a few others have said or written that goes beyond attracting my interest. Today’s quote by Ram Dass is one of those nuggets.

Without further ado, here’s what he said that made my head explode:

Our journey is about being deeply involved in life and yet, less attached to it.”

What?! How do we become more deeplyinvolved in life by becoming less attached? Before diving in, it’s important to know that understanding this paradox is crucial for achieving spiritual growth.

Where most people trip up on this is how they perceive attachment and its opposite, non-attachment. People are attached to their blankets (as a kid), to their girlfriends, to their favorite soccer or football teams, etc.

Non-attachment isn’t not caring

They then extrapolate that out to mean that they “care” about these things. And people who don’t have any attachments must not care about anything. They’re just zombies, aimlessly plodding through life.

Not true. The truth is that attachments, or desires as they are called in Buddhism, spring from our egos. And as Buddhism’s central tenet states, all suffering emanates from these desires/attachments.

It’s also true that we can become “more deeply involved in life” the less attached we are to things. How so?

Ram Dass’s work with AIDS patients

As usual, it’s best to explain with an example, this one from Ram Dass himself. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, Ram Dass devoted considerable time and effort to counseling dying AIDS patients.

What that involved was spending countless hours alone, mostly in ugly, antiseptic hospital rooms with beeping monitors, watching men experience the worst kind of agony. Can you imagine anything more depressing?

But here’s the thing: Ram Dass did these men a great service. How? By connecting with them on a level far deeper than the physical.

Two equal souls having a talk

The way he saw it, there were two human bodies in those rooms, one healthy and one terminally ill. But there were also two souls. Two spirits. Both equal. And that is where he met these people.

While he didn’t say this, I will: The soul, spirit, life force…whatever you want to call it, is energy and energy can’t be destroyed. It lives on, even after our bodies fail.

So these sessions were merely two immortal souls having a conversation. Ram Dass said these were some of the most profound and, ironically, life-affirming experiences he ever had.

Freaking out helps no one

What did Ram Dass not do in these visits? He didn’t freak out and let the experience become a big downer.

This is an example of “being deeply involved in life.’ Can you imagine anything deeper than sitting in a room and connecting with a dying human being?

Yet Ram Dass was only able to do this because he wasn’t attached to these men’s pain. Had he walked into these rooms and collapsed in a puddle of tears, what good would that have done anybody?

Mother Teresa did the same thing

There are many examples in history of this. Mother Teresa was surrounded by poverty and suffering of the highest magnitude for decades in Calcutta. Talk about being deeply involved in life. Had she been attached to all of these suffering people, there is no chance that she could have helped so many over the years.

Ditto Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK was not an angry, bitter person. He was level-headed and poised. That equanimity served as the foundation for the strength required of him in battling for civil rights in a part of the world that desperately wanted to deny him. And it’s why he succeeded.

The takeaway

All that being said, how do we develop this non-attachment muscle such that we can become more deeply involved in life? No big surprise here. It’s about loosening our attachments, AKA, letting go of our egos.

We have all of these desires/attachments because our egos are so strong. And we weaken our egos by doing the basic practices. Things that quiet down our egoic minds and help us let go when our emotional (egoic) baggage is poked.

We practice meditation, mindfulness and letting go. Every day of every month of every year.

Commitment is a necessity

How can we ensure that we actually do these practices? We commit to trekking down this path. Without commitment, sustained practice is virtually impossible.

But these practices work. Gradually. Over time.

Eventually, we notice that we’re calmer. Lighter. Less prone to neediness.

We notice that we’re more deeply involved in life than we were before. That our life is richer.

Amen to that.