The Mind-Boggling Story of Dr. Larry Brilliant, Maharajii and Eradicating Smallpox

A couple weeks ago I wrote an article (link here) about renowned doctor Larry Brilliant and the beautiful story of how he found Maharajii as his guru. Today we revisit Dr. Brilliant and Maharajii for a story that had a significant impact on world health.

Seriously? A long-bearded, long-haired, young hippie doctor and his old, barefoot, blanket-wearing guru played a hand in altering world health?

Yes. Here’s how.

Dr. Brilliant meets Maharajii

First, a summary of my article on how Brilliant came to be a devotee of Maharajii, also known as Neem Karoli Baba. After spending a week at Maharajii’s ashram in Kainchi, India, at the urging of his wife, Brilliant concluded that they were a bunch of crazy cultists and decided his marriage was over and that he had to leave.

The day before his departure he took a walk around a nearby lake and prayed to God, something he’d never done before, for a sign. Anything to help make sense of his painful situation. He got no sign.

The next morning he went to say goodbye to Maharajii, his wife and the rest of the “crazies.”

Maharajii asked him if he walked around a lake the day before, something Brilliant hadn’t told anybody. He then asked if he was talking to God at the lake; and also if he’d asked God for a sign. At that moment, Brilliant crumbled into a puddle of tears and knew that he’d found his guru.

As we used to say in Hollywood in my previous life as a television writer, ‘cut to’ several months later. Brilliant was enjoying the ashram life with Maharajii and his wife and fellow devotees.

“How much money do you have?”

One day, he was sitting with Maharajii. Out of nowhere, Maharajii asked him how much money he had. Before sliding straight to “I see. Another money grubbing guru huckster…,” you should know that many Westerners with big money offered it to Maharajii and they all said the same thing: He wouldn’t take it.

So Brilliant, thinking he meant how much money he had with him in India, responded, “Five-hundred dollars.”

Maharajii then said, “No, how much money do you have back in America?”

Brilliant thought about it, then said, “Actually, about the same. Five-hundred dollars.”

Maharajii started laughing. Then he repeated, over and over, “You’re no doctor! You’re no doctor! You’re no doctor!”

Brilliant said it made him feel like he was with his mother who lamented that they’d sent their son to medical school yet he made no money.

U.N.O. doctor

But then something strange happened. Maharajii stopped laughing and then started saying, repeatedly, “You no doctor. You no doctor. U N O doctor. U N O doctor.”

Brilliant didn’t understand what he was saying. Then the interpreter said Maharajii was saying U.N.O. doctor. Turns out in India they refer to the UN as the United Nations Organization, or U.N.O.

He was telling Brilliant that he was going to be a UN doctor and that he was going to give smallpox vaccinations in Indian villages. After this was explained to Brilliant, Maharajii said, “Tum jao!” which means ‘you go’ in Hindi.

Brilliant asked if that meant the meeting was over. Maharajii said, “No! I want you to leave right now and go to the UN in Delhi and get a job working on smallpox.”

And that was that. Brilliant got up, figured out how to get to the UN office and left.

History of smallpox eradication

Before relating what happened next, some quick history. Smallpox had been around for literally thousands of years, killing billions. But America had wiped it out by 1949 and in the early 1970s only four countries still struggled with it, India being the most populous and problematic. And because India exported many cases around the world, eliminating the disease for good meant it had to be eradicated in India.

Which brings us back to Larry Brilliant’s odyssey. He went to the U.N. W.H.O. (World Health Organization) office in Delhi and asked for a job working on smallpox. They told this guy with long hair in a robe ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ He had no experience in public health and, for political reasons, Americans were not welcomed to work in India at the time.

Rejected ten times by WHO

So he went back to the ashram and told Maharajii they rejected him out of hand. Maharajii told him to go back and try again.

Long story short, this happened ten times in two months! Brilliant tried different approaches but was rejected every time. Mind you, it was a 17-hour trip each way to Delhi.

The person in charge of the WHO-India smallpox program, a French doctor named Nicole Grasset, was the one continually rejecting Brilliant. He told her repeatedly that his guru had insisted he was going to work on eradicating smallpox in India, which was the only reason he was pestering her so much for a job.

A serendipitous call

Two months into this madness, a frustrated Brilliant called Dr. Grasset and told her that he and his wife were going to Kashmir for a few weeks and that if anything came up, to please get in touch with him in Srinigar.

Dr. Grasset said it was bizarre that he called right then because she’d just had an inspiration about him. Maybe he could come on as a report writer on the project. Brilliant accepted. Anything to get Maharajii off his back.

In the first few months the WHO team prepared plans for going into the Indian hinterlands to deliver shots.

After studying smallpox intensively these first few months, Brilliant learned just how horrid the disease was. This led him to ask Maharajii if the disease would, indeed, be eradicated. He remembered Maharajii’s answer word for word many years later because he wrote it down.

Maharajii said:

“Smallpox will be eradicated. This is God’s gift to mankind because of the hard work of dedicated medical scientists.”

His prediction played a major role in getting the job done. How? When it came time to go into the field, Brilliant wondered how Maharajii’s prediction that he would deliver shots could be true because his job was to remain in the office and write reports.

Russian doctors bow out

Then, as happened repeatedly with Maharajii, something serendipitous occurred. The two Russian doctors who were to cover the area where Maharajii had lived got held up in Moscow over government red tape.

This left a giant hole in the map in an area with one of the worst smallpox situations in India. Dr. Grasset reluctantly sent the inexperienced Brilliant in to do the job. He was the only person available.

Brilliant put a big picture of Maharajii on the dashboard of his jeep and ventured into rural India. Virtually every village doctor initially turned him away, saying they had too many other health issues to deal with.

Maharajii’s picture saves the day

As part of Indian courtesy, they would walk him out to his jeep. There they would see the picture of Maharajii and ask who it was. Brilliant, in retelling this story in Ram Dass’s book Miracle of Love, would say,

“Oh, he’s my guru. He told me to go work for the United Nations. He told me smallpox would be eradicated. He told me this is God’s gift to mankind through the hard work of dedicated medical scientists.”

The village doctors would then invite him back to the office and ask what they needed to do. Brilliant said this happened several times.

He said that many other Indian officials told him that he didn’t understand India. That smallpox could be eradicated everywhere else, but never in India.

Then he’d tell them that Maharajii said it would happen and they’d change their minds and cooperate.

Brilliant sent to the toughest areas

This led to Dr. Grasset sending Brilliant to the areas meeting the stiffest resistance from the local doctors. And again and again, by telling them of Maharajii’s prediction, they decided to cooperate.

The long and short of their work? When they started in 1974 there were 190,000 cases and 30,000 deaths per year in India. In October of 1975 India had its last reported case of smallpox.

Brilliant said of that case:

“I had the privilege of seeing the last case of smallpox in India. A young girl named Rahima Banu had completed smallpox in October of 1975 and did not die. That was the last case in an unbroken chain of transmission of killer smallpox that went all the way back to Pharaoh Ramses and beyond, probably 10,000 years.”

The last known case of smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977. Eradicating this horrific disease is thought by many to be the greatest public health success ever.

Why write about this?

So what does this all mean? Why write an article about Maharajii telling Dr. Larry Brilliant to go work on smallpox?

First, a clarification. I’m not saying that Brilliant and Maharajii were responsible for eradicating smallpox in India. Thousands of doctors, WHO employees, government officials and volunteers worked together to achieve this herculean task.

But it’s likely that eradicating smallpox from India would have been extremely difficult if not for Maharajii’s influence in areas that were both resistant to cooperating and had serious smallpox exposure.

The inexpressible beauty of Maharajii

Beyond that, it’s yet another remarkable story about a remarkable being. I’ve done some serious trekking on the spiritual path for many years now and have yet to find anyone more impressive than Maharajii.

Many of you know that I’m a big fan of Mickey Singer, Ram Dass (another Maharajii devotee) and Eckhart Tolle. I’ve also dived deep into other Indian saints who have impressed me, namely, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna and Yogananda.

Every one of these people has blown me away with their wisdom, compassion and presence. And yet, nobody holds a candle to Maharajii.

I keep trying to express my reverence for Maharajii with eloquence and depth. And I keep falling short.

I gave it another shot with this article. And I’m going to keep trying, with the hope that someday many of you will come to appreciate this beautiful being.


Ram Dass on Why We Keep Doing All this Spiritual Studying – It’s about repetition.

Leave it to Ram Dass to cut through all the BS and tell it like it is. This is what he had to say about why people like you and me read articles like this and listen to talks, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Why do we keep listening to spiritual lectures and reading spiritual books? It seems we need to keep saying it to ourselves, over and over again, until we finally hear.”

Isn’t that the truth? I know it is for me.

How? I listen to a Michael Singer talk on for fifteen to twenty minutes every morning before I meditate. I also throw in a Ram Dass or Eckhart Tolle talk around once a week. One reason I do this is that it prepares me to get quiet inside for my meditation.

The repetition is all

But I also do it for the reason Ram Dass states: The repetition gets me closer to finally “hearing” the wisdom. And by repetition, I mean repetition.

Because Michael Singer hits on the same few points in almost every talk. Like what? Like we need to go inside to cure what ails us rather than look to the external world (job title, car, relationship status et al) for the answers.

Why are we not okay inside? Because we’ve held on to a slew of mostly bad experiences and they run our lives. They determine what kind of career we pursue, the kind of mate we’re attracted to and on down the line.

We are the consciousness, not the objects

And of course, he emphasizes that we are the consciousness that is aware of all the objects that we encounter. Objects like fabulous sunsets, milkshakes, thoughts about our boss and sour feelings about our ex. None of those are us, Singer teaches. We are the consciousness that is aware of those objects.

Those teachings, and more, Singer approaches from myriad angles, but it’s really saying the same thing. And yet I keep on listening. Over and over.

Ram Dass says we do this because with that repetition “…we finally hear.” I agree.

Repetition begets deeper penetration

But here’s my twist. What repetition does for me is allow this timeless wisdom to seep deeper into my being. The more I hear it, the deeper it gets. And the deeper it gets, the more it becomes a part of me.

There is one caveat to all this. We shouldn’t allow reading books, taking courses and listening to talks replace doing the real work. Like what? Meditating, working on being mindful throughout our days and letting go when our egos get stirred.

The tendency of many on the spiritual path is to place 80 percent of our efforts on the reading and learning and 20 percent on the work. That needs to be reversed.

The reason many of us fall into that trap is simple: Spiritual work can be hard. It’s far easier to put our feet up on the couch and read The Power of Now for an hour than it is to meditate for fifteen minutes.

The takeaway

But I’m with Ram Dass on this. We need to keep at the study part until it seeps deep into our being.

So keep reading. Keep listening. Keep watching.

And most important, keep practicing.


Want to Unload Heaps of Emotional Baggage? Let Go of Grudges

This is one of those articles that points out something obvious, that most people know, but that most people disregard. What is that obvious point?

Holding grudges does nobody any good, especially the grudge holder.

And yet, I’ll confess for all of us: Most of us hold grudges. Some more than others, but let’s face it, it’s pretty darn universal.

What I mean by grudges

Before delving further, I need to define what I mean by grudges. It’s harboring ill will toward someone who we feel has wronged us.

But I’m going to widen the net here by including those who haven’t necessarily wronged us, but who we just don’t like for some reason. For example, one of the moms at your kid’s school who you’ve spoken to only once, but who rubs you the wrong way. So every time you see her you say to yourself, “Ugh. What a Botox-infested phony.” And you don’t even know her!

So for the purposes of this article, let’s say that a grudge is harboring bad feelings about somebody.

Let’s go to the example bank to illustrate:

– “My wife/husband left me for another man/woman. I will hate them for eternity.”

– “Bobby blew off going to my wedding. A great friend for decades and he says he ‘can’t get away.’ That’s it. I’m done with him.”

– “My boss fired me, supposedly because my results didn’t measure up. Wrong. He fired me because he didn’t like me. He better hope we never meet in a dark alley.”

The point of this article is that holding these bad feelings harms us and does us no good.

What’s the harm?

How does it harm us? That’s obvious. Negative feelings about people are like toxins to our psyche. They pollute our insides. I’m not even going to expound on this because I think all of you get that.

The real question is: Why do we do this? Why do we hurt ourselves by doing something we don’t have to do. That we can control.

Why we hold grudges

The answer? Because we don’t think about it. It’s just something people do. We don’t like some people, for various reasons, and we hold on to those feelings. It’s a mindless habit.

That’s why this article can be valuable. It’s pointing out something you’re doing that is 1. hurting you; 2. you don’t have to do; and 3. you’re not aware you’re doing.

If I’m you, I’m asking:

“Fine. Holding grudges is bad for us. What are we supposed to do? Ignore what some jerk has to done to us? Ignore what an obviously bad person X is?”

No, you don’t do those things. You don’t ignore it and, more important, you don’t lie to yourself by saying something like, “My boss is a great guy. I actually like him. He just made a mistake firing me.” If you don’t feel that way, don’t lie to yourself. Suppression is more damaging to us than anger.

What we should do

Okay. Then what do we do? The first thing we do is understand the dynamic, which is that we’re holding toxins inside us of our own volition.

Then we go to, “I don’t like holding bad stuff inside me. What can I do about it?”

The answer is: We can let it go. I know that sounds hugely simplistic but hear me out.

Let’s take the toughest example of all: the wronged spouse. That person has a choice. They can double down and say,

“I don’t care how much it hurts me. I will never let go of the fact that X is an awful, weak person who deserves to suffer in the worst way!”

Or…They can say,

“Yes, X is awful and weak and what he/she did hurt me to my core. But harboring this hatred is only hurting me. A lot. So I’m going to work on letting go of those feelings…for my sake.”

It takes work and intention

Yes, it takes work. And strength. Somebody cheated on you, left you and, worst of all, hurt your kids in the process.

But poison is poison. Hatred is hatred. And if we can eliminate it from our insides, we should.

There’s another issue I’m sure many of you are wondering about. Forgiveness. What about that?

What about forgiveness?

That’s a complicated subject. For this, I would steal a page from Eckhart Tolle and his teaching on dealing with difficult/flawed people, on which I wrote a separate article (link here).

Eckhart teaches that we are all at our own level of consciousness. The key is accepting that fact.

In the case of the wayward spouse, they are clearly not far along on the consciousness spectrum. That doesn’t mean we have to feel sorry for them or even that it is our responsibility to nudge them along.

What it does mean is that we can understand them. Doing so makes it easier for us to let go of our negative feelings for them.

Best if we can forgive

Does that mean we forgive them? It’s probably best for us if we can. But at the very least, we need to say something like,

That’s who they are. That’s where they are. Best for me that I don’t have to deal with that anymore. I’m moving on. And that means letting go of my ill will.”

I’ll close by asking you to ask yourselves this question: Is anything good coming from my harboring bad feelings for person X? I can’t think of a single instance where holding on to a grudge or bad feelings produces anything of value.

It’s all cost, no benefit. That being the case, there’s only one thing to do: Let go.

The takeaway

In fact, if this resonates with you, here is my takeaway suggestion. Try to think of at least three people in your life who you have a grudge against or just plain don’t like. Then set the intention of letting go of those feelings.

Think of it as throwing baggage off your airplane. Your plane will fly lighter, faster, better.

Let it go.


The Central Teaching of Buddhism is Brilliant and Can Help us All…if we Understand it Correctly

I’m usually reluctant to write about Buddhism. It’s not that I have anything against it (I don’t). My reluctance stems from my lesser familiarity with it compared to many readers out there (I’m thinking of you, Sandra Pawula!).

Mostly this is about common misunderstandings of what the Buddha had in mind when teaching about suffering. It’s a misunderstanding I had up until recently.

By the way, the following may sound uber-obvious to some of you, but I know I wasn’t clear on it until recently, so bear with me Buddhism experts.

The Four Noble Truths

Let’s start with a quick summation of the heart of Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths.

Those are:

1. All life is suffering.

2. Suffering is caused by desire.

3. Eliminate the desire and we eliminate the suffering.

4. Eliminate the desire by following the Eightfold Path.

The mistake many make is immediately equating suffering with our conception of it: agonizing starvation of kids in Africa, people slaughtered in wars, painful chemotherapy treatments and the like. In other words, severe suffering.

But that’s not what the Buddha had in mind. It’s part of it, but not the main part of suffering.

Sex and drugs are a small part of desire

He said that suffering comes from desire, which brings up another misnomer. Most people go straight to desiring sex, drugs, great food, etc. Yes, that’s a part of it.

But the bigger, more expansive truth of it is that it means wanting things to be a certain way. It’s about, as Michael Singer says, wants, or preferences.

Desires are also about what we don’t want

And there’s yet another misnomer here. Because Buddha didn’t think it was only our wants that cause suffering. It’s also, again as Michael Singer says, our not-wants.

Here’s an example that will illuminate. We desire/want the job opening at Google. Once we get that job, we desire/not-want that we don’t get fired.

The Buddhists call this craving (what we want) and aversion (what we don’t want). Buddhism’s core tenet is that it is all this craving and aversion that causes suffering.

What type of suffering are we talking about?

Which leads us to the key point of this article. What does that suffering look like? How does it manifest?

As I said earlier, I and many others, automatically equate suffering with the extreme kinds mentioned earlier. But here is how I would describe the universal kind of suffering the Buddha was talking about:

A persistent, near constant feeling of unease.

That is the suffering we endure when our lives are spent wanting and “not-wanting.”

Understanding it this way makes Buddha’s main teaching profoundly beneficial and useful to all of us. Why?

Because it concentrates our attention where it needs to be. And that is decidedly not on getting what we want and avoiding what we don’t want, which is how 99 percent of all humans live.

Rather, it teaches us to focus our lives on letting go of our attachments to what we want and don’t want.

Attachment is crucial

That word attachment is vital. Because all humans are going to have wants and not-wants.

My favorite personal example is that I really liked my beer mug I bought at the Masters golf tournament many years ago. I used it frequently for at least five years. Then one day, because I kept in it the freezer and it had ice on the bottom, when I put it on the counter and turned away, it slid off and smashed into a hundred pieces.

I was bummed about it, but not overly so. Why? Because I liked that mug, but I wasn’t attached to it.

Where we want to end up

That’s the place we want to get on everything in our lives. I like my job, but if I get fired, I’ll be okay. I’m not attached to it.

The waitress just told me they’re out of the grilled pork chop I ordered. That’s okay. I’m not attached to it. I’ll be fine with the salmon.

When we live like that, the persistent feeling of unease (AKA suffering) diminishes. And we feel better.

As the Third Zen Patriarch famously wrote:

The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.”

But we can’t stop there. Why? Because we can’t eliminate our wants and not-wants by simply wishing them away.

First, we have to understand why they’re there in the first place. Why is it that we constantly want and not-want?

Ego is behind our wants/not-wants

The answer is that we’ve all built up this thing called an ego. It’s the compilation of all the things we’ve experienced that we didn’t let go of. That we held on to. It is those “stuck” experiences that determine what we want and what we don’t want.

Coming full circle, letting go of that egoic baggage (the yoga tradition would call these Samskaras) is the key to ending our suffering/general unease.

Getting quiet inside, through meditation, mindfulness and other spiritual practices, enhances our ability to let go. So we make those a priority.

The takeaway

What’s the long and the short of all this? That 2,500 years ago the Buddha got it right. That virtually everybody feels some level of anxious/not quite right most of the time. That’s the suffering part.

And we all feel this “dis-ease” because we spend all day every day wanting and not wanting (desiring).

My hope is that this clarification of the basics of this ancient, revered spiritual tradition will strengthen your basic understanding of what’s going on inside us.

And that you will use that understanding to sharpen your focus on the most important work we humans need to do:

Letting go.


Dr. Larry Brilliant’s Moving Encounter With His Guru, Maharajii

Other than my old friend Ima Genius, no one was given a better name than Dr. Larry Brilliant. And since I made up the name Ima Genius, that makes Larry’s name numero uno.

So, who is this Larry Brilliant? Lucky for him, he’s a brilliant guy. Known mainly for taking the lead in eradicating smallpox, Brilliant also ran Google’s foundation and then the Skoll Foundation. He was also a close friend of Apple founder Steve Jobs for several decades.

I could dive deeper into Brilliant’s bio but suffice to say that he has had a successful, meaningful and consequential career. And it wouldn’t have happened were it not for…

Maharajii does it again

Neem Karoli Baba, AKA Maharajii, his guru. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve written several articles about Maharajii, mostly in relation to another of his devotees, Ram Dass.

In fact, Ram Dass wrote a book called Miracle of Lovethat contains hundreds of first-hand accounts of encounters with Maharajii. One such encounter was that of Larry Brilliant.

His wife met Maharajii in India and had returned to America to bring Larry to meet this saintly man.

Turned off at the temple

His first impression wasn’t good. He found a bunch of whacked out Westerners dressed in cult-like clothing fawning over a fat old man wearing nothing but a blanket and a loincloth. Worst for him was watching these people touch Maharajii’s feet. Bottom line: He wanted nothing to do with Maharajii.

And he thought the feeling was mutual. Maharajii had completely ignored Brilliant the first seven days he was there. After a week, he decided he’d had enough and that he needed to leave. On that eighth day he told his wife he wasn’t feeling well and that he was going to skip going to Maharajii’s temple that day.

Instead, he spent the entire day alone, walking around a lake near their hotel in Nainital. He was twisted up in knots.

Fears of a marriage in ruins

He thought that if his wife was so devoted to somebody he felt nothing for then their marriage must be irretrievably broken. He was deeply distraught over this.

This led him to do something he’d never done before: Pray. He said he asked God,

“What am I doing here? Who is this man? These people are all crazy. I don’t belong here.”

As he wracked his brain for answers he remembered the Bible passage: “Had ye but faith ye would not need miracles.” Knowing he had no faith, he asked God for a miracle.

But nothing happened. No rainbow in the sky. No nothing. So he decided to leave India the next day.

Saying goodbye to Maharajii

Early the next morning he took a taxi from the hotel to the temple to say goodbye, but also to have it out with Maharajii. He was the first one to arrive at the temple so he sat, alone, in front of Maharajii’s tucket, a wooden platform he would sit on.

There was some fruit on the tucket. And when an apple fell to the ground, Brilliant bent down to pick it up. Just then, Maharajii emerged and stepped on Brilliant’s hand, pinning him to the ground.

Things couldn’t have been going any worse. He was leaving India without his wife and now he was being forced to touch Maharajii’s feet.

Maharajii looked down at him and the following conversation took place:

Maharajii: “Where were you yesterday? Were you at the lake?”

At hearing this, Brilliant tightened up. He didn’t tell anybody about what he’d done the previous day.

Maharajii: “Were you horseback riding?”

Brilliant: “No.”

Maharajii: “Were you boating?”

Brilliant: “No.”

Maharajii: “Did you go swimming?”

Brilliant: “No.”

At this point, Maharajii leaned in close and said very quietly,

“Were you talking to God? Did you ask for something?”

Brilliant recounts in Miracle of Love what happened next:

“When he did that I fell apart and started to cry like a baby. He pulled me over and started pulling my beard and repeating, ‘Did you ask for something?’”

From that moment forward, and to this day, Maharajii has been Larry Brilliant’s guru.

What’s it all about, Maharajii?

So, what are we to make of this story? An intelligent doctor visits his wife’s guru, is completely turned off by the whole scene, then becomes distraught because he thinks his marriage is over. And then…

This guy Maharajii does something to him that he’s done to thousands of others. He tells him something only Brilliant could know. That he was talking to God at the lake the previous day. Which had the effect of melting his heart and changing the course of his life, as it did to Ram Dass a few years prior.

What the heck?

I can’t explain it. How did Maharajii know that Larry Brilliant was talking to God at the lake?

Skeptics beware

And before heading into skeptic mode, please know that I am a skeptic myself. I never believed in ghosts, turning water into wine or the Loch Ness monster.

But I’ve read and heard countless instances where Maharajii did similar things. For all of these stories to be false would require Maharajii to be the greatest con man of all time.

And it isn’t like he did those things in pursuit of money or anything nefarious. The guy refused to take money from all the Western hot shots like Ram Dass who offered it to him. And all he possessed was a blanket and a loincloth.

No. It appears all he got from telling Larry Brilliant that he knew he was talking to God was a devotee who dedicated his life to doing big things in public health. [I’m saving Brilliant’s story about Maharajii and eradicating smallpox for a separate article.]

The takeaway

Maharajii died in 1973 so we’ll never know how the heck he did all these things. But in the deepest sense, knowing how he did these “tricks” isn’t important.

What is? For me, it’s remembering and trying to live by his main teaching. Which is this:

Love everyone. Serve everyone. And remember God.

Peace out.


This Short Mantra Could Guide Your Entire Life

I’m a big proponent of the ‘go-to.’ By that I mean something we can have at the ready when certain situations arise.

If we find ourselves stressed out we can have ‘slow down’ at the ready. Or maybe we just have three deep breaths as our go-to.

But what about a go-to that works for everything? Something we go to in any manner of situation.

Relax is a good one

I wrote an article back in 2022 (link here) stating that relax is the most important word in spirituality. Why? Because a relaxed state is the optimum state for anything we do in life.

But it occurred to me recently that there’s a better, deeper go-to to base our lives around. And it’s this:

Keep your heart open.

That’s all we have to do. Every moment of every day. Be sure to keep our hearts open.

Ram Dass is big on heart open

I learned about this concept from the revered spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, who places heavy emphasis on keeping our hearts open.

What does it mean to keep our hearts open? Most of you know intuitively, but I’ll elaborate for anybody who may not have a clear understanding.

As Ram Dass teaches, it’s easiest to define an open heart by explaining its opposite, a closed heart. Here are some examples of closing:

-You ask a friend for a favor and they blow you off. It’s a friend you’ve been there for countless times. You decide, that’s it. I’m done with him/her.

-You see the latest tragic school shooting on the news. Several innocent kids are killed. You shut down in despair, believing that the world is too awful to bear.

-Your spouse says something hurtful to you. You immediately shut down and vow that you’re not going to speak to them.

All of these are examples of us closing our hearts. They were open. Then something happened and we decided to close them.

Shouldn’t we close our hearts sometimes?

Some of you might be thinking, “I get it. It’s good to keep our hearts open. But sometimes life is so bad that closing our hearts is inevitable, isn’t it?”

No, it’s not. Which leads to the most important point of this article:

It is NEVER good to close our hearts.

I can’t think of one instance when closing our hearts is advisable.

I do have to clarify something, though. Keeping our hearts open does not mean trying to stay happy or “okay” through all that life throws at us. If a loved one dies, the heart is going to hurt.

But a hurt heart and a closed heart are two different things. A hurt heart is:

“I am beyond sad that my mom passed away. She was the best person I ever knew.”

A closed heart is:

“What kind of God takes away such a lovely woman in her prime? With all of the horrible things happening in the world, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Count me out.”

One way to sum up the essence of keeping our hearts open would be not giving up. In small ways: “Yes, he just said something incredibly insensitive, but I’m not going to shut down over it.”

And in large ways: “Yes, there’s starvation everywhere. Wars in Ukraine and Gaza. And suffering all over the globe. But I choose to fight like hell to keep my heart open.”

We make it our life’s work to keep our hearts open, no matter what.

The beneficiaries of open-heartedness

Who benefits when we make this choice? We do, of course. An open heart provides a healthier, more productive and fulfilling life than a closed one. Full stop.

But guess who else benefits? Everybody. The whole world. We are of infinitely more use to the world with our hearts open.

The how-to of it all

That’s all well and good. But how do we make this four-word mantra the guiding force in our lives?

The good news is, it’s simple. We set the intention that whenever we notice that our heart wants to close, we do our damnedest to keep it open.

How do we keep it from closing? Also simple. Remember when I mentioned the article about the word relax and how central it is? That’s what we do. We relax.

You get in that fight with your spouse and feel that pull from down below that’s begging you to tell him/her to go to hell. But because you’ve set this intention, you catch yourself before you close. And you relax. And say to yourself, “Keep your heart open.”

We will fall off the horse

Because we’ve set this intention, we practice. And sometimes we fall down.

I was just outside a few hours ago chatting with my wife over a late afternoon espresso. Talk turned to our son’s lacrosse team and the coach and some of the parents involved. My wife stopped me at one point and told me she thought I was being negative on everybody.

What did I do? Did I stop and say to myself, “Keep your heart open?” No. I fell down. I got up and walked inside the house.

Ten minutes later we chatted about it and hugged it out. I’ll give it a partial victory for not closing down for long.

The takeaway

Point being, it takes work, commitment and practice to keep our hearts open. But it’s worth giving our all to.

Not jus for us, but for everybody in our lives.


Eckhart Tolle’s Wise Quote About Where We Find Our Deepest Self

Ladies and gentlemen, today we revisit the Genius of Germany. The Prince of Peace. The Commander of Calm. That would be none other than the great Eckhart Tolle.

Today’s deep dive into EckhartLand comes in the form of a quote of his. First, some background on how I came across this gem.

My Eckhart email trove

For many years Eckhart’s website,, sent out a regular teaching/quote of his. I received scores of these over the past twelve years and saved the ones that resonated the most.

Of those, six remain in my inbox. Today’s quote is the second oldest, having lived in my inbox since January 18, 2015.

I’ve saved it for over nine years because it gets to the core of where we find our true selves. Here it is:

You are never more essentially, more deeply, yourself than when you are still.”

So beautiful.

What does it mean? It’s partly about where we don’t find ourselves, which is when we aren’t still.

Our unstill minds

What’s that place of ‘unstillness?’ It’s where most of us are most of the time. Our minds racing around, like stock cars circling the Daytona Speedway.

Worrying about our financial situation. Getting riled up that somebody didn’t say hello when they walked past us. Fretting about whether our kid is going to pass his math test.

This is what most of us do…all day long. Every day.

And it’s not us. What’s not us? Those thoughts. Those worries. It’s who we think we are, but it isn’t us.

If it’s not us, who or what is it? It’s our ego.

What it’s like to be still

What is it to be still? Many of you have experienced stillness during meditation.

We reach a point where it’s so quiet inside that all we hear is a low buzzing sound inside our head. For me, it’s the sound of my brain when nothing else is going on. No thoughts. No nothing. Just listening to the sound of silence, to steal a page from Simon & Garfunkel.

This may sound odd, but I love the word still. In fact, I use it almost every day in my meditation sessions and have done so for years.

Using ‘still’ in my meditations

How? I first spend several minutes quieting down, starting with some breathing exercises and then pivoting to a body scan. After about ten minutes of this, I usually feel calm and quiet inside.

Then I do something ultra simple. I inhale, then on the exhale I say to myself, “Still.” Over and over.

Saying the word still somehow deepens my already still state. It works like a charm for me.

Do I go five straight minutes of this with perfect concentration? No. My mind does wander off at times. And when it does, I simply bring my attention back to still.

The takeaway

That stillness is the essence of who we are, as Eckhart so eloquently states. It’s our true, conscious self, unencumbered and unshrouded by the busyness of our thinking minds.

I don’t fully understand how this is. Or how it works. But I sense it.

And as is the case in dealing with the great mysteries of the Universe, sensing without intellectually knowing is as close as we humans can get.

Be still, my friends.


The Most Important Life Choice There Is: Pursue What We Want or Let Go

The entire purpose of this article is to make you aware of a choice you have in how to conduct your life. It’s a choice between two paths, the second of which most people don’t know exists.

Why don’t people know about option #2? Because they believe, reasonably, that there is only one way to go through life: Pursue what we want and avoid what we don’t want.

What does that mean? Exactly what it sounds like. We get up in the morning and the entirety of our day, every day, is spent asking and answering the question: What do I want?

From the mundane, like:

“I want a venti latte with 2% milk and a chocolate croissant,” or

“I want my kid to put her clothes on and brush her teeth in the next five minutes or we’ll be late for school,” or

“I want to go to the gym to work off all this nervous energy coursing through me.”

Then there are the bigger things that hover in our minds, on and off, all day:

“Do I want to marry this guy?” or

“I want to be a millionaire in the next two years,” or the biggest one of all,

“What do I want to do with my life?”

What about avoiding what we don’t want? Michael Singer calls these ‘not wants.’

“I’m not going to run for city council because I don’t want people to think I’m a loser if I don’t win.”

“I’m going to work 24/7 to make money because I don’t want to be poor like I was growing up.”

“I’m going to pour a ton of money and time into looking good because I don’t want to be single my whole life.”

That’s how virtually everybody lives their lives. All day, every day. From cradle to grave. Try and get what I want and avoid what I don’t want.

‘How else should we live?’

Many of you reading this are saying, “Yeah? So? How else are we supposed to live?” Good question, which I’ll answer shortly.

First, let’s examine the efficacy of this life strategy. The answer is…it doesn’t work.

How do we know that? Because most people on planet Earth aren’t very happy most of the time.

When we ask people how they’re doing, we usually get something like, “I’m hanging in there.” “Not too bad.” “Could be worse.” How often do we get, “I’ve never been happier!”?

We want because we’re not okay

The reason we all live this way is because we’re not okay inside. That’s the point people don’t realize. That wants and needs are not natural. I wrote a piece about that very subject (link here).

In our natural state, all we need is food and shelter. For proof, look at the most ecstatic, beaming people in the world: The gurus from India and people like Eckhart Tolle. Their needs are bare bones, and they feel great most of the time.

What does Eckhart have that we don’t?

So why do these lucky few higher beings feel great all the time while needing almost nothing? What do they have that we don’t?

It’s not what they have. It’s what they don’t have. It’s what they’ve shed. What might that be?


They’ve let go of themselves, aka, their egos. All the slights, insecurities, emotional scars, prejudices, judgments, comparisons…the whole kit and egoic kaboodle.

I hope you see where this is going. Because if running around all day going after what we want and avoiding what we don’t want doesn’t work and letting go of our egos does…Hmm.

Life option #2

That brings us to ‘how we live our lives’ option #2: Letting go. That’s what we focus our lives on. Just letting go.

Really? That doesn’t sound like much of a life. It is.

It’s the essence of the spiritual path. As I’ve written many times in many different ways: Letting go of our stuff is the holiest endeavor we can pursue.

Specifics of the letting go life

You might be wondering: What are some specifics on how we live this life of letting go? My answer won’t surprise many of you.

We do practices like meditation to help quiet the egoic chatter rattling around our heads. Why? Because the quieter we get, the easier it is to become aware when our emotional baggage arises, which allows us to let it go.

And instead of looking at the outside world as a place we use to satisfy our wants, we look at it as a place that gives us opportunities for letting go. Red lights, drivers cutting us off, girlfriends pushing our buttons, parents urging us to count our calories…All of these provide invaluable openings for us to let go of the egoic gunk holding us back.

So if I choose this way of living, does that mean I lie in bed all day doing nothing but letting go? No. You can still go out for sushi. And get married. And play golf.

Making it priority #1

The difference is that when we choose this path, letting go shoots to the top of the pyramid. It becomes our number one priority. All day. Every day. ’Til death do we part this world.

Meditation isn’t something we fit in if we can find the time. It becomes the priority. Same with taking walks in the woods or on the beach or in the neighborhood and myriad other activities and practices that help quiet and center us.

Regular practices come first

It’s about prioritization. Our sadhana (the Sanskrit word for daily spiritual practice) comes first. Everything else is below it in the life priority pecking order.

That is the second way we can live our lives. And I highly encourage you to shift into that life living mode. Why?


When we shift from focusing on wants/not wants to getting quiet and letting go, good things happen. We feel lighter. More content. More compassionate.

We get better at our jobs. Our marriages. Our parenting. Our golf games. Our writing.

The takeaway

So now you know. There’s a second, more effective way to live life.

It’s your choice.


A Prominent Neuroscientist’s Simple, Sensible Remedy for Anxiety

I listened to a great interview last week that Tami Simon, founder of, conducted with renowned neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer. The topic was Dr. Jud’s (what people call him) research on unwinding anxiety. I highly recommend giving it a listen. Here’s the link.

Anxiety is a massive, complex topic. Sadly, it’s also all too prevalent in our go, go, go society of today.

Adults. Kids. Teenagers. People in their 20s. It seems no group is immune from the ravages of anxiety.

My battles with anxiety

I had some awful bouts with it in my younger days and I can say from experience that the psychic and physical pain anxiety inflicts can be unbearable. One episode in college forced me to go on several runs a day of many miles for multiple days just to tire myself out and keep the anxiety partially at bay.

I’m not an expert on all the treatments. Medication, therapy, exercise, meditation, or some combination thereof, would likely be the main ones.

But Dr. Jud’s approach resonated with me. Not surprisingly, the idea at the heart of it is mindfulness.

The anxiety habit loop

He starts by identifying the basic habit loop of anxiety. What’s a habit loop? It has three elements: A trigger, a behavior and a reward/result. I’m stressed (trigger), that leads me to have a couple shots of whiskey (behavior) and I feel calm (result/reward).

Dr. Jud relates the habit loop of anxiety as: 1. We feel anxious (trigger); 2. We worry (behavior); 3. We feel some level of being in control (result/reward).

So the anxiety triggers the worrying which serves to give us some control. Which makes sense.

Because any time we feel something unpleasant our brain goes right to, “Do something to make this unpleasant feeling go away!”

Today’s ‘do anything to stop it’ culture

This has gotten exponentially worse in today’s world where any time we feel any kind of discomfort we’re encouraged to take a pill. Or eat some food.

So if you’re sitting there, let’s say right upon waking up in the morning, and a wave of anxiety washes over you, the last thing you want to do is…nothing. So we go to worrying. “Is junior going to flunk his math test?” “I hope my dinner party tonight isn’t a total disaster.” “My boss acted weird toward me yesterday. Am I going to get fired today?”

It seems crazy, but giving voice to our anxiety does, however insidiously, produce some level of control.

Two problems with this habit

But there are two massive problems with this. First, the worrying and the control it gains us, doesn’t work. It doesn’t make the anxiety go away.

Second, the worrying actually makes the anxiety worse! So not only is it not helping, it’s making matters worse.

Worrying isn’t the only behavior we use when anxiety strikes. One that will be familiar to all of us is distraction.

How we distract ourselves

Like what? Like picking up your phone when you feel anxious and checking your Instagram feed. Or your Twitter feed. Or your Facebook feed. Or the stock market. Or ESPN sports scores.

But again, none of these alleviate the anxiety. They only make it worse.

The fire analogy

Why is that? Dr. Jud explains this effectively with a fire analogy. Worry and distractions provide fuel to the fire of anxiety. They give the fire strength and endurance.

Another way to describe it is that when we worry or distract ourselves, what we’re doing is resisting the anxiety. We’re pushing it away. And as the great Carl Jung famously said, “What we resist, persists.”

So if we want to curtail anxiety, step one is to stop fueling it.

Dr. Jud’s prescription

Which brings us to the key question of this article: What does Dr. Jud suggest that we do? In a nutshell, he advises that, instead of turning away from the anxiety by worrying or distracting, we do the opposite: We turn toward it.

How do we turn toward it? We place our attention on it. He calls this distress tolerance.

He advises us to be curious about our anxiety. Not curious in the manner of, “Where the hell did you come from, anxiety? I need to figure you out so I can get rid of you.” He calls that deprivational curiosity.

He counsels us to instead use interest curiosity. That means we turn toward our anxiety and say to ourselves, “Hmm. You’re fascinating. I wonder what you’re all about?”

It’s mostly mindfulness

For me, it’s just basic mindfulness. It’s putting our attention on what is in our moment-to-moment field of awareness. And when we’re anxious, you better believe that that feeling dominates our field of awareness.

Which leads to a key point. When we’re overwhelmed by anxiety, that’s all there is. Our entire being is swallowed up by the anxiety.

But when we lean away and observe it and just be with it, two entities co-exist. There’s us and the anxiety. Not just the anxiety. That in itself is hugely helpful.

It’s similar to dealing with chronic pain

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the iconic pioneer of mindfulness in America, began his studies on this by using it to treat chronic pain. He told the doctors at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center to send him the patients who weren’t responding to any other pain treatments. What he found was that his program, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, had significant success in helping these helpless patients reduce their pain.

A big part of that program was getting these patients to turn toward their pain rather than fighting with it and resisting it. All of the mental chatter of, “God, I hate this pain. This is killing me. How can I go on?” etc., greatly exacerbated the actual pain. When people work on eliminating that kind of resistance to the pain, it drops significantly.

Which is how it also works with many kinds of anxiety. I’ve found that when I feel anxious, simply stopping and placing my attention on it, without judging it or engaging with it, helps a ton.

We can’t excise anxiety

One key is to not try to eliminate the anxious feelings. Anxiety has a life of its own and it doesn’t respond well to our attempts to go inside and scoop it out, so to speak.

But just sitting quietly with it, doing nothing but nonjudgmentally observing it, usually results in at least a partial reduction in those feelings. That has been my experience and seemingly many of Dr. Jud’s patients.

The takeaway

It’s sounds so simple and frankly counterintuitive. “You want me to focus on my anxiety when I feel anxious?”


Sit with it. Breathe with it. Don’t touch it or tangle with it. Just be with it.

See what happens.


One Small Mindfulness Victory for Me, One Giant Lesson for All of Us

Before diving in on my mindful “win” yesterday, I need to reiterate something I’ve written before. I’m not a guru or a high spiritual being. I’m like most of you reading this article: Someone trying to make his way along the spiritual path.

Why is it important to let you know that? That comes later.

But let’s get to what happened yesterday. My wife, who works from home, left at around noon for a work lunch. She said she’d be back around four.

The $26 Acai excursion

My 13-year-old daughter got home from school around 3:45 and was starving. So I took her to get something called an Acai bowl, which is a fruity something or other. And hugely expensive at $16! But whatever. She’s a great kid. Works hard in school and is a wonderful girl.

She’d paid with my credit card online. So when we got there, she grabbed the bag and we headed back to the car. But on the way I got a look at the receipt. It was $26! She’d added a vegan cookie and some add-ons to her bowl.

I wasn’t happy about this. But this isn’t the mindful episode of the article.

Taking my teen to tennis

Because an hour and a half later while I was writing away, mom was still not home. It was 5:20 and my daughter needed to be at tennis at 5:30, something my wife usually does. My daughter peeped her head into my office. “Dad. I need to go.”

I’d texted my wife but heard nothing back. So off we went to tennis drop off; still no blow up. But still, we’re not at the mindful victory.

That came when I got home from dropping off at tennis. As I fired up the engines to get working again, my wife finally responded to my text… “I’m stuck here. Can you pick up Violet?”

Strike 3: Picking up Vi

Violet is my 7-year-old who was at her after school Boys and Girls Club program. My wife was going to pick her up from that, too.

So there I was. The third strike had hit. I felt a knot of anger. But that faded. Quickly.

I relaxed, and then said to myself, “It does you no good to get all pissed off about this. You have to pick her up anyway, so go do it.” So I got up and picked up my little one.

Dousing the fuse

The key was nipping it in the bud. As I wrote about last week (link here), my fuse is getting longer. And in this case, I was able to wet my fingers, put out the fuse and stop the bomb from detonating.

Which is what I used to do. Not a crazy blow up or anything. I would just get pissy with my wife about being late and not doing what she said she’d do which, I’ll confess, sounds jerky as I write this.

When she walked in last night around 6:30 I was fine. Why be a jerk? It doesn’t do me, her or our family any good. She got held up dealing with a work matter.

Setting the intention is key

To what do I attribute this mindful “victory?” Mainly, it’s the result of my making it a point to work on this stuff. I’ve set the intention. And that, in conjunction with lots of meditation, is paying off.

You might think I’m making a big deal out of this little vignette. And I am. Because it is a big deal. Sure, it’s only one small mindful victory for yours truly, but when we add these up, they become life-altering.

Letting go is what I did

Because the truth is, when I calmed down and didn’t blow up, I was letting go of an egoic packet of energy stuck in my lower self. And as I have written many times, letting go of this stuff is the most important work of our lives. And the most valuable to our well-being.

As for the origin of this trigger, I have a good guess. My mom was awesome, but she was pathologically late. Picking me up to go to the dentist. Picking me up from practice. You name it, she was late. And it really got to me.

My guess is that sensitive me took this as, “You don’t love me enough to be on time.” Which of course wasn’t true, but that’s how I took it. Then when my wife is late…You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to make the connection here.

How this affects you

So what does any of this have to do with you? Why is this mundane story about my wife being late of any use to anybody?

This brings us full circle to the first paragraph. Because here’s the bottom line: If I can do this mindful work, so can you.

From a practical standpoint, what can you do? See if you can identify some areas that trigger you. For me it was my wife being late.

What are they for you? When your boss belittles you? When your husband ignores you? When your friend brags about her job constantly? Try and come up with at least two or three.

Set the intention then be on the lookout

Then what? Then set the intention that you’re going to be on the lookout for these situations. And when they arise, you’re going to do your level-best to calm down, take some deep breaths and let go.

When you do this you’ll reap the double rewards of 1. Not blowing up and feeling awful; and 2. The biggest reward of all: Getting rid of the egoic gunk that prevents you from accessing the real, true, conscious, beautiful you.