Understanding This Nuance Will Save You a Ton of Heart Ache Traveling the Spiritual Path

As I write this first sentence, my biggest fear is that my head will explode by the time I finish this. This ain’t gonna be an easy one, folks.

But this topic is so central that I am willing to put billions of innocent brain cells on the line. You’re welcome.

Alright, enough complaining. Onto the show…

When most people think of spiritual growth, they view it in terms of something that is attained. We could also use the word achieved. And we could frame spiritual growth in terms of something we strive for.

What kinds of things do we do thinking they will help us attain this growth? We meditate. Practice Mindfulness. Surrender. Let go. Pray. And do manifold other spiritual practices.

We already have what we’re striving for

But the truth is this: There is nothing to attain. Why? Because that state we’re striving to attain already exists within us. And we can’t attain something we already have.

That being the case, the spiritual path comes down to one endeavor: Realizing the conscious self that already exists within us. That’s it. Game, set, match.

The preceding few paragraphs form the core of a slew of teachings of spiritual masters. I would include Eckhart Tolle among that group.

Ramana Maharshi and self-realization

But it was the 20th century Indian yogi Ramana Maharshi who is most credited for teaching that self-realization need be the only pursuit of spiritual seekers. He taught that everything would come from merely realizing the true ‘I’ inside us.

The obvious question is, how do we come to realize who we are? What it comes down to is removing the obstacles that shroud our ability to realize this self.

We’re not adding anything. We’re subtracting those things that lead us to believe in our false selves. Essentially, we’re burning off the fog that prohibits us from seeing our true ‘I’.

Subtracting the ego

What is that false self? Mostly, it’s the ego — all those fears, insecurities and sensitivities that we build up from early childhood into adulthood.

But that false self is also believing that you are your body, your role (mom, dad), your job (astronaut, accountant, minister, professional tennis player)…None of that is true.

We are the consciousness underlying all of those things.

Ramana Maharshi’s only technique

And how do we remove all those egoic layers shrouding our true, conscious selves? Ramana Maharshi’s one and only technique was to meditate over and over on the question: “Who am I?”

The goal isn’t to answer the question, but to ponder the silence that follows. It is within that silence that we come to realize who we are.

We also do some or all of the practices I listed above: Meditate, practice mindfulness, let go and all the rest. The difference is, we do those practices in order to shed the ego, not to attain some distant, difficult spiritual state.

The subtle diff

Therein lies the subtle difference between attainment and realization. Now do you understand why I thought my head might explode on this one?

I’m going to err on the side of brevity on this piece because diving further into explaining and analyzing the nuances of this concept will only serve to complicate the matter…Not to mention destroy my ever-dwindling supply of brain cells.

The takeaway

Two points I hope you’ll take away from this article.

First, I hope you’ll realize that you’re already at the end of the path. Your true, conscious self is already there. To realize that reality, look inside, not outside.

Second, realize that this is great news. You don’t need to go to the four corners of the Earth trying to attain some grand spiritual state.

It’s already within you.


The Priceless Gift Mickey Singer Gave Me on My Second Visit to His Temple

I returned to Mickey Singer’s Temple of the Universe this past weekend after visiting back in March. Before describing this trip, here’s a quick recap of that March trip.

In a word, it was amazing. I’d let Mickey’s people know that I’d written several articles about his teachings and also gave my background. My hope was to have a quick introduction and maybe talk for a minute.

That request turned into an hour and a half walk around the Temple grounds wherein we talked about Ram Dass, Ramana Maharshi, my crazy (fun) kids and everything under the sun. We even went into his house and chatted in his living room for a while.

Thrilled to be asked on another walk

Then the next morning, after the daily one-hour chant he does of the Sri Atma Gita, he asked me to join two of his associates on another walk. I was flabbergasted. And honored. And tickled. And thrilled.

But that wasn’t all. After that walk, Mickey invited me to have dinner at the big house next to the Temple with his group that lives on the property. I couldn’t believe it. I was pinching myself.

High as can be

Bottom line: I was high as a kite. This man, who is my favorite spiritual teacher, met me and brought me into the fold. It was deeply gratifying.

Which brings me to this week’s trip and the invaluable gift that Mickey gave me. What was that gift?

He ignored me.

Say what?!

You read that right. Let me explain.

My first interaction with him came on Sunday morning after his talk when the whole group (around 100 people) gathers on a large grass field outside the Temple. They serve tea and cookies and Mickey chats with people and signs books.

Deflated in the book sign line

I stood in a short line to have him sign a copy of my favorite book of his, The Surrender Experiment. One of his close associates, Stephanie, was standing there and said, “Mickey, you remember David?” He looked up at me and said, “Yes.” Then he leaned over and signed my book.

And that was that. On to the next book. There was no, “David! Welcome back. Can’t wait to catch up. You want to take a walk after everybody heads out?” as we’d done on my first trip.

I walked back to my room at the main Temple house feeling deflated. But it was only day one.

Sunday night I went to the short service they do and, same thing, no recognition.

After the talk, no walk

Monday morning I got my lazy butt out of bed for the 6:30–7:30 (3:30–4:40 my time!) chant of the Sri Atma Gita. Afterward, I walked out and saw Mickey, Stephanie and another Temple colleague gearing up to go on a walk, which they do every morning after this service.

On the last trip, Mickey saw me and asked whether I wanted to join them on the walk, which, of course, I jumped at. This time, I walked out, looked over at them and…Nothing.

Mondays are one of three nights that the small Temple group — Mickey, Stephanie, Donna (Mickey’s wife) and a handful of others eat dinner together in the big house where I stayed. People staying at the house are invited to these dinners so of course I went.

Small talk at the big house

I sat near Mickey at dinner where there were around eight people. I had a couple quick interactions with him, but nothing in-depth. I did make a point of telling him that I was leaving the next day and in case I missed him, wanted to thank him for an amazing stay at the Temple house.

Tuesday morning was a repeat of Monday — they all gathered to walk and didn’t give me a second look. One highlight was that right after the Sri Atma Gita service ended, I happened to walk past him inside the Temple and he looked at me and quietly said, “Come back and see us.” So he remembered my telling him the night before that I was heading out the next day.

I should add that Mickey was not the slightest bit rude to me. Or dismissive. He treated me the same way he treated the other visitors, which was with kindness and courteousness.

Wondering why he ignored me

So that’s my tale of two trips to the Temple.

The human part of me kept going to the why. Did he read something of mine that offended him? Answer: Almost zero probability because he hardly reads anything, much less my articles.

The Club Med Theory

Did he and his people simply forget about my earlier trip? This is my Club Med theory. People who work at Club Meds meet oodles of people every week. They come and they go and there’s no way they remember most of them.

Same at the Temple. People come from all over the world to see Mickey. This trip there was someone from Switzerland. Last trip someone from Germany. The Club Med theory is the most probable.

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. Which gets us to the meat of the matter.

It all boils down to EGO

The reason I chose to devote an entire article to this can be summed up in one word: Ego. Because ego is the central character in this whole melodrama.

In the March trip, it was my ego that lit up like the Eiffel Tower when Mickey showered me with all that attention. I tried to fool myself into thinking it was something else by couching it in terms of, “Wow. This great spiritual teacher, my favorite in fact, saw some sort of depth and wisdom in me. That’s really profoundly good.”

In retrospect, I now realize that that was a phony reaction. It was my ego that got stroked. Period.

This week’s trip was also all about ego. Only this time it got poked instead of stroked.

The takeaway

So what does this all add up to? A valuable lesson. That we need to be ever-vigilant about not clinging to (the adulation of the March trip) or resisting (this week’s trip) the events of our lives.

Recognizing when we cling or resist is invaluable in being able to let go of the egoic baggage that is coming up. And as I’ve written many times before, letting go of that baggage is an indispensable part of liberating ourselves from ourselves…otherwise known as the spiritual path.

That is why I view the experience of these two trips as such a gift. It was like getting a cooler of ice water poured over my head, with the intention of waking me up to the egoic reality underpinning both trips.

The real stuff lay in Mickey’s talks and the services I attended which taught me to stay anchored in what this stuff is all about. Getting quiet inside. Letting go of our stuff. Chopping the wood and carrying the water. Every day.

Thanks, Mickey.


Deal With a Triggered Emotion Just as You Would a Painful Knot During Massage

I’m writing this from my room at Mickey Singer’s Temple of the Universe in Alachua, Florida. It’s my second visit, the first being in early March. It’s been quite a trip, in more ways than one, which I’ll write about in depth later this week.

For now, I want to focus on something Mickey said in his Temple talk yesterday. He was talking about how to deal with inner disturbances.

What does he mean by inner disturbances? Some examples:

– Your parents hounded you about your weight throughout your teen years, causing you to become extremely sensitive about your body into adulthood. You’re in your 30s now, work out regularly and have a fantastic body. Nevertheless, on your third date with a guy you really like, his innocent comment about how fast you devoured your crème brulee cuts you to your core.

– You have a deep fear of abandonment due to your mom leaving the family when you were twelve years old, resulting in a history of avoiding intimate relationships. Now 35, you have a near-panic attack when your girlfriend of three months broaches the subject of moving in together.

– You developed an inferiority complex around sports because you were scrawny and unathletic as a kid. Now in your 40s, you’re a successful lawyer at a blue-chip law firm. But when you get picked last at a pickup basketball game with some of your attorney colleagues, it strikes a sore spot that deflates you.

These are all examples of painful experiences we hold onto. They just sit there, pockets of energy stuck in our lower selves, determining the course of our lives.

So what do we do about those pockets of energy, which I call emotional baggage and Mickey calls Samskaras (from the Sanskrit)? We let them go when they come up.

All three of the situations described above offer opportunities to free that energy so it can rise up. They’re opportunities to let go.

Letting go is the indispensable spiritual practice

And as I’ve written several times before and will in the future: We can do all the meditating, qi gonging and all the other spiritual practices all day long, but if we don’t let go of this baggage, it isn’t going anywhere. It will sit there and continue to plague our very being.

Long story short: Letting go of our emotional baggage is critical for liberation.

The problem is that, even if we’re in that fortunate minority that is aware of this baggage and the need to let it go, it’s still really difficult to do.

Why? Because when it comes up, when it gets poked, the first thing we want to do is push it away.

Why? Because it’s painful!

Working out the knots

Which brings us to the massage table. Most of you have gotten a massage from a friend, partner or professional.

And unless you’re superhuman, that masseuse has come across muscle knots in your body. Mine are invariably found in the shoulder blade area.

What do most of us do when that area gets hit? First, we grimace and groan a little bit. And then we say something like,

Yeah, right there. Work that nice and easy…Ahhh…Yes…

What do we not say?

“No! Stop. That hurts too much. Don’t even touch it!”

But that is what we do when a painful emotion arises. Again, we push it away.

What to do

So next time one of these feelings comes up, imagine a picture in your head of you laying on a massage table. And your masseuse has just arrived at a sensitive muscle knot.

Then see if you can treat that emotional “knot” just as you would the muscular one. How would that look? Something like this:

“Ooh. Ow, that hurts. Go ahead, get in there and work on it…Ow…Ahhh…”

In other words, instead of immediately pushing it away, just let it be. Let the masseuse loosen that energy pocket so it can rise up.

Because the goal is the same in both endeavors: To loosen the emotional/muscle knot so that it can stop blocking your natural flow.

A critical question

Now, here’s a key question we need to ask: Who’s the masseuse working out the emotional knot when you’ve been triggered?

Not you! You don’t get involved at all in the process of loosening up that Samskara/emotional baggage knot. All you do is, as you would in a massage, let the masseuse do her work.

Fine. Then who’s the masseuse here?


When you slice your thumb dicing onions, what do you do? You clean it, put on a bandaid and leave it alone. You don’t pick at it. You don’t do anything.

What do you do? You let nature heal the wound.

It’s the same here. We let nature heal/soften that energy pocket so it can rise up.

But in order for that to happen, we have to remain on the table and not resist or push away the pain. If we do push it away, as most of us do most of the time, that energy just gets pushed down again and continues to cause us problems. It’s an opportunity lost.

The takeaway

This really can be helpful. Use this image of seeing yourself on a massage table next time a feeling comes up that upsets you.

Do your best to remain on the table, leaning away from the pain, but remaining present with it.

Then let nature work out the knot.


Is Your Life a Constant Tug of War Pitting You Against the World? I have a great solution for you.

In case you don’t know, a tug of war is when two teams of people, presumably of equal strength, pull on a rope. The winning team is the one to pull the other over to their side.

Winning requires strength, energy, and determination.

Most of us Earthlings live our lives this way. Only, instead of equal numbers of people on each team, it’s us on one end and “the world” on the other.

What do I mean by “the world”?

– Heavy traffic while we desperately try to get to work for an important client presentation.

– Battling it out every day at work with a colleague you don’t like who’s vying for the same promotion.

– Fighting subterranean battles with your passive-aggressive mother-in-law.

– Navigating through the lion’s den of loony tunes moms at your kid’s preschool.

– Dealing with the constant push and pull that comes with marriage.

It’s the world that we deal with every day. And most of us fight our worlds like it’s a tug of war.

The good news is that sometimes we’re successful in pulling the world our way. We get the promotion. You get along with your mother-in-law at Thanksgiving. You and your spouse go through a good phase.

We never win long-term

The bad news is that this never, and I mean never, lasts. After a while, we’re inevitably back to straining hard to, at the very least, hold our ground against the world.

And what is that like? The constant battling, tugging and pulling against the world? A few words come to mind.




Fine. So we’re all fighting this exhausting battle against the world. Straining with all of our might to pull the rope our way.

The solution

Let’s end this pity party and get to the question at hand: What’s the solution? I’m happy to tell you that there is one. And it’s very simple:

Let go of the rope.


Yes. Let go of the rope. Stop battling with the world. In fact…


Surrender? You mean quit? Give up on life?

Hell no. Surrendering is the opposite of giving up on life. In fact, it’s the most life-affirming act there is.

But if we let go of the rope, what about that competition at work for the promotion? And trying to fit in with the moms at preschool? And managing our marriage? Those all take energy and work!

Yes, they do. But not the kind of work and energy required of the tug of war strategy.

Then how do we handle these situations? Instead of tugging and straining, we work on relaxing into the moments of our lives. And we accept the reality of our situations, rather than resisting them.

Dealing with the weaselly sycophant

That annoying competitor of yours at work who’s constantly sucking up to the boss? He or she is who they are and you’re not going to change them.

What good does it do you to skulk around the office every day fantasizing about how you’d love to take a sledgehammer to their head? Answer: It not only does you no good, it does you loads of harm by flooding your psyche with negative energy.

What to do instead? Put 100 percent of your focus and energy at work on performing your work.

And your annoying mother-in-law? Again, accept her for who she is, know you’re not going to change her and do your best to remain present when you’re around her.

The ego wants us to tug

Finally, be cognizant of the fact that most of the time we’re tugging and straining against the world, it is our drama-loving, selfish, me-me-me, I-I-I ego that is directing us to do so. Letting go of the rope is akin to letting go of the ego’s hold over us.

So step #1 in our solution is to let go of the rope.

What’s step #2?

Don’t pick up the rope again.

When life, and your ego, tries to lure you into picking up the rope and resuming the battle, don’t do it. Relax and let the rope sit on the ground.

But hey, we’ve all been fighting and tugging for many, many years, so odds are we’re going to pick up the rope again at some point. We’re not going to kick that habit in a day.

No, we’re not. So when we pick up the rope again…

Step #3 is to simply become aware that we’ve picked up the rope again.

“Oops, there I go again. Ruminating about how much I hate Gerald in the next cubicle over.”

Which leads to step #4: Let go of the rope again.

And that’s it. Rinse and repeat steps 1–4. Over and over.

With time, the periods between picking up the rope will increase. Until one day you realize, “Wow, I can’t remember the last time I picked up the rope…”

The takeaway

That’s it. Let go of the rope. Stop fighting with the world.

In fact, here’s how to use this in a practical way. The next time you find yourself tensed up, frustrated or pissed off about some battle you’re in, picture in your mind straining to pull the rope toward you. And then…

See yourself let go of the rope.

Take a few deep breaths. Relax. And respond to the situation from a state of presence.

You win.


The Spiritual Practice That Helps Me the Most – It’s about acceptance.

Let me state up front that I am not a high being. Far from it.

High beings are those like Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi and Neem Karoli Baba. These are people who shed their egos and became close to pure consciousness.

The question I’d ask

But if I were you, someone who I presume is interested in articles I write about traveling the spiritual path, I’d want to ask this question: Of all these things you write about, which work best for you?

The answer is that many work for me. But…

There is one that I find helps me the most. And it is this:

Accepting and not resisting what comes my way.

It’s about acceptance and resistance. I didn’t realize how much this dynamic came into play in my life until I started placing attention on it.

What I learned is that resistance, and please forgive the following inartful words, is a big fat bummer. Over time, it is the ultimate buzz kill of life.

How so? Let’s look at a few examples of resistance to get a better idea of what I mean.

– Your vacation to Hawaii gets screwed up when your flight gets cancelled and you can’t go until the next day. Your seven day trip is now six. Instead of clenching up inside and complaining all day about how unlucky you are and/or how horrible the airline is…you accept it. The flight got cancelled and there is nothing you can do about it. So you accept it.

– You hit a traffic jam, resulting in you missing the first ten minutes of a movie you were really excited to see. Nothing you can do. So instead of being pissed off, you accept it and make the best of it.

– You break your arm slipping and falling in the kitchen. This means no weekly golf game for three months. Nothing you can do. So you accept and don’t resist.

What do all of these examples have in common? Something happened that you have no control over.

Shit happens in life. Flights get cancelled. Traffic jams occur. People break bones.

We have a choice

When that stuff happens, it sets up a choice: Accept or resist. Most people resist, mainly out of sheer habit.

What they don’t know, and this is a main point of this article, is thatresistance causes us a ton of suffering.And the key is that it’s suffering we don’t need to experience.

How do we simply choose acceptance over resistance? First of all, it’s not simple. And it’s not easy. We’ve all been resisting life for as long as we can remember.

A 3-step process

So step one is to simply become aware of this dynamic. Mostly, it’s about becoming aware that we have a choice: accept or resist.

Step two is to commit to working on this. Unless we do that, we won’t succeed in…

Step three is to start practicing. Each time one of these situations arises in your daily life, you simply stop, relax, take a few breaths and then ask yourself, “There’s nothing I can do about this so it’s my choice: I can accept or resist…I’m going to accept.”

The more you practice this acceptance thing, the easier it gets. I can tell you from personal experience.

How accepting has helped me

I’ve gotten markedly better about not complaining when things don’t go my way. Whether it’s hitting red lights, my six-year-old having a meltdown or someone cancelling a tennis match, I now roll with things so much better.

And yes, these might seem like petty life annoyances, but their cumulative effect adds up, in both directions. That is, if we resist all these daily life occurrences, they add up to a ton of negative energy stored in our lower selves. And if we accept them, we feel lighter and more spacious inside.

It’s important to note that accepting doesn’t mean we’re trying to fool ourselves into liking the fact that we broke our arm, etc. No. It sucks. And we don’t like that it happened.

Getting into the no-moan zone

Acceptance merely means that we don’t torture ourselves with needless bitching and moaning about what has befallen us.

Instead of allowing our drama-queen egos to take over, we gather ourselves, take stock of the situation and then respond in a healthy, rational and productive manner.

Acceptance means rolling with life rather than constantly fighting it.

It’s flowing with the current of the river called life rather than exhausting ourselves by always trying to swim upriver.

Eckhart Tolle expressed all this far better than I’m capable. He wrote:

To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease and lightness. This state is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad.”

Acceptance produces grace, ease and lightness in our lives. Resistance brings frustration, anger and bad moods.

The takeaway

If you learn only one thing from this article, I hope it’s that you now know that you have a choice. Resistance is not your only option.

Will it take commitment and practice to slowly but surely learn how to accept rather than resist? Yes.

But take it from someone who’s experiencing more grace, ease and lightness in his life: It is so worth the effort.


Having trouble finding your way in the World? Try Mark Twain’s Simple Strategy for Life

In his essay The Turning Point of My Life, Mark Twain recounts the events of his life that led him to a literary career. In doing so, Twain teaches a universal lesson about how to live life.

What is that lesson? Allowing our lives to be governed by the marrying of fate and who we are at our core, something Twain calls temperament.

He wrote the essay in 1910 at the request of Harper’s Bazaar, which asked several prominent writers to relate the one incident in their lives that led them to the literary profession. Take the fifteen minutes it takes to read it. It may change your life forever. (free link to essay)

At the outset, Twain called BS on the question itself, arguing that there were several turning points that led him to a literary career, none more significant than the others. And, most important, every one of those turning points was random and dictated by fate.

Twain’s recounting of how he found the literary life offers a clear picture of how this can help you find YOUR way in life. Here it is.

A measles epidemic changes everything

Twain gives the lion’s share of credit for becoming a writer to a measles epidemic that ravaged his small Iowa town when he was twelve. What? Yes.

With his father recently deceased and his mother carrying the burden of the family, a measles epidemic killed several people in town. Twain was cooped up inside for weeks and worried constantly that he would be the next to get sick and die.

One day he couldn’t take it anymore, so he fled the house and jumped into bed with a friend who was dying. He just wanted to end it. Sure enough, he got sick and for the next two weeks was on the verge of death. Fortunately, he survived.

Twain’s mom makes a fateful decision

But his mother was so upset with him that she took him out of school and apprenticed him to a printer. For the next ten years young Twain traveled around, as printers did, and worked on setting several books.

One of those books, about the Amazon River and its exotic birds and animals, captivated him. He resolved that he would go there once he had enough money.

Soon thereafter, fate stepped in when he found a fifty-dollar bill on the street, a boatload of money in the 1850s. He advertised his find, but nobody claimed the money.

So he hopped on a riverboat and headed down the Ohio and the Mississippi for New Orleans where he planned to catch a ship to the Amazon. Upon reaching New Orleans he quickly learned that no boats were heading to Brazil. Ever. Oops.

Falling in love with the Mississippi

But on the trip South Twain fell in love with the Mississippi. The riverboat captain had taken him under his wing and taught him how to pilot.

So Twain became a riverboat pilot. And loved every minute of it. Then fate intervened again when the Civil War broke out and the boats stopped running.

Around that time, his older brother got a job in the Nevada Territory government and asked Twain to join him. This time Twain’s dream became striking it rich in the silver mines.

Twain tries his hand at writing

But he spent his spare time writing and sending articles to the Virginia City Enterprise newspaper. After printing and reading so many books the previous ten years, Twain learned about good and bad writing and decided to give it a try just for fun.

The Enterprise was so impressed with his writing that they hired him. Thus started a journalism career.

Not long after, the Sacramento Union sent Twain to the Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic to write about sugar. The quality and style of his writings there thrust him into the top echelon of journalists in Northern California.

The Innocents Abroad

That led to the San Francisco Alta sending him on a five-month trip to Europe and the Holy Land in 1867. Upon his return, Twain was asked to write a book about his travels. Two years later he published The Innocents Abroad. He was now officially an author, something Twain credits to getting the measles at age twelve.

Why Twain’s story matters to US

The relevance of all this to people living in 2023 is obvious: Most of us plan too much, analyze too much and just plain THINK too much. Everybody’s a control freak these days.

What does that do? It takes the universe, God, nature, fate, whatever you want to call it, out of the equation of our life’s journey. And that often leads to an antiseptic and flat journey through life.

Most of us 2023ers, were we put in Twain’s shoes, would’ve read that Amazon adventure book and said,

“Wow. That is so cool. But Brazil is too far away and I don’t have any money so…oh well. I’ll always have the book.”

Or if they’d found the fifty-dollar bill they would have done the “prudent” thing and put it in the bank for a rainy day. Or if they did strike the intrepid course and head for the Amazon, they would’ve written all kinds of letters inquiring about shipping schedules, etc. that would have taken several months after which time they’d be off to something else.

Don’t think, act

So my recommendation to you is this: Live as Twain did! Be spontaneous, adventurous, impetuous.

Here is all he did: Be himself, live in the present (i.e., no thinking about the past or future) and allow fate to be the riverboat transporting him through life. That’s it.

Granted, Twain had two advantages making it easier for him to live like this. First, he described his temperament as someone who “does things and reflects afterward.” That’s a hugely helpful trait.

Second, his father was not the Governor of Iowa putting pressure on him to go into politics. Or a farmer leaning on him to take over the family farm.

Twain was left to his own devices at age thirteen. So the combination of Twain’s temperament and his life circumstances made it relatively easy for him to pursue this life of adventure.

What or who is pressuring you?

What about you? Do your parents have a restaurant they expect you to take over some day? Is your father a Harvard trained lawyer at a blue-chip law firm in Manhattan who expects you to follow a similar path? Or maybe you just feel pressure from society in general to “stand out,” “be a big deal,” and “make it”?

I know from personal experience how powerful those forces can be in preventing one from following the Twain path. I was the youngest of six Type A, success-oriented kids and my father was a mega-successful Fortune 500 CEO.

I spent three decades trying to be “big,” first as a political aide in Washington, DC, then as a writer in Hollywood. But the truth is I never felt quite right inside.

An implosion in Hollywood puts me on the Twain path

What got me on the Twain path? My Hollywood career imploded, which resulted in me imploding. I had two kids under age four, a mortgage that was under water and no money coming in the door.

I tried meditation as a way of helping me cope with all the stress. And it worked. I felt better, calmer and less depressed.

As I read more, went to meditation and mindfulness conferences and really got into it, three things occurred to me: meditation is profoundly beneficial for anybody who does it, not many people do it regularly and it’s not that difficult.

As a result, I decided to devote myself to spreading meditation and mindfulness as far and wide as I can. Fate gave me something to help me through a tough time and that became my life’s work.

Be courageous and fight

So what does it take to live a Twain-like life for someone in 2023 who feels this familial and societal pressure? One word:


You have to fight like hell for yourself. Some will wage that fight against their parents. Others will wage it against their peers. And others will battle an amorphous force coming from multiple aspects of society telling them they need a higher profile job, a better car and a bigger house.

But most of these fights will be fought on the battlefield of your inner self. Because your parents, peers and society have spent years residing in your psyche.

So when you start thinking about leaving your job to spend a year in Paris working on the book you’ve always wanted to write, it’s going to roil your insides. And that’s when you have to fight. For yourself. And be as courageous as a warrior in combat, because you’ll be doing the same thing: Fighting for your life.

The takeaway:Be yourself and trust in life

But I hope you’ll trust me when I say that that battle is worth fighting. Because the Twain way of life is so much more fun, exciting and fulfilling than the worrier, planner way of the timid control freak.

When all you have to do is be yourself and trust in life, the stress and anxiety just melt away. And remember this: You will never feel true peace inside until you fully accept and embrace who you are and then entrust your life to the universe, nature, God, or whoever or whatever you believe is the CEO of creation.

Go for it. You, and the world, will be better for it.


Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Inspiring Quote About Trusting Our Inner Genius

Up until age 18 my life was pretty darn great. No major tragedies or divorces, fun playing sports and chasing girls, which for me meant obsessive crushes that the objects of my affection never even knew about because I was too mortified of being rejected to ever make anything remotely resembling a move. But that’s another story for another time.

Then senior year brought my first true-blue relationship and the ensuing inner tumult that threw me into my first existential tizzy. To sum it all up, and with credit to Dickens, it was the best of times (truly) followed by the worst of times.

Introduced to Emerson at a tough time

Seeing that I was in a funk, a friend of my girlfriend’s father introduced me to several classic spiritual works. One of those was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essay on Self-Reliance. I first read it in 1982 at age 18 and to this day it has had a greater impact on me than anything I’ve read, with the silver medal going to the Tao te Ching.

Many of you are no doubt familiar with some of the passages from this masterpiece. To wit:

“Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Absolve you to yourself and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”

I love all of these, especially the last, which was my senior quote for the Princeton yearbook way back when. I wrote an article about that, too (link here).

Today’s piece is about another favorite that eloquently elucidates the mysterious genius within all of us. Here’s how Emerson put it:

Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you…Great men have always done so and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the Eternal was stirring at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.”

So much wisdom packed into a couple of lines! It’s about listening to yourself. To your intuition. To your gut.

Who should we not listen to? Everybody and everything else. Not our parents, friends, Vogue Magazine or the BS we see on Facebook and Instagram telling us what the great life looks like.

Emerson is right on. Trust yourself!

Accepting our place in the world

If we do that. If we “Accept the place divine providence has found for” us, we open ourselves to attaining the best that life has to offer. Why? Because we’re living in tune with the Universe/God/Nature…or whatever term or concept floats your metaphysical boat.

For decades I had trouble ‘accepting the place divine providence found for me.’ Rather than tuning in to my insides, I turned my life’s steering wheel over to my ego.

Trying to be a bigshot

How did that manifest? By focusing on getting into the best college I could. In Washington, D.C., it meant trying to land the most high-profile jobs I could. In Hollywood, it meant getting jobs on the best television shows. All of this was in service of looking like a big deal to the outside world.

Hitting the skids in Hollywood led me to pursue the spiritual path, which, I now realize, is what I was meant to do. Turns out Napoleon Hill’s axiom was right:

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

The latter part of Emerson’s quote is about what happens when we do trust ourselves and accept our divine providence. He points out that great people have always done so.

Like whom? The artists of yore always come to mind. People like Rembrandt, da Vinci and Michelangelo created works that seemed as if, in Emerson’s words,

The Eternal was stirring at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.”

Composers like Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Debussy did the same. As do actors like Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro.

What all of these geniuses have in common is the ability to get out of their way. Get what out of the way? Their egos. That doubting, fearing, self-conscious entity that poisons not only great work, but life itself.

And it’s not only the famous and accomplished who pull this off. Ordinary people do, too.

My Mozart Mom

Like whom? My mom. Her providence didn’t lay in pursuing greatness in art, business or anything else.

She came from humble origins on the South side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where her dad was a streetcar conductor. She met my dad and her inner voice led her to have six kids. Yes, six (I’m the last).

There were no nannies. We had a maid that cleaned the house maybe twice a month.

My dad wound up becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company resulting in my mom meeting governors, senators and presidents and traveling all over the world.

More important, her six kids, which she referred to as her life’s work, all grew up to be really good people, in no small measure due to her influence.

She was every bit the virtuoso as our mom as Mozart was to his compositions. And, I’m happy to report my mom was one of the happiest, most centered people I’ve ever known.

How did it happen? Because she let her inside voice, her intuition, guide her life.

The takeaway

And that, my friends, is the point of this Emerson nugget.

Quiet down inside and listen to yourself.

Trust what you hear, no matter how nonsensical it may seem.

Doing so will allow the Eternal to stir at your heart, work through your hands and predominate in all your being.


Use this Michelangelo Metaphor to Anchor the Rest of Your Life

On August 16, 1501, the powers that be in Florence chose 26-year-old Michelangelo Buonarroti to execute the Herculean task of sculpting what is known to this day as the greatest statue ever created: The David.

The Biblical figure David, viewed as the embodiment of fierce resistance to a formidable threat, was to be seen as a symbol of Florence’s unyielding commitment to its independence from bigger and stronger city states, hence why David’s eyes are fixed eastward toward rival Rome.

Tuscan marble

Shortly after receiving the commission, Michelangelo set to work. From a massive block of marble excavated in Northern Tuscany, he chipped away, day after day, week after week, month after month…until just over two years later he’d finished the massive undertaking.

All of that patience and hard work paid off as the denizens of Florence immediately realized that the 17-foot-high statue Michelangelo had created was a masterpiece for the ages.

What does any of this have to do with trekking the spiritual path in the 21st century? A lot, as it turns out, because of the potent metaphor this anecdote presents.

Because in reality what Michelangelo did was take an enormous block of marble and chisel away until he uncovered the sublime beauty that lay inside.

Our block of marble

And that is precisely what we humans need to do. Our block of marble is the totality of our psyches, warts and all.

What warts? The grievances, grudges, insecurities, fears, anxieties, pride, vulnerabilities and feelings of superiority and inferiority we all possess to one degree or another. The sum total of these warts comprises our egoic self, that critical, relentless voice in the head that never seems to shut up.

We create this egoic self in childhood and then pile onto it throughout adulthood.

The David inside you

What is the net effect of all this egoic guck dominating our attention? The near-total smothering of our true, conscious self, the beautiful, compassionate real “you” that resides in us all.

It’s the statue of David that is inside every one of you right now.

How do we gain access to our statue of David? We do what Michelangelo did: With patience and vigilance we chisel away the egoic detritus we’ve heaped upon our conscious selves.

A 3 step process

How do we chisel away the egoic marble smothering our inner, conscious selves? It’s a three-step process.

Any time an egoic thought or feeling comes up we:

1. notice that it’s come up;

2. immediately relax everywhere in our body for a few moments; then

3. let that feeling rise up and out of us. Just let it go.

What are we letting go of? Energy.

Any time we experienced something we didn’t like and held onto it instead of letting it pass through us, the result was a little piece of energy stowing away in our lower selves. That’s the process of resistance.

When we have a positive experience and hold onto it rather than letting it pass through, the same thing happens. That energy gets stuck inside. This is what the Buddhists call clinging.

Mom and the time machine

How does this play out in real life?

Example: Thirty-year-old you visits your 70 year old mom. She was the Michael Jordan of helicopter parenting during your childhood.

Constantly on you about your studies. Arranging your college visits in ninth grade. Scheduling you up the wazoo. Parking outside and waiting to take you home from any party you attended in high school. She was so overbearing that it’s hampered your ability to have a successful romantic relationship.

The day you arrive for your visit, you head out to the garage clad in your biking gear. Mom tells you to be sure to wear a helmet.

“Oh, and avoid 23rd street. Jerry Clampett’s grandson got clipped there two weeks ago…”

This pushes about fifteen different buttons in your lower self, sending you kicking and screaming into a time machine that transports you back to age twelve.

One less piece of marble

What do you do? Notice, relax, let go. After doing this, a small piece of your egoic marble hits the ground and you’re one small step closer to uncovering your true self.

We don’t do this now and then or when we feel like it. Like Michelangelo we do this every day. Why? Because there is no more important endeavor we can devote our attention to.

Shedding ourselves of ourselves takes precedence over everything. Why? Because getting closer and closer to our true selves makes us better at everything. Better parents, better friends, better workers, better human beings.

Tears of awe

My sister cried when she walked into the Accademia Gallery in Florence and laid eyes on The David. The sheer size, vitality and force of the statue was emotionally overpowering.

The true self lurking deep within you, and I mean every single one of you, is a thousand times more powerful, majestic and beautiful than The David.

Our primary job in life is to uncover, with the relentlessness and patience exhibited by Michelangelo, that true self. It’s the greatest thing we can do not just for ourselves, but for the world.


Follow Teddy Roosevelt’s Zen Work Approach to Succeed in Any Career

America has had some fantastic presidents, but my favorite is Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. I named my yellow Labrador retriever Teddy and even wrote a movie about him.

My love for TR began thirty years ago when I read Edmund Morris’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. The book chronicled TR’s life from birth to the day he became president in 1901. It’s known as one of the best biographies ever written and I can’t recommend it highly enough (Amazon link here).

Mr. Enthusiasm

TR oozed passion and energy. People who knew him said he would nearly burst out of his suit with enthusiasm on matters big and small.

Roosevelt famously urged people to be “in the arena” fighting the good fight and not critics or spectators on the sidelines of life. How did this manifest in his work, which saw him rise to the presidency at the age of 42? Very simple:

He focused on the work that was in front of him.

That was it. TR’s modus operandi was to put everything he had into whatever work he was doing and success, achievement and all the rest would follow.

Why is this a Zen approach? Because it’s focused on the now. Doing what’s in front of you and not drifting off into superfluous, and worse, thinking.

The mindful way of working

It’s the mindful way of working. Experiencing life as the moment we’re in, not allowing our fearful, craven egoic minds to whisk us away to lands that will not serve us well.

Maybe this sounds old-fashioned and trite. If it does, I don’t care. It’s a winning strategy. No ifs, ands or buts.

The win-win strategy

How? It’s a win-win proposition.

Win #1 is that by focusing only on the work in front of us, we do better work. That’s just obvious. The more honed our focus, on any endeavor, the better the product.

To illuminate this concept, let’s look at the opposite: What so many people do when they aren’t focused on the work at hand.

Sucking up is not the way to go

We’ve all experienced work colleagues who are constantly bullshitting and scheming and not focusing on performing their actual work. They’re the people who expend energy trying to get the boss to play golf at their new, posh country club. Or who suck up to the boss’s spouse or kids.

Nowhere is this syndrome more common than in politics where schmoozing and backslapping are rampant. That is precisely the kind of behavior TR railed against.

He expressed this eloquently in a letter he wrote in 1906, while President, to the 29 year-old, newly-elected Speaker of the New York Assembly, a body in which TR used to serve.

In the letter, he congratulates the Speaker-elect, James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., and then offers him the following advice:

“Both my pleasure and my usefulness in any office depended absolutely upon my refusal to let myself get to thinking about my own future political advancement. For I have always found that such thought tended to hamper me and impair my usefulness…I very early, while myself in the Legislature, became convinced that if I wished to have a good time in public life and to keep my self-respect by doing good service, it paid me to think only of the work that was actually up, to do it as well as I knew how, and to let the future absolutely take care of itself. I believe that you have a future before you, and this future will come not through scheming on your part but by giving first-class service…”

Win #2 is contained in the letter. “…if I wished to have a good time in public life…” Yes! Who is going to be happier: Someone dialed in on the work at hand and reaping the resulting energy burst, or an ambitious, scheming sycophant whose only aim is climbing the next rung on the ladder? It’s not even close.

The net-net is that lasering in on our work yields the best product and makes us happier and sleep better at night.

Operating this way allowed TR to bust the rapacious corporate trusts, build the Panama Canal, win the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese War and conserve 230,000,000 acres of land, among numerous accomplishments.

The takeaway

It will work for you, too. I don’t care what line of work you’re in. Salesperson, accountant, barista, student, professional beach volleyball player…Doesn’t matter.

When you’re working, put all of your attention on the work. Forget everything else.

The Universe will take care of the rest…


The Most Important Work of My Life is Something I Continually Lose Sight Of

I have an old, ingrained habit that refuses to die. And it’s frustrating and exasperating. How so?

Let’s start with some background. Anybody who reads my stuff knows that I consistently write about three of my favorite teachers: Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle and Mickey Singer.

What the great ones urge us to focus on

And what do these three high humans profess to be the central work of our lives?

-Is it becoming the best at whatever we choose to pursue in life? No.

-Is it doing everything in our power to make the world a better place? No.

-Is it loving and alleviating the suffering of as many people as possible? No.

While all three of those pursuits would be fine and dandy with Ram Dass, Eckhart and Mickey, they are not the central work of our lives. Fine. So what do all three of these masters say is that central pursuit? Drumroll please…The answer is:

Becoming more conscious.

I know. Not very exciting. But that’s the truth.

What does that mean, becoming more conscious? A million words could be spilled on that one, but I’ll try to do it in less than a hundred.

First, to become conscious is to be fully present in the moments of our lives. A conscious person:

…is fully attuned to their six-year-old struggling to read Good Night, Gorilla, not trying to decide which Netflix show they’re going to watch once junior goes down for the count.

…doesn’t slam the steering wheel and scream obscenities after hitting their third red light in a row.

…doesn’t analyze the beautiful sunset in front of her. She drinks it in and becomes one with it.

So that’s what becoming conscious looks like. How do we achieve that? Again, zillions of words could describe this, but I’ll reduce it to this:

To become more conscious is to shed what is preventing us from being fully conscious.

In other words, it’s not about adding consciousness, it’s about subtracting unconsciousness.

How do we ‘subtract unconsciousness?’ By doing the daily work of, as Ram Dass called it, chopping wood and carrying water.

What kind of daily work? Meditating. Practicing mindfulness, qi gong, walking in the woods, praying and myriad other practices.

Don’t add, subtract

We engage in practices that allow us to subtract unconsciousness. In other words, practices that allow us to shed our egos.

Because when we shed our egos, what we’re left with is consciousness. And it’s in that state that we’re best able to alleviate suffering, make the world a better place and do our best in life.

How I screw up

With that, it’s time to come back full circle to the topic at hand, which is how I continually screw this up! Screw up what? Putting ‘becoming more conscious’ at the forefront of my life…all the time.

Yes, you read that right. All the time.

How do I screw this up? By constantly placing something else at the forefront.

What is that? My work. As in this stuff I’m writing right now.

I find that so often my attention goes to:

“What am I going to write next?”

“I missed all last week because of our trip to the Smoky Mountains so I’m behind.”

“My wife is chatting up a storm in my office and it’s going to set me back!”

Bottom line is that way too much energy and attention is going to my work and not enough to my ‘becoming more conscious’ work.

I get why I do this

I understand why I do this. My core issue in life has been feeling pressured to work hard and “do big things.”

Why? Mostly because I grew up in a family of success-oriented people. I’m the sixth of six kids with a father who was a big-wig in the business world. Throw in the fact that I grew up in America where success is mostly measured by how well one does in their job and it’s not surprising that I felt this pressure.

I’ve come a long way

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve come a long, long way from my days in Washington, D.C., where I always felt I lagged behind in the power world there, and then in Hollywood where I never became a star writer. My spiritual work these past several years has thrust me to a far better place on the pressure front.

But it’s still there. It’s this insidious feeling gnawing away at me so often that I need to be giving more to my writing work.

Spiritual writing is not spiritual work

Then there’s this added wrinkle: My work is writing about the spiritual path, which, in the background of my mind I conclude equates to doing the work of becoming more conscious.

But it doesn’t. It’s still work that my mind/brain has to produce.

Maybe this happens to you, too. You try to center your life on the becoming more conscious thing and find your attention constantly drifting to your job as an accountant, teacher, landscape architect, or your role as mom/dad, church pastor or what have you.

The takeaway

The question then becomes, what do we do about this? How do we shift our attention back to where we want it? It’s two simple steps.

The first thing we do is restrengthen our belief that focusing on becoming more conscious really is the be-all, end-all. It’s so easy to lose sight of this and drift into thinking that our “work work” is where we should place the bulk of our attention.

It’s not selfish

At first blush it seems selfish to focus so much on our inner worlds. But the fact is that doing so, as Eckhart, Ram Dass, Mickey, Buddha and all the rest say, is the best thing we can do for the world for the reasons I stated earlier.

The second step is simple and obvious: We need to summon our will to make us vigilant about noticing when we’re veering off track. We can’t fix something we’re not aware of. As Eckhart says,

Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

I’m going to do this. I’m going to redouble my efforts to refocus the bulk of my attention on being conscious. On being present. On letting go when my ego is provoked.

If this resonates with you, I hope you’ll join me. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves, those around us and the world in general.