Keep Your DICK in a Box Well Away From the Top Shelf

Dick With Balls

The one who started it all. The Dick of all Dicks, Dick Cheney. “Hello underlings, I am a DICK, and blah blah bullshit lie half-truth blah blah America blah blah War blah lie lie lie I eat babies blah blah blah I own shares in weapons companies blah blah blah I am the real President blah blah blah blah lie bullshit posturing blah blah blah …”

A toxic form of humanity is advancing rapidly through the white-collar ranks of large North American organizations. It drains the life of so many innocents trying their best to make a living in the workplace jungle. The scientific name for the phenomenon: Douchebaggus Ignoramus Corporatio Kleptomaniac, otherwise known as DICK.

Dick exists in droves where hierarchies create cadres of executives whose pay and decision-making responsibilities vastly outstrip the ranks at the bottom. In lucky organizations, the top echelons reflect the qualities of an individual you’d expect to have responsibility for so many lives and so much financial capital. Good leaders started at the bottom somewhere, and stayed there long enough to learn the ropes. They know what it’s like to be low man on the totem pole and can point to real achievements instead of lofty position titles along their career path. They are intelligent, humble, and treat people well, regardless of their rank.

Unfortunately in many large organizations there is an inverse relationship between the competency, personality, skills and high rank of the individuals occupying the upper-middle and top shelves of the org chart. Dick knows how to fly like an eagle in a place like this. With his prospects of advancing the ranks not limited by his incompetence and execrable personality, he tirelessly tramples over the well-being of his co-workers as he employs douchebag subterfuge to crawl his way to the top.

The screening criteria to diagnose whether that misery-inducing jerk in your workforce is a Dick are below:

1. Extremes in intelligence: either a profound lack of intelligence, curiosity, or lack of insight; Hyper-intelligence

OR

2.  Male, usually small (literally and figuratively)

AND, one of the following:

3.  Profoundly stunted emotional intelligence, as if his six year-old emotional self wandered into the forest and was never found again, but still controls the behaviours of the adult from somewhere in the deep, dark, and frightening woods.

4.  An unnatural, hyper-inflated self-assessment that entitles them to whatever they desire: promotions, perks, to treat people like dirt, to have a tantrum, to say whatever small and petty thing pops into their douchey mind …

5. Hyper-aggressivity rooted in unexplored feelings of Ill-will, guile, rage, or hostility toward humanity

A Dick with all of the above traits would be in jail had they been born in an unstable home of less than an upper middle-class income. Even though Dick is a crime against humanity, his co-workers are the ones imprisoned in a living hell of his making. Every day they fight the feeling of having been entrapped like a dime-bag dealer on a police sting when they were sold on the opportunities in a job that was open clearly because nobody wanted work with “the asshole.”

As a child, Dick had people putting ideas of being a “professional” in his mind. One or both of his parents was a professional of some type – a corporate executive, lawyer, doctor, engineer, or academic – who instilled the idea that a profession was the only viable career choice for success. They made him believe achievement was rooted in status and rank rather than something tangible, like good work and skill.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick's a bit of a reckless bastard.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick’s a bit of a reckless bastard.

Some Dicks showed early on they weren’t inclined to the knowledge professions, but their parents were in denial about what this meant for their child’s white-collar prospects. They pushed the career aspirations on him anyway knowing they could always intervene with their network of high-powered friends to help him along. It never crossed their minds to push him toward a skilled trade, reflecting an ignorant bias harboured by many white-collar professionals.

Dick could have devoted himself to honing his skills as a tradesman, which would provide an outstanding living if he applied his time and effort to that enterprise. Like many people with practical skills he could have had his own small business and have been a real master of his own destiny. Sure, he wouldn’t be a CEO of thousands of people, but he’d be financially successful and would be his own boss. He wouldn’t have stolen his high rank away from others with his dirt-bag behaviour; he would have achieved success with honest, hard work.

Instead, Dick went to college with ideas of becoming as financially successful and prestigious as his parents in a profession he was not suited for. Realizing quickly he wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, lawyer, US President, engineer, or accountant, he joined a frat, partied, gang-banged sorority girls, and squeaked by to get his degree in Phys Ed. He entered the white-collar workforce intent on running the show, but found himself in the unenviable position of seeking to advance through the ranks over peers with minds and abilities more suited to the work.

Smart Dick, Dumb DickHe could have decided then to focus on his strengths as a people-person. One quality that Dick seems to have in spades is high energy and affability – sometimes genuine, most times fake. He wasn’t born a Dick, and if he had chosen an environment that didn’t constantly tap into his insecurities about his lack of book-smarts or social ineptitude, he probably could have avoided becoming one. He could have leveraged his people skills to build alliances – a vital skill in an organization with a bunch of big minds who often lack soft skills required to manage groups of people.

In relying on shrewdness, aggressiveness, and posturing to beat back others before they cottoned on to his limited intelligence, he chose to get ahead along the dirt road leading through Dicks-ville. Ever since, he’s been like a virus in the workplace. His colleagues can barely avoid violent fits of projectile vomiting from having to stomach Dick’s over-weening sense of self-importance and generous self-assessment of his capabilities.

In the early days his professionally competent colleagues ignored and avoided the confrontations required to put his bad behaviour in its place, dismissing him as a total moron who would easily be weeded out. What they didn’t see is how this re-inforced his blatant misbehaviour. Nobody realizes until it is too late that a Dick has risen to occupy a rank that vastly outpaces his abilities. But once a Dick has inserted himself, by hook and crook, into the organization’s power structure he has to be forcefully pulled out.

Since childhood, everyone told the hyper-intelligent Dick their brains were going to win them “great things” for the future. Instead of accepting the low-ranking social status of a teen of above-average intelligence and socializing with other gifted peers, they pined for acceptance and failed miserably, which fueled their pathological resentment. They spent evenings and weekends obsessively-compulsively masturbating to Ayn Rand novels in quiet solitude charting the course of their revenge against all the mean mediocrities of the world. Their emotional intelligence wilted on the vine with the total absence of a meaningful social life. They did not have even nerdy friends; they did not get laid. No matter. His prestigious credentials in hand, the world would deliver what was due including the money to buy a social life and all the pick-up artist videos needed to get laid without paying by the hour. See Dick be a Dick

From day one of his ascendant career path, Dick could never to stay long enough in a chair to keep it warm; there was always a nicer chair in an office closer to the top floor with his name on it. He’d finagle ways to be in the same place as influential people in the organization to learn where the opportunities to advance were and kiss their ass incessantly to get it. He’d find the emotionally weak and destroy their will with hectoring and condescension to crush their spirit and make himself look more dynamic.

He yelled and screamed when things didn’t go his way and kicked his co-workers in the gut like helpless dogs when he was in a mood. He always acted out when his insecurities ran high, making everyone else pay the price for his errors instead of owning up and using them as learning experience to help him improve. Dick’s mantra: always move forward, fake it if you have to, this place needs you.

As he begins the climb, Dick befriends those who are smarter and uses these contacts to click into networks of other smart-types. The smart-nerds he keeps close are those who cultivate and care about their reputation as experts. They keep Dick supplied with a steady, reliable stream of novel ideas to pass off as his own when he’s among senior people who will take notice. Once he’s on top, he’ll find a way to marginalize his former brainy confreres, knowing what a pain in his ass they’ll be.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

Dick does everything to position himself as a prospect for any opportunity to advance in the organization chart. Everything that is, except really investing the time learning any of his jobs to be good at them. For the hyper-intelligent Dick, this would have been easy, had it not been for his sense of entitlement, which makes him too impatient to actually learn a job or to care about honing his people skills. Dick probably got an MBA, which requires more cash than brains, to help him chop twelve years of working in the real world to demonstrate his perceived right to an executive rank. For a Dick, smart or dumb, everything is a temporary stepping-stone on the ascent to out-rank everyone else.

God help the organization that re-inforces this shithead’s ideas of advancing the ladder before he’s really earned it. The moment Dick ascends the ranks he becomes an obnoxious, condescending ingrate who harbours delusions of grandeur. The higher he climbs despite his incompetence and maladjusted behaviour, the more insufferable he becomes. He is possessed by the delusion his abilities, or worse, his attributes as a Dick, warranted him the promotions. There is no incentive to curb the sociopathy in his behaviour. All is lost.

In those rare and fleeting moments of self-reflectiveness – usually when Dick is publicly upstaged by someone smarter than him or who knows more about his job than he does – Dick is momentarily seized by the idea he’s in over his head. “Fuck that” Dick says to collect himself, and then lobs a flurry of passive-aggressive, man-splaining tirades to attack the very being of the weisen-heimer who made him look stupid. He’ll keep up the rear assaults until ‘Mr/Ms Bookworm’ backs down or suddenly finds themselves blacklisted by Dick who knows how to slander with malicious intent better than the best Republican political strategist.

Most interesting man on ... DouchebagsThis is also how Dick deals with what he sees as obstructionist criticism – he shouts it down so hard the other person concedes defeat to spare themselves his incessant blowhard tactics. He has no tolerance for a diversity of views, nor does he see the value in a collegial exchange of disparate ideas to hash out a middle ground on a problem. He is too uncurious to care about other possibilities besides the ill-informed, blinkered one he believes is correct. He sees those who forward alternative perspectives as guilty of insubordination, flouting gratuitous negativity; as Cassandras who won’t follow the pack.

Persecuting underlings is one of Dick’s most conspicuous traits, especially when he’s reached a certain rank and has had a taste of authority, which he is unable to handle intelligently. He cannot understand how his abrasiveness would constantly undermine the morale of people who invest a high degree of job satisfaction in obtaining feedback about a job well-done. Dick’s definition of job satisfaction is having a job.

If Dick is a man, which he usually is, his unceasing torments are more a pathological aspect of a reactive personality completely devoid of empathy, than a calculated campaign of abuse. It’s how he operates, and he thinks people should realise that. It’s not personal, he’s just a tough cookie with high expectations. He cannot relate to what it feels like to be on the other end of his asshole antics.

In the rare case that Dick is a woman, the torment is probably calculated, less openly hostile, but absolutely eviscerating. The most dangerous person in an organization is an intelligent she-Dick, a person so frightening I’m too afraid to lampoon them in this blog post. She-Dick will find me and destroy my life. Did I mention she-Dick is really intelligent?

As a senior person in the organization, Dick’s incessant criticism, lack of encouragement, caustic demeanour, and capricious, panic-stricken series of unreasonable demands throws shards of glass beneath the feet of his direct reports. For years he has sub-consciously learned that a hierarchical corporate culture spawns legions of people-pleasers who respond to aggressive posturing, giving people like him the powers of a puppeteer. With a few churlish displays the shrinking violets scatter frantically to appease the angry ogre, dispatched as they are with meaningless chores of little value to the organization, meant to allay the ill-effects and smooth over the damage wrought by his incompetence.

Cameraman: "Hey Stu, how about you take your shirt off to have one of the last pictures with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies" Stu: "No way bro' I love this fuckin' shirt. I wanna remember me an my mom havin' a laugh. Take the fuckin' picture"

Cameraman: “Hey Stu, you wanna take your shirt off so the last picture with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies isn’t with the ‘Dick with the shirt’?”
Stu: “Hey bro’ I have a fuckin’ tattoo on my neck, cuz I don’t give-a-shit. I got this shirt my first day outta prison, so I got sense-a-mental value to it. Now, take the fuckin’ picture. Say cheese Ma!”

Here is the million dollar question: if Dicks are so bad, why do they keep rising to the top?

The easiest answer is Dicks love to do the circle jerk with other Dicks. At the top of an organization teeming with Dicks the boardroom is a bro-culture in pin-striped suits. It’s hard to continue being an asshole if the emotional intelligence, brains, and human decency among your colleagues holds a mirror the size of the moon to your stunted being. Even though a Dick at the top is advised to hire people to accommodate his profound shortcomings, he can’t help but promote one of his own because he’s too stupid or arrogant to believe more than his talents are needed. He possesses talent for a whole executive team and really only needs more sets of hands to carry through all the earth-shattering ideas oozing from his ego. In the end, a total Dick looks like the best candidate in the eyes of a total Dick.

His urge to remain unchallenged, to have obsequious subordinates to go along with disastrous errors in his judgement far outweighs his desire to hire competent people who can actually do a good job. They’ll make him look bad. They’ll constantly challenge his shallow decrees with arcane appeals to law, policy, or reason.

This is why it’s taken more than forty years of feminism for women to even begin to crack the glass ceilings across the corporate world. Bros before ho’s, as they say. The lack of women and introverted, brainy types is an historical Dick-slap to the axiom that calls for the upper echelons of large, complex organizations to be dominated by people of bona fide skill and competence. Instead, too many Dicks have risen to the top ranks with bluster, self-aggrandizement, and charm but little else of substance.

The adage is true, when it comes to Dicks, size does matter. Even when the top echelons of an organization is filled with competent and capable leaders, the size of the organization will be a cover for Dick’s misbehaviour. Because of scale alone, legions of influential people won’t really know how Dick operates. Dick is expert at spotting, and ingratiating himself into some fairly opportune glory-holes and hitting paydirt, knowing his reputation will benefit by sheer association. Dick can keep his malevolence in line to ingratiate himself with senior people in a functional division if it means he’ll win advancement. He can peel off his fluffy sheep’s clothing later on when he’s got the power and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits getting their thizzang on with some gangsta shit.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits doing their thizzang with some gangsta shit.

Organizations that rhetorically value competency, that have complex, challenging goals to achieve, will pay the price in poor performance if there are too many feeble-minded, megalomaniacal Dicks in the boxes near the top of the organization chart. Large organizations of knowledge-workers rely on the collaborative efforts of its human capital to succeed, which is totally undermined with the hyper-aggressive, childish, morale-killing behaviours of a hyper-ambitious, emotionally stunted leadership cadre. They will crush the will and spirit of competent, capable human assets wherever they exist in the organization. These valuable would-be leaders will leave before they deign to ascend the ranks, avoiding having to withstand the nightmare of working more often with so many Dicks in their face.

Nobody with genuine abilities to speak of will invest their sweat equity only to have it beaten down to nothing in the self-interested grabby-hands of a bunch of Dicks. That’s why organizations need to get a good grip on those Dicks and yank ‘em out; let the Dicks have a taste of what it’s like to get the shaft for once. Do it now, to preserve the long-term viability of the organization and restore sanity to your workforce.

Ambling Mind, Meet Full Moon

Full Moon ManThis morning I was sitting in quiet meditation as I do most mornings. Well, I was sort of sitting. More like squirming. And cursing under my breath, having another heated argument with myself.

Okay, I wasn’t really squirming as much as bouncing and jerking around as if I’d jumped on the back of an unbroken mustang and it was way pissed I was there. He would not relent, that testosterone-laden young buck, and I could not find that place of stillness despite all my efforts to hang on.

“What the fuck is going on?” I angrily mused. Another one of the Six Perfections I am nowhere near perfecting – Patience.

This is not really the best tone for one’s inner voice when practicing shamatha-bhavana – cultivating calm abiding – when thoughts arrive to invade the mind. If anything the angry reaction just compounds the disruption of a relatively minor thought.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Should I be ashamed that I still have a “beginner’s mind” after almost eight years of meditation? Sigh.

Yeah, yeah. I ain’t Suzuki.

This morning thoughts raced in my consciousness like a meteor hurtling to earth, displacing the still, glass-like waters of my peaceful lake at dawn as it left a massive crater on impact with the ground. A giant cloud of ash and soot sent waves of discomfort throughout my body and mind, leaving them tense, twitchy, and agitated as hell.

You’re supposed to return to the breath when thoughts arrive to draw your focus away. You’re not supposed to suppress the thoughts as they come. It’s okay to notice them, to acknowledge them passing your view. You can even say ‘hello’ as they pass by, as you would in passing sweet elderly people at the park.

What you don’t do is entertain the passing thoughts. You don’t change direction and start walking wherever it is they’re going. You don’t yell at them indignantly as you do at speeding cars racing down your quiet side-street. You don’t say “what the fuck is going on,” that’s for sure.

I know this, dang it. I’ve been doing this stuff for years. Geez.

Mr. Zafu – my meditation cushion. Somedays it’s my saddle, and instead of meditating, I go for a ride on the mustang that is my ADD-infected mind.

But some days it can be really, really difficult. I have ADD. It’s a miracle I can sit at all, let alone abide my breath.

Sometimes, it is calm, exactly what you’d expect when meditating. It feels as though I am sitting at the beach watching my children swimming, on a beautiful summer afternoon. I am reading a favourite book, sitting under the shade of my umbrella, listening to leaves humming as they are grazed by a gentle breeze. Seagulls heckle each other, hovering joyously above the landscape, waiting for a six year old to trip and spill her bucket of French fries in the sand, scavenging an easy meal as she mourns her lunch.

Ahhhhhh. Shamatha-bhavana, indeed. This ain’t so bad.

Suddenly, a bunch of obnoxious hooligans arrives on scene to mess with my bliss. I hear the unmistakable buzzing sound and two-stroke insanity of small watercraft. It’s like twenty-one gun salute of buckshot, instantly killing the chorus of seagulls; a raiding party of lumberjacks cranking up their chainsaws to fell the trees and silence their beautiful hum. The morons, incapable of handling machines they’ve been cavalierly allowed to use in a public swim area, narrowly avoid colliding into children who swim oblivious to the danger lurking in their midst.

Then I secretly wish there were Great White Sharks in the fresh lakes where I live. Those runts wouldn’t be so happily endangering the lives of small children then, would they?

They say I’m not to be so easily pissed off by the douche-bags possessing my thoughts. I have to return to the breath. Just like that. It was such an awesome day at the beach. I have a right to be mad at those jerks on jet-skis, those meteors, those wild, untamed mustangs I deign to ride.

Usually, in spite of myself I am able to do just that. To remain relatively unmoved by the arising thoughts. To re-direct back to the breath. I get a clear mind for about a minute or two, maybe forty-five seconds. That’s the longest spell of peace my ADD-addled mind allows before it gets restless and invites a jungle of macaques promising a year’s supply of bananas to come and throw their shit in my mind.

This morning, the monkeys arrived a little more randy than usual. Their all night binge slapped me in the back of my head, punched me in the gut, and shoved bunches of bananas up my ass. They left me with taut shoulders, a wincing stomach, and clenched hips and butt-cheeks. To add insult to injury, they also dragged their elephant friend along, and he sat on my chest, leaving me nearly breathless.

I was pitching and rolling on my meditation cushion, as if sitting on a white-water raft about to plunge over Niagara Falls. My arse was nominally in contact with my cushion, my ischial tuberosities afraid to fully acquaint themselves with Mr Zafu.

All my tricks to fend off the worst house-guests in history were futile. I tried several Pranayama breaths, as I do hundreds of times in a single Mysore practice. Nope.

Samavritti breathing – equal counts inhale and exhale. To a count of twelve! If I don’t pass out first, it’s bound to get me back on track.

Ha Ha, it is to laugh, little Buddha. Mantras. Nope. Count the damn breaths. Nope, not quite. Tickle the roof of my mouth with the tip of my tongue. ‘Gawd dang, that feeels weird!’ I’m just wincing, now.

Time to bring out the big guns. Kapalabhati breath. Suck it, rogue-like, ambling mind. You’re going down!

Vanquished again. But my sinuses were clearer than they’ve been in days. You know, the smell of defeat isn’t all that bad.

Then my timer goes off. What?! It’s been twenty-five minutes already?! No way. Let me check that iPhone’s not wonky.

Ischial Tuberosities, also known as "sit bones." These are the bones that one is theoretically supposed to make contact with the ground when sitting. In my case, I'm usually too taut in my shoulders and hips, so I sit on my hamstrings instead.

Ischial Tuberosities, also known as “sit bones.” These are the bones that are theoretically supposed to make contact with the ground when sitting. I’m usually too taut in my shoulders and hips to do that, so I sit on my hamstrings instead.

Usually, this tango with my mind goes on for about ten minutes before I can settle in to a relatively steady routine of calm meditation and violent distraction. Today, distraction landed a Mike Tyson hook square in my meditation’s temple, thirty-eight seconds into the fight. I remained in the ring only because I lay in unconsciousness for the remaining twenty-four minutes, twenty-two seconds.

What the fuck?!

I went through the items on my post-meditation checklist. I am not stressed about work. Things with my partner are awesome. I am not displaying any symptoms that may be distant early warning signs of cancer, this week. I slept okay, I think. I had some off the wall dreams, actually. I was naked with an erection, the opening scene in my fantasy was looking good. Until I looked around in my dream and realized I was boning in a public place, again, which made the whole thing pervy. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re constantly having a dream that makes you want to turn yourself into to the cops when you wake up. So I just repress it, which usually works.

Wait.

What day is it?

Cripes, it’s a Full Moon.

That’s why I wasn’t rushing off to go to my Mysore class today. Those weirdo Ashtangis don’t practice on full moons, for some arcane reason. I assume the meat-loving schlubs like myself who do Mysore yoga are the only ones totally unaware of why this is.

When people ask about it, I just say something to stem the implied ridicule in the question like, “hey, the tides react with extremes on a full moon, and we ARE, like, ninety per cent water, so …” Usually they shake their head in agreement with something in that statement. It saves me having to give a real answer, which I don’t know.

This is the mantra I typically do. It's the mantra named after Amitabha the bodhisattva of compassion which is what I need when I am cursing myself during a lousy meditation session.

This is the mantra I typically do. It’s the mantra named after Amitabha, the bodhisattva of compassion, which is what I need when I am cursing myself during a lousy meditation session.

Now, I think maybe there’s something to this whole business of a Full Moon not being good for practice. I sit in meditation nearly every day, so I notice when a session is particularly shitty. Today was a side-show, as was my frenetic morning routine.

At one point this morning, I got confused about what to do first – make the coffee, get dressed, or have breakfast. So I did them all at the same time. I almost got into three accidents on my way to work. I had coffee grounds and jam in my underwear, which I didn’t discover until much later on.

Then, instead of immediately getting to work once I sat down at my cubicle, I started writing this blog post. Aha! A Full Moon makes me too frazzled to get my work done. But I procrastinate on a quarter, half and seven-eighths moon. Maybe it’s the moon just being there. I wonder if I could get a doctor’s note for this work-disrupting disease related to the moon’s existence.

This is going nowhere.

I asked my cubicle neighbor if she slept well last night. After shaking off her puzzlement at the question, she did mention her sleep wasn’t great. She then said she was snappy at her son, and extra bitchy in her e-mails this morning. She started talking about her drive to work before I cut her off and said, “I think I’ve got enough, thanks.”

Three people called in sick – on a Wednesday. A Wednesday! It’s cloudy outside, too. Could it be they are really sick? Were they barking at the moon a little well into the wee hours? Hmmm.

Another office colleague returned from her morning coffee having gone on a buying binge, grabbing one of every on-sale “food” item at a drug store chain. She generously shared her bags of sodium, sugar, preservatives and other nominally edible toxins with her appreciative colleagues. There was an explosion of excitement as we stood around stuffing our faces with carcinogens, significantly shortening our life spans. What a care-free breakfast gathering it was!

"You wanna marinate, b*tch?" "No, Mr Tyson - Meditate"  "Marinate on this - " As his left hook smashes into the temple of my meditation session.

“You wanna marinate, b*tch?”
“No, Mr Tyson – Meditate”
“Marinate on this – “
As his left hook smashes into the temple of my meditation session.

So, it may be there is something to this “Full Moon” business, after all. Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws to find a suitable excuse for another crappy meditation session. The idea there’s no reason at all for my ineptitude, besides the fact my mind is like a six year old tripping out after a gummy-bear binge, sucks. That just leaves me with trepidation at the thought of many more unexpected rides on the mustang when all I want is to sit on Mr Zafu for a pleasant ride in a canoe on a serene lake at dawn. Full moon it is.

Ambling mind, I’d like you to meet full moon. Full moon, meet my mind. Something tells me you two know each other.

Those Little Hands

Three angels, three red balloons In my twenties I was extremely disparaging of children. I viewed them as loud, selfish, obnoxious, energy-draining parasites. I’d cast aspersions at families for spoiling my meal by bringing their disruptive children to a restaurant clearly not meant for families. I’d secretly denounce parents who couldn’t stop their kids behaving like baboons in public.

The poorly-dressed, overweight, bleary-eyed dudes sauntering like emasculated eunuchs from their minivans, and frazzled mothers in sweatpants and stained shirts were horrific sights to my decidedly yuppie eyes. There was nothing to recommend having children of my own.

In my early thirties I jumped off a cliff to spite myself and had children. Twins, no less. Like most men, I repressed my ambivalence about the idea of kids and hoped for the best.

Sleepless nights, colic, croup, flu, fevers, diarrhea. Trips to the emergency room. Teething. Crying. Lots of crying, at the most inopportune time – at two, three, and four in the morning – then not at all while I was sleeping at my desk at work.

Everything about being a new parent was an affront, an insurmountable challenge. I was not one of those people seduced by the propaganda that fools would-be parents into believing in the unqualified bliss of children. I had low expectations going in. The reality at times felt worse, which I did not think possible. I chalked it up to the sheer physical exhaustion of caring for new-born twins.

When my children were three they were both diagnosed with autism.

Obviously, I was incredibly distraught. It forced so many changes in our family life, in our careers. Our aspirations for their future were hazy, but feeling grim. Children were beginning to feel like my life’s ruin. I became an impatient, self-absorbed, and sometimes caustic parent.

I was disgusted with myself, especially for how habitually I projected negativity in my mood into the manner I related to my children. I had been subjected to that myself as a child, and I vowed I would not repeat it. Then I found myself unconsciously repeating it.

I expended tons of energy to change, a process begun eight years ago, and continues today. My perspective has fundamentally altered, which in turn has transformed the way I parent my children. This doesn’t make me an amazing parent; I am just better than I was, and trying to get better.

I am more in tune with my own emotions, which makes me less rigid in outlook, more able to deal with adversity. Both are paramount for emotional stability when raising children, and for getting through the challenges in a typical adult existence. It seems flaky, but my consciousness was opened by my efforts.

Some of my old, hardened views about reality are either completely gone or really relaxed. As a result, a broader range of experience is allowed to enter my awareness than before, which is a welcome, if unexpected result. I imagine this to be similar to how a child experiences life as it comes.

Now, as I look into the adult world myself and others have created I can’t so easily ignore how tragic the view is. With my eyes a little more open I see adults who are too often indifferent, cruel, selfish, and greedy.

Joyous BubbleIt is the guile we each possess in our minds that has unleashed this state of affairs.

Guile is the capacity to act with self-serving, often malevolent duplicity. It shouts down the voice in our heart that wakes us to the suffering in our surroundings and compels us to reduce it or, at the very least, to not compound it.

Children lack guile. For a time, at least, they don’t have egos to necessitate its existence. Only when we parents begin to push our children to acquire certain specific identities, to adopt attitudes that are completely foreign to their hearts, do they begin to gain an understanding of its utility in their own lives.

Adults, on the other hand, possess guile in abundance. It is a central feature of the adult ego in an individualistic society; one that sends us all too close to the thin edge of sociopathy. It propels our wants to be craven, our motives self-aggrandizing, our actions toward the detriment of others.

Guile is the narrative the clever among us craft to make our transgressions appear principled and virtuous. We can explain, justify, or brush off ethical lapses, burying the malfeasance in our behaviour beneath layers of high-minded rationalizations. It is a by-product of a society obsessed with economic success to the detriment of our human spirit.

We adults lie, cheat, and steal, but in ways that make what we’re doing appear to be something other. We are “getting elected” or “increasing the bottom line” or “reducing our tax burden.” There is always the shibboleth of a greater good to lend an air of nobility to self-serving, specious motives.

On a day-to-day basis, most of us are not purposely engaged in misconduct. We’re just going about our day, the best we can. As we proceed, we step over the homeless, snicker at the poor, or blame the minorities for their role in being persecuted by those charged with protecting them.

All the denials and obfuscations we entertain allow us to believe the issues vexing our societies are beyond our capacity to influence. Somehow we cling to the delusion their prevalence does not say something contemptible about ourselves, who collectively have the means to address it, but do nothing instead. The lack of awareness ensures we will continue to hone our mastery of ways to exploit fellow human beings to fatten our wallets.

We are not all directly responsible for creating this reality. Yet we easily allow ourselves to be bribed, sweet-talked, or distracted away from applying our moral compass to determine our standing and change course if we don’t like where we’ve come. As we are lured further into the the gutter by the pursuit of greater wealth, each of us becomes less able to deny our agency in perpetuating the misery of so many others in our midst.

We are compelled by guile to defend the direction we are heading against appeals to change, perhaps spurred on by guilt for having ignored so much suffering to get where we are. It smothers our imagination with the notion that it is too late, or too naive to turn away from the only path we know.

Happy MeadowsThere is no greater exemplar for the place of guile in our collective hearts than the countless self-preserving reasons we postulate to justify the hoarding and concentration of our society’s wealth. Guile clings vigorously to ideas that legitimize the moral failings in organizing principles that countenance gross inequalities, and softens our judgement of the wanton acts that established this state of affairs.

We see those destroyed by addiction and mental illness left untreated and abandoned to wander the streets to fend for themselves. We possess enough to feed all the hungry mouths around the world, enough money to provide food and shelter for all the poor in our communities, and enough medicine to treat diseases we’ve licked for years. In spite of this, we choose not to share the fruits of our subsistence, allowing our wealth to be hoarded and withheld instead of used to alleviate the suffering of countless fellow human beings.

We act as though there’s nothing we can do to compel changes in corporate behaviours that too often undermine society’s non-economic imperatives: health-care, education, the environment, and human rights. By not including corporations in progressive tax systems, we effectively condone theft of society’s dividend for its investment in an educated, healthy, politically stable environment. Without any of these factors, which cost an extraordinary amount of money for society to secure, there would be no wealth to earn or to hoard.

Our withdrawal of compassion in helping the disadvantaged reflects a widespread belief their lot in life is entirely attributed to their own missteps and nothing else. This allows us to admonish the disenfranchised by touting punitive laws and policies directed at them. We criminalize, imprison, or withdraw economic supports for the underclass, addicted, marginalized, and downtrodden. The disenfranchised simply “slip through the cracks” of our collective consciousness, leaving us free to acquire more wealth and spend it feeding insatiable consumptive drives.

We focus on our careers to the neglect of our families and children; to the detriment of cultivating interesting, multi-faceted lives that include pursuits of passion as much as work. We do it because the personal wealth and status we enjoy with career achievements fulfils a deep-rooted, often emotionally pathological, ego-need. Guile makes it possible for those who put countless hours at work in demanding jobs to really believe it when they say “I am sorry I don’t spend any time with you, son, I am too busy working to support you” and not understand how readily a child sees through such duplicity.

We engage in small talk revealing nothing meaningful about ourselves or demonstrating that our range of concerns is very deep; that it genuinely encompasses the well-being of others. We embellish our successes, hide our failures, self-consciously conceal the breadth of our true humanity from others. We employ shrewdness, charm, and inauthenticity to gain the good graces of those instrumental to our aims and dismiss the rest.

Our apprehension to reveal more than the shallow surface of our lives collectively sustains the impression we are all happy and thriving, a facade that further alienates the legions who suffer; who feel ashamed, foolish, and flawed for their inability to create their own happiness. It compounds their desire to isolate and detach from others, and prevents them from reaching out for help. A society that disdains the unfortunate, singles them out for scorn as the authors of their misfortune, and ignores their concerns because they are powerless to compel our attention is an uninviting place to turn for those in the struggle.

These observations make me ashamed of the adult world many of us go about raising our children to become a part of. If this is adulthood, I say “No thanks.” I want out. This place is brimming over with guile. We grown-ups are way more rotten and misbehaved than children but worse: we have convinced ourselves we’re acting on principle.

I want a seat at the kids’ table, please. They know how to own-up when they’ve misbehaved, and say “I’m sorry.” They may be untamed, but they still lead with their hearts, which leaves them free to behave as genuine human beings.

Street SoccerChildren know the intrinsic value of fun and actively seek it out. The intention behind this motive is pure and honest. It adds something tangible to the human condition because it is energy expended in search of joy, a pursuit that does not purposely detract from anyone else’s experience of life and more often seeks to include others in the search.

A child’s emotions are raw, and they connect to them without the filtering we adults too often employ to temper the fear of confronting our feelings honestly. A child cries heartily when they feel pain, anger, frustration or indignity.

Children don’t desire objects or experiences to “get ahead.” They are moved to action by their intuition which quickly apprehends the genuine appeal of something they’ve come into contact with. A child knows when she is in the presence of beauty and truth, and does not consider reasons why she should not indulge the experience to the fullest. Their intentions arise as they apprehend reality through unadulterated eyes. Their actions to seize experiences that touch their heart is the most pure demonstration of love we witness in the world.

Because children do not repress their feelings, they are free from the cynicism we often employ to narrow the intensity of our experiences – good or bad. They don’t minimize or belittle their disappointments to guard their self-esteem, because they do not possess a concept of self. They immerse themselves in joy, and are not too embarrassed to express their delight in the moment.

When a child is angry at something you’ve done they let you know. They’ll repeat their displeasure again and again until they are certain you understand. You will know where you stand in their eyes at that moment and then, the issue will be done with. Your fundamental character will not be castigated, you will not be subjected to a passive aggressive campaign of sabotage fed by resentment over a grievance that was felt but not aired.

A child doesn’t turn sublimated feelings into rationalizations that harden their heart, foment ill-will in the mind, and steal away mental energy required to face certain hardships. They inherently know, as they endure something that brings immense pain, that it will end and be balanced by something equally joyous later on. They will not be deterred from bringing the shift about themselves, nor will they diminish their gratitude if serendipity delivers it to them. Their innate ability to be fully immersed in the intensity of feeling, without rationalizations to qualify their experience of it, is what makes them resilient.

A child doesn’t pretend to be something they aren’t and is not afraid of who they are. If a child wants to dance, they’ll dance without concern for how well or poorly they do it. If they want to be silly, they are silly without self-consciousness. When they’re excited, they fill the world with their enthusiasm and could care less if others share it.

When a child sees another cry, they can’t help from feeling disturbed, which doesn’t make them turn away. They naturally enquire to learn what has gone wrong. They try to console or comfort the aggrieved, without being limited in their compassion by the idea “there’s nothing I can do, I’m just a kid.” They know intuitively that doing nothing is to tolerate the suffering of another being, which is why they always intervene. The gesture itself goes a long way to minimize the insult because it alleviates the isolation we sometimes feel as we suffer.

Children are amazing human beings, raw and unvarnished as they may be. We adults should be so lucky to possess a shred of the innate wisdom of a child. If you filled up a theatre with five year-olds from around the world, there would be no better proof that we human beings are one and the same regardless of creed, race, or economic status. If we cared to look, we would be immediately disabused of the falsehoods we’ve relied upon to divide, rank, and organize our adult lives.

It is this insight, this perspective, that I am grateful for. I would never have learned to see the world with less atavistic eyes, had my love for my children not possessed me with the energy and will to find a way to change my view. For this reason, I am forever indebted to them; to all children. We should worship them for the infinite human potential they embody.

It occurs to me now I’m not just a parent to my children. I’m their biggest fan, and most eager student. I am here to guide them away from practical dangers and to sustain their lives until they can do so on their own. I am not here to shape them in my world view.

My children have taught me the shameful mess we have made from the gift of human life. The emotional damage we parents inflict on our children can reveal deep fissures in our own psyches. Their sensitivity to the ways we relate to them holds a mirror to the remnants of cruelty, anger, or fear in our hearts that escaped our notice. The reflection of our worst selves unwittingly trampling on their innocent spirits is nearly impossible to ignore. For me, the lesson was a watershed in my emotional development, and profoundly humbling.

If we still care about humanity, we would apologize to our children for all the indignities the guile we’ve allowed to grow in our minds has unleashed, and we would set about to make amends. Since we are unskilled in behaving with basic goodness, we must pay close attention to the standing of the world’s children. Their collective well-being is the most reliable measure of success we possess.

We adults had our moment as avatars for the human race, and we got it dreadfully wrong. It is time for our children to plot the course from here on out. Humanity’s tainted virtue on earth is redeemed when our hearts and minds are guided in their actions by the wisdom in those little hands.

I sometimes receive heart-felt apologies from beleaguered parents when their children are being difficult in a public place. I remember that feeling when my children were small – embarrassment and anxiety that my kids were ruining someone’s day. How things have changed since my days as an obnoxious upstart adult.

More than once I’ve replied to the parent “don’t be silly, and do not fret at your child on my account. They’re honest and real about how they feel, and I don’t mind.”

Playing in the rain in Bangladesh

Remember These Open Arms As You Grow Old, My Sons

I was sitting in a coffee shop the other morning when I was swept away by the blissful energy of a woman and her four-year old girl as they breezed past. The girl danced circles around her mother’s legs, clutching two teddy bears that outsized her tiny arms. The sweetness of her pink rubber boots and twee voice doused the shop of bleary-eyed, earnest suits with candy-coating.

I watched enviously as she lapped up her mother’s words “whaddya want kiddo?” I jumped earnestly along with her as she screamed ‘muffins, juice, cake pops, banana bread!’ My temporary refuge from e-mails and five-alarm fires at the office seemed a sad existence in relation to the unrestrained joy of mother and young child.

The thought was bittersweet. Momentarily I was transported in time when my boys had their first taste of apple pie and ice cream, making humming noises ‘mmm,mmm,mmm’ as they stuffed their faces. I remembered falling asleep with them on my chest; each of us drifting off to the sound of the other’s heart beating.

I sat in stillness with my coffee half-raised to my mouth as I tried to siphon whatever droplets of glee I could from the mother-daughter exchange. It occurred to me my eyes were welling up.

L-O-V-EMy kids were young like that once, they hung off me like a jungle gym. They danced around my legs, clamouring for nothing more than my undivided attention. For the most part they got it, but now I wish I’d been less annoyed by the constancy of it at times. Back then I couldn’t imagine how emotional I would feel as I do today, seeing this mother and her child.

I could never have known how insufficient memories are as a surrogate for the experience. I wish I’d made more efforts to soak it up, especially now that their mother and I are divorced; the time I have to amass more wonderful glimpses of their childhood before they grow old, halved.

My kids are twelve this year. In no time their mother and I will lose the honour of having exclusive reign over their heartstrings. What an honour it’s been. I know I shouldn’t cling to the idea of their childhood; they’re still my children, no matter how old they get.

But I can’t help it. They’re not little children anymore. They don’t dance around my feet. It’ll never be the same. A part of me wishes that phase could have lasted forever, but the deepening voices, soaring heights and hair in places only adults possess it mocks my selfish fantasies.

As teenagers they will look to the outside world in friends, achievements, and experiences for feelings of efficacy, security, and validation. It fills me with trepidation for them as I recall how often in my teenage years I wanted to curl up in a ball to avoid the tyranny of days overflowing with lessons in humility. I also remember feeling a strong urge to look away from the tether of parents and family to figure out on my own how to keep my chin up, even with egg all over my face and my fly undone.

The view of that arduous journey into their own lives is heart-wrenching from where I stand as a parent. I want to be their biggest booster as they run into the murky world to carve out their niche. It feels somewhat forced.

Yay. Yaaay! YAAAAAY!

They’ll be teenagers soon!

Meh.

I feel like the head cheerleader rooting on a band of thugs shaving off my arms with a pocket-knife to steal my watch. I don’t really want teenagers. No offense, but I am no fool. I know they’re just not going to be ‘into me’ – their parent.

Well, metal has nearly hit bone. The glistening, unconditional twinkle of my little boys is already sometimes tinged with traces of skepticism. They’ve found things to interest them that have nothing to do with me. On days I drop them at school my kids turn and run at the sight of my lower lip quivering. ‘Rotten, good-for-nothing zit-faced friends drawing them in,’ I think to myself. ‘Who needs friends? Friends are unreliable,’ I quip, half-heartedly under my breath.

When did my kids become such turncoats? What a couple of ungrateful jerks! Then I catch myself being a childish ass, punching air, kicking dirt in a futile bout of frustration. My twenty-three year-old self mocks me for having become a soccer mom, and a wallowing idiot.

I have my reasons for being disconsolate at times: when it’s not my weekend with them and I can’t tuck them into bed for another five days. I can’t laugh them to sleep with armpit farts or tummy zurrberts. They barely fit in my arms any more – and soon I will fit better in theirs. They don’t get jazzed about movie night like they used to.

Just today I said “HEY KIDS WANT ICE CREAM!” and they both said, ‘nah, it’s too early.’ Too early?! It was noon! Three years ago I’d have had to hire a cowboy to lasso my kids so they wouldn’t run in front of semi-trailers and city buses to get to the ice cream store.

Now, there’s things on YouTube they’d rather watch. Alone. In their room. Without dad around. I’ll bet they’ve already discovered porn, probably by accident. But still. Girls. A formidable foe who lurks, who will steal the affections of my homies away from the one who matters most. Me.

My babies' not-so-little feet.

My babies’ not-so-little feet.

The sparkle in their eyes as they looked up to me has, at times, turned to an exasperated roll of the eyes. They don’t have to look up, either. Part of me wonders if their respect for me wanes as they watch me struggle with their drift away from childhood. Then I realize, I don’t care, and continue crying because I know I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

I wish it wasn’t necessary to just let them frolic into the world of adolescent throngs who crudely mimic the craven, selfish, conformist habits of the adults around them. I worry about their emotional well-being among peers who lack ethical scruples; who can’t temper the cruel excesses of the individualists’ creed rammed down their throats by our culture. It’s in my bones as a parent to believe their emotions will be safeguarded only when shrouded in my arms.

And yet, I am also aware that, for all my good intentions, I may have already left deeper scars than a bully or an unrequited love could ever leave. I didn’t mean it, unlike those rotten kids out there. I was winging the parent thing, for the first while at least, until I realized I needed to educate myself.
I think I’ve come around now. I hope their memories betray them, because there are truckloads of mistakes to hold against me, to tar me as a hypocrite, should I forget myself and over-react to something they’ve done that’s out of line.

The little girl in the coffee shop makes me aware that my children are still on the fringes of a blissful world of childhood innocence, but on the cusp of stepping with both feet into the jungle that kicked the shit out of me. I want to spare them the perils in that journey. I want to keep my lovely limbs right where they are: safe and happy.

Yet I realize they can’t broaden their perspective of the world if their father is clutching them tightly to prevent them stepping in with both feet. They can’t fully savour the wealth of experiences the world has to offer if I’m still taunting them back toward their childhood with ice cream and Sponge Bob re-runs.

My mind is defiant as I am confronted with the reality I have no choice but to let them go a little. The age-old rift between parents and teenagers crystallizes as I consider this. I resent the fact they’ll seek influences elsewhere and won’t automatically see my opinions, tastes or ideas as necessarily authoritative.

They’ll have tastes and preferences that won’t mirror my own. Already my son loves Katy Perry. How did that happen? Doesn’t he know his father hates pop music because it sucks? Then I remember: he’s twelve. Katy Perry to a twelve year old boy is more than just about music, isn’t she?

My children are going to make mistakes and feel chastened by the consequences as they try on various identities to learn what works best for them. As I watch them struggle to succeed or blissfully jump into abject failure it will be hard to stop myself from stepping in and taking over. I’m like any parent, I’d rather avoid seeing them fail, but this sentiment too easily transforms into me trying too hard to manufacture their success. I’ve already had to stop myself doing tough homework assignments and science projects for them. Man, I hate seeing them struggle. 

It is hard to watch from the sidelines as my child slips on easily-spotted banana peels, but I know from my own upbringing in a family of nascent critics how profoundly the hand-wringing undermines a child’s feelings of autonomy. It doesn’t matter that the advice, constructive criticism, or other moral support is well-intended.

They begin to internalize too much interference as implied criticism. The risk is they’ll come to second-guess themselves. They will lay blame for planting the seeds of doubt about their own instincts squarely on the over-bearing parent. That could come back to haunt me, so I need to learn a little hands off.

A few years ago my son came home from school intimating he was having an issue with a bully at his school. In seconds my mind was filled with ideas of kicking the shit out of the kid, shoving my fist in his father’s face, and enrolling him the next day in the Kung Fu class I taught. The wisdom of non-violence from my Buddhist practice was easily brushed aside by the vision of my child suffering at the hands of another.

The one thing I didn’t do was simply ask him how he felt about the situation and what he wanted to do to resolve it. Thanks to my son, that would-be bully is, five years later, now in his circle of friends, while I still look at the kid with a hairy eyeball.

The experience was the first time I realized the volatility of my emotions where my children were concerned. It gave me extreme insight about how empty the parental invocation of “doing what is best” can be tainted by projections of my own childhood angst onto them.

It’s startling how old wounds you thought had healed burst open as you find yourself reliving some torrid chapter of your childhood through something happening in your child’s life. Next thing you know, you’re reacting as your thirteen year old self in the same situation, not as the parent of a child who may see things totally differently. 

I’ve got to keep my eye on that raging bull. I had a lot of emotional wounds that took a long time to heal. I had a lot of well-deserved “fuck you’s” left unsaid. I don’t want to be the roll of quarters in my child’s fist swinging at MY old ghosts. I don’t want to use my children to become masters of my own failed aspirations.

I also have to assume my children will experience hardships of the nature I faced differently than I did. They aren’t miniature versions of me, after all. I think I’ve done a bit better than was done to me in establishing the foundations for a more balanced emotional reaction to life’s undulations.

I’ve been a warm father. I tell my sons I love them every day. I think it’s etched in their mind. I think they’ll deal better than I did when shit hits fans along whatever path they’re on. It’s quite possible they won’t even see some of the things I perceived as horrible in quite the same terms. I was a bit of a brooding child. My kids aren’t. I hope I had something to do with cultivating that lightness. We will have to wait and see; and hope.

It’s disturbing to me to have to fathom these issues. The first time I can’t fix their mental anguish with a Slurpee or a night of popcorn and Kung Fu Panda my heart will die a little. There have already been some hurts for which there is nothing I can do but listen and lean in with a hug. Things like the divorce of their mother and father, the tearing to pieces of what they understood as a ‘family.’

This is when I am awash in the desire to stop time. To somehow keep them like that little girl in the coffee shop; to see to it they stay forever small enough to remain in my arms where I can protect them. I want to be the ultimate fixer for their problems, which is relatively easy when a child’s biggest problem is that they misplaced their teddy bear.

There are bigger problems ahead, and it scares the living shit out of me. I’ve got to be brave. I’ve caught myself already inadvertently seeding their relatively blue skies with storm clouds of negativity that stem from my childhood, not theirs. I’ve got to buck up.

But I never want them to go so far into the grown up abyss that they no longer feel the warmth of my unconditional love for who they are breathing them forward. I don’t want them to be seduced by ideas about the world being indifferent, harsh, and cruel.

I never want them to be far away from the promise of a parent’s non-judgmental presence when it is needed most. I want them to know there is no place better than my open arms to take refuge, should the need arise. Little children can’t even imagine another place aside from their parents for solace, but as they grow older, the urge to resist that impulse grows out of the need to cultivate independence.  

Shadow Monsters

This idea – independence. The lie our increasingly Social Darwinist culture breeds in young adults; especially young boys like my two sons. We are inter-dependent. Those who are ‘self-made’, who believe they are independent don’t realize how much their self-reliance came on the backs of others. I don’t want those others to be my innocent children.

The rest of us take the idea of independence too literally, trying to deal with life as if we really believed it necessary to do so alone. It’s bollocks.

Everybody needs someone else. That is the beauty and the bane of humanity.

I hope to instill in my sons the innate wisdom of the little child in this regard; to keep them habituated to looking in the right places for warmth and love to ward off life’s rougher edges. It doesn’t have to be me, although I hope it is. It just needs to be someone who genuinely has their best interests at heart.

Children have no qualms about seeking out mommy and daddy when they’re in despair. Adults need that kind of presence in their lives. I want to be that presence in my boys’ adult lives. 

Some parents joke about when their kids will leave the nest. It’s no laughing matter for me. I want my sons to always know there’s a place for them with me, no questions asked.

I don’t want them to forget the feel of my arms around them as they grow old and fly away. So I will go now, and hug them, hoping to make it impossible to forget.

174 and 1/2 Steps To Be Thin, Happy, and an All-Around Amazing Human Being in Under Two Minutes

Okay, the title is a little dishonest.

In reality, I’m not going to give you any finite number of simple steps toward anything. This is a cliche I don’t mind employing from time to time: nothing worth doing is easy.

The gist of my title piggybacks on the blogging trend in vogue these days. Every article is fashioned into a list, with the aim of grabbing the attention of a culture who seems collectively to have the attention-span of a six-year old. This is completely benign when it comes to the subject of the “10 Child Stars Who Still Look Like They Did When They Were Child Stars” or “15 Ways to Get Laid, Paid, and Never Be Afraid.”

But I have some serious reservations when this editing approach is employed to articles attempting to give serious advice to those who feel their well-being suffers. I understand perfectly why there are dozens of web sites catering to the legions out there who feel fat, lonely, miserable, or otherwise unfulfilled in their lives. I was, and to a degree still am, one of those people. I think the intentions behind all the advice columns out there are noble, and I still regularly consume many of these myself.

However, there’s a danger in framing the solution to overcoming some serious problems as if it was “Easy as 1-2-3.” The solutions aren’t that easy. I understand that, to reel people in who are feeling not great about themselves, you have to think of ways to get them in the door with offerings of hope.

I’m not sure false hope is much of a sinecure for any despair these people feel. And it seems to me these editors – because I bet the bloggers didn’t write their articles this way – are sacrificing the self-esteem of people who genuinely suffer. They dangle dubious promises of hope with blogs edited down to an unrecognizable husk of their original depth to increase readership which feeds advertising revenue and blah, blah, blah.

What happens? People who are suffering read the 10 steps to happiness, try them out for a week or two, inevitably fail, and then ask “what the fuck is wrong with me?” The simple solutions have added a section of naysayers to the stadium of negative self-critics already in their head. It’s another nail in the tattered self-esteem of anyone who has struggled with an issue that has dogged them for years.

The truth is, the things we need to do to get out of our ruts vary widely. But the ruts we are in are all rooted in the same issue: a distorted mental view. Because we are all human, and most of us have a mind, we tend to face certain shocks to our psyche in the same way.

That’s where things went south for most of us. We need to find that nugget of pathos, put it in our hands, smell it, and get to know it. Then, and only then, can we start to build a new road for all the spheres of our lives where we may, or may not, be succeeding. New eyes driving a new road can also lead to new perceptions of our “failure,” something few of these blogs ever touch upon.

So, here is my list. The list of things, the nugget, beneath every big issue written about in the self help industry: abuse, depression, anxiety, body image, relationships, career, and happiness. Wait for it …

1. Your Ego

Here is another list of what you can do to change this:

1. Tons of Fucking Work

Easy as pie right? And with fewer ingredients too.

I realize, these lists are a hell of a lot less appealing as blog titles go than “Eight Ways to Liberate Your Soul.” Let’s try it out, “You Have to do Tons of Fucking Work To Figure Out Why Your Ego Keeps You: Depressed, Eating When You’re Not Hungry, Sabotaging Your Chance of Having a Good Relationship Because It’s Choosing the Wrong People to be in Your Life, Choosing Goals That Are Vapid, Shallow, or in Disharmony With Who You Are, and Acting In Ways You Know for a Fact You’ll Regret Later On”

Wow. That is a long title. I bet folks will probably not be crashing the server of the blog-site where that article was posted.

Now, I’m not a PhD psychologist whose articles are edited down by some dude with an MFA from Fordham. I’m not a “Life Coach” or Yoga teacher. But I have been meditating for eight years and doing yoga slightly less. And I’m also not giving you any lists. I’m just sharing my realizations about this stuff because I did a lot of hard work to get them.

I don’t meditate sometimes. I meditate every day, except when I don’t want to. I do retreats where I don’t read, talk, telephone, or anything other than meditate, and they suck a lot. But they work, magically.

I do Mysore yoga, which doesn’t allow me to compare myself to the rest of the class as I pose. I basically force myself to be with myself. All the time. It sucks sometimes too, but ditto above about working, magically.

That stuff is way harder than reading a list, for sure.

But now I know my ego. All I have to say is “that little fucker.” He’s the one who purports to act on my behalf before I can intervene with wisdom to stop him. He’s the one telling me I am not good enough all the time. And now I also know where he placed all the shit he couldn’t, wouldn’t, or was too scared to deal with.

I understand the reasons why he did those things, but it’s kept me emotionally swinging in the dark, which screwed up many parts of my life. I know how he rationalizes his dysfunctional way of dealing with emotional turmoil in the same way: avoidance, denial, distraction, defensiveness, posturing. I know he sprung out to protect me at an early age against some pretty deep emotional traumas.

I’ve seen how the same single pile of emotional shit seems to stick to the bottom of my shoes, and is there no matter where my ego goes. But it was the SAME emotional pile stinking up every sphere of my life.

Dealing with that one pile would negate having to deal with what appeared to be separate piles in ostensibly separate parts of my life. That would obviate the need to remember the self-help blog list for my eating problem, another for my sad problem, and another for each of my partner, mother, brother, best friend, boss, and co-worker problems.

Added up those lists are about 174 things, plus a 1/2 because I don’t care so much about one of the things on one of the lists that could make my co-workers like me. That’s a lot of things to remember. It’s a lot of compartmentalizing of a human being. It re-inforces the lie that we are somehow capable of switching ourselves on and off so easily without any residual damage to our psyches.

The switch-off leaks out if we don’t address it. Ask any professional who regularly attends crash scenes, a soldier in a war-zone, a police officer, a social worker about swiching-off or compartmentalizing. It’s bullshit. To a very small degree, this amount of dissociating from ourselves to function in certain spheres is functional. Until it becomes pathological for the infinite ways we try to shield our emotions with our egos.

That’s a lot of big, fancy-pants talk. Ego? What’s that? I bet you’re wondering where the easy part comes, right?

There is no easy part. There never was, nor will there ever be, particularly if you are in your mid-life and have been dealing with your issues for a long while. There are some ingrained perceptions and distortions perpetuating your problems. Your ego – the persona most of us tend to identify with, that generally perceives the world and then behaves accordingly – has kept you where you are because he has been doing the mis-perceiving and distorting of your reality. He’s done the best he can, but it’s time to give him the shove-off if you’re stuck dealing with the same problems.

You cannot just take a list created by some random blogger’s “happy mind” and stuff it in your ear so your mind will adopt all the perceptions, and feelings, and outlook that combine to make the blogger’s happy view even possible. Your ego will easily reject all the foundations upon which that list is built. It will want to place you back in the zone it is most comfortable, which is outside the mental bounds the list springs from.

Something in your mind sees the attraction in the list. So, the work is, you need to get behind the ego and see your mind for who and what it is and what you really are. You are not the things your ego says you are.

Throw away the lists and find a way into your mind. For me, that was meditation and yoga, for you maybe it’s therapy or something else that removes you from the nutty world your ego put you in. If you don’t retreat from that place to a demilitarized zone, your ego will continue in the dysfunctional tactics it evolved to defend you.

In other words, there is hope for change. The change lies in coming into direct contact with who you are. Then you can start to walk the earth with a mind that is more objective in its view of things, including how it views yourself and your place in all of this.

But it takes work. It took years to get into the problem and it will take years to get out of it. This shouldn’t be a source of discouragement.

That’s the other thing I really, really hate about many of these easy-peasy self-help articles. They are just another insidious voice in the Western rhetoric that puts little gadflies in our heads about how easy conquering all the problems in our life should be. That idea is an accelerant for low self-esteem, because it is false and bound to fail. People offering self-help advice should not be putting a recipe for failure in the hands of people with poor, vulnerable self-perceptions.

After eight years, the massive shit-pile I discovered in my self-study isn’t gone but it is smaller, more manageable. I can step around it most days without having it stink up my behaviour in all the facets of life I have to juggle.

That’s progress, and that is reality. It is one hell of a lot better reality than the one my ego saw before I started doing the work. In order for it to stay that way I will have to keep at it; life and my ego created the pile before and they could do it again.

The work of overcoming my problems forced me to cultivate lasting habits, and disciplined practices that I don’t need to remember from a list. The functional habits I have are based in perceptions crafted by my mind, for my mind. I promise, you can go and get your own better mind too, with some considerable effort.

So I lied. I am going to proffer a list.

Three reasons your hard efforts to heal are worthwhile:

1. You

2. Your loved ones

3. Humanity

Trust Me, You Do Not Want to Know What is Going on In Here

Those four words. Like dogs to a high-pitched whistle and flies to mortally electrifying light, they render the same degree of involuntary response among North American men. We are brought to our knees reeling in pain as those words make ruthless contact between our legs.

They come as we are spooning after making love to our partner. Or while we’re hand-in-hand for a lovely stroll at sunset through botanical gardens; the sound of songbirds and the smell of flowers filling the air. Or when we’re sipping lattes after a glutinous, ostentatious breakfast sharing the Sunday Times, periodically breaking the comfortable silence to offer musings on the week’s news.

Out of the blue, instead of savouring these serene, emotionally uncontroversial moments of bliss for what they are, for no good reason the four words are unleashed, grazing insensitively at the most tender side of unsuspecting, fully descended testicles.

“What are you thinking?”

Ohhhh gaaawddd *knees buckling*

Where in the living hell did that drop-kick in the pants come from? And for Christ’s sake, why? What does it matter?

Sometimes you wish you'd never asked the question.

Sometimes you wish you’d never asked the question.

We’ve just made love. To make sure my role in the affair extended longer than a commercial break, I may have had to deploy radical counter-measures to fend off premature detonation of missile warheads. This possibly involved tapping into childhood memories of larger mammals mating on Jacques Cousteau or  National Geographic. There could have been thoughts of grannies playing Twister in their over-sized underwear, or naked old men juggling puppies.

You know how long it will take to incinerate those despicable images from my mind? You couldn’t just let us spoon in relative peace. Next time, I’m letting my missile blow wherever and whenever the hell it feels like it.

As we have our breakfast, I am reminded of a YouTube video of a dog at the table wearing a hoodie stuffing his breakfast into his face with human hands. Oh god was that funny! He was eating scrambled eggs just like me – but way funnier! Because he was a dog and had hands! Get it! A DOG! HA HA HA!!

I see yellow daffodils and think of Sponge Bob and Patrick getting drunk on ice cream and coke floats, then trashing his pineapple home; the fact that Squidward’s face looks a lot like a dude’s package.

That is basically what I am thinking. The thoughts don’t diminish my lapping up of the experience.

So, why you gotta ruin a good moment like that?

“Um, what?” is what I actually say instead.

Oh yeah, I heard the question. How could I not? My testicles have been catapulted to my spleen.

But I need to buy some time so I pretend I didn’t hear. I need to clear the cobwebs and muster up something pithy to say, and quick. These moments call for pith, don’t they? Or is it mirth?

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes.  Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes. Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Do you not know how hard it is to come up with good pith and mirth after I’ve been schtupping? Or when I’ve just eaten enough sausages, eggs, pancakes, ham slices, hash browns, and bacon to give an Olympian type-2 diabetes in a single meal?

As we stroll in the garden I am being eaten alive by mosquitoes, who seem to love black guys more than the horses and cows in the nearby farms. It’s as though they’ve learned their favourite drink – Venti African Dark Latte – is being given away for free on this night. I am trying to keep my shit together without jumping in the fountain to spare myself the onslaught!

You look like a snow cone to mosquitoes. No mosquito in the world likes a 7-Up-flavoured Slurpee. The little bastards know where the good, down-home hooch is. Those little shits are a-comin’ to paaaah-tay on some moonshine from my black ass because they only have one day to live, and they ain’t risking an early death sipping girly wine coolers from your pint-sized body!

On a sunset night in the garden, that’s what I’m thinking. It’s not exactly romantic. It’s not going to make you bat your lashes quite like, ‘I’m thinking of how wonderful it is to be with you’ or ‘I feel lucky,’ or ‘I wish we could walk in the park like this every night.’

Believe me, I think those things. All the time, in fact. Just not at this particular moment. At the moment you ask, the thoughts can be a little, well, romantically underwhelming.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I'd known sooner.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I’d known sooner.

“I saaa-id, ‘what are you thinking?'”

“Oh, nothing. Just enjoying the moment. Why?”

“No reason. Love you.”

And then you go to sleep/keep walking in the garden/take a sip of coffee. A masterful deflection. Right?

RIGHT !?!?

I bet every dude reading this is agreeing, while every woman is shaking her head. I know, I know. I really want to be better at this shit. I want to find a way to enjoy that graze to my nads. But it’s just so, I don’t know, begging me to lie. I am a terrible liar. I get twitchy and stupid.

Wait. Is this a test of my creativity? Am I supposed to lie really awesome and romantic-like?

One time after the question I said ‘oh nothing, really.’ Oops. Really? No. Not ‘really.’ Nothing. I was thinking nothing at all. Well, nothing I wouldn’t be ashamed of, anyway. After that stupid slip, I was a Taliban captive at Guantanamo, having the hairs on my testicles removed by tugging them off, one-by-one until I coughed up some intelligence about the inner workings of my mind.

Okay, I had a bad week at the office, and yeah, sometimes I do feel kind of insecure in relation to other dudes. Damn! That wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how funny it would be if Sponge Bob and Kermit the Frog were getting fisted by Miss Piggy.

I cracked like a fat kid to a pile of Twinkies. I just handed crucial intelligence to the infidel. I revealed a way through the posturing, macho facade my brothers and I have masterfully erected to keep our emotional secrets hidden in our man-caves. Now she has a target to launch drone strikes and blow my little emotionally-stunted jihadis out of their repressed hiding places.

I will get revenge against the infidel, my brethren. Do not worry. I will buy some jewellery, a dozen roses, take her to dinner, and let her choose the romantic comedy for movie night. Then I will give her a back rub, and light a trail of scented candles that lead her to her pillow, upon which there will be two exquisite chocolates on it – less than the six I started with, because chocolate is my heroin and I had four as I was lighting the candles.

I will not resort to playing Barry White music and offering to dance at the bedside. That much North American romantic cliché in one day will have destroyed what little remains of my soul. A man must be able to enter the cave of brothers with his head held high.

I will never forget the jeers I received when I opined over beers and golf that The Notebook wasn’t bad, and another time when I described the colour of eggplant as aubergine. Come on guys, it ain’t purple. So, there will be no Barry White. Sorry, Barry White, it’s not you, it’s me.

So, having showered you with campy bribes to weaken your mental defences, I’ll get even by asking the male equivalent of those four words. “So, am I, you know, uh, compared to your past ones, relatively speaking, of course, bigger, average, or, uh, you know, uh, smaller. Down there, I mean? (pointing to my penis)”

On second thought, maybe Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men was right. I’m not sure I want the truth because I really can’t handle the truth.

The thing is. Well, see, the thing is, I have a hamster in my mind. I have ADD. He’s always running on his wheel up there, especially when he’s content. But when you introduce unexpected emotional depth at random?

Hell breaks loose. He tries to run away the little idiot. But he’s on a wheel, so instead the heat builds up until metal fatigue throws the wheel off its moorings and it abruptly ceases spinning upon hard contact with the ground. The fleeing hamster is sent flying into the side of his cage. He is woozy and groggy, wondering what hit him.

That’s what happens when you ask “so, what are you thinking?” You send hammy running for the hills.

That is when my fear you’ll discover the sad, puerile nature of my pet rodent-like mind will scare you off. Yes, the hamster runs in place on his wheel, even when he’s accompanied by a beautiful woman. He can’t help it. He’s a bloody hamster.

He’s on the wheel to stay happy. It will calm his emotions down so his head doesn’t explode. But sometimes a stupid thought pops into his mind that he simply can’t ignore. Like the scene from This is 40 when Melissa McCarthy, Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann are in the Principal’s office to clear up a bullying issue with their kids. McCarthy threatens “to rear up and jackknife my legs and kick you both in the fucking jaw with my foot bone.” Oh my god, that was so funny.

Because I don’t want you to have proof you’re with a moron, I don’t say what’s really on my mind. My guess is there are few women who would want to hear about hamsters while on a romantic stroll in the garden.

So, erring on the side of caution, I don’t mention Sponge Bob, dogs eating breakfast, Melissa McCarthy shit-kicks, or hamster wheels. I say something else. I want you to be too invested in this relationship before I start revealing the true man-child you’re with.

“This is phenomenal. Good night, mia amore.”

And then I roll over, hoping the hamster will soon go to sleep in his comfy bed of wood shavings and poo pellets. He needs the rest for the marathon to nowhere he’ll be running again tomorrow.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.

This is My Yoga

Practice and all is coming

– Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

My Yoga - Stillness

I’ve come to love yoga for so many reasons. I wish more people would give it a try because it has helped me with some of the anxiety and focus issues I’ve grappled with for much of my life; that many Type-As like me suffer from in our busy-obsessed culture. On any given day, there are countless unseemly interactions I have with strangers that suggest a lot of people are in need of something – anything – to calm them down; to give perspective to the insularity and self-importance that seem to drive a lot of ignorant behaviour. Most days, I’m pretty forgiving of it; it’s how I used to be, after all, and I’m not such a bad person, even if sometimes I do crappy things.

Yoga saved my skin when it felt like my life was falling apart and scattering in many directions. But it also helped soften my attitude toward things; things about myself and of others. It’s helped keep me solid and whole through some discombobulating upheavals in recent years. It’s given me the tools to mine the brightness amidst the reactivity that was my default; that in the past would have powered the negativity spinning outwardly from my reeling, pissed-off mind.

Just this morning I watched a facebook post that was so full of joy it brought me to tears. In the past I would have mentally vomited as my intellect summed up the whole thing as trite, common, gratuitous sentimentality. The kind of bile underneath the pit of negativity I used to wallow in makes me shudder. But I forgive myself because I wasn’t really aware of what was going on, at least not consciously. I did the best I could with the limited means to tap into wisdom I had. I am sorry for those who were unlucky in the past to have consumed my toxic sludge energy. I am sorry for those who, on a bad day, will be doused with it in the future. Trust me, I am working on it. I’ve got yoga on my side.

Many days I bounce around the office with a goofball air in my step. I like to be silly and share that with others, whether they ask for it or not. I respond to the feeling of joy and lightness that overcomes my body when I encounter it. I never used to feel that before because I was so taut with anxiety and striving. Actually, I think now, I was constantly fearful, perhaps of the consequences of simply being myself. That fear is still there at times, but far less so than in the past.

I’m really thankful for the ability to connect with my own neurosis the moment it occurs and to let it go in the moment as well. I feel the seething much more readily in my body now, and the discomfort kick starts adjustments that restore the ease – in both mind and body. It saves me having to fend off the regret later on because I could not get my agitated mind and body under control.

It’s still a work in progress. I still have fragile ego and still do set my antenna seeking perceived slights and fighting imaginary injustices. I still fight dissatisfaction, perfectionism, and impatience with people and things that I find stultifying. I work in a bureaucracy and some days there aren’t enough down-dogs in me to ward off the feeling that it’d be better if I shoved my head through a wall.

But the calm is starting to really take hold, I feel as much every day; a lightness I have not fully known since childhood. Even those bad days are not nearly as frequent or as intense as they once were. When I slip up I am aware more quickly of how it happened and how not to let it spiral out of control and light a fire through the day. For now, the nearby walls are safe, I suspect. I hope.

What helps is the increased ability to breathe deeply, paired with a much greater awareness of what my entire body feels like when it is too tense and reactive, and how this differs from how I feel when I am calm. I’ve been meditating for years, and I was able to connect with my mental sense of calm, but I did not register the degree of tension throughout the rest of my body. It was there, but it never struck me that it ought to be different. I assumed my burning knees were a necessary – if evil – aspect of sitting in meditation. Yoga has been essential in making my insight much more complete – and for alleviating my pain when I sit to meditate.

I am eternally grateful for the practice. Grateful to be here in one whole piece and not fragmented and feeling pulled in so many different directions by life. I am grateful to be capable of gratitude at all, instead of filled with cynicism. So, I’d like to share the insights I’ve had in my yoga practice with the hope if you’re struggling to find some peace of mind you will start down the path to changing that for yourself. Or, if you’re looking to be grateful for something when it seems like your habit is to be agitated or filled with dissatisfaction or ill-will, here’s something that may help with that. Maybe there’s some appeal in my experiences of yoga that encourage you to take actions to move beyond whatever it is within yourself that stands in the way of your joy and equanimity.

My Yoga - Anjali MudraUnity and Goodness

We tend to see the body and mind as two distinct spheres of our being, especially in the West. We are a mind over matter kind of people, a people who takes the body for granted and rests on the laurels of the mind’s ingenuity. We unconsciously abuse and mistreat our bodies for years and then rely on the techniques of mind – medicines, medical procedures and devices – to heal us when it breaks.

In reality the mind and body are inextricably linked; the body an almost perfect reflection of the mind, and certainly not something the will of the rationalizing mind is capable of mastering. Instead of dominating our bodies and willing our body to do as we please, yoga aims to strengthen harmony and awareness of ourselves by softening the clinging, externalizing mind with practices that “go inward.”

This should be a source of encouragement, even if your body seems ill-equipped for whatever it is you believe is yoga. You do not have to do poses that put your leg behind your head or have you balancing on your arms.There are steps well before that impressive end well worth taking. Just because some of us live to ninety and others live to fifty doesn’t mean you throw your hands up living. Do what you can with what you have. That is the principle. If you can open your eyes and breathe, you can do yoga.

The point is we can unravel the inner workings of our mind through conscious effort, without need of an MRI, or other technologies that require a direct examination of the brain to know what’s going on. We don’t need to look amazing in a photograph of ourselves posing. That is not the point of yoga.

The point is to gain awareness of ourselves by practices that orient our gaze away from externality and inward toward our bodies. This re-establishes awareness of the connection between body and mind and helps us to understand who we really are when we are free from the reactivity – which can be witnessed throughout our bodies. It takes lots of practice to get to that point but it is worth it because you begin to see far more similarities between yourself and others and all things if you stick to it. It softens the feelings of separation and alienation we can sometimes learn in this individualist culture we live in, which lead us into feeling as though we have to engage in combat with the universe to further our aims.

So, if we desire to feel good and be happy, one way to achieve that result is to cultivate good intentions within ourselves, doing so with diligent, regular practice and honest effort with that very simple aim in mind. The intention to practice. Simple. Not so simple once you start and see what lazy, novelty-starved, quick results-oriented Westerners we are.

In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga we begin with an opening chant to affirm the intention of practice. We are trying to get beyond the crazy un-reality of modern human life, to become more grand as beings than the impermanent artifacts of our material lives. The more we habituate to keeping the focus close to ourselves the more tenuous are the attachments tethering our feelings of happiness to external things. Most of all, we affirm and take responsibility for tending to ourselves, for being our own healers by practicing.

When you practice yoga with spiritual intention and not to achieve a nice body or to snap pictures of yourself doing cool asanas, you discover the fleeting and empty nature of the things you identify with; how they leave you with tension and agitation in your body for so long, for such little in return. In that respect, yoga can be a discovery, at least if practiced with a constant focus and effort. Just be careful to remain abreast of the intentions. At the start, be simple. Say to yourself ‘I intend to expend the effort, keep an open mind, and trust the process.’ Leave it at that.

The number of people injured in Ashtanga yoga attests to right intentions gone a awry because we bring our Western, goal-seeking egos to it. Just listen to your body as you practice diligently. Nobody has a body that lets them stretch until they tear a ligament. We do that by ignoring the signs our body is sending saying ‘please don’t’ and force our bodies to do the will of our striving mind. In this, the goal becomes about perfecting the pose on our timelines to the detriment of our bodies.

I’ve fought two major injuries since practicing that nobody except me is responsible for inflicting. It wasn’t the nature of the yoga, it wasn’t my teacher. It was me. My teacher can’t feel what my knee is telling me, he can only ask ‘is this okay?’ and trust when I say ‘oh yeah, it’s fine’ that I am really paying attention. I wasn’t. I was striving to finish Primary Series. That messed with my intentions and misguided my efforts.

Attentive listening and focus will guard against other, sometimes harmful intentions creeping into your practice. Erase the pictures you’ve seen of experienced yogis doing the asana in the Primary Series and focus on where your body is in the poses as you learn them (preferably Mysore style – sorry that’s my bias). Start with being good to yourself in this small way regularly and goodness will blossom from there outward. Be good to yourself first. Nothing teaches you how to approach that more than some of the poses in the Primary Series of Ashtanga. This is especially so if you’re like me tend to be self-critical, for reasons you’ll discover as you see yourself trying too hard – of not being nice to your body and inflicting needless pain – and then lightening up to really delve further into the poses.

You are Infinite

An antidote to the conditioning and reactivity, the constant motion of modern life is to still yourself long enough to get a good look at what’s going on inside your body and mind, to discover the essence of your being as it is, not to identify with the self who is engaged in the fast-paced auto-pilot that emerges from living among such busyness. You can see how your conditioned mind, your ego, has fashioned certain patterns of thinking, perceiving and behaving to help you cope and function in the world. You realize that identity is merely a relative thing, it isn’t real. It is the person we’ve erected through our experiences, by cherry-picking attributes we believe are most functional in the environment we typically find ourselves in. They help us get through, but they are not who we are; not entirely, at least.

This is where it begins.

This is where it begins. Those are feet, by the way. If you practice you will be surprised how distant you and your feet have grown over the years. I just met my feet a few months ago. They’re not bad peeps, actually.

Your thoughts, opinions, tastes, preferences, job, role, gender, or ethnicity is not the totality of who you are as a human being. Those are merely the scaffolding for the identity you’ve built, which is instilled with traits, perhaps by others, perhaps re-inforced by your own behaviours, but which you continue to cling to for your own reasons. But identity seen in this way is the narrowest version of your true self.

Although our identities serve a purpose to help us function in the world, it is not necessary to cling to them as if they were permanent or real, especially in settings where it is unnecessary to maintain those roles, such as when at home with friends or loved ones, or when alone. To do so is to limit the range of possibilities that exist in your life; to perceive yourself, others, and the circumstances of your existence as though they were basically parts of the same narrow reality you’ve created in your mind.

To break this habit requires a different, wider perspective, which is how practicing something like yoga or other meditative, ego-softening practices can help. A new perspective is possible. This is of so much value to anyone suffering from emotional or psychological illness rooted in distortions in perception that emerge early in our formative years; that keep most of us repeating particular behaviours that stand in the way of our own growth and wisdom.

Your mind is reflected throughout your body

When in the middle of a stressful day, stop and notice your breath. When you’ve just received a terse, accusatory, or pushy e-mail and are in the midst of a mental reaction, notice your posture. You’re driving home and someone cuts you off, or honks at you for no reason. Is your breath shallow and quick? Is your face taut? Your shoulders hunched up and forward? Are you slouching in your seat? Do you have tightness in your chest and hips? Are your eyebrows raised? Are you hyperventilating? Is your finger raised and your mouth shouting the words “go fuck yourself asshole!” Even though you never set out to be an irate cabbie from the Bronx you’re suddenly an irate cabbie from the Bronx.

Watch a young child moving actively. Notice how supple they are as the bounce off walls and contort their bodies in unfathomable ways. We are not born inflexible, but made that way by our habits and conditioning. Everyone’s identity has varying degrees of reactivity, anger, anxiety, need for control, dominance, escape, denial, or avoidance of reality.

The patterns arise in our early emotional development and the defenses we erect to guard our psychic need for security become common features of how we relate to the world. The nature of these behaviours can be discerned right there in your taut hamstrings, your clenching jaw, your inability to breathe deeply, your inflexible hips, and your wandering eyes, especially in difficult poses. The asana reveal in unmistakeable ways the nature of how we deal with change, adversity, and even the joys in life. For this reason, asana can be discomforting, literally and figuratively.

Hold a challenging pose to the count of five deep breaths. If you can reach the count of five without an interceding thought or undulation in your body, you may very well be the next Buddha. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll be struggling to perfect the pose, or thinking “shit, this hurts,” looking between your legs to see how well the next guy is posing, or trying to unclench a twitchy muscle.

You won’t be breathing fully; you won’t be relaxed or grounded, most likely. That is the nature of our minds. It loves to order reality, opine, stir you into action, control, react, resist, force things, stimulate, arouse or avoid, and it does so in infinitely clever ways. And most often, it does so with a sense of urgency that is unsettling; that is wrought with either too much tension or total capitulation to the gravity of the circumstances.

What would any article about spirituality be without an artful image involving a cat?

What would any article about spirituality be without an artful image invoking the cuteness of a cat? Meee-om. (Sorry, I could not resist)

Yoga can help you understand the flavour of those tendencies by connecting awareness of the thoughts to the tension or floundering in your body. By being able to relax the tension in some places, and bring energy and alertness to others you can lighten the urgency within the mind; which seized your body with its panic or fear. Body awareness is an alternate channel into consciousness when reality is highly arousing and has stirred the mind into habitual coping behaviours that bypass our consciousness, which limits our ability to impart wisdom into the circumstances.

That alternate gateway to an awareness of the mind’s instability can help introduce just a split second between the arousing event and behaviours propelled by reactivity. The awareness allows the opportunity to apply the techniques in yoga that re-introduce calm and stability to the mind by yoking our perception of things to our own true nature, rather than mooring it to external provocations that stir our egos into action. A mind that is pointed and alert, but calm and tethered to its own sense of morality and goodness, is much more attuned to the needs of any given moment than one that is overly aroused and easily caught in the grip of reactivity. The result is a being whose nature will be more happy and free, and whose conduct will be more skillful and wise.

Yoga is a spiritual practice that cultivates greater awareness and identification with our own intrinsic nature – understanding the nature of the energy we possess and the energy we project into the world through our actions and intentions. It isn’t just about mastering poses, and it isn’t just about ‘feeling good.’ It isn’t just one type of practice, but many. These methods connect the practitioner with his innate wisdom in order to relate to other beings and phenomena in the world in a spirit of harmony and goodness. The growth, an end that cannot be known at the outset, is in the process; the process of doing, and with focus and concentration, the discovery as the process unfolds.

So, just go do it. Go and practice, as guruji instructs. “Yoga is ninety-nine percent practice and one percent theory.”

Guruji. Namaste.

Guruji Sri K. Pattabhi Jois