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People as Teachers

One of my favorite quotes is by Marianne Williamson who says, “Romantic relationships are like getting a PhD in spirituality.” Preach sister. However, for me, every relationship is like getting a PhD in spirituality. There is not one relationship that doesn’t teach me something, even if it’s a relationship with an animal. Why is that though?

I’m pretty sure it’s due to my upbringing in a tantric practice. The psycho-spiritual tantra I practice uses everything as a vehicle for liberation. It also uses symbols to approach something that is ultimately beyond symbolization. This manifests itself primarily through relationship.

People are our teachers of course.

To back up a bit and to give some context, the tantric worldview is one in which a universally abounding macrocosmic Consciousness comes to know Itself through each of Its microcosmic reflecting forms – not only in humans or animals, but in plants, planets, and stars. The Consciousness in all things may lie seemingly dormant in something like a rock, but in humans, the Consciousness becomes self-aware and allows us to actively co-create in this great “knowing,” so to speak. What that means is we as humans come to know and understand ourselves symbolically through the form of others.

Boiling that concept down, people, but not just people, are teachers. I’m sure you’ve already found this to be true. I bring this up and find this concept to be so important, that I learn about myself through what’s outside of me, because it gives everything a different spin. It means other people, places, and things are not conquests, are not objects that exist outside of me, are not around solely for my pleasure and enjoyment, but rather are me. This worldview explains why it makes sense to say, “We’re all one,” because I learn about me through you, and you learn about you through me. There is no “out there.”

In other words, the whole world is a reflection of me in different forms, like a potter using clay. There are bowls and vases, but they’re both made out of clay.

I’m not sure I can convey why this concept is so profound for me, but there’s something about recognizing you are an expression of me, that we are not separate from each other, that’s mind boggling. It means when I see a homeless person, I don’t view them as “other,” I view them as me. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all felt that way? If we saw refugees as us? If we viewed nature as a different expression of ourselves? Would we be so cavalier to inflict harm? To cut down all the trees, to drain lakes, to build high fences, to abuse our brethren? Somehow I think not. I know this to be true because I’ve seen a new way of being and I have that dream for all of us.

I dream of a world where we view each other as ourselves. A world where we understand we come to know ourselves through a myriad of forms. A world where we treat everything around us with reverence and love. A world where we view that which is outside of us not as things for the taking, but as beings to behold.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Fame versus Significance

I want to make an impact in the world. I want to use my gifts in the service of others. In my mind, if I’m not famous, if I don’t have 10 million Youtube followers, then I’m not making a difference. I’m conflating fame with significance. How could I not? When a simple tweet from a celebrity can launch someone’s career or shine the spotlight on an important issue, of course I’m under the impression fame and significance are linked.

I realize a person doesn’t have to be famous in order to make a difference – there are many teachers, activists, doctors, etc. who do great work in the world and no one knows their name, but the thing is, I’m not a teacher, activist, or doctor. I’m a writer. And in my world, if people aren’t reading what I’m writing, then I might as well launch my posts into a black hole for all the good they’re doing.

The epicenter of fame.

The epicenter of fame.

I talked about this with my dear writer friend Amal, who doesn’t have this issue. He reminded me about Herman Melville, who was never a financially successful writer, by the way, even though we have all heard of his book Moby Dick. Did you know Moby Dick was a commercial failure and published to mixed reviews? And also that it wasn’t until the late 1910s, early 1920s, which is almost 20 years after his death, that people started to talk about him? Moby Dick was written more than 150 years ago and we’re still studying it in school! Talk about significant.

I’m not saying I’m Herman Melville because I’m not, but what I’m coming to understand more deeply is the notion of artists as pioneers, something my spiritual teacher propounds. What does that mean, to be a pioneer? It means often a person won’t be appreciated in their time, that they’re on the forefront of society, staking out new territory to pave the way for future generations. What this means is just because a person isn’t recognized, isn’t popular or famous, doesn’t mean they’re not doing good work.

That sounds obvious I know, but right now our society places so much emphasis on social capital. “How many Twitter followers do you have? Who regramed you Instagram? Did anyone share your Facebook post?” Right now it seems easy to become famous from your living room and when 1.4 million people like a Facebook post, they turn into an important person, at least in my mind. But will any of them be remembered in 150 years? Will I?

The ultimate point I’m making in a roundabout way, is it’s not my job to worry about fame. Fame doesn’t necessarily mean a person is making a difference, it just means people are paying attention to them. It’s my job as an artist and writer to keep being a pioneer, to keep transmitting messages and inspiration that I receive, and to surrender the fruits of my labor. It’s not my job to attract Facebook followers or to cultivate a name for myself. It’s my job to use my gifts regardless of how much attention I receive. And not just my job, everyone’s job. We are all special and unique human beings who may never get the recognition we crave, but that doesn’t mean what we’re doing isn’t worthwhile or that it’s insignificant.

I dream of a world where we understand fame doesn’t necessarily translate into significance. A world where we realize we have no idea what the future holds or what the fruits of our actions will be. A world where we keep doing the work required of us, letting go of the outcomes.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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How to Be Non-Attached

I spent the weekend at Redwood State and National Parks with a dear friend who is moving in 10 days so this subject matter is on my mind. Here’s a repost from August about another friend who was moving at that time. 

I’m having a tough time with the impermanence of things. The good things in my life I want to lock in little glass jars and preserve them for all eternity. What’s funny is I have a similar reaction to the bad things. Not that I want to preserve them for all eternity, but rather it feels like they’ll be with me for all eternity. There is not a sense that this too shall pass.

I’m experiencing both of those sensations at the moment – wanting to preserve stuff and feeling like other stuff is interminable. A dear friend of mine is moving across the country in about 10 days and I’m really sad about it. I want him to stay here, I want things to keep going like they have been, and at the same time my sadness feels like a constant companion.

Buddhists would say my pain comes from attachment. I agree, I am very attached, but I don’t know how not to be. The word people use most often to describe me is “intense.” I love deeply and commit fully. There is no halfway for me. I’m one of those extreme personalities, although I’m working on learning moderation and the middle ground. How am I supposed to learn non-attachment? Well, I’m not.

I'm constantly trying to catch bubbles but when I hold on too tight, they pop. A good metaphor I think,

I’m constantly trying to catch bubbles but when I hold on too tight, they pop. A good metaphor I think,

My spiritual teacher says, “[N]on-attachment does not mean to leave all pleasures and remain in a state of indifference to the world. It does not mean to leave everything and go to the seclusion of a mountain cave. Those who are truly non-attached do not deny the world (or worldly life); they embrace it, for they feel the touch of the eternal hidden within all the changing forms of their lives. They are with everything.”

That to me means non-attachment is seeing things in their true form: as an expression of the divine, which is eternal. Non-attachment means enjoying things while they’re around and remembering they are not the source of my enjoyment. I may love a person but love doesn’t die when they leave. Non-attachment means I love God in the form of this person, but ultimately I love God. Again, it comes back to ascribing God-hood to everything.

I’m not saying I’m no longer sad about my friend moving, because I am, but I do feel a little better because I’m reminded of what’s constant, of what’s eternal. I’m also reminded of my source for everything. My higher power will always bring me who and what I need. In fact, a few weeks ago I rode the bus home from a meeting when normally I hitch a ride, and I ran into someone I knew, who I just met a few days before. It felt like a message from my higher power saying, “Your friend may be leaving, but that doesn’t mean you won’t make new friends and that your community will disintegrate. I am your source for everything; remember this all comes from me.”

I dream of a world where we remember for better or for worse, everything is impermanent. A world where we take comfort in knowing what’s eternal. A world where we enjoy what’s in front of us but also practice non-attachment because we catch a glimpse of the true form underneath.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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There Are No Coincidences

The other week, I ended early with my writing coaching client (which never happens) and conducted my usual grocery shopping. As I walked out of the grocery store, I ran into someone I literally haven’t seen or talked to in close to five years. It turns out, a few days prior he mentioned me to his girlfriend and voila, we ran into each other.

Even better, during the course of our conversation I said some things it seemed he needed to hear so in many ways I felt like a messenger. I walked away from our encounter on a high, marveling at the magic and the mystery of the universe.

There are no coincidences.

Some people would say that interaction was a coincidence, a happy accident. I don’t view it that way at all. My spiritual teacher says everything is incidental. “For each and every incident there is some cause,” he says. We may or may not know the cause, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

He gives the example of an earthquake saying perhaps a huge stone took 10 million years to move from one place to another, but when it fell, the action took only a few seconds and caused the earth to shake. The cause took 10 million years to come to fruition but there was a cause for the earthquake, it didn’t just “happen.”

When I look at the synchronistic turn of events from the other week, I am reminded there is a divine intelligence in place. There is some force at work that configured things just so, allowing me to meet this friend. If I hadn’t left my coaching session early, if my friend walked into the grocery store five minutes later, etc. our meeting wouldn’t have occurred. I am truly in awe of all the moving parts that needed to align in order for us to run into each other.

This story comforts me because at the moment there are a few areas of my life where I feel stuck and hopeless. Where I don’t see how they can or will change. I am convinced they will stay in their current state for the rest of my days. But then I think about this “chance” encounter with my friend and am reminded things can and do change unexpectedly. And not only that, there is also a guiding presence in my life, overseeing everything.

If I can run into a friend out of the blue, is there also a chance these areas of life can also change? That things won’t stay the same? That something else unexpected will show up in my life to shake things up? Like the stone that took 10 million years to fall, maybe there are events slowly, slowly unfolding and when they drop will shake the ground beneath my feet. I find that both terrifying and exciting. I cling to the notion though the universe is working for my benefit, that it ultimately wants to see me succeed.

I dream of a world where we realize everything is incidental. A world where we realize we may not know the initial cause but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. A world were we remember there is a guiding force in our life that arranges circumstances and events for our benefit.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Always Taken Care Of

I’ve had a nightmare literally every night for more than a week so I’m in no condition to do anything other than rest. As such, here is a post from almost exactly three years ago.


I think I’ve written an iteration of this blogpost a thousand times, but I have to write what’s true for me and this week it’s been all about how the universe knows what I need even before I do sometimes.

I posted this on facebook a few days ago so many of you have already read it, but when I was in Washington, D.C. a few months ago, somebody gave me a magnet. My reaction was, “Great. Like I need any more stuff.” However, I kept it because I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away.

We are always taken care of.

We are always taken care of.

On Tuesday, I moved into my sublet in Berkeley. It’s a really cute apartment, but the guy I’m renting from is minimalistic. There’s no cheese grater, cookie sheet, hell, he didn’t even leave me any pens. As I unpacked, I came across my magnet and I stuck it up on the bare refrigerator. As soon as the magnet touched the surface, a wave of feeling swept over me. I choked up because I realized the magnet was given to me months in advance for this very moment when I would need it. To know the universe loves and supports me, in ways I can’t even fathom yet, really touched me. To see that I’m taken care of in even such a small way turned on the water works.

I love this story because I can extrapolate this small event for the bigger stuff. As I said, I’m subletting, so that means I still have to find a permanent place to live. (And permanent in this case means at least a year.) I have some anxiety about it because what I want seems nigh impossible: affordable, spacious, and in a good location? Most people would say I’d be lucky to have two of those things. To see how the universe takes care of me in a very real way gives me hope that my beautiful apartment will also manifest. And it gives me hope I’ll always be taken care of in ways I can’t even predict yet.

I dream of a world where we know we’re always taken care of. A world where we know all of our needs will always be met even if the setup has to happen in advance. A world where we rest easy, feeling joyous and free because we know the universe will always provide for us if we ask.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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