The Terrible Shock of Acquaintanceship

Onward and upward

I wrote a quote on the inside cover of a journal spanning April 26, 2002 to January 12th, 2004. The quote, captured before I started journaling, accurately sums up the content that eventually followed:

To become acquainted with yourself is a terrible shock (Carl Jung)

This journal covers the summer leading up to my marriage. It covers the death of my father a month after tying the knot. It covers a time of doubt: for myself, my marriage, my life. It covers my birthday in 2003-2004 during a trip to Mexico when I rediscovered the ability to relax… after almost 18 months of trying.

Basically, it covers my dropkick into adulthood.

I reread this journal yesterday and reacquainted myself with myself, clearly seeing the incompleteness of my search for self during those years. The profundity of the Jung quote also struck me as doubly true. Here is a record of my search from almost ten years ago when that search was very present and active, now viewed through the lens of those intervening years, a perspective full of insight and sympathy for that past, incomplete me. Continue reading “The Terrible Shock of Acquaintanceship”


The Voices in My Head

Caught in the Thought Loop

**Psst. Psst. Can you still hear me? Are you sure you want to do this? Think about it. It doesn’t seem very safe. Are you sure you want to try? Think about it. Shouldn’t you just stick with what’s safe? Think about it. I mean, really think about it.**

**I don’t think you’re doing enough. You should hurry up! I think you’re doing too much. You should slow down!**

**Why not make a list? It always help you sleep when you know you have a list to jump on first thing in the morning, right?** 

I know this voice, it is the sound of my thoughts. It is the sound of my busy, buzzing, preoccupied mind. Maybe it sounds like your thoughts too. But there are other voices, voices that appear in my head but come from somewhere else entirely. Strong voices, sure voices, voices saying things that don’t really make sense when I think about it… but somehow I know they’re spot on.

Example: it’s Monday morning and I sit at my computer for another day of typing my way toward making a living. These voices say:

***Feel that connection? Feel that inspiration? Yeah, that’s why you’re here. You live this way because you love it, not because it is the next right move up the career ladder. You live this way because it’s in alignment with who you really are and that feels good.***

But then the voices start to argue.  Continue reading “The Voices in My Head”


I use a lot of quotes in my work but one of my absolute favorites is Einstein’s well-worn definition of insanity:

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

What struck me the other day was that Buddhism has a similar description of insanity called samsara (which is so very related to karma). Simba from ‘The Lion King’ might call this the ‘circle of life’ (albeit with that anything-is-possible-if-you-wish-hard-enough fluffy Disney spin).*

'No Perpetuating'

*Yes, I am taking some liberties but I am also linking one of the greatest mind of the 20th century to records of an enlightened being to a song by Sir Elton John, one of the world’s greatest dressers. I am doing this because it amuses me. Continue reading “E=MCsamsara”

Run Steve Run

Run, run, run, but you sure can't hide

Recently my friend Jeff in Kansas City gave me a thought on which to chew. He said,

‘I always saw you as a Portland guy and never really as a midwest guy. I didn’t feel like you came to KC for something. Rather, I felt like you ran away from something.’

I said something glib like, ‘Yeah, I think you’re right’ and nothing more because, while I totally agreed, I couldn’t articulate what that ‘something’ was.

Last week, I wrote a missive entitled ‘Refocusing‘ about the perspective you get when you take yourself out of the middle of the picture. The next day, I figured out what the ‘something’ was:

I ran away from myself.

I ran away from a life lived almost solely in my head.

I ran away from a narrow, unsatisfying, and incomplete perspective.

As a result, I lived life in KC from my gut and from my heart. I perceived reality first through my feelings, then through my instincts, and never through my head. It was a hell of a ride.

All my life I’d done the reverse: I ‘made sense’ of something, decided how I felt about it (yes: thinking about feeling), and then checked my instinct. When I ran away in the fall of 2009, I ran from that way of living.

I ran from deficiency thinking (the deadliest weapon of the busy mind).

I ran away from hearing past friends and lovers talk about my ‘wall’, that emotional distancing which kept me safe and them on the outside.

I ran from being a self-control freak.

I ran from thinking about feeling to feeling about thinking.

As a result, I made my decisions without consulting the busy mind which had imprisoned me for 34 years. Many of those decisions were ‘foolish’ inasmuch as they didn’t ‘make sense’: keep me emotionally safe, bring in money, or advance my career.

They were the best decisions on my life.

In the late summer of 2010, I ‘let myself back in my head’ and began interpreting reality through my gut and heart, then conducting a single ‘makes sense?’ checkoff with my head. After I let myself back in my head, the money and the career naturally took off again.

Fortunately, now I see those trappings for what they are: traps.


‘In order to see, you have to stop being in the middle of the picture’

Sri Aurobindo

Our perception of reality is self-centered. This is natural; after all, focusing on yourself–a la self-preservation–is what perpetuates the species.

However, once we get out of survival mode, what’s next?

Take yourself out of the center

I started answering this question in 1994 during my year of college in Helsinki, Finland (a lot of abroad, a modicum of study).

I looked back over the Atlantic to my community in Raleigh, North Carolina and saw my life and community as the rings of a dart board. I was the center and each circle surrounding ‘Bullseye Me’ was a layer of loved ones. The closer the circle, the closer the relationship.

One can learn much when they see their life without them in it. I learned that I was a construct of all those relationships. They formed me. They were me. After all, in the absence of all our relationships, what are we? How do we define ourselves?

This memory came back to me recently as I listened to a speaker discuss Buddhism. He noted that Buddha, upon awakening, stopped seeing himself as separate. Rather, he was all and all was him.

To see that veil drop, to feel that shift occur–even if it is just a glimmer–is quite disturbing.

Think of a time when you stepped away from your life and looked back from a different place. What did you learn when you were no longer in the center of the picture?

Think of a time when you loved someone else so much that you thought of their needs, their happiness, and their safety before your own. Parents know this feeling. Lovers know this feeling.

Now imagine if you felt that way toward everyone and everything… and it never turned off.

Infants don’t know make a distinction between themselves and their surrounding. Is this what we call childlike innocence? Is that then reality? Reality not filtered through the brain? The transcendentalists thought so and I feel they’re on to something.

As the brain develops, so does identity. As identity develops, so does perspective. As perspective develops, so does ‘differentness’. It gets harder and harder to not see yourself perpetually in the middle of the picture. With so much of our life spent in this state, it is no wonder that we gravitate toward this self-preservation, survival mentality. It is no wonder that so many of us are lonely… even in the company of others. It is no wonder there is so much selfishness and ‘me first’ thinking out there.

I used to see this Son Volt quote as quite foreboding…

‘You may be quite sure you know where you’re going, But sooner or later you’re out of the picture’

Son Volt

But what if where you’re going is intentionally out of the picture? What then will you see?

108 Memories of My Father

My dad also taught me how to smile for photos

This musing is part of a longer piece called “Waking Up“. I’ve separated it out into its own blog post for the simple reason that this was one of the most profound active meditations I’ve ever done. While my father is dead and there are no more chances for new memories, I think this exercise has incredible benefits for all of our relationships… living and beyond.

As I listened to a monk from India talk about the path of spirituality and ‘righting relationships, especially the relationships with mother and father’, I was struck with the desire to recall 108 (a sacred number in the east) distinct memories of my dad. He died in 2002 and I long ago realized that my path to self-discovery goes through my understanding of our relationship. Even though he has ‘shed this mortal coil’, our relationship is in very much in the present. Continue reading “108 Memories of My Father”

Deficiency Thinking

Learn to be content

I Want, I Want, I Want!

There is no mystery in this name; it is what it implies. We think in deficiency and we talk to each other, to ourselves, and to the universe using language like:

“I don’t have…”

“All I need is…”

“If only I could…”

“That’s good but not good enough.”

“I’d be happier if…”

“Why can’t you just…”

Sounding familiar anyone? Listen to what you say to people. Listen to that voice in your head. Listen for how often you’re “wanting” verses how often you’re “content”. Does that seem right to you? Me neither.

Deficiency Thinking By Any Other Name…

For a while I was calling it “fear-based decision making”. I made reference to this in my “Why KC?” musings a little while back when I said:

I made the resolve in the summer of 2009 to stop making decisions based on fear. How much of our lives to we spend making choices based on worry, doubt, insecurity, and a lack of desire to change the status quo… even if the status quo is not enough to feed our souls? Even in insidious ways, I think the powers of fear and uncertainty makes us unwilling to reach out and chose to leave our comfort zone, to grow, to evolve, and to become who we want and are meant to be.

Even more recently, I started thinking about how fear is the realm of the survival brain and the source of our inability to live authentically by deliberately “losing control“:

Giving in to ambiguity, uncertainty, and the direction of universal guidance is pretty scary stuff. Letting the world see your authentic self is downright terrifying. Being in the flow, connecting to an emotional/creative state, and not knowing what the second step after the first will look like is not a natural state of mind for humans. Nor is the ability to be genuinely you in your daily life. Let me amend that: discomfort and authenticity are not natural states of the un-evolved human being; they are, however, the preferred states of the evolving, creative human being.

I Learn to Be Content

Content. I LOVE this word and I’ve sparred with some friends over its value. They said it “wasn’t enough”, which is ironic to me because, by definition, content means to be satisfied, to not wish for more. That is, in my opinion (which seems to interest you since you’re still reading), a great state of mind in which to be. Continue reading “Deficiency Thinking”