Saturday, September 15, 2007


A project which I have often undertaken with new clients, toward the beginning of our work together, is what I call "The Castle Test." I will provide them with a blank piece of paper and a writing implement and simply request that they take a few moments and draw for me a castle. I ask them to concentrate not so much on making the drawing proficient, but to turn their attention to the details of said castle. I ask them to think of different castles they might have seen (history books, movies, etc.) and think of what commonalities most castles seem to possess. Once they have completed their drawing, I observe with them what details they keyed in on. The finished projects almost always have windows, a doorway, a watch tower, flags, long stairways; some even include guards and weaponry. Although there is one component that you'd find surrounding virtually any castle that they almost always seem to forget: a moat. This is a consistent exclusion which I find quite fascinating. For, what is the purpose of a moat? It provides protection. Thus, this individual who has entered my office, in large part, because they do not feel safe in the world, draws their castle chock full of elements both practical and ornate; but fails to include a device to provide safety. Let us again imagine a castle. In addition to a moat, your average castle also tends to have an enormous wooden door which raises and lowers with the aid of two thick chains attached to its right and left side. When the door lowers, it covers the expanse of water and provides passageway from the large pasture into the castle proper. In times of peace, that doorway can remain down at all times. Though, when danger is approaching, that door will be summarily raised to prevent an attack. The castle (and those who dwell there) have created a boundary. Now, what we have in this example is a physical boundary. Clearly, moats are no longer commonplace in the modern world. This does not mean that physical boundaries are not just as pertinent. Physical boundaries are critical in every walk of life. Think of it. What would happen to a business with no front door to lock after hours? What would happen to a house with no roof? What would happen to a person with no shoes or clothes? We have these items to protect us both from mother nature and those who might wish to cause us harm. Most people understand the need for these physical boundaries and are quite clear on the potential consequences of not having them. On the other hand, It amazes me how few people understand the dangers of having weak emotional boundaries. They know that they do not feel safe in their lives, but haven't a clue that their lack of boundaries are right at the heart of their challenges. What is an emotional boundary? An emotional boundary is: healthy emotional distance maintained between you and another so that you do not become overly enmeshed and/or dependent. An emotional boundary is: emotional space you need in order to be the real you without the pressure from others to be something that you are not. An emotional boundary is: a limit or line over which you will not allow anyone to cross because of the negative impact of its being crossed in the past. Do we know what is safe for us? Do we know when someone has crossed over into speaking or dealing with us in a manner that feels inappropriate? Do we have the fearlessness to stand up for our truth? Do we know how to do so in a manner which is clear and effective? An acronym I created a few years ago that has proven quite useful in terms of helping people build and maintain healthy emotional boundaries is H.A.R.M. I chose the word itself mainly because I have found few ways in this world to avoid being harmed than having strong boundaries (also it fit the words I wanted to use). H.A.R.M. stands for Honor, Ask, Reveal, Maintain. In short, we Honor our feelings, Ask to be heard, Reveal what needs to be shared, and then Maintain the boundary we have set. In terms of breaking this process down to its particulars, the first thing we need to remember is that most people want to go right to the reveal. That is to say, most people will have something on their mind that they want to share, and walk right up to a person and start talking. This is a monumentally aggressive action which is rarely effective and often ends in uncomfortability, if not volatility. The problem is that we have probably failed to ask some rather critical questions. Do we know what we need to say and how we want to say it? Do we understand what our part is in the issue at hand? Do we know whether this person is available for a conversation? It is my contention that most conversations that lapse into arguments are a product of poor planning. So, how do we plan for a boundaries conversation? First, a hypothetical situation that we can use as a framework. Let's take a married couple; we will call them Tom and Michelle. The situation at hand revolves around the fact that Tom constantly goes out carousing with his buddies leaving Michelle home alone with their children. Michelle is resentful of this but has failed to express her displeasure to Tom. Michelle wants to set a boundary by having a conversation with Tom about the ways in which her needs as a wife are not being met. Hearkening back to our HARM acronym, Michelle first needs to honor what is happening for her. To complete the "Honor" portion of the model, Michelle will now ask herself four pertinent questions. Question 1: What are my feelings? Michelle sits down with a piece of paper and begins to list the feelings she is experiencing. Michelle comes up with the following list: 1. rejected 2. abandoned 3. scared 4. helpless 5. hostile 6. tired 7. insecure 8. taken advantage of. Michelle now has some powerful language to help get her point across clearly. Question 2: What is my side of the street? Michelle is now asking herself how she has participated in the issue. As they say, it takes two to tango. Michelle is not an innocent bystander to this skirmish; she is, in some way, participating. She now sees that she has been withholding by failing to express her feelings earlier. She also sees that she has not taken steps to ask for some getaway time for herself. Question 3: What is it I need to share? Now that Michelle understands her feelings and has a sense of her part, she can pen a rough script denoting what she wants to tell Tom. She comes up with the following: Tom, I have recently found myself struggling mightily with some issues in our marriage. I am well aware that the magnitude of my current resentment is, in large part, a result of my own inaction. I have not found the courage to tell you what I have been troubled by and, therefore, there is no way that you could have known what was happening for me. The core of the issue is the frequency with which you go out in the evenings for leisure time, leaving me at home alone with the children. In addition to being very tired, I feel like you are taking advantage of me. Your nightly excursions leave me feeling abandoned and rejected; like you'd rather go cavort with the guys than spend time alone with your wife. I am aware this is not necessarily true, but I struggle with it nonetheless. It scares me that without more quality time together, our marriage might be end up in jeopardy. I can also see that it is difficult for me to ask for what I need, and therefore much of this feeling of rejection stems from my own insecurities. I love you Tom, and I hope that you can hear me and be available for some level of compromise. Now that Michelle has a sense of what she wants to tell Tom, she has one last question to answer in order to complete the process of honoring her situation. Question 4: What is it I need to ask for? Now that Michelle is clear about what she needs to tell Tom, she needs to remember that it is not Tom's job to decipher how to repair the problem which Michelle has laid out. Michelle asks herself what requests she wants to make of Tom. She comes up with the following: Tom, including bowling night, poker night, dollar beer night at The Moonlight Pub and Monday Night Football- you are generally with your friends four nights a week. I understand that bowling night is a league and you have a commitment to meet. I further understand that the football season is half over and those games are important to you. What I am asking is that you give up your bar night and limit poker night to once a month. Therefore, you would have two nights a week to go out and be social- and once a month you'd have three. As for the two newly opened nights, I would like to request that one night be for me. I have wanted to join my girlfriends in their book club, and that is a weekly commitment. The other night could then become a family night where we could play a board game with the kids or rent a movie. I am asking that this commitment be put into action immediately and last until the end of the football season, at which point we can reassess. Also, these commitments don't have to be carved in stone. If you have a concert that you want to see or a friend has tickets to a game, I am certainly willing to be amenable to a dialogue regarding a schedule change. Michelle has now honored her situation by getting clear about her feelings, denoting her part in the situation and planning a basic framework both for what she needs say and what she needs to ask for. Is she ready to address Tom? Yes. Is she ready to begin the conversation? No. The second piece of the HARM model, the Asking, is often missed by people, and is so integral in terms of not making a person feel ambushed. Michelle is now going to ask Tom three specific questions to establish that he is in a place to receive her. Question 1: Can you afford me some of your time? So rather than just beginning to speak to Tom, she is going to ask Tom if he has some time to speak. If Tom says no, she is going to accept that and ask when a better time might be. The point here is both to keep Tom from feeling sabotaged and to ensure that there will be little chance for interruption. Once Tom affords time for the conversation, Michelle will ask Question 2: Are you emotionally available for this particular conversation? Remember, just because Tom has made himself physically available does not necessarily mean that he is emotionally available. By asking the question, Michelle can avoid beginning and having Tom say something like, "You didn't tell me this was about something important. I have tons of pressure at work right now, and I am really not in a headspace to talk about this." Then, Michelle would have made herself vulnerable only to be precipitously shut down. This is easily avoided winply by asking the question. Assuming Tom has made himself both physically and emotionally available for this conversation, Michelle will ask one final question before beginning. Question 3: Might I have an uninterrupted forum? Perhaps the way Michelle will frame this question would look like this: Tom, before I begin, I would like to ask for something. This subject is rather emotionally charged for me and I really want to be able to explain to you where I am at, without losing myself in emotion. That will be far easier if I can say these things without interruption. So, if you would be willing to give me an uninterrupted forum, I assure you that after I have concluded, I will afford you the same. Assuming that Tom has answered yes to the three 'Ask' questions (and if he does not, Michelle should feel free to wait to have this conversation), think of how far down the chances of an argument have gone as compared to Michelle just storming into the kitchen and randomly saying, "Tom, I need to talk to you." Michelle is now ready to 'Reveal' to Tom what she planned for in the 'Honor' stage. There are now three more questions Michelle is going to bear in mind as she speaks with Tom. Question 1: Am I concentrating on feelings rather than thoughts? In conversations carrying more weight than just random chit-chat, it is almost always more effective to concentrate on what we feel rather than what what we think. Again, this is an excellent way to avoid argument. For example, if Michelle were to say, "I think that you are selfish," Tom could very well respond, "No, I'm not." On the other hand, if Michelle were to say, "your going out all the time makes me feel sad," Tom really cannot say "No, it doesn't." It is pretty challenging to argue feelings; and, henceforth, we will be more effective in getting our point across speaking from our hearts rather than our minds. Question 2: Do I know that honesty without love is cruelty? I have often seen someone say something hurtful to someone else, and when the person receiving the insult gets hurt, the insulter says, "Hey, I'm just being honest." No, you're being cruel. Anything can be said with love. Anything can be said without blame. This does not guarantee that the person we are speaking with will like what we have to say; but we will know that our side of the street is clean. Question 3: Is the success of this venture predicated on the response? Basically, if Michelle has come to the conclusion that the only way that this exercise will serve a purpose, is if Tom responds positively, than Michelle has lost before she has begun. Speaking our truth is about honoring ourselves. That is always a spiritually sound thing to do. As for the other persons response; it is none of our business, as we have zero control over the actions and responses of others. Finally, we come to the question of how we maintenance a boundary. Let us assume that Tom responded beautifully to what Michelle shared with him, and accepted her proposal without reservation. This is all well and good, although it certainly does not necessarily mean that Tom will make good on his promises. Therefore, we must be willing to 'Maintain' any boundary that we set. Once again, three questions for Michelle's consideration. Question 1: Do I have an expectation of what will happen? I have heard it said that our serenity level is inversely proportional to our expectations. Consequently the goal for Michelle ought to be 'expect nothing; prepare for anything.'" Which leads us to Question 2: Is there any room for this boundary to be violated? It is a simple yes or no question. If there is no room for this boundary to be violated, than this means that if Tom violates the agreement, the marriage is over. If there is room for this boundary to be violated, than question three comes into play. Question 3: What are we willing to do to defend this boundary? If Michelle knows that the consequence of Tom violating the boundary is not going to be divorce; than it is imperative that she knows what the consequence will be. Is it another conversation? Is it a demand for counseling? Is it a trial separation? This, of course, is up to the individual; but without knowing the answer to this question, one risks having their boundary violated without there being a consequence; in which case, they would have been better off never having set the boundary in the first place. And so, our theoretical heroine has laid down a boundary. Will it save her marriage? Not necessarily. Will it improve her marriage? Not necessarily. Will it improve her life? I would contend yes. Will it create more safety and serenity in her life? I would contend absolutely. The main question for any of us in manifesting the courage to honor our truth is: what do you value most? Is it companionship? Is it friendship? Is it popularity? Or is it happiness? Sometimes you can have them all. Sometimes you cannot. What is least expendable? For me, the answer is simple.

God bless you,

Friday, September 14, 2007


God has a lovely sense of humor. He (or she or it) always seems to delight in finding new and interesting ways to force me to face my own shortcomings. God's most recent attempt at jocularity showed up as I was preparing to pen a piece on arrogance. As I sat pontificating the most effective way to frame the concept, I took a second to browse through the endless documents on my hard drive. There are often half-finished or useless pieces that I saved at one point or another that are primed for the trash bin. As I was perusing through articles I had not seen in months (or years), I came across a piece I had written about seven years back which is simply dripping with arrogance. The piece in question was written when I was still living in New York City. At the time, in addition to the work I was doing with others, I was the proprietor of a small chain of video stores called Couch Potato Video. We were a little boutique type organization fearlessly battling the Blockbusters and the Hollywoods by specializing in cult, foreign and classic films. It was a cool store; and seemingly perceived as such by our loyal customer base. If you have ever seen the film "High Fidelity," we were the video equivalent of that record shop. Part of the fun for our customers was the knowledge base of my partner, Tony, and I. Yes, we knew our stuff. We were also monumentally opinionated, and weren't afraid to cast judgment upon the film choices of our clientele whenever we saw fit. I suppose it was all in good fun and I don't imagine we hurt too many feelings; and yet, there was an undeniable arrogance to our offered insights. In response to this, I was asked by a small magazine to write an article detailing the rental proclivities of the average video store patron. I undertook the assignment with vigor and quickly turned out a piece entitled, "Why People Rent Crap." Oh, the arrogance. As I wrote my admittedly humorous essay, I found myself spewing frustrated opinions about the lack of taste that most people seemed to manifest. While I was feigning light-heartedness, I was undeniably pissed about the inability of these dolts to showcase some informed decision making. Clearly, I was judge and jury when it came to understanding which films contained elements of quality. Rereading this article, I kept thinking about the fact that just about everyone believes that they have good taste and a good sense of humor; when obviously that is not possible. Or is it? Is not humor and taste in the eye of the beholder? Is there really anything in this world that every person would agree is funny or tasteful? And why should my opinion hold more weight than the next persons? And so, as I read, God playfully revealed to me that I still have a long way to go in evolving into the man I long to be. I still struggle with this issue. Arrogance (a function of ego- the direct opposite of humility) shows up in my life quite regularly (albeit far less than it once did). When it comes to the things I am passionate about (baseball, music, literature, etc.) I secretly tend to think that most people don't know what the hell they are talking about. I am not proud of this fact... I am not ashamed of it either. I am just very aware of it. I have always been quite diligent in being forthcoming about my faults with those I work with in an effort to keep myself off of any potential pedestals. Therefore, perhaps the best route to a demonstration of arrogance is my very own offensive display of superiority And so, without any further ado (and without any editing or re-writing), I give you "Why People Rent Crap" in its entirety:


By Michael Mark

People love to rent crap. They really do. It’s undeniable. They are friggin’ junkies for the stuff. I showcase anything replete with an insipid script, hokey acting, and a trite storyline, and it’s snatched up quicker than a box of zeppoles left outside Alec Baldwin’s dressing room.

They stroll in, day after day, one after another, looking for the crap; they wander the store furiously seeking out the crap; they victoriously locate the crap; and they approach the counter pleading with me to relieve them of some of their hard earned cash, that they may retreat to their dwellings, and piss away an hour and forty minutes of their lives basking in the crap. It’s a curious phenomenon to say the least.

Now, by no means am I suggesting that everyone should altogether cease renting the crap. Heaven forbid, no. After all, crap accounts for about seventy-five percent of my inventory (unavoidable, considering that it accounts for seventy-five percent of films produced in this country). By all means, I need the crap. I need the unoriginal hacks to scrawl the crap. I need the fat cat studio heads to finance the crap. I need the untalented cash cows to receive 25 million to perform the crap. And I need the uninformed masses (at least those who reside on the Upper East Side) to seek out the crap. These “crap-cravers,” as they will, heretofore, be referred to, are a fascinating and varied lot.

Now, as far as I can decipher, there are two distinct brands of crap-cravers. The lion’s share of them, fall into a group I refer to as “the lost cause crap-cravers.” These are the folks that are fully aware of the existence of Fassbinder, Cassavetes, and The Coen Brothers, and have even tested the waters of their work, but maintain an overwhelming preference for crap. These folks are not the target of this diatribe. There’s not a whole lot I can do for them. And, after all, they are my bread and butter. People with absolutely no taste are essential to a thriving video store. And so to the lost cause tribe of crap-cravers, I say, “by all means, my friends….please, come on in, rent Domestic Disturbance, and Dragonfly, and Deuces Wild; go home, and have yourselves a big crap-tacular crap-fest!”

At the other end of the crap craving spectrum, we find an entirely different breed of renter. Herein, we find what I call “the sheltered crap-craver.” Unlike the lost causes, these individuals have simply been fed a bill of goods that they have been cottoning to for far too long. At some point in their lives, someone did them the disservice of suggesting that the films of Don Johnson held some sort of cinematic weight. Consequently, these poor bastards cross the threshold desperately searching for a Kubrick-ian experience, and unknowingly walk out thinking that they have found it in a Michael Mann film. Sad, yes. But, by no means incurable. They draw my interest because I know, in my heart, that I can help them.

This is not to say that I haven’t made an attempt. I most certainly have. Day in and day out, I strive to lead them away from the dark side of manipulative, pandering poppycock, into the enlightened world of edgy, non-linear, integrity-laden brilliance. But try as I might, they persist. I offer up Minnie & Moskowitz, but they want Kate& Leopold. I strongly suggest Ghost Dog, but they adamantly insist on Snow Dogs. I push them toward King of New York, but they retreat to Sidewalks of New York. I beg them to try The Seven Samurai or The 39 Steps or The 400 blows or 8 ½ or The Ninth Configuration; but they inevitably go home with The 6th day and 3000 Miles to Graceland and 40 days and 40 nights and 28 days, and The Ninth Gate. And to complete the lunacy they stand, utterly lost, in the new release section, and proclaim, “There is nothing good to rent…….I’ve seen everything!!!!”

Which brings me back to my original hypothesis that what we are dealing with here has less to do with the mind-numbingly insipid, than it has to do with the pitifully uneducated. That is not to say that many of these folks are not awash in their own vapidity (for example, the people who rent DVD’s, and then return to the store complaining that their VCR is unable to play them)- but they are, indeed, the minority. Therefore, in an act of unparalleled altruism, I have devised a system that I believe will be of great service to these wayward renters. And so, with no further ado, I give you:


1. If what you are renting is based on a Saturday Night Live sketch……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

2. If what you are renting stars Keanu Reeves, but is not The Matrix……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

3. If what you are renting centers around a self-consumed individual who, through an extended interaction with a mentally handicapped person, finds a new sense of humanity and is miraculously transformed by the experience……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

4. If what you are renting has Andie Macdowell, Daryl Hannah, or Penelope Ann Miller credited in any way (even as a key grip)……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

5. If what you are renting is a movie whose preview opened with the line, “In a world without rules….”……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

6. If what you are renting stars John Travolta, but he is not dancing or shooting heroin ……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

7. If what you are renting was touted by Jeffrey Lyons as a “slam-bang action thriller”……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

8. If what you are renting has a cast made up of the stars of Dawson’s Creek, 7th Heaven, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

9. If what you are renting is a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan, and it’s not When Harry Met Sally……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

10. If what you are renting is the remake, retelling, sequel, or prequel to anything other than The Godfather ……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

11. If what you are renting has a protagonist on the run from an unnamed government agency, while everyone he trusts systematically turns out to be part of a massive evil conspiracy……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

12. If what you are renting has a title track sung by Celine Dion, Phil Collins, or Sting……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

13. If what you are renting is a bio-pic that chooses to turn an acknowledged scumbag into a martyr, under the guise that the general public is just too stupid to empathize with a flawed individual……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

14. If what you are renting stars a musician or pop singer of any kind, other than Bjork in Dancer in the Dark or Tom Waits in anything……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

15. If what you are renting is a coming-of-age story, where a young man from a broken home, searching for meaning in the cruel world, is taken under the wing of a mysterious stranger and led to a deeper understanding of his place in this world……….YOU ARE RENTING CRAP!!

16. If what you are renting is a Kevin Costner movie, you are not only renting crap……….YOU ARE UTTERLY HOPELESS!!

If this list has left you feeling frustrated and desperately wanting to scream, “in the name of all that is holy, what the hell am I supposed to rent, then?!?!?!?!?!?” Fear not, my cinematic simpletons. The following is a list of twenty films from the last ten years that you have almost undoubtedly let slip under you radar (especially if your radar is finely tuned to scout out whatever excrement Ben Affleck will shortly be dumping into your local multiplex). So write them down, create a mental clearing for change, tromp down to your local video store, and STOP THE CRAP!!

  1. Twin Falls, Idaho (1999) Directed by The Polish Brothers
  2. Rubin and Ed (1992) Directed by Trent Harris
  3. Buffalo 66 (1998) Directed by Vincent Gallo
  4. Last Summer in the Hamptons (1995) Directed by Henry Jaglom
  5. The Straight Story (1999) Directed by David Lynch
  6. Funny Games (1998) Directed by Michael Haneke
  7. A Brother’s Kiss (1997) Directed by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld
  8. Fall (1996) Directed by Eric Schaeffer
  9. Amateur (1994) Directed by Hal Hartley
  10. Clean, Shaven (1993) Directed by Lodge Kerrigan
  11. Hands on a Hard Body (1997) Directed by S.R. Bindler
  12. …And God Spoke (1993) Directed by Arthur Borman
  13. Chuck and Buck (2000) Directed by Miguel Arteta
  14. Dead Man (1996) Directed by Jim Jarmusch
  15. Cube (1998) Directed by Vincenzo Natali
  16. The Kingdom Parts 1 & 2 (1994) Directed by Lars Von Trier
  17. American Movie (1997) Directed by Chris Smith
  18. Broken Vessels (1998) Directed by Scott Ziehl
  19. The Celebration (1998) Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
  20. Safe Men (1999) Directed by John Hamburg

So there you are, my friends. Michael Mark- warts and all. I constantly attempt to help people to see that a spiritual life is not a life devoid of errors and character liabilities. Spirituality is not about never making mistakes; it's about how you handle your mistakes. It's about being able to examine the areas of your life where your natural instincts are out of proportion and work toward fine-tuning them through spiritual practice. Let us all work toward finding commonality with our fellows. Let us all work toward releasing judgment. Let us all attempt to find our way to being a person among people and a worker among workers. Let us all make sure to see the twenty films listed above... just kidding.

God bless you,

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Four Levels of Consciousness

Have you ever had the experience of having a concept exist in your mind for many years and then find yourself presented with some words which apply language to your deeply held belief? An example of this would be a certain someone in my life (who shall remain nameless) whom I always found to view everything in the world only in the way in which it affected them personally. Then, one day, someone presented me with the word "narcissist," and I thought, "Yes! That's it." Language is powerful, and finding words to apply to something that you already somehow know can be quite remarkable. This happened to me a ways back in a manner that fundamentally changed the way I view consciousness. I was sitting in a divey little Spanish restaurant with a spiritual teacher of mine (his name is Skip, which I find humorously ironic). We were were chatting about the dangers of denial and the glory of awareness, when he asked me if I was familiar with the four levels of consciousness. I told him I was not and was curious to become acquainted with said levels. He proceeded to share with me a simple construct, through which I have been able to create a basic framework for many individuals to better understand their spiritual path. I should mention that you might be familiar with the four levels of consciousness as a model that has often been applied to the corporate world (which I find quite symptomatic of our culture- everything becoming a way to make more green paper- but that's for another blog). Let us begin with, what I believe to be, a simple universal concept; everyone in the world basically has the exact same goal- to be happy, joyous and free. Oh, people will tell you that their goal is to make a million dollars or to be famous or to have a big family- but this is only because they believe that these things will make them happy, joyous and free (which may or may not be the case). This brings us to the first, and lowest level of consciousness known as unconscious incompetence. The word "incompetence" is not being used as an insult here as it has come to be used in our society- the word simply means "unable." Someone who is unconsciously incompetent has a way of viewing themselves and the world about them in a way that could never bring them to happy, joyous and free. They are prone to self-loathing, people-pleasing, co-dependency, self-flagellation, etc.- i.e. their thinking is incompetent. What's worse, they are unconscious of this construct. They know that their lives are not what they want them to be, but have no idea what is blocking them from the lives they seek. It is a mystery to them that their own unhappiness is a product of the lens through which they view the happenings around them. A simpler name for unconscious incompetence is denial. The second level of consciousness is what we call conscious incompetence. On this level, the individual continues to manifest incompetent thinking, but has become conscious of what they are doing. They have come to recognize that their perspective is a product of their own choices and can further see that there are inherent flaws in the perspectives they are prone to. Though, this consciousness alone is not enough to change their behavior. Their faulty constructs still run deep as they have invested years in them, therefore the ineffective patterns persist. As far as I am concerned, the jump from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence is the most astounding leap a human being can make- as it takes a person from denial to awareness. Even more interesting is the fact that this particular leap rarely feels like progress. In fact, it can often mask itself as regression to the individual. For coming to terms with patterns that have been sabotaging ones life for years (if not decades) can be markedly painful. Although, it is through becoming consciously incompetent that we are given the opportunity to take estimable action and train our minds differently; allowing us to reach the third level: conscious competence. A person who is consciously competent sees the world in a way which will inevitably lead them to happiness, joy and freedom. This is a person who has learned to love themselves; a person who no longer puts all their stock in how they are perceived by others. This person embraces their humanity and allows themselves to make mistakes. This person no longer see problems, but opportunities; no longer sees coincidences, but miracles. Although, it takes much effort for the consciously competent person to remain competent. They must remain CONSCIOUS of their actions and their thinking as they are still prone to fall back into old patterns when their spiritual condition is not vigilantly maintained. A person who can live in this manner with minimal effort is a person who has reached the highest level of consciousness; they have become unconsciously competent. This is to say that the healthy perspective that a consciously competent person works so hard to achieve, comes to this person quite naturally. Let us look at a real world example of how these various levels manifest themselves in an individual. Let us say that a person (let's call him Dave) is driving on the highway. Dave is in the left lane, carefully obeying the speed limit as he makes his way to his place of employment to begin the workday. A speeding motorist comes up from behind Dave, shifts into the center lane, passes Dave, and then recklessly shoots back into the left lane missing Dave's car by inches, and speeds off. Minutes later, Dave approaches gridlock traffic. As he comes to a stop, he looks to his left and there is the man who cut him off just moments before. For this example, let us say that Dave is unconsciously incompetent. What is Dave going to do? Dave is probably going to raise his middle finger and point it angrily at his driving neighbor. Further, Dave will feel justified in taking this action. He might think to himself, "He had it coming; he's lucky he didn't get worse!" Dave eventually reaches work. As he crosses the parking lot, a co-worker calls to him, "Hey, Dave. How goes it?" Dave responds, "Lousy! Some idiot cut me off on the highway." Around noon, over lunch, Dave regales a gaggle of co-workers with the story of his morning drama. Finally, at the end of the day, he comes home. He walks in and his wife says, "Hello, honey. How's your day?" Dave responds, "Oh, you won't believe what happened to me this morning." Dave has now spent his entire day full of resentment. He is restless and irritable. And what does Dave think his problem is? The guy who cut him off. What is Dave's actual problem? It's Dave. Dave has an incompetent way of viewing the world; and he is unconscious of this reality. Now, let us take the exact same example with Dave as consciously incompetent. Dave's action will be identical. The hand will elevate; the finger will rise and thrust forth at the perpetrator. Here's the difference. Within moments, Dave is going to see that the action he chose was petulant and unhealthy. Dave will perhaps call someone he trusts and talk it through. Dave will ask for strength and let go of the resentment. Dave will arrive at work none the worse for wear. Next, let us look at Dave's experience as a consciously competent individual. Dave is cut off; Dave hits gridlock; Dave sees the culprit; Dave does not give him the finger; BUT HE REALLY WANTS TO. Finally, as someone who is unconsciously competent, it would not even occur to Dave to take such an action. For myself, I believe that I spend most of my time presently in conscious competence (no one lives exclusively at one level, by the way- other than those who are unconsciously incompetent). I visit conscious incompetence fairly often and even take an occasional road trip down to unconscious incompetence (those are really lousy getaways). Ask yourself: what level are you currently residing at? Where would you like to be? How can you get there? The awareness alone will reap great miracles for you.

God bless you,

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


A good friend of mine recently directed me to a clip on YouTube from Craig Ferguson's late night program. I must admit that I am no lover of talk shows and have therefore never before seen said program. On the particular evening of this show, Mr. Ferguson forewent his opening monologue , generally peppered with witty one liners fashioned from the previous day's current events, for something with a touch more weight. He chose to spend over twelve minutes on the way in which our society makes light of the substance abuse issues of those in Hollywood. After breaking his own anonymity (declaring himself an alcoholic), he zeroed in specifically on the continuing difficulties of Britney Spears to get sober and find some semblance of peace. The thrust of his words centered around the idea that the tabloids, and therefore the public, seem to view Ms. Spears as some sort of spoiled buffoon; rather than a sick and suffering alcoholic (and/or drug addict). Now, let's get something straight. The tabloids are about sensationalism, and can certainly write and photograph whatever they choose. The public has their own minds (although it often seems otherwise), and can choose to see Ms. Spears in whatever light they want. Further, Brittany chose to be in the limelight and, consequently, must lie in the proverbial bed that she made. And yet I am bothered. Perhaps it has something to do with my own alcoholism. Ten years ago, i was blessed with recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body; and so, I suppose, the subject hits close to home. Though, I think there is more to it than that. I don't know. I am loathe to admit that I am, at times, a tabloid reader. In my own defense, I don't seek out these rags. Though, the magazine racks at my gym always seem to have a plethora of them, and I find my hour of cardiovascular work is made easier by a magazine that demands few brain cells and has nary an article longer than one half of a page. Clearly, I have a fair amount of shame over this. Anyway, suffice it to say, I have perused my fair share of issues of In Touch, US, The Star, etc. And so, there I am, sweating like a horse, and reading light and fluffy (and sometimes humorous) articles about the various addictions of the aforementioned Ms. Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Mary-Kate Olson, Mel Gibson, Billy Joel, Courtney Love, etc.; and I wonder, have we become such a media-laden society that any shred of compassion or empathy we might manifest as a people has evaporated? Have we become so desensitized by the glut of the information age, that everything has summarily become nothing more than fodder for chit-chat? Perhaps the more pressing question is, "Do people really understand the disease of alcoholism?" It is a disease, you know. So says The American Medical Association anyway. Therefore, should we not treat it like any other disease? Do these untreated alcoholics deserve the same empathy that we afford Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinson's or Melissa Ethridge and her bout with breast cancer? I don't think we would ever see the plights of these stars made light of in the media. Is that fair? I am not sure. Maybe some further information on the disease of addiction would prove useful. And since this is my forum, I am going to provide some. To relay the nature of addiction, I am going to use alcoholism as a frame of reference. Most addictions essentially follow the same model, so feel free to substitute whatever you wish (drugs, food, gambling, sex, etc.) First and foremost, I have often found that most people seem to believe that alcoholism is predicated on how much or how often a person imbibes. These things have zero to do with whether someone is an alcoholic. There are alcoholics who drink twice a month. On the other hand, there are those who drink a fifth of scotch every day who are not alcoholics. So what are the common attributes of a true alcoholic? Essentially, there are two main components. The first, is what Dr. William Duncan Silkworth called "the phenomenon of craving." Another term for this is "the physical allergy." And so, an Alcoholic is allergic to alcohol. An allergy is simply an abnormal reaction to a substance. Each allergy has its own manifestation. For example, the manifestation of an allergy to strawberries is hives. The manifestation of an allergy to peanuts is the constricting of the throat. The manifestation of an allergy to alcohol is such that when an alcoholic takes a drink, he/she has no ability to determine how many drinks will follow that first one; might be two, might be twenty. This is a phenomenon that never occurs in the average drinker. For example, my wife is not an alcoholic. That means that she has NEVER had the experience of deciding to have two drinks, and then had five. The alcoholic can never safely determine what is going to happen once they take that first one; it is always a game of Russian Roulette. Now, if the alcoholic had nothing but this physical allergy, they would not need outside help to solve the problem. Mainly because the answer to the physical allergy is unbelievably simple; DON'T DRINK. This, by the way is why there is no Strawberries Anonymous. Think about it. A man eats some strawberries and breaks out in a rash of itchy hives. He goes to the doctor and says, "Doc, this is horrible. I never want to have this experience again. Might there be something you can recommend so that this never happens again?" The doctor responds, "Yes, don't eat strawberries." The man follows the advice and never eats strawberries again. Case closed. Now, take the alcoholic. He wakes up with his head against the toilet after a two day binge and says to himself, "Damn. Every time I drink, I cause havoc and wind up feeling horrible. He then comes to the same conclusion as the doctor. He says to himself, "The problem is, the way in which I respond to alcohol. That's it. I'm done. No more alcohol for me." Unfortunately, unlike the guy with the strawberries, he is drinking later that day. What's that about? Is the allergy to alcohol more intense than the allergy to strawberries? No, an allergy is an allergy. The answer, is that the alcoholic has more than just a physical allergy. His physical allergy is compounded by, what Doctor Silkworth called, a mental obsession. The mental obsession is such, that when an alcoholic stops drinking, they soon find themselves restless, irritable and discontented (another way of saying that they cannot live inside their own skin.) This does not happen when someone who is allergic to strawberries stops eating strawberries. This restlessness, irritability and discontentment will then grow more uncomfortable and more painful until the alcoholic finally turns to the only thing he knows of that will quell the pain; alcohol. As soon as he takes that first drink, the physical allergy kicks back in and he is off to the races. A couple of days later, he wakes up with his head against the toilet again, vows to quit again, becomes restless, irritable and discontent again, and drinks again; and so on. The physical allergy gives way to the mental obsession which gives way to the physical allergy which gives way to the mental obsession; and the alcoholic is doomed to repeat this pattern until it kills him. The only answer that has ever been found to genuinely allow an alcoholic to recover, is a program of spiritual action. A book called The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions states, "It is truly awful to admit that, glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking that only an act of providence could remove it from us." Put simply, it is hard to own that, through our own choices, we have dug a hole so deep, that the only shot we have at a livable life is an act of God. In layman's terms, that's a bitch. I can guarantee you that the acceptance of that reality (which is the first step in recovery) is difficult for ANY human being. I can only imagine that it's got to be all the more difficult when you are constantly ensconced by fans and reporters and handlers screaming for your focus and attention. How many of these stars are surrounded by people who really tell them the truth? I know that when my own recovery began, I had the luxury of hunkering down, making my life really small, and concentrating solely on getting well. Further, I had the support of my wife and family who wanted nothing more from me than my recovery. For a Brittany Spears or a Lindsay Lohan, the pressure on them to perform and succeed is enormous. There are literally hundreds of agents and managers and executives and label owners and movie producers who count on them to make a living. How much more difficult does it then become to breath and focus on yourself? I don't really know that answer. I can only guess. What I do know is that these individuals are more than court jesters who perform for our amusement. They are people... people in pain. I can only share that remembering that, and praying for them rather than mocking them, allows me to draw closer to the human being that I strive to be.

God bless you,

Saturday, September 8, 2007


September, 1990. Ithaca New York. It is my freshman year of college. Some friends and I are exiting the Pyramid Mall, where we have just taken in a screening of Martin Scorsese's new film, Goodfellas. The movie is an instant classic, and so as we walk back outside, we are all pretty amped up. Bright sun... no clouds... refreshing breeze. I see an elderly woman standing to my left looking up into the sky. As I pass her, I say, "beautiful day, isn't it?" She looks at me curiously and responds, "Isn't every day?" Hmmm. Is that true? Is every day beautiful? I certainly didn't think so. Although she seemed to believe it quite passionately. Who was right? Maybe both of us. Perspective. A way of regarding situations or topics. A mental view or outlook. The state of one's ideas. Perspective. What is ours? What are we looking at? What are we seeing? Is our perspective shaped by what is before us; or is what is before us shaped by our perspective? You choose. Either way, you're right. Though, consider this. Choose the former and you are a prisoner; choose the latter and you are free. I choose freedom. I have tried both. Freedom's better. Really... it is. At least, that's my perspective. Ask yourself: is it possible that your life has never, is never, and will never be defined by the events taking place around you; but only by the lens through which you choose to view them? Is it possible? How much power is available to you in that possibility? Does the idea of being able to find grace and beauty in even the most difficult of experiences sound good to you? It's right in front of you... it's yours... if you want it... and if you're willing to work for it. Allow me to present an example that I have shared with many a client over the years. Think, for a moment, about your car. You arise one morning... accomplish all your morning rituals... and stroll out to your car to head out for work. You place the key in the ignition, turn it, and hear nothing but a click. What is your reaction? Are you irritated? Are you swearing? Are you damning your automobile? Let us say that the problem is summarily rectified and you carry on to the workplace (albeit a bit tardy). Does your morning difficulty carry over into your day? Are you sharing with others the story of your earlier misfortune? When a co-worker says, "hey, how ya doin' today?", are you prone to answer, "Lousy! My stupid car died on me this morning." How much energy are you spending on reinforcing to yourself and others that the universe has somehow wronged you? Is your problem the car that failed to start, or is your problem you... you and your chosen perspective? Now let's look at this potential problem from a different angle. Have you ever gotten into your car in the morning, put your key in the ignition, felt the engine effortlessly turn over and roar to life, and said, "Thank you God for this miracle?" Does that sound silly? Think about it for a second. Assuming you own a car: is it not a miracle? It is, as far as I can see. Consider: right now, as I sit here typing, there is a machine sitting in my driveway. This machine, at my disposal whenever I need it, will take me virtually anywhere I might want to go at 60mph (depending on the speed limit, of course). It has lights, so that I may even travel by night. Further, this machine has a built-in device that will play music for me as I venture toward my chosen destination. If it is cold, this machine can make me warm; if it is warm, it can me cool. It has endless compartments, allowing me to store virtually anything. It has a holder specifically designed to accommodate me should I care to partake in a beverage. The seats are even made to move into whatever position will provide me the most comfort. How is this not a miracle? For hundreds of years, kings and noblemen and royalty could not dream of such luxury; and little ol' Michael Mark in Wheaton Illinois has TWO of them. We are so quick to get bent out of shape when our cars fail to start, but don't blink an eye when they operate perfectly for us day after day after day. Why is this? Now, coming back to having daily gratitude for our running automobiles, is it possible that if we spent six months thanking God every day for the miracle of our running cars, that our reaction might be different on that fateful day when the engine sputters helplessly? Might we not be more prone to say to ourselves, "well, this is inconvenient, but, boy oh boy, this machine has served me well." Might we also have gratitude for the fact that we can take out our cell phones (yet another miracle), make a single phone call, and have someone come to our home and take care of the issue? Might we also delight in the fact that while we wait for help, we have a warm home to wait in; and a television to watch? All of a sudden, what was a potential tragedy, becomes an opportunity to revel in the magnificent abundance of our lives. Perspective... it is the most powerful tool we have. It defines every waking moment of our lives... not to mention our dream lives. Will you change your perspective simply by reading some words on a page? Probably not. It takes practice, my friends. If you have trained your brain to believe that your perspective is the truth, it will take time to train your brain to believe otherwise. And so, take an action. Spend the next six months thanking God (or the universe, or whatever you believe in) every time you car starts. The next time a co-worker asks how your doing, say, "Terrific, my car started today!" It may feel silly, but what could it hurt? It will only cost you a few seconds, and it just may change your life. Wouldn't that be something?

God bless you,

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

There but before the grace of God...

There but before the grace of God go I. It is a phrase that has been so overused throughout the ages, it seems that we, as a people, have lost sight of the true meaning of the phrase. First of all, the phrase has been distorted. The original phrase was "There but before the grace of God, goes John Bradford." Bradford, who of course coined the phrase, was an ordained roving chaplain in England during the 16th century. He first uttered said words while imprisoned in the Tower of London, when he saw a criminal going to execution for his crimes. In the first month of the reign of Mary Tudor (affectionately known as "Bloody Mary"), Bradford, who had become somewhat well known for his devotion to his religion, was arrested and imprisoned on a trivial charge of "trying to stir up a mob", when he had in fact been trying to save a Catholic preacher named Bourne from a Protestant mob. He would never be a free man again. The phrase he famously stated refers to the distinct possibility that, if only a bare few occurrences had been different, our own reality would have walked the same path as that which we are so prone to judge. As for my own identification, I am painfully aware of the level to which I am prone to separate myself from the human race. For the majority of my life I was prone to putting all individuals either above me or below me. There were those who had something I wanted (wealth, popularity, power, prestige, wisdom, beauty), whom I would vigilantly seek as companions; and then there were those who I deemed below me and to whom I would not give the time of day. Unconscious of these patterns, I wondered why I felt so lonely in the world. I had plenty of friends and loved ones and yet, even among them, there was an overwhelming sense of desolation. I could not see that I had orchestrated my situation. For if all people fell into categories that place them "above me" or "below me," it would follow that there was no one "like me." I suppose this is why I often felt misunderstood. I had a severe case of "terminal uniqueness." At my core, I believed that I had this singular case of wreckage that no one could possibly wrap their brain around. What, then, did I require to genuinely join the human race? Once again, we are brought back to spiritual practice. Through opening up to a greater power, I was able to fearlessly allow myself to become a person among people. Being a person among people means that one intrinsically understands that they are no better or no worse than any of their fellows. I assure you that, at least for me, this is easier said than done. It was not a shift accomplished through thought. It happened in response to action; more often than not, action that made me incredibly uncomfortable. Often, it still requires the willingness to be uncomfortable. Not too long ago, I was watching a news story about a pedophile that had recently been apprehended. This person had kidnapped, raped and killed at least six children that the police were aware of. As I watched in horror, I was overcome with thoughts about my two little girls (Sydney is 4 and Ryan is 1); I felt scared and vulnerable. I didn't like that feeling. Within moments, I found myself fantasizing about horrible ways in which this mans life could be taken. This made me more comfortable. The hatred dissipated the fear. Interesting. I have enough experience to know that the most effective road out of fear is faith. And yet, I retreated to my old friend anger, the cheapest and easiest of human emotions. The easiest thing for me to do in that moment of fear was to make myself different than the perpetrator. "He's an animal," I thought to myself; "He's inhuman." And herein lies the conflict. Becoming a person among people (just one of God's children) has been the road to self-love for me. With that grace, though, comes responsibility. I cannot apply the idea that we are all the same only when it suits me, and expect to reap the results I seek. I need to do it even when it feels distasteful; if not excruciating. What I don't want to look at is the truth; that I am him; and he is me. Does this mean that I have the longing to abuse children; of course not. Although, can I really say that an action like that is an absolute impossibility in my life? Not if I am going to choose to be honest with myself and with God. We are all made with good and evil within us. Which of these we manifest more of, is a result of so many factors; environment, upbringing, input, conditioning, heartbreak, pain, etc. Ask yourself: have you ever had the experience of doing something that you never believed you would or could do? As a recovered alcoholic, I have spent many an evening in a blackout, with zero recollection of my words and actions the following morning. How can I possibly know what I am capable of? And so we are brought back to Mr. Bradford. There but before the Grace of God goes Michael Mark. Can we love the man, but hate what he did? Boy, that's a tall order. It may seem like the result of finding commonality with a pedophile, could bring only discomfort. In the short term, perhaps. Ultimately, though, it has brought me freedom. Remember, the level to which we fear being judged is in direct proportion to the level to which we judge others. I spent so many years making primarily feared based decisions, driven by what those around me might think. I was blind to the fact that it was my own judgments of others creating this fear. I have seen that as I move further and further away from judging the actions (even the most heinous) of those about me, I gain the blessing of being able to move freely through my life, making decisions based solely on the longings and desires of my heart. The people-pleasing, the co-dependency, the self-loathing, the self-flagellation; we are doing it to ourselves. If this is true, why do we continue to live in judgment? Because it feels safe. If we constantly judge, we never have to open up; we never have to be vulnerable; "I'll judge you, before you can judge me." Perhaps my very favorite saying is this: "True spiritual growth is all but impossible without at least a temporary surrender of security." Let's be willing to surrender security for the good of our lives. Let's manifest the courage to choose a different perspective. Let's stop living our lives in perpetual defense. Mr. Bradford did it from behind iron bars; and was consequently more of a free man than many who think they are free. Are you free?

God bless you,

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Law of Causality

Those who know me will attest that I have never been one to cotton to the idea of a singular path to God. I certainly have no judgment of those whose beliefs are more linear in nature; I have simply found my own particular sense of spirit to be far too vast to fit a single construct. I am reminded of the way my wife and I engage in the act of driving. When I need to go to Midway Airport, I always take 355 South to 88 West to 294 South to 55. Any time Lorri is accompanying me, she claims that I should take 355 straight to 55... "it is faster," says she. She may very well be right. Though I continue to take the route that I prefer. If it IS less ideal, the difference is negligible, and, for some reason, it makes me comfortable. In the end, regardless of the differences in our approach, we both reach our destination. For me, that is spirituality. Spirituality, in my estimation, is best defined as "mankinds attempt to connect his/her spirit to it's source." Though, there is no handbook on how to do this (some would say that the Bible fits that bill... from my perspective, it is just a very interesting book filled with some useful suggestions.) Therefore, we need a way to get there. Much like attempting to reach Midway airport, there are a myriad of options in terms of connecting one's spirit to source; organized religion, yoga, tai-chi, astrology, crystals, astral projection, transcendental meditation, etc. And so, whether Jesus or Muhammad or Allah or Buddha or the gold elephant in your meditation room gets you there... lovely. I suppose my sense of spirit borrows from all of these in one way or another. Though, if there is one construct that speaks to me more than any other, it would be The Law of Causality. For those who read "The Secret," The Law of Causality adheres rather closely to the ideas behind The Law of Attraction, though there is more attention to action than there is to thought. This is not to say The Law of Attraction states that wishing for things without taking action will get you anywhere, though (in my opinion) it leaves a lot of room to allow individuals to reach that conclusion. The Buddhists tell us that The Law of Causality asks us to consider that everything that happens in this world of ours falls into one of three categories: 1. A cause 2. A condition 3. A result. Further, we are told that every cause is also a condition and a result; every condition is also a cause and a result; and every result is also a cause and a condition. Confused? I don't blame you. Think, for a moment, of a packet of Hollyhock seeds (plants with purple-black flowers); let's call this our CAUSE. You walk outside and plant the seed, and what happens? If you said, a Hollyhock plant would grow... not so fast. If you plant the seeds in sand... will the seeds produce a plant? What if you planted them in asphalt? Clearly, to produce a Hollyhock plant, the seed (CAUSE) needs to be surrounded with certain CONDITIONS. In this case; fertile soil, sunlight and water. With the proper conditions, the RESULT will be a Hollyhock plant. On the other hand, if the CONDITIONS that surround the seed (CAUSE) are sand and darkness, the RESULT will be some gnarled old seeds lying in the ground. To take it a step further, let's say you now have a Hollyhock plant; that is the RESULT. This RESULT now becomes a CAUSE. If you surround the Hollyhock (CAUSE) withe CONDITIONS of more seeds and more water and sunlight, the RESULT will be a garden; which now becomes its own CAUSE... and so on. This holds true for everything in life. To bring this concept into the world of human experience; let's take a woman named Sarah. Sarah is married to Seth. Sarah's best friend is Sally. Seth has an affair with Sally and Sarah finds out. This affair is now our CAUSE. The pertinent question for Sarah is; what CONDITIONS will she apply to the CAUSE of infidelity? If she chooses the CONDITIONS of resentment and self-pity and fear, the RESULT may very well be a life of restlessness and discontentment. On the other hand, if the CONDITIONS she chooses are forgiveness and self-examination, the RESULT may be a different relationship that is far more fulfilling. Let us say that this new relationship is Sarah's RESULT. The RESULT of this new marriage now becomes a CAUSE. If that CAUSE is surrounded by the CONDITIONS of fidelity, communication, and mutual support, perhaps THE RESULT is a big family and a long life together... and so it goes. The Law of Causality informs us that WE are the architects of our own universe. Our lives are a product of our choices (and our thinking). People have often asked me, "Fine Michael, but if you are the designer of your own life, than why bother with prayer and meditation? Where does God fit into all this?" It's a wonderful question. To answer this question, I will call your attention to, what I believe to be, the two most important things ever uttered by humans. The first comes from Shakespeare, who wrote, "To thine own self be true." The other comes from Socrates (or Plato, we don't know for sure), who said, "Know thyself." It has been my experience that many (if not most) people try to pull of the Shakespeare suggestion without ever answering the question posed by Socrates (or Plato). That is, people try to be true to themselves without ever finding out who they are. They then find themselves maddeningly discontented, having gotten what they wanted in life, and still feeling empty. Well, how can you successfully be true to yourself if you don't know what you are being TRUE TO? Herein comes the glory of spiritual practice. By connecting to a higher power through action , we come to understand WHO WE TRULY ARE. With that information in available to us, we can then learn to be true to ourselves. That is, we now understand what CONDITIONS need be applied to our CAUSES to achieve satisfactory RESULTS. Ask yourself; do you ever look at the reality of your life with consternation and say, "Why me?" or "This isn't fair," or "It wasn't supposed to turn out this way," or "look what has happened to me." Nothing has happened TO YOU. Your own choices have orchestrated your present conditions. Further, the realities of your life at this very moment are results of causes and conditions that have already been chosen. There is nothing you can do to change the present results... therefore, they are not worth your energy. On the other hand, every one of those results is now a cause; and you now have the choice to surround those causes with the conditions of your choosing. Remember the serenity prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (THE PRESENT RESULTS IN MY LIFE), courage to change the things I can (THE CONDITIONS I APPLY TO THE CURRENT CAUSES); and wisdom to know the difference (LET ME BE EFFICIENT IN WHERE I PUT MY ENERGIES). My friends, each of your lives are ensconced in abundance. We all HAVE far more than we DON'T HAVE. Seek gratitude for the gifts in your life, and use your God-given power to create the life you desire. Lastly, for those occasionally checking in here and finding it useful- if there are any specific subjects you would be interested in seeing broached, please let me know (there is a link at the bottom of the page where one can offer comments). I'd certainly welcome any suggestions and I will do what I can to honor them.

God bless you,

Sunday, September 2, 2007


fear [feer] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation –noun

1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.

[im-pen-ding] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation –adjective
1.about to happen; imminent: their impending marriage.
2.imminently threatening or menacing: an impending storm.

Fear fascinates me. I suppose because it is so mysterious... so prevalent... so seemingly real. Oh, I suppose it doesn't so much fascinate me when I am in it... although, even when I am experiencing fear, sometimes, I can step out of my present circumstances and watch myself being scared. In those moments I think, "Huh! Look at me reacting so strongly to something that is not real." Because it's not... it's not real. Fear is an illusion... a mirage. The dictionary tell us that fear is distress caused by IMPENDING danger... further, impending means ABOUT to happen. Therefore fear is never actually happening. It is always something that we perceive is ABOUT to happen. And, as we know, often times, things that are about to happen... never happen. Even the definition above uses the examples of a marriage and a storm. Interesting. How many marriages do you know of that were ABOUT to happen... but never happened? How many times have you put on your raincoat and galoshes due to the weatherman's forecast of a storm... which never happens? Let's take these examples a bit further. Hypothetically, we are scared of a storm... that is something that MIGHT happen. Then the storm happens... we are now scared of skidding off the road in our car... something that MIGHT happen. Then we skid off the road and hit a tree... we are scared that we cannot afford to fix the car... something that MIGHT happen. We notice we are bleeding and are scared that we might have a concussion and what that might mean... something that MIGHT happen. So if we are always living in the moment and never in the future... where is the fear? It does not exist. Fear does not exist in the present. There are exactly two things human beings are scared of: 1. Losing what they have 2. Not getting what they want. Neither of those ever occur in the present moment. To boil it down to it's most basic component, fear is lack of faith. The degree to which we open to faith is the degree to which fear dissipates in our lives... and vice versa. Does that mean that we can become so spiritually connected that fear leaves us entirely? Certainly not. That would be neither possible nor prudent. We need fear. It is God given and therefore integral to our existence. Without fear... if a lion were chasing you, you'd just stand there and be eaten. Fear serves us. So the problem is never fear. The problem is the level to which fear controls our actions. When we begin making fear-based decisions, our natural God-given instinct has grown out of proportion and must be adjusted. The adjustment comes through spiritual practice. Prayer and meditation, service, a nightly behavior review, reading, writing, etc. allow us to tap into the power which tell us that the moment is all there really is. The future is not real. There is no future. A mentor of mine once asked me, "Michael, can you wake up tomorrow; is it possible?" I responded, "Of course." He answered, "No you cannot... because when you wake up tomorrow it will be..." I smiled. "Today," I understood. There is no tomorrow. It is always today. There is no future. There is only the present. And if there is no tomorrow... if there is no future... than there is no fear. Remember that when you project into the future, the reason that it is often ominous, is because you are projecting into a Godless universe. There is no God in the future because the future isn't real. God IS real, so GOD exists only in that which is real... the present. Your view of the future does not involve God and so it is frightening. But when you get to that vision of the future, it will be the present and God will be with you... and the fear will be nowhere to be found. Stay here, my friends. It is presently Sunday, September 2nd 2007 at 9:31. This will only happen once. Not just in your lifetime or mine, but in the whole of human history. Never before in the history of mankind has it been Sunday, September 2nd 2007 at 9:31; and it never will be again. Each moment is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Embrace this truth and watch the fear cease to be.

God bless you,