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Worry the Deceiver

It seems to me that everybody worries about something. My husband seems fairly immune to worry most of the time but there are odd scenarios that will trigger him into bouts of wakeful nights and negative thought-attacks. Fortunately we aren’t triggered by the same things, so when he’s tangled up, I’m free, and vice versa. We don’t go down the tubes together.

I’ve been looking lately at the phenomenon of worry, because I feel as though I can’t take it any more. I want to clearly understand what it is and whether or not it has any relationship with concern or caring, or whether it is what it feels like: a useless attack upon the self—a painful and damaging waste of energy.

My mother was a worrier—anxious most of the time and plagued by obsessive negative thoughts. She had two modes when faced with life-challenges: worry, and a weird, callous refusal to care. I see now that the latter was a defense against the former. She was trying to save herself from the anxiety within her own mind by switching into not-caring mode.

For her, to care meant to worry, so the only remedy for the anxious, sleepless nights, aside from valium, was to stop caring. Maybe many of us feel this way, at least in some areas. 

What this basically means is that we believe we have to torment ourselves in order to be effective or have compassion. Perhaps this imagining-of-dire-scenarios started out as a positive, useful way to work with the dangers of the physical environment when we were cave-people. But then, like so many human tendencies, we took it to extremes. It got away from us.

So what is worry? Worry is fear-and-preoccupation. It’s resistance to what is. It’s a continual playing of fearful mental movies which keep the mind tangled up in imaginary reactions to something that seems to be happening outside of us. 

As Abraham Hicks says, “Worrying is using your imagination to create something you don’t want.”

I know this, I do. Yet there are times when I feel utterly attacked by worry—as though it’s an invading army, and I can barely get on top of it. Since I became a grandmother, the whole game has ramped up, rather than subsiding as I’d hoped it would. Or maybe I’m just more aware of it. 

Whatever the reason, I’m tired of it. I’ve had enough. I want to get to the bottom of this phenomenon to the point where I can dissolve that invading army with the power of awareness. I want desperately to just stop it.

Here’s what I’ve unpacked so far:

Worry is not good for the object of worry. I believe that this is true even when the worry is not verbalized. We are all, at our roots, telepathically connected. Telling someone “I’m worried about you” is a weakening, undermining thing to do. It’s the ego saying “I’m afraid and I want you to be afraid, too. Join me in fear, won’t you?” Or “Stop what you’re doing so I don’t have to be afraid any more. Please take responsibility for my emotions, since I don’t seem to be able to.”

Worry is not good for the worrier. How can something that is utterly detrimental to our physical and mental health be good on any level?

Worry creates, but it’s not so much about the content. Worry will use any content it can get its hands on. It will grab any ratty old thing from from your memory bank that can evoke a fear response. Have you ever wondered why so many of the things we worry about don’t happen? Part of the answer may be that we can only worry about one thing at a time, and our powers of concentration are not great. Each worry tends to subside on its own as it’s replaced by the next one. It’s the problem-imperative. We’d have to worry about the same thing for quite a while in order to create a precise physical manifestation.

The creative goal of worry, if I were to personify that invading army, is to create a false, temporary self to defend against the invasion—one that is totally identified with fear-and-preoccupation. That’s what it creates. It creates a state in which we narrow down our focus and project it into future imaginings, forget the present moment, and become lost in our fearful mind-movies. This is a state of powerlessness, of seeming victimhood. That’s what it creates. It is a mechanism via which the ego creates its fearful me-against-the-world sense of self.

Worry asks us to do something in order to eliminate the worry. This is how it tricks us. It creates fear in the imagination and then the very same level of mind that is creating the fear, tells you what you have to do to eliminate the fear—when in truth the entire problem is this painful level of mind—the one creating the fear. Worry, which wants to continue existing, is giving you advice ostensibly designed to eliminate its existence—when in truth it will strengthen it instead, at your expense.

Go here, speak to so-and-so, take this medicine, bring the wagons in a circle, defend yourself, fix this. None of this can ever work because there is no solution at this level of mind. Defending yourself weakens you and strengthens the fear so the cycle starts all over again.

As my favorite quote from Leonard Jacobson says: “It is better to remain in a state of not knowing than to go into the mind in search of an answer.”

Worry is fear. Bottom line. It is not love. It is not caring. It is not compassion or empathy. It is fear in a particularly pernicious form. Dealing with it takes skill and mindfulness.

The solution. The problem is never the actual content of the worry. It is never the content of the fear-and-preoccupation. It is the level of mind. It is the thinking mind trying to keep us snagged within its fearful labyrinths that is the actual problem. It’s not evil, but everything that exists wants to keep existing.

The only solution is to rise above thinking.

This, however, is very difficult to do at 2 a.m. when the mind-gremlins are shooting flaming arrows over the ramparts of your psyche.  

Rising above this level of mind is the answer. But here’s what happens when you first try to rise above, quiet your mind, and surrender to the present moment. Or when you first say, “thy will be done,” or whatever mantra helps you disengage the thought stream and let go.

Let’s say, as an example, you’re worried about the results of a loved one’s biopsy and it’s tormenting you in the middle of the night. When you first try to quiet your mind and stop fighting what is—when you first begin to rise above this level of worry—you pass through a layer in which the worry will threaten you cruelly, by telling you that if you stop worrying, what you fear most will definitely occur.

The fear-mind will try to get you to believe that what you are surrendering to is the situation you are worried about. That your surrender will create the worst outcome. That you must continue to worry or it will actually happen. It does not want you to withdraw your energy from this level of mind because your energy is keeping it alive.

Rising above means you have to be aware of this trick and not fall for its bullshit.

Surrender means overlooking the loud, cruel threats of the worried mind, in order to get to a different level of mind. 

Truth never threatens. Worry threatens. Fear threatens. Truth never threatens because it cannot BE threatened. Who we truly are, our real identity, cannot be threatened and therefore never uses fear as a tool, ever.

As Byron Katie says, “When a thought hurts, that’s the signal that it isn’t true.” Worry hurts, threatens and punishes, that’s obvious. Coming out of worry when it has got you by the short hairs may take some persistence, but it can be done.

One Problem, One Solution

There’s a thing that sometimes happens to lucid dreamers—maybe a side-effect of developing lucidity—called a false awakening. I’m sure it happens under other circumstances as well, but it’s fairly common in lucid dreamers.

Here’s how a false awakening goes: You wake up in bed in the morning, stumble into the bathroom to pee, turn on the light and grab your toothbrush, but the light appears to be blown out. You flick the switch a few times. Dammit. Then you notice that there’s something funny about the bathroom. The walls are the wrong color. Or maybe you can’t find the toothpaste. Something’s off, for some reason—it’s all a little weird—and then it hits you: I’m still dreaming! This is a dream!

You wake up in bed, for real this time, whew, stumble into the bathroom and pee. The light works this time and you find the toothpaste. You shower, go down to put on the tea kettle and there’s something weird about the kitchen. The lights don’t work. Shit!

You wake up… and so on. I have had three false awakenings in a row, and that’s enough for me. It can be a very spooky experience. It’s as though reality is like a matrix of neighboring probabilities, and you keep waking up in the wrong one.

One well-known lucid dreamer wrote about having seven false awakenings in a row during a period of high focus on lucidity, and it was so scary that he swore off lucid dreaming for a while.

How do we know that we’re in Normal Waking Reality, and not still asleep and dreaming? Perhaps we don’t, really. But we can learn to distinguish between Normal Waking Reality (which may actually be a mega-dream on a larger level), and our individual nighttime dreaming, by using reality checks.

Lucid dreamers use reality checks during the day in order to cultivate the habit of using them during dreaming. I have three favorite reality checks: I pull one of my fingers to see if it stretches. In dreams your fingers stretch like taffy when you pull on them. Or I hop up in the air. In dreaming, I can stay in the air and hover. And lastly, I might find a hard surface and press on it with my fingers. In dreams I can dent or deform a hard surface with my fingers, or press right through it.

In dreams we can think from two different source-minds (and many grey areas in-between as lucidity waxes and wanes). We can think with the mind of the dream character, which is not lucid and is believing in the objective reality of the dream—faulty light switches, wrong colored walls and all—or we can think from the waking mind, if we can access it, which is saying, “something doesn’t feel right here, let’s check the reality of it.”

Changing the source of thought is the key to lucidity. 

In NWR, the thoughts in our heads, the constant internal dialogue that seems to never shut up, especially at 2 a.m., belong to the personality—our dream character in the dream of waking life. It believes that it’s a finite body, on a finite planet, with finite resources, needing to compete with other finite bodies in order to survive.

These thoughts of the human personality—the ego— have a certain feel to them, a certain subtle pain, even when they’re happy. They are conditional. They are reactive to what’s happening in the environment, in the same way that we are reactive in a non-lucid dream, believing we’re the dream character. They are victim thoughts, by and large. They have a fearful undercurrent. They fear loss. They are compulsive and incessant. They plan. They don’t believe they will be provided for. They don’t believe that the universe is necessarily a friendly place, and they’ll tell you why. They threaten and they blame. They are happy when they get what they want, and miserable when it proves to be inadequate. And so on.

The undercurrent of pain in these thoughts is caused by the nature of the personality’s existence, which has no permanent reality. The thoughts of the human character are seeking permanence in the impermanent, always arguing with what is, in an effort to make it what it is not. And they are masterful at creating a reality that accurately reflects this Sisyphean situation.

We cannot help creating a seemingly objective, projected reality with our thoughts and the emotions they generate. This is who we are as divine creators, and this is the nature of the game. Crappy thoughts, negative thoughts, chaotic, haphazard, default thoughts—they all create our reality to some extent.

But there’s another source of thought in human reality. It is as different from the usual thought-stream as the waking mind is from the mind of the dream character. 

How do we access it? Or does it access us? Or is the bridge built from both directions simultaneously?

I think it must be from both directions simultaneously. And our part in it, our part in the building of the bridge, is to love what is. To stop arguing with the dream of human life as though it were an objective reality outside of our minds. It’s as though, when we stop fighting with what is, we become available to the higher source of thought. 

It’s similar to the moment in a nighttime dream when something just feels off, and you begin to question the nature of the problem. Is the faulty light switch an electrical problem, or is it a sign that I’m dreaming? Once the notion that I might be dreaming enters the equation, all so-called problems are shown to be delusional.

At that moment, the seemingly objective reality, to which we were responding as a victim, becomes manageable. It becomes a creative medium, rather than a torture chamber. When the mind is relieved of identifying solely with the problem, the problem must transform, because it’s being robbed of the magic that gives it its reality: focused attention coupled with belief.

Deadliest Crew

I’ve been watching Deadliest Catch. It’s a long-running series about crab fishermen in the Bering Sea. Alaskan crab fishing is a brutal and dangerous job. It takes place in late fall and winter and is accompanied by arctic hurricanes, rogue waves, below zero temps, engine failures, equipment breakdowns, crew injuries, madness, and, occasionally, death.

In the last few years they’ve followed the same group of boats, so the viewer gets to know the captains and crew and to observe their differing styles of not only fishing, but of culture and leadership. Lately it’s been especially interesting as the older group of captains begins to retire or experience failing health and the younger generation begins to emerge. Watching these captains, who are in an excruciatingly stressful position—really a lot like war—manage their crew with varying degrees of skill and finesse, or the lack thereof, has been fascinating and helpful to me. 

Most of these boats run with a crew of five or six people. Each one of them is being pushed to the limits of human endurance. Characters emerge. The older, more stable boats often have the same crew from season to season—guys who’ve worked together for years and are comfortable with each other and respectful towards the captain. 

On other boats, the ones with more cantankerous captains, or new, younger, unproven captains, the crew changes more often, and may include young men who are addicts, alcoholics, violent, cruel, lazy or incapable of accepting authority. How the captains deal with these new, wildcard crew members, who can literally bring fishing to a halt and completely disrupt a trip, is what interests me.

It interests me because I’ve been going through a period in which I have some problematic crew members in my own head. Repetitive, fear-based thoughts that stop the energy flow of my life or clog it up with preoccupation about money, or business, or family, or health, or whatever. The problem imperative, which I’ve talked about before, has become more and more noticeable to me as I become increasingly aware of my own mental state from moment to moment.

Fear and preoccupation, no matter what their content, are the goals of the ego. This is how we forget that we’re dreaming and become convinced that the dream is real. Whatever the ego (the false self) can do to keep us believing our painful thoughts without questioning their truthfulness, it will do. That’s its goal. Everything that exists tends to fight for its existence—even delusions.

So in Deadliest Catch, what I’ve noticed is that when there’s a strong, positive, respectful crew culture, the crew itself will school a rogue newcomer and keep him in line. If the positive culture is not strong enough, or experienced enough, one negative, or cruel, or toxic new guy can bring the whole thing down and force the captain to take action.

It’s the same with thoughts. I can be humming along in life quite nicely and I can read something, or someone can make a comment that, for whatever reason, finds a weak spot in my mind and goes straight in with cancerous negativity and makes itself at home. It begins to gather power and proliferate like a virus, even as I try and fight it.

Captains use various methods to discipline their crew. There’s a lot of yelling on most boats. There’s public shaming. There’s isolation of the disruptive character as in “Get off the deck, now!”. There are summons to the wheelhouse for disciplining followed by, “Now get the fuck out of my wheelhouse!”

Some of the more sophisticated captains will gather everyone around for a forceful pep talk in the mode of, “This is how we do things here.” If the problematic crew member still doesn’t comply or begins to disrupt work even further, there is firing. Sometimes even that doesn’t work because they’re out at sea in the middle of a dangerous situation on every level.

When I’ve allowed myself to identify with a negative thought, I wrestle with it in similar ways. I may fight with it, or use inquiry on it, or try to ignore it, or rise above it, or continually come out of thought, but if the thought has a lot of fear behind it and has hooked me in, sometimes nothing seems to help.

There was one episode of DC that I found inspiring while I was struggling with a particularly negative thought attack. The new crew member turned out to be mentally ill and was beating up the other guys without provocation. He was terrorizing the crew and making threats against the captain. Nothing the captain did seemed to help, and he found himself becoming afraid that this guy would do something to mess with the engines and bring the whole boat down. 

So he made the decision, without telling anyone on board, to interrupt the trip, at great expense, and take the boat back to the harbor while the crew were sleeping. He alerted the police to be waiting on the dock just in case they were needed. When they got into harbor towards dawn, he woke up the other guys first and had them accompany him as backup, then woke up the bad guy, and they peaceably escorted him off the boat, with pay and a plane ticket in hand. Done and done.

I found myself wishing I could to that to this thought I’d been struggling with for weeks because, of course, the more I fought it, the stronger it got. But what I realized was that the rest of my inner crew, and myself as captain of my own mind, were not strong enough in our own positive culture to create an effective immune response to the negative thought.

So I set out to strengthen the rest of my mind and myself as leader—to empower myself as captain of my own mind. I scoured my library for heavy-hitting positive messages about self love and power. I meditated. I used various processes that had worked for me in the past. I wrote. And little by little I began to receive help from the environment in the form of positive thoughts from other people that directly countered the negative ones. 

I made sure, during the days, that I was asking myself more often, “What do I really want to be doing right now?” and obeying my impulses.

And finally the one thing that helped the most was the simplest one. Every night before I went to sleep, while I was lying in bed, I wrote down every positive thing I had experienced throughout that day. From my yummy breakfast, to a nice conversation, to a sweet email exchange, to a good sale, to a lovely walk, to the light on the snow, to a good laugh, to warm, dry sheets—everything I could think of from the day that was enjoyable and that I appreciated. 

This simple practice has seemed to be the most powerful creator of a strong inner culture for me and has given me the greatest increase in dominion over my own mind and life. I sleep better. I dream better. I wake up in a better space. And during the day I’m on the lookout for good things to add to my little journal of appreciation. It’s like an immune booster for the mind.

The Taste of Real Milk

Up in my neck of the woods, there used to be a TV commercial for a small, family-owned dairy that bottled whole milk in glass bottles. Their slogan was “You’ve forgotten what real milk tastes like.”

It came to mind this morning when I was standing and looking out the window. It’s a cold October day. Leaves have turned and largely fallen. There’s frost in the mornings. I have been on an internet cleanse for five days now. Today is day six, mostly unplugged. I am emailing and taking care of necessary business things, but that’s all. Get in, get out, don’t look around.

And this morning I am beginning to remember what a real mind feels like! 

It seemed to me that I remembered, years ago before the internet—social media, online news, google, youtube, and the whole deal, having an entirely different kind of ordinary, daily mental experience.

I used to feel connected to my life in a simpler way. I’d wake up in the morning feeling clear and focused. I’d read something, some kind of spiritual book or uplifting book, while eating breakfast. Maybe I’d meditate. I’d get my child off to school. At work I’d tackle my jobs in silence, one after the other without distraction, maybe stopping to have lunch or go for a walk, or go to the gym. At the end of the day I felt good about what I’d accomplished and my mind felt clear.

Life felt rich, even when it was difficult and challenging and downright painful. It felt thick with experience, somehow.

Over the last 25 years, living with the internet has created a different kind of mind. One which, (it seems to me) like the taste of plastic-packed skim milk full of chemical additives, bears almost no relationship to the real thing.

To me it feels as though having constant access to the internet through social media, especially, has thinned down my experience of the world and removed quite a lot of its savor. 

That quality of my individual relationship with the “real” world has been replaced by a kind of constant, superficial multiplicity of stimulation that is addicting but not really nourishing. Like junk food, which has some food-like items in it, but isn’t actually food.

I had also begun to feel that my ability to remain in a state of trust and faith was being eroded. When you expose yourself to news on the internet, it doesn’t matter which side you’re on, or what your beliefs may be, there is a pervasive aura of “we-must-defend-ourselves-against-wrongdoers” that is so insidious and ubiquitous that it was coloring everything in my mind with a tint of anxiety.

Even the so-called good news, the cute news, the heartwarming wholesome memes, the inspirational quotes, are floating in a river of fearful proclamations. Just scroll down, just swipe right. Just tap mistakenly and bingo.

I read something a while back… I think it’s from Seth, but not sure, that the human body responds in the same way to our fearful thoughts whether the danger is imagined or real, whether it is close by or so far away that there’s nothing we can do about it.

The internet brings the fear of the entire world into our laps and exposes us to it in a way that the human body is powerless to do anything about. And yet the fear-response happens anyway! It puts us into a continual state of nervous fatigue. Some of us, anyway. Me.

I’ve talked about this before, and I suppose I’ll bring it up again. I am a person who can have one drink and leave half of it on the table. I don’t have any problems with alcohol or drugs. I quit smoking over 30 years ago. My food addictions are well in hand. 

But my internet addiction was becoming a problem for me AGAIN. So, I’m cutting it out, AGAIN, for the time being. No more social media, no more “research.” No more reading the news or McSweeney’s, or following one or another spiritual teacher. No more idle shopping, funny memes, cute babies or profound blogs (except my own, of course). Right now, I can’t afford it. Right now, I want to be in a state of trust, and I can’t if my mind is tapped into the hive-mind. 

Many people can. Maybe you can! I can’t. 


If you’ve ever taken a challenging yoga class, you know that savasana, the final corpse pose, can feel like a reward at the end of all the effort. Some people don’t like it, but for many, it’s a moment of delicious letting go. I don’t take strenuous yoga classes these days, but when I used to, f’d often be in a light sleep within a minute or two of beginning savasana. Sleep is not the point, but think of yourself falling asleep in the most vulnerable possible position in a room full of relative strangers and you might get how powerful the sense of abandon can be.

Savasana, or corpse pose, is meant to be a preparation for death, for the final relinquishment of the body. You lie on the floor with arms and legs spread to at least a 45 degree angle, palms up, and simply stop. All the doing is done. Now is just being.

Ajahn Brahm, a Theraveda Buddhist monk and a great meditation teacher, says that success in meditation is aided by cultivating a mind that inclines to abandoning. Savasana is where you abandon all notions of doing. You surrender.

In western culture we have a hard time with the idea of abandoning—abandoning our responsibilities, our goals, our duties and obligations. We like to think of ourselves as doers, not be-ers. Quitters never win and winners never quit. Do or die. Sink or swim. And so on. She persisted!

What’s inadequate about this philosophy of accomplishment is that it doesn’t enlist the assistance of any of the energies available to us outside of the egoic view of ourselves as bodies, as characters in this dream of human life. It assumes that everything necessary can be made to happen through the body-mind, by the dream character.

We hear a lot of talk about allowing—that we don’t have to accomplish anything, we just have to allow it. But what exactly is the actual act of allowing? It is stopping doing. And what is our main occupation, our main doing? It’s thinking.

It’s like we want assistance with this game of human life, but we don’t know how to let it in. We yell “Jesus Take the Wheel” only to discover that we’ve somehow superglued our hands to it and can’t stop madly steering.

How to let it in. 

A Course in Miracles call this the little willingness:

“You merely ask the question. The answer is given. Seek not to answer but merely to receive the answer as it is given. In preparing for the holy instant, do not attempt to make yourself holy to be ready to receive it.

The little willingness is when you stop doing. You stop trying to improve yourself. You give up. The mind stops, or rather, you cease identifying with the incessant stream of thought telling you that you have to become worthy.

You are good enough exactly as you are. You do not have to become a better person. You do not have to be “spiritual.” It’s a come-as-you-are kind of party. In fact, when we try to be better humans, try to improve ourselves in order to make ourselves worthy, we may be blocking any possibility of inspired assistance.

The problem for many of us is that we don’t really understand the difference between what we’re in charge of doing and what we can rightfully expect to be assisted with. It’s like we’re running an ultra marathon and we assume that we have to carry all of our food and water with us right from the beginning, not understanding that, of course, there are aide stations along the way. 

The point I am clumsily trying to make is that when we surrender, when we give up, we automatically manifest an aide station, because at that moment, we cease controlling the manifestation and allow it to be done through us and for us, rather than by us.

When we enter a mental space of savasana, of giving up, giving in, abandoning, trusting, not-knowing, inner silence, we become conduits for the greater energy that is our birth right.

You might want to try this, if it appeals to you. Sometimes before I go to sleep at night I lie in savasana, on my back, palms up and totally relaxed, and I say to myself, “I give up.” I imagine myself abandoning all of my apparent responsibilities… leaving them behind one by one and just giving up. I put down all my burdens.  I might say to myself, “I place my life in the hands of God. I’m done.” Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be. 

It’s an interesting experiment. Sometimes it leads right into peaceful sleep. Other times it evokes anxiety of one sort or another, and the mind may try to find ways to restart the engine of thought—of fear and preoccupation. But because it’s bedtime, the socially appropriate time to put down one’s burdens, you might find a deeper state of relaxation and a night of helpful dreams. It’s a way to let the aide stations manifest for you.

The Gatekeeper and Urban Sprawl

I have had an inconsistent, but persistent, meditation practice for a lot of years now. So far I haven’t experienced any dramatic visions of light or revelation while I’m sitting, although I do often gain insight into my current life situations, whatever they may be. And I have definitely experienced accelerations in physical healing. 

But what I mainly experience is the relief of the slowing and quieting of the mind. As the years have passed, the time it takes for my mind to quiet down and become attentive to the breath has grown shorter, and the mind chatter itself has become more transparent and workable.

Another good thing has begun to happen lately, and that is that I am more prone to notice when a discordant note has entered my mental stream during the day, off the cushion. It’s a little like being an orchestra conductor and being able to hear that somebody is out of tune. Because my mind is, on the whole, less noisy, I can more readily sense the presence of a disturbance.

It’s like having a gatekeeper who is alert to intruders—or a filter that filters out undesirable mental factors. I feel that because of my years of steady, plodding, often reluctant practice on the cushion, my filter has become finer, my gatekeeper more alert and astute. Not infallible, but more discerning.

My son and I were laughing the other day, “I meditate and I meditate and I meditate, and for what?” I’m starting to see the “for what,” I told him.

It all boils down to the simple awareness that Byron Katie expresses so clearly: “If a thought hurts, it isn’t true.” Or, as A Course in Miracles says, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.”

The forces of the ego, the human mind, the physically focused mind, are predicated upon the belief that there is causality in matter, outside of mind. In other words, the ego is designed to keep the illusion of the physical plane real-seeming. That’s its job. Just as it’s the job of the character in a video game to take seriously the battles placed before it and not decide to say, “This is nuts. I’m outta here,” it’s the ego’s job to believe in the reality of the dream, and take at face value the threats it encounters.

On the other hand, it’s our job, as the indwelling soul or entity, to attempt to decrease the level of our human suffering and disconnection by expanding the ego’s experience of reality. 

The ego, in a sense, is like artificial intelligence. It can be programmed to learn to deduce outside of its own experience. It can receive packages of information that give it an expanded level of understanding. 

We, are not the ego. The ego is the swarm of reactive thought-forms and conditioned beliefs that create a sense of self, centered around a body. The ego is the ongoing story of the character you are playing in this game. And it wants to continue its existence. Yet it always feels, somehow, incomplete. This is because it senses its own temporary, fictional nature as a body.

It believes that the only way to continue its existence is to find something to add to itself to make it feel complete, or to resist anything that threatens it with loss. 

The idea of surrender is completely alien to it, because surrender is anathema to the fundamental illusion of the game—that we are victims of physical reality. It’s no accident that most video games have “me against the world” as their basic storyline. They are appealing to the egoic awareness.

Here’s a simple example from my own life: I recently learned that at the end of our already fairly busy street, the city is planning to sell 50 acres of public park land (said park being one of the reasons we moved here over 20 years ago) to a developer, to build 400 units of high-density housing with options for retail development. 

It’s been interesting to watch my mind as it tries to find ways to deal with this information. Admittedly, this is a first world problem, when many people don’t have clean water, basic rights, peace, or enough food, but bear with me.

The first thing that happened was a revving up of the engine of resistance. Immediately the forces of fear-and-preoccupation began spinning stories and movies in my mind of how awful this would be and what it would cause me to lose, and not only me, but my neighbors and all the wildlife dependent upon that 50 acres of land. 

It didn’t take long, however, for my gatekeeper to try and restore order by creating a bit of distance between me and the revving up of the ego-engine. Good gatekeeper! However, it was a bit of a battle.

My neighbors and I wrote letters and attended meetings and registered our displeasure, but so far none of this has made any difference and perhaps it never will. Still, my mind was playing movies at odd hours, about traffic and congestion and the various losses that might occur.

And then, one day as I was driving home from work, the gatekeeper suddenly found an opening and restored equanimity. It reminded me that in all lives, degrees of discomfort occur at times and that the key to transformation lay in surrender. That there may be unknown wonderful aspects to this situation and that all such occurrences contain an opportunity for the expansion of consciousness.

Now, the ego hates this kind of thinking. It hates the very idea of surrender, and its ace in the hole is to bring up the holocaust or various other horrendous situations and remind you of the importance of resistance. This is akin to when your mother used to say, “If your friends all decided to jump off a bridge, would you do it too?” There must be a name for this kind of hyperbolic argument but I don’t know what it is.

However, in this case I’d already tasted the sweetness of surrender. And I knew from experience that until I actively choose to stop resisting what’s happening in the present moment, nothing can change. What we resist, persists. 

When there is the playing out of a so-called negative manifestation, the ego will always take it as an opportunity to try to hook the awareness into fear and preoccupation. It will seize upon any opportunity to make the dream real and turn it into a nightmare. That’s its job.

Surrender is an acknowledging of the very momentum that created the situation in the first place, and a refusal to fuel that momentum by resisting it. So the first move is to wave an inner white flag and say, “I don’t want to fight.” 

Then, surrender says, “I don’t know what this means and I won’t act without knowing.” It’s a stopping, quieting, waiting, listening. Within surrender, there is patience, inspiration, and acceptance—a sort of calm abiding and trust. 

It’s a refusal to allow the mind to dwell upon negative aspects, or to compare the present situation with an imaginary past or future situation. It’s an accepting of the challenge, moment to moment, with the intention of finding a way to appreciate it. 

This type of approach has worked for me over and over in this life. It seems to transform not only my inner landscape but on many occasions it actually changes the physical manifestation. It’s like a way of putting in the clutch and shifting probabilities. It is a magical approach to change.

The magic of deep acceptance and surrender is that when you stop resisting a situation, you shift probabilities. Resistance to what is, is what keeps the current probability in place. As we fight it, it becomes more entrenched, more real, and draws power from the fight.

Surrender, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, creates inner quiet, which then begins to draw to itself or create for itself, a change in manifestation. As you appreciate what is, you, the creator of experience, are transformed and ultimately, eventually, so is the outer world. And if not the outer world, then certainly your experience of it.


I’ve been watching a show on the History channel called “American Pickers.” In it, two guys who buy and sell antiques travel around the country in a van looking for finds.

It’s where they look that’s so fascinating. They often look in the homes, outbuildings, yards, and back 40s of people who would ordinarily be thought of as hoarders. Frank and Mike, the pickers, never use that word. They call them “collectors” and they treat them with unfailing respect. No matter how deep the mess, how high the piles of rusty junk, discarded furniture, old household items and newspapers, they dive in and sort through avidly and without hesitation, offering cash on the spot and making deals. They take everything in stride—from pigeon poop to raccoon feces and worse. Wash it off and it’s a valuable antique, a piece of human history.

Most of the collectors are older white men. Many of them live alone out in the country, where they can stack as many old rusty cars in their yards as they want without censure. Some of them have multiple houses and buildings, often in various states of tumble-down disrepair, filled floor to ceiling with stuff. They are the people who both cannot throw anything away, and never pass by a discarded old something-or-other sitting by the side of the road without picking it up. They are the people who go to every yard sale, every flea market and swap meet. They may even dumpster dive, looking for things to save.

Some of them collect specific types of items, but others just collect and accumulate everything. 

Sometimes they’re married and have grown children. You don’t usually see the family unless it’s the family that has contacted the pickers to help dad thin out his collection before he dies and leaves them with a huge mess. Or because dad needs money and the family has stepped in to try and coerce him into selling some stuff. Often, the collectors find it hard to sell.

What is so fascinating to me about the collector/hoarders is the differences in their attitudes towards themselves. Some of them consider their proclivity a disease or an addiction they can’t manage, while other consider it their joy and genius.

Some of them are hugely proud of their collections. They are like chipmunks or magpies or bower birds showing off their caches. They love everything they have, from the smallest thimble to the biggest car. Rusty old falling-apart things are beautiful to them and they feel happy in themselves and happy about their lives. 

They don’t have a concept of clutter-clearing, or a desire for minimalism. The bigger the piles, the better they feel.

Sometimes, one of their buildings or one room in one of their buildings will be a sort of personal show room. Still packed to the gills, but more organized and arranged. This is where they keep their special things, their collections of items they’ve found over the years and are especially fond of. These old guys are invariably happy, strong and standing tall, eccentric as they may be.

Others, it is obvious, have the identical love of old things and the drive to collect them, but have been shamed for it somewhere along the way, and think of themselves as flawed. Usually there’s a son or daughter in the picture trying to get dad to unload some of this stuff, and dad is looking unhappy and conflicted and often ill. A visit from Frank and Mike, who are so honestly complimentary and respectful is almost always helpful to them.

So, same situation, same old houses where you can hardly walk through the accumulated generations of stuff. Same yards full of rusty metal. Same sheds piled to the rafters with dusty old things. And one person living this way is happy and proud, while another living this way is ashamed and beaten down.

The aspects of our characters that often bring us the most shame, and which we want to hide from others, may be aspects that someone else celebrates in themselves and wants to show off. It’s up to us. That’s all.

The Silent Walkers and Other Selves

There’s a genre of YouTube creators who walk. They walk all over the world. I’ve watched videos of walking in India, in Egypt, in New York City. The most important thing is that these people do not speak, they simply go for a walk and film it, using high-res cameras on gimbals, so that you feel as though you are the walker.

Because I love to walk, this is a magical experience for me. Walking through the back alleys of Kolkata or Queens, it’s amazing. I put them up on my 27-inch computer monitor or on the TV.

My very favorite walks are in Japan. And I have a favorite walker, as well. He’s a Russian computer guy who settled in Japan. He speaks fluent Japanese, and I know nothing else about him, other than that he walks on weekends and evenings. Long walks of an hour or more through cities and countryside, through daily life in Japan.

These videos have been a revelation to me. I find them deeply calming and soothing. One of the first ones I watched was filmed in the massive underground stations of Tokyo, which contain miles of restaurants and stores of all kinds. Like most things in Japan, they are spotlessly clean and beautifully designed. Walking through the crowds of people in the subways of Japan, through the lens of this Russian coder, I felt at home. I felt comfortable and at peace.

I wondered if it were just the action of disembodied walking that I found so soothing, a kind of ASMR effect, so I tried watching walkers in Europe, the UK, all over. I do enjoy some of them. But the effect of that feeling of rightness and of being at home, happens only in Japan. 

When I was a little girl, the highlight of my life, literally, was when my mother would take me into Manhattan and we would stop at Takashimiya, the Japanese import store. This was in the 50s and early 60s, when America still had an uneasy relationship with Japan. But for me it was that same experience of homecoming. Walking into the incense-scented air and looking at the little toys, the kokeshi dolls, the lanterns and paper flowers and stacks of origami paper made me feel that the world made sense in a way that it didn’t anywhere else. 

When I was 20, I briefly considered trying to get to Japan to study traditional Japanese pottery-making. I was living in Norway at the time, working as a potter, and secured an apprenticeship with a Japanese potter living in Sweden who told me I could sleep on the floor of her studio. But I couldn’t get a work visa for Sweden so I gave up the idea. It wasn’t a strong enough drive.

I don’t have any desire to go to Japan or illusions about the Japanese culture. I feel, rather, that I am already living in Japan, or have lived in Japan, quite a bit. And that it’s a place where I have found, or am finding, some degree of peace.

What does this mean? It feels so natural to me that I don’t even bother trying explain it to myself. I have another self living in Japan, whether now or in the past or future doesn’t matter. But that self experiences, or has experienced a feeling of safety, rightness and calm that I can draw upon by watching these videos. From the little I know about Japanese culture, I suspect that this self is, or was, male, but who knows?

Can we learn without punishment?

Do you punish yourself? I punish myself, or I have in the past. But why I do it has only recently begun to become clear.

Here’s an example of how I punish myself: A friend gets the flu and I don’t feel that I have been properly sympathetic or caring enough, or I’ve caught myself thinking about how I haven’t been sick for at least a year and have felt proud of that fact. This is when the punishing aspect begins. Somehow I don’t trust that I am ever going to learn to be kind enough or caring enough if I don’t force myself to remember what it’s like to be sick, and so, I get sick. It’s a predictable cycle.

The same thing happens when a friend has a mechanical problem of some sort and I judge myself as having been inadequately sympathetic. I’ll punish myself by manifesting a similar problem in my own life.

I do the same thing if I find myself celebrating my good fortune without (here comes the judge again) adequately sharing it. Guilty on all counts and some loss must be exacted so I can remember what it’s like to experience lack to some degree.

My knee-jerk response to this realization of self-punishment is to turn around and look at my parents in a desire to pass the blame along, but I’ve decided to take full responsibility for this one. It doesn’t matter where it came from, it’s mine at this point, and I’m owning it. Quicker and more efficient to do that anyway.

Most of us, when these types of things happen, would use the phrase, “It’s as though I am being punished.” We externalize the authority to God, to the universe, to some external law of cause and effect, to the idea of karma. 

But the truth is that it’s our decision. We, as humans, are the ones who use punishment as a learning device. Punishment is not a divine attribute.

I’ve been watching old seasons of Project Runway, which is a great example of how this works in our minds. It’s a show in which aspiring designers compete for a chance to show their collections at NY Fashion Week, by running a gauntlet of difficult design challenges under increasing pressure over a period of weeks. 

The editing will always pick out designers who are being cruel or bossy or backstabbing, or who are winning challenges but without enough humility, and set the audience against them so that we can rejoice when they are eventually punished with loss. It’s a universal human pattern.

However, I’ve become convinced that we can’t manifest this pattern unless we have an unconscious belief in our own inherent guilt, and, in fact, if we are identifying with the body, believing that we are living in an actual, physical, finite universe. When we believe we are the body, compassion becomes a difficult proposition.

The body-mind, the ego, the human mind, is a mind that has limited information, and believes in linear time and the laws of cause and effect. It labels everything, judges everything on a dichotomous scale, as either good or bad. The goal of the human mind, the ego, is to keep the dream real, keep the illusion, or as Seth calls it, the camouflage, in place. Keep the “this is all there is-ness” of it going.

The human mind believes that the solution to almost everything, is to resist it. This is how it solidifies the illusion of the separate self—by pushing against what seems to be outside of it.

And when it feels itself as a disconnected kind of marooned creature in this desert island we call life, it assumes that it is being punished because it has done something wrong. Hence, the idea of original sin, as opposed to the idea of fundamental goodness.

We are so primitive. We seek to appease our God by punishing ourselves before we can be punished.

I’ve been a real sucker for this routine in my life. But I’m on to it now, at least to some extent. It’s a work in progress. I can hear and identify the voice of the punishing guilt-monger when it arises and see it for what it is—pure bullshit. 

For example, I don’t go out much or socialize much, but on the occasions when I do, say, have dinner with a group, or go to some sort of social gathering, I will almost always awaken at 2 a.m. replaying the evening while an inner critic berates me for something I said. It will accuse me of having hurt someone, or having said something offensive, or having misrepresented something. (I often think that when I die I won’t need a life review because my entire life is one huge incessant life-review, and not in a good way.)

But now I am beginning to be able to see this as the voice-for-guilt. The voice-for-guilt wants my energy. It wants to create fear and preoccupation and convince me that the dream is real and that I am a sinner, on one level or another. It doesn’t want me to forgive myself for being a well-meaning but clumsy, inept human.

And yet, this is what we are—well-meaning but clumsy, inept humans. Can we learn without punishment? Can we forgive ourselves? In this, as in so many things, I love the Kabbalah idea that there are divine gifts, like this kind of love and forgiveness, that we cannot accept for ourselves. But we can do it because God wants us to.

As Abraham-Hicks says: You cannot get sick enough to help sick people get better. You cannot get poor enough to help poor people thrive. It is only in your thriving that you have anything to offer anyone. If you’re wanting to be of an advantage to others, be as tapped in, tuned in, turned on as you can possibly be.

Healing my relationship with my mother

This is a happy story, but I’m afraid I have to give a little background, so bear with me. 

My relationship with my mother was difficult. She was a master of passive aggression and guilt-mongering—a woman full of fears and anxieties that she freely radiated into the atmosphere around her. I spent most of my life struggling to not be like her. 

We loved each other deeply but the love was buried in a quicksand bog of knee-jerk reactions and triggering. For most of my adult years I could not feel the love. I knew it was there, somewhere, but it would only come to consciousness in isolated moments of surprise, suddenly taken unawares like a duck flushed by a hunter. Like when I’d first see her after a separation and experience the shocking recognition of how old and frail she looked. Or when she was visiting me and slipped in my kitchen, sitting down hard, and couldn’t get up—the love was overwhelming as I rushed to help her. Within a few minutes, or usually as soon as she began to speak, the bog would close over and all affection would be lost to fending off the onslaught of her neurotic personality.

My husband once said that after talking with my mother he sometimes felt like he needed a shower. He was exquisitely gracious with her, but nothing made much difference. Every time I went to visit her, in her last years, I’d promise myself that I would be kind and loving, that I would overlook what she said or did, and I would not get triggered. And every time I’d fail within minutes.

I was alone with her in the hospital the night she died, and I had a crazy fear that her demons, the ones she’d hosted forever, would come streaming out of her lifeless body, looking for a new haunt. I was afraid they would choose me. 

For two years after her death, I experienced vertigo—the world kept spinning. I felt as though so much of my energy had gone into pushing against my mother, that when she died the force of that resistance, no longer having anything to push against, unhinged my world and sent it spiraling through space. 

I couldn’t grieve. I felt only a strange combination of relief and anxiety. A feeling that even though she was dead, the relationship wasn’t over. I wanted it to be over.

We didn’t have a funeral. I had kept her ashes, and after that two years of vertigo, decided that maybe it was time to say a proper goodbye. We scattered some of her ashes in Lake Superior and my husband helped me bury the rest under a crab apple tree in our back yard. We dug a hole and I put in some photos and some of her small, personal possessions. We marked the grave with a stone and I began to cry.

The grief I finally experienced was as much for her life, her painful, sad life, and our messed-up relationship, as it was for her death. 

That was when the dreams began. In the first dream I recall, my mother’s closest friend handed me a doll—like a Barbie Doll. I was very happy to get this doll. I cradled it in my arms and felt such love for it. Then she told me that this doll was my mother. Somehow, this made sense. 

I could handle feeling the love if it was projected into a small inanimate plaything—something that couldn’t speak and couldn’t make the earth turn to quicksand beneath my feet.

As the dreams progressed, my mother became human and I was always her caretaker. Even though in dreams she was an old woman, I loved her as though I were her mother and she my beloved child. I felt an infinitely gentle and caring love for her. I held nothing back, was completely undivided. Every time she shows up in a dream I am thrilled, the way I’m thrilled when my son surprises me by unexpectedly showing up at my studio for a visit or a chat.

We don’t talk much. I’m usually helping her do something. She’s got a happy spirit in my dreams and the love I feel for her is simple and powerful. There is no hesitation in it. There are no blocks. And it’s always like the love of a mother for her child.

Am I, in some other lifetime, her mother? I don’t know! I don’t think it’s necessary to interpret these dreams. I feel as though our relationship is being healed. In a recent dream, she reverted to being a mother-figure and we had a disagreement of some sort. But we seemed to deal with it in a healthy way, as though we’d both learned how to disagree without letting our egos get in the mix.

I still don’t necessarily feel her love for me. That hasn’t come through strongly yet. Or I haven’t allowed it to come through, perhaps, because in life I’d lost confidence in her love. But I experience my love for her and that adds a recognizable constellation to my internal heavens. Something I can navigate by.

So, I didn’t know that this could happen—that a relationship could heal itself in this way, after one person dies. I also didn’t know that it was possible to have a truly demented relationship with someone here in human life, and for it to turn out to be, once all is said and done, so profoundly loving.

I don’t know what any of this means in terms of whether what I am experiencing in my dreams is actually “her.” Or maybe this is my inner self trying to restore balance, heal my emotions in relation to her in a gentle way. I don’t know what it is. But it’s been very effective.

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