Archive for January, 2010

Chants of a Lifetime

Thursday, January 28th, 2010




  By Krishna Das

 In a Bill Moyers interview entitled “Love’s Confusing Joy” about the ecstatic poetry of the twelfth-century mystic, Rumi; contemporary Scholar, Coleman Barks said:

“If you think there is an important difference between a Muslim and a Jew, and a Christian and a Buddhist, and a Hindu, and a Shamanist; if you think there is an important difference between those categories, you are making a division between your heart, what you love with, and your ability to act in the world. Because the heart is the same, it leaps beyond those categories. There is some impulse to worship and to love that is common in everyone.”

“Chants of a Lifetime – Searching for a heart of gold”is just such a book to transcend these categories and transport us into the beauty of spiritual unity.

Talk about not judging a book by its cover! I might just as easily have passed on this book thinking it too esoteric for my taste, if a complimentary copy from Hay House publishers hadn’t literally shown up on my front door step recently. Now I am very glad it did.

So don’t be subdued by the title or the cultural diversity of such a masterpiece. Definitely take a chance on this universal story of human development. You will be thrilled you did. You may also be surprised by how much you relate to it even if you’ve never left this country.

Jeff Kagel, Donned Krishna Das by his Indian Guru, grew up in a Jewish family on long Island in the 1960‘s. He attributes The Blues and Rock and Roll as the roots of the evolution of his Kirtan music career.

Like many of us, he was dissatisfied with life, lacking a sense of meaning and purpose in his ordinary, daily life. So he answered his calling beyond the confines of the safety of his familiar, if painful origins, gave up a promising career in Rock and Roll and stepped into the fear and excitement of the unknown.

Through his writing and music (C.D. included with the book) he generously shares with us the fruits of his experiences traveling to India over many years in this beautiful account of his spiritual pilgrimage.

And what better gift to share than love; which is the bottom line of his message. But it’s not just the conventional form of “love” that he learned about.

He speaks candidly and from the heart about his hard-earned, personal experience with the most unique form of love thre is; self-love, from which all other love flows. A love that always exists within us and can only discovered through our unique path. Krishna Das’ self-disclosure of his personal vulnerability throughout his life is one of the many beautiful facets of this gemstone.

My experience reading “Chants of a Lifetime” felt as deeply personal as his relationship with his guru; what we would translate as a mentor.

Of all the forms of spiritual practice, he chose chanting as his path. Or perhaps, chanting chose him. But, as he readily points out, we can choose any path for spiritual practice, as long as we pursue it with pure intention.

The writing is so vivid (like watching the movie “Avatar” wearing 3-D glasses) that I felt like I was accompanying him through his adventures.

I listened to the C.D. of his chanting as I read which augmented the already rich experience of his mystical journey.

I have continued to listen to his chanting as part of my formal meditation practice. But hearing the chants in my heart and soul as I negociate the challenges of my ordinary daily life is the truly liberating gift of his music; allowing them to guide me through my day, as he says, “like a leaf floating on top of a stream of water.

I could go on longer than the book itself, but I will defer you now to the search for the not-so-hidden “gold” in this work of art, as well as in your own heart.










The Expedition

Friday, January 22nd, 2010


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Elliot

Today is the next segment in the journey of our life. What will we do with it? Where will we go? Is there really any place to get to? Will we know it when we’re “there.”

Fifty years into my journey; my personal experience resonates strongly with Elliot’s wisdom. Though I certainly plan on continued world travel, I realize more and more over time that my passion for sublime outward exploration has at least as much to do with my quest to continually discover the beauty of my inner landscape; and perhaps, like Elliot, know it for the first time.


Rumi, the twelfth century mystical poet said it this way:

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty & frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


Whether or not he means literally only a musical instrument, I choose writing as my way of “letting the beauty I love be what I do.” And it certainly feels like one of the “hundreds of ways of kneeling and kissing the ground” as I write; not for the “product,” but rather for the process itself.


Self-Discovery Questions

What “place” in your inner landscape might you “know for the first time” today?

How can you “let the beauty you love be what you do” today?

On this very day, how can you “kneel and kiss the ground?”


Less Is More

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

“Too much information running through my brain”

                                                                       The Police

True or not, I recently heard that the average 21st century person is exposed to more information in a single day than someone from the late 19th century was in a full year.

If this even approximates the reality of the situation, it helps me understand why we are all so stressed out all the time.

I don’t even watch television or the news in any form, but information is so excessive, that there is no way of avoiding it sometimes. In a single phone conversation today, I heard more than I could possibly process about the exponential social network of face book, in which I don’t even participate.

In order to truly share my gifts with the world and help those I have direct access to, I generally have to avoid the vast majority of the information that is presented as so necessary for survival on a “up to the minute” basis.

Just for today I will breathe into this moment, do the next right thing, be of service to someone and practice balance as best I can.

What do you need to do to take care of yourself today?

Risky Business

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

“Choking on Feel-Good”

Line from the movie “White Squall” 

It happened last night, as it often does in program; after an evening of people taking risks, making themselves emotionally vulnerable, exposing their bare-naked souls to each other, it culminated into a crescendo of powerful human connection.

After group ended, I was in my office overhearing the group members still conversing in “the meeting after the meeting,” as they often do because they just don’t want the experience to end yet.

There were two graduation ceremonies last night, which usually intensifies an already intimate level of communication. There were tears of joy, and even expressions of social love for one another.

Another word for “graduation” is commencement, which means to begin. And this is certainly what completing a program is all about; beginning the rest of our lives. We start over every day, even every moment if we’re aware. In meditative disciple, this is refered to as “beginner’s mind.”

Even though we were all choking on feel-good from the sentiments shared last night, we all know there are plenty of challenges that lay ahead.

But that’s more than o.k., because all we have to be willing to do to successfully meet our challenges, is to keep allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with safe people in safe places; employing humility, acceptance and other powerful tools to stay strong through the power of relationship.




Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

This section of my blog, entitled “Thoughts For The Day” was inspired by an interview with the poet, William Stafford, who asserted that we should all write a poem everyday as part of our process of growth; to which the interviewer asked how that was possible in such a busy day and age. William responded simply, “lower your standards.”

While this section of my blog may not be a daily entry; poetry, prose or otherwise; I am certainly willing to follow the sage advice of lowing my standards to simply enjoy the process of writing.

So here we go with the first entry:


“I recognize my mind as an organ of action and my thoughts as acts.”

We are responsible to work skilfully with our thoughts, which fuel our emotions and behaviors. Today we can choose to think of five (or more) things we are grateful for and experience contentment, “not as resignation, but as a vibrant experience of all of life,” and as a form of reverence for our individual place in it.

Contentment is most applicable to our everyday responsibilities.

What could be more important than the manner in which we approach our daily life?

                                 Excerpts and adaptations from “Meditations from the Mat”    by Rolf Gates

How Yoga Works

Monday, January 18th, 2010

“Where one door closes, another door opens,

but it’s the hallway that will kill you.”

Source unknown


O.K., so the hallway won’t kill you, but it will certainly challenge you beyond your comfort zone.


Any way, I just read a great book called “How Yoga Works,” by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally.

Among many possible interpretations; it is about seeing people, places and things as they are and as other than they are. In other words, to be able to shift our perspective and see the world in ways different than through our unconscious lenses that sometimes keep us stuck in self-defeating patterns.

Another word for “Yoga” is life. “How Yoga Works” is about how to make our lives work through a radical transformation of our entire perceptual patterns, which are most often unconscious and habitual.

Many of us are initially motivated for change by desperation. But it doesn’t take long to realize its short-term nature. Over time, though, we can learn to motivate ourselves through inspiration, as well. But in the routine of ordinary, daily life, inspiration comes and goes. So one of our important challenges is to employ self-discipline when we don’t necessarily feel like doing something that’s in our best interest. So how do we learn self-discipline? By adopting some kind of principle-based life-style.

In “How Yoga Works,” the authors beautifully demonstrate principle-based living which has been outlined throughout time in so many ways; whether it be through Alcoholics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Yoga or the literally hundreds of other paths people walk.

Having personally practiced the twelve-step program for years, I see so many similarities between it and many of these other paths, including the eight-limbed path of Ashtanga yoga.

“How Yoga Works” weaves these principles into a sweet story about a young woman on a pilgrimage to the birth place of her ancestors, depicting how universal and timeless these principles are regardless of the particular path you are currently walking.

Historically, there has been so much ego-driven debate about which program is the “right” or “best” program for people in recovery (from anything and everything,) that we often miss the invaluable common ground we can all potentially benefit from.

In the intensive outpatient program for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders at Inner-Work Counseling; we custom design paths of recovery for people on an individual basis through honesty, open-mindedness and willingness.

So when the next “door” in your life closes, count “How Yoga Works,” as a great survival tool to help guide you through that scary hallway; not just one day at a time, but one breath at a time.

Think of it this way; in the next twenty-four hours we are all going to be trading away an entire day of our life. Let’s make it a good deal!

How differently would we treat the next twenty-four hours if we knew we only had ten years left? A year left? A hundred days left? Ten days left? Maybe we would count the experience of the hallway as a legitimate part of the journey instead of just something to get through in order to enjoy the next “door.”

Would we see things with softer eyes? Would we experience the sweetness inherent in each day a little more vividly? Might we be kinder, less judgmental to ourselves and others? How nice it would be if we would do that anyway with however much time we do have left.


Self-Discovery Questions

Which of the following principles do you currently practice in your daily routine?

Honesty, service, compassion, non-violence (in thought, word and deed), non-stealing, trust, faith, right-action, relinquishment, surrender, moderation, temperance, balance, letting go, forgiveness, non-possessiveness, contentment, moderation, enthusiasm, self-study, devotion, humility, self-reliance, self-responsibility, commitment, self-discipline, reverence, faith, trust, etc.

Which, if any of these principles may be over developed or under developed in your life?

Can you accept yourself as you are, even as you change and grow?


Book Worm

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

“In five years, you will be the same exact person you are today,

except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

                                                                                      Og Mandino

Indeed, the most powerful things in the process of my recovery over the years have been a combination of my meditation and yoga practice, the people I meet, the places I go, the movies I watch, the music I listen to and the books and poems I read. Language, ideas, imagery, sounds; all soothe the proverbial savage beast of my soul.

In this spirit I am introducing this “new” book review section to my blog. “New” in quotes, because there are multiple book reviews informally scattered throughout the various categories of this blog.

Among others I have referenced the likes of Dan Millman, Stephen Cope, Jack Cornfield, Cherie Carter Scott, Eckart Tolle, Rolf Gates, Jon Kabat-Zinn, etc.

But I think it’s time to get more formal about such important sources of growth, known as “Bibliotherapy” in the psycho-babble language of my field.  

I don’t just read books; I digest them, some of them over and over for years and years because their messages are timeless.

So if you’re interested, get ready to dine with me in the nourishing world of books; they’re organic, vegetarian, low-fat and delicious.

Bon Apetite


Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Keep walking

Though there’s no place to get to.

Don’t try to see through the distances.

That’s not for human beings.

Move within,

but don’t move

The way that fear makes you move.


 Nearly at the “end” of over a three year process (and a six figure budget) of totally remodeling my home, I have been diagnosed with – TERMITES!

Within thirty seconds of the first phone call, the exterminator said “There are two kinds of homes; those who have termites and those who will have termites.” “What a relief,” I said sarcastically to the non-empathic stranger on the phone.

I went through all the stages; Denial, anger, blah, blah, blah…

For those of you who have gone through it, I am sincerely sorry for your troubles. For those of you who haven’t, I strongly encourage you to be proactive with regular preventive inspections; kind of like flossing for your 2 X 4‘s.

I will spare you the many details, but It’s quite an expensive and invasive ordeal to prepare for the treatment process. And the further I got into the preparation phase for exterminating these creatures, who were literally eating me out of house and home, the more I had to take a look at what was also eating me up inside.

Apart from the normal frustration I was feeling about the timing of all this, I spiraled into a bout of sourness that now seems disproportionate to the problem.

So as these “pests” were moving within my physical home, I had to stop and take a look at the overall situation to begin to get a grip on what was moving within my psychological home.

After the dust settled (literally and metaphorically,) I realized it was my old friend, fear, who insidiously began to take up residence in my mind; to start running the show of my life again.

By the time I had a clue about this termite in my mind, he had snowballed into something of mammoth proportions.

“You’re not going to make it,” he hissed at me at 3:00 a.m. from a sound sleep. “You can’t win, can you?” he snickered. On and on he went in this way for about a week until it was time to throw down.

But alas, instead of fighting with him the way I tend to, I decided to invite him in for a cup of coffee instead. To my surprise, he accepted my invitation and we began to chat.

“What’s up with all this banter about not making it?” I began.

“Well,” he said “the economy is tanking, business is slow, you just got slammed with yet another big veterinarian bill and now this.”

“True enough,” I responded “but I still don’t know what you mean by ‘I’m not going to make it.”

“Financially.” he said “Don’t you get it; you’re not going to make it financially!”

Once again I played dumb; “Well, what does it really mean to not make it financially?”

In growing frustration, he replied “You’re going to tank, too, just like the economy; every year costs are going up, income is going down and you’re headed for inevitable bankruptcy. If not that, you are at least grossly ill prepared for retirement.”

“How do you know I‘m not going to make it?” I asked.

“I just know these things,” he said, “I‘m good at it.”

“Is that right,” I replied, “and just what is it that you’re so good at?”

“I have a lot of experience at Scar” – and then he suddenly stopped himself.

“At what?” I inquired. “You have a lot of experience at what?”

“At scarring people,” he admitted, exhaling in shame.

“Well why do you want to scare people?” I asked.

“It’s the only thing I’m good at; It’s the only thing I know how to do. Just like the termites; I creep up from dark places and slowly devour the structure of your temple.”

“O.K.,” I bargained “I get it; you have your job, and I have mine.”

“Oh yea, what’s your job in all this?” he said feeling less powerful all the time.

“My job is to keep my faith through this challenge; which is but one of hundreds of others I have triumphed over in the past.”

“Faith!” he blurted, “What do you know about faith?”

“It’s not what I know about faith that matters,” I humbled myself, realizing how I had lost my way once again. “It’s how I practice faith that counts.”

“O.K., then how do you practice faith?” he said with obviously decreasing intimidation.

“Oh, that’s simple” I said. “All I have to do is be willing to do the next right thing and I‘ll be just fine. What I just learned about treating termites; the real ones that live in the dirt, is a lot like dealing with termites in the mind, bullies like you.”

“Yea,” I continued. “The exterminator said this will be a long-term process involving periodic inspections and further treatments. At first I felt overwhelmed by it, but now I realize It’s just like everything else in life. Whether it’s treatment and recovery from addiction, termites or anything else, it’s an on-going practice of continually putting in the effort and letting go of the results.”

Our conversation went on for a long while; until I realized that I had actually invited fear into my temple with my pesty attitude. And just like the real termites in my walls, I couldn’t control it until I was aware of it and willing to do the next right thing.

These things do happen. The “obstacles” in our paths are our paths. The only thing we can control is our attitude by stretching beyond our fear and resistance.

So as Rumi suggests, move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.


Self-Discovery Questions

What’s buggin’ you? Can you name some of the “termites” (attitudes) currently devouring your temple? What are they?

How can you skillfully dialogue with them?

Can you understand that the so called “obstacles” in your path are your path? If you can, you will enjoy the journey of your life a lot more.

How can you move from within in a way that’s not driven by fear?

How can you stretch beyond your fear and resistance? What’s the next right thing for you to do in your life today? (Hint: It’s usually small and ordinary.)