A Wild Beast or a God?

Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god. – Francis Bacon Solitude, my refuge as a boy, felt like imprisonment for much of my later life. From my last year in high school and through my 20s, I struggled ceaselessly to avoid it. I structured my life to reinforce connection. I hitch-hiked across the United States and Canada to force myself to ask strangers for rides and places…

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Now, Be, Here

I was 20 when I first encountered Baba Ram Dass’s square, purple-covered Be Here Now, the book that launched many of my generation on an Eastern-inspired journey. I was walking though the student center of the University at Buffalo when I ran into a high school friend sitting on the floor outside the bookstore, guitar at his side, leafing through it. He handed it to me. Be? Here? Now? More than 40 years…

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How the light gets through

Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. – Georgia O’Keeffe In August, 2003, I attended a five-day, mostly silent retreat with Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (and 900 others). I thought of it as “Buddhist boot camp.” We awoke at 5:30 a.m., exercised with Thich Nhat Hanh or one…

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Garbage and Flowers

  For the last several years, I’ve found myself attracted to the dead leaves I see on the ground as I walk, particularly those in late fall and winter. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of them. A friend’s mentioning to me the concept of wabi-sabi helped me understand why.     For the last several years, I’ve found myself attracted to the dead leaves I see on the ground as I walk, particularly…

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Time: Visible and Invisible

  My first experience of time as a continuum occurred when I was about ten years old. Before that, I think time was invisible to me. I was riding my bike past Johnny Sybulski’s house and I stopped, suddenly, for no particular reason. I looked at the simple brick facade, the white trim, the unkempt bushes, and I became aware of myself looking. I thought, “This is just one second in my life,…

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Love Lives On

The gaze of love is not deluded. Love sees what is best in the beloved, even when what is best in the beloved finds it hard to emerge into the light. – J. M. Coetzee When I was 25, living in Manhattan, and trying to jump-start a career in writing and photography, I visited my parents and brothers in Buffalo two or three times a year. On those trips, I also saw my…

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Electrocuting the Ants

I did terrible things to insects as a child. Like many other boys growing up with nothing better to do, I tore the legs off Daddy Longlegs, incinerated pill bugs with magnifying glasses, and set fire to more than one ant hill. But I didn’t stop there. I was a kid scientist. Spurred on by the early space program and largely ignored by the adults around me, I dreamed of one day voyaging to…

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How to leap tall buildings in a single bound

The only way to find the limits of the possible is by going beyond them to the impossible. – Arthur C. Clarke During much of my childhood, I lived in the realm of possibility: machine intelligences, aliens, mutants, future worlds, alternate pasts. Infinite possibilities. My first science fiction book was Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. I was 10 when I found a copy at a Temple Sinai rummage sale. It opened the universe to…

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Miracles

There are two ways to live: You can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle. – Albert Einstein I am a miracle worker by trade. Or more precisely, a facilitator of miracles. I state this with humility. My powers are as ordinary as those of the Wizard of Oz, whose only real magic was tricking Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly…

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Be the Change

A man cannot step into the same river twice. – Heraclitis of Ephesus I came of age in the late ’60s, the era of the first man on the moon, the Vietnam War, Woodstock, free love, civil rights marches, and the assassinations of iconic figures including Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. It was a time of reinventing the mores, values, and attitudes of the Depression-era parents who raised us. Bob…

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The Gratitude Cure for (Almost) Everything

Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. – Henry Ward Beecher During my recuperation from a brush with death, a high school friend sent me a letter. In it, he hypothesized that as a survivor of near-death, every moment for me must be exquisitely sweet, a precious gift, in ways he could not imagine. At first, he was mostly right. Despite the pain, my initial response was celebratory. But the…

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How to (Really) Listen

The first duty of love is to listen. – Paul Tillich Failures to listen are endemic to our species. The most common complaint from parents who bring their children to me for counseling is that “they don’t listen,” by which the parent usually means that the child does not obey. When I talk with children, they likewise complain that their parents don’t listen, but they mean it literally. Failure to listen to children…

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Learning to Love Yourself

In my more troubled youth, I was often told that to truly love anyone, I needed first to love myself. This advice, though well-intentioned, set up an unhelpful dynamic. Loving myself seemed as much like actual love as masturbation was to sexual intercourse – a solitary substitute for the real thing. Why would I want that? In my mid 20s, while riding the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, I had an insight: To…

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Action: Louder than words

At times I feel like a Sherlock Holmes of the mind, each of my clients the faithful and resourceful Watson of his or her own unsolved mystery. A Holmes-like insight is the province of traditional psychotherapy, and it is often a helpful tool. Insight can clarify the causes of anxiety or depression, relieve guilt and shame, explicate the roots of trauma, and point the way to new and better lives. But insight alone…

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Acceptance: It’s all part of it, man

My path to acceptance has been mainly through loss: lost career opportunities, relationships, health and, nearly, the loss of my life. Acceptance has come with the recognition that each loss has also been an opening. A major turning point occurred several years ago. At that time I was bleeding internally and before I noticed any symptoms, I had already lost about 25% of my blood supply. Though less drastic than a brush with…

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