Eve Livingston, Ph.D.

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life, Change The World

Cinderella Could Not Have Known

cind and princeSuch a nice girl, a lovely young woman, wouldn’t you agree?

Surely she couldn’t have known that her story would cause such a ruckus….Such upheaval to so many unsuspecting, hapless victims of Cinderella-inspired misguided notions about love.

“Um, excuse me?”


“You mean it’s not all true?!”

No.  Sorry.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no, it’s not all true.

Don’t feel alone however in your surprise, nor embarrassed about the confusion.  I’d love to somehow be able to gather statistics on how many people, really, have gone awry in their search for Prince Charming or their Perfect Princess or Fairy Godmother, etc., partly as a result of this incredibly powerful fable of love and redemption.

It’s a great story; don’t get me wrong.  As stories go it’s a topper.  Many interesting layers of goodness to be found in it.  The problem is that somehow the genie got out of the bottle, got more than a little bit drunk and predictably is still running amok.

There are a lot of people (and forgive me ladies but I daresay largely you) who understandably got led astray by the wishful thinking in this wonderful, imaginary tale.

Them’s fightin’ words, I know, believe me.

Allow me to offer an explanation.  Let’s just start here:  Not only has this story given us the idea that pretty pairs of shoes really do work magic in our lives (editor’s note:  I reserve the right to still believe this occasionally, even after “publish” is pushed), even more problematic is that of the shoes we do not own, we have this idea that someone else has the one we need most, and that our foot might be the only foot that fits.

Worse still–nefarious almost, but again, it’s not Cinderella’s fault–perhaps the best part of the story, to those who wait, is we are convinced that once this mythological shoe fits (or whatever…close enough) there will never be danger of being found wanting.  Or being found at fault.  Or hating the hell out of our partner the first time they surprise us with being only human.

“So what?…And your point is…?”

Ah.  Excellent questions.

So we might spend too much time hovering by the peephole, hoping the person with aforementioned magic slipper shows up at our door just in time.  We might wander away in disappointment from the person whose hands are hard to see, or who clearly seem to have something else in them besides a glittery shoe.

And just think of how extraordinarily anxiety-provoking this notion can be.  If you’re constantly vigilant about seeking freedom from regret (as possibly found in a perfectly fitting slipper) you’d better believe you’re doing a lot of holding your breath.  The kind of holding your breath that people do when startled, or terrified, or wondering if the world’s about to end.  Even if only for a second here and a second there–even if you only ever realize you were doing it in retrospect–well, let’s face it, it’s an awful lot to put yourself through.

What’s the solution?  Step away from the illusion of the magic slipper.

Forgive dear Cinderella for having it work for her, but not for you.  Her two-dimensional character lets her off the hook.  We mortals are much more complicated and have the sophistication to see that sometimes a shoe needs to be built around a foot.

And that’s ok.  Because overall we are smart enough to figure out how to be up to the task.

Seek a good mental cobbler if you must.  This is a learn-able skill.

Content copyrighted. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

A Lithe And Limber Psyche ~ Reflections On Faith


I’m thinking about faith today, among other things.  I’m thinking about what use it might be, and how to learn the right times to turn to its benefits.

Bear in mind that my use of that word, “faith,” is not imbued with religious connotation.

I’m thinking of a more psychological form of faith; a more social form of faith.  An older one.  A more primal one.  The kind of faith we had to have, undiluted by imagining it to be about anything else but our social brethren, when evolution was carrying us in its current toward upright two-footed ambulation.

Brené Brown has a good description of this kind of faith.  She says, “Faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty.”

At first you might find this confusing, perhaps.  My reaction to this simple statement, upon initially hearing it then writing it down then reading it, was quizzical.  I read it over and over as I thought about it.

How is faith itself a vulnerability, I puzzled?  Could it be that Brown is saying something about our reaction to vulnerability that more accurately describes faith?  She might make this argument, given her overall thinking.  Maybe even make the argument that these are (the thing itself, as well as our reaction to it) in fact what she meant to describe.  But I imagine she might also just as easily say, “No…I meant it just as I said it.”  The beauty in the way that she said it is how it invites us to imagine the idea from several vantage points at once.

In thinking about faith as “the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty,” and in taking this phrase quite literally, we are asked to look at vulnerability itself as faith, and, at the same time, facing vulnerability, and accepting it, also as faith.

How to better say this?  Let me approach it this way:

You might be asking, how in the world does it make sense to think that vulnerability itself can be equated with a concept like faith?  Faith is usually thought of, especially in a religious sense, as being at peace with or accepting an idea regardless of empirical proof.  The psychological faith I’m describing here can perhaps be described as a mirror image of that religious faith.  It is respecting, accepting, welcoming and embracing that something is not empirically proven until it is proven, or known until it is known.   It is being at peace with the fact of the unknown, and leaving open space in mind for discovery.   When I think about it this way, it makes sense to me that accepting (even loving) that space for discovery to enter into is indeed a form of psychological faith.  And no matter what words you use to describe it, this is also a form of psychological health.

Why do we need it?  To stay open minded.  To learn, to grow, to evolve, to connect with others.  To be relaxed enough to survive.  To allow our psyche to have a nice balance of curiosity and information.  To not fall prey to our fears of the unknown.

Until known and experienced, we simply do not know what we do not know.  The rest is imagination.  It is important to respect imagination for what it is, in all its splendor.

Even physicists and other scientists who excel at imagining in a most convincing way what might be going on, for example, at an atomic level, are still often using imagination and giving it their best guess.  Sometimes they have to face the limits of certainty.  Not only do they acknowledge this, but they also embrace it.  And so, we non-scientists, those of us imagining the things we do, are still just imagining.  It is especially important to remember this when it comes to fear and anxiety.  We do not know what we do not know.  This is true whether we are imagining fear on the scale of electrons or elephants.


So why again does it make sense to ever relax with not knowing, with being vulnerable?  I’m referring to something very natural and pretty darned well proven:  Nature made us vulnerable.  It didn’t make us omnipotent, nor did it make us omniscient.  It made us not know a great many things.  We were born afloat in that ocean between the shores of certainty, and the thing that’s always made us naturally tick best as a species is our curiosity.  After all, remember, we were born soft-bodied and with lots of unanswered questions.

Why would nature do this?  Because nature is really, really smart.  Amazingly smart.  Smarter than us, in fact, yet constantly welcoming us to strive for all insight we can gain directly from what it draws our attention to.

Now, if I had faith right now–let’s say a faith which might assist me in finding courage to express myself and share my thoughts even though I do not know how these thoughts will be received by others–what exactly is it that I’d be making use of?  I’d be facing that it’s OK for me to be limited in my knowledge and certainty.  I’d be at peace about  gathering what knowledge I could, in a relaxed and open manner, as a result of experiencing one moment after the next.  I’d be comforted to remember that this in itself–this not knowing what I do not know–is far from necessarily being a bad thing.  It just is what it is, and I can float along in this moment, enjoying the sound of keys being typed, enjoying the process of thinking and writing and trying my best to explain a difficult concept as clearly as I can, right now, in this moment, in this draft.

So we can have whatever opinion we do of vulnerability–sometimes perhaps we think it is good, other times bad–but ultimately, we are benefited by accepting the fact of it.  I believe this very much allows us to have greater experience of the experiences we are having while we are having them.

Accept it, this fact of vulnerability and uncertainty.  Accept it even if fleetingly in the beginning, as you are opening up your mind to it.  One breath longer each time you ponder it is long enough.

Don’t let your fear fool you.  It wants you to believe that a lack of answers (now, when you want them most) is inherently a bad thing, to be avoided.  Your fear believes this.  And I could make a good argument for why we’ve come to lean on such misleading fears, at this point in our evolution, but that is another post.  For now, just consider the possibility that your fear might be wrong.

Contrary to what your fear would like you to believe, anytime you accept that you do not know what you do not know, and you persist in your openness to exploration and understanding, it is discovery you will arrive at, not the opposite.

Stop questioning your uncertainty–your vulnerability–for a moment, even if just a fleeting moment, and see that it is the ocean it is.  It exists, it is real; even if we do not understand it as well as the shores of certainty…even if we do not like it as well as the shores of certainty.  Accept the fact of it; pure, raw, empirical and without judgment.  It is a real part of our emotional landscape.

I think Brown is saying–and I would agree with her–that human vulnerability is a natural fact, that it is comprised partly or largely of something articulated as the unknown and that our appreciating its existence without refusal is faith.  Or maybe I just said that and her ideas inspired me.  Either way I sincerely think it’s a very important and useful concept to work with.

This is a kind of faith that inevitably leads to relaxedness, flexibility, suppleness.  To a lithe and limber psyche.  Which makes for more fun, by the way, for what that’s worth.

We don’t always have answers or have them when we’d like.  Faith (the psychological kind) is openness to discovery without bias.   It is a position of openness.  It is standing firm in the confidence that by no means does a lack of certainty automatically equate to something bad which must be avoided and refused.  It is finding it reasonable to be open to revelation.

It seems to me this kind of faith can lead you to courage.  In fact, it also IS courage.  It results from not being afraid of confusion and uncertainty, and, at the same time, it makes it possible for you to be less afraid.  A lovely, self-generating cycle.

Being as open to our vulnerability as we are to anything else is crucial to deep and lasting happiness.  It’s a matter of sometimes letting our experience go where it will, bring us to what shores it will, when it will.  Sometimes letting go of control that way is just fine….entirely called for.  Indeed, sometimes we have no choice but to let life itself go where it will.  Sometimes, more than certainty, what we need is to merely know if our curiosity about something is worth what is required of us to continue to explore with patience and love of discovery.  And so what is that thing that might be required of us?  Faith.

Whether the curiosity is about how something might turn out, why things turned out as they did, how to have them turn out differently next time, or about whether we might be able to have something we want or need, it does seem to me that, without knowing the answers we seek immediately, we really are left to face this fact of vulnerability.  This fact of existing, knowing some things, and yet not knowing what we do not know.  Sometimes this happens to be what we wish most we did know, because we tell ourselves that the lack of certainty is something we should not be willing to bear.  But often it is, and we should.  We should until such time as we really have discovered something, and verified it to be true.  Hard as it sometimes is to believe, this is the case regardless of what colorful elaborations our imaginations weave our fears or wishes or opinions to be.

We would, many of us, do well to float more freely upon the waters of vulnerability, until we arrive at certainty’s shores.  Really arrive.  Experience it…explore it…discover it.  Who knows….perhaps after enjoying the float, those shores will lose some of their urgent and idealized gleam, and then all the terrain of our spectacularly varied human existence can be equally valued, equally appreciated.  Maybe even equally loved and enjoyed.

What difference does this make?  Quite a bit.  It makes life lighter, funnier, more delightful; more an unfolding adventure.  It gives us a LOT more space and a lot more freedom to move about the cabin.  A lot.

Content copyrighted. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

I Want To Do More With My Life Than Just Give Up

A Beautiful Story Of Trying

New Year’s Resolution Tip:


Make it something you want.  Something you really really want.  Have your friends help you.  Love and forgive the version of you that led you to make the resolution in the first place.  It is after all the old you who will bring you to the new.  Take the first step.  Keep going.

Keep going.


Click link below:

If you were guaranteed success, what would you do?

Don’t Focus On What’s Missing Focus On What’s Present


I think you are sometimes afraid of happiness.  Sometimes afraid to hope.  And I can understand that, really.  The scary thing about happiness (or hope, or confidence…several things can be a fill-in-the blank here) is it can be scared off.  It can be spooked.  It can get snatched away by upset.

But, realize this, if you live in a state of sadness it doesn’t do what you wish it would.  It doesn’t protect happiness, it doesn’t protect hope.  If you live in a state of fear it doesn’t save happiness for a rainy day. You’ve decided to be sad and scared if it rains so this won’t work.

You need to let it out, the happiness.  You need to take a chance on hope.  You know how they say people need to let out their sadness?  Well sometimes people need to do the same with happiness, the same with optimism.  With confidence, hope, contentment.  They need to let it out.  They need to stop protecting it so fervently.  They need to stop hiding it in a closet in case it gets spooked.  Let it out.

Let it out.

You’re not giving it to anyone to own or steal or ruin.  It’s yours.  It’s always totally and completely yours. It’s your experience to have and to keep.

Let your happiness have a chance to compete with fear.  To compete at least long enough in a given situation to see if it can hold its own.  Find a situation that is reasonable to risk being at least a bit happy about.  You know in your gut which ones those are when you calm your mind and think about it.  Let yourself discover, when you let your happiness out where you currently are, if it can uplift you enough.  Might take a few rounds before adequate data is in.  That it’s hard doesn’t make it a fool’s errand to try. This way you will actually discover the truth.

So let it out.  Let your happiness out.

On Making Room For A Wider, Wilder, Wiser Voice


Photo credit Eve Livingston





It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.



by Mary Oliver

I’ll Hold Out My Hand And My Heart Will Be In It

I want you to be able to see and hear this sooner rather than later.  I have so much to say about the beauty of that line, taken from the song, but for the moment the song itself will have to suffice.  I don’t think it will be a hard sell.  Listen carefully.



Make Your Life Spectacular

The Well Dressed Man With a Beard

Kathryn Oliver's Girl Reaching

                                                                                                                  Photo Credit: Kathryn Oliver

The Well Dressed Man With a Beard

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket’s horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing!
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house . . .

It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.

~ Wallace Stevens

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

This rendered me speechless, so I’ll just let it speak for itself.


Taming Doubt

smaller doubt

Be Rare, Be Precious, Be Worth It

 Reflections On Relapse

2012-04-12 13.16.12

I’m thinking about rocks, among other important things.  Rocks…God I love ’em.

I’m also thinking about relapse.

Rocks, compassion, and the idiocy of ever falling prey to the fear I’d be proclaimed an unlovable nerd in my teens if I cleaved to my conviction that cigarettes were disgusting–these and my love of certain men have been significant contributors to my understanding of addiction.  Well, these and thinking about the general topic a lot. From different angles.  For quite some time now.  Because enough people I’ve treasured have struggled or do now struggle so much with addiction that I cannot help but want to help.

So today I’m thinking, how do I explain some basic ideas about it–about addiction–in a way that might be useful?  So far what I am clear on is that I’m not going to be strict about editing, and I’m happy to explain more later.  There is much to say and an idea like this is an introduction to but one crucial piece.  I trust you will make whatever use of it you can, should you find it in any way useful.

Here’s the gist:  It’s not what causes the urge to do it, it’s whether or not you choose to act on that urge.

The urge to what?

In this case use.  In this case relapse.

It’s up to you whether you do it.  If you can make a good decision about that on your own, that’s fine and well.  If you want to turn it over to a higher power, or be part of a collaboration with your higher power,  that is also totally fine.  If you want to find a trusted adviser to walk alongside you, then by all means do whatever it takes.  No matter how you arrive at the decision you do, it is up to you whether you act on your urges, regardless of their cause.  Regardless of their cause.

In fact, this can be applied in just about every situation where your reaction to something might be best expressed only after you’ve given adequate thought to whether the overall results of your reaction will ultimately be in your best interest.

If you’re sober at the moment because you felt clear enough that getting sober was a good thing to do, it is up to you whether you protect your sobriety or not.  And whether or not you are sober, don’t be fooled for a second that the emotional nature of life in any way restricts you to acting without thought or reflection.  If you look at it, really, you’ll see there are very few situations in life that truly require us to act without thinking.  Most people know what those are, even if only intuitively.  They are few and far between.

Accept that you have a choice available to you, even if sometimes you wish this was not the case.  Having the choice isn’t the problem; feeling rushed to decide typically is.  Feeling unable to grieve the losses incurred in whatever choice you make is also sometimes terribly difficult.  But others can help you manage it.

If you’re sober, and you’re ambivalent about how hard it is to stay sober, doesn’t it make more sense to continue protecting your sobriety while you wrestle with the ambivalence?  Keep your wits about you.  Follow the intuitions that brought you to sobriety in the first place.

Take time to give it enough thought.  Not because you are the master of the universe and can control control control, but because it is up to you to be as protective of your life as possible; as much as you are able.  Not as much (or as little) as you sometimes want to be able, but rather with as much ability as you really actually have.  If you got sober then you are able to be sober, so don’t buy it when the dark voices tell you you just can’t do it.  That is most often ambivalence, and/or fear.  Ambivalence is different from ability, and fear does not always accurately reflect reality.  You can be ambivalent and still make decisions to keep yourself safer, saner, sober and more stable.  You don’t have to resolve the ambivalence or conquer all your fears before you take a basic stance of self-protection.  This is true even if you’re buying time to stay sober a little longer, like, for the moment, or the day.  Do it again the next day if you can.  This is true even if it means getting help.

So if you’re sometimes ambivalent about your addiction, or about your sobriety (or whatever your recovery means to you)–and especially if you’re ambivalent about whether to indulge your desire to use at this particular moment in time–the most potent weapon you’ve got on your side is your ability to take a minute to think before you act, and feel out what really is in your overall best interest.

Doesn’t matter how long the minute lasts; doesn’t matter if it is executed by making a call or going to a meeting, reading this writing again or taking a walk.  It only has to last long enough for you to know you are thinking, or that you can think.  It only has to last long enough for you to discover that there still IS a mind available to mediate those stormy, provocative emotions…those emotions that feel like they’re causing you to want to use again, despite all your hard work to swim to the shores of sobriety.  Even if you call someone and say nothing other than, “help me with this thinking,” you only have to think enough to give yourself a chance.

A chance to what?  A chance to protect the peace of mind you’ve fought for by becoming sober.  A chance to prioritize your own best interest as it stands in a bigger picture than just this very moment.  A chance to  own that this is your choice, and you don’t have to act without forethought.  Even if you “turn it over,” as they say in AA, you’re giving yourself the chance to protect what you fought for when you won your sobriety.  However you arrive there, what’s important is that you give yourself the chance to continue to protect your own stability and happiness.  This is not about perfection; this is about giving yourself a chance, giving your life a chance.

I totally get that sometimes we feel we cannot figure out how to recognize our own best interest, or what our abilities might be to defend it, all by ourselves.  That’s OK.  Find someone you can trust (or ask someone you trust to help you find someone else you can trust), and get help in sorting through things.  You’ll be able to work it out.  Be patient.  Be patient enough.

Do the best you can to realize that your life, and you as the one living it, are rare.  Do the best you can to realize this makes you precious.  If you question whether this level of self regard is warranted, then strive to be someone who is worth it.  Attempt that goal with the intent to achieve it, no matter how long it might take.  Seeking feedback and collaboration on the matter is entirely reasonable.  As Jill Bolte Taylor said, “trying is everything.”

When you have hard decisions to make, then, return your attention as much as you can to this:

1.) Your life, and you as the one living it, are rare.

2.) This makes you precious.  This makes your life precious.

3.) If you question whether you deserve this level of self regard, then strive to be someone who is worth it.  Not by magic, but by working at it…by putting thought into it, by being honest about it.  By getting help with it.  By letting people love you.  By looking before you leap.  By being lovable because you’re loving.  By being open to discovering the preciousness of your own life.  This does not require knowing; it only requires an openness to discovery.

4.) Openness to discovery requires patience, and patience is also a matter of not acting in ways you know to be self destructive before you take a moment to think, or thinking about it because you are not sure.  These are synergistic, openness to discovery and patience.  One leads straight to the other.  It doesn’t really matter in what order you enter into this particular feedback loop.  The combination, by its very nature, is a robust and self-perpetuating cycle once it gets a bit of momentum.  Just give yourself a chance to gain that momentum.  If you’re not sure whether you have that momentum or not, yet, then in all likelihood you don’t have enough of it, so perhaps you should give yourself a little more time.

©Content copyright Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved, for more information, see content page.

On Shyness

On Shyness

I am This Bottle’s Bitch

By now I’m guessing the cat is out of the bag and it is becoming increasingly obvious that often I find myself thinking about some of the darker sides of the human psyche, especially in the wee hours of the night.  By dark I mean those aspects of humanness resulting in suffering, struggle, turmoil, angst.

deaths doorNot infrequently, this suffering is a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Or not knowing whether in fact this is predominantly the case.

Sometimes it is being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and/or to the wrong people.  Other times it is self-imposed.  Often it is a feedback-looping combination of the two.  Call it a psyche-alchemical reaction.  Potentiation.  A perfect storm.

Not that people typically know to what degree their suffering is self-imposed.  Sometimes they are only partially aware of it.  Sometimes they are not aware of it at all.  Other times they are quite completely aware and yet feel powerless to do anything to change it.  They feel that way.  Sometimes, even when they feel that way, occasionally people know, somewhere deep inside, that in fact a choice exists to be made.

To no longer be that bottle’s bitch, one has to survive the hardest breakup imaginable.

This is a breakup from the perfect nonhuman caretaker and companion whom, when pushed a little too far, becomes a sadistic, unforgiving plague.  The worst thing about her is she somehow manages to convince you she’s the only one you can turn to for solace when you’re miserably suffering at her very own hands.  Both Dom and Sub at once, this is a soulmate so adored–and so hated–that when you leave her the romance being left behind feels enticingly, torturously and entirely unfinished.

“I am this bottle’s bitch.”

It’s a quote.  I was absolutely floored by it.

What could more clearly express the tumultuous, love-hate relationship an alcoholic has with his or her bottle, an addict has with his or her drug?

I heard this pronouncement in an episode of Intervention.  I can’t find the link to point you to it, directly, but I can tell you what it was about these words that gripped my heart and mind so.  It was said resolutely and honestly by a young man whose life was, indeed, entirely structured by self-imposed, sadomasochistic enslavement to a glassy liquid neurotoxin.

Some might argue he was victim to his own disease, and that he was powerless.  They might take umbrage with my suggestion that this enslavement was, in fact, quite a bit self-imposed.  I cannot deny I have long and thought-out opinions about addiction and its current treatment paradigms, but now is not the time to get into them.  At the moment I’m really just pointing to the commitment this young man made to his bottle…the way he signed on to being its bitch.

He was 28 years of age, and, while not romantically involved with anything warm-blooded, he was well-loved.  People were quite taken with him, even if his love affair with death terrorized those who strove to save him.   He was living with an adoring, exasperated and enabling grandfather who probably still to this day is not sure whether he kept his grandson alive or walked him down the aisle to his death.

I regret not remembering the young man’s name.  I do not want to give the impression his unhappy marriage to vodka was all that impressed me about him.  There was more.  And his story is very, very saddening.  More than saddening, it is provocative, it is disturbing.  It is frustrating.  It is tragic.  Despite all that, when I heard him describe himself as he did, I suppose my mind latched on to the poetic wisdom in his words, and there he came to be the man who was his bottle’s bitch.

He was not in a relationship of any intimacy deeper than that he experienced with his vodka.  Every person in his life was well aware that what they had to humanly offer was of little merit compared to his complex and liquid lover.  They loved him anyway.  He was not as much mean to them as simply so deeply committed to being his bottle’s ill-kept prison wife that he had little time to notice them, really.  They knew he was going to die.

They tried to save him, but sadly they were too late.  His young body paid the price of a violent affair for far too many years.  His organs succumbed to accumulated, acrid deterioration.  Deterioration resulting from love gone wrong, and hate safely bound in a singularly destructive bottle.

This is not a finished look at this difficult and complicated topic.  I suspect in time you will hear me circle back around to marriages such as the one I am describing here.  There is much more to it than meets the eye.

©Content copyrighted. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved, for more information, see content page.

Monkey Mind


Life feels jumpy.  In that moment.

Sadly, long strings of such moments link, one to another, and time goes by with little notice.  The flighty mental machinations of high-octane rumination take center stage, and little else successfully competes for attention.

Monkey-mind is an unsettled mind.  It is a furtive mind.  Ever-vigilant for that which can be worrisome, this darty little thinking machine is a contortionist.  An athlete so strong and limber it could secure its position lickety-split as a tenured performer in Cirque du Soleil.

It rushes to conclusions.  It refuses to agree.   It hates what provokes its ire.

It loves what promotes its desire.

When I first learned of this Buddhist notion of monkey-mind, it was one of those concepts I found I had to think about at length.  Not in a strained way, but in a slow and natural and curious way.  I had to think a lot about nature to understand the predictable way our human minds tend to lean.  I had to approach it the way kids disappear into the present moment when they are attempting to solve a puzzle that feels within reach, but is currently just beyond.

The more I went in, and faced my own energetic mind playing hopscotch while constantly changing the rules, the more I understood this natural human proclivity.  I had to dwell long enough looking, and when I really wanted to, eventually I could spot the springy little acrobat the minute it showed its energetically preoccupied face.

Meditation is really rather simple.  People think of it as complicated, or onerous, because it is commonly misunderstood as a task requiring the meditator to “do” something.  Perhaps to do it for a long time, even, and with great concentration.  But in fact there is not a “task” in meditation as much as there is a letting go of tasks.

A letting go of those compulsive, compulsory, darty little opinions and worries.  A failing to pay as much attention to them as you typically do…as you had before you began your meditation.  You aim to attend to them less and less, and, when you are successful, they get far too bored to stick around.

They are narcissists, you see, these skittery, monkey-mind thoughts.  They need attention and lots of it.   They need to run the show of mental attenuation in order to distract you from the truth.  What’s more, when it comes to decision making, or grappling with the confounding question of whether you are better off worrying about something–or craving and chasing something, or pushing something away in discontent–these greedy little characters will grasp at every straw to keep you entertained.  They will do just about anything to keep you loyal.

They are in direct competition with your relaxedness.  They try to convince you there’s no need to settle down, and at this there is no doubt they often masterfully succeed.

In my experience, the place to begin to wrestle these buggers to the ground is to pay attention to anything else but them.  To everything else, in fact, aside from them.  This is a fine place to begin, as you work your way toward paying attention to fewer and fewer things, one meditation at a time.  It’s fine to practice this, even if you can do it only in brief, breath-long intermissions.

What’s underneath the monkey-mind?  You, in a more natural state.

You, relaxed.  You, at peace.  You allowing yourself immersion in the natural state which most promotes life:  a state of balance.  In this case balance between thought and action, tension and relaxation.

Try to experience as perfect a balance as you can achieve.  Try.  Yoda was wrong on this matter.  It’s really very simple.

I would surmise a rather large number of people can be tremendously relieved–can damp down the flame of conflicting and upsetting emotions–much more, in fact, than they currently imagine possible.

If you are one of those people (and who knows…you might just be), you’ve got the battle half won when you realize that monkey-mind is inside you, and not a smidge anywhere else.

©Content copyrighted. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved, for more information, see content page.

The Wisdom Of Worry

2012-01-23 20.50.52

Kurt Vonnegut’s (Or Some Clever Person’s) M.I.T. Commencement Speech

“Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.”

In fact spoken by Vonnegut? I have no idea.  Evidently it could be an internet wives’ tale.*   Whoever came up with these words, I hope you will agree they are worth passing along.

*”The supposed Vonnegut address was really a column written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune about a speech she would have liked to give to a graduating class. Somebody decided to post it on the Internet as a Vonnegut speech at MIT in 1997, and the rest is history.”

Begin With A Single Step


“I wrote about the way that knowledge had an actual materiality not unlike the materiality of a ladder that could be used to gain access to places and worlds that were previously unimaginable.”

~ Lana Wachowski


“I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

That whole not mixing up your feet thing is easier said than done.  I find we all have a tendency to sometimes mix up our feet, fumble our steps.  Gymnasts in training have spotters.  That’s how they get as good at balancing as they are.

I’ll spot you, or I’ll help you find someone else who will.  It’s a profound honor and there are few things I like doing more.

Oh, the places you’ll go!







Thou Shalt Be Misunderstood


It’s unavoidable.

I agree, life is more comfortable when we worry not at all about this, or worry less.  But, if the lack of worry about it is because you think it’s not gonna happen to you, be prepared:  it will.  Perhaps it already has.  You may have noticed this or it may have failed to capture your attention.  Either way, in all likelihood, it will happen again.

So, what’s to be done?

Well, first it helps a lot if we begin by simply facing it.  Facing it plain and simple.  It happens.

The being misunderstood part is not so much the problem; it’s how you navigate the terrain.  And this, it turns out, much like navigating any other terrain, is often simply a matter of getting familiar with the landscape.  Just have a look.  Needless to say, it helps to have someone open minded look with you.  Even if only to carry an extra flashlight for those areas that can be dark.

Doesn’t mean you have to decide anything imminently about what you want to do or should do or will do about being misunderstood.  It doesn’t mean you have to know, immediately, how to make yourself better understood.  Doesn’t mean you have to figure out before sunrise how much it even matters to you if someone else ‘gets’ you.

No, you don’t have to figure out what to do about it until you’re ready…until you understand the situation well enough.  Take your time and think about it.  And you don’t have to do anything about it on your own, if you feel in over your head.  If you need help thinking through what happened, seek as much help as you can find.  You can get help puzzling through this issue, if you need it.  You can get help coming to understand where things went wrong and how to assess your options in the way of rectifying them.  Rectifying or accepting; whichever the case.

In the meantime, whether with assistance or without, it might diminish stress and anxiety if you accept that sometimes being misunderstood is a fact of life.  It is a result of our social DNA.  It comes with the territory of being human, and, while it is among our most difficult challenges, it is, at the same time, often also among our luckiest opportunities.

©Content copyrighted. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved, for more information, see content page.

Nodding Off


I think about this two-word, evocative phrase while watching an episode of Intervention, about a young opiate addict (drug of passionate love affair choice:  oxycontin), still living at home with her family in Ontario.

She’s nodding off during the intervention.  And why shouldn’t she?  It’s not exclusively her agenda that brings them all together.

I realize she is coming in and out of social contact/awareness, in quite the same way an infant does.  An infant simply spent, or blissfully drowsy after drinking her full from the fountain of mother’s loving breast.

This baby can wait to be awake for reality.  She is not asking reality to wait for her.  She wants to gently flow in and out of contact with it, reality, with the social world, much the way we mindlessly breathe.  She wants the luxury of not worrying about the naturalness of this.

I’m struck by the way this baby goes on strike, foments a revolution.  All just to assert her right to still be that baby nodding off.

She’s asking to be safe.  She’s asking to not worry about watching her own back.  She’s asking to be relieved from her vigilance about society, freed from her obligation to the social world, for just this little while, please.

Yet she’s tough enough to not await an answer.  She takes the very freedom she asks for.

I guess she has a point.  How else do babies do it, after all?

One of the amazing things about nature is how babies manage to figure out increasingly clever options as they grow.

When increased options–and time to choose among them–replace the pain-relieving immediacy of the breast (the needle, the pipe, the pill)…when the freedom those options bring can be loved as much or more…then babies have good chances of becoming happy adults.

Sometimes~often, in fact~they just need a little help along the way figuring out why it makes sense to give any of this serious consideration.

©Content copyrighted. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved, for more information, see content page.

Life Is My Chew Toy

Life Is My Chew Toy

 by Mister Puppy


“All the world’s a chew toy….Life is good.”

This is how he might begin his memoirs, I surmise, if my puppy were one day telling the tale of his idyllic childhood.

“I sleep as long as I possibly can, then I take a nap between bark-fests (always the best when nothing really is there to be worried I should bark at…gotta practice these things, you know…).

I live off leash, and that whole tethering thing just really escapes me (though I cannot deny I appreciate it when I’m jittery in public and want to know where exactly my mama is located).

Before and after my naps, between bark-fests, I go on romping walks up and down wooded paths.  So much fun.  You think barking at nothing is fun?  Try chasing after nothing and barking at it!  That’s even better!”

Yes, yes…his version of the story.  I’m sure some day I will be called upon to pen for him the episodes of how he’s heroically chased away the Big Bad Wolf (coyote).  Those are exciting adventures!  Who cares if the older dog does most of the legwork, or, all of the legwork?  For the sake of imagination, we will agree that it is brave Sir Puppy in his Superman cape who swoops in to save the day!

So, now, is all this the same reason he seems to defy imagination when it comes to his difficulty learning to keep his gosh darned mouth offa things?  Well, the only things that really matter are the house guests.  This is one excited little bugger, when people come to visit.  He becomes overwhelmed with joy, and, when the bestest, most favorite guests come by (read: the ones who take him for walks, or give treats or are unashamed of their love for him), this 80 pound bundle of joy becomes a ballistic missile of love.  Lick lick lick, chew chew chew.  “Oh, sorry…was that your hand?  My mistake!” “I’m just so excited (wag wag wag)….I’m not quite sure what to do with myself!”

Mouthing.  That’s what the experts call it.  Same reason, different sized teeth, that babies do it when everything they can get their hands on go into their mouths.  Everything that’s worth finding out about is found out about through this most sensitive sensory medium.  Yum!

I’ve thought more than once about having a taped loop I can turn to as the guests are arriving, so I can just hit “play” when they get to the door.  My voice sternly saying, “Uh uh…no teeth.  Gentle….gentle.”  Then if only the taped loop could go fetch the sprayer bottle…alas.  Some inventions are worth spending a lifetime pursuing.

I don’t know about other dogs who pass their year mark, but this seven-years-to-one ratio story you hear (about dog years as compared to human years) seemed to skip houses when it came to Mister Puppy.  If they were right, he’d be acting more like a ten and a half year old boy, and less like a 1.5 year old toothy mouth with legs, hair and momentum.  Or wait…let me rethink this…maybe they’re right, after all.

I guess I was still chewing Barbie shoes when I was that age, on rare and special occasions.  Granted, not the way I chewed them when I was younger.  I wasn’t squirreling them away as I once had been with my sisters a few years earlier (it was a conspiracy).  (It’s the gateway drug, ladies…don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)  My sisters knew exactly what trouble they were getting me into.  Still, as a means to seek asylum in regression, few avenues worked better than chewing on soft, rubbery Barbie shoes.

I was thinking about this because Mister Puppy seems to really love anything with the same texture, and the same potential for creating that sucking-smacking noise the Barbie shoes made.  I happen to know I’m not alone in the traumatic experience of coming-to in a boring classroom and realizing people were looking.

Soon I will write more about this topic of play, normal aggression in play and the importance of both.  This might be just the lead-in I was looking for.

©Content copyrighted. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved, for more information, see content page.

There’s Nowhere To Go ~ On Dependent Origination


My funny, bright father (still ticking along marvelously, with a well-worn mile or two under his belt) has always been fond of saying, “Not when’ I die, but IF’ I die….”

He’s outlived his mother, which makes his longevity amazing, because she had niceness on her side.  I’m beginning to believe he really did make a deal with the devil that he every now and then wonders whether he can still back out of.  Only when he’s very cranky, though.  Otherwise he never seems the least bit tired.

This same guy who probably got in good with the devil early on never seemed afraid to die.  Still doesn’t.  He’s actually incredibly good-humored about the whole subject.  Uncharacteristically equanimous about it, in fact; even if cantankerously so.

This did and still does fascinate me greatly.  I always studied him for signs that he was bluffing, but overall I tend to think somehow he might have had something really figured out.  More than once during my chatty childhood career I asked him about this.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he’d insist.

Calmly, believably, impressively confident.  Simply clear that something made total sense to him, though he wasn’t going to have a fit if you didn’t agree.  Of my father’s many moods, this has always been my favorite.

“Nuthin’ to it.  It’s just death.  It’s natural.”   After which he’d wander off in whatever direction he was already heading.  I would typically follow him, trying not to pepper him with too many questions and out myself as a pest.  He saw right through me.  But about certain particularly weighty topics, more often than not, he would be kind enough to try to answer at least a question or two.

question mark
question mark

question mark

…Or three.

Ok, confession time:  I was one of those kids who asked so many questions that I was nearly thrown out of first grade.  My father went to bat for me and negotiated masterfully to keep me in school.  The same school that wanted to toss me overboard for my high-octane, ebullient curiosity.

Personally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think the problem was with my asking too many questions.  I think the people I asked just didn’t have especially good answers.   Maybe I was easy to confuse.

My father brokered a deal:

“You pipe down a little bit about your questions, and go along nicely from time to time, with your mouth shut, even if you’re thinking very obstinate, curious thoughts.  In exchange, they’ll let you stay in school.  How’s that?  And I won’t have to worry about what the hell to do with you while I’m home trying to work for a living at my desk, since you distract me with all those damned questions you ask.  Hmm?….How’s that sound?”

Without giving me a chance to even get one foot in the door of the questioning wormhole, he quickly added, “…Now, in the meantime, go to classes, learn as much as you can, and be a stealth questioner.  That’s fine by me.  Not that I’m exactly saying come to me with all of your questions…(because what the HELL am I paying the public schools for!?…Rant, rant rant).”

“(End of Rant)…I’m just saying get a clue about who has the answers and who doesn’t, and don’t arrive at any conclusions–I repeat, any–until you’ve undergone an exhaustively thorough investigation.  Until you’ve learned about what all sorts of people think, and whether their opinions make enough sense to you to be useful as answers to your questions.”

So unfair.

Intellectual Daddy Zen Koan.  As is usually the case with him, I was mentally ambushed.

“Sounds good,” I said.  “What’s for dinner?”

And I meant it, sort of.  He’d sold me on the idea of the stealth curiosity part.

I failed at the keeping my mouth shut part, predictably.  But I did begin to practice, at the ripe old age of 6, how to watch for signs that people might know what they’re talking about.  A lot of time has gone into this particular aspect of my expertise as a question-asker in life.  Well more than the requisite hours Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, very smartly and convincingly said it takes to become an expert in something.

So, now that reasonable disclaimers have been filed, and Curiosity-Curriculum-Vitae has been offered up, I’d love to see if I can explain the tiniest bit about Dependent Origination.  Or think of this as Dependent Origination 101A.  Then I’ll have time to do the dishes tonight.


My father is the farthest thing from a Buddhist, believe me.  But oddly enough, in a way, the Buddhist concept of Dependent Origination is along the lines of what he was talking about, when he sang his reprise on dying.  I had no idea then.  He still has no idea now.

Maybe his talking about it made me go asking questions from the Buddhism teachers, I’m not sure.  I guess until that point (the point where I was driven into the arms of Buddhism by this stubborn curiosity of mine), I hadn’t felt satisfied in my understanding about a fair number of things.  Among them prominently was the matter of death, and how to know how afraid of it to be (that’s not a typo).  Or whether my father might be entirely right with his sincerely cavalier attitude.  Cavalier as in both the noun and the verb.

As it turns out (surprise, surprise), I think he was right.

It took me understanding Dependent Origination to be certain of this, and, me being who I am, it took me needing the Dalai Lama to explain it to me.  I’d exhausted all the others along the way with my incessant and infernal lines of inquiry.  At least in his audience I was not alone, and I could fly under the radar as a curiosity addict.

I’ll try to explain to you why H.H.D.L. (as he is fondly referred to, among the sometimes-obsessively-curious crowd) opened my eyes to my father’s wisdom:

1.)  “There’s nothing to it,”  (my father’s words, not mine)…as in nothing to us, meaning no-thing to us, meaning no inherently meaningful, independently arising “us” (those words are mine).  Dad is just a natural smartypants.  He spouted off about a lot of things, and this was one of the good ones.  My own words and wisdom came less like falling off a log.  I had to ask a lot of questions to be able to say what I did just now.

2.)  “It is natural.”  Obvious enough, it seems to me, and this fact comforts me greatly.  Again, dad scores a point. He is indeed right here.  He was a stealth nature lover; I’m more up front about it.  I have a lot of trust in nature…it’s never yet failed to impress.  So this clarification was an easy one to comprehend.

3.)  And the “Nuthin’ to be afraid of,” part, well, that made more sense to me also when I learned about the Buddhist notion of Dependent Origination.  This is a foundational, key concept at the base of many other foundational concepts in Buddhism.  When you hear about emptiness and want to understand it better (or Sunyata, or Dependent Arising), if you figure out the basics of Dependent Origination, you’re home free.

What are we empty of?  Inherent meaning.  Independent causation.  Everything is.

Causation is simply the reason something happens, or comes to be.  We didn’t sprout out of thin air; there are a multitude of natural factors that led to our being alive.  In our individual lives, these causes are all related to one other.  One effects the other which effects the other and so on.  It’s a huge, huge web.  And the web of our individual lives is inside the larger web of all living things.  A very big pot of soup indeed.

Remember playing with dominoes as a kid to see how they fell?  Think of it like that.  Our actual, natural being results from a chain of events–a chain of causes + effects–and this chain of events is very elemental and natural.  One element of it impacts the next.  So we are not independent of causation in the natural world.  It is also quite natural, given the way our brains work, that our sense of “self” is derived from a personal, subjective interpretation of our many experiences.  Where it gets dicey is when we think those subjective interpretations are the right and real and exclusively true explanations of things.

These interpretations of ours get a bit calcified, especially as time goes on.  But, in fact, we are not only what we think.  We are also something natural.  Something that exists empty of our (or anyone’s) interpretation.  And everything natural has this in common:  it changes.

When I say we are empty of  “inherent meaning,” I’m talking about the meaning that our human minds–these perceptual apparatuses–assign to things.  We weren’t born with definitions and labels, nor was anything else.  We are a life force…a form of life among many forms of life.  Study quantum physics and they’ll tell you there’s much more blurring of boundaries than you might think, but I won’t get into that right now.

The concept of Dependent Origination, to butcher the elegance of it, is an attempt at describing the natural world, and the nature of human cognition, vis-a-vis the natural world.  Perhaps even more importantly, it describes the natural world as seen by human cognition.  In doing so, it helps us see that we can have a much broader perspective of reality than we previously imagined.

This is very, very helpful stuff.  Not easy, but helpful, ultimately.

This concept helps us distinguish our subjective experience of things from the actual reality of things.  It helps us remember not to assume that our subjectivity is the only game in town.  Our interpretation is one possibility among many.  Our emotional reactions are one among many.  They are often the result of a familiar story we tell ourselves (or have heard, or both) over and over.  And as stories go, these are often our favorite parts of stories, or, conversely, our least favorite parts of stories.

Our human inclination (which is both fascinating and lovely), is a tendency to enter into animated, imagined narratives.  As such–not always but often–our reactions to things can be quite colored by these imaginings.  We don’t necessarily have to react the same emotional way, just because of how we’ve done it before.  Bottom line is, controversial as this may sound, we actually have much more choice than we realize, when it comes to our options as to how to think, how to feel, how to react.

Subjective definitions have their place, don’t get me wrong:

What’s that?  “A tree.”  Oh.  Good.  “Don’t smack into it.”

How about that?  “A car.”  Ah.  “Don’t run in front of it.”

And so on.

See?  That’s what Tibetan Buddhists call conventional reality.  You can think of it as subjective reality.  We need to grasp conventional reality to remember to eat and brush our teeth and watch out for cars.  But those “cars” and those “trees” and even our notion of the person perceiving them (i.e., “me,” “I,” “he/she/Bob/Sally”) are, without a human mind to contextualize them, just part of this giant cosmic soup.  I know this is confusing; don’t worry about it…it takes a little time.

So while we mill about in cabs and subways and believe the guy next to us really is, maybe, out to get us, we are mindlessly cruising along on cognitive autopilot; believing that conventional reality (our typical, day to day, subjective view of reality) is the only reality there is.

However, this is not so.  There is (you can find it, I assure you, but it might take a meditation lesson, or a lecture by the Dalai Lama), a de-contextualized, non-dualistic, non-defined-by-human-perception reality.  Tibetan Buddhists call this “real” reality, or “ultimate” reality.

These realities (conventional and real) coexist continually.  One is exclusively perceived and interpreted by us, by our human brains, and, of particular importance, through the lens of our subjective ideas about our world.

And guess what, folks?…We are the ones who give our personal realities meaning, which means we can also wrangle ourselves from the often-all-too-painful stranglehold of our assumptions.

We Figured This Guy Would Eventually Break Free

To reiterate, our tightly defined, often myopic ideas about ourselves, others, the world around us, is actually in fact our experience of conventional reality.  The other reality–real reality–just is.  And we, as beings in it, just are.  It is our thinking that takes over from there, and designates things (designates ourselves and others, as well) as “good” or “bad,” etc.  As Shakespeare said, in Hamlet, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  I wonder if he was related to my father.  Not likely…I’d probably have an easier time writing if that was the case.

In order for us to apprehend real reality, it takes us being willing to open our eyes and look, a good distance from the distorting lens of our typical, human, autopilot cognitive interpretation of experience.  Emptiness as a mental state is “a mode of perception in which one neither adds anything to nor takes anything away from what is present, noting simply…”  (Bhikku).

Noting simply…simply noting.  Noticing, not naming.  If you meditate on emptiness you meditate on being empty of names.  You appreciate that you are part of the natural world, prone to the same conditions that every other natural thing is.  Nothing changes about the physical world as a result of realizing this.  You just have greater leeway to see your emotional options much more clearly.  And this will sound silly but it isn’t:  when you achieve a state of greater emptiness in your meditation, sometimes you don’t even remember quite what it was that you were so convinced you had to be terribly upset about, before you sat down.

Meditating on emptiness facilitates the ability to let go.  It greatly eases suffering and angst.  It clarifies things on many a level.

It’s easier than it sounds, but it’s a bit like riding a bike; you kind of know it when you feel it, and there are ebbs and flows with your proficiency.  And typically you need someone to teach you.  So keep practicing.

As far as these two realities–conventional and real–use one for brushing your teeth, and the other for easing your suffering.

The wonderful thing about this is it can help you realize how totally and utterly convinced you’ve been about something–I don’t know….take fear of death, for example…that’s an easy one to start with…or take being cranky–if you think about it enough, you realize that you don’t necessarily have to freak out about things you currently get pretty squirrely about.  Especially if that something is a figment of your own imagination.

Don’t be silly…no, we don’t automatically melt into a pool of hair styling mousse once we really grasp this notion.  Nothing external changes as a result of us realizing that we label things and name things and assume that they are the things we name them to be.  Nothing about them changes.  Nothing about real reality changes.  Only our understanding of this fact changes.  Only our realizing, perhaps a little bit more, that we are the ones who have the finger on the volume button of our own anger or fear, craving, aversion, disappointment, self-recrimination, criticism of others.  That sort of thing.  Our ability to see a big picture has gone deep into one more challenging  yoga pose and survived, having come out calmer, clearer, wiser, stronger in our ability to balance.

Want more good news?  This is all really, really freeing.  Can shake you right out of the tree of an impending panic attack, if you get good at wrapping your mind around these rather scientific facts.

Takes practice, though, like many good things do.

I find myself having to be content with the benefits of this practice one breath at a time, one moment at a time…one step at a time…one walk at a time.  One death at a time.


Let’s review, shall we?

There’s no “us” to die (no independently arising “us”), rather, there are beings part of the natural web of life.  And when our bodies do what everything alive and natural does (change, shift, cycle, flow with time in the most natural way possible), (and about this, by the way, we have no choice), there’s nowhere to go.  There’s nowhere to go.

There is, simply and merely, all together naturally, change.

Just change.  Life is change.

Nowhere to go because there’s no “us” to go there, and there’s no “there” for us to go to.  Wherever there is, we’ve already arrived.  And here is where we always will be.  Things change but that’s the worst it gets, and nature figured out that this is what is required for life.  So she goes for it.  It’s natural.

Life is change.  This is simply a fact.  Prove me wrong and I’ll be impressed.

We started this way, and this is the way we’re going out.  Crap, I can’t use dramatic sayings like that to describe having nowhere to go.  Well, maybe you get it:  everything is constantly, continually changing.  This is the deal nature brokered with us, and we agreed to it, believe it or not.

Which is good.  Because it means that death might be a little different from what we fear.  In fact (big secret:  this is what I think…), we might fear it in the first place because nature had to figure out some way to motivate us to get as far in evolution as it managed to do.  This is part of our incredibly cleverly designed cognitive machine.  This helps us tremendously when we need to make fire, run from tigers, decide if the babe in the next village is worthy to be our mate.

Meaning, it’s the way our brains work, and it helps us get around, for sure, but that doesn’t mean our brains are the only source of “reality.”  Stuff’s going on all over the place, all around us, and we’re mostly just gathering up into our perceptual field a variety of information, and shaping it into something that makes sense to us…that looks familiar to us.  So we can make it all the way to the next village and get the babe.

cind and prince

(You too might have been hard-pressed to resist putting this picture here…)

“Blasphemer!!  What do you mean our brains aren’t the only source of all truth (and especially my perspective, if I do say so myself…)?”

Listen, this is not a bad thing.  Don’t get mad at me, either…it’s not my idea, even if I do think it’s a good idea.  Decide for yourself after thinking about this for a while.  And don’t think for a second I didn’t ask a hell of a lot of questions before I signed on to this way of seeing things, because I did.  I’m a question-asking heat seeking missile.

We suffer quite a bit from our notions about loss and death.  This doesn’t mean, by the way, that if we grasp Dependent Origination and Emptiness we miss people less, or would be missed less.  Or that we should be any less sad about having to part.  This is the beauty of our humanness; our emotional bonds can be extraordinarily breathtaking.

Missing people and being missed would be felt just as deeply but thought of differently.  We, and those we love, are likely not going as far away as it might seem, when death changes our states.  Why?  Because there’s nowhere to go, and no us/them to go there.  We are empty of inherent definition, inherent meaning.   We are not independent of all the natural causation that brought us into being.  We are part of a vastly expansive, natural network of life.  Our subjective viewpoint is only one way of seeing; it is not the ultimate reality.

We, like every other natural thing in existence, change.  Without change, life would not exist.  It’s a good thing.

We suffer quite a bit from hating other people, or finding them frustrating.  We suffer quite a bit from being convinced we should not ever be rejected because it’s too painful and frankly we’d rather not think about it all that much.  We suffer greatly from chasing the dragon, as they say, in our attempt to make pain leave us, rather than working harder ourselves to see how we might choose to leave pain.  These are not-uncommon reactions to our autopilot way of interpreting conventional reality.

If we really really want to, however, we can come to realize that we have more choice in this matter.  We can notice and appreciate the ways we are inclined to have the same old emotional reactions–making the same old assumptions–which have always caused us suffering.  And we can, in many instances, choose to react differently.

As humans we are more than a bit gravitationally pulled toward familiarity.  This is totally natural.  Conventional reality, remember, is perceived in only one way, and that is through our subjective human lens.  If we stretch our minds enough, we can also realize that there is a concurrently existing reality, independent of our labeling it “this” or “that,” “good” or “bad,” “me” or “Ernie…(That Lowlife Jerk).”

There is.  I swear.

If you think about this long enough, you’ll go around in circles and eventually work your way down to this beautiful, irrefutable fact.  You can realize that it is your mind that is pulling on the strings of your own distressing or destructive emotions, and it is therefore your mind that can stop pulling on those same strings.  This is an important revelation.

It doesn’t mean biochemical imbalances in brain chemistry are rendered myth.  It means that most of the time we have a lot more choice in the matter of what we think, and yes, thus feel.  Much more than we’ve been previously led to believe.


The “real” reality that you can find, quite emancipated from your own tumultuous emotional weather system, is this:  It’s the here and now, this breath, this moment, this flow, absolutely regardless of what you might name any given part of it or what emotional value might be assigned to any slice of it.

You can think broadly enough about all this to have more freedom of choice as to how much suffering you’ll put yourself through.

This isn’t a magic cure.  This is an emancipating concept, and an even more emancipating fact.  But it really has to be puzzled over to be appreciated.

Life is one big pot of soup and you’re in it.  It’s when you get hungry that naming onions and garlic and squash become very, very important.  Between meals and on weekends it’s fine to go about experiencing life a different way; a non-verbal way.  This is deeper than just piping down and asking less questions.

I know, I know…this is hard.  It took me years to fully grasp this stuff and I’m trying to whittle it down to a single blog post.  Bear with me.

Don’t be distracted by the linguistic translations here.  They had to pick some word or another, and so “real,” vs. “conventional” was found to be useful enough.  They’re not trying to be lofty.  Just putting into words an idea.  I for one appreciated the cleverness of it.  It made me want to ask a lot of questions, and, so far, the answers I’ve found have been satisfactory enough to make me see light at the end of my question-asking tunnel.  It’s hard to think about, but, in my experience, nothing has ever made so much logical sense.

I’m not trying to convince you, and I won’t have a fit if you don’t agree.  Give it thought.  See if this helps.

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