January 1

Morning Meditation Practice:

Cultivating 6 Essential Virtues/Qualities in these Challenging Times

In the previous newsletter, I introduced a new practice for 2018 in which we will focus on 6 virtues or qualities that are essential for developing our humanity. For the morning meditation, my commitment and invitation is to practice for 6 uninterrupted hours of sitting and walking meditation, from 6:00 am to 12:00pm. As always, you are encouraged to set your own limits. Each hour will begin with a short reading on a particular virtue. The hope is to inspire our inner development through many people focusing on these qualities together.



{As in the past, each hour is 50 minutes of sitting meditation and 10 minutes of walking meditation. A soft bell rings after 25 minutes for people to stretch and/or stand, if desired. You are welcome to join for as little or as much as you choose, coming and going at any time is fine}

Large View

I have a simple view of our journey in this lifetime – we are here to learn how to Love. By Love, I am meaning a warm-hearted caring for all life, beyond our self and group identity. In our genetic, cultural and evolutionary history, we carry tendencies toward unbridled self-interest – narcissism. This orientation can include family, tribe, gender, religious orientation, in addition to self, thus creating an “us and them” worldview. These narrow self-identities become the root of violence in the world.



Evolving humanity is charged with two seemingly paradoxical directions – growing our true “I”, the individuality that is unique to each of us, while simultaneously devoting this “I” in service to All. Honoring and taking care of both “I” and “Us” is incredibly challenging.



Throughout history, various philosophical, religious and spiritual traditions have attempted to offer a framework of qualities or virtues that are intended to cultivate the “good” in human beings. These have diverse names and emphasis. Each states their intention differently. For me the question is, what are the combination of qualities, attitudes, guiding principles, in a word, virtues, that can encourage the unfolding of authentic Love as a natural expression? These all need to be practical, meaning practice-able, not simply abstract ideals. Virtues are not feelings or emotions, they are actions and attitudes that we can practice, embody and enact. We are exploring the energetic, “felt-sense” of each quality.



My choice of 6 virtues is somewhat random; we could just as easily choose another number. The 8 fold path of Buddhism, the 10 commandments in Christianity, the virtues attributed to the 12 Zodiacal signs, along with others, offer something similar. I choose 6 to align with the number of periods of meditation. When taken together, these collectively form an integrated picture for human development. As always, you are encouraged to uncover your own ways of approaching essential virtues, if they differ from mine. I suspect that our choices will significantly overlap.



Each virtue, when fully realized, contains all the others. We can say that they are nested in each other. Still, the ones I have chosen function energetically as balancers, we can say they need each other, to bring us toward wholeness. There are numerous other qualities that could be included if the list was longer, still, I believe most essential energies can be uncovered within these six.



One of the many lessons I learned from Gene Gendlin was the importance of using non-ordinary language when inviting new meanings and to encourage an alert presence in a reader/listener. He would suggest pairing unusual modifiers – adjectives and adverbs – to promote freshness. Some of my phrasing below expresses this impulse.


6 Essential Virtues/Qualities for Developing Our Humanity

6:00am – 7:00am – Ever-Present Gratitude begins our day. Through practice, we can begin to perceive the gifts that are alive in any moment. When these perceptual patterns are cultivated, gratitude becomes available at almost any moment. This is heart opening. Although we all have specific people, places, capacities and even things for which we are grateful, if we step back further, we can sense gratitude for just being alive. To be gifted with the miracle of human consciousness means that we are not only alive but that we can know that we are alive! This consciousness is the basis for all that we know and feel as well as for any sense of meaningfulness. Gratitude invites our indebtedness to others and to life itself, thus it is a doorway to humility. Through gratitude, we also sense our interconnectivity and interdependence; we are not alone and cannot survive on our own. An open heart is a grateful heart.


In our meditation, we can begin and end with gratitude for our capacity to sit with our thoughts, feelings and sensations – learning simply “to be”. In addition, we are grateful for having a reliable method for practicing openhearted acceptance of the moment.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, it is the mother of all others”. (Cicero)

7:00 – 8:00 – Reflective Forgiveness asks us to deeply observe the consequences of our actions and to notice the effects of holding on to resentment toward others. Forgiveness for others and for ourselves is a fundamentally liberating, life-giving force. To ask for forgiveness for our misdeeds, requires acknowledgment of error, remorse and a deep surrendering. Pain is part of the process. To forgive others means to put down our genetic urge toward revenge and open our hearts. It is an act of wisdom in that IF we could see all the causes of a given moment, we would see that, for unknown reasons, it was necessary. Desmond Tutu reminds us that “forgiveness holds the world together and there is no future without forgiveness”.


In our meditation, we invite an attitude of forgiving our minds for the patterns of disturbing thoughts and we forgive our bodies for painful sensations. We forgive ourselves for our beginning-less and endless confusion and habits of self-judgment. Practicing forgiveness in our meditation is the basis for letting go of resentment and opening our hearts to life.

Forgiveness is not only the hardest of all virtues, it is the father of all others” (Anonymous)

8:00 – 9:00 - PotentKindness is an attitude that is essential for growing a caring relationship to all of life. It is the essence of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). Kindness is often perceived as a gentle, soft quality when in actuality in often requires great commitment and courage, hence we need potent forgiveness!


In our meditation, we emphasize a sense of friendliness toward the moment rather than trying to create a specific state. We let go of results and expectations, repeatedly returning to the present moment with care and ideally with a small smile. To generate kindness toward unpleasant moments is a powerful learning. This is kindness in practice. When we are free from fear and pain, kindness is natural . When kindness is not possible, we can ask, “what is the cause of my suffering.” We begin to see the thoughts and beliefs that lead to our heart’s closing. When we can be kind to even these challenging thoughts, we are well on our way toward “loving what is” as our ground state. Embodied meditation is a practice of kindness toward whatever appears and, when that is not possible, we uncover kindness toward “not possible”.


My religion is very simple, Kindness is my religion” (Dalai Lama)

9:00 – 10:00 – Courageous Perseverance is needed to mobilize the energy for the incredibly hard work of awakening our humanity. Facing our inevitable challenges, some repetitively many times, is inherently demanding. We will all be pushed to an edge that requires deep, lion-like courage – the heart of a lion! Generating our commitment for consistently returning to presence requires the effortful energy of perseverance. It is helpful to contextualize this as a practice of returning to presence rather than staying in presence. This is practice for the perseverance needed when encountering our dark, shadowy states. Perseverance is the devoted commitment to getting up after falling down.



Our meditation practice both demands and grows the virtue of courageous perseverance. Sitting without external distractions, without even mantras, gurus, images or candles to entertain us, is the transformative brilliance of this practice. “Just sitting” requires patience, fortitude, dignity and commitment. By meeting challenging moments in our sitting practice with courageous perseverance, we learn to face the difficult moments that arise in our life situations.

It takes courage to show up and BE who you really are” (e.e. cummings)

Courage and Perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air” (John Quincy Adams)


10:00 – 11:00 - DignifiedHumility is the vehicle that carries us through the waters of our habitual self-obsession. To humble ones self, without losing authentic dignity, requires great courage and usually forgiveness. It is essential to differentiate humbling from humiliating, as these are often confused. It takes great strength of character, to lower ones self – to bow - in a healthy manner. Without humility, we will constantly defend our self-image, which is the greatest obstacle to unfolding. It is said that when pride and memory are in a battle, without humility, pride will always win! Humility is a loosening of our misidentification with this fabricated self. Humility is chest softening and an antidote to arrogance. As the armoring of our hearts and chests lessens through humility, we can find a natural sense of ease and flow. A great exhale follows as we become freer of the need to be somebody special. The vulnerability of humility leads to the authentic strength.


In our meditation, we keep letting go of our ego images and our judgments as we gently bow our heads to “what is”. Without trying to be other than we are, we can accept our perceived inadequacies with equanimity.


To Forget the Self is to be enlightened by all things” (Zen master Dogen)

Humility like the darkness, reveals the heavenly lights” (Henry David Thoreau)


11:00 – 12:00 – Magnanimous Equanimity – Perhaps I am cheating a bit here by combining two powerful qualities – magnanimity and equanimity. For me, they are intimately connected. Magnanimity is an expression of noble altruism and generosity of spirit. It brings to the fore our natural longing to share our gifts with others. Sharing our gifts with the world can easily devolve into an ego-centered flamboyance if not grounded in equanimity. In equanimity our habitual reactivity is quieted, though clear responsiveness is active. Reactivity is connected to self-defensiveness based on old wounds whereas responsiveness comes from presence. True freedom requires freedom from reactive patterns and equanimity is the key. Equanimity is not a bland and neutral calm rather it is grounded and centered, capable of responding to the moment “as it is”. Magnanimity points outward, an emanating of our equanimity and generosity into the world while equanimity points inward, a generosity to self and that eventually will become magnanimity toward others.


In our meditation, we do not focus exclusively on our inner world. We include the space around as a vibrant field in which we are interacting. The world is alive and we are alive in it. We are sitting in the entirety of the moment, which always includes the immediate environment as well as the whole universe. We intentionally dedicate the gifts of sitting to the world. When we sense a reactive state of mind, we turn our magnanimous equanimity toward the voices that are activated. Thus, these states both compliment each other and form an integrated whole.



A mind filled with equanimity is abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility or ill-will and truly free”. (Gautama Buddha)








To paraphrase Gautama Buddha, “when we create thoughts of vengeance, blame and anger, two beings are poisoned and the one generating these thoughts eats the poison first.”

Blame is accusing others for our current condition.  It is the antithesis of self-responsibility and is, fundamentally, powerless to transform our outer and inner life.

The path of awakening includes letting go of blaming anybody for anything.  This does NOT mean to absolve or approve of specific actions.  We must learn to separate the action from the actor, the doing from the Being.

Mature forgiveness is not a closing of one’s eyes to injustice, misdeeds or potential future danger.  Rather it includes entering the highest and deepest within oneself and seeing the same in the other.

Forgiveness can be invited, never forced.  To demand forgiveness of our inner life is a form of self-violence.  We can create conditions whereby forgiveness is a natural blossoming. Sometimes this means taking care of the inner place that is not ready to forgive.

Memory is a creation based on events.  The story we tell ourselves about the events generates their meaning.  These stories radically effect our health, happiness and future.  Things did not happen exactly the way we recall them. In this sense our ‘story’ is never THE truth. All recollection is from a point of view and even that view is changeable.   Our brain keeps reforming memory as cells die and others are reborn.  As trite as it is, neurologically it is true: “it is never to late to have a happy childhood

A paradoxical corollary: “forgiveness is letting go of all hope for a better past”. How can both of these be true?

All forgiveness is self-forgiveness, for whenever we close our hearts we suffer.  We can forgive ourselves for that.  Forgiveness is an act of Love.



Forgiveness goes in two directions: giving and receiving. In giving forgiveness, we receive the grace that comes from opening our hearts. In receiving forgiveness, we open beyond guilt into love.

Forgiving others does not suggest approval of the behavior.  Rather we stop fighting with the truth of life.  Holding resentment and blame means holding our opinion or preference above ‘what is’.  Bowing to the reality of our life- it is as it is, it was as it was- creates a strange alchemy- it was as it had to be.  IF we could know all the infinite causes of a given moment, we would see its inevitability.  More accurately, before a moment occurs it can become anything, once a moment occurs it had to be that way.  How can those both be true?

To receive forgiveness from another and from ourselves requires acknowledgement of the misdeed. To forgive ourselves involves a deep intention to do better in the future. In classic religious terms this means repentance. When we act in ways that are not congruent with our own values, it is very helpful to acknowledge our error.  Often a genuine, heartfelt apology helps ‘right’ the situation. “Sin” originally meant “off the mark”. It means we make mistakes. 

Forgiveness can be the most challenging enactment of love imaginable.  When we are hurt, self-protection arises. We usually either withdraw into our shells or strike out.  Neither is very satisfying for very long. 


“The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong”

Mahatma Gandhi

True forgiveness is a spiritual deed.  It means we become larger than our “story”, our history, and we enter the vastness of a larger sense of Self.  Forgiveness is an action, not a feeling. It is often an extremely difficult enactment of our freedom to choose new thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We cannot rely solely on our “hope”, there needs to be a strong intention and commitment. We may need to visit the same situation numerous times and it is possible that one deep visit will be sustaining. We often need help from many sources. Standing “next to” the situation and the feelings, we can ask for help from: 1) our sense of the most True (God, All, universal wisdom, highest and deepest in your cosmology), 2) our truest Self, and 3) the others in the situation.  In mysterious ways the intention creates an energy that is transformative.

“I know that I am forgiven, but I don’t know how I know”.  Leonard Cohen

For a PDF click here



Embodied Meditation

Embodied Meditation has its roots in the Zen practice called Shikantaza or “just sitting”. The main intention is to become intimate with our experience of being alive in the present moment. Rather than “mind control, the emphasis is on a gentle orientation toward presence in an open, curious, committed and friendly way. Friendliness with mind and body leads naturally to friendliness with life itself.

Taking Care of your Posture, Breathing and Mudra (hand position)

Any relatively comfortable, erect sitting position is acceptable for this practice. It is better to sit in a chair than to struggle with sitting on the floor. Sit with the eyes slightly open most of the time, allowing light in, gazing downward, without lowering the head or looking around. Just as the ears are always open to the sound in the environment, rest with your eyes open so that both the inner and outer worlds are included.  We are practicing “open awareness”, cultivating a welcoming attitude toward whatever appears in our experience. Being present to and intimate with all phenomena is both the journey and the destination, the means and the end.

Our physical sensations are the doorways to the present moment. The sensations of sitting and breathing are always available, never hiding. These are the center of the practice. The vertical axis, combining the substantiality of grounded-ness and the vitality of uprightness, forms a literal central column. We are connecting to both the ground and the sky, like a tree rooted while branching upward and outward.  We cultivate a sense of length and lightness in the spine, the top of the head drawn toward the sky as we are simultaneously pulled toward the earth. Grounded, erect and at ease, we aim for a relaxed vitality.

The sensations of breathing in the lower belly and lower back, along with the position of the hands, known as the “universal or cosmic   mudra” (details shown later), create a powerful center. Emphasizing the exhale, notice the sensations and feelings of letting go of the breath until the end.  Rest in the brief open space before the ensuing inhale. Do not worry about all the thoughts that come and go; just keep returning to the core sensations of sitting and breathing. We are open to the other bodily sensations as well, including those arising from the environment such as sounds and smells. Keep returning to these ever-present and ever-changing phenomena.

Mind-Fullness, Body-Fullness, Heart-Fullness

We are not analyzing or working on the stories or thoughts that the mind creates. We notice them with kindness, even offering a non-judgmental “hello” to the thoughts and feelings and then let them go, returning to the next breath. Traditionally this kind of noticing is called “mindfulness”. Sometimes briefly naming the thought or the theme can be helpful.

The main intention is to rest in presence as the ground state, noticing anything that is added to the basic facts of the moment.Even when lost in a long saga, in the moment of noticing, start freshly, de-emphasizing the mental phenomena and returning to the living physical sensations. If noticing the various phenomena is “mind-fullness”, this returning through sensation is “body–fullness”. When we add the intentional atmosphere of unconditional loving-kindness, gentleness and even humor to the whole process then we are actualizing “heart-fullness”.  Mind-fullness, Body-fullness and Heart-fullness are all essential aspects of Embodied Meditation.

Being With “What Is”

If there is a struggle or aversion toward an uncomfortable bodily sensation, a painful feeling or disturbing thought, the intention is to befriend the reactivity. Consciously acknowledge any inner voices that are struggling. Stand back and notice the whole show! Rather than being lost IN the thought or feeling, practice being WITH it. We return repeatedly to the basic facts of the moment, including any reactions, without judgment. Simply put, this is being with “what is”, while noticing all the opinions, preferences, desires, thought streams, etc. that appear, with kindness. Even hate, anxiety, boredom (or your least desirable state) are met, as much as possible, with care. When caring is not possible, then we greet the “not possible” with kindness.

One of the functions of having our eyes open is to stay connected to the greater environment. Every moment of our lives we are both in a body and in a larger space, both a physical and social environment. Rather than focusing exclusively on the inner world, this practice intentionally includes the outer world, therefore all sensations are welcomed.

Just This – Ever-Intimate with our Life

As the wandering mind settles, the experience of inner world and outer world becomes less and less separate, thus allowing awareness to rest in the one world of “just this”. These moments are experienced as a deep intimacy with being alive. While this sense of oneness is lovely, even blissful at times, it is not the goal. We are not trying to have a certain state of mind. Rather, we are cultivating a very generous atmosphere of kindness and curiosity toward anything and everything. This is true intimacy with life and death.  This is genuine practice for the love and loss that is our life!

The intention toward presence includes learning from our habits of “absencing”. Opening our hearts to “what is” means that a busy mind or painful moments are not problems. Leaning into presence with a strong intention does not mean we fight and judge our habits of distraction. In fact, we can learn as much from becoming intimate with our ways of “absencing” as with having uninterrupted presencing!

Embodied Meditation is a modern iteration based on the essential practice of “just sitting” as described by thirteenth century Zen master Eihei Dogen. As Dogen emphasized, we become enlightened through or with our delusion. In emphasizing the dynamic relationship between delusion and awakening, he used the term shinzo meaning ever-intimate.  Learning to be ever-intimate with life, with “just this”, is our direction.

For a PDF click here





Reflections from the Nov. 12 All-Day Meditation

For seven years, I have been sharing a practice in which we meditate continuously for many hours. Last Sunday, the day consisted of two, five-hour periods of sitting and walking meditation, dedicated in gratitude, to our oneness with the earth. People ask me, why ten hours in a day? What is the point? What is the value?

First, I don’t know that this is a helpful practice for others. I guess for some people it is and for some it is not. I will describe some of the value I perceive for myself.

After more than 45 years of Zen meditation, I find that the path is endless and the learning continuous.  Daily practice is usually a great gift and joy, a returning to the most authentic and simple sense of Being Alive! I am forever grateful for the indescribable gift of zazen (sitting meditation).

Mind-Fullness, Body-Fullness, Heart-Fullness

This meditation is not based in a rigorous form of mind control or concentration. Rather, the intention is to, first, rest in and return to Presence as our ground state, noticing anything that is added to the basic facts of the moment. Grounding in the bodily posture is emphasized. Equal to mind-fullness is body-fullness!

Second, the intention is to cultivate a warm heartedness toward whatever arises - heart-fullness. If there is a struggle or aversion toward an uncomfortable bodily sensation, a painful feeling or disturbing thought, the intention is to befriend the reactivity. We keep returning over and over to the basic facts of the moment, including any reactions, without judgment. Simply put, this is being with “what is” while noticing all the opinions, preferences, desires, thought streams, etc. that appear with loving-kindness. Even hate, anxiety, boredom (or your least desirable state) are met, as much as possible, with care. When caring is not possible, then we greet the “not possible” with kindness.

Three Interconnected States

Naturally, when sitting for many hours, diverse states arise. Though infinite in variety, for simplicity, I put these in three categories:

1) Sometimes there is the joy and lightness of being carried by something larger than “myself”.  There is a sense of grace, an effortless quality of interconnectivity. I liken this to floating down a lovely, wide river in a boat, carried by the current, with little need for paddling.

2) At other times, there is the gentle, repetitive work of returning to the present moment. There is enough intention, energy and commitment to keep “doing” the practice. This often creates conditions in which one “falls into” the grace of effortless meditation. This is like needing to paddle in the river, steering back into the center where the current can take over again.

3) In these moments, the historic self-identity asserts its desire for life to be different than it is: perhaps for the day to be over, a warm bath or some other kind of pleasure. One sees the diversionary tactics of historic self - now the paddling becomes more effortful, like being caught in challenging rapids or stuck in the mud. New parts of the river are experienced and it can be very difficult.

At these times, one watches the mind spin, creating worlds, the original “virtual reality”.  Planning for the future, reviewing moments of joy or regret, reciting poems or making lists…. all might appear. The raw experience of one’s strategies of absencing, the opposite of presencing, appears in graphic detail. Since these mind states are usually operating without awareness in daily life, it is very revealing to spend time with “the one who does not want to be present!” These moments are essential for our deepening and unfolding.

The Gift of Awakening

Transformation is the process of shifting the historic self-identity based on thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations to the larger space of Being in which all of these passing states are occurring. It is NOT that the historic self-identity is unimportant or eliminated; rather it is seen in a larger context. I learn to take care of those - “Russell’s”- rather than being identified with them. This includes the “Russell” who thinks he is in control of all the voices, feelings, opinions, etc.

This shift of identity is the fundamental gift of awakening. Again, it is NOT about getting rid of thoughts and feelings or eliminating the “ego”, but of having one’s house in order.  Essential Being is the space in which EVERYTHING from our past is included and integrated. Sitting for long periods allows the workings of the historic self to become obvious and any sticky places to be revealed. In a way, it is like spending time with a friend. Meditating each day has the delight of visiting a good friend for a short encounter. Sitting for long periods is like spending a much longer time with your friend, allowing both greater depth AND more challenging disagreements or disparate needs to appear.

Wearing out the Mind

Long sitting wears you out; it can be really hard work. It is like a marathon runner reaching a point where she realizes it is not possible to continue. In this moment, a new source of energy from some larger place might arise. There is a giving up and letting go. An inner shout or whisper says, “Please help me”. There is the humility of acknowledging: “ ’I’ can not do this, it is too much”.

Before the historic self lets go of its desire for control, it will likely protest by generating many disturbing thoughts, images, feelings and sensations that make it all feel impossible. Getting to this point, though painful, can be a very helpful opportunity (again not for everybody and not always, respecting our limits is essential).
Carried by Grace and Awakened Mind

Over time, one discovers that larger Being, never goes away, it is either in the foreground or background. The experience of grace or awakened mind is either present or very close by. Having this experience, literally- in the marrow of our bones, brings great confidence, even when life is difficult. By grace or awakened mind, I mean the clear sense of being carried by a larger “something”, whether we call it God, Life, True Self or Big Mind. We know that our historic self-identity lives within a much larger, generous and benevolent space. My gratitude for this realization is endless.

If it seems right for you, I hope you will join me on January 1, 2018 for the next day devoted to this practice.

For a PDF click here

Intimate with this One Precious Life
Ode to earth, air, fire, water

I don’t know!
Somewhere between:
 “It is all too much” and
“Just say ‘yes’!”
A cry rings out:
Earthquakes, Fires, Floods, Hurricanes
How do the birds sing?

After bows this morning
dawn subtly shimmers, a gray-white light
Each breath a grace-filled journey

Upright sitting confirms my presence on this earth
Deep intimacy with THIS spot,
Grace and ground carrying me right now

This nourishing, supportive earth
The same one who feeds and carries us all
Violently shakes her bones
Buildings fall, human beings and animals die
Without earth, no life

Love and loss
Life and death wrapped together
In each others arms……

Gratefully receiving each breath
All the way down, all the way out
How strangely disconcerting-
this same nourishing air
becomes whipping wind and hurricanes
Without air no life

Love and loss
Life and death wrapped together
In each others arms……

Thirsty, I drink fresh water
The same water
Which at this moment
Floods and drowns
Brings fresh rain upon the dry crops
Without water no life

Love and loss
Life and death wrapped together
In each others arms……

Sitting comfortably in the cool morning air
Gratefully warmed by a wood-burning stove
Reflecting on those losing so much in the raging fires
Warming heat, raging fire
Without fire no life

Love and loss
Life and death wrapped together
In each others arms……

What happens to our trust in life when betrayed by the elements?
Do we live traumatized, afraid of earth, air, fire, water forever?

I don’t know!
I did not lose anything in the fires, floods or earthquakes.
I have no advice for others.
Choose to be intimate with this life
Even though
Living this way is risky

Love and loss
Life and death wrapped together
In each others arms……

May those who are struggling with loss receive the grace of loving support
May those traumatized by the uncontrollable, find peace
May we all find a home on our shared earth………..

For a PDF click here


Standing on One Foot: The Essence of The Embodied Life

The following is a well-known Talmudic tale beloved by Moshe Feldenkrais involving two famous rabbis:

 A non-Jewish man approached Rabbi Shammai and said to him: “Convert me but first teach me the entire Torah as I stand on one foot.” Shammai, feeling that he was not serious, sternly chased him away. This man then approached Rabbi Hillel with the same request but was met with a very different response–Hillel agreed. The entire Torah on one foot that Hillel taught him was “that which you hate, don’t do to others–a paraphrase of the commandment  “love your neighbor as yourself”. “That is the entire Torah,” Hillel told him, “the rest is simply an explanation. Go and learn it!”

 "Love your neighbor as yourself!” Feldenkrais would joke: with the way most people treat themselves, the world would actually worsen if we loved others as we love ourselves. First, we must learn to love ourselves. At the end of our training in San Francisco, he said that “if you can teach others to love themselves and stand on their own two feet (not only one foot), you would be wanted anywhere in the world”. Of course, this love was not the artificial narcissism that many confuse with love, but the genuine respectfulness of our own capacities, boundaries, and unique gifts.

People often ask me to explain the essence of The Embodied Life. As with most deep teachings this is challenging to do, (especially standing on one foot).

If actually asked this question, what would I say? Something like:

“Approach each situation Freshly, by Presencing the moment, and do your best to lovingly take care of the most important needs that live in that situation”.

That’s it. The rest is an explanation.

Now for some explanation:

HOW we learn to “presence” the entire situation - including the diverse wants, needs, and unique configuration of each moment - is the study of The Embodied Life. Through many practices, including sitting still, moving, learning the language of the feeling body, deep listening and communicating with others, we learn to respond freshly to life rather than react out of habit. In taking care of Life, we include our own needs without being biased toward ourselves. This seemingly impossible, yet essential calculus comes from the integration of all ways of knowing. It cannot come from thinking only, feeling only, bodily intuition only or from the external situation only; rather, it is the harmonious inclusion of all of these. We call this holistic knowing - The Wisdom Body. It is the integration of wisdom and love in action and is a life-long study.




Reflections about Identity: The Dangers and Importance of Self-Identities

 A Zen master ringing the bell asks:

“Who hears the bell?

Are you woman or man?

Are you black or white?

Are you rich or poor?

At the moment of hearing -

Just hearing”!

 What is the cause of violence in this world? Looking broadly at both personal and international events, some kind of limited, partial self-identity is at the root of most violence. By identity, I am conflating a broad range of categories: those fixed at birth such as skin color and ethnicity, those imposed by family and culture yet malleable, such as religion, and those more freely chosen like friend groups, social affiliations, etc. In this rendering, identities can also be comprised of self-images and judgments such as smart, stupid, beautiful, ugly, kind, etc. as well as any of the roles that we identify with in life. Even rigidly held opinions, such as progressive or conservative views can become wedded to self-identity in destructive ways. All categories of self-definition are included.

 It is crucial to distinguish between our authentic individuality – True “I-ness” - and our limited self-identities. In the evolution of consciousness, the arising of the capacity for personal self-reflection, to know and know that we know, is a radical happening. This awareness is the basis for creativity and human freedom. To have our own authentic, unique experience of thinking, feeling and sensing and to stand back and reflect upon our own experience is a very high level of development.

 This movement from ancient tribal, collective consciousness into individuality has been a long, arduous journey. As the sense of a separate self developed in consciousness, our ancestors navigated a dreadful sense of separation from collectivity and from Source and created partial identities that offer temporary solace and connectivity. When these identities support our self-expression and are in service to life they can be helpful. When our self-worth is dependent on these partial identities, they often lead to destructive behaviors. We are each a unique expression of universal unfolding. When in harmony with life, we can bring our personal gifts in service to All.  This is our direction: “I” and “We” in service to “All”.

 Is it true that violence, when not in defense of life, only arises when a person or group is defending some kind of limited self-identity?

 Religious crusades, ethnic cleansing, gang warfare, intolerant political ideology and fixed gender identities are obvious examples. Perhaps less obvious are the times when our immutable opinions of right and wrong become justification for casting others out. Standing up for our deep values without explicitly or implicitly, questioning the essential worth of others requires courage and clarity. For example, when witnessing the political discourse in the U.S. and much of the world today, I observe hateful, demeaning and dehumanizing rhetoric from all sides. Those of us who are very troubled by many Trump-ian views and actions need to stand up for our values without demonizing the “others”. This includes surrendering that temporary sense of affirmation and “rightness” that arises when like-minded people confirm our views.

 What would you kill for, other than the protecting of life?

 The whole spiritual path is a movement into broader and broader connectivity until one feels intimately connected to the totality of life. One sees and knows that every life is as important as every other life. In Buddhism, this is the bodhisattva path. In Christianity, it is internalizing the hearts of Jesus or Mary. In secular humanism, it is called Self-actualization. As one feels more authentically secure in self and world, the need for limited self-identities and thus limitations on one’s “field of caring” lessens. As consciousness evolves, one’s wholehearted caring widens and deepens until all of life is included as a part of self.

 Holding Self-Identities Lightly

 For many years, I have been encouraging students and myself to hold ANY self-identities and social roles very lightly. It was clear to me that most of our suffering, along with our violence and judgments toward others, arose from fixed identities. When we perceive self and world through rigid “identity systems”, we evaluate every situation, person and happening through this manufactured filter. Recently, I have been struck by two embarrassing revelations: 1) my blind spots about the potential positive, temporary value of limited self-identities and 2) that my ability to question all of my identities is implicitly connected to the social structures and privileges in which I have lived. More on this later, first a bit of background.

 All self-identities are subsets of True Self thus are smaller and more confining than whom we truly are. For me this means identifying as a white, male, husband, father, 65 year old, wealthy, able-bodied, sexually normative, Jewish/Buddhist, spiritual teacher, Feldenkrais practitioner, etc. become relatively insignificant when seen in the light of awakened consciousness. If these partial identities become essential for my “self-sense”, they become obstacles. Most spiritual traditions point toward freedom from limited self-identities as essential on the path of realization. In fact, true freedom requires the experience: At my core, I am not: this body, this mind, these memories, these plans, this gender, this history, etc. We can summarize this as the True ‘I’ is not this, not that.”

 For example, as much as I enjoy being a father and assuming this role at times, when this becomes central to my self-identity, I notice my voice, attitude and even posture change. I move from freely functioning as a possibly helpful ally for my daughter to being something of a potential tyrant. Similarly, if I need my wife or my friends to see life as I do because I am identified with some point of view then we all lose our freedom and connectedness. This does not mean to cast aside strongly held views or values. Rather that they can be both strongly and lightly held. The same is true for other self-definitions. If I see myself as a “teacher” than I create inner and outer demands that severely limit the relationship with someone who might take the position of a “student”. Held lightly, these roles can be delightful, helpful and fulfilling. Taking all roles, views and limited identities as a kind of “serious play” can be helpful and liberating.

Empowerment by the Dominant Culture

 I have come to realize that this view of identities as obstacles comes implicitly from someone empowered by the dominant culture. This does not mean that the observations about the limiting nature of identifications is wrong, rather that it is disturbingly incomplete and biased. People benefiting from the dominant culture already have our identities woven into society and therefore can have less need for the support of partial identities than other populations. I say, “can have” because these “identity systems” are so potent that letting go of these scaffoldings of self-identity is a great challenge for all of us. Clinging to some form of identity, seeing the clinging clearly and letting it go is like walking through a fire for all of us. Still, because of the implicit weaving into society, holding these images lightly and letting them go can be less threatening for people empowered by the dominant culture.  “To let go of the ego one needs a strong ego”. I am saying that for letting go of non-helpful self-identities, one derives benefit, a bolstering of self-worth, from the messages of the dominant culture.

 As a simple example – growing up I saw many images of white, male, able-bodied men on television as voices of strength, intelligence and worthiness. The textbooks in school and the magazines were framed with people who looked like me as the heroes and creators of destiny. People of color and women were usually given subservient images or not represented at all. Demeaning and oppressive images of what their bodies should look like still oppress girls. Boys have much more latitude for not identifying their self-worth with their physical appearance. The examples are almost endless.

I never seriously considered that my capacity for internalizing teachings about inner freedom and universal love was radically supported by my social position. While women, people of color, those of limited finances, differing physical abilities, etc., have equal internal capacity for self-realization, social structures can create significant obstacles.

 Like the air we breathe, the security that comes from these cultural images, is hard to see. Paradoxically, while this security can give one greater confidence in letting go of these images, the opposite can also be true. People in power rarely give it up willingly. Those benefiting from societal structures can become obsessed in maintaining the positions that come from their self-identities. Sometimes those supported by the intrinsic empowerment are often unaware of benefits derived from the structure and our/their complicity in the devaluing messages given to many others.

A bit of Spiritual Philosophy: Absolute and Relative Truth

 In various traditions, there is a distinction made between absolute and relative truth, though ultimately they are inseparable. From the point of view of Absolute Truth and Non-Duality, distinctions of gender, race etc. are ultimately irrelevant. All of the following: We are all one, ‘I’ am That, we are not bound to our historic self and prior conditioning are genuine realizations that are confirmed through realization experiences.

 From this perspective, our differences are superficial. We all arise from the same source. We all are born and die. We all breathe and eat. All life seeks to minimize pain and find fulfillment. We all depend on everything for everything. We are interdependent with the totality of life – without air there are no lungs, without light no eyes, our bones are made from the elements of the earth and the gravitational pull sustains our form.

Similarly, we form our sense of “self” through personal relationships and an interweaving with social contexts. Thich Nhat Hahn invented the term “inter-being” to convey this truth, in the words of Eugene Gendlin “we are interaction first”, that is, each moment our “self” forms out of interaction. Transcendent awareness brings the authentic experience that there is no fundamentally separate self, it is an illusion. Oneness is not simply a nice idea it is an actual experience. We all are interconnected. We function every moment as “inter-being”. Authentic experience of awakening brings the certainty that we do not exist as separate beings.

Relative Truth emphasizes duality, our differences and our individuality. This is the everyday world of this and that, you and me. As we grow up, we go through many periods of experimenting with our expression in the world; this is how we form our individual selves, our self-identities. Through our individuality, we can bring particular gifts into the world. Appreciating our differences is part of the joy of living and the richness of the human family.

As we individuate, we also develop our capacity for judging, labeling and categorizing others and ourselves. Through pain, fear and insecurity, our struggle for identity can lead to destructive mental habits. Seeing these thought patterns clearly, taking responsibility for them and developing alternatives is a significant part of spiritual growth. As we feel increasingly secure in self and world, we can hold identities and differences more lightly; they become less of a touchstone of “who I am” and more an expression of “how I am” in the world. We can value how lived experience arising from various identities – those that are chosen, those that are imposed and those that are inherent - help to create the diversity that deeply enriches our shared world.

Valuing Partial Self-Identities

As a teacher of awareness and freedom, I have been learning to value and respect the partial self-identities of my students. In the past, I saw these only as obstacles to our open-heartedness and self-realization. Now I can appreciate the need to engage in dialogue and to learn together about the potentially helpful and hurtful aspects of these identities. I am learning how identities impact experience and can, when approached with awareness, actually deepen and expand spiritual understandings. My previous certainty that these identities were obstacles has given way to the insight that learning from these partial identities is deepening for my students and for me. Paradoxically, this in no ways minimizes the necessity for realization of Oneness that transcends all self-identities.

To be clear, I am NOT saying that:

1) People of the dominant culture can easily let go of limiting self-identities, 2) that many actually succeed in freeing themselves from these boxes or 3) that people of marginalized groups are less capable of freedom from limiting identities.

Rather that:

1) A person of the dominant culture has more implicit support and potentially less need for these identities as these are already woven into social norms.

2) People empowered by the system have rewards for holding onto their positions and thus need other kinds of encouragement to see through the negative effects of the power structure and to support those who are not benefiting from the system.

3) Limited self-identities can be both obstacles and helpful on the path toward more universal realization.

4) Sub-group identities can have valuable impact for all of us in expanding our collective experience.

5) Reflecting on one’s own ideas of what behaviors, appearances and self-expressions we consider to be normal or acceptable and questioning their roots in dominance and power structures can be helpful in widening our individual and collective field of care.

Through insight and practice, I can often hold my various identities lightly because these have social currency. As these identities are rarely named due to their normalization, it is essential to intentionally attend to their influence in social situations. Recognizing the negative effects of this empowerment on all of us requires countercultural thinking.

Saying “Yes” and “No” to Self-Identities

Not-knowing is the first truth of Zen. We are reminded over and over to question and keep questioning all conclusions about EVERYTHING. Letting go of certainty is hard work. Similarly, the capacity to tolerate the cognitive dissonance of paradox, “yes” and “no” living simultaneously is essential on the path of freedom. Courage is needed to live in uncertainty.

For me this means to live into the “truth” that limited self-identities are the main cause of violence, as well as the main obstacle to universal peace/love/freedom AND the “truth” that partial self-identities are often essential for growing the inner security to hold these self-definitions lightly. These identities can be both destructive and enrich our human experience. As the great yogi Swami Sivananda said many years ago, it is “Unity in Diversity” that is the direction of consciousness evolution.

May we all distinguish between life-giving ways of holding our self-identities and those that lead us astray.

May we all realize the oneness that transcends all separate identities.

 For a PDF click here








The Encouragement of Light #2– Revised 2017

Almost ten years ago, I wrote the majority of this article, this is a revised, expanded version. It is long, if you find it interesting, I recommend printing it out for further study. Enjoy!

 “It Felt Love” by Hafiz

 How did the Rose

Ever Open its Heart

And Give to This World

All its Beauty?

 It felt the Encouragement of Light

Toward its Being-


We all remain

Too frightened……….


The Light of Awareness

 Hafiz’s phrase “encouragement of light” resonates deeply for me. What is this light?

 We are alive,

Right Now,


When we are aware!

We know, sense, feel, intuit this unique moment…

Love Arises

In the Light -

In THIS very moment!


How amazing it is that we are alive and that we know we are alive!  

Life knows Life THROUGH human beings like you and me. From an evolutionary perspective – 1) inert matter became alive, capable of reproducing itself, 2) life became sentient, capable of feeling, 3) sentient life became conscious with beginning capacities for caring and planning, then “suddenly”, after 14 billion years, 4) conscious animals became capable of awareness and self-reflection.

 Meaningfulness and Love – the essence of what makes this often-painful journey of life worth it – blossoms with this capacity. Like a fish experiencing water, it is easy to miss this essential reality. We are Life experiencing itself. Life needs Beings like us, brains like ours, to have a conscious, living, self-reflective, experience of itself.

 I use the term “Light of Awareness” in a specific way. The light has two qualities – clarity and warmth. By clarity, I mean a sense of objectivity, seeing “what is”, this is called “Knowing”. By warmth, I mean unconditional, non-judgmental, caring. This quality is also called Love, when stripped of the personal and romantic notions.

 Perhaps unexpectedly, Awareness, in this sense, is inseparable from the transcendent life-energy called Love. This life force lives both within and beyond the human being. Awakening to this consciousness that is both latent within the human heart and emanates from beyond is the direction of evolving consciousness.  This is the “I”, the “We” and the “All” functioning in harmony. Awareness and Love are ultimately inseparable, awareness makes authentic love possible. In this writing, I will explore my learning about specific steps toward connecting to this light more often.

 In Buddhist tradition, this light of awareness is the integration of wisdom and compassion. Wisdom is seeing ‘what is” and compassion is the warm heart of caring. Christian traditions speak of a loving, “guardian angel” who is lovingly devoted to you for lifetime upon lifetime and sees you clearly, yet cannot directly change your behavior. In more recent metaphor, think of Yoda from “Star Wars”, the wise elder who never judges young Luke yet always sees him clearly and cares deeply for him. In each of these images, one can sense “the encouragement of light” - warm-hearted yet objective caring. This capacity lives within each of us and through practice, we can develop it further.


Freedom and Authentic Love Begin with Self-Awareness

 Turning the light around is that important inner move of shining warm-hearted attention on what is alive in our inner life. Rather than looking outward, we allow awareness to orient in an inward direction. For bringing more love into our relationships and to be an effective voice for justice in the world, this step is essential. This non-judgmental, inclusive, warm yet objective light is an expression of our True nature. Buddhists call this “Basic Goodness”. This light of awareness is the sun for our blossoming, encouragement for our soul. This is how both the rose and we open our hearts. As this capacity deepens, caring toward other people naturally emerges. Kindness comes forth in the light of compassionate awareness.

 Often meditation students ask me “what do I do with all these negative, even hostile, thoughts that keep coming up?” The short answer is “love them”.  After a confused look, I hear two genuine questions: “what do you mean and how can I do that”?

 By ‘love them’, I do not mean to “like” them, approve of them or agree with them. Love simply means extending the non-judgmental, warm, clear light of awareness toward them. Said another way, “accept them” with kindness, even the one’s we label negative. We can cultivate a more neutral, objective yet curious relationship toward unpleasant feelings and bodily sensations. Even our anger and hatred can be met with care, not denied or acted upon in destructive ways. Shining this inner light is practice for developing warm-hearted awareness in all our relationships. Although this compassionate awareness can arise spontaneously, a few steps can encourage this light to shine.


Step 1- Radical Pause – Presencing through the Physical Body

 One might ask, “If this kind of awareness lives within human beings and is natural to us, how do we get separated from it”? In brief, we get lost in our fear-based, learned, Identity Systems. This narrow self-identity is sustained by our internal dialogue, stories about self and world that become habitual and fixated. These stories are validated by our patterns of attention so that what we experience confirms our worldviews. This is a closed, self-confirming system. How can we be free from this closed loop?

 Stepping back from our ordinary internal dialogue - the chatter and our unexamined stories and coming into presence is the first step. This is the radical pause in which we connect to the present moment through bodily experience. Maintaining our historic self-identity requires an “absencing” from the present moment, “presencing” is the antidote.

 In The Embodied Life, we emphasize bodily experience because physical sensations, especially the more neutral ones, are doorways to presence. While any sensation can be helpful, I suggest orienting around three dominant, relatively neutral experiences (perhaps pause with each suggestion and take a few moments for experiencing this as you read). 

 Start with the ground sensations of weight, substantiality and contact with your support surface. In sitting, sense your bottom on the chair, in standing notice your feet on the floor, etc. At every moment of your life, you are in relation to this gravitational pull - the unconditional support of the earth. Being conscious of this support has the surprisingly powerful effect of “grounding” you. Grounding balances the top heavy, disconnected thoughts, images and feelings that often arise when we are lost in our stories. 

 Add to this grounded-ness, your sense of the space around you. Embodied experience is not just “in” the physical body but also, always, in the larger space in which you are living. We are always in a physical and social environment and these must be included for wholeness to emerge. Our brain constantly maps the spaces that we are living in and we can, even without using vision, sense into these spaces. The sounds that surround you are particularly helpful. Do not be selective; be like a tape recorder taking in all the sounds. The bird chirping and the refrigerator humming are equally welcome. Sense the space around you, as you still connect to the ground sensations. This process is additive and eventually effortless.

 Finally, at every moment, you are in some part of a breathing cycle. You are inhaling, exhaling or pausing. Tuning into this ever-present process is restorative.

 Through the radical pause - through ground, space-sound, and breath - we connect intimately with the moment, just as it is, before our beliefs and reactions. This is the experience of  “I am Here” or “I am”. Our physical body is a doorway to “presencing”.


Step 2- Acknowledging and Felt-Sensing

 Now that you are present in the moment, turn your attention toward the specific thoughts and feelings that are alive in that moment - from “I am”, to “how am I”? Label the thoughts and feelings as precisely and objectively as possible, “name them to tame them”. Thoughts include the stories, the narratives that you are telling yourself about yourself, life and other people.

 Once you are grounded in the present moment through your physical body and after acknowledging the thoughts and feeling, you can turn toward the whole sense of that moment - the “felt-sense”.

 Felt-sense is a term created by Eugene Gendlin, the originator of a method of self-inquiry called Focusing, for a holistic way of attending to one’s experience. This way of being with one’s self reliably creates a sense of meaningfulness and inner shifting. Through the study of many people in therapeutic settings, Gendlin found that attending in this way transforms how problems are experienced and deepens an appreciation of being alive.

 A felt-sense is more than just one feeling or emotion. It is the way the entire situation, including the thoughts, concerns, sensations, hopes, images, and emotions are experienced all together. It is both subtle and profound. Through this way of attending, we learn to say “hello” to this dynamic state. Awareness welcomes each voice, each feeling, and each sensation like a gracious host with a guest or a parent with a child.

 If the felt-sense is contracted, stuck or painful, acknowledge it without trying to fix or change it. In a challenging moment, even the voice that just wants it all to be different is seen as one of the guests to whom you are the host. Rather than trying to change, you are letting the light of awareness work on your inner life. You are the welcoming ‘space’ in which all the inner voices can be accepted (remember not “liked” but accepted).

 Meeting the moment with awareness, as a warm-hearted, curious, caring observer, creates a surprisingly potent environment for organic change. Welcoming the moment does not imply being passive or inauthentic. All voices are welcome including those that are struggling, hating or resigned.

 Shining the light in this way reveals what is living, what is true in heart, body, mind and environment in a given moment.  For example:

Sitting here, writing, I notice a background of discomfort in my belly.  What is that………. a kind of tightness, something unsettled, perhaps something about the seminar I am teaching. Pausing in typing, I take a few moments ground in my body and to acknowledge the presence of this tight place, letting “it” know that I know its there- like giving a child or a pet a gentle moment of care. Just that acknowledgment creates a subtle releasing, a sense of “being on the same page” with my inner life. Amazingly, this happens without working on or trying to change it - such is the power of acknowledging.


Step 3- Being With

 Learning to ‘be with’ all inner states is remarkably empowering, creating a radically different relationship. I call this quality, in which the “I” is keeping company with whatever is alive in our experience, “presencing”. Surprisingly, this kind of ‘being with’ often leads toward a helpful action or a decision when such is needed.

 Keeping intimate, non-judgmental company with the inner state probably feels strange and awkward at first. Addressing it, “it” being that inner place that is carrying this painful experience, affectionately with something like “dear one, tell me what so difficult” and listening to the response, often creates a powerful inner movement. Resting a hand on the place that hurts can be healing. Always, you are listening to the response of the inner/feeling body. The keys are: 1) not identifying with the state and 2) not controlling the inner life with ordinary, thought-based consciousness. This integrated listening requires slowing down, returning to the “radical pause”, recovering a sense of neutral through the physical body and waiting for the inner world to lead you.

 As I am with the remnants of that tightness in my belly, images of the one student that I am concerned about come to mind. Asking my inner body if the tightness is connected to my concern that the seminar is too demanding for her, I receive an inner “yes”- a bodily confirmation that the contraction is connected to this situation. Even without a solution, my body let’s go further, just knowing that I am listening and hearing the concern. I can now spend some time inviting solutions to the situation. Interestingly, the majority of the relief comes before a solution is found!


Step 4- Inquiry

 After welcoming the inner place with the warm light of awareness, we enter the final step called inquiry. These steps are not always sequential and might overlap. Grounded in our bodies, maintaining non-judgmental contact with our inner life, begin to gently ask: “what is the most important thought/belief that is living in me right now”? Or “what makes this so hard”?

 My experience is that there is usually an unexamined, unquestioned “untruth” that is at work, often under the surface. By untruth, I mean unverifiable, exaggerated assertions such as: “no one will ever love me”, “I am a failure”, “I am always so stupid”, “this will never get better”, or “there is no way out”.  These old stories have remarkable power when unacknowledged.

 Holding attention in the present moment, grounded in the physical body, we can turn our light toward any untrue thoughts. Simply naming these thoughts in presence will usually result in a letting go and often a smile. Shining this light of awareness, keep returning with non-judgmental curiosity to the dark place of the ‘untruth’. It cannot survive for long in this light. 

 For my situation in this seminar, a small part of the contraction remains.  As I maintain contact with embodied presence and the subtle tightness, which has moved to my chest, I inquire into any thoughts that are living in the background. Sure enough, I discover a small voice saying something like, “it is my job that everyone get value from and enjoy the seminar. If she is not satisfied I am a failure”.  While I love people to get value and joy from my teaching, clearly this is not my job. I am here to do the best I can at presenting this material and I cannot control others people’s experience. With that awareness, my body gets totally light and free.

 This “turning toward” has the feeling of acknowledging what is true in the moment without fighting, ignoring or resigning. How is it possible not to fight undesirable moments? Imagine an infant waking you up in the middle of the night with loud cries, a snotty face and a full, smelly diaper. While you prefer life to be different, your natural choice is to put your reactions in the background and take care of the baby. Can you imagine a similar response to your own painful thoughts, feelings and even bodily sensations?

 The encouragement of light is the sun-like energy of awareness that allows our inherent wisdom to come forward. Connecting with what is alive in our bodies, hearts and minds, even in difficult moments, invites an opening, a letting go. Feeling connected with Self feels more spacious and truer because these are expressions of our True nature. The tight, pressured, dark places are departures from our deepest connection to Life and, when approached through ‘presencing’, can lead us ‘home’. Even painful moments of loss, grief, injustice, etc. are felt differently. It is not that we try to feel happy, rather, we feel authentically connected to wholeness, to essence.

 Similarly, in pleasant or neutral moments, presencing deepens our appreciation of being alive. Most moments are not either wonderful or terrible. When in presence, even ordinary moments become more fulfilling. This is one of the great gifts of blossoming awareness.

 The encouragement of Light toward your own inner world is an accelerator of our unfolding toward freedom and love. Meeting the moment with a warm, objective, curiosity and care opens our inner knowing. Even our inner critical voices unwind in this presence. We can learn to hear the sometimes helpful messages that these hostile voices are trying to bring, without all the struggle. This presencing is the basis for growing loving relationships. This atmosphere allows an authentic, mature, grounded voice for social justice. To be truly alive and aware in this Light is the greatest gift we can receive from and then give back to our precious Life. What is more important than this? As poet Mary Oliver says at the end of her poem “The Summer Day”:


Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?







Over the last few years my daughter Liliana, who works in the field of social justice and diversity, has been helping me to deepen my understanding of the systemic societal inequities in which we are immersed. Becoming conscious of the inherent privileges that are sewn into the fabric of my social world is an essential step in being less contributory to the unfairness of the system. In a fair social system, the privilege of the few would become the rights of all.

As a student and teacher of awareness for many years, my focus has been on growing our individual capacity for awakened consciousness of our bodies, feelings, thoughts, relationships and environment. Only recently have I been attending more consciously to the ways our cultural biases impact these abilities. I believe that the road toward individual and collective freedom is paved with awareness. This road must include becoming more conscious of assumed rights that are implicit for the dominant cultural groups (e.g. white, male, heterosexual, upper and middle-class) and how this is radically different for non-dominant groups. These assumed rights are the territory of “privilege”.

We live in unfair social systems, which have deeply imbedded biases. The cultural euphemism that says we are all free to create our own destiny, while true in an absolute sense, ignores how the playing field is not level from the beginning.

I notice that many people find the concept of inherent privilege unhelpful, in that it implies an elimination of personal responsibility for the choices one makes in life. They accurately point out that we all have advantages and disadvantages based on our genetics, family systems, place of birth, etc. and it is our personal task in life to transform our situation into “the unlimited potential of the future”. Privilege is also derided as a “guilt trip” assumed by liberally oriented people in response to accusations directed by marginalized populations. 

I feel it is essential that we differentiate “advantages” from “privilege”.  While having cultural privilege has many advantages, not all advantages require privilege. Having literate parents, books in the home, conversation around the dinner table are advantages. Having a superior school down the street because of one’s economic status is an example of privilege. Having a healthy, mobile body is an advantage, having easy accessibility to most public environments is privilege. Experiencing a safe home environment is an advantage, experiencing the presence of a police officer as an obvious sign of protection and safety is an expression of privilege.

Again, in my opinion, for society to become “just”, the naturally assumed privilege of the few must become the rights and, therefore, the privilege, of the many. These distinctions are difficult to define yet very important. In acknowledging privilege, I am neither diminishing our individual capacity for transcending life situations nor am I imagining a world in which we all have the same advantages. Rather, I am pointing toward an obvious truth: societies have unacknowledged, unspoken and denied biases.

In responding effectively to some of the cultural and political movements alive in the world today, it is essential that we acknowledge the institutional, cultural, and personal/interpersonal racism, sexism, classism and other “isms”, in which we are living. Without this acknowledgement and a creative response to the systemic (meaning of a system) oppression, we will perpetuate these cultural wars for generations to come. Also, as I will describe later, this acknowledgement is as helpful, essential, and life transforming for those in positions of dominance as for the oppressed.

Definitions of Privilege:

Restricted right or benefit:
- A right or benefit that is not available to everyone

Rights and advantages enjoyed by elite
- The rights and advantages enjoyed by a relatively small group of people usually as a result of wealth or social status
-Systematic favoring, enriching, valuing, validating, and including of certain social identities over others. Individuals cannot “opt out” of systems of privilege; rather these systems are inherent to the society in which they live

I have many unearned privileges:

I have white skin, which in offers me special status in my country of origin and in much of the world. When I enter a restaurant or place of business, I assume that I am welcome. People of other skin colors are often viewed with suspicion or even hostility. When I see a person in a police uniform walking down the street, I do not feel endangered or suspect.

I have a male body, which in primate evolutionary history affords me more power and greater access to resources than my female counterparts.  I have never been threatened with sexual violence or treated uncomfortably as a sexual object. I have never been told overtly or covertly that any position in society was unattainable to me.

I have a heterosexual identity, which means my sexual orientation has never been questioned or devalued.  I have never felt threatened by the way I walk, talk or dress  or by expressing affection in public.  I do not experience people looking at me with derision or questioning my moral character based on my sexual orientation.

I was born into a middle-class family, which afforded me consistent access to food, shelter, quality education and protection from hostile environments. I never had to go to school hungry or worry about the quality of my drinking water or about being attacked by neighborhood gangs. I also grew up with the explicit and implicit implication that my standing in the world, economically and socially, could and would improve.

I have a healthy body, without obvious disability, which means I never had to confront being unable to enter a building due to inaccessibility. My capacity to move easily through life situations has always been assumed. When I want to meet with someone, either socially or for my occupation, I know that I can gain access to our meeting place. This implicit accessibility contributed to the sense that I could go anywhere and be almost anything.

As a relatively rich, well-educated, healthy, heterosexual, white, male, my path in life has been easier than many others. It is true that I have worked diligently for many of the gifts in my current life; still it is important that my inherent privileges not be overlooked. Through the media, I grew up with many images of success and possibility that looked like me. The messages “you can be what you want to be”, “if you can dream it you can be it”, and “the sky is the limit” were consistently given to me.

Imaginative Exercise

Imagine that there are basketball hoops lining a wall of a gym. These hoops represent fulfilling your dreams or success in various areas of life. Imagine that fifty people of different cultural, racial and economic backgrounds and sexual identities are standing at mid-court facing the baskets. We are then asked to:

- Take one step forward if you have felt welcomed in most social and business environments and one step back if not (don’t move either way if neutral for this and all the following).

- Take one step forward if you had good teachers and access to quality learning materials in most of your schooling and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you lived in basically safe, secure environments growing up and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you have felt safe sexually almost all of the time and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you received messages and saw many role models suggesting that you could be anything that you chose to be and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you were encouraged and supported by the people outside your family toward a successful life and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you had access to financial support when needed and one step back if not.

You see where this is going and can imagine your own examples. You are then given a ball and asked to shoot for your dreams, for success. I am standing right in front of the basket; my female friends of color who were born into poor homes are at the other end of the gym. Others are some place in between us. We all shoot the ball. We are all told that everyone has the right and opportunity to make a basket.

This is called privilege.

I believe it is healthy and respectful to assume an attitude of self-responsibility in this life. Blaming others for our difficulties is inherently disempowering.


It is essential that we acknowledge the uneven playing field and take actions to minimize the effects of social injustice. In addition to laws that prevent overt bias, we can individually and collectively keep attuned to the systemic biases that infect our cultural life. This is a big task.

Our biases are built into our biology, our neural networks. From pre-human primate bands, to hunter-gathering groups, to tribes, to nations and seek dominance in terms of access to resources, which includes food, shelter, procreative potential, and anything that is collectively valued. We are also designed to see those outside our tribal/national group, any “other”, as threatening and alien.  While the impulse toward cooperation is also part of our DNA, this is usually limited by very specific boundaries. Some cultural systems tend to encourage these biases more than others, for example, the rise of capitalism in the United States required white supremacy as justification for the destruction of Native Americans and for slavery.

Still, biology is NOT destiny. Those of us in positions of social dominance – white males in particular – have a strong responsibility to acknowledge and do our best not to support or ignore (ignoring is supporting!) the systems of injustice that surround us. Whether it is the devaluing of women and femininity, jokes about “LGBTQ people” people or assumptions about people with skin colors that differ from our own, we need to be on the front lines of standing up for the respect of all beings. At a minimum, this asks us to engage in the uncomfortable task of noticing our own biases, speaking of them openly and calling attention to any expressions of pre-judging in our social groups. This means ALL pre-judging. In my circles, this means to say something when people assume that all Trump supporters are ignorant or racist.

One of the most important learning’s for me in my “street retreat” with the ZenPeacemakers in which we lived and slept on the streets of San Francisco without any money was to see my assumptions about the “street people”. I carried a lot of fear and disrespect in my mind that dissolved through genuine interaction. People living on the street are as diverse as people anywhere; they are not of one type. This is obvious theoretically, yet I needed to experience this truth to overcome my prejudice.

In addition, while humor is a helpful tool in unmasking these systemic patterns, often unconscious attitudes of superiority are expressed through jokes. People of privilege need to be more observant and circumspect than those from more marginalized groups. I used to say “well aren’t we all equally entitled to speak freely?”. For example, if an African-American comedian can make jokes about white people, can’t a white comedian, just as readily, make jokes about black people?  Well, “no”. In my opinion, by observing the implicit power differentials, those in positions of power need to be both more circumspect and more humble.

None of us will ever be safe and at home in our cultures until ALL human beings feel valued implicitly. Those of us who seem to “gain” from the biases need to see that much of our social fear and anxiety arises from these imbalances.

While we must hold people responsible for their actions, we can also stand up for injustices base on systemic patterns of devaluation and oppression.
The task of awakening beings is to transcend and transmute the biological tendencies and tribal biases of our forbearers. For life on earth to thrive, a critical mass of us need to make an evolutionary leap into inclusion of ALL life as part of “US”.

White, male privilege is real and needs to be acknowledged. We also need to be mindful of the potential for the disrespect in lowering expectations for people who have been treated inequitably. When teachers expect less from African-American children, we all lose. There truly is a “tyranny of lowered expectations” that we do not want to support.  In my opinion, this is another form of disrespect and discrimination.  Taking white, male privilege seriously, means to recognize the systemic effects of discrimination over many generations while still holding true to our commitment to the unique creative potentials in each individual.  Creating equal opportunity requires us to look toward how to make opportunity equitable until it can truly be equal.

My responsibility is to use my privilege to help educate and bring into dialogue others who are not acknowledging their privileged status. In addition, I am committed to actively support those in my community who are more vulnerable than I am. We can influence the system through our words and our actions. Even small acts in daily life can be helpful. As we move through our worlds, we can be more aware of those who might need a little bit more of our care to feel truly safe and truly welcome in a social situation. Some call this “reverse racism or sexism”; I call it “taking care of life”.

Having been raised in a socially liberal household where the valuing of all human beings was encouraged, I never saw the more subtle and nefarious ways that systemic oppression and white, male privilege supported me and “my kind”. I always saw myself as one of the “good-guys”, on the side of the fair and good. Still, the social ground on which I walked and the social air I breathed gave me privileges that were more pervasive than I had realized. I am very grateful to my daughter whose life and occupational passions have brought these issues more into foreground for me and now, hopefully, for you.

I would be delighted to hear your responses, whether you agree, disagree or simply want to take these issues further. The Embodied Life™ School, through this forum, will seek to further this exploration.

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Understanding the connection between The Embodied Life™ and The Feldenkrais Method

When Rabbi Mordechai’s son Rabbi Noah took over after his death, the disciples noticed that he did many little things differently.  When asked about this Rabbi Noah said, I do things just as my father did, he did not imitate and I do not imitate”.

From Moshe I received many blessings for which I am eternally grateful, two of the most important are: commitment to the process of awareness and valuing my unique ‘handwriting’.

Prior to meeting Moshe, I was devoted to a practice of Zen meditation.  My initial insight “on the cushion” revolved around the central importance of being awake in the present moment.  In addition, because Zen is above all an embodied practice, I saw how our embodiment could be a great ally in the process of awakening.

Early in my training, ATM’s became a laboratory for exploring embodied presence. Before, during and after the training, I was also investigating present moment awareness (is there any other kind?) in the realm of feelings/emotions through Gestalt Therapy, various awareness practices and other approaches to somatic-based psychology.

My professional identity from 1975 onward has been as a Feldenkrais teacher and trainer.  In addition, for about 25 years, I also have conducted retreats and seminars, which integrate meditation and “guided inquiry” (an original system for investigating thinking, feeling, communication and relationship patterns) with the teachings of Moshe. 

About 15 years ago, while in a time of deep self-reflection, I investigated the question, “if had 5 years left to live what would I do?” The clear and unmistakable answer was that I would devote myself to teaching the most direct and complete path to inner freedom that I could. This questioning led to the creation of “The Embodied Life™” as a mentorship program in which I would guide people in the practices that have been of most importance to me.

3 Main Practices: Meditation, Guided Inquiry, Movement Lessons of Moshe Feldenkrais

All of these practices include the same inner attitude of curiosity, warm-heartedness and spaciousness applied in slightly different ways. 

The meditation we practice is a direct, bare-bones approach to experiencing our mind/body ‘as-it-is’; this is the basis for being at home in ourselves.   Beyond ideology, it directly addresses the question: can I be at ease within my own self-created mental stories?  Rather than offering mantras, pictures or other forms of “distraction”, we practice becoming friendly with the present moment.

Guided Inquiry includes a variety of awareness experiments based in the Focusing method of Eugene Gendlin.  I have been developing these experiments for more than 30 years.  Learning to bring a warm, caring, curious yet objective presence to our feelings/emotions/situations is transformative.  Becoming skillful with both inner and outer communication is part of this study. We also use modern neurological understanding to grow “resource states” in which we practice growing “life-giving neural networks” based in our own experiential history.

As you know, the movement lessons of Moshe Feldenkrais are perhaps the most neurologically sophisticated ways of transforming our motor patterns and self-image.  In this program we focus in-depth on 5 essential embodied qualities: grounding, centering, breathing, lengthening (lightness) and spatial awareness (inner sand outer space).  The lessons are specifically chosen to invite a softening of the infrastructure of our learned self-limiting identity. In addition, I have developed “standing gestures” that embody the most important human qualities such as: dignity, humility, courage, grounded-ness, open-heartedness and presence.

Transformation and Integration 

The integration of these modalities is profound and unique.  Working with mental/emotional habits, while simultaneously exploring the underlying physical patterns- all from the same perspective- potentiates each approach exponentially. Finally, the power of a committed, compassionate group of people often from various countries doing these practices over a period of time creates an unexpected support for inner transformation.

“I believe we are in a historically brief transition period that heralds the emergence of the truly human man.”
(Moshe Feldenkrais,  “Awareness Through Movement”, p.48)

“The Embodied Life” is directly oriented toward Moshe’s vision of the integrated human being in whom sensing, moving, feeling, and thinking function as an integrated whole.  Moshe predicted that this integration would be spontaneous when the movement patterns were no longer compulsive.  When I shared with him my observation that sometimes people generalize their learning and often they did not, he said, “it is the greatest disappointment of my life”.

We are living in a time a great transformation and evolution of consciousness.  I encourage those attracted to the ideas presented here to check out the writings on my website at www.russelldelman.com and to consider coming to an Embodied Life retreat.  Wishing us all many blessings on the path of awakening.

 “In those moments when awareness succeeds in being at one with feeling, senses, movement and thought, the carriage will speed along on the right road. Then man can make discoveries, invent create, innovate and ‘know’. He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in this unity he is no longer alone.”               
Moshe Feldenkrais, “Awareness Through Movement”, p.54


Is this a personal or professional training?

People come with different intentions: 1) Everybody who attends is interested in self-transformation.  2) Many of the people are active teachers, Feldenkrais practitioners, meditation teachers and therapists who want to expand and deepen their work.  3) Some of the people want to become “Embodied Life” guides.

Do you certify people at the end of the 6 meetings?

Not necessarily. There are at least three major areas of study, though we approach them from the same perspective. The first is meditation, the second movement awareness and the third is the group of practices called Guided Inquiry.  Depending on their history and skill sets people develop in these areas at differing rates. My encouragement to teach the work is based on our personal relationship and the dialogue that I maintain with each participant. There are now numerous Embodied Life groups meeting throughout the world. We have approximately the same number of Embodied Life graduates in Europe as in the U.S. The 14th program will begin this year, with approximately 250 people having participated in the whole program.

Are all participants Feldenkrais Practitioners?

No.  I really value and enjoy a diversity of backgrounds.  All participants have been on the road of awareness in some form.  For example there are Zen monks, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, social workers, artists, film makers and people with many other areas of expertise enrolled in the current courses. This makes for a very rich atmosphere.

Is there homework between the weeks?

A basic law of “spiritual” or inner development is that all tasks or assignments must be done in freedom. This means that I make suggestions for people’s development and the decision to follow through is up to each individual. There are no requirements, yet, almost everyone in the current courses maintains a daily meditation practice and at least once a week they explore some other aspect of the teaching.  Each training week is digitally recorded and this is sent to each participant so many people use the interim to review the previous session.  Each year there are approximately three recommended readings.

I already have a teacher, do I need to see you as my new teacher?

Not at all.  As part of the course, I offer to be in relationship with each participant.  Most of the contact is via email.  Some people contact me fairly regularly, some never connect with me between sessions.  You determine the type of connection that serves your development.

How can I apply?

First go to the website www.russelldelman.com to fill out an application.  I request that each person applying come to at least one retreat before the program so that we can have experience working in these forms together.

How can I ask further questions?

For logistical questions contact my administrator, Nancy Fleming, at office@russelldelman.com  and for questions related to content or personal issues contact me at Russell@russelldelman.com.

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