The Un-Teachable Moment

We hear a lot about “Teachable Moments.” And we love the idea of them ─ that something important, perhaps even life changing happens and we get to make a conscious choice to be part of it. But beneath the flashy surface of these special events, in the deeper, quieter waters that we pass over as we sail along toward the  ”bigger and better,” lies something, more subtle, more humble, meaningful and rewarding. Something that cannot be taught, or learned, that can only be “known” when grace allows it.

These are the “Un-Teachable Moments,” the moments that most people barely notice, and tend to ignore ─ that demand vigilance, and we can only recognize by staying awake, aware and ready for the instant when a word is spoken, an action is taken, the curtain spontaneously parts, and a simple everyday event takes on the mantle of a vision, a dream, a revelation that for the most part remains invisible in our daily lives.

Yesterday, I met a young man named Joe. He works as a tech in a doctor’s office. This doctor’s internet reviews award him four stars. People wait months to see him. And he is acknowledged as being exceptional at what he does, able to resolve the mystery of my affliction within a single visit. He gladly tells me how good he would be at my job as well as his own: he says he took psychology in college and loves to analyze people and tell them what they should do and how to live their lives (though this, of course, is not my “job,” not at all, but he thinks it is and he likes to talk). When he sees me writing something on a 3X3 post-it, he hands me an even smaller post-it to contribute to the cause . He considers himself quite the jokester, but there is little to discover beyond his highly honed medical skills, and his love of himself

But Joe, the tech. . . Oh, what a different story. He does his work quietly, and though his manner is reserved, he engages easily and makes me feel comfortable and cared for. It’s difficult to explain how by doing nothing at all he creates this effect. The sterile, windowless room where he questions me about my history becomes a haven of peace. His touch is gentle, his voice compassionate, his words resonate with kindness. I cannot resist asking where he is from (Hong Kong) and thanking him for his gentility.

“I’ve met many other technicians but none like you,” I say. But my words fall short. For  the fact is I’ve met few people in any area of my life like Joe. He tells me that he wants to ease the burden of my pain, to make this experience less unpleasant, more tolerable. His modesty is palpable. At this moment, he becomes Master of the living Tao. Being of service is his path to the light. And I sense that this service goes far beyond myself. I’m just a small part of what’s happening in this room. One of the movable parts.

This is the “Un-teachable moment,” and I feel privileged to bear witness ─ the moment when there is nothing to teach and nothing to learn. When I just need to be present and  allow myself to succumb to the knowledge that none of this is about me. It’s about the manifestation of kindness, the simple salvation of the world. And I am blessed to be here, along for the ride.The rest is commentary.

The following imagery exercise may open you to your own Un-Teachable moment in your daily life.

 Imagery from the Tao Te Ching, * Chapter # 2

Intention: To cultivate wei wu wei. The art of doing/ not doing

See yourself act without doing. Know how it is to teach without saying anything. See things arise and let them come. See things disappear and let them go. Know how it is to have without possessing, to act without expectation. When your work is done, forget it. This is why it lasts forever.

*The Tao Te Ching, from which this imagery is adapted, is the classic Chinese manual on the art of living.


The Death of Manners

With life’s “Big Events,” the questions are always the same: When did it happen? Where were you when it did? And how important was it for you in your life?

For me it happened when men stopped wearing hats, real hats that they tipped as an expression of respect, good manners, and grace. Fedoras, Stetsons, even Derbies.  When they stopped getting up to offer a women a seat, and not just when she was nine months pregnant. When people stopped saying “After you,” stopped holding doors for each other, or nodding to acknowledge that you were there, and parents stopped telling their children that they needn’t scream to be heard, especially not in public places. And, yes, I thought it was important. It changed my life and everyone else’s. And not for the better..

In Popover’s, a homey, Upper West Side eatery the children’s menu lists basic restaurant manners ─ something, which in the glorious days of yore, parents taught their offspring before taking them out to eat, not during. Here’s what It says:

  • Stay with your grown-up at all times
  • Keep your shoes on,
  • Don’t play in the aisles or walk on the furniture
  • Have your tantrums outside.

Okay. Take a good look in the mirror of life. The kids may drive us crazy, but it’s the grown-ups who abandoned ship. If you or I fail to hold doors, step aside, say thank you, or offer help when someone needs it. If everywhere we go, including theaters, restaurants, buses, trains, and even as we “socialize” in each other’s homes, we scroll our iPhones so intently that nothing else exists for us but our thumbs and ourselves, we lose. And if for even a second we imagine that this replaces real communication and  relationships, instead of being just one more technological event, we contribute mightily to the growing sense of distraction and entitlement — the status quo of narcissistic self-involvement where the collective adult/child voice insists: I want. I deserve. I count more than you do. And round and round it goes.

At sixteen, when I started to date and told my mother about a boy I liked: her question was always the same.

“Is he refined?,” she’d ask.

Not whether he was fun, funny, handsome or smart. Just whether he was refined. At the time, I thought she knew nothing, or at least nothing much. I was wrong. For refinement is the sweet sibling of manners, first cousin to “class,” and together they are the seed core of civilization. Without them chaos reigns. And though chaos makes for an interesting theory in physics and biology, it wreaks havoc in the world as we know it, where even a slight change in conditions can result in huge differences and outcomes .Think just one degree hotter. Not good. Not good at all..

Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? The theory that the formation of a hurricane depends on whether or not a butterfly flapped its wings several weeks before.somewhere in the world? And though butterflies, chaos, and manners seem to have nothing in common, dig deeper and you’ll find they do.

Even the slight event of holding a door so someone can pass through, or letting it slam in his face; of saying pardon me as you brush past a person in the crowded aisle of a grocery store, or allowing the person with only an item or two to go ahead of you on line,  can determine that persons mood, and change the course of his day, moving him to anger, gratitude, laughter or despair in the course a millisecond, thus creating a new storyline ─ one that diverges from its original path and results in an entirely different outcome, not just for him and/or you, but for the next person he meets, the next task he undertakes at work, or the conversation he will or won’t have with his wife when he finally gets home.

So think of manners as a starting point, a catalyst for future events, even as a crucial determinant for the future of the world. And consider refinement as alchemical, a quantum leap from a baser state of being to becoming evolved, mature, elevated and enlightened. When I looked up refinement, the Merriam –Webster Dictionary described its opposite as a setback; breakdown; collapse and diminishment.  So my mother was right. Good manners and refinement are not just some flimsy niceness, a face we put on  to impress others. They are an integral part of the magic with which we repair ourselves and the world.

Should you be interested, this imagery exercise can further your efforts in this regard.

Repairing the World 

Close your eyes and breathe out one long exhalation through your mouth.

See yourself out in space among the stars and the galaxies. See below you the earth in all its natural beauty. Imagine yourself reaching out, and taking the earth in your hands. See how it feels to hold it and to be here with it in this new and intimate way.

Now see yourself breaking the world apart and seeing what’s inside it, with no judgment or expectations..

Using the unlimited power of your imagination, put the world back together. Repair and recreate it in any way you choose, and see what happens.Once you’ve done this notice how you feel, then breathe out, open your eyes and return.

 * * *

Walking The Line With Mr. Mel Brooks

Thirty years ago when I was writing a column for Suburban Street News in White Plains, an editor at the Washington Post Writers Group gave me some advice: “Link the personal to the universal” he said. He thought I was too heavy on one. Not enough on the other. I decided his advice was worth taking.

It’s a challenge to walk the line between what’s in here and what’s out there. But my gift lives somewhere on the side streets of this fringy neighborhood – and it’s up to me to work it, even when it makes me feel uncomfortable.

In my last post, From The Village of Truth Tellers, I almost held back. Did people really want to hear about me being dumped in the woods? Why bother, who cares? But the truth is it’s not about me. That’s just the “cover story.” So I go ahead and write it anyway. I’m in too deep. It’s neither an option nor a choice.

When he was interviewed in the PBS special: Make a Noise, Mel Brooks  confessed that every bad review is a knife plunging through his heart.  That the critics hated his frequent use of the N word in Blazing Saddles, and the “Springtime for Hitler” send- up in The Producers. That they thought he went too far, that both it and he were tasteless. The public disagreed and the rest is Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy history.

Despite the knife through the heart metaphor, Brooks says “I don’t really do it for the audience. I do it for me, and the audience joins me.” In the same interview he says that he’ll do anything to make people laugh. But, hey, it’s Mel Brooks. He can say whatever he wants. At 86 Mel’s not looking for his niche. He is his nicheAnd the winner is . . ?

Brooks has become my creative role model. Yes, he’s a difficult, vain, meshugenah, take-over kind of guy. But for this next part of my life, while people of a certain age are winding down and I’m still winding up, I would be happy to set aside the parameters of good taste and refinement, and use my own faults and gifts just a fraction as brilliantly as he’s still using his.

* * *





From The Village of the Truth Tellers

“I am definitely from the village of Truth Tellers ─ not everyone loves it.”

As soon as I read this line in Maggie Shipstead’s novel,Seating Arrangements,” I said, yes. I get it. If you are one of us you get it too. This quality is not a matter of choice. It’s innate. Inconvenient. Hard to conceal, of course. And it can get you into a lot of trouble. When you hail from this particular piece of invisible geography your welcome here is uncertain.You’re passport can be revoked at any moment. You’re not really aligned with how to live in this world. The next maybe. But no guarantees.

When I was eight, I went to summer camp where a red haired counselor named Jeanie,  found my habit irritating and unflattering. One day she took us for a walk in the woods. After we picked the berries we were told to pick, and marveled at the beauty of nature we were told to marvel at, she turned the group around and headed back. She told me to “Stay.”  Like a dog. To stand there and think about the error of my ways.

As she and my mates disappeared into the stand of evergreens  I called out her name. I couldn’t believe she would do this. I thought it must be a joke. After only a minute or two I knew it was serious. I was an eight year old city child, alone in the woods, left there because I had told the truth to someone older, bigger and much stronger than I.who didn’t want to hear it. And though I was from the Village of The Truth Tellers, I was unfamiliar with the Village of The Fearless, and I was terrified. So once again  I called out her name. But this time I said I was sorry. .

Then “Poof,” the magic happened. She returned from her hiding spot, patted my back, took me by the hand, and within the next few days became my pal, as I basked in her reflected power and easily traded my, as yet, unblemished integrity for being protected and safe. I wanted to survive more than I wanted to be right or true, at least for the moment.

On and off throughout the years, I returned to the place I came from. And the payoff was I got into trouble many times over, just as I had that day in camp. But there came a time when there was no turning back.

Should you be one of us already, or feel a need to join the tribe, I suggest the following. These are not “Rules.” They are thoughts based on experiments, experience and the teachings of others, far wiser than I.

  1. Never try to convince anyone you are telling the truth (i.e. Do not defend, explain, or justify what you have said or done).
  2. Detach. Let people come to it (whatever “it” happens to be) on their own. Or not.
  3. Since your belief creates your experience, trust that the truth will surface and be served in the end. It always does, it always is. Even if you’re not around to see it.
  4. Share your truth (while knowing this is your truth, not the truth) in gratitude and love. Stay away from the part of your nature that’s mean spirited or arrogant.* That’s not truth. It’s vanity ─ It wreaks havoc instead of bearing light.

We can’t see these negative traits in others unless we have them as well. My mother refused to believe it when I said the camp director steamed open our letters and inserted her comments without telling us. For her this dark trait of deception didn’t exist, except perhaps in a movie or book. Or with the great villains of our time. Like Hitler .Even him she had trouble with,

“No one would do that would they?” she said. It broke my heart to tell her, yes, they would and they did, without a smidgen of guilt.or remorse.

Use the following imagery exercise to embolden you so that you can find your way to the Village Of  Truth Tellers, and see if it’s a match.

                      Battle Cry

Close your eyes and breathe out long exhalation through your mouth.

See yourself as a Soldier of Truth riding off into battle.

See yourself carrying the Flag of Truth, yelling out a mighty battle cry – a spiritual scream that fills the universe with your desire to live in truth and be free.

Now with the unlimited power of your imagination, deal with anyone or anything that stands in the way of your fulfillment. Once you have done this breathe out and acknowledge yourself for your courage. Then give thanks and open your eyes.


Sparks, Spirit, and Wealth

What if there were a completely new way to relate to wealth, a way that says it’s already yours, its already been given ─ that all you need do is be here with it and engage? No pressure. No worry. Just presence and gratitude, and living your life day by day, with meaning, purpose and respect.

The Ba’al ShemTov tells us:

Within each person’s possessions, wealth, and property lie divine spiritual ‘sparks’ that relate to the very root of his soul. These ‘sparks’ are the vitality that sustains each physical entity. And this entity [person, animal, plant, etc.] would not exist without the Divine energy within, which gives it its reason for being. Thus, everything that comes your way − your wealth, possessions, food, clothing and property – is a preordained indication that these sparks relate to, and signify your soul.

 In this way, right at the beginning, each of us is given an allotment of divine sparks, in order for us to elevate both these sparks and ourselves, and to channel this divine energy toward a higher purpose, so we can realize the mission of our soul.

Okay. Before you say too esoteric, too out there, too much for me to deal with, stop for a moment. Let’s assume that the Ba’al ShemTov (aka the Besht, the founder of the Hasidic movement) was playing with a full Deck. That he knew something we yearn to, but don’t. At least not yet. And what he knew went light years beyond money, power, and what you can get, have, hold onto, and keep. (i.e., “the Trappings” ─ the stuff you think you can’t live without, that the even the thought of losing makes you want to beat your breast and bemoan your fate). 

What the Besht knew, and wanted us to know too, is that it’s about going beyond the hard core material stuff, the baser metals of our nature, and elevating ourselves so we can connect with our divine energy. And that our connection to the sacred is real and relevant to our daily life — A life where we can actualize these sparks, and release this abundance of inner wealth and make it sing. And how once we do this our soul’s mission is “Realized!” * 

Should you choose to dive into this wondrous world and acknowledge it as a blessing already given, what would you be left with to worry about, to fear, resist, get depressed about or get sick over? How would it be to keep your heart open, let go of your doubt, and accept  divine wealth as a form of “what already is.” Of what’s already here.

Why not give it a try — Or a run for its money, should you be so inclined? You may be surprised and pleased at how the universe responds. What a kick. What a worthwhile investment, don’t ya think?

To create an exchange relationship with the divine sparks of prosperity, and to elevate them to their sacred place and purpose in your inner and outer worlds, practice the following image for the next 21 days.:

 Nurturing the Divine Sparks

Close your eyes and breathe out three times.

See and sense the divine sparks of prosperity that are born of the root of your soul.

Know and live your mission to nurture and elevate these sparks of spirit.

See and feel these sparks channeling their energy to fulfill their higher purpose. and to help you realize your soul’s dream.

See what happens and how you feel. Then return and open your eyes.

* * *

*Also: Most of us envision a spreadsheet of life where it all adds up; we get annoyed and frustrated when according to us it doesn’t. But it’s the great ones’ job to make us uncomfortable with our logical explanations and obvious stories. And it’s up to us to use this discomfort to nurture the sparks and to cultivate the hidden until becomes manifest.