What More Do You Need To Know?

“U Don’t Know Nothing Produce” is a store in Yorkville on the upper east side of Manhattan about 5 blocks from where I live. Its name makes me smile whenever I see it splayed in big white letters across the awning that wraps itself around the brick corner building that serves as its home. It reminds me of what I believe, of my mantra, my life’s philosophy. And it helps keep me humble.

For what do we know? What do we truly know? What do we know without a single doubt, without a second voice whispering “maybe not.”  What do we know for sure, with unwavering confidence and clarity?  That we are willing to bet our life on, our spouse’s life, our child’s. Who would dare? But if we don’t dare, then once again, what do we know? What do we really, absolutely know?

When I was six I knew we lived at the Noonan Plaza on Nelson Avenue in the Highbridge section of the Bronx. From then on it was a swift journey downhill in the “Knowing” department, though I didn’t know that until much later.

When I was eight, I went outside to play on a Sunday afternoon and returned an hour later for a snack. When I finished my milk and mallomars, and was about to make my escape and get back to the business of playing, my father asked me where I thought I was going. (I love that expression: “Where do you think you’re going? Do parents still say that or are they too afraid of their kids to dare?). When I told him that I was going outside to play, he said “No.” That it was raining outside. But I had just come in, and I knew what was what, so I tested the limits, stuck to my eight year old guns (harmless in those days) and insisted there wasn’t a cloud in sight. His answer left my limits in the dust with no room for argument.

“Maybe on your side of the building where you were playing it was sunny,” he said. “But on my side, where I was standing it was getting ready to rain.”

The rain hadn’t even begun, but somehow he knew it would happen, while I knew it would not. I was his mirror image. Just as stubborn and passionate. As usual, he won the debate and I stayed inside. Shortly thereafter it rained, though for only ten minutes. Who was right? Perhaps we both were. Or neither one of us. At the time it felt important. Now it’s just an amusing story to tell.

Yesterday I heard someone ask a friend “What more do you need to know?”

I loved hearing that. It made me feel safe and calm. For me, his point seemed to be: Enough analysis. Enough guessing games. Enough figuring things out and trying to “know” the unknowable. That what we need is to stay awake, to listen and watch. That knowledge and understanding follow, as day follows night (or is it night follows day)? That life demands, in the main, only our attention and gratitude. And that the rest is commentary.

So trust what you sense, intuit, feel and dream. Intellective knowing is ego driven static. Confusing and devoid of grace. It’s like light; the particle and the wave. Switching back and forth. First one, then the other. Inconstant. Undependable. Yet, strangely like the Tao, which eludes all labels ad definitions. For as soon as you know that you know, you know that you don’t.

The one thing I know for sure is that I do not know. And the truth is that I no longer want or care to.The payoff is way too small for the worlds, both within and without, that I give up when I forget and buy into that stuff.

You can use the following imagery exercise as a practice to train the know it all mind to step back and allow things to arise and flow.

Go With the Flow

Close your eyes and breathe out one time through your mouth. See yourself standing before a body of water and diving into a strong current. Know this is current of life, and that by doing this you are letting go of all constraints and fears.

Sense and live how by going with the flow, instead of struggling against it, you forgo all thought and thinking, and you are carried to new places unheard of in your ordinary life.

See and sense what happens, and how you look and feel. Then breathe out and open your eyes.




The Tao of John Wayne, Chief Seattle, and The AK 47

On a stone marker at the John Wayne Marina in Sequim, Washington, there’s a quote from Chief Seattle that says: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together. All things connect.”

Having gone through the looking glass and arrived in a world of distortion, where people endlessly invoke the Second Amendment, freedom, patriotism, and the Constitution, and where the loss of human life is less important than the right to own an AK 47 that shoots upwards of 100 bullets without reloading, the time has come to repair the thread that the Chief mentions, while creating new connections that have a chance at making some sense.

This past summer, while I was visiting Washington State, I spoke with a woman who said that she needed to learn how to shoot. When I asked her why, she said to protect herself. “When I asked her from what or from whom,”  she said “From the government.” Not from the crazies passing through, or a jealous lover,  an angry relative, or from the surly neighbor next door with a fully stocked arsenal in his garage. But from the United States government. This says a lot. First, that paranoid tendencies abound. But beyond this, that hatred for the current administration has reached the point of self-righteous insanity.

My question, the one I hesitated to ask, but should have, is does she truly believe that if the government chose to target her she could manage to protect herself, no matter how many guns she stockpiled or whatever the brilliance of her newly acquired shooting skills? Does she want to go out in a blaze of bullets? Really?

So it’s not about that. Of course it’s not!

The arguments on both sides are passionate. One side wants to protect lives and to downsize tragedy. The other wants to protect it’s “rights”and itself, while arguing the merits of selfishness.  An article I found on the Internet: “Should High-Capacity Ammunition Magazines Be Banned?” explains it like this:

Opponents say the ban infringes upon their constitutional right to bear arms, and the magazine limit of 10 bullets is too low. They contend that citizens using guns for self-defense can’t always hit an attacker on the first try. And that they need enough ammunition to avoid reloading, especially if they are trying to fend off multiple assailants.

Aha!  So poor marksmen need to be coddled and encouraged to do the second or third or fourth time, what they lacked the capacity to do the first. Not good.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. I’ll start with myself.  For on the day of the navy yard massacre, after speaking with my niece who lives in the D.C. area, I realized, that the entire conversation had transpired while I said nothing about what had happened. That the deaths of 12 people  had become ordinary and the best I could offer was a lackluster response. Perhaps I need a dose of John Donne to remind me that I am not an island, that the one the bell tolls for is me. And to never forget it.

These events have accelerated over the years. Where there used to be long spaces in between, they now come at us with what seems like no space at all, not even a long breath to recoup.  Wasn’t Sandy Hook just last week? Aurora, a few weeks ago? Virginia Tech, but a month or two? Is it safe to go see a movie, attend school, shop, eat a meal out, mail a letter, live a life?

When I lived in Vermont, I did it alone and unafraid. No one I knew had a gun; if they did, they failed to mention it. And when an occasional skier came to my door after midnight, asking for directions or wanting to use my phone, it made me a little nervous, but I kept the door locked and my phone in hand, and that was enough. No guns danced in my dreams, nor did it occur to me that I might need one to protect myself, from them (or the government). It was always an option. Just not for me.

According to the NRA, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  And the solution to this havoc is to have armed guards in every nook and cranny of all public venues. But when NCIS agents confronted naval yard gunman, Aaron Alexis, Alexis ran into the stairwell where he shot a security officer and took his weapon. So much for good guys with guns providing protection and security, even at military bases where you would think they’d have the upper hand.

The right to bear arms has been glorified and mythologized. While the right to live peacefully, without fear of a child, parent, friend, or co-worker, winding up with a bullet in their head, has been ground into dust.  The gun-rights  people say “it’s not guns that kill people, it’s  people that kill people.” So, this means what? That instead of getting rid of the guns, we get rid of the people? Isn’t that a bit extreme?

Back to where we began: We have gone through the looking glass, and arrived in bizarro world.  A world where this means that, and that means nothing much. And to prove it, Madonna, our icon of pop culture and class, tells us  ”Guns are good! After all, “What would Action Heroes do without them?” she asks.  If that’s not enough to support full blown, unlimited, over the top gun rights, what is?

You can use the following imagery exercise to repair and recreate the world according to your imagination instead of according to the gun lobby.

 Repairing the World

Close your eyes, breathe out, and 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 intimate way.

Now see yourself breaking the world apart and seeing what’s inside it, without judgment or expectation. Using the unlimited power of your imagination, put the world back together, repairing it and recreating it in any way you choose, and see what happens.  Once you have done this, notice how you feel, then breathe out slowly and open your eyes.

Grunting and Shrieking: A tale of Tennis Run Amok

This year’s U.S. Open is history, but beyond the brilliance of the matches played and the players who played them, it’s Victoria Azarenka’s shrieks and grunts as she battled Serena Williams for the championship, that stick in my mind. And though Serena ignored the sounds that came at her from the other side of the net,  I soon resorted to yelling “Shut up,” at the tv screen while what was essentially high level tennis became, if not a bad joke, something uncomfortably close.

Afterward I searched the Internet and found that this un-tennis like behavior is a style of play which can drown out both the sound of the racquet hitting the ball, as well as human thought. To me, as to countless others, it’s distracting and rude. And I wondered how loud these shrieks might really be.

The shrieks were measured recently at about 90-100 decibels. This is right on the threshold of loudness for risking permanent injury for sustained exposure at 90 decibels. It is almost as loud as an emergency vehicle siren (115 decibels), a motorcycle (100 decibels) a jackhammer were(110 decibels) and a lawn mower (90 decibels). That kind of noise would drive me nuts and do me in after the first 60 seconds.

Twenty years ago I played a nice little game of tennis, but my concentration tended to waver. If I was winning, yet thought my opponent was better than I, doubt inevitably crept in and I quickly lost focus   Once that doubt took over it was no time before I went on to lose. When I was losing it never occurred to me that I could get back in the game — for who was I to challenge the invisible line that defined winners and losers? Perhaps if I had grunted, I might have been better off.

The “Winner” mentality is a phenomenon that deserves our attention. It’s at work all the time.  Where does it come from? How does it evolve? And what can we do to own it?

I once played a match with a woman who thought herself way beyond me. Mostly, I agreed. Yet that particular day I played better than she, and pulled ahead. Then it hit me. “Uh oh, I’m winning.” And as soon as this thought came to mind my attention shifted from the ball, my racquet, and the game, to her curly blond head, her determined expression, and her powerful forehand. And oh yes, her annoying guttural, grunt, which she never let up on as she bounced around the court, knowing that she would soon come from behind and triumph, which she eventually did, while I stood there hating her for her absolute confidence, but hating myself even more.

On the other hand, I recall a match that same summer with a friend when the zen of tennis took over, the court expanded, as did we, and we both played “Out of our minds.” I shed my self-consciousness, along with my doubt, somewhere between the baseline and the net as for those few moments I entered tennis heaven. And though I lost the match by a point, I won the victory over myself by miles, and could not have been more pleased. Of course it’s possible that I may have grunted once or even twice, but I did it softly, very softly.

But back to the beginning. Grunting and shrieking is neither necessary nor is it fair. It needs to be banned, and soon. This coming of course from a B minus player, at best, who never got into a final and never will, yet at this point who cares?

Should you, like I, be interested in exploring the phenomenon of  ”Winner’s Mind,” the following four things may be of interest. They comprise a formula that takes us beyond winning a game, to living a life. Quite a decent pursuit, even when occasional grunting may be involved.

1.  Have faith in yourself.

2. Do not compare yourself to others.

3. Do your work and walk away (Once it’s done, it’s done. So forget about it. And move on)

4. And oh yes, never shriek or grunt loudly enough to disturb others. It’s bad form, and it hurts people’s ears.

The following imagery exercise can assist you in you practice of developing “Winner’s Mind.”

Falcon of Gold*

Intention: For self- transformation; for living in the Light.

Close your eyes and breathe out three times.

See, sense and feel yourself being released from a blue egg as a falcon of gold, and rising high above the world. Breathe out one time.

See yourself sailing on golden wings. Know what it is to live, to love, to change, and to embrace the infinite. Do not forget this becoming. Then breathe out, return safely to earth, and open your eyes.

*From “Healing Into Immortality” by Dr. Gerald N. Epstein


In Pursuit of My Fantasy Doctor

Last week I saw two doctors within the span of two days. Two more than I usually see in a year. The first had a lot to say and went quickly from charming to overbearing, instructing me to toss every vitamin supplement I own since they are not FDA approved and cannot be trusted. In her view, they make things worse. She was too busy being right to notice my response.

The second was like clear water, He listened without comment. He spoke without prejudice. He told me what I needed to know and made no effort to convince me he was right. His advice held no judgment. The little he said made sense.

Through the years I’ve learned that I don’t need my doctor to be my friend, or to like me, or approve of me. What I do need is to be treated as an equal. An adult. And for him or her not to make pronouncements, as though there is only one way (their own) that things should be done. And if it’s not too far a reach, to have the wisdom and grace to step into a space where ego doesn’t drive truth underground and there is no hierarchy of status. Just two people talking.

These doctors do exist. I have encountered them on several occasions. They shine like lights in the darkness and give me hope. We need more of them

When I was a kid I would sneak from my bed at night and listen to the grownups discuss life as they knew it (which seemed far more interesting, than life as I knew it). One of the topics of conversation was doctors. And the greatest compliment paid at the time was to call him (yes, it was always a him in those days) “A very big man.”

In my innocence, I assumed that meant girth, height, presence. Of course, it was none of these, although they were sometimes included in the package. The Big Man had power, commanded respect, had an office in Manhattan, on Central Park West, and could tell you what to do and how to do it with surety, and within a blink of the eye.

My first doctor was Morris Schwartzfarb.  Dr. Schwartzfarb  made house calls, seven days a week, at $10 a pop. Since he lived in the building, He had only to cross the courtyard and take the elevator to the second floor to get to our apartment. He was accessible and kind. What we called a real mensch. But, as you may have already guessed, he was never referred to “as a very big man.”

Yet for me, he was special. Like the Taoist master, he did his work, and walked away. He never bragged, made unfunny jokes, touted his credentials, or acted like he knew stuff we didn’t  ─ just stuff that was different. While we  knew about jumping rope, broiling a chicken,  cleaning the house, choosing the best fruit, and going to school. He knew how to use a stethoscope, take our blood pressure, and give injections.  He had his job; we had ours. We were different but equal.

Too many of today’s  doctors see themselves as ” Very Big Men.”  Yes, even the women, except for a few who don’t, like the Dinosaur.

Fantasy Doctors are a precious species. I am always on the lookout. When I find them, I make sure to say how special they are. After all, they are rare birds, disappearing faster than the wind. And with the way things are now, who can blame them?

If you wish to find yourself a Fantasy Doctor, use this imagery exercise for the next 21 days with the intention of drawing one to you, or you to her/him, and see what happens.

Unlocking the Gates

Close your eyes and breathe out three times. See yourself standing before a set of gates that until now have been closed to you. Find nearby a key and unlock these gates. See, sense and know how by unlocking the gates, the way opens, and all obstacles disappear.

Ask the universe for what it is that you want. See yourself receiving it. Notice what happens and how you feel.

Then breathe out, open your eyes, and never doubt it for a minute.