Objects in the rear view mirror are smaller than they appear

If you are anything like me, events from the past can sometimes loom quite large. And my attention and emotional energy can spin in regret; my monkey mind can get stuck in a world of “should have’s” and “if only’s.”

Maybe it’s a big mistake we made or a significant opportunity we let slip from our grasp.

Perhaps it’s the trauma from our childhood getting triggered, losing a job or important relationship, or any number of times we didn’t show up as our best selves for the people we care about.

It could be resentments we still hold on to that prevent us from extending love unconditionally, or simply being at peace with what is, rather than being trapped by what was.

Other times we cling to and can’t let go of a memory of good times that somehow drifted away or were quashed by forces beyond our control.

The past is here to teach us in the present moment. But we should not give it any more power than it deserves. It is only as big as we allow it to be.

Our journey is not made easier by carrying around the heavy rocks of resentment in our backpacks or engaging in endless battles with things we cannot change.

As Haruki Murakami famously observed, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”





Prison break

In spiritual circles it’s common to talk about being “on the path.” The path to God (or however we may describe a Higher Power), the path to redemption, the path to awakening, the path to enlightenment.

And we are hardly lacking for guidebooks and maps. Addicts may employ the Twelve Steps to work through their spiritual recovery. Buddhists have the Noble Eight-Fold path to inform their journey. Other wisdom traditions have various rituals, methods and practices to light the way. An entire self-help industry exists to inspire spiritual exploration through books, seminars, retreats, podcasts, YouTube videos and more.

The journey along a path IS real. For most of us, it’s long, filled with twists and turns, peaks and valleys, glimpses of light, flashes of despair. We stumble often on our wanderings through the Dark Night of the Soul. We wish there were an express lane–an easier, softer way–but there is not.

Yet we can spend a long time hiding in our shadow, staring longingly through a window out toward the light. We can convince ourselves that spiritual growth is inherently complicated. We can obsessively analyze competing “truths” and run through countless gurus and teachers. We can get overly focused on arriving at some imagined perfect destination and entirely miss out on what is possible along the way–right here, right now.

The invitation is simply to begin, to emerge from the places and situations that keep us stuck, entrapped. But it’s hard to escape from a prison if we can’t see that we are a prisoner.

Yet, right now, we can in fact acknowledge that we are prisoners of our habituated, reactive thinking, trapped in a room of ego protection, a pathological desire to control and a failure to accept reality.

Right now, we can see the forks in the road, the profound choices we get to make moment to moment. Do we choose forgiveness over revenge? Compassion or judgement? Being open-hearted or walled-off from connection? Do we fundamentally embrace love or fear?

Right now, we can accept that so many of the answers are within us–and available to us–in the present moment.

Often, we witness other people peering into our prison cell, and we think (hope?) that they have the answers, that they will drag us out, that they hold the key to our freedom.

But more often that not, we have the key, we just don’t see it.

We need to see it. And we need to use it.

We need to open those windows and unlock the door. And then we need to walk over the threshold and out into the light. There the path becomes so much more clear.

And we can begin the journey with a lot less baggage.


Start where you are

We humans are rather peculiar.

Many of us think our only way forward is from somewhere in the past. Our starting point is often stuck back in a time when we were laid off from our job, dumped by a lover, slighted by a friend or somehow or other left damaged and wounded on the side of the emotional highway.

Regret keeps the clouds from clearing, resentment keeps us trapped in a cage. If only those things had never happened…

Other times, our point of departure is set anywhere but today. We tell ourselves we will finally be happy when we find the perfect partner, get the bigger house, own a fabulous new car, receive the promotion we’ve always wanted. We define our okay-ness by clinging to the idea that we are defined by possessions and external forces. We grasp futilely to an idealized future.

We resist letting go of the past and moving on in the vain hope of relitigating events that didn’t go our way.

We resist accepting that the future is unknowable because of a pathological desire to be in control.

We resist the notion that we are good enough just as we are. And while none of us is ever truly and completely okay, we are all going to be fine.

We make ourselves crazy by being everywhere but right here, right now

As Pema Chodron reminds us: “when the resistance is gone, so are the demons.”

In fact, we can work with the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. We can embrace self-compassion.

We must start where we are, not obsessing over our past mistakes, nor re-living our glory days.

We must start where we are, not fantasizing about some mythical future.

We can accept reality and move from there.

As it turns out, there is no other way that works.

Seeing around the corner

If very recent events tell us anything, polls, elaborate analyses and unbridled prognostication from “experts” only goes so far. Your best friend could be Nate Silver and you are still going to get a lot of stuff wrong.

It turns out nobody has a crystal ball or the perfect predictive model. We may have a pretty educated guess about what’s around the corner, but we are bound to be surprised–or even shocked–a fair amount of the time.

The truth is expectations so often suck the joy out of us.

Our fantasy of being in control undermines our happiness time and time again.

Fear of the future keeps us stuck.

Yet we shouldn’t conclude that we must gird ourselves for relentless disappointment or simply throw our hands up in despair as we are cast between the waves of the world’s events.

We only live in this present moment.

And as Shakespeare reminds us “there is nothing either good or bad, only thinking makes it so.”

Ultimately being on the path is to accept the things we cannot change, set our intention towards the things we can and, most importantly, find beauty in the unpredictability of this one precious life we’ve been given.




The hardest to learn is the least complicated

Gentle reader, congratulations on your wise choice. It is indeed your good fortune to have chosen to read my blog today for I am about to reveal a short-list of virtually guaranteed ways for you to be successful in both your professional career and your personal life.

Intrigued? I bet.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Steve’s virtually sure-fire ways to be successful in your professional life:

  1. Focus relentlessly on the customer/client.
  2. Never engage in a price war you can’t win.
  3. Defy the sea of sameness and find your purple cow.
  4. Treat different customers differently.
  5. Reject the cult of busy.
  6. Don’t be afraid to fail: Fail better.

My virtually sure-fire ways to be successful in your personal life:

  1. Accept the things you cannot change.
  2. Live in the now; be present and mindful in all you do.
  3. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
  4. Don’t take things personally.
  5. Remember the things for which you are grateful.
  6. Live open-heartedly and with compassion.
  7. Embrace vulnerability.

As a reader of this blog you have already revealed yourself to be a person of great intelligence and discernment, so you have likely already concluded that these ideas– collectively and individually–are both true and useful. More importantly, you probably noticed that they are all conceptually rather simple to comprehend.

So why do we struggle to put them into practice?

The first reason is our habits. If you are anything like me, you’ve been been conditioned to strive for perfection, to associate your self-worth with your job, your busyness and your possessions. Perhaps you’ve also been taught that vulnerability is weakness or that you’re not okay unless the people around you are okay or that it is your job to figure things out without the help of others. These are all rather obvious and destructive lies, yet our negative practice has created deep grooves in our psyche. The only antidote is to develop different habits and practice them until new grooves are formed.

The understanding is not the hard part. It’s the un-doing.

The second reason is our choices. I’ve watched myself (and more than a few friends, colleagues and loved ones) decide to stay stuck in the past, fight things I couldn’t change, drink the poison of resentment, bask in the misguided attention of victimhood and generally engage in far too much ego grasping and not enough letting go.

Again the understanding is not the hard part. It’s the acceptance that every day we start clean slated and I (and you my dear friend) get the chance to make a new set of choices. Our task is to choose wisely and to rinse and repeat.

The wolf we feed is the one that wins.



The power of now. The power of no.

“Life is a series of moments, all called ‘now’.”      

– Unknown

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”

– Paulo Coelho

If you are anything like me, it’s often pretty easy to slip into a little time traveling–to lament what might have been or too worry about what the future holds. Unfortunately I lack both a time machine and the gift of prophecy, so this is not only a big waste of time, it can very easily mess with the serenity I desire.

If you are anything like me, you might find yourself frequently saying “yes” to things you really shouldn’t–perhaps out of a desire to look like a good person, to avoid hurting the other person’s feelings or merely because you struggle to trade off the essential against the expected or habitual. And then the resentment and self-shaming follows as we realize how our wants and needs once again take a back seat to the squeaky wheel or the self-inflicted obligation.

We can dream about having super-powers, but eventually reality rears its ugly head. And we can work hard to accept all the things we are powerless over (spoiler alert: it’s just about everything). But when it comes down to it, two “powers” can make a huge difference.

The power of now: the commitment to live fully in the present moment and to let go of the past we cannot change and the future we can neither predict, nor control.

The power of no:  the willingness to stop saying “yes” to obligations, mindless distractions, bad relationships and everything else that gets in the way of our living a life of purpose, connection and fulfillment.


The amount of work is the same

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” —Carlos Castaneda

Of course this is true of many things . . .

Encountering the world from the wound of hate or from the warmth of love.

Furiously protecting our ego or opening to connection.

Lamenting the past, worrying about the future or living in the present moment.

Fighting reality or choosing acceptance.

Constraining ourselves to the known or widening to an infinite field of possibilities.

Living in fear or cultivating peace.

Perpetuating the cycle of revenge or engaging in forgiveness.

Anytime we tell ourselves we don’t have a choice, we are lying.

Choose wisely. It matters.


It’s later than you think

Last year a close friend of mine died tragically and unexpectedly–though I suppose every death is a tragedy, anticipated or not.

He was only in his early forties, with a lovely family and a thriving business he had built from scratch after having the courage to make a major career shift more than a decade ago. In his chosen new profession he profoundly touched the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of people. He generously and compassionately helped people at a level that’s impossible (at least for me) to explain.

What I know for certain is that he was essential to my getting through two extremely difficult periods during the past few years. In fact, he may very well have saved my life–for which I shall be eternally grateful.

In my mix of grief and gratitude two important lessons emerged.

First, and most obviously, depression is a very real and serious issue for so many people, and our tendency to look away or to minimize–or to label sufferers as “weak” or “lazy”– is not only wrong, it’s hurtful.

The second is that it’s later than we think.

The notion that things will unfold the way we want, at a time and date largely of our choosing, sits somewhere between utter delusion and misguided fantasy. The idea that I will be better able to start the important stuff tomorrow–or, better yet, maybe next week once things settle down at work–is just one of the oft-repeated lies I tell myself.

Things are often moving faster than they seem. We have to expect the unexpected. And whether we like it or not, at some point the clock stops in some way, shape or form on everyone and everything…

…the window to launch that new business

…the time to write the book we’ve been talking about for ages

…the opportunity to forgive

…the ability to shift from fear, anger and revenge to open-heartedness and compassion

…the space to tell someone what they’ve meant to you

…the chance to say “I love you.”

In so many ways it’s later than we think. And my guess is that we all have plenty of catching up to do.

Living a life of meaning and purpose in the present moment is ultimately the only choice we have.


Books about heaven

Perhaps you’ve seen the legendary New Yorker magazine cartoon that depicts a man standing before two doors, seemingly perplexed. One door is labeled “Heaven” and the other is labeled “Books About Heaven.”

Pick just about any cause we claim to be passionate about. Happiness. Innovation. Social justice. Immigration reform. Climate change. Being a better parent. Eating more healthfully. Whatever floats your boat.

If you are anything like me, it’s often easier to be getting ready to go do something meaningful rather than wholeheartedly embrace that thing I claim to desperately want.

If I think things through thoroughly, I tell myself, the outcome I want will be assured. If I research just a little bit more, I will be perfectly prepared when the time is right.

But there is no perfect time.

We always have to start before we are ready.

We have to do the work, rather than just study the work.

If we want to swim, we need to get wet.

Our own version of heaven is here right now, in this present moment, if we are willing to just see it, accept it and embrace it fully.

We can always be in pursuit of happiness or–and here’s a crazy idea–we can actually try being happy.

Jump in. The water is fine.


This post is adapted from one that originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

When the clock stops

At some point, the clock stops for all of us.

The big one, the permanent one, the one that is both definitive and defining, will likely halt on its own terms. Despite our best efforts, despite our wishes and hopes that it might be otherwise, it is largely an immutable force.

Yet my guess is you know people for whom the clock has stopped when they remain very much alive. Maybe you’ve been there. I know I have.

The stoppage can be brought on by hopelessness or by The Resistance. We can remain stuck in resentment or paralyzed by indecision. We can avoid when we need to confront, hide when we need to leap, or simply decide to ride out the real or perceived storm. We can be the critic opining from the stands instead of the one in the arena.

It’s sad when we don’t realize we have a choice. And it’s sadder still when we don’t even realize the hands of our clock haven’t moved at all for quite some time.

Yes, accidents, medical conditions or other situations totally out of our control can come into play. Sure, we can be trapped or stymied by others. But more times than not, we’ve chosen to be the victim, to live in the past, to refuse to walk through our discomfort, to be a consumer not a producer.

If I were to die tomorrow, I would want to be certain that I’ve taken full advantage of the precious time that I’ve been given. That we’ve all been given.

The poet says it better than I:

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

Mary Oliver (When Death Comes)