Crystals for Communication, to Find Your Voice + to Shine with Confidence

As kids, we were forced into uncomfortable spotlights all the time. From mandatory Spring Sing performances to the dreaded, front-of-class speeches—the mere mention of these memories is enough to trigger a series of panicked flashbacks. Fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias that people suffer from. It’s a fear that, even if mild, can be debilitating when allowed to affect which jobs, hobbies and activities we choose to pursue. Just interviewing for a job position is difficult when plagued with a fear of public speaking. Articulating one’s thoughts under pressure in a way that is eloquent—or, ya know, coherent—is a learned skill.

Of course, as adults, we have the power to choose not to engage in activities that push us toward our fears. We can avoid our fear of the spotlight by choosing not to go after the career we really want, or the passion we’d like to pursue. This is one of the freedoms we have as adults, but it’s also one of the traps.

Forming our life around our fears boxes us into a limited set of options, and allows our fears to dictate our future. Instead, we can consciously make the decision to conquer our fears for good. Using crystals for communication expands our prospects, emboldens our passions and strengthens our relationship bonds. Crystals for communication connect to our need for confidence, energy and excitement. They calm the mind of anxiety and instill a sense of raw authenticity that compels us to speak our truths. Show your scared inner child how it’s done, and work with crystals for communication to speak with confidence no matter what size the crowd.

Healing Crystals for Communication + Finding Your True Voice


While the key to public speaking is often thought to be establishing a sense of calm, studies have shown that bringing about a flourish of excitement actually produces better, more articulate performances. Get riled up with Carnelian, one of the best crystals for confidence, to elevate your creativity and give a more memorable speech.


Through connecting to your heart, throat and solar plexus chakras, Amazonite ensures that you don’t lose your nerve. Remain motivated in the endeavor to articulate yourself, and feel the Amazonite radiate its power from your heart as you deliver words with feeling instead of fear. Amazonite is both a crystal for confidence and a crystal for intellectual intuition. This will help guide you when you need to improvise and make on-the-spot decisions about which way to take the conversation.

Blue Apatite

Release negative, limiting beliefs about yourself, and embrace the idea that you are an amazing speaker when equipped with Blue Apatite. Stimulating the base chakra, Blue Apatite will facilitate motivation and passionate pursuits. You’ll feel driven to communicate more honestly, not just in speeches, but in all areas of your life.

Blue Calcite

Ease the nerves, and bring about positive, encouraging vibes with Blue Calcite. As a crystal for confidence, Blue Calcite soothes the stress and anxiety surrounding your talking points, and ushers in clarity of mind. As you work with Blue Calcite, you become more aligned with your thoughts and feelings. It fosters conscious communication that feels comfortable in its obvious authenticity.


This is a great stone for public speaking, not only because of the rock star levels of confidence you’ll be feeling, but also because of the new beginnings Chrysocolla aids in realizing. If you’ve always thought of yourself as a bad at communication, use Chrysocolla to bring about a new you who is a powerful communicator. The personal power that Chrysocolla imbues is known to banish phobias, release limiting beliefs and mental tensions, and activate your motivation. Tap into that energy to reprogram old ideas of self with positive beliefs. With an infusion of that signature Chrysocolla confidence, you’ll feel comfortable and at ease communicating in the spotlight.

Protection Stones for Guarding the Spirit + How to Use Them

When your spirit is carrying a lot of negative energy, it feels like there’s rain cloud over your head. Luckily, there’s a silver lining. With protection stones, you can cleanse and shield your energy from collecting anymore unwanted vibes. Negative energy can attach to us in a lot of ways. Sometimes it happens when we’re in crowds and surrounded by other people’s energy, sometimes it happens from long days at work or disputes with relatives. How ever you’re positive energy has been depleted, it’s important to fill it back up and protect it. The first step to doing that is knowing which of the crystals for protection to pick, and how to use them.

What you’ll learn:

  • Which crystals to use for protection
  • How to use protection crystals for cutting cords
  • How to wear crystals for protection
  • How to create a protection grid in your home
  • Meditating with protection stones
  • Creating a crystal body grid for meditating with protection stones

What Are The Best Healing Crystals for Protection?

Our favorite crystals for protection are black kyanite, black tourmaline, black onyx, and pyrite.

  • Black kyanite helps to protect the personal energy field.
  • Black tourmaline works to protect the environment around you, and cleanse you of stagnant or negative energy.
  • Black onyx works to transform negative energy into positive energy, helping you to build up an emotional resilience.
  • Pyrite is often overlooked as stone for protection, since it’s so often recommended for its abundance imbuing properties, but nonetheless this stone is great for returning negative vibes back to their senders. If you are forced to deal with someone who is constantly sending vitriol your way, use pyrite to block that negativity from entering your energy field.

Protection Stones for Guarding the Spirit + How to Use Them

How to Use Protection Stones:

There are several ways you can bolster your emotional strength with protection stones. Healing crystals for protection can be worn, used to create grids, kept on sacred altars, or worked with in meditation. It just depends on your intended function for the crystal.

Cutting Cords

When someone we care for shares with us that they are going through a difficult time, it’s not uncommon for us to feel the weight of their experience in our own energy field. This creates an energy attachment. In order to continue being a strong source of support and positive energy for this person, you have cut your energy attachment with them. This keeps you from getting drained, and allows you to be completely there for them when they need you. To cut energy cords, take a piece of black kyanite and hold it in your hand as you trace an invisible line around your body, moving the crystal over the front, sides and back of your body. Visualize the cord attached to you, and see yourself cutting through it with the kyanite. You can add an intention to this practice, stating aloud something like: I release this energy and send it back to [insert name] with love and light. I am cleansed.

Wearing a Stone for Protection

Wearing protection amulets goes back thousands of years. Today, we can wear protection stones as a way to remind ourselves to check in with and give importance to our energy. Sometimes when we’re at work, or surrounded by other people, we feel the need to cater to other people at the expense of our own energetic needs. A protection necklace or bracelet allows you to keep a protective shield around you all day.

If you are beginning to feel someone else’s bad energy getting to you, step away from them to find a peaceful area, and reconnect with by touching your stone for protection with your hands. The most important thing to do before wearing your protection stones is to give them a job. To do this, cleanse them with the smoke of sage, hold them in your hands, and set an intention for your work with the stone. You can set an intention by stating aloud an affirmation, such as: I call forth divine protection.

Creating a Protection Grid for the Home

You can create a protection grid for the home easily with crystals for protection. Put four pieces of black tourmaline by each corner of the room, or around the exterior corners of your home to set up a protective shield. Placing a piece of black tourmaline in a bowl of water and salt by the door also helps to keep you from bringing outside negativity into the home.

Meditating with Healing Crystals for Protection

Meditating with crystals is a great way to fill your body and spirit with the restorative properties of protection crystals. Start by finding a place in your home that’s quiet and brings you peace. You can hold whatever protection crystals make you feel most secure. You can also create a body grid to deepen the grounding of your meditative state.

Make a Crystal Body Grid with Protection Stones

We recommend using a combination of black tourmaline, selenite and black onyx in your body grid. Lay flat on the floor, and place the piece of black onyx by your feet, allowing it to connect to your root chakra. Then set a small chunk of black tourmaline on your throat, allowing it to cleanse any tension caused by blocked energy you’re holding there. Set a rainbow obsidian over your heart, so that it can send loving, purifying vibrations to your heart chakra. And hold a piece of selenite in each hand.

As you work with crystals for protection, you’ll begin to feel more grounded and emotionally durable. That’s the true power of these stones. Even when people do try to push their own negativity onto you, your shift into a higher perspective will keep those vibes from affecting your joy. That’s why it’s important to not only use crystals for protection when your feeling vulnerable, but also as a preventative measure to lend yourself strength before you go to leave the home.

MANAGE WAR TRAUMA USING GENERAL SEMANTICS: An interview with Dr. Martin H. Levinson [Part 1]

[General semantics: a system of linguistic philosophy developed by Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950), which explores the arbitrary nature of words and symbols and attempts to refine ways of using language.]

Next week, on October 27, the annual General Semantics Symposium will unfold at the Princeton Club of New York City. General semantics (GS) has been used in the military, corporations and the academic world.

GS has been tied to notable personalities such as Abraham Maslow, Alfred Hitchcock, William Burroughs, Buckminster Fuller, Aldous Huxley and others. From studying Alfred Korzybski’s pioneering book Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1933), I resurrected the use of general semantics as a therapeutic tool for veterans from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan who were in the process of readjusting from war.

In subsequent years, I have presented and written about general semantics and veteran readjustment. Dr. Martin Levinson, Ph.D., president of the Institute of General Semantics, helped me gain a greater understanding of general semantics. He and I had a constructive dialogue about its use as a tool for veterans who are readjusting.

I present spiritual themes in many of my articles. I also write about wellness. General semantics promotes wellness via the individual, by promoting a non-medical internal approach to understanding the world with a greater sense of objectivity.

Interview with Martin H. Levinson

swallows in a stormMike Kim: You are the president of the Institute of General Semantics. Can you tell me how GS can help a veteran who is experiencing readjustment issues after the military? What resources does the Institute provide for interested veterans?

Dr. Martin Levinson: General semantics is a re-education system designed to help people make better evaluations of the world and their place in it. It has been used by thousands of people to make improvements in their thinking ability and emotional self-management. Among those are veterans, including the originator of general semantics, Alfred Korzybski, a combat veteran who was wounded three times during the First World War.

Veterans experiencing readjustment issues may find that the application of GS formulations will lead them to cope better and come up with more effective solutions to the problems they are dealing with in everyday life.

Veterans experiencing readjustment issues may find that the application of GS formulations will lead them to cope better and come up with more effective solutions to the problems they are dealing with in everyday life. They may also find that in using general semantics, they will come to know themselves and others in a more profound way and will be more open to accepting the challenges that face them. Such challenges are often susceptible to solutions through active engagement, and GS can offer tools to help with that process.

For veterans who are interested in learning more about general semantics, there is a lot of online material that can be accessed from the Institute of General Semantics website. The website also provides lists of available books and articles on GS.

MK:  How did you come to be involved with general semantics?

ML: I was introduced to general semantics in 1979, through a continuing education course at Cooper Union, titled “How to Improve Your Thinking and Communicating Ability.” My almost 40-year involvement with general semantics has profited me both personally and professionally, and I have seen it bring the same good results for numerous other people.

MK: Has general semantics ever been used to treat war-related PTSD and other trauma-related conditions?

ML: Alfred Korzybski, the founding theorist of general semantics, understood post-traumatic stress firsthand, as he had suffered from its effects as a combat veteran in the First World War. Two particular symptoms that troubled him in civilian life were insomnia and thoughts that he would be bombed when airplanes flew above him.

Korzybski helped free himself from these and other post-traumatic stress reactions through GS notions such as dating (the idea that things change over time—for instance, youtoday are not youfiveyearsago) and indexing (breaking down a category into its parts—for instance, airplane1 is not airplane2, is not airplane3 and so on.). He said that in dealing with post-traumatic stress, it is important to work on minimizing second-order reactions, such as the fear of fear, nervousness about nervousness and worry about worry, as such reactions can seriously aggravate a person’s responses to post-traumatic stress.

Korzybski recounted some of his experiences in dealing with post-traumatic stress in an article titled “A Veteran’s Re-Adjustment and Extensional Methods,” which was published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics shortly after the Second World War. The article also included a case report—”A Veteran Uses General Semantics for Rehabilitation”—that described the experience of a Second World War veteran who used GS to treat himself for symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

During the Second World War, Douglas Kelley, an army psychiatrist and student of general semantics, along with medical professionals that he trained, used GS to treat more than 7,000 soldiers for symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

A review of Kelley’s approach done for the Chief of U.S. Naval Personnel after the war concluded that as a result of their general semantics training, “The men who were able to understand the new methods of evaluation were able to reevaluate their combat experiences and overcome their psychoneuroses.”

Overcoming problems of everyday living

woman climbing a mountainMK: Are there some GS formulations that you think might be particularly useful in helping veterans overcome problems of everyday living?

ML: There are many GS formulations that can help veterans overcome problems of everyday living. These include the use of ‘etc.’ in thinking about things (there is always more that can be said about anything); delaying your reactions in situations to give yourself time to get your emotions under control; thinking about things on a continuum rather than in an ‘either-or’ manner, understanding that words don’t mean, people mean (you need to ask people what they mean when you are in conversation with them); and the idea that words are symbols for things, but are not the things themselves.

MK:  Many mental health professionals, including Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational-Emotive-Behaviour-Therapy (REBT) and pioneer of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), have been proponents of general semantics. Why is that? 

ML: Albert Ellis, who (according to one survey of professional psychologists) was ranked as the second most popular psychotherapist behind Carl Rogers, and just ahead of Sigmund Freud, was a big general semantics advocate. He called GS a “brilliant philosophy that can show people how to live more sanely in an irrational and partly insane world.”

And he wasn’t alone in his praise for general semantics. Lots of other mental health professionals support the ideas of GS to help people form a more realistic idea of themselves and the world. Some of their opinions can be found in an article that was published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics in 2010, titled “General Semantics And.”

The self-help movement

self help signMK: The self-help movement is popular. Does GS promote self-help?

ML: Alfred Korzybski believed that the real value of general semantics was in its applications, and that to get the most out of GS, a person should apply it to real-life situations. He thought that just knowing the GS theory and its formulations wasn’t enough to help someone get a handle on their problems. He also thought that GS was not that hard to learn, and even children could study and gain from it.

As to that latter point, it is one I completely agree with, as I taught GS formulations to middle-school students as part of my doctoral studies and they picked up and used GS very effectively. In my opinion, general semantics is one of the best self-help disciplines out there.

MK: How can active-duty military personnel use GS in their daily lives while in uniform?

ML: The United States military functions in many ways as a bureaucracy, and those in that bureaucracy have to strictly follow the orders given to them by their superiors. Some of those orders may be counterproductive to the effective functioning of the unit a service member is in, and some of the orders may be unfair and hurtful to those who receive them.

It seems to me that the trick to surviving, and even thriving in the military is to cultivate what is known in general semantics as an ‘extensional orientation,’ that is, having a realistic outlook on the situations you encounter.

I have previously written about how to manage stress in organizations in my book titled Sensible for Turbulent Times. Some of the suggestions that I mention in the book include GS ideas such as:

  • Delaying your reactions in situations
  • Distinguishing facts from inferences to avoid jumping to wrong conclusions
  • Using the scientific method to problem-solve
  • Having faith in your ability to adapt to circumstances
  • Understanding the notion of ‘logical fate’ (from assumptions, consequences follow)
  • Adopting a strategy of probability thinking
  • Accepting the fact that the way we use language influences our psychological health
  • Appreciating the notion that the only thing permanent in life is change

GS and addictions

slot machinesMK: Addiction to substances, sex, gambling, etc. is present in the veteran community.  Can a veteran use GS to assist with substance abuse prevention?

ML: I know quite a bit about the subject of substance abuse, as I spent more than 30 years working for the New York City Department of Education as a Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialist and the director of a drug prevention program.

Feelings of alienation may be particularly strong among veterans, as the country seems divided on American foreign policy objectives, which may reduce the public’s support for people in the military.

I published a book dealing with substance abuse titled The Drug Problem: A New View Using the General Semantics Approach, which has chapters that specifically deal with drug prevention and treatment. In this book, I talk about GS ideas that can help a person resist drugs, and have included a chapter on a general-semantics approach to reducing alienation, which is an important risk factor for drug abuse.

Feelings of alienation may be particularly strong among veterans, as the country seems divided on American foreign policy objectives, which may reduce the public’s support for people in the military. Also, coming back to the United States from an overseas deployment might cause an individual to feel out of step with civilian life.

Applying GS formulations can help a person integrate back into society by providing them with tools for actively working on thoughts that are keeping them stuck in past experiences, and by encouraging the use of the scientific method (observe, hypothesize, experiment, conclude) to tackle problems of everyday living. As a veteran gets to know the techniques of GS, they’ll likely find that they can be applied to other life-problems as well.

Dr.  Martin H. Levinson, Ph.D., is the President of the Institute of General Semantics, and the author of numerous articles and several books on general semantics and other subjects. His most recent book is Brooklyn Boomer: Growing Up in the Fiftiespublished in May of 2011.

“The map is not the terrain”

The use of general semantics for veteran readjustment issues can inspire the warrior to evaluate negative thoughts and more effectively manage life. Sounds like a simple thing!

Today’s self-help culture encourages warriors to find an easy fix for military/veteran readjustment challenges. I appreciate general semantics because it promotes a system of reframing thoughts towards objectivity while paying attention to the subjective experience of war and other challenges tied to military service.

The great original precept of general semantics, “The map is not the terrain,” captures the central message behind GS. When a warrior is on patrol, does the map of the battlefield truly represent the actual battlefield?

In Part 2, which will appear next week, readers will be able to learn more about practical ways to manage veteran/military readjustment issues by using general semantics.

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit AFTER BURN: A play that tells of the lives of veterans on their behalf»

image 1 Words everywhere by din bcn via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) 2 Seemingly surreal swallows in a spring storm by Keith Williams via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Pixabay  4 Self Help by producer Vanessa Hilton via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 5 Pixabay  6 M Levinson talk on “Practical Fairy Tales for Everyday Living

How to Cut Energy Cords with Crystals

Cutting the energy cords with other people in our lives sounds like it might have a negative connotation, like we’re pulling the plug on our relationships. In reality, this therapeutic exercise is meant to preserve our spiritual space, so that we can nourish our bonds with our own cleansed, pure and vibrant energy. When we exchange energy with another person—which can happen during any daily interaction—there is a potential for their energy to stick with us. Most people don’t do this on purpose. Cording is something that happens during certain energy exchanges, and can be especially likely in exchanges with loved ones.

Many of us can remember a time when we supported a friend through a difficult situation, and felt emotionally affected by it even after leaving that friend. That is because their energy was still attached to us. While those are the most memorable examples of cording, we often pick up and carry other people’s energy without even noticing. Cutting the cord helps us to cleanse ourselves of the energy we pick up, before it causes us to feel emotionally drained or tired. We aren’t cutting emotional ties, we are releasing energy ties—and there is a big difference between the two.

Those are the most obvious instances when you need to cleanse your energy, but it’s just as important to cut the energy cord with negative recurring thoughts or addictive behaviors. In the same way as energy attachments with people, energy attachments with certain behaviors or thought cycles can leave us feeling drained and not like our true selves.

In the video above, our resident crystal expert, Heather Askinosie, reveals her favorite techniques for cutting energy cords. Watch the full video to see Heather demonstrate these simple methods you can use everyday.

How to Cut Energy Cords with Crystals - Energy Muse

Crystal Cord Cutters: Heather’s Techniques for Cutting Energy Cords

  1. The first thing that you want to do to cleanse your energy is sage yourself and your environment.

  2. Another technique is to use sound to break up the energy surrounding you. A Tibetan bell is an absolute must to have in your energy toolkit. Any kind of bell will work, but we especially enjoy using a bell made with several different metals, as each metal carries a different energy frequency. Heather suggests ringing the bell around your own energy field, even if you’ve already smudged yourself. When you are in your own head, with a mess of thoughts buzzing around, the bell will help to break you out of that space and shed the negative energy around you.

  3. You can also cut energy cords with a piece of black kyanite. At the end of the day, Heather will cut the energy cords from family, friends, work colleagues and everyone she comes into contact with throughout the day by coupling a piece of black kyanite with an intention.

    • The first thing that she does while holding the piece of black kyanite, is just get in touch with where her energy feels affected. Many times, they are connected to your chakra centers, so those are always a good place to start. Close your eyes and take a moment to get in tune with your body. Do you feel a weight in your stomach? Is there energy attached to your heart? Or, do you feel there’s negative energy in your head/mind? Track down where you feel the unwanted energy cord or attachment. 
    • Then, visualize yourself pulling that energy out of you, as you use your hands to mimic pulling the energy cord out. Using your black kyanite, cut the cord. Bring the kyanite down, and imagine that you are slicing that cord from draining any more of your energy. Then take the energy cord that you have removed, and picture yourself plugging into something positive, like the moon, the sun or Mother Earth. Do this as many times as you need to get rid of residual energy. 
    • Note: sometimes after doing this practice, you start to feel a little nauseous. It’s almost as if you’re detoxing from this energy. That’s when it’s important to fill yourself back up with light. Take a selenite crystal and place it over that area where you cut the energy cord. See it infusing you with love and light.
    • The next step in this process is to consider how you can forgive, both yourself and others. Forgiveness helps us to lighten the toll that harbored anger or negativity takes on us. As a practice that is meant to help us confront and process lessons, the act of forgiving may be the most crucial step toward progress.
    • After working with these crystals, be sure to cleanse them. Cord cutting is an effective and easy way to cleanse the spirit whenever necessary, but it’s still some heavy work. Make sure to wash your hands, and purify your crystals. Luckily, selenite is one of the very rare cleansing crystals that doesn’t need to be cleansed, and can actually purify other stones. So you can set your black kyanite on the selenite to let it cleanse and recharge. We always like to place all our crystals out in the sun (if possible) after this practice as well. 
  1. Another way to release energy cords, is to journal with crystals. Many times when we get corded with people, it causes us to recognize our own negative energy that we need to work on. To get clear the negativity that is our own, sometimes it’s nice to put pen to paper. Take a few minutes, and jot down what you need to let go of from your own energy field. It could be excessive or overindulgent behaviors, a preoccupation that is stealing all of your attention or even a negative focus on the past. Taking the time to get to know yourself is really what this practice is all about. The more we acknowledge our personal truths, the faster we can get rid of the things that do not serve us. So write on a piece of paper something that you’d like to release, fold the paper up, and place a piece of black tourmaline on it. Black tourmaline is a great stone for release and letting go. Then place a piece of rose quartz on the paper as well to carry the energy of love and forgiveness.

How to Cut Cords with an Overactive Mind

Along with Selenite and Black KyaniteAmethyst is another cord cutter to keep in your tool chest; one that specifically helps you to cut energy cords attached to your third eye and mind.

Cleanse it. Program it. And then place it over your third eye to bring any chaos to the surface. Begin the motion of physically pulling out cords from your third eye, using your Amethyst point to cut the cords as you pull them out. After you cut them, visualize plugging the cords into something of high frequency (like a mountain or a landscape). Keep cutting all the cords that come up, and over time, you’ll feel the energy getting lighter and lighter.

In the end, the most tenuous relationship in our life is the one we have with ourself. We beat ourselves up. We don’t take the time to recognize everything that we do right. Cutting our energy cords allows us to reconnect with ourselves. In these moments, we can recognize that while some days are great and some are difficult, we need to commit to loving ourselves regardless. These are the tools that we hope can help you with shifting your energy. Release what no longer serves you, give yourself a break, and enjoy yourself on this journey of life. For complete cord cutting and energy cleansing rituals, pick up a copy of Crystal Muse: Everyday Rituals to Tune In to the Real You.

LIFEJACKET IN AN OCEAN: Mindfulness is like … not drowning but waving

The door finally shut. I walked away, my throat numb and eyes firmly to the ground. It was that time again. My role of ‘Daddy’ had come to an abrupt end.

Against the wish to scream and shout, I turned my ignition towards the other life. Noticing my mind wandering into gloom, I gently escorted my attention back to the breath … 50, 60, 70 miles per hour … and I was gone.

Mindfully noticing the tightness around the quarter of my chest, I began breathing into that area of the body. Slowly, and at times agonizingly, my heart began to expand, as if each breath was tainted with a little hope.

There were only 10 days until I would be reunited with my baby. Adrift in my emotional ocean, I quickly had to throw myself a lifejacket before I drowned in grief. Thankfully, I had my practice, although at times I wasn’t wholly buoyant.

You see, mindfulness is possibly the only reason I did not turn to cigarettes or alcohol that night, and although sometimes I do, I am aware enough to note that this just makes my inner world feel worse.

Not that I am claiming to have an addiction problem, although I can plainly see that thinking negatively is the biggest hit I get. A clearer mind full of pain, yet free from intoxicants, is better than a painful mind absorbed in its own stupor.

Balancing act

Korean dancer on tightropeIf only it was that simple. Being mindful throughout the good, the bad and the ugly is not an easy feat. Presence is all we have to help us navigate through the jungle, and at times, into the snake’s jaw.

Presence is all we have to help us navigate through the jungle, and at times, into the snake’s jaw.

Over time, my equanimity has given me a decentred approach to my own emotional experience. But at other times, it’s all just too arduous. The trick is to remind my mindful self that mindlessness only makes it harder.

The balancing act of surrender, along with hope and the knowledge of impermanence, means I am free to experience another day. How I choose to experience that day depends on whether I have enough awareness about me to remain conscious. Having enough grit, resilience and determination to faithfully know presence is my only path.

In the moment I am here, awake, observant and tranquil. Out of the moment, I am a habit-fuelled gratification fanatic. The tightrope is set and the curtains have been drawn.

Mindfulness and equanimity are the only ways for me to walk the rope. I need to be aware of how my simple likes and dislikes charge my feelings, how my feelings alight my thoughts and emotions like a bonfire, and how that blaze can spread like wildfire if not managed with care. To be in a state of awareness full of self-compassion and compassion for others—that is the only way of ‘walking the talk’ on a moment-to-moment basis.

But you know, tightrope walking is a skill and treading water is exhausting. It’s demanding and you will fall off, and occasionally you will go under. But be kind to yourself. Make sure you have people around you and plenty of islands to swim to.

Lifejacket in an ocean

Lifejacket in oceanIn sadness, I often remind myself to stop being the victim of my own circumstances and to reflect on the fact that every tiny microscopic event I experience is because I have made it so.

There is no need to despair or be enraged with the external world. If I vow to meet the chaos with my own acceptance that I am the ’causer’ of the cause, then it feels slightly more palatable.

Yet, in the moment, when my emotional world is flamboyant, how far adrift I am from that simple sentiment. Here I am, drowning not waving, and the only hope is to throw myself that jacket, to wave directly into the eye of the torrent.

For me, that is the greatest gift mindfulness has to offer. It acts as the lifejacket in our ocean. To intuitively feel that everything is impermanent, which means refining the jacket into a boat and then a luxury cruise ship, will take time.

Grow your mindfulness into the sun and learn to watch the water from afar.

«RELATED READ» ACCEPTANCE IS TRICKY: It’s not a “doing” but a “noticing”»

Joey Weber is a university lecturer who is doing a Ph.D. in equanimity. He has spent a lifetime walking the tightrope between mindfulness and mindlessness. He is a trained mindfulness teacher at and was brought up in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery! Read more of his writing on his blog, The Mindful Tiger.

image 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 Pixabay

BREAKING THE SILENCE: Overcoming fear and doubt in the creative life

The life of a creative can be plagued by uncertainty and fear. These feelings permeate all stages of the creative process, including that time when you first see the final product.

My first blog article was published a week ago. It was almost an out-of-body experience to see such an intimate part of my life in print. As I read it, I could hear my internal voice saying, “No, that’s not exactly right.” Neatly sequenced words seemed distant from the rich untidiness of life.

That feeling is why I did not share my work in public for years. I learned music but did not perform. I sat on a book of poetry that I never sent to an agent. My talents never seemed ripe enough. My work never seemed right enough.

Doubt, fear and judgment can be common among us creatives.

Their voice doesn’t matter

woman talking to herself on a picture frameMy internal judge lost her power over me when I learned that she is not who I am, and that the space of fear is never the part of us from which conscious action can arise.

Now I match her step. She does her thing. I do mine. She is vicious. I am persistent. I have learned that the artistic process opens me up to something bigger. It silences the inner chatter and makes me more alive, as words appear on paper and notes appear in midair. The process is the destination.

As a middle-class coloured woman from a developing country, I was told to put my own truth last and family and societal expectations first.

Fear can stem when we begin to transgress what we have been told our ‘right’ place is. As a middle-class coloured woman from a developing country, I was told to put my own truth last and family and societal expectations first. Whenever I owned my truth in full view of the world, I felt uncomfortable.

This is not just my experience. It is shared by people and communities around the world who have been told that they do not belong and that their voices, their truths, do not matter. At some point, we start believing this, and acting in a way that makes what we have to say the last thing anyone (including ourselves!) wants to hear.

Through practicing mindfulness, I began to notice that these judgments were not coming from me. I started giving them space to ‘be,’ but without so much power.

I began to see the truth in what Dr. E.J.R David, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage and author of Internalized Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups, shares in his Psychology Today article: “When we accept or ‘buy-in to’ the negative and inferiorizing messages that are propagated about who we are, then we have begun to internalize the oppression that we experienced.”

If you are not part of the dominant minority in the world—if you are not an English-speaking, Caucasian, middle-aged, heterosexual and economically-secure male—chances are, the process of hearing your own voice scares you.

If you come from a marginalized group and your creative work is characterized by starts and stops, and if you struggle with putting your thoughts down, second-guessing yourself or procrastinating, that’s really all the more reason for you to create and own your truth.

There is no shame in doubt. It can even fuel your creativity.

Creativity connects us

book with curly pagesOne example of that is given in the viral Ted Talk by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert. In her talk, “Your elusive creative genius,” she talks about the fear and trepidation of creative work.

This is faced by all of us creatives, whether you are a best-selling author or a mother trying to squeeze in some writing before the sun rises. By putting her humanity out there for the world to see, Gilbert helps us realize the universality of fear.

I am better, and my life is richer, because of her commitment to her truth. As you are reading this piece of writing, even with oceans between us, something is keeping you with it. That energy, the energy that draws your attention to these words, is what connects us.

We are all connected. We arise from one consciousness. As you let go, others will, too. Given how short life is, there is only so much time for us to spend living in awe or in fear of an internal voice that is not even our own or who we are.

One word after the other—that’s what this is about—moment-to-moment awareness. One day, as you see your work in print and the judge wags away, you too will smile, muster resilience and keep writing.

«RELATED READ» DISCOVERING YOURSELF FOR A LIVING: An artist’s perspective on creativity and being true to yourself»

Noorulain Masood is Founder and CEO of be. (, a socially conscious business that promotes mindful, purposeful living in the fast-paced, chaotic city of Karachi, Pakistan. She is a scholarship recipient for two years of mindfulness teacher training with the Awareness Training Institute, and did her Masters in International Development at Harvard University while on a Fulbright scholarship.

image 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 by AMCSviatko via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 

MY WAY OF COPING WITH GRIEF: “Is this one of those Buddhist meditations?”

I just flew in to Chicago to see my Mom. She turned 80 on Friday. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and was given five years to live. Now my Dad is telling me, “I hope you have a suit and tie back in New York. You’re gonna have to come back wearing it pretty soon.”

From her first chemo treatment on, I had not seen Mom’s real hair. I’d only seen her in wigs: sometimes a red one, sometimes brown, sometimes a silver-grey, which was a bold choice for a woman who had always coloured her hair, never letting a single root show, right up to the day of her diagnosis.

As she stands at the door to greet me, though, all disguises are off. A shock of pure white hair stands on end on her head. Several bald patches show. For much of her life, Mom was full-figured. Now she is a skeleton with a sallow coat of melted wax hanging off her.

Even at her sickest, she always used to have her makeup on, and at least a wool cardigan and a pair of slacks. Now she spends all day in the same green bed gown and, given how much time she has to spend in bed, there’s no point in putting on makeup if it’s just going to end up smeared across her face when she falls asleep a couple hours after waking up.

Silly to hold a grudge

hand grafittiYears ago, my friend Ruth said my mother reminded her of Jackie O. I didn’t quite see why until Mom got cancer. From the time of the Kennedy assassination until her final years, Jackie seldom (if ever) complained, and neither has Mom.

Jackie put a high premium on comportment and so does Mom. But now Mom doesn’t have the energy for dressing up, and I suspect she no longer wants to hide what is happening to her, much like Jackie when she refused to change the pink suit that was spattered with her husband’s blood and brains.

Mom and I walk into her living room and talk. My siblings and I all grew up in the city, but my parents moved to a suburb 10 miles or so (about 16 kilometres) north of Chicago once we all moved out, so their current house was never my home. It was just a place I’d visit every now and then. Now it smells like my grandparents’ home did in their waning years—that musty, medicine-y smell.

Mom wants to hear all about my cats and asks after my husband Julius, which is a big step for her, maybe the biggest she’ll ever be able to take towards accepting not only that I’m gay (out since age 17, so she’s had time to get used to it), but gay-married. When she didn’t even so much as call to wish me luck on my wedding day in October 2011, I didn’t speak to her for the better part of a year. Now it seems silly to hold a grudge.

A lot of small talk drops from her lips as I focus on the tight skin on her forehead and cheekbones, wondering if that’s how she’ll appear at her wake. One of my ‘bugaboos’ has been how I’ll react to seeing her in an open casket. When I was little, family members would have to drag me to the casket at wakes. The dead in them looked so lifelike, I was afraid they’d open their eyes and jump out.

Now, my fear is that I’ll break down in a sobbing mess when Mom is up there. When you’re Irish, you’re allowed only a certain amount of falling-apart at a wake. Then you’re supposed to pull yourself together and make a big, funny show of how life goes on. If we were Italian, this wouldn’t be an issue. If I were to break down, I’d have plenty of company in crying.

Mom and I speak for another 45 minutes or so, then she has to go lie down. Dad tells me he’s surprised she was able to sit up this long. If she so much as walks down the 10-foot (about 3 metres) hallway, she has to sit down and rest for 10 or 15 minutes before proceeding into the kitchen. She can’t go to Mass in the morning or on Sundays anymore, so Dad goes every day and brings back Communion.

He tells me she doesn’t want her funeral to be in the church in our old neighbourhood in the city. She wants it to be at the parish where they live now. She also wants to be buried with a brother of mine named Brian, who died as an infant long before I was born.

Brian never had a tombstone—my parents were young and broke when they had him—but my mother has saved up to buy him one for when she is laid to rest next to him. Mom has also resolved to buy one for my father’s mother, who died giving birth to him, before her bones lay next to Brian’s.

One wild meditation

I take all this in and tell Dad I’m going to go meditate. I forget whom I’m talking to. It’s too late, though, and I brace myself for the question I know is coming next: “Is this one of those Buddhist meditations?”

I say yes and expect to be baited about not being a Catholic anymore, as if a long time ago, when I was one, it was by choice. But Dad is getting on in years and mercifully doesn’t have the energy to fight with me about it anymore. As for Mom, she is just glad I believe in something.

To my surprise, Dad asks if I’d like him to leave the room so I can have some privacy while I meditate. (When has any father ever asked that? So, again, subtle progress.) I say, “Thanks, but I’ll go to the guest room,” where I’m staying.

My mother has lived by church rules all her life. I have not. She is sure of where she’s going when she closes her eyes to this world. I envy her that.

I fashion a meditation cushion out of a pile of pillows from the linen closet and stack them on the bed. There’s a crucifix above the bed and a rosary on the nightstand. I see they’ve put a new collection of saints’ statues and a vial of holy water on the desk at the foot of the bed, too.

This is going to be one wild meditation. My mother has lived by church rules all her life. I have not. She is sure of where she’s going when she closes her eyes to this world. I envy her that.

I set my iPhone’s timer for 45 minutes and get started on my metta (loving-kindness) meditation: “May I be happy/May I be at peace/May I be happy/May I live with ease… .” I was relieved to learn, many years ago, that it is not selfish to wish ourselves happiness when doing metta. On the contrary, the more happiness we have, the more we have to give. So I send metta to myself for a good long time before moving on to the Benefactor, the Loved One, the Neutral Person, the Enemy and so on.

As I progress through my meditation, I know I’m only in the wee small hours of beginning to integrate all that I’ve seen and learned since entering my parents’ house. I can tell that, on some level, I’ve steeled myself against it. As I sit, I feel like a block of ice that’s only melting by degrees in the heat of meditation, though I know in time I’ll be a puddle when I enter the last stages of grief.

Tonight, Mom says we’ll watch some of the new Downton Abbey DVD I brought with me. Every Sunday night, Julius and I watch it over Margherita pizza. She says she’ll watch as much as she can before she has to go lie down again.

I leave tomorrow afternoon for New York. The next day, I’ll take my suit in to be pressed.

Maureen Ann Smith passed away on March 11, 2013. Thomas Philip Smith, her husband of 54 years, passed away of prostate cancer-related complications on February 11, 2014.

«RELATED READ» FULL CIRCLE: Alcohol abuse separated my Dad and me»

by Kyle Thomas Smith. Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A and more recently a collection of personal essays Cockloft: Scenes From a Gay MarriageSmith is an award-winning novelist, a devoted husband, and a practicing Buddhist who is still in recovery from an Irish Catholic upbringing. 85A won many indie awards and was favorably reviewed in Booklist, The Millions, The Chicago Tribune, This Week in New York and Edge Magazine. Kirkus Reviews recently called Cockloft: Scenes From a Gay Marriage “lighter on its feet than that of David Sedaris but just as funny.”

image 1 Pixabay 2 empty handed by MIgracionTOtal*Don’t Fav via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 3 Pixabay 

FINDING ASYLUM: Welcoming the Shadow to guide us home

In the minute it takes to read the first few lines of this article, 20 people from across the planet will be newly displaced from their homes as a result of human rights violations, conflict or violence. In fact, we are experiencing the highest levels of displacement on record, where 1 out of every 113 persons globally is a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.

Clearly, we are living in a time largely shaped by conditions of disconnect and disruption. These statistics—attempts at making immense numbers of people without homes, and with severed connections to place, culture, community and family somehow fathomable—represent just a portion of this great upheaval. Not as individuals, but as a collective body of humanity, we are being propelled to reconsider what it means to belong, to come home.

It is easy to distance ourselves from the big stories of suffering in this world. Yet, if we can steel ourselves against the ‘eyes-glazing-over’ impersonal nature of data, and instead let its weight settle us into the depths from which reflection can arise, we may see how we all are linked to the breakdown that is rolling across the earth like a gigantic wave.

The seeds of suffering, sowed and watered to create large-scale catastrophes, are kernels that reside closer to our individual hearts and experiences than most of us feel comfortable acknowledging.

It may be, as mythologist Michael Meade suggests, that archaic fears and hatred are inescapably surfacing while our “typical societal containers rattle and crack, becoming less able to contain the flood of extreme ideas, raw energies and dark emotions that surge through the world.”

Certainly, the majority of us would not consciously choose to add to the fear, divisiveness and rage that propel this metaphoric tsunami. It can be said that much of what is manifesting as crises in our cultural, economic and environmental realms is arising from the depths of our unconscious.

The Jungian shadow

man and shadowIf everything in the unconscious (the unknown of our inner world and internal nature) seeks conscious outward expression—if that which is latent seeks manifestation—then we know even the ‘dark side’ of our splintered personalities, often referred to as the shadow, will demand to be understood.

The 19th-century pioneering psychologist Carl Jung describes the shadow as everything we refuse to acknowledge about ourselves, but which is constantly thrusting itself directly or indirectly upon us. It is imperative, then, that we guide our hidden material out of the realm of secrecy, hold it up to the light of compassionate awareness, and from there, make cognizant choices about how we want to respond to the changes that are before us.

To do this, we can recognize the unconscious as being partially comprised of repressed yet painful memories, thoughts and feelings called the personal unconscious. These are not necessarily tendencies that we or our society have determined to be morally unacceptable (they might be normal instincts, appropriate reactions and creative impulses, for example), but they are experiences, nonetheless, that have somehow splintered off from and been deemed incompatible with our consciousness.

One way to understand the mechanism of relegating aspects of oneself to the realm of the unconscious is through the experience of trauma and shame. Fortunately, the devastating physiological and psychological effects of cumulative exposure to traumatic stressors, and the role that unresolved trauma—whether at the individual, cultural or systemic level, stemming from the past or the present—is playing in our current global state of chaos is now garnering much-needed attention.

Shame is one of the many debilitating emotional responses that can follow exposure to a traumatic event. There seems to be less interest, however, in delving into the ubiquitous yet profound nature of shame as a fundamental reality of the human experience. Each of us has experienced rejection and failure—simply being in a human body requires the experience of separation, as we discover and grow into our own individual essence and expressions.

Disowning part of the self

mans face with broken piecesShame-induced experiences often begin in childhood, when someone of significance fails to fully hear, understand and validate our needs (whether or not that need is eventually gratified). A crucial interpersonal bridge begins to break, and an awareness of ourselves as fundamentally deficient in some vital way can begin to form (children naturally assume culpability).

If our developing sense of self deeply identifies with and internalizes the experience of shame, a process of disowning parts of the self ensues.

If our developing sense of self deeply identifies with and internalizes the experience of shame, a process of disowning parts of the self ensues. This split, fuelling an ongoing internal conflict with the disowned parts, is one way we attempt to restore a semblance of internal balance. As Gershen Kaufman explains in his book Shame: The Power of Caring, the conscious self is then, at least, freed from the unbearable, paralyzing effects of shame. Otherwise, Kaufman asks, “How is the self to cope with the ‘enemy within’?”

It is no wonder we have created innumerable ‘others’ in our lives to hold the space for this enemy. We spend inordinate amounts of time and energy pushing away the shadow, denying its existence or resisting the many difficult emotions that can surface to reflect the experience of the self as divided or wanting.

Without a strong resolve for self-knowledge, the proclivity to project undesirable feelings onto others, blame something outside ourselves, and push the seed of responsibility far, far away becomes effectively automatic. It can be surmised, therefore, that much of our world is unconsciously organized to cover up the painfully diminished sense of self that we each embody at some level.

The result of this, over generations and centuries of human experience, is the collective denial and despair we are now trying to break through and break down. It is the shadow, therefore, that we must look to for guidance on how to build our individual and institutional psychological capacities to explore unconscious material. For to open to our shadows is to open to our full selves—only then can we step into vulnerable, authentic relationships with others and the world around us.

Sometimes, shadow material needs to be gazed at and beheld to discharge the potentially destructive force of unacknowledged energies. Sometimes this process necessitates skilled therapeutic guidance. Often, we can begin through contemplative mindfulness-based practices that support our capacity to allow and accept all conditions of mind, body and emotion. These practices teach us to strengthen our internal muscles of awareness and to be compassionately present to these conditions, rather than becoming them and letting them blindly lead the way.

Over time, an internal spaciousness is created where all emotions and sensations—even the turbulent ones, even those that arise from ignored or rejected aspects—can reside together in a kind of tender cohabitation. From this place, we find that the journey home is a journey of acknowledging what is inside and establishing a conscious relationship with what we find. It is not a process of apathy or inaction, but a process of seeing clearly and rebuilding the intra- and interpersonal bridges that support genuine connection.

Another way to meet the shadow is through our sleep-induced dream activity, when our consciousness is at its lowest ebb and our unconscious can spontaneously manifest in the form of images and symbols.

As mythologist Joseph Campbell states, “dreams are the vocabulary of the unconscious speaking to the conscious mind,” where subject and object are the same, “self-luminous, fluent in form and multivalent in its meaning.” They act as an operator of sorts, harvesting from the depths for the benefit of surface consciousness, and seeding the depths with the commonplace experiences of the surface, so that they, too, will be transformed into something of value.

If attended to, this is a kind of spiritual alchemy designed to keep surface awareness nourished by the depths, ultimately revealing the actual nature of the unconscious as boundless Consciousness that ego has separated itself from.

The dream image

man and dog walking in field with giant gorillaOver the last two centuries, the Western mind’s approach to dreams has been influenced largely by the Freudian manner of association, where a meaningful connection is made between the dream image and a past experience, and by the Jungian perspective, which involves seeing dream images as potentially originating from the collective human psyche and representing universal archetypes that are similar to what we find in religion, myths and fairytales.

From this latter approach, we can see dreams as a gateway into a realm of the unconscious that is made up of not only repressed thoughts or feelings acquired by the individual, but of inherited, omnipresent, transcultural instincts that form a deeper layer of the psyche, the collective unconscious.

These images can offer us insights into our own personal mythology through their relationship to a broader, ancient yet immediate wisdom and knowing. Jung states that here, “man is no longer a distinct individual, but where his mind widens out and merges into the mind of mankind—not the conscious mind, but the unconscious mind of mankind, where we are all the same.”

The process of active imagination encourages us to continue this exploration and encounter the dream image as an embodied reality that exists both in spirit and in matter. If arising from the depths of our souls, dream images are imbued with their own intelligence, and come to us on their own behalf, for their own reasons.

Similar to approaching our arising feelings and thoughts during mindfulness practice, meeting the living image requires openness and a certain curious detachment about whom or what will arrive. We step back into the experience of the dream with our waking mind, and pull to our awareness all of its sights, sounds and sensations.

Rather than concluding a predetermined meaning, however, our task is to watch, gather information and let the dream unfold as it will—to hold an inquisitive space of deep listening by asking, who is visiting and what is happening now?

A meeting between the conscious and subconscious

wire images on a human faceNo matter how we invite a meeting between the conscious and unconscious, invite it we must if we are to survive as a human species. While the idea of returning home to the undivided Self—often described as the whole, awakened or Divine Self—implies a destination, it is the journey that requires our utmost respect, care and attention; it demands our willingness to be fully present to that which is at once mysterious and familiar, perfect and imperfect.

While the idea of returning home to the undivided Self—often described as the whole, awakened or Divine Self—implies a destination, it is the journey that requires our utmost respect, care and attention.

The open enso circle, seen in the Zen tradition as a symbol of enlightenment, reminds us that to be human is to be in the process of movement and growth, incomplete, while at the same time held within the perfection of all things.

Along our journey, we will be accompanied by innumerable companions, and it is the living symbol, arising from the imaginal activity of our psyche, that is perhaps most devoted and stalwart. We can engage the creative potencies inherent in the various forms of the round—for example, the ancient symbol of the uroboros, the circular serpent that embraces the evolutionary process of mankind—to illuminate a path that might otherwise be too dark.

Just as the snake has the power to shed its skin, so too must we engage our own primordial, instinctual forces to meet our shadow—shed our skin, as it were—and deeply, consciously re-embody the beautiful gifts that these forces have to offer.

This is an embrace eloquently expressed in Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “The Tenth Duino Elegy”:

Let my joyfully streaming face make me more radiant; let my hidden weeping arise and blossom. How dear you will be to me then, you nights of anguish. Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you, inconsolable sisters, and surrendering, lose myself in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain. How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration to see if they have an end. Though they are really our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen, our season in our inner year—, not only a season in time—, but are place and settlement, foundation and soil and home.

«RELATED READ» AWAKENED BEINGS: Integrating the three aspects of the self»

Ariel Bleth is a freelance writer who lives in Missoula, Montana.

image 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 Pixabay 4 Pixabay 5 Pixabay

THE PERSONAL TOUCH IN LA PLATA, ARGENTINA: Travels in Latin America [Part 7]

La Plata: A new city to discover

The streets looked a bit rough, I observed as the bus pulled into La Plata, Argentina, around 50 miles (56 km.) south of Buenos Aires. I did have friends here, though. There were likely some sweet times in store, regardless.

Not finding anyone I knew at the bus station. I walked out the front door and looked down the street. No one. Coming back in, I nearly bumped into Carlos! My friend, whom I’d first met in 2010 at Meher Baba’s Samadhi in India, and who’d welcomed me to Buenos Aires four days ago, had come through again.

Friends at the La Plata bus station - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Left: Just outside the La Plata bus station. Right: Pablo, the author and Carlos.

Carlos’ friend Pablo, another Baba devotee, was waiting in his car. As we drove towards my hotel, I began to see livelier parts of the city.

Pablo didn’t speak a great deal of English, and I was limited in Spanish. I continued gamely using my phone app, with limited success. Bilingual Carlos—who’d once told me, “I had 4 great English teachers named John, Paul, George and Ringo”—saved the day. Through his translations, I learned that Pablo is a drummer, a clown and a psychotherapist. The fact that Pablo looked a little like an American Baba friend of mine also contributed to the nice connection I felt with him.

Another hotel “score”

The Corregidor Hotel - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

The Corregidor Hotel: perfect except for a missing bathtub plug, a matter rectified immediately by a phone call!

I’d booked four nights at the Corregidor Hotel, 10 or so minutes from the bus station. The impressive building sat in a pleasant location across the street from a park-like square called Plaza San Martin.

Plaza San Martin - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Plaza San Martin, named after the liberator of Argentina, whose statue appears near the photo’s centre.

As in Montevideo, I arrived at the hotel before check-in time. The friendly desk clerk here, too, tagged my bag and stored it. Carlos, Pablo and I walked around the corner to a favorite hangout of theirs.

Over beer and a snack, my friends told me more about the Meher Baba group in Argentina. There are “Baba-lovers” all over the country, including in the city of Ushuaia in the far south. However, the largest concentration is  in La Plata. Those who could make it were planning a Sunday gathering that I was looking forward to.

Scenes from Modelo restaurant - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Left: Modelo, where the author and friends enjoyed several meals or snacks. Right: The Modelo wall logo including, as Carlos pointed out, a figure resembling Meher Baba, and also Baba’s birth year!

Carlos and Pablo constantly referred to a place they called “the temple in the forest,” promising to take me there. I had no idea what they were talking about.

“The temple in the forest”

Pablo had to leave for an engagement elsewhere. Carlos and I set out on foot to tour his hometown. Our walk centred on a lovely green area named Saavedra Park, which contained the zoo, botanical garden, and natural history museum.

We passed an elderly couple cooking choripan sausages on a grill. My stomach suddenly refused to go any further. I bought one and ingested it as we continued our stroll. I can scarcely recall a sandwich so satisfying!

Chorizo sausage sandwich - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

A chorizo sausage sandwich, exactly like the one bought from the elderly couple.

Suddenly, I heard a rumble in the distance. It grew louder as we walked. Finally, we stood before the back wall of a large stadium whose exterior was painted light blue.

Grazing in a grassy grove across the street from the structure were about a dozen police horses. Over by the street were a number of camouflaged officers. Far to the left, I realized with some consternation, were about twenty riot police with combat shields and helmets. Some carried what I believe were automatic rifles.Group of horses grazing on grass - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine cityThe rumble erupted once again. It came from inside the stadium. The fans of one of the teams playing futbol (soccer) inside made it sound as if the game were war! The police presence around us made it look that way, too, although the officers were laughing and joking.

“Here it is!” said Carlos. “The temple in the forest!” He went on to explain that his favorite team, Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, was engaged in a battle with their rival local club, Estudiantes de La Plata. Here are two short videos of the scene:

Saturday evening explorations

La Plata street with outlet shops - The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Shops along Calle 12, a busy commercial street in La Plata.

Back at the hotel, I had my usual bath and nap. I woke at around 5 p.m., full of energy. Picking up my walking stick, I went outside to the corner, turned right and decided to just keep walking along that street, so as not to get lost.

After five or so blocks, I found myself alongside a park-like square similar to the one by the hotel. This one had an enormous Gothic church—quite unusual for Latin America—at one end.

Far across the green, I saw many white tents. An amplified voice, like a circus ringmaster’s, blared from that direction. I imagined a political rally, and did not interrupt my walk.

At the far end of this plaza, I crossed a very busy commercial street. Many of its shops seemed to be outlet-style clothing stores. I wasn’t looking for clothes, but turned anyway. The late Saturday-afternoon bustle felt promising. Perhaps I’d find a branch of the Havanna coffeehouse chain that Carlos and I had patronized in Buenos Aires.

Accessories laid out at outlet shop - The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

The wares of street merchants line the sidewalks outside the shops along Calle 12.

Eventually, unable to find one, I sat down at an outdoor table at another café. After having a tarta and a drink, I started back toward the hotel. Thinking my “night out” had all but ended, I was about to discover it had scarcely begun!

Peru Vive!

Catedral Metropolitana de La Plata at Plaza Moreno - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Catedral Metropolitana de La Plata at Plaza Moreno.

It was dark when I got back to Plaza Moreno, the big square with the church. I could hear the same tacky announcer’s voice booming from down by the white tents.

Then the voice stopped. I heard African drums! Maybe it wasn’t a political rally or children’s event. I felt tired, but my inner voice kept saying, “This trip is for discovery! You might be missing something wonderful!”

As I veered over to that corner of the plaza, a large stage came into view. Several hundred people were standing in front of it. The drums, which had stopped, started up again, adding recorded music this time. A group of colourfully attired young women sambaed onto the stage. They were good! I stayed and watched their whole performance.Samba dancers - The personal" touch" in a big Argentine cityThe emcee returned and announced another group. This time, the instrumental music included flutes. The skillful dancers were arrayed in all the colours of the rainbow!

After watching several acts, I began strolling around the tent area. I learned from a sign that I was at the Peru Vive! festival. The booths featured a wide variety of Peruvian foods and crafts.

Many, many Peruvians live in Argentina, it turns out. I myself would be going to Peru in several days, and this preview excited me!

Four images from Vive Peru festival - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Top left: A Dad and a craftsperson lovingly attend to a little girl. Top right: The two comic emcees, who sounded a bit like used car salesmen, though the acts they introduced were of high quality. Bottom left: The colourful logo of the “Peru Vive!” festival. Bottom right: Part of the crowd near the stage. In the background is the Cathedral. Some white booth-tents can also be seen.

A Sunday family gathering

It’s easy to lose track of days of the week while travelling. However, Sunday morning is usually pretty obvious. Nearly everywhere, things get going a good deal later.

Corregidor Hotel restaurant - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Corregidor Hotel restaurant. Daily breakfast buffet came with the room.

I rose early as usual and had breakfast in the Corregidor dining room. When I went outside, the streets were nearly deserted. I took a long walk in the all-but-unknown, still sleeping city.

Above: an impromptu video of the author singing a verse of Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” on the La Plata streets.

Back at the hotel, Carlos picked me up in a taxi at noon. His sister was having a family lunch in honour of my visit!

Sunday feast with Carlos family - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Sunday feast at Carlos’ sister Gabriela’s: Left to right, Carlos, Eugenio (cousin Eduardo’s elder son), sister Gabriela, sister Marina, cousin Eleonora, nephew Juan Tomás and niece Clara (Gabriela’s twins).

That magic of true hospitality manifests when you’re with someone’s family and you feel like it’s your own. That’s what happened. Gabriela was a gracious, cultured host.

I felt connected to everyone. Juan Tomas is interested in designing video games. He was excited to hear that my stepson Victor had worked for Electronic Arts in the San Francisco Bay area. Clara had recently returned from a year in Great Britain. Her English skills were excellent and helpful. Marina is a professor of Art, and so we had things to share about that subject.

And the food! Simple jimon y queso con pan y panecillos (ham and cheese with bread and rolls) never tasted so heavenly, nor did empanadas. Then came the desserts.Delicious desserts - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Another kind of family gathering!

La Plata Meher Baba gathering - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Left: Meher Baba’s picture on Marcela’s table. Right: “Authorized” group photo! Nicholas, Pablo, the author, Carlos, Marcela, Juan.

After a couple hours’ rest back at the hotel, Pablo picked me up and we drove to get Carlos. He brought with him a special box containing a Sadra (gown) that the God-Man, Meher Baba, had worn. Baba’s sister Mani had given it to Eduardo Nunez, who later passed it on to Carlos.

Eduardo Nunez - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

The late Eduardo Nunez, AKA “Qui Qui,” in India with Eruch Jessawala, one of Baba’s closest mandali, (disciples). Eduardo was the first Argentine “Baba-lover.”

The get-together took place at the home of a devotee named Marcela. The photos of Baba, the art,  the spread of Argentine bread, wine and cheese, and the arriving “Baba-lovers” (even though several people were unable to make it) created a lovely atmosphere.Snacking and talking at Baba get-together - "The personal" touch" in a big Argentine cityAfter an hour or so of snacking and conversation, facilitated by both Carlos’ and Marcela’s bilingual skills, the guitar began making its rounds. Nearly everyone took a turn singing, and in most cases, playing guitar as well. It was almost as I’d imagined an Argentine Baba get-together: intoxicating music, food, drink and company.

Mate drink - The personal" touch" in a big Argentine city

Yerba Mate, Argentina‘s national drink.

As we took turns doing music, the yerba mate began making rounds of the table. People took turns sipping Argentina’s national drink through the traditional metal straw. I’m a mate drinker, myself, but unlike my Argentine friends, I add milk and sweetener.

Still, I wanted to take part in the tribal ritual. When the thermos came my way, I took a pull; but only during the first round. The blend was indeed a bit strong for my taste.

After a day overflowing with joy, Nicholas drove me back to the hotel. I slept the sleep of the grateful. Two and a half days of adventure in La Plata remained, and then—on to visit my friend Claire in the Peruvian Amazon region.

This last week-long leg of my trip would be a little different. I would be staying not in a hotel, but in a grass lodge run by a working shaman.

This travel-writer was on the move for weeks! To read about where he went previously, visit FIRST (AND LAST) TANGO IN BUENOS AIRES: Travels in Latin America [Part 6]»

To start at the beginning of the series, visit THE WONDERS OF OAXACA: Travels in Latin America [Part 1]»

image 8: Wikimedia Commons

THE PHILOSOPHY OF BYUNG-CHUL HAN: Relax. Do nothing. Become no one.

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze once said: “There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.”

‘Weapons’ may give us the wrong associations, but what he refers to are concepts that, like a brick, can be used to destroy what is hindering the growth of our lives, and at the same time, help us build or create something sustainable.

The Burnout Society

man with head in handsThe Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han’s work can be seen a toolbox aimed at helping us understand our contemporary society, while also presenting us with concrete ideas, thoughts or ‘weapons’ that might help us overcome or resist our own weak desires and vanities.

Han was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1959. He studied metallurgy in Korea before moving to Germany in his early twenties to study philosophy, German and theology. Today, Han is a professor at the University der Künste in Berlin. His initial fame sprang up with the publication of his book Mudigkeitsgelsselhaft (2010), which, directly translated, means ‘the fatigue society.’ In English, this was cleverly translated to The Burnout Society (2015).

Han’s thesis is that today’s neoliberalism has made politics psychological or mental. The logic of neoliberalism has invaded our minds. It’s our ability to be present in our lives, to think and to love that is threatened by this invasion. Neoliberalism—for many, at least—has become an uninvited guest that refuses to leave our minds.

Han declares, in all of his work, that we have become narcissistic. For this reason, it’s time for citizens to care more about society’s welfare than their own egos. “Responsibility for the community defines citizens. Consumers lack responsibility, above all,” Han writes in his 2018 book, In the Swarm: Digital Prospects. The result of this narcissistic development is well-known: stress, burnout and depression. “Depression is a narcissistic malady,” Han states in The Agony of Eros (2017).

Eros or love is the only thing that may conquer our contemporary depression. As Han writes, “Depression represents the impossibility of love.”

Experiencing sublime beauty hurts

boat on lake at sunriseStill, it’s difficult to love, because we are not really free. It’s not just that society pressures us to fit in, perform faster and achieve more, but rather that we ourselves want this. We try to appear as positive, smooth and shiny in public as possible, as if our lives are all made up of ‘good vibes.’

In 2017’s Saving beauty, Han writes: “The smooth is the signature of the present time.” This kind of smoothness, he continues, “connects the sculptures of Jeff Koons, iPhones and Brazilian waxing.”

Our lives tend to circle around ourselves, making the circle smaller and smaller as we Google ourselves into unconsciousness.

Today, smoothness and waxed bodies, quite sadly, are seen as the same thing as beauty. The morale behind this is clear: Smooth, smoother, smoothest = good, better, best. All that is strange, secret, or negative—in other words, all that passes through our thoughts—disappears, due to the ongoing repetition of sameness.

We lack a critical yet creative and life-affirming approach to overcoming this confinement. When we avoid the negative, the difficult and the painful, we amputate life. Our lives tend to circle around ourselves, making the circle smaller and smaller as we Google ourselves into unconsciousness.

To contrast this shallow development, Han turns to the writings of Plato, Kant, Hegel and Heidegger, in which there is no distinction between beauty and the sublime. Experiencing sublime beauty is not supposed to be pleasurable; rather, it hurts. It makes you fall and stumble. It is similar to falling in love, because you can lose yourself and act rather stupid.

“The sight of beauty does not cause pleasure, but shocks,” Han stresses in Saving beauty. It’s the matter of experiencing our own fragility that contemporary society minimizes. Art can shake us, make us see the world differently and help us perceive our own limitedness and flaws. “The longing for beauty,” Han says, “is ultimately the longing for a different mode of being, for another, altogether non-violent form of life.”

The strength of Han’s analysis lies in how he uses two guiding concepts in all his books: freedom and power. They both encapsulate the problem with contemporary society and can also open us up to alternative ways of living our lives.

Truth is freedom

statue - justice and truthFreedom is both a problem and a possibility. It is becoming, emphasizing that we become by combining courage to stand up against dominating ideals and norms with the belief that things could be different. Freedom is found in becoming whatever disobeying those ideals enables us to become. Real freedom is socially anchored, and as Han says in Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power (2017): “Freedom is a synonym for the community that succeeds.”

By making freedom social, he tries to relate it with truth. Perhaps this is where Han shows how courageous he is, by reintroducing the problematic concept of truth in philosophy. In Saving beauty, he speaks about the need to save beauty. Why? Because, as he writes: “Beauty promises freedom and reconciliation,” and “truth is freedom.”

In other words, a world of smoothness is false. It’s a world of ‘post-truth.’ For Han, the beautiful is both true and good; it’s almost as though the Korean philosopher is turning Platonic. And he is—at least in the way that the French philosopher Alain Badiou is Platonic.

In both Saving beauty and The Agony of Eros, Han ends up advocating for Badiou’s idea that the task of philosophy is to be loyal or faithful towards whatever binds us together (what is true, in other words). Han distinguishes himself from Badiou when he more practically shows why or how we can show fidelity to what really takes place in our lives.

Fidelity is unconditional in that it presupposes commitment and awareness. That means we should try to become capable of matching all parts of life, instead of just doing so when life is pleasurable and smooth.

“The saving of beauty is the saving of that which commits us.” This loyal commitment or involvement is related to the kind of awareness that mindfulness cultivates, as a non-judgmental and kind approach to what is happening now and here.

Without humour, no freedom. Without freedom, no love.

laughing man on benchHan also uses his Eastern roots in his philosophical thinking. Back in 2002, when he was still an unknown, he published a book called The Philosophy of Zen-Buddhism.

In this book, he illustrates that the Buddhist concept of ‘nothingness’—as the absence of an exclusive subjectivity—is what makes Buddhism pacifistic and non-violent, because there is no essence where power can be concentrated. Also, the concept of ‘emptiness’ is the reason why narcissism is something very un-Buddhist. There is no unchangeable ‘me’ in the mirror; rather, I am being formed by life.

The Korean thinker also illustrates that humour is something that links Western and Eastern philosophy. Nietzsche, for example, claimed that laughing was an expression of freedom. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said that “freedom is the element of love,” so it follows that without humour, there’s no freedom, and without freedom, there’s no love. Or to put it differently, it’s difficult to love people who never laugh, or take themselves too seriously.

In Buddhism, Han writes, there is no miracle, only hard daily work: Letting go of the past and not transcending or dreaming of a world beyond this one. He compares Buddhism with walking. Walking has no future, as you’re always in the midst of walking. To die means to walk, he says, emphasizing that we are always dying. Similarly, Michel de Montaigne said that to philosophize is to die.

‘Dying’ means always walking, philosophizing, exploring and experimenting with life, not as a way of meeting a specific objective, but as a way of being grounded in the here and now. Western and Eastern philosophy, I believe, share this humble approach to life. We never philosophize or meditate to conquer the world, but to praise its beauty.

Listening as an art of breathing

sculpture art men listening at wallMany Eastern ideas are reflected in Han’s suggestions for how to overcome today’s stress, burnout, exhaustion and ever-growing narcissism. For instance, in The Burnout Society, he encourages us to stop, sit down and take a break. Philosophy is here defined as ‘an intervening time,’ ‘a time of ‘non-doing,’ ‘a peace time,’ as he calls it.

To be creative, a person needs to stop and allow themselves to be formed or touched by what is happening as it happens, in the here and now.

The concept of ‘non-doing’ resembles elements of Buddhism and mindfulness in that it stresses that we don’t need to be doing things constantly, Rather, non-doing allows things to unfold at their own pace.

Similarly, in The Transparency Society (2015), Han proposes that although we are forced or coerced into participating in an ongoing style of positive communication—declaring, “I like,” over and over, again and again—we don’t have to like everything. It’s not more communication that is needed, but creative or alternative approaches to living a richer life. To be creative, a person needs to stop and allow themselves to be formed or touched by what is happening as it happens, in the here and now, without judging it according to some predefined ideal.

A last example is provided in Psychopolitics, in which Han he reawakens the ‘philosophical idiot’ as a way out of today’s malady. The idiot doesn’t belong to a specific network or alliances, so he or she is free to choose. The idiot doesn’t communicate; instead, he or she facilitates a space of silence and loneliness, where they only say what deserves to be said. The idiot listens, as a generous way of stepping aside to give room to the others.

“The art of listening takes place as an art of breathing,” Han writes in The Expulsion of the Other: Society, Perception and Communication Today (2018).

For philosophers and non-philosophers alike

Han’s work is accessible for non-philosophers, and is a good guide to understanding and navigating oneself through today’s demanding, achievement-based society. He encourages us to Relax. Do nothing. Become no one. See time as something peaceful.

Time passes, whether we want it or not. Then it returns and changes everything. Let go. Listen. Embrace moments of non-communication. And breathe.

«RELATED READ» MINIMALIST LIVING: A meditative practice that goes beyond owning less»

image 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 Pixabay 4 Pixabay 5 Pixabay