How We Burn


Look for the light.


I tend to think of myself as good, as basically good and sound and sane, and kind of under constant assault by an outer world that is basically not very good- a world where stupid people doing stupid things in stupid ways are always threatening my own happiness and sense of things being okay. I tend to fundamentally believe that I’m good and if I could just be left alone I would be happy pretty much all the time, I’d have things figured out, I’d be good.

But there are people at work who don’t get me, who don’t understand how hard I’m working, how much I have on my plate, how things look from my perspective- they’ve got their own prejudices and those blind them to how things are and so they’re a huge pain in my ass and I wish they’d just leave me alone.

Same thing with the people in my family. Same thing with the people on television, on the news. The corporation people in their big corporation buildings being all corporationy. The medical community. The military industrial complex. Republicans. Democrats. Iranians. Serbs. These people, those people.

I’m good.

They are not.


What’s maybe not so easy to realize is that we carry this kind of irritated, aggressive stance with us in our encounters with each other. There’s a subtle aggression and distancing in how we look at each other. In the most intimate setting, in the simple act of encounter. Our minds are under siege, and we’re distrustful, guarded, on edge, and that colors how we engage with each other. I’m not saying you’re a bad person, not that, no, probably you’re fine, that’s why we’re friends, it’s those others, it’s everyone else, and aren’t they terrible- here’s what they’ve been doing to me! And what did they do to you?

This is like, eighty percent of every conversation we ever have.

By we and us I’m saying me. This is what I do. This is how I behave.


Imagine instead what it’s like when you encounter someone who is genuinely happy to see you. Who sees you, really sees you directly. How we open to that experience, how we relax into it, how it can be like a fresh breeze blowing into a dank, shut-up room. We’ve all had this experience.

It’s heavenly.

It’s healing.


I don’t think this should be or needs to be such an exceptional encounter. It could be how we treat everyone. How everyone looks at us. But it isn’t going to happen, I’m never going to encounter this or give this experience to others as long as I maintain my siege mentality, as long as I continue to view the outer world as dangerous and threatening and trying to harm me. And this requires a huge shift in our thinking, in our way of being, of relating to the world and to experience.

It requires courage. It requires of me a willingness to be directly hurt by what and who I encounter. I really do have to drop my shield and my sword and stand before you empty handed- as long as I keep my sword and shield gripped in my hands I can only see you as my subtle enemy. Maybe you’re not trying to kill me right now, but I’m going to keep my eyes on you all the same.

But if I can do this, if I can let go of all that and not try to protect myself at all, then I have a shot at actually seeing you as you are. And maybe that’s good and maybe that’s not so good, but at least it is how you are and not how I imagine you are. This stance allows me to at least have a chance of meeting you in a way that doesn’t harm you, either, that allows you to be seen.

Which might encourage you to drop your shield an inch or two. You don’t have to put it down all the way yet. But you might really meet my eyes over the edge of the shield and feel something happening inside. That opening feeling, that sense of ease, of healing.

The thing is that I’m the one who is responsible for the aggression and fear that surrounds me. I bring it with me in every single encounter I have with the outside world.

Maybe this resonates with you a little bit.

If it does, I want to encourage you to try this with the next person you encounter. Drop your shield, just totally drop it, and open your arms to them, stand naked before them, and try to see who it is you’re dealing with. You don’t have to love them up, you don’t have to have a big goofy smile on your face, you don’t have to act in any way at all. Just be your whole, naked self and be willing to accept whatever is presented to you.

I wonder what this might do to your day?



I’m headed off for a week of retreat starting Sunday. I’ll be at the Seven Circles retreat center in Badger, CA, with my teacher Khaydroup and a small group of ten other practitioners. This retreat is focused on personal practice, so I’ll be doing lots and lots of prostrations and meditation. We’ll have a daily dharma teaching and we’ll get together for vegetarian meals and we’ll be in a mix of silence and a little bit of talking in small groups.

I’m taking off when my wife, daughter, and grandkids need me to be around for them. I’m leaving them in the lurch. I am so grateful to them for allowing me to go, to spend these few precious days in retreat.

I feel the tug of family obligations every single time I go on retreat. Sometimes I feel bad about this and wish I could just go on retreat without feeling like I”m giving my family the short end of the stick. But actually it’s a lovely and powerful reminder that I’m not a separate thing- I’m part of them, just like I’m part of everything. You can’t tug on one separate thing without having an effect on everything else that is.

So, in that way, I’ll be taking all of you with me into retreat. Because it can’t be avoided but also because I love you and want you there with me. I include you all in my practice because you are my friends and I want you to be happy.