My Hope

I recently updated my Psychology Today profile with the following Note on Top Specialties:

“I have the good fortune to work with the most beautiful and caring people who are courageously struggling with what it means to be human, which may present itself in daily life as anxiety, depression, inauthenticity, relationship issues, etc. Whatever the case may be, my hope is that, together, we can learn to compassionately take responsibility for our lives and ultimately find meaning in them.”

Being limited to 400 characters, I wasn’t able to get across everything I actually wanted to say, particularly regarding how so many of the lovely people who enter my office have, unfortunately but understandably, lost touch with their inner beauty somewhere along the way. They may have also sadly found that making an effort to be kind and trying to do the right thing aren’t necessarily ingredients for success. Therefore, in addition to the above, it’s my sincere hope that they’ll arrive at a place through our time together where they’re able to see and accept in themselves what it is that I see in them: something beautiful, of course.

The Simplicity

A decade ago, upon my return from the monastery, I rented a studio apartment in the city in which my entire collection of furniture consisted of little more than a writing desk, two folding chairs, and a small collapsable table. I slept on a thin, foam-rubber mat onto which I would unroll my sleeping bag and place my pillow. In the morning, I would rise early and neatly tuck the three items back away into the unit’s one-and-only closet. I would then brew some coffee and watch the day break to the north outside my window.

Midmorning, seeing that I had neither internet service nor a smart phone, I would walk the mile or so to the public library and work on whatever freelance graphic or website design project I had going on at the time. At around noon and again in the early evening, I would retrace my steps home and prepare a modest vegetarian meal that I would eat in silence. Most nights, not owning a television, I would sit at my desk, insert a DVD into my laptop, and enjoy a movie I had checked out from the library earlier in the day.

As romantic as this all feels to me now in retrospect, my nostalgia is tempered by the fact that it was predominantly a year of challenging transition. Nevertheless, there was something about it that I absolutely loved: the simplicity. On one occasion, a good friend of mine, upon stepping through the door and looking around for the first time, politely inquired, “Where’s all your stuff?” To which I responded with a sincere, albeit countercultural, sense of pride, “This is it.”

With Courage

I recently stumbled upon an online review of Psyche and Soul in America: The Spiritual Odyssey of Rollo May by Robert H. Abzug, a biography of legendary existential psychotherapist Rollo May, whose therapeutic style and way of being in general have resonated with me since studying him in graduate school. A couple of passages in the review particularly stood out to me and led to my decision to pick up a copy of Abzug’s work, which I’m currently about midway through and enjoying very much.

In one of May’s own books, The Courage to Create, he speaks to the issue of despair, as did I in a recent post. And when defining courage and its relationship to despair, May suggests the following, which I have framed and displayed on a small table next to my desk at home:

This courage will not be the opposite of despair. We shall often be faced with despair, as indeed every sensitive person has been during the last several decades in this country. Hence Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and Camus and Sartre have proclaimed that courage isn’t the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.

Nor is the courage required mere stubbornness—we shall surely have to create with others. But if you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.

I’ve read and reread it many times, and what never gets lost on me is the fact that it was published in 1975—nearly fifty years ago now as of this writing. Times have changed since then, of course, but it remains that existence never ceases to present its challenges despite our sincere efforts to eradicate them. Seeing that I certainly consider May to have been a sensitive person himself and that he died back in 1994—shortly after the world wide web went public and a few years before the first social media site was launched—I can’t help but wonder what he might have to say about the courage required to navigate our current environment if he were still alive today.

May, R. (1975). The courage to create. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (pp. 2–3)


One Wednesday morning during a lengthier stay of mine at the monastery several years ago, we all gathered in the meditation hall for our weekly video-recorded Dharma talk from the monastic community’s teacher, Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, or “Thay” as his students lovingly referred to him. As the monks and nuns took their seats on their meditation cushions in front of the large video screen, I pulled up a folding chair behind the group of monastics and sat quietly, well aware that I was not in the most jovial of moods. More accurately, I was despairing.

The talk that morning was a question-and-answer session, during which a young boy walked up, sat down in the chair next to Thich Nhat Hanh, and sincerely inquired, “Thay, what is your practice?” Pessimistically expecting to hear something having to do with mindful eating or walking, one can imagine my relief when—in true Thich Nhat Hanh fashion—he paused for a few seconds, gently smiled, and responded with, “Not giving in to despair.” Well, in that instant, my demeanor completely changed, as I thought to myself, “Alright, if it’s okay for Thich Nhat Hanh—a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and man who’s been a Buddhist monk for many years—to struggle with despair, it just might be okay for me to do so as well.”

Good Advice

The other day, I heard an author on a podcast suggest that what we call writer’s block may, in essence, be the fear of vulnerability. In other words, perhaps it’s not so much that we don’t have anything to say, but, rather, that we’re simply afraid to say it out loud. This certainly rings true for me, as I imagine it does for many creatives. For example, I’ve been wanting to write something to post here for about a week now; however, each time I would sit down to do so, my misguided need for perfection and desire to be seen in that light would rear its ugly head and prevent me from following through with expressing what felt so sincere and natural only a few minutes earlier while out for a walk or standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes.

My favorite movie for the longest time was Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke. In it, there’s a beautiful scene with the two of them that illustrates just how adept our inner critics are at convincing us of our unworthiness and the powerful effect the support and encouragement of someone who believes otherwise can have on our lives: “Don’t you forget this,” Williams’ character mentors Hawke’s. May we all heed his good advice ourselves.

Something About It

While out walking this morning, one of my all-time favorite things came to mind for whatever reason: a TED Talk by film-maker Louis Schwartzberg titled “Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.” Schwartzberg talks on stage for only about three minutes before introducing a preview of his film “Happiness Revealed,” which is narrated by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a soft-spoken Benedictine monk known for his work on the practice of gratitude. I’m honestly not the biggest fan of these types of presentations, but I’ve watched and recommended this one many times nevertheless. There’s just something about it that speaks to me on a deep, personal level; often, I must admit, bringing me to tears. In particular, with just over a minute remaining, Brother David gently offers the following: “And so I wish you that you will open your heart to all these blessings, and let them flow through you, that everyone whom you will meet on this day will be blessed by you, just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch, just by your presence.”

Damn, it gets me every time, as just how much I would love to get out of my own way (like many of us, I assume) and bring that way of being into the world on a more consistent basis: a bit less guarded; a little more courageous.

To Love

I’m showing my age here, but I remember a friend of mine lending me a couple of audio cassette tapes years ago containing a handful of lectures by, according to Wikipedia, “philosophical entertainer” Alan Watts. I would listen to them repeatedly while working on various freelance graphic design and illustration assignments in the small room of our home that served as my studio. In one of his lectures, I recall Watts suggesting that our seeing two adjacent chutes of bamboo and deducing that one of them is taller than the other is simply a human construct (or something to that effect). As someone who was developing an interest in Buddhist thought at the time, I found that intriguing as it felt very “Zen” to me. Needless to say, it’s stuck ever since.

Fast forward three decades or so and one can now, of course, find countless talks of his combined with video footage on YouTube. One on the topic of falling in love ends with the following: “The desire to love and to be loved is, I think, probably the deepest thing that there is in us. . . . and so it’s a matter of seeing that this deeply repressed love must be let out.” If Watts is correct in his assertion, which I believe he is, I find it fascinating that not only do we have an innate desire to be loved, but we have a deep-seated need to love and express that love as well. The topic of love often comes up in my work, and when I ask people which, if either, is more important to them, to love or to be loved, they respond without fail that it’s the former: to love. So, perhaps, at least in this regard, it may very well be true on some level that it does indeed serve us better to give than to receive.

There Comes a Time

Several months ago, I was sitting in my apartment early one morning and fretting over a difficult decision I needed to make in the not-too-distant future. In actuality, it wasn’t all that arduous of a choice because I knew deep down what it was that I had to do. On the surface, however, my fear-based ego believed it knew otherwise. In the middle of my rumination, a text message came through from my daughter: a single red heart that eased my concerns, as I knew full well that no matter what decision I made regarding that particular situation, I would continue to have her and my son’s unwavering love. It also occurred to me that I have several friends and colleagues who would encourage and support me whichever route I chose to take. Now that the decision has been made, I try to remember this when self-doubt and the fear of failure creep in and show their worried faces. Like overprotective parents, I know they simply want to keep me safe and free from harm, but there comes a time when a kid just needs to go outside and play.

If Only for the Moment

I love the early morning and the feeling of “nothing to do, nowhere to go” that, for me, anyway, comes along with it. I plop down in my favorite chair next to the window and rest my thermal cup of coffee on the sill; a book or two for inspiration within reach (Born for Love: Reflections on Loving by Leo Buscaglia for example). Weather permitting, as was the case this morning, I open the window and invite the fresh air and sounds of the outside world in to join me: the cool breeze navigating its way through the crisp, autumn leaves, the faint howl of a dog off in the distance, and, according to the app on my phone, among others, the birdsong of the blue jay, American crow, and European starling.

Nothing to do and nowhere to go . . . if only for the moment.

Soul Nourishment

I’m currently reading a lovely and inspirational little book, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, by a beautiful writer named Mirabai Starr, whose Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation I read a few years ago. The Center for Action and Contemplation recently quoted a passage from Wild Mercy in a Daily Meditation, which led me to pick up a copy from my local library and, because I was enjoying it so much, purchase my own shortly thereafter.

In subchapter “Making Amends,” Starr writes something that particularly speaks to me: “What would happen if we cultivated tenderness toward our own broken being?” Well, from personal experience, my answer would be that doing so might very well turn your life around. As someone who spent many years listening and acquiescing to the conditioned voice of my inner critic (tyrant, really) I’ve found the simple—though by no means easy—act of generating and practicing self-compassion, being gentler with and more accepting of my own broken being, to be nothing short of transformative.

Due to the fact that things such as this take place quite gradually by nature, it’s difficult to say exactly when the shift took place, but I’m certain the seed was planted during my time living with the Vietnamese monastic community of Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn, who showed me time and time again that I’m actually lovable just as I am. Contrary to my projections, they weren’t bothered in the slightest by what had recently transpired in my life and led me to their monastery’s doorstep, nor did they appear to be too concerned with how much money I made, which is something with which I’ve always struggled and continue to wrestle with to this day as a man in this culture. What a relief. For the first time in my life, I felt I was enough, and it’s been my daily practice ever since to, come what may, keep that soul-nourishing feeling alive.

That Little Voice

I was getting ready for a day of seeing clients one morning a couple of years ago when, seemingly out of nowhere, I heard that little voice inside of my head ask, “How can I be a more loving person today?” I have no idea from where it came, but my bio at the time did include a quote from Thomas Merton, and perhaps that was its subconscious point of origin: “I do not have easy answers, but again I think a great deal depends on love, and that when people are loved they change.” Well, regardless of its source, the question asked of me that day back then has stuck with me ever since.

Fully Human

I don’t recall exactly where I heard it, although it was undoubtedly in one of the countless dharma talks I’ve listened to throughout the years, but here’s my take on the definition of Buddhist thought that has continued to resonate most profoundly with me. It goes like this: A friend, family member, or lover—someone for whom we care a great deal—comes to pay us a visit, and when the time inevitably arrives for us to part ways and say goodbye, we simply, in our own time, allow ourselves to feel whatever it is we feel before compassionately getting on with our lives. If it’s sadness, we go ahead and feel it. We cry if need be. It’s okay. There’s no need to suppress it in the name of being a “good Buddhist.” We accept ourselves just as we are in the moment—fully human.

Yes, we’ve read books on Buddhism and intellectually grasped how everything is in a constant state of change, in flux, but the simple truth is that we cherish this person and their loving presence, which, at least temporarily, assuages our loneliness. So, why wouldn’t it hurt to see them go, right? Therefore, as heart-wrenching as it may be, I wonder if our work in a situation such as this might be to practice gently holding whatever it is we’re experiencing emotionally, a type of grief in this case, while simultaneously honoring our understanding of reality, which, time and time again, reminds us of the transient nature of things. As poet Ranier Maria Rilke put it so beautifully many years ago, “Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?”

Follow Your Love

In a Ted Talk by actor Ethan Hawke titled “Give yourself permission to be creative,” he suggests the following: “So, if you want to help your community, if you want to help your family, if you want to help your friends, you have to express yourself. And to express yourself, you have to know yourself. It’s actually super easy. You just have to follow your love. There is no path. There’s no path till you walk it, and you have to be willing to play the fool.”

Personally, I think I’ve come to know myself fairly well over the past several years, and the love that I must follow is, without a doubt, authenticity. As an Enneagram Type Four, The Individualist, living in an authentic manner is essential for my well-being. With that said, am I always successful at doing so? Of course not. Most of the time, I’m actually terrified of following my heart and allowing myself to be seen. I was raised in an atmosphere in which drawing attention to oneself was discouraged so as to not look foolish, so I guess it’s no real surprise that I grew up to be self-conscious and perfectionistic with a longing to be accepted and understood. But here I am—quite counterintuitively—following my love by putting this out into the world and being willing to “play the fool” because, at some point, it became more painful and difficult to do otherwise.

Along the Way

Writer Leo Buscaglia, who began teaching a course on love, titled Love 1A, at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s, has come up in a few conversations I’ve had recently with like-minded thinkers. I remember reading several of Buscaglia’s books many years ago when I first set out on this journey of self-discovery that I’ve been attempting to navigate (often futilely, I might add) ever since. Despite the inevitable and varying degrees of heartache and confusion I’ve encountered and continue to encounter to this day, I’ve come to realize and accept that I’m simply too stubborn a romantic to even consider abandoning it anytime soon. And for that, I’m grateful, for I’ve also experienced a great deal of personal growth and satisfaction, as well as a sense of purpose along the way.

Below are a handful of Buscaglia’s thoughts on human existence that particularly resonate with me and in which I find not only comfort but validation as well.

“The hardest battle you are ever going to have to fight is the battle to be just you.”

“Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.”

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

“Man must never be satisfied with his ability to love. No matter where he is, it is always just the beginning.”

Just Right

For whatever reason, I was feeling a bit agitated late yesterday afternoon, so I thought it my serve me well to get some fresh air and exercise. Thirty minutes later, I found myself at one of my current favorite spots on the planet, leaning against and staring mindlessly out into nature through the wooden railing of a bridge spanning a narrow stream. After a short while, some movement in my field of vision snapped me out of my trance, and I watched in awe as two beautiful deer made their way cautiously across the shallow water, pausing occasionally to check their surroundings before scampering up the bank and disappearing into the woods. It was then that I had one of those rare moments when everything felt just right. For the enlightened among us, perhaps it’s always so. But for an ordinary, unenlightened soul such as myself, the few seconds of presence provided a welcomed and refreshing change of pace.


As of late, I’ve been trying to live my life as one big spiritual practice. And, truth be told, I’m not exactly sure what that even means. For the most part, it’s simply meant making a series of small, conscious adjustments to my day-to-day, mostly mundane existence. For example, eating less, making an effort to drink more water, spending more time in solitude, walking in nature, etc.

On a deeper level, however, when I find myself becoming aware that I’m feeling a bit impatient or full of myself (not to be confused with confident) and noticing my empathy and compassion for others waning, I do my best to pause, remembering that I too suffer. Doing so brings me back to the present and allows me to connect more genuinely and intimately with my fellow human beings. This isn’t always easy or pleasant of course, for if I acknowledge the pain and my projected shortcomings of others, I’m then forced to humbly look at my own.

For the past several weeks, something I once heard from Richard Rohr keeps coming to mind. In an interview with Krista Tippett of The On Being Project, he states, “I ask God for one good humiliation a day, and I usually get it . . . And then what I have to do, Krista, is I have to watch my reaction to it. And I’ve got to be honest with you, my inner reaction — I’m not proud to tell you — is defensive, is, ‘That’s not true. You don’t understand me.’ I can just see how well-defended my ego is.”

Amen, Richard. Amen.

The Quiet of Early Morning

I recently moved out of the city, which means I no longer have immediate access to the park in which I loved to walk for the past handful of years. Fortunately, there happens to be a beautiful, tree-lined trail near my new place onto which I can get out and spend some time in nature. My usual route takes me north about a mile and a half where I always pause for a few minutes and listen to the creek making its way across the accumulation of assorted rocks below the bridge. It’s there, looking out over nothing but water and trees, that I often have the desire to just keep walking; leaving everything behind and seeing where life leads. Though it certainly sounds romantic, rest assured that I have no intention whatsoever of doing any such thing (at least for now, anyway). Nevertheless, there is something about the quiet of early morning there that makes the thought of embarking on such an odyssey an enticing one.

Even So

I’ve written before about how I admire those who have the courage to write openly about their lives and experiences of being human. It’s because of their willingness to do so that I find the genre of memoir so appealing. Even so, I’m aware of just how hesitant I continue to remain when it comes to allowing myself to be seen through my own writing. Interestingly, my greatest fear is to be exposed as a fraud, and yet the path that leads to freedom from that fear, authenticity, often terrifies me. But onward it is, even so.

Movement in the Right Direction

Whenever my time comes, a fitting epitaph may well be, “Just when he was beginning to get the gist of it.” I do feel I’m finally getting a glimpse, be it ever so slight, of what it might possibly mean to take on this human incarnation. For instance, I like to think that I’m becoming a bit kinder, overall, as well as more empathic towards myself and others while setting appropriate boundaries when deemed necessary. I also like to believe that I’ve grown to be somewhat less impatient, and I’m certainly less sarcastic—a good thing for all concerned, believe me. I’m slowly, albeit begrudgingly, conceding to the fact that I will never be perfect, which is undoubtedly in my best interest. My misguided desire for perfection thus far has generously provided me with the suffering required to see the futility of my efforts.

Therefore, aware that old habits die hard, I’ve been trying out a new mantra as of late: “You don’t need to be perfect,” as a means of keeping me on course when I find myself caught up in idealistic self-talk. Notice the second person perspective in which the older and wiser part of me offers practical advice to the younger, naive part. I wish I could honestly say this exchange takes place numerous times daily, but that simply isn’t the case. In actuality, the two parts connect a few times each day, which may not be ideal, but it is movement in the right direction.

A Work in Progress

A friend once said to me, “As long as we’re breathing, we’re learning.” It’s a simple teaching, rooted in compassion, and one that I find especially useful when hearing the idealized version of me letting the far-from-perfect, everyday me know that I should have done this or I shouldn’t have said that, and that when things don’t go as planned, I should have known better somehow. And how many times have I been certain that I had finally arrived at the place in my life where I had everything all figured out, only to realize sooner or later (usually sooner) that I actually hadn’t a clue or, at best, that I had barely scratched the surface? I guess you could say I’m a work in progress—always learning, indeed.

Once Again

I enjoy simple tasks: making my bed in the morning, sweeping, doing the dishes, sewing a button back onto a dress shirt or favorite sport coat. I’ve noticed, though, that despite my claim of deriving pleasure from such activities, I always seem to experience some hesitation before committing to engage in them, as if I’m unwilling to resign myself to the mundane and have better, more important things to do—which is rarely the case by the way. What I find interesting about this is that, deep down, I know that I truly cherish the mundane. I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to spend a fair amount of time residing in Buddhist monastery settings, where I found the modest daily routine nourishing and refreshing. Even so, I was often well aware of my yearning to return to the “real world” and get on with life as I fantasized it would be. Needless to say that each time I succumbed to that craving, it didn’t take long for me to realize that reality hadn’t received my script.

It’s been nearly five years now since my last lengthy stay with the Vietnamese monastics that played such a vital role in my transition of a particularly challenging time, and although the pull I feel to drop everything and return to such a lifestyle is not nearly as strong as it once was, I must confess that it remains. It’s the inner conflict that Trappist monk and Christian mystic Thomas Merton must have felt while knowingly benefiting from the quiet and solitude of his hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani, yet longing to be on the outside nevertheless. I certainly entertain no serious thoughts of abandoning my present way of life, however. I have work that I enjoy and that provides me with meaning. I also have the freedom to spend time with friends and loved ones, even though such interactions are currently limited to taking place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic we’re undergoing.

So, today, I will continue with that meaningful work while remembering to take time to sit quietly, ponder, and tune in to occasional birdsong. And tomorrow, I’ll wake early and, once again, straighten and tuck in my bed sheets as the sound of brewing coffee emanates from the next room.

Not a Bad Thing

I must admit to feeling some internal pressure as of late to pick up the pace a bit and live more fully and authentically. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; in fact, at least in my case, I would suggest that this existential angst I’m experiencing is for the better. With this pandemic stepping in and letting me know that I’m not nearly as special as my ego would like me to believe, I hear the proverbial clock on the wall ticking louder these days. No, I’m not ill (as far as I’m aware, anyway); I am, however, rapidly approaching my sixty-first birthday and feeling that perhaps I haven’t used my time here as well as I might have. Again, not a bad thing, as I believe it’s actually emanating from a place of love and genuine concern for my well-being. Similar to a dear friend or neighbor pounding on my door in the middle of the night, letting me know that my house is on fire. Not necessarily pleasant, but welcomed and appreciated nevertheless.

Common Threads

Over the past several days, I’ve been going through photographs of mine and assigning them to my posts here. In the process of doing so, I’ve noticed a handful of common threads in both my images and writing: simplicity, solitude, love, self-acceptance, authenticity, nature—things that truly speak to my heart. What this awareness has confirmed is the vital role creativity plays in my life and the positive effect it has on my way of being. Understanding this, and since it’s been quite some time since I last posted, I’ve set an intention to begin writing on a more regular basis and sharing the world as I see it through my eyes. And I’m certain my heart will thank me for it.

A True Gift

I was having an interesting discussion early last week with a delightful young person whom I had just met when the topic of intimate, vulnerable conversation came up and how it can seem difficult to come by these days. As we were parting ways after our short time together, something I heard a while back from Richard Rohr in an episode of the On Being podcast came to mind. I paraphrased as best I could in the moment and have since referred to the podcast’s transcript for Rohr’s precise sentiment: “Vulnerability transforms you. You can’t be in the presence of a truly vulnerable, honestly vulnerable person and not be affected. I think that’s the way we are meant to be in the presence of one another.”

I believe he’s right, for when one feels comfortable and safe enough to open up a bit and share something authentic about oneself with a fellow human being, it’s a true gift, as it gives the other the permission to do the same. And in the end, isn’t that all any of us are really seeking: the opportunity to be seen and accepted for who we are?

Looking Back

I was out running an errand with my daughter one afternoon a couple of weeks ago when we came to a red light at a busy intersection in the city. On the near corner of our side of the street, a small, energetic group sporting matching blue t-shirts gathered around two folding tables with a poster-board sign attached advertising lemonade for sale: $1.00. Several cups of both the yellow and pink varieties sat iced and ready. At one point, my daughter made eye contact with the group’s front man who was busy scampering from car to car before the light turned green. As he approached, she smiled while lowering her window and informing him that, unfortunately, she didn’t have any cash on her. Without hesitation, he generously offered it to us free of charge, for which we thanked him but politely declined, not wanting to hold up traffic. As we pulled away shortly thereafter, I told my daughter that I was pretty sure I had a couple of dollars in my wallet and that we could stop on the way back.

As we approached the intersection on the return trip about thirty minutes later, we turned left at the light and wound our way through a parking lot that eventually led to a spot directly behind where the refreshment vendors had set up shop. The gentleman who had made us the kind offer earlier broke into a big smile when he saw that my daughter had returned and was approaching with cash in hand. The others working the stand thanked her profusely and even turned around to wave at and thank me from a distance.

That evening, my daughter and I both commented on how glad we were that we took the few minutes to go out of our way to help. It felt good. And looking back, I’m certain that she and I benefited from the interaction that day every bit as much as, if not more than, the nice people wearing blue.

A Good Move

I’ve been walking a fair amount lately, somewhere between thirty and forty miles a week by my estimation. I particularly like doing so early in the morning, setting my alarm for a little before five, which gives me just enough time for a few sips of coffee (decaf—it’s the ritual I crave) and fifteen minutes or so of peace and quiet before heading out the door by half past the hour.

I took a break Sunday morning, instead, sleeping in until just after six and plopping myself down in a lawn chair out back with The Road to Character by David Brooks. After about an hour, the sounds of barking dogs and overworked air conditioners battling the St. Louis heat provided me with the incentive to relocate to a nearby park and find myself a seat in the shade. A good move. The morning sun periodically peeked out from above the scattered layer of clouds, and a cool, gentle breeze blew in from the northwest. And with the exception of the occasional airliner making its descent into Lambert International, the only sounds to be heard were those generated by the various birds and insects inhabiting the surrounding trees and vegetation. Every now and then, a fellow serenity seeker, often accompanied by his or her four-legged friend, would stroll by and offer a “Good morning.” A good morning. Yes, it was.

That Quiet Inner Voice

One evening a couple of weeks ago, I gathered with a dozen or so others to listen to a poet friend share her love of Korean poetry. As one who has created a small collection of my own work over the past several years, I found its simplicity both inspiring and refreshing. Upon returning home, I heard that quiet inner voice encouraging me to share some of what I’ve written, and with April being National Poetry Month, what better time to do so.

If interested, please visit my Poetry page.

Two Little Words

Two little words: I understand. I had the good fortune to be on their receiving end one afternoon last week, and they made all the difference. I wasn’t looking for an answer or a quick fix for that with which I was struggling. I simply wanted to be seen and accepted for who I was in that moment: a human being in need of support.

I understand—two little, yet powerful words.

When All Was Said and Done

Two dear friends of mine, a married couple for more than fifty years now, invited me out to dinner one evening a few weeks back to thank me for picking them up at the airport upon their return to St. Louis from visiting family out west. Though there was certainly no need for them to do so, I was—of course—happy to accept. Both the food and service were excellent, and on a few occasions throughout the course of our meal, we engaged our waitress, a delightful young lady, in random conversation when she would stop by our table to inquire as to how we were doing.

Interestingly, as we were preparing to leave, she demonstrated being exceptionally grateful for the manner in which we had treated her, which, quite honestly, took my friends and me by surprise. (After all, didn’t everyone treat her that way?) Outside of being polite and understanding, we truly didn’t feel that we had done anything out of the ordinary. Therefore, all we could think of was that our interacting with her on a more personal level is what made the difference. When all was said and done, perhaps she simply felt seen as a fellow human being, and not merely someone who was there to serve us that evening. That’s my hope anyway.

Come Spring

I had some free time on my hands after dropping my car off to be serviced the other morning, so I headed for the park via my usual route to get in a short walk. Along the way, I glanced to my left and the other side of the street to see if a certain elderly woman who lives in the neighborhood happened to be sitting outside, as she often is, on the wooden porch at the entrance to her apartment. Weekdays, she passes the time there alone, but weekends are a different story, when loved ones line the flight of concrete steps leading down from her place to the sidewalk.

It had been a while since I’d last seen her there, and she was absent that morning as well. And then it dawned on me as to the (now obvious) reason why—the temperature. It was twenty-two degrees! Fahrenheit! But that’s just my point: It appears that her contagious smile and always friendly “Good morning!” have had such a positive effect on me that I’ve now become conditioned to look in the direction of her front door each time I stroll by—regardless of the weather.

Though we’ve waved and exchanged greetings on many occasions, we have never actually met. So, come spring, I plan to cross the street and introduce myself; ask her how she’s been.

One Might Ask

I received a message from my daughter this past Thursday informing me that the poet Mary Oliver died. I’ve always enjoyed the Pulitzer Prize winner’s writing and recently heard her poem “The Uses of Sorrow” recited by a guest on a podcast I listen to on a regular basis. Her words spoke to me in such a way that I now have a framed copy of it placed in my office.

One might ask (and understandably so), especially while in the midst of it, what purpose this inevitable part of human life could possibly serve. I won’t speculate as to Ms. Oliver’s inspiration for composing the piece, but for me personally, it provides the opportunity to appreciate the heartaches of others through the awareness and acknowledgement of my own. And as simple as that may sound, I find it invaluable.

Only Then

Some time ago, I had the opportunity to take part in a weekly, mindfulness-based sharing and discussion circle. And while it wasn’t uncommon for things to proceed slowly at first, I remember the initial several minutes of one gathering during which my fellow group members, many of them newcomers, seemed particularly hesitant to speak from their hearts. With that being the case, I went ahead and began by speaking from mine since I had been participating on a regular basis for quite a while by then and, as a result, felt fairly comfortable doing so.

I don’t recall specifically what it was that I talked about that morning, but I do recollect asking if anyone happened to be struggling with fear. And I was glad that I did because, one by one, the hands gradually began to go up, followed by those who had raised them telling their stories—mostly having to do with loss and the anxiety and grief surrounding it. By the time we were through, a few tears had been shed, and I like to think that at least a bit of healing had taken place.

Experiences such as this have led me to believe that one of the highest aspirations we can have as human beings is to ease the fears of others. In order to do so, however, I feel we must first be honest with and accepting of ourselves regarding our own trepidations, for only then will we be able to genuinely embrace the concerns of those around us.


There is what I consider to be a particularly beautiful tree in the park in which I walk—asymmetrical and full of knots. Majestic.

One morning, as I made my way up the slight incline that leads to where it stands, I could see a small bouquet of yellow flowers sitting just outside the hollow at its base. In front was a young woman crying softly into her partner’s chest.

As I walked past, I naturally began to speculate as to what it may have been that brought them there that day. Meanwhile, the one with the offering at its feet simply bore witness without the need to know.

A Gentle Reminder

On the shelf of my nightstand is a small, framed photograph of me as a child: a school picture, on the back of which is my name and “3rd Grade” pencilled in my mother’s handwriting. Mom, now in her late seventies, would have been twenty-six at the time, my daughter’s age in just a little over a month. In it, I sit before a light-blue background, sporting a buzz cut and with black, thick-rimmed spectacles perched on my nose and oversized ears. A half-smile can be seen on my face.

Most days, I forget that it’s even there; however, every now and then it catches my eye as I take a quick look around before turning out the light and leaving the room. And when it does, it serves as a gentle reminder to be good to myself—and the young boy on the other side of the glass.

As a Father Myself

When I awoke and checked my phone for the time Saturday morning, I was pleased to see a text message awaiting me from a good friend of mine in the United Kingdom. We’ve known each other for a couple of years now, ever since an impromptu conversation he and I had outside the cafe of the university we were attending. He was beginning his final year of undergraduate studies in finance, and I had just begun the fourth semester of my master’s program.

Before returning home to the UK recently, he thanked me for all that he had learned as a result of our friendship and for helping him through a particularly difficult time. While I appreciate his kind words, I hope he understands that I learned a great deal from him too, especially the importance of keeping a positive attitude and not taking oneself quite so seriously. He comes from a beautiful, caring family, and as a father myself, I’m certain that his parents, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when they were on campus for his graduation, are delighted to have their son back.

I plan to cross the big pond and pay them all a visit sometime this summer. Believe it or not, I’ve never been to Europe, so I’m looking forward to spending a week or so enjoying their company and taking in the countryside about two hundred miles north of London. From the pictures I’ve seen, it looks lovely.


Simple Pleasures

One of my favorite places on the planet is a stand of twenty or so cypress trees located in a nearby park. And on its eastern edge sit matching hand-crafted wooden benches, on one of which my daughter and I sat side by side and shared a sundae from a local creamery on a hot and humid St. Louis afternoon this past June. Since then, I can’t help but smile every time I return and picture the two of us enjoying two of life’s simple pleasures: ice cream and the good company of a loved one.

What a Gift

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a sincere interest in expressing myself through the writing process, due in great part to having taken a handful of classes offered by a writer friend of mine, all of which I found to be quite inspiring and helpful. During the most recent, I suggested to another participant that the most valuable quality a writer can possess is honesty. I happened to be reading a couple of memoirs at the time, Paul Auster’s Winter Journal and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Anne Patchett, and the genuineness and transparency of both authors had a real impact on me.

I truly admire those who possess the courage to write openly and with dignity about themselves and their experiences of being human—what a gift to those with the good fortune to receive their words. I can’t help but believe that writing in such a straightforward, unabashed manner must be intimidating at first, if not always. And I imagine that those who do so must have reached a time in there lives when they no longer felt they had a choice; when the pain of hiding was far greater than any they feared experiencing as the result of telling their stories and allowing themselves to be seen.

While it may not necessarily lead to the writing of a memoir, I believe the counseling experience can, nevertheless, provide a unique opportunity for anyone tired of hiding—writer or otherwise—to practice the gradual dropping of one’s persona in the interest of emerging more willing to share one’s authentic self with the world.

For the Moment

I like to walk in the park, especially in the early morning. It’s quiet, the people whose paths I cross are friendly, and spending time in nature is, of course, never a bad idea. I’ve noticed lately, however, that when I first arrive, not only is my pace quite a bit faster than usual, but I also have a specific plan in place for the time I intend to spend there. For instance, make one quick lap around the perimeter so as to be back home by nine and at the office by ten, as was the case today (hardly relaxing or meditative). I find the experience to be much more pleasant and therapeutic once that initial energy has been released and I’m proceeding in more of an aimless manner. Sure, there are things that need to be addressed in the day ahead, but it’s nice to feel otherwise, at least for the moment, and simply listen to the sound of my footsteps, or take in the sun coming up through the trees.

In Essence

During a phone conversation the other night, a dear friend of mine brought up the topic of acceptance, suggesting it may be the place where healing begins. Since then, I’ve been giving her sentiment a fair amount of thought, particularly as it relates to self-acceptance. In this regard, a practice I’ve been doing my best to implement throughout the day for a some time now is simply noting and acknowledging with mindfulness what I’m experiencing in the moment, whether it be fear, frustration, shame, you name it, and gently allowing it to be before letting it go and moving on. For I’ve come to understand that when I do otherwise, such as getting lost in discursive thought or distraction, I’m missing a precious opportunity to embrace my humanity with compassion. In essence, to accept myself just as I am.

We’re Connected

We need each other. We’re connected. These may not be overly popular sentiments in a culture that tends to pride itself on individualism, but I believe, as it’s certainly been my experience, that they’re true. For instance, a colleague of mine and I recently began meeting once a week to share and discuss our latest writing endeavors, and I’ve been pretty straightforward regarding my need for his support. In the same way, I’m honored when a fellow counselor knocks on my office door or a friend or family member calls simply wanting to talk. With that said, I must admit there’s a part of me—predominantly the culturally conditioned male—that would love to sit here and say, “I don’t need anyone’s help; I can do it on my own.” But that’s simply not the case. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and make good use of my time alone; however, there’s just something about connecting with another human being that confirms we’re all in this thing together.

I Know it Sounds Cliché

I recently helped my son move back to the St. Louis area from out west. Thanks to an early morning flight to Denver, we were packing boxes and loading up the U-Haul by midmorning. Our plan was to be on the road by noon and put as much of I-70 behind us as we could before stopping and calling it a night somewhere in eastern Kansas. The temperature hovered around freezing, and a steady drizzle fell as we made one trip after another from his apartment on the second floor to the parking lot. By late morning, the ramp leading up to the back of the truck was covered with a thin sheet of ice. Fortunately, the furniture and larger items had already been loaded, so it didn’t present much of an issue.

Understandably, I wanted to get on the interstate before the roads got too bad, but each time I became aware of my urge to pick up the pace, I would gently remind myself to ease up a bit and not rush. And I’m not talking about physically, as it goes without saying, me darting around in icy conditions with my arms full would never be a good idea. What I’m referring to here is my inner voice inviting me to slow down mentally, emotionally, and treasure the time with my son, for, and I know it sounds cliché, it feels as if it was just a day or two ago he came into my life, when, in actuality, it’s been more than thirty years.

With Gratitude

It’s interesting. If someone would have told me five years ago that I would return to school, earn a master’s degree in counseling, and begin a new career doing fulfilling work that significantly contributes to my life’s meaning, I would have politely suggested they were mistaken—someone else perhaps, but not me.

But here I am. And while I won’t claim to know exactly how I got here, I am certain I would not have made it without the support,  encouragement, and inspiration of so many: friends, family, community, classmates and professors, fellow counseling interns and therapists, supervisors, and most important, my counseling clientele, from whom I have learned so much about carrying suffering with dignity.