Close in

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

~ From Start Close In’, by David Whyte

The idea of close in’ has been with me for some time. I first encountered this poem — and all of the poetry of David Whyte about a decade ago. Since then, I’ve long though of it as being about a doing. After all, how else might we interpret the idea of don’t take the second step” or start with the ground”? This is active language. Surely he’s talking about the things in the world we are here to make happen.

More and more, however, I see the idea of close in’ as being about something else. Something closer to being. From where are we living our lives? From where are we observing the world and one another? Ourselves? As I’ve explored this, I’ve noticed that when I move my awareness close in, I experience the world from a felt place, a place that touches the energies moving around us. Interestingly enough, close in seems to allow for a connecting to the world in a much broader way.

Lately, as I go to sleep, I bring my attention very close in’. I let the breath guide the way, as I feel the energy moving around my torso, down into my legs and feet. The connection to my hands and arms, neck and head is palpable. Lying there, allowing my mind to begin to shift from waking to sleeping, I notice that I feel much more connected to my life. When I wake up, I’m able to stay in touch with the body. Moving to my cold shower1, I work to deepen that connection. The closer I am to the felt sense, the closer I feel to life itself.

From this place, the things to say, the ways to connect, the movement of things feels more obvious. When I get stuck, when I trip up, it’s no surprise to learn that my attention has moved further away. I’ve moved into my head, unaware of the subtle hints being given to me by the energies in the body.

For sure it feels ironic — by moving closer in to myself, how can I possible be more in tune with everything outside? This connects to something that I’ve felt for a while, but have had a hard time articulating: it seems that the key to connection to the world happens through a deep journey inward. There’s a portal of sorts through the heart. This closeness within isn’t as personal as we might tend to think of it (goodness only knows that our culture has convinced us that our personal selves are a primary unit in the world).

We are embodied creatures, us humans. We live in bodies with highly sophisticated nervous systems that develop in attunement with those around us. We are social creatures as well. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that these two things are deeply intertwined. Our nervous systems must develop in partnership with those around us. It’s how it works. I’m no expert in this, but I’ve been learning quite a bit about it in recent months. A wonderful primer on this is Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, a mind opening (and mind-bending) tome on how trauma impacts our lives largely through the ways it impacts our physiology.

Being close in’ is really about being in our bodies fully, connecting to the incredible intelligence of our nervous systems, and our capacities to feel into one another. It seems that the closer we are in our selves, the closer we can be to one another. That seems like something we could all use right now.

  1. I suppose I should write about the cold shower one of these days. Holy moly.



It’s been a little while since I’ve written a poem. Thought I’d do one today.

There’s madness in the things we enjoy –
what brings us to the edges of feeling alive,
the spaces we encounter our essence.
To the men and women, boys and girls –
and beyond the illusion of a binary choice
– who enjoy a mud covered face on a
Sunday morning, road (trail) rash, let’s lift
a glass. To those in the pews, the ones
sipping tea in a neighborhood gathering
spot, those nursing a hangover, let us say,
“blessings.” Take a breath and notice how
what is felt here is felt in all of those. The
way we choose to live, given freely. The
sense of experience, the core of aliveness.
This might be all that really matters.


Natural state of mind

Today I’ve been thinking about my mind. I know I’ve written in the past a bit about how I’d love to retrain my mind to be more focused, more present1. As I was thinknig about this earlier today, it ocured to me that it is in many ways the wrong way to think of it. Much as I wrote about pace the other day, I think the mind has a natural state — a state that becomes obscured when put into environments designed to pull the mind into different states.

Our entire world (largely) has become an environment pulling the mind into being rather stagnant. We are put into loops — grooves — the keep us relatively the same. There’s plenty written on this about how Facebook does this, for example. That said, I think it’s just about everywhere. And digital devices are largely the culprits (there’s more to it than that, but it’s an easy go to). Take the mind out of those environments, and it will eventually return to its natural state.

What does that look like? It’s creative. It connects with others. It expands itself. It moves toward novelty. It moves toward its own enlightenment.

The natural state of mind sounds pretty good.

  1. Somewhere in the archives there are some little bits on this. I don’t have the space to go digging for them now.


A little bit of kindness

I understand that today is World Kindness Day. It seems like a good day to reflect on what it would mean to organize our society around kindness. What would that look like? Imagine what it would look like to support yourself via an economy rooted in kindness. What about housing? What about food distribution? I get excited when I think about what our education system could look like. Or health care — oh, goodness, healthcare rooted in kindness.

I suspect our political debates would be very different if the organizing principle was kindness. What types of people would we be attracted to electing? How would we treat those we don’t understand, or those who are different from us? What would our response to seeing someone exepriencing homeless be? I’m very curious what our gun policies would look like. Take it even a step further — what would the Constitution of the United States say if kindness was at its center?

I know I’d have to make some changes in my life in order to have kindness be the central driving principle. I think most of us would have to. As a society, I think we’d have to re-envision, well, pretty much everything. Transit. The social safety net. Taxes. The military and our foreign policy. Our approach to interfacing with the natural world.” I suspect that we would think about sustainability” very differently. What I mean by this that we’d have a very different answer to the question, What exactly are we trying to sustain?”

I wonder what our neighborhoods would look — and feel — like. Sporting events would probably take on a completely different tenor. How would we view addiction and mental illness? Might we see a decrease in mental illness? A curious thought. How would we treat ourselves? Would we need a self help industry? Would we need to buy so much? Indeed, our orientation would probably shift away from consumerism and toward an engaged citizenry. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in a kind world?

Okay, I think my point is coming across. It’s safe to say that we don’t center kindness in the world today. Instead, we make a day of it. We raise our awareness to the importance of kindness. But we stop short of complete social overhaul.

It’s kind of ironic to me that World Kindness Day is falling on the first day of public hearings in the Trump impeachment inquiry. It’s an event that is rooted in anything but kindness. It’s easy to point the finger at Trump and say, Well, he’s not very kind, is he?” I’d ask, however, just how kind is the other side?” We are living in a time where we have so deeply divided from one another that we can’t see the ways in which we are behaving exactly as those we see as our enemies.

I’m not saying we should be push overs. In fact, I’m not even saying we should be nice. But I do think we should be kind. At least, we should find our way toward kindness. More and more I’ve come to believe that we won’t be able to solve the significant problems we face as a society without this sort of shift.

That said, it’s just the beginning of a deeper conversation, one that asks the question: why, exactly, is it so difficult to create a society rooted in kindness? I think there’s an answer to this question, and it’s a tough one. I’ve written about this a teeny tiny bit. There’s so much to explore in it.

In the meantime, happy World Kindness Day.

I mean that.


The last minute

When we choose to bring something in under the wire, perhaps we’re not asking ourselves the right questions.




Today is my birthday. I decided to make it a quiet day so as to reflect and give myself some space. We’re having a spate of great weather here in Seattle, so it made sense to spend some of the day outside. I took a wonderful walk at a park that I enjoy. As I was walking, a thought ocurred to me: I want to understand the best pace for me to move at in my life. Paces, really.

I started to ask the trees, Show me the best pace to move. On this walk. With my clients. With my wife. With myself.” I noticed myself slowing down. Feeling my body a bit more. I noticed the layers of leaves on the trail, and an overwhelming thought came over me: take off your shoes. Walk on this trail with your bare feet. You will feel the pace if you can feel the earth.

I’ll admit, I tried to talk myself out of this. If I slow down enough, it will be as if I took off my shoes. It’s fine, I don’t need to feel the earth to understand. I debated this for a few minutes when I came around the corner and saw the bush in the above photo. Suddenly I knew in my heart that I was looking at an entrance. It was an entrance into something that could only be experienced if I could feel the earth on my feet. A couple of people were approaching on the trail, so I gave htem a couple of minutes to pass. Once they were gone, I sat down, took off my shoes and socks, and felt the earth.

Standing on the path for a couple of minutes, feeling the solidity and moistness of the ground, I could feel myself softening to something more. To a larger connection to the world we operate in. I took a few breaths, and slowly walked through the arch formed by this bush. Through the entrance the forest had made for me. I walked the path for a few more minutes, loving the feeling of the soil on my feet. And then something said to me, go ahead, put your shoes back on.

I walked the rest of the trail in a deep reverence for the natural order of this world. It knows how to unfold. It knows what it needs. And if we listen, what we need.

The official time of my birth is 2:36pm PST. I went outside a few minutes ago, and put my bare feet into the grass so I would feel the earth at the exact moment I turned 47. It is a welcome feeling this feeling of wet dirt on skin. I think this way of listening is going to be central to this next year.

Let’s let the dirt help us find the pace.