Thought After Skyping

I spoke with a friend today I’ve known for 40 years. Growing older with someone you love is one of life’s more unexpected, beautiful gifts.

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

~ Yehuda Amichai

Got Compassion?

“We are living in a world where religion has been hijacked,” says the distinguished scholar Karen Armstrong. It’s time, she says, to get back to what religion used to be about: behavior, rather than belief. Time to move beyond toleration of each other, and move toward appreciation of each other.

This is one of the greatest of all TED talks. Watch and be prepared to have your mind opened and your heart broken.



Lay Down Your Arms


Had a great conversation this morning about vulnerability. And one of the things that came up was the cycle that people are caught in… One person attempts to protect themselves by closing up or turning away, thus inadvertently hurting someone else who doesn’t understand and takes it personally. Then that person closes up, and a chain reaction begins. We talked about how this is reflected so clearly in the Middle East, where people are caught in a seemingly endless cycle of violence and vengeance. Nobody wants to be the first one to lay down his arms, out of fear of being annihilated. And yet someone has to do it first; it’s the only way out of the cycle.

It’s easy to see the hopeless waste and madness of this behavior in masses of people on the other side of the world, but the point is to see it in ourselves. How defended we are; how warlike when we feel threatened. More bluntly, we need to see the ways in which we are the enemy, not others. We need to see how our desire to protect ourselves actually does damage to others. This doesn’t mean being a doormat, or open to being attacked. Clearly we need appropriate boundaries. But we don’t need to build a wall around ourselves, because what looks like a fortress can actually be a prison. A confident, self-actualized person doesn’t live in a fortress… she walks openly among other people, and if she’s threatened, she deals effectively with the threat and then moves on.

Vulnerability is essentially being willing to show other people who we really are and how we really feel. To be real. This is not weakness. It’s the ultimate strength, in fact.

Everybody Knows


“But all of a sudden I realized that he knew also, just like I knew. And that everybody in the bookstore knew, and that they were all hiding it! They all had the consciousness, it was like a great unconscious that was running between all of us that everybody was completely conscious, but that the fixed expressions that people have, the habitual expressions, the manners, the mode of talk, are all masks hiding this consciousness.

Passing money over the counter, wrapping books in bags and guarding the door, you know… all the millions of thoughts the people had… the complete death awareness that everybody has continuously with them all the time… all of a sudden revealed to me at once in the faces of the people, and they all looked like horrible grotesque masks… hiding the knowledge from each other. Having a habitual conduct and forms to prescribe, forms to fulfill. Roles to play.

But the main insight I had at that time was that everybody knew. Everybody knew completely everything. Knew completely everything in the terms that I was talking about.”

—Allen Ginsberg, Paris Review interview, 1966


This quote is from a long interview the famous Beat poet Allen Ginsberg gave almost 50 years ago. Reading it when I was younger had a profound impact on me. Because I knew that yes, I knew too. And that Ginsberg was right: everybody else knew.

No need to lie. No point in lying. No point in trying to be something you’re not, or pretend something is true when it isn’t. Because we all know the truth. No point, even, in pretending you don’t know.

Reading and absorbing this really changed me. I dropped a lot of pretense and falseness. I began to trust myself and my own perceptions much more. I started speaking the truth as I saw it, without fear. I began to disregard and ignore other people’s attempts at falseness, the “masks” that Ginsberg talked about, and speak to them more directly.

It was liberating. Because of course, other people (most of them) responded in kind. It’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes… a fable illustrating how people pretend not to see what’s right in front of them due to fear or shame or social pressure, and then when someone speaks the obvious truth, the whole sham crumbles in an instant.

Because really, we all see so clearly. We know the truth. We may try to dodge and hide, but we know. We may not know what to do about it, how to feel about it, what will happen next after we admit it. But those things will all take care of themselves. In the meantime there’s nothing whatsoever to be gained by pretending to believe things we don’t believe.

So drop your mask. Believe your own intuition. Trust your own mind. Know what you know. And don’t worry about it. Because everybody knows.

Here’s the full text of Ginsberg’s interview, which is well worth your time:


Words of wisdom from today’s Zen Habits blog, by the great Leo Babuta.

Word Crimes

Brilliant new video by Weird Al Yankovic.