Just Say The Thing

speak the truth

My friend and mentor George Haas likes to say, “in order to be fully authentic, you have to be fully willing to be abandoned.” It’s hard to overestimate how scary authenticity can be. That thing you want to say, that perfect, unique expression that just arises, can be so terrifying to actually voice that it seems not to be an option. Maybe you rationalize your way out of it. Maybe you don’t even hear it in the first place.

Consciously or unconsciously, each one of us finds a compromise—a middle ground between utterly opaque and utterly transparent. We pare down our authenticity until the fear of abandonment can be managed. We sugar-coat and acquiesce. We keep things to ourselves and hold grudges.

Sometimes it really isn’t safe. Sometimes our trust hasn’t been earned. No one wants to reveal their wounds to a bully, asking to be victimized. But so often, we move forward into relationships driven primarily by fear. Half-seen, half-trusting. And relationships only realize half their potential.

How can I be at ease with someone when I know that they don’t know how things really are for me?

We want so desperately to be seen, so let’s risk it! Let’s learn to hold the discomfort and express our authenticity. Let’s lovingly tend to that scared part inside. It takes time, building up emotional awareness and resilience. It takes discernment and patience, sometimes moving stepwise into authenticity as a friend or companion does the same. And yes, it takes a willingness to be abandoned. Not everyone will accept this new offering. This new person who you really are. But in the vacancies, new relationships will emerge that you can fully trust. Fully value. In which you can feel fully safe.

As I see it, a spiritual life is not about escape. It’s not about isolation. It’s not about figuring out how to “go it alone.” The real spiritual warrior practices to show up in the world, in community, in relationships. In every mundane moment, effortlessly authentic. In every interaction, exquisitely kind and fearlessly complete.

Ending the Fight


Very often, this question comes up:

I know I’m supposed to let go of craving and aversion, but I have preferences and desires in my life that I don’t want to give up! How can I reconcile this?

The solution is to distinguish between objective circumstances and sensory events. With mindfulness, we’re taking about loosening the push/pull on sensory events. For example, not needing an unpleasant emotion to go away or a distracting thought to stop. Those internal experiences may still be unpleasant or distracting, but if we are not compelled immediately into reactivity, a space opens up.

In that space, we have the freedom to choose how best to work with the objective circumstances that might be causing them (for example, being overworked, being in a bad relationship, not having eaten lunch, and so on). When there’s something we can do, we do it. Our logic and patience remains in tact. We use kind language and navigate situations with more grace. But even when we can’t change objective circumstances, we suffer profoundly less, seeing deeply that the suffering is not in the unpleasant thoughts/feelings themselves, but rather, in our resistance to them.

So in short, we should do whatever we can to improve our objective circumstances (within the bounds of ethics). Mindfulness simply shows us how to end the fight with sensory events.

Examining the Obstacles

In class last week, we started digging into a sutta (an old Buddhist text) which mentioned “final attainment of truth.” The sutta was primarily about how to choose a teacher wisely, but this whole “attainment of truth” issue became a distracting and compelling sidebar.

Maybe you call it enlightenment, awakening, happiness independent of conditions…Regardless, the practice is the same: We’re not seeking something, so much as looking closely at the obstacles that seem to get in the way of our freedom in each moment. So we examine physical pain and ask, is it the pain that holds the suffering, or the resistance to it? And we build up tolerance for uncomfortable emotions, so we can experience them without fighting–just a flow changing energies like the weather.

By doing this, we become free to take wise action–to respond in ways that are authentic, empowered, and compassionate. And the world starts to feel very safe.

None of this requires us to “know what enlightenment is,” or seek out a concept. We just keep looking for the suffering and turning toward it. Like fog burns off in sunlight, suffering burns off just from exposure to our attention, and each next step is revealed.



When someone hits a roadblock in practice, it often takes the form of, “things aren’t supposed to be this way!” Maybe it’s a lack of concentration. Perhaps sleepiness. Maybe constant incessant thinking. There are two options in cases like this–one is to make modifications to practice (like standing up or opening the eyes, in the case of sleepiness, or focusing on a very specific object like the breath, in order to reestablish concentration). The other option, which I’d like to address here, is to consider–what if this “roadblock” isn’t actually a problem, but rather, just another sort of experience to investigate?

In a moment when clarity is low, why not get curious about the experience of being “unclear”? What does unclear feel like in the body? Is it heavy? Is there sleepiness in it? Irritation? Are there other physical body sensations? All of a sudden, you might find that you have become quite clear about the experience of being “unclear,” simply by virtue of examining it rather than resisting it.

…Similarly with tiredness, irritation, other afflictive emotions.

And with thoughts–it can be useful to examine them in this same way. Not looking at the content (i.e. what the thoughts are about), but rather–are these thoughts auditory or visual, or both? Where in my head do they seem to be occurring? Are they loud or soft? Bright or dim? What emotions are being generated (or covered up!) by these thoughts? Where do I feel those emotions in my body?

The bottom line is, when we are looking at the present moment, we are looking at the senses. One of my teachers, Shinzen Young, likes to divide them up into hearing, seeing, and feeling (just for the sake of simplicity). A thought is just made up of hearing (internal dialog) and/or seeing (internal images). An emotion is usually made up of feeling (in the body), though there is often a thought (hearing + seeing) running alongside. So as long as we are looking at the component senses which make up an experience (e.g. examining their texture, shape, size, intensity, motion or stability, etc.), then it doesn’t matter what experience we are looking at! We are “in the moment.” We are “being mindful.” And “roadblocks” are simply grist for the mill.


On a recent retreat, I made the following journal entry:

Kinder kinder kinder. Gentler gentler gentler. It’s always sweeter and less effortful than you think. You spent so many days switching techniques looking for something to lessen the efforting, but the technique doesn’t cause the effort, the identification with an efforting self does!

Any technique is the right technique, with the right relationship to it. Kind. Gentle. Curious. Allowing. Without expectations.