The Roots of Violence

October 8, 2017

Sadly, I find myself writing yet another post following an act of horrible violence in this country. The Las Vegas shooting took place almost a week ago and it’s taken nearly as long for me to get my head around what I want to say. After the shock, sadness, and anger have settled in to a dull acceptance of a completely avoidable tragedy, as a nation we get to watch the same old rinse and repeat cycle – an outraged public, an impotent government bought and paid for by the firearms industry offering “thoughts and prayers”, and an army of internet and media warriors opining on gun control, the second amendment, domestic terrorists, and mental health. But if the unfortunate recent history of mass shootings in this country have taught us anything, it’s tragically unlikely that anything will change.

The problem is, none of these things address the real issue. The problem is violence, not guns. Don’t get me wrong, guns make violence exponentially easier to inflict upon others and we should certainly be taking steps to keep them out of the hands of those who wish harm to others, but the root of the issue has always been the violence itself. Violence is an existential problem; it’s part of our current human condition. That’s not to say that violence is an inevitable or unavoidable aspect of life, however, in our current state of human evolution, it is a given that we must learn to understand and address head-on if we are ever to move past it.

Philosophers and psychologists have written countless volumes of the nature and origins of violence; but in my view violence boils down to one thing – Stress. Stress always has been and always will be the fertile breeding ground for violence. No stress, no violence.

In very simple terms, stress is the feeling of inescapable pressure, tension, and anxiety created when our needs are not met. It arises from the perception of a physical, psychological, or emotional threat. The perception of stress activates what we know as the fight or flight response, a biologically hard-wired response of our autonomic nervous system. The fight or flight response is a survival mechanism designed to prepare our system for violent action; by either running away from the threat or engaging it in combat. Our primitive ancestors needed the fight or flight response to keep them alive in an inherently dangerous environment. Once activated, they fought or ran away, effectively discharging the stress. Those survivors lived longer than those who didn’t and passed their genes on to their offspring, generation after generation.

We have inherited the stress/fight or flight response from our ancient ancestors, but unlike them, we typically don’t live in an inherently dangerous environment. Yes, we may experience occasional threats to our survival, but for those of us who aren’t in the military, law enforcement, or other dangerous line of work, the chances of experiencing a life threatening situation are relatively low.

However, that doesn’t stop us from activating the fight or flight response between 8-15 times a day. Traffic jams, work deadlines, family arguments, the political/ideological climate, social issues/injustice, grief, depression, and anxiety can all trigger the fight or flight response and the resulting chemical cascade that switches our physiology into survival mode. Unlike our ancestors though, we don’t typically burn off the excess stress through combat or running away. Instead, we stuff the stress deep within, bottling it up like a powder keg primed to blow.

Sadly, this is the norm for the vast percentage of our population. Chronic and acute stress are facts of life that most of us have come to accept as normal and unavoidable.

This is a lie.

Stress is not normal, nor is it healthy. Not for your body, mind, or emotions. In fact, nearly all illnesses are either directly influenced or made worse by stress. It puts incredible pressure on our mental state. In fact, prolonged exposure to the stress response dampens our ability to think clearly, make rational and well reasoned decisions, or understand the consequences of our choices. We’re conditioned to perceive the world as a dangerous and perpetually threatening environment. In essence, we’re reduced to scared, anxious, little animals, twitching in the bushes, ever ready to run away or leap out to attack our perceived foe. We shoot first and ask questions later – if at all.

Considering that so many people are locked into this state day in and day out, it comes as little surprise that we’re killing ourselves. With so much stress, our natural human tendency toward compassion, goodwill, kindness, and mutual cooperation has been overwritten with a new paradigm; kill or be killed. Think about how you behave whenever you feel threatened. Do you think about the welfare or feelings of others? Are you open to other opinions, ideas, or perspectives? Do you look for opportunities to help or serve your fellow human beings?


When stress and fight or flight rules, we live in a closed feedback loop of fear, paranoia, anger, resentment, projection, hatred, and simmering rage. We look out for number 1, and will rigidly oppose anything or anyone who stands in the way of what we perceive to be our territory.

This is why we’ve seen such a spike in violence of all kinds over the last few decades. Life becomes exponentially more stressful every year and we all are caught in its trap. Most have no outlet for their suffering and it comes out in domestic violence, road rage, political and ideological discourse, physical altercations, civilian/police interactions, escalating up to international conflicts and all out war.

Stress therefore is the physical, mental, and emotional foundation of any mass shooter or terrorist. A terrified, incredibly insecure, caveman who is desperate to find an outlet for the stress and anxiety that is ripping him apart from the inside out. But wait, you might say. Some of these guys don’t seem like frightened little animals, they seem like cold, calculated, and relentless killers without a hint of stress anxiety, or remorse. They planned out their attacks with clearly thought out, premeditated calculus.

True. But what got them to that point was the overwhelming stress that narrowed their vision and made the choice to kill scores of innocent people seem like a viable option. Once they decided on a course of horrible action, their stress had an outlet, but it was still the underlying cause nonetheless. The Vegas shooter didn’t “snap” on October 1, 2017 when he fired into the crowd. The snap happened long before, triggering a series of events that led up to the actual shooting. The stress is never truly relieved however. It’s still a crushing force that in many cases, after feeling he has no way out of his suffering, causes the shooter to take his own life in the end.

If stress isn’t managed then, both at the individual level and the collective level of our society the violence and mass killings are unlikely to stop. Our paradigm must shift if things are to change. Changing paradigms isn’t an easy sell, though. Our collective consciousness is deeply rooted in the fight or flight and reactive responses of our nervous system. With so many of us scared and on edge the notion of opposing force with force seems like the only option. Now more than ever, with a commander in chief who hurls violent and incendiary Twitter rants at his perceived enemies, we live in a society of hair trigger stress reactivity. We’ve come to believe the only way to achieve peace is through superior firepower. How often have we heard in the wake of a mass shooting, “The only thing capable of stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”?

This is a prehistoric mentality that justifies force vs force to subdue our opponent. It might be effective in the short run, but it doesn’t ever really address the cause of the problem. Violence begets more violence in an unending cycle; and in our modern age we’re not talking about hurling spears and stones at each other but rather bone shattering, organ rupturing pieces of metal fired from high powered, rapid firing, instruments of mass destruction with high capacity magazines.

For those readers who study the martial arts, you’ve undoubtedly heard the maxim to never oppose force with force. This is a practical recommendation for energy and technique efficiency, but also a core strategic principle for winning the battle with as little conflict as possible. Physics tells us that meeting force with force wastes enormous amounts of energy and the resulting energy leakage can contribute to collateral damage to the larger system. In other words, force against force just doesn’t work. It’s a caveman strategy causing more harm than good in the long run.

What therefore is the answer to the epidemic of violence? How do we dial down the stress response so we can live lives of peace with each other?

In one word, meditation.

Meditation is the most reliable, the most researched and time tested tool we have at our disposal to reduce the effects of stress on our nervous systems. Meditation, simply put, is the antidote to stress.

Countless and ongoing studies have demonstrated repeatedly the effects of meditation to reverse the effects of the fight or flight response. It calms the nervous system and replaces the fight or flight response with the “rest and digest” response. It helps to flush the primary stress chemicals of cortisol and adrenaline of the system. It changes brainwaves to a more orderly and coherent state. And most importantly, it shifts our perception away from a fearful survival mentality to one of calm safety and security.

Meditation goes to the heart of the matter. It’s not about policy, laws, or taking away anybody’s guns. It’s about healing the stress that is ripping this country apart. It is the equivalent of not opposing force with force. It is the most effective tool we have for evolving our paradigm from “survival of the fittest” to “survival of the wisest.”

Meditation works. It’s not as glamorous as double tapping the bad guy in the head, but if more people are meditating, there will be fewer bad guys in the first place.

Don’t believe me? Consider this:

Meditation programs have been introduced in inner city schools with a history of violence and have completely changed the culture, leading to a drop off in violence and an upswing in student engagement and performance.

Meditation programs have been introduced in hospitals, improving recovery time, pain management, and providing overall stress relief.

Meditation programs have been introduced in the workplace resulting in improved performance, enhanced work-life balance, stress management and overall mindfulness.

Meditation programs have been introduced into police departments, helping to better manage stress, foster a deeper sense of purpose, and create an improved bond with their communities.

Meditation programs have been introduced into the military, helping service men and women cope with the realities of combat, manage PTSD, and enhance overall performance.

And meditation programs have been introduced in prisons, leading to improved inmate rehabilitation, reduction in violence, a deeper sense of purpose, stress reduction, and improved reintegration into society upon release.

Meditation has also been repeatedly demonstrated to show that when a large enough number of people are meditating in a given community, not only the meditators receive the stress relieving benefits themselves, but those benefits also carry over into the larger community of non meditators.

If meditation can have these results within these localized populations imagine what it could do for our society if practiced on a large scale. Not only would individuals relieve the stress that is disrupting their lives, but all of society would begin to heal and benefit from the increase in group coherence.

It’s long past time to recognize that what we’ve been doing to address the violence in our nation isn’t working. “Thoughts and prayers” aren’t working. The fruitless battle for gun reform isn’t working. Federal and local law enforcement investigation, intervention, and interception of mass shooting suspects isn’t working. People are dying from mass shootings every month. The dead will be buried and mourned for, but what will have changed? Sadly, on our current snails paced learning curve, nothing will have changed. Is it not time for a different approach, one that addresses the cause of the problem of violence itself? If not now, when will it be the time? After the next shooting? Or the next? Or the next?

The pitiful truth is that the time for change was literally years ago. And our own lack of courage to change has always been the only thing holding us back.

Many of us feel helpless whenever we hear of another mass shooting or terrorist attack. We’re not helpless. At the very least, take the step into the future of humanity by refusing to contribute to the collective field of stress in our country. Share the idea with your friends and family. Learn to meditate or join a local meditation group. Deprive stress of of the chance to grow within you. It’s the most potent tool we have for correcting our course away from another senseless tragedy.


Okay, I get it. No one wants to see a negative, politically charged post on their wall, but there are times when we have to say something and this is one of those times.

As a nation, as a human race, we're looking down the barrel of a gun pointed at the head of the world, hammer cocked back, in the hands of two men who's awareness is deeply rooted in the fight/flight and reactive primitive brain responses of our caveman ancestors.

Whether their threats and boasts are nothing but monkey dancing and egomaniacal posturing doesn't matter. Bluffing or not, no good will come of this inflammatory rhetoric; the stakes are too high.

However, I wonder, how many of us have truly considered the potential consequences of a nuclear conflict? Having grown up in the latter part of the Cold War, I was educated in what a post nuclear war world would be like and it is simply put, unthinkable. If an "ICBM exchange program" begins, even if it doesn't escalate to other nuclear-capable nations it will be catastrophic beyond our ability to imagine, for the victims, for the environment, and for the world.

Some of may find temporary comfort in looking away, pretending it's nothing to be concerned about. I beg you to think again. The danger is very real.

Look around you right now and recognize the impermanence of our way of life. Our society, our culture, our families – all those things we hold dear are incredibly fragile. All of this could be wiped out in a moment – sparked by a rage filled tweet in the wee morning hours…

This is not the normal behavior of a mature and well adjusted leader. Grown, mentally healthy adults don't act this way, and every one of us knows it. Our leader is demonstrably and clearly unfit to manage this situation and to lead our nation. His lack of military, diplomatic, foreign policy, executive, legislative, and judicial experience, coupled with his narcissistic and egomaniacal personality have all the makings of a disaster of literally global proportions.

At what point will this behavior no longer be acceptable, not from a republican, democrat, conservative, or liberal perspective, but from a human one? When will we collectively say, "No more. You do not speak for us. We will not follow you down that road any longer" ?

Of course, the other leader is equally unhinged. But here's the thing, if we're going to be worthy of the title of the Greatest Nation in the Free World, the onus is upon us to take the highest road possible, to have the most mature, most enlightened perspective in times of crisis. When a fire is beginning to burn, our duty as an evolved nation is to find every means possible to extinguish the fire. Not pour more emotional and rhetorical fuel onto the blaze. The enlightened leader always seeks to avoid conflict if possible, rather than ignite one. Our leader is emotionally incapable of making this choice.

If the CEO of a million dollar company or a military leader behaved this way, he would undoubtedly be removed from his position. Yet we wait. We're told to give him a chance…
Where is our courage? Where is our strength as a society to stand up and take action? Are we too stuck in our political ideologies to cross the isle for the sake of our humanity and the future of our way of life? Or will the headstone of our culture and society read: "They waited to see what would happen."

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict…[an individual] who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

In life we often make simple things complex. Sometimes making things complex is a way of avoiding the truth to avoid our own cognitive dissonance. Martial arts training is no exception. In particular, consider the many terms used to describe a physical conflict between two or more people:

Martial Arts


Self Defense

Street Fighting

Survival Tactics



Threat Elimination

Combat Sports

Violence of Action


Depending on what martial art you study or which school you attend, you may encounter one or more of these terms to define the type of training you do. Unfortunately though, these multiple terms end up splitting semantic hairs. A fight is a fight is a fight. It doesn’t matter what you call it, a fight is a fight – two people (or possibly more) engaged in a physical confrontation with the intention of injuring, maiming, or killing the other. Regardless of the term you use, the experience is the same. And in fact, refusing to call it what it is (namely a fight), we run the risk of pretending the battle is something other than what it is; and it’s a risk that could prove to be fatal.

All physical confrontations have certain irrefutable and definable characteristics. Anyone who has been in a fight can attest to the experience of combat; one that is consistent and somewhat predictable independent of what you want to call it. A fight represents one half of the well known Fight or Flight response that is hardwired into the human nervous system. This response is a carryover from millions of years of evolution, a survival mechanism that activates automatically upon the perception of a threat to one’s physical (or emotional) safety. When we recognize a physical danger, our nervous system undergoes an operational shift from the rest and digest state of normal daily activity to one in which we gear up to run away from danger or engage and fight.

The fight or flight response has its own unique biology. Within a few heartbeats of the perception of the threat, stress chemicals are released, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration increases, and body temperature rises, triggering the body to perspire. Muscle tension increases, blood circulation is rerouted from the visceral organs to the arms and legs, platelets become stickier (to assist in blood clotting in the event of a major injury), and blood sugar and blood fat levels rise to provide additional fuel. On the mental/neurological level, the blood flow to the cerebral cortex is reduced, inhibiting clear thinking and high level executive mental function while simultaneously increasing the activity of the limbic system and the more primitive emotional part of the brain. Our perceptions are narrowed, overall awareness is compromised, and we get lost in the time dialation and cognitive overload of what is often called the “fog of war”.

These are physiological facts of our human biology. And no matter what you call the conflict that triggers this state, if you want to fight or defend yourself effectively, you had better learn how to deal with it.
As martial artists, we have two primary options for handling the fight or flight response. The first option is to transcend or go beyond our primitive fight or flight response. This involves the often long and arduous work of evolving our consciousness out of the more primitive fight/flight and reactive responses to the higher stages of restful awareness (meditation), intuition, creativity, vision, and unity. This transcendence is rarely a quick process and may be the byproduct of years of martial arts study and practice coupled with an equal amount of inner work. With this shift in consciousness comes the ability to bypass the more primitive responses and the resulting violence.

The second option is to deliberately prepare ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally for a fight through the process of Stress Inoculation. Stress inoculation is a primary attribute of the prepared fighter; the ability cope with and override the detrimental effects of the fight or flight response. Attribute training is the key to making fighting techniques functional. To use a colloquialism, There are martial arts for show, and there are martial arts for go. The “Go” or effective and functional martial arts are those that rely heavily on the development of the attributes and skill sets that serve one fundamental intention – to win a fight. It doesn’t mean techniques aren’t practiced, it’s simply the recognition that the ability to use your deadly techniques functionally rests entirely upon building the attribute base that makes them work in real time, against a real opponent, who’s really trying to hurt you.

In addition to Stress Inoculation, a fighters attribute repertoire at minimum should include:




Body Mechanics

Line Familiarization

Functional Strength


Breath Management

Functional Movement

Killer Instinct (Emotional Content/Control)

Mental Toughness/Resilience/Heart

Situational Awareness

To therefore inoculate ourselves against the stress response, we must develop the attributes that counterbalance and mitigate the physiological effects activated by the fight.

For example, since the fight or flight response ramps up our respiration, we need to learn and practice breathing techniques to manage our breathing. Doing so will not only ensure that we don’t “gas out”, but will also help us keep our mental state calm and balanced. We need to develop functional cardiovascular fitness which will help us to endure the emotional and physical pressure of the fight. Pulling off a one punch knockout or a perfectly delivered combination would be ideal, but in the reality of a fight there’s a low percentage of success and if it doesn’t happen, you better be prepared to outlast your opponent. We need to train and spar with realistically resisting opponents so we can 1) become comfortable with actual hitting and getting hit and 2) develop familiarity with how our minds and emotions respond to the realities of combat. We need to push ourselves outside of the comfort zone of our style to experience the unpredictability of fighting against someone who doesn’t play our game.

Stress inoculation is one of several key attributes that must be developed if we hope to be effective fighters. And it can be developed – just ask any seasoned law enforcement officer, member of the armed forces, bodyguard, or bouncer. It just takes time, training, and experience.

But to come back to the main point here, it is a fight, no matter what you want to call it. Some might say, “I’m a martial artist, not a fighter”, or “I train for self defense, not for fighting.” That’s all well and good, but the reality is that no matter what you call it, in the real world outside of your dojo or school, it’s going to be a fight, and to win a fight, you have to train and think like a fighter. It doesn’t mean that we’re need to train at the level of a professional combat athlete, but if we’re to be truly prepared for a violent confrontation, we need recognize that in the absence of an abnormally high level of consciousness or stress inoculation, it will be a fight; and in a fight for your life the last thing you want to be is unprepared. 


A few of my friends recently asked my opinion on how to practice detachment in light of what’s currently going on with our government, namely the repeal of the ACA. Letting go of our idea of how things should be is challenging, especially when we seem to be witnessing a rampant and exponential epidemic of ignorance in our elected officials. Choices, decisions, and legislation that benefit the few and strips healthcare from millions defies common sense, decency, and the solemn duty of our leaders to serve their constituents. Faced with such blatant unawareness, many feel betrayed and enraged while at the same time helpless in the face of a heartless machine that seems poised to destroy everything this country holds dear.

I too have felt these emotions, however, allowing ourselves to be victims of the melodrama won’t help us. We have to see the bigger picture; the long game of the evolution of consciousness and our nation. From this perspective, here are a few reminders that help me to detach from how I think things should be:

• Our country, as great as it is, is still a youngster when compared to many of the nations on the world stage. Every great nation goes through rough patches and elects jackasses to positions of power. They make fear-based decisions that favor short term rewards over long-term sustained well-being. We’re not above making horrendous mistakes. We’ve done it before, and this time we’ve picked a doosey of a jackass. What did we think was going to happen? It’s really no surprise. It’s like watching a teenager go through their awkward phase. It’s wince-worthy and painful to watch, but they’ve gotta go through it to reach adulthood. Yelling at a room full of teenagers to grow up doesn’t help them get there any faster. Sometimes all we can do it roll our eyes at the magnitude of their stupidity and know that things are going to come back to bite them in the end. This isn’t about comeuppance. It’s simply the recognition that whenever energy goes to one extreme, it eventually returns to a more balanced state.

• No karmic debt ever goes unpaid. In other words, the choices and actions taken by our leaders right now will have far reaching effects, many of which will undoubtedly be to their detriment. Not understanding the nature of cause and effect doesn’t mean jack when it comes time for the consequences to come back around. Karma is a force of nature that doesn’t need your belief in it to work. When you make self-serving decisions that harm millions of people, the scales will eventually balance themselves out. When you put the interests of your party above the interests of the nation, the consequences can be dire. Failing to consider the long term effects of a piece of legislation can have powerful, far reaching karmic implications that you will be accountable for in one form or another. Many of these elected officials are up for re-election in 2018; chances are good that their recent behavior will amount to political suicide of the highest order. And for those that either voted for this band of fools and their clueless leader or those that didn’t care enough to show up so they could sit back and watch the world burn, the ironic karmic payoff could well strip them of their healthcare.

• This may be the very wakeup call we need as a nation. As unpleasant as the current state is for aware, awake, critically thinking Americans, we have to admit that we get the leaders that reflect our collective consciousness. It’s time we faced the fact that there is an ugly underbelly of greed, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, bigotry, egoism, entitlement, inequality, and ignorance in this country and we have elected a leader (and majority party) that personifies and legitimizes those values. These foul and putrid qualities have crept out of the shadows for all to see. But this ultimately a good thing. When we shine the light on our filth, we initially recoil at the horror (as increasing numbers of Americans have done in recent months), but once the shock fades, we roll up our sleeves and get to the nasty work of taking out the trash. This was a necessary step. The shadow (collective unconscious garbage) has to be recognized before it can be purified. When enough of us see things for what they really are (rather than denying or being indifferent) things will have to change. There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. For some, losing their healthcare while facing a life threatening illness may unfortunately be the necessary tipping point that helps take us to a critical mass. When that happens, change will come.

• This too shall pass. Knowing that everything in our material world is impermanent, it becomes a little easier to witness this stage in our evolution with detached involvement. Seen in its true light, this play of epic government stupidity will eventually pass away in one way or another. This is the ultimate undoing of the fundamentalist worldview – it goes against the laws of nature. Change, growth, progress, evolution; these are the hallmarks of the natural world. Anything that doesn’t grow, change, or adapt eventually becomes rigid, stagnant, and ultimately passes away. In the greater scheme of things, when facing the tidal wave of change, you can either dig your heels in and hope to ride out the changes, or learn to surf. In light of the exponentially rapid progress our modern world is making (in the form of technology, social progress, equality, etc.) it will eventually become too uncomfortable to maintain the old worldviews for very much longer. The old guard intuitively knows this, which is why they have dug themselves in so deep. This gives the illusion that that they are “winning”, when in actuality it is the last stand of a crumbling regime.

• Don’t lose heart. Those of us choosing the path of conscious growth, awareness, critical thinking, compassion, and evolution must not abandon our commitment to creating a better, more peaceful, just, forward thinking, and sustainable world for all. There has never been a time when the practices of yoga, meditation, martial arts, and other paths of self-transformation have been more important. Seek out the causes of your own ignorance, root out your shadow, stand up and speak for truth, kindness, equality, and strength in all its forms. Resist ignorance, call out hatred, fear, and oppression. Be the light, be the peace that you wish to see in the world. Be so strong that nothing can disrupt your peace. Live your values with conviction and passion. Believe that these higher values will always triumph over the darkness, no matter how bleak things may appear.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always. 

​ – Mahatma Gandhi


Thank You, Donald Trump

January 21, 2017

Today, as the world watched, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. I won’t try to hide the fact that I’ve opposed him as a candidate and as a president-elect from the very beginning. To me he stands as the antithesis of the values this country has come to represent. A demagogue who hasn’t the least interest in making this country great again other than in how it might benefit him personally. He represents what Carl Jung defined as the collective shadow – the personification of our nation’s hidden dark side that strives for self-importance, control and power.

Yet as the great spiritual teacher Ram Dass reminds us, every experience is ‘grist for the mill’, or to use a phrase from the Ninpo tradition, Shikin Haramitsu Dai-Ko-Myo; a powerful reminder that every experience we have can be used as a vehicle for our own transformation and enlightenment. Seen in this way, even our greatest adversaries, petty tyrants, and perceived enemies have potential lessons to teach us. These lessons come to us on two fronts. First, anyone we dislike or oppose is a reflection of our own inner world. All our relationships, be they with friends, family, or to a national leader are a mirror of the qualities that we carry within ourselves. In this case those traits that we may dislike about our new president are shadow aspects of ourselves that we aren’t willing to embrace, which is why we recoil so strongly from them in another. Until we own them both as individuals and as a society we will continue to see them manifest on the personal, social, and national level.

Secondly, on a more tangible level, our opponents give us the opportunity for object lessons in how not to be. They demonstrate those characteristics and traits that we are striving to avoid or overcome in our own lives. They present a clear example of what not to do. Every choice we make has consequences and every choice is a decision that either expands or contracts our awareness. The beauty of witnessing the sometimes appalling behavior of those we dislike is that it can reveal to us the real-time consequences that arise from words and actions. We can watch the results of their actions and learn from their mistakes to make better choices ourselves.

Therefore, in that light, I would like to express my gratitude to our incoming president:

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to be unpretentious, genuine, and humble.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to embrace facts, evidence, and critically reasoned information.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to be altruistic, noble, and self-sacrificing.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to cultivate peace, harmony, goodwill, and equality amongst all races and nationalities.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to treat disabled persons.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to speak to or treat women with a sense of respect and equality.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to discourage violence, animosity, and hatred.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to be honest, transparent, and straightforward with the press and the American people.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to listen to constructive criticism with dignity and gratitude.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to behave on social media in an honest, educated, and mature manner.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to denounce hate groups and speech at every opportunity.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how to not to speak to or about our veterans or their families with the utmost respect and dignity.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to conduct yourself professionally and securely in matters of foreign policy and diplomacy.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to behave as an emotionally intelligent adult.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to be a courteous steward of the planet we all share.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to apologize, ask for forgiveness, and learn from your mistakes in judgment.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to treat minorities and immigrants with respect and value.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to be forthcoming with information regarding your businesses, taxes, or other dealings.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to maintain a cool, rational, and objective perspective on national and global events.

· Thank you, Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to be fair and equitable in all your dealings.

· And lastly, Thank you Donald Trump for demonstrating how not to be a decent, compassionate, aware, honorable, gracious, and unassuming servant of this nation, its Constitution, its values, and its people.

While you may feel this list is unfair, overly sarcastic or cynical, it’s based on the actual speech and behavior Donald Trump has shown us throughout his campaign – whether on video, during interviews, or on social media. I’m not going to debate the legitimacy of these examples with you. They are what they are and can easily be accessed by those who wish to find them. Having selective attention and choosing not to see what is doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Regardless, I genuinely believe there are lessons to be learned here, lessons that we can all use in our lives to become better people. And for that, thank you Donald Trump for teaching us what we don’t want to be.


As I sat down to meditate this morning, I took a few minutes to reflect on the challenges of the past year and the potential opportunities that lie ahead in 2017.  I asked myself what would my intentions be, not simply for myself, but for the greater collective of our country and the world as we move forward into the future.  The answer came to me in the form of a passage from the Vedas, the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad that reads,

Lead us from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality. Peace, peace, peace to all.

This powerful passage can be thought of as a San Kalpa, or an intention with transformational power.  Indeed, contained within these few words is the prescription for enlightenment itself.

As I thought more on this intention, I asked myself, how could we embody this ideal and what would it mean to live this at the deepest level, both as individuals and as a society?  To that end, I identified what I believe to be the greatest challenges we face as a culture at this point in time:

  • Ignorance of our own nature
  • Intractable ideological ignorance and dogma
  • Rampant nationalism and tribal consciousness
  • Scientific Illiteracy
  • Racism, sexism, and inequality in all forms
  • The futility of war and violence
  • Attachment and the refusal to evolve

In no particular order, these 7 hangups have been and continue to be the biggest threats to our existence as a species.  Like it or not, we are standing at a fundamental turning point and if we don’t move past these hurdles, humanity will end up as a failed experiment.

Therefore, my intentions for 2017 both personally and collectively are as follows:

  1. To awaken to our true identity as members of a global community which are interdependent pieces of the whole of humanity. No man is an island; you cannot exist in a vacuum sealed away from the rest of humanity – we are interconnected in every way.  We are part of the environment and it is part of us.  What happens to one happens to all.  Our actions have consequences and we are all accountable for our choices.  Ultimately, we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not the other way around.  The material word we experience every day is only one small sliver of a much larger reality and it is our destiny to awaken to our true nature.  Like Neo in The Matrix, we have been living in a dream world.  Until we recognize that we are cells in the greater body of humanity as well as citizens of an infinite universe that we are barely beginning to understand, we will continue to harm ourselves and others in an endless wheel of illusion.
  1. To liberate ourselves from the shackles of fundamentalism and antiquated ideology. Dogmatic thinking, be it in religion, politics, or worldview has no place in our modern world.  Using fear or ignorance (lack of knowledge) to manipulate the behavior of others is not only a concept that should have died in the middle ages, but is also morally bankrupt.  We must awaken to the truth and not allow ourselves to be intimidated or controlled by centuries-old beliefs and outdated religious/political worldviews that only hold us back and perpetuates the control of others by the few in power.  We need to escape the comfort or our own beliefs and illusions to collectively recognize that we have elected a Charlatan-In-Chief, who despite having no military, foreign policy, diplomatic, constitutional, legislative, judicial, or executive experience; who has publicly mocked women, disabled people, attacked minorities, lied pathologically, and demonstrated bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia at every turn; whose election should be considered highly suspect if not illegal and potentially treasonous, to the highest office in the land.  We need to come to terms with our own cognitive dissonance that has allowed our old beliefs to somehow override what we know to be morally correct and aligned with factual evidence.  Clinging to such outdated and fear-based beliefs open the door to the worst kind of control and manipulation, an existential threat to our democracy and way of life that if we don’t collectively recognize and reject the results could be dire indeed.
  1. To transcend the extreme nationalism that continues to divide us as a people. The notion that we are morally superior to other countries is a sickness that only serves to divide us from potential allies and partners on the road to awakening and compassion.  The United States is a wonderful land of opportunities, ideas, diversity, and vision.  However, in the global landscape of history, we are a very young nation.  And we have enormous power.  Adolescence and strength can me a volatile mix.  Our power and strength must be tempered with wisdom and compassion.  We cannot fall into the trap of believing we have the right to control or make other nations more like us.  Nations, just like people evolve at their own unique pace.  Our global community must avoid the temptation of being caught up in an Us vs. Them mentality.  Naturally, we should protect ourselves from those that wish to do us harm, but we should never forget, that many, if not all of the hostilities humanity has faced through the centuries has been the result of an inflammatory tribal consciousness.  Any belief in the “exclusive rightness” or moral superiority of an individual or nation has historically not ended well.  Remember that seen from space, there are no national borders.  Borders are ultimately artificial lines of division that keep up separate from those not like us.  Until we begin to see humanity as one race, we will potentially see others as potential enemies.
  1. To embrace knowledge, critical reasoning, and scientific literacy as fundamental tools in the quest for the truth. We must be diligent in our pursuit of knowledge over ignorance.  Paradoxically, and despite our ever increasing technology, we seem to be backsliding into a cultural worldview that is deliberately choosing to reject critical thought, factual understanding and scientific evidence.  This anti-fact/anti-science position is not only harmful to understanding the truth, but it seriously undermines our future as a nation and a society.  Science is not some liberal or progressive conspiracy – scientific understanding is one of the most reliable tools we have to 1) understand exactly how the natural world works, 2) make predictions on that understanding, and 3) create modern efficiencies to improve our quality and length of life in countless ways.  And to be blunt, you simply can’t have it both ways.  If you accept the science that brought you flat screen televisions, Wi-Fi, the Internet, cell phones, medical technology, microwave ovens, the device you’re reading this on, and countless other modern conveniences, you don’t get to dismiss that same science when it makes discoveries about issues that may disagree with your beliefs on religious or political grounds. We don’t get to cherry-pick science or factual evidence to make ourselves comfortable.  The theory of evolution, the established age of the universe and the earth, the origins of life, and global warming are real, evidence-based discoveries that need to be taken seriously and not dismissed or cognitively dissonated because they disagree with your deeply held beliefs.  Science and facts are based on proven evidence and are true whether you want them to be or not, and I hate to be the one to tell you, but your personal opinion (whether based upon internet ‘research’ or long held belief) is not as valid as empirical evidence.  As a culture, we must learn to grasp the fundamentals of the scientific method, what constitutes scientific expertise, a scientific consensus, and general scientific literacy.  False news and ignorance of the facts serves to put us at serious disadvantage on the world stage and hold us back from the progress and forward thinking that has been the hallmark of the United States.  Idiocrasy should never be our destiny.
  1. To overcome racism, sexism, and all forms of inequality. It’s hard to believe that we have yet to get past the outdated, primitive, and insecure idea that someone is less worthy or deserving of basic human rights based solely upon the color of their skin, their sex, country of origin, religious beliefs, age, or sexual identification.  Let’s be clear, if your judgement of another is derived from one or more of these surface level qualities, you need to take a hard look at yourself and recognize that the world is as you are.  Those prejudices and beliefs about others are generated within you and as mature adults, it’s our responsibility to step up and grow out of the fear-based Archie Bunker, homophobic, islamophobic, misogynistic, white supremacist worldview.  If we continue to lump people together in stereotypical boxes, we deprive ourselves of the creative, intellectual, cross-cultural, diversity that makes our world stronger, not weaker.  We all need one another, just as all the cells in our bodies need each other.  Liver cells need brain cells; heart cells need stomach cells; retinal cells need spleen cells.  They all are part of a unified whole.  Each of us has a Dharma, or purpose that helps to uphold the whole of humanity.  As such, every person, (male, female, transgender) regardless of where they are from, color of their skin, ethnic background, or other differentiating attribute has the right to be treated with equal amounts of fairness, dignity, financial value in the workplace, right to heath care, and other basic human needs.  To diminish one weakens the whole.
  1. To rise above our fight or flight tendency toward violence and warfare. As a tool for lasting peace, war and violence never have and never will work.  Centuries of spilled blood stand as testament to the futility of trying to bring about a more civilized society through the use of force.  As Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”  The notion of “Peace through superior firepower” is a myth perpetuated only by those who refuse to understand that the temporary “peace” attainted is achieved only through fear, which is just another form of violence.  As any wise martial artist will tell you, the best warrior is not the one with the most techniques or weapons, but the one who is who is most judicious and skillful in their use.  In feudal Japan the most honorable samurai realized that if they unsheathed their sword, bloodshed and loss of life would be the inevitable result.  In our modern age when our weapons have given us the ability to kill or maim dozens or millions, we cannot and must not allow ourselves to fall back upon the primitive, Bronze-Age mentality of killing others over ideological, religious, or geo-political disagreements.  Our very survival, our lives, and the lives of our children literally depend upon it.
  1. To embrace change and detachment. I strongly believe the reason we have become so deeply polarized in our political, religious, and ideological worldviews over the last several decades is due to our ability or lack thereof to embrace change and progress.  To clarify, we have to understand a central truth – evolution.  I’m not talking about natural selection or the theory of evolution (both based upon scientific evidence, see above) but the overriding concept of evolution as a prime mover for all life as we know it.  Everything evolves, grows, progresses.  We each grow and evolve physically – from infants, to adolescents, teen agers, adults, senior citizens; our sense of self, intelligence, awareness, emotions, grow and evolve; societies grow, change, transform.  Everything in nature is growing and evolving, and moving forward from a more closed and constricted state, to a more expanded one.  Wherever you look – your body, your relationships, our society, country, the world, it’s all changing and it’s always happening.  Now, with the addition of technology, that evolution has grown at an unprecedented rate.

In the face of such rapid change, we have two options 1) embrace the change, or 2) resist it.  One of these choices has a future.  The other only has a past.  In accepting that change and evolution are a force of nature, the notation of resisting is clearly problematic.  As eastern philosophy is clear to point out, nearly all human suffering comes about as a result of attachment. In an impermanent material world, change is a given and clinging to things that are transient is only a recipe for disaster, whether that thing is a relationship, worldview, or political ideology.  The tidal wave of change is looming on the horizon – will we dig our heels into the sand and brace for impact, desperately clinging to our outdated and old ways of doing things, living, and believing, or will we learn to surf and ride those waves of change into a new and brighter future?  Ultimately, we have very little choice in the matter.  We can let go or be dragged.  It is this subconscious realization that I believe is fueling the desperate resistance of the old guard’s refusal to budge on social, political, economic, scientific, and religious positions.  Indeed, we seem to be entering a period reversal of the progress that has been made thus far.  In the eyes of some I’m sure it seems like a desperate battle to hold on to how things have always been.  Be that as it may, we must find a way to become comfortable with the uncertainty of change and detach from the past so we can embrace a new future together.  Fighting change is fighting the power of the entire universe, and is a battle that cannot be won, nor should it be.  The future of a safe, happy, sustainable, awakened society will always be forward, not backward.

Looking forward into a new year of hope and optimism, I encourage you to embrace these intentions, and commit yourself to making the conscious journey from the unreal to the real, from darkness into light, and from death into immortality, bringing peace, peace, peace to all.

Namaste & Happy 2017!


Over the last 5 plus years while active on Facebook and my blog, I have made a concerted effort to minimize any posts regarding politics, religion, or ideology. I have worked to make uplifting and positive posts that I hope have made the landscape of social media a little more worthwhile. 

My intentions haven’t changed. However, in light of recent events in our nation, I feel a need to take a firmer position against ignorance, fear, anger, violence and the baser qualities of human nature that seem fixed on gaining a foothold in our government and communities. We cannot afford to say nothing in the face of this darkness. Subtle (and not so subtle) choices are being made that stand poised to have profoundly negative and oppressive effects on the people of this country for years to come.

This isn’t about Democrats vs. Republicans, or Conservatives vs. Liberals, Fundamentalists vs. Atheists. This is about awareness vs. ignorance. This is about an attack on the very ideals that have helped to make this country a pinnacle or human values, ideals, and achievement. Are we, are our children, is not the legacy our nation is founded on worth our voices speaking out against what we all know inherently to be in stark conflict with our values? I believe it is. I believe we all have a choice to make. Will we be neutral fence-sitters, with a passive “wait and see” attitude? Or will we let our voices be heard and stand up to be counted for what we all know to be right and true? 

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

               – Neil Peart

In the classic of Yoga literature, The Bhagavad Gita, the great warrior Arjuna faces a moral dilemma and is counseled by the wise Krishna. After a lengthy discourse on the philosophy of Yoga, Krishna tells Arjuna definitively, “Stand up, and fight for knowledge!” The fight he speaks of is metaphorical and reminds the reader to oppose ignorance and choose the path of awareness.

In that vein, I choose the path of knowledge and awareness. I will choose to oppose injustice, fear, ignorance, hatred, bigotry, misogyny, and violence. As a Yogi and Martial Artist, I feel an obligation to shine the light of higher awareness into the world in toward the goal of raising collective consciousness while helping to protect those weaker than myself.

If this choice or my subsequent posts makes you uncomfortable or if you disagree with my position, I heartily respect your right to disagree, unfollow, or unfriend me as you see fit. After the election season we’ve just been through, no one would blame you if you didn’t want to see anything remotely politically motivated for the next four years. However, I sadly don’t think we can afford to wait for the next election to speak or write or vote in defense of our values. We cannot be fence-sitters; the stakes are too high for us not to say or do anything. The time is now to ensure that the hard-won liberties we enjoy today won’t be buried by blind sweeping hand of ignorance. 




Paris 11/13

November 14, 2015

In the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris this evening, I had hoped I would have had something profound and meaningful to say, some way to make sense of the senseless, to give hope to the hopelessness, and purpose to the helplessness I’m certain many of us are feeling right now. Unfortunately I don’t have any words of wisdom like those I often quote in my posts. Tonight I only have a heart broken by tragedy and grieving from the loss of life.

Despite that heartbreak, I vow not to be helpless, to feel paralyzed by and trapped by the cold emotions of fear, anger, and hatred. Because if we are to survive as a species, we must rise above these emotions and constricting mental states, for they are the same emotions that fuel the attackers. Clearly, these responses don’t work for establishing lasting peace in the world. They never have. And if we want a better world, we have to find a better way.

We must recognize that we are the result of millions of years of evolution, growth, and development and it’s long past time to start acting like it physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Deep down, no matter how much of a hard ass you might think you are, no one wants to live in a world filled with violence, pain, and suffering, perpetually stuck in the primitive survival mentality of the fight or flight response. Peace is our birthright. When will we, as human beings choose to claim it? 

While we must protect ourselves, the true and lasting change always comes from within. When we master ourselves, we stop our enemies not from a place of rage or vengeance, but from a place strength that says, “I will not let you inflict harm on others because it destroys the values and meaning of all we have achieved as a race; therefore, I will fight you with my last breath.” This is what it means to be a true warrior, an enlightened protector of the way of life we have worked so hard to achieve. To do otherwise is to fuel a cycle of violence that will never end.

So tonight I pray that we all seek the highest version of ourselves we can become, to not let these attacks fuel the monster of tribal hatred and rage, but rather to come together in solidarity as protectors of our way of life in a free and evolving society that stands for safety and peace for all sentient beings.

May peace prevail. Om Shanti.


Cognitive Dissonance

November 3, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance is the uncomfortable and stressful mental state experienced when our beliefs contradict the hard facts of objective reality. We all have beliefs. Beliefs about politics, religion, relationships, values, who we are, where we come from, the nature of reality, and the meaning of life. Being incredibly passionate about those beliefs however is no guarantee that they are not completely wrong. It’s that “completely wrong” experience that I’d like to talk about.

According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, we strive for internal consistency in our belief system, and when we experience inconsistency or dissonance, we tend to become mentally uncomfortable. This mental discomfort serves a purpose – to motivate us to reduce the dissonance and avoid situations or information that is likely to increase it.

There are generally two ways we can reduce or eliminate our cognitive dissonance. We can either 1) modify or change our beliefs to become consistent with the facts, or 2) we can try to force or change the facts of objective reality to agree with our beliefs.

Of these two options, when experiencing cognitive dissonance, I’m sure most of us would like to think we would choose the first. Recognizing that our beliefs disagree with the facts of objective reality can be an unpleasant situation, but with psychological maturity comes a certain willingness to embrace the hard truths of the world despite it going against our personal beliefs and values. Most mentally and emotionally mature individuals will, albeit reluctantly, adjust their beliefs to come into harmony with the given facts of a situation.    

Surprisingly though, the second choice of ignoring or “changing” the facts over those of our personal beliefs seems to be gaining an increasing amount of traction in our modern world. Nowhere has this become more noticeable than in the political and religious arenas. Understandably, these two realms carry an enormous amount of psychological and sociological baggage and relate directly to a person’s sense of good and bad, right and wrong, the value and meaning of life, freedom, liberty, God, and the pursuit of happiness.

But to paraphrase a quote by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the universe is under no obligation to conform to your beliefs about it. In other words, if your beliefs are totally wrong, the rest of the world is not required to conform to those erroneous beliefs. The world does not exist to agree with your worldview. Quite to the contrary, the world, universe, laws of nature, facts of the matter, or however you want to conceptualize the rigid rod of reality, simply is. The onus for change is upon us, not the world at large when we are in a state of cognitive dissonance.

Despite this rather common sense understanding, as a nation, we are largely awash in a flat out refusal to accept the facts that may run counter to our beliefs. Scientific literacy is at an all-time low, fact checking goes completely ignored, and large groups of people stubbornly cling to ideologies and belief systems that have neither evidence nor reason to support them. Issues such as the denial of climate change or evolutionary theory; President Obama’s religious affiliation; or the literal and historical accuracy of the Bible are all topics of contention that are apparently so self-evident to their believers that they require no proof whatsoever to be considered accurate. In the minds of such people facts and evidence literally do not matter.  

If you don’t find this shocking, you should. Of all our mental attributes, critical thinking is one of the most powerful tools we have for rooting out the causes of our own ignorance. But when we bypass or turn off our critical thinking simply because the answers it gives us are uncomfortable, we’re ignoring the signals our cognitive dissonance is sending us and leading ourselves down the path of self-delusion.

Here’s an example of this mindset that comes from the martial arts. For decades, or even centuries, students of the martial arts were trained by their instructor in a given style and were taught that their art was the most effective means of self-defense and realistic combative skill. As is often the case in the martial arts, newer students fall into the groupthink of the class and accept what they are taught without question. Lessons were learned, practiced, and handed down from teacher to student, perpetuating the belief in the style’s effectiveness. However, with no actual testing of the art’s functionality in true combat, the students are left believing in their art’s ability on faith alone.

Such was the case for countless martial artists throughout the decades until one fateful night in 1993 at the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. During that event martial artists from multiple styles pitted their arts and skills against each other in a litmus test of effectiveness in actual combat. There were few if any rules in that early event. No weight classes, no time limits, no illegal strikes. It was as close to the brutal reality of a street fight as one could get without risking serious injury or death. What happened? Royce Gracie, a small, relatively unknown Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt dominated and forced the submission of each of his opponents. Not only that, he did the same in 3 subsequent UFC events, answering once and for all the question of what does and doesn’t work in actual combat. Where were the deadly one strike, one kill techniques? The lethal pressure point attacks, the dirty fighting techniques, the “secret methods” that were too dangerous for all but the most skilled masters? Interestingly, those techniques and the promises of their effectiveness against an actual resisting opponent suddenly turned into nothing more than armchair pontification.

UFCs 1-4 sent the martial arts community into a tailspin of cognitive dissonance. Long held beliefs about the supposed “deadly effectiveness” of martial arts styles were in jeopardy. What were you to do as a marital artist caught up in this dissonance? Well, you could either 1) recognize what happened, accept it, and choose to update your belief system to integrate the new information; in this case the absolute necessity in training in the grappling arts and the fundamental understanding that a very high percentage of actual fights end up on the ground. Or 2) you could stubbornly resist these very obvious, demonstrable facts and carry on as if nothing had happened, continuing to believe in the deadly power of your techniques and martial philosophy so as to not have to face the uncomfortable fact that your training may be incomplete.

I’ve had an experience that loosely parallels what I’ve described above – I recently started studying Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (the same art Royce used to dominate in the UFCs). You should know that I’ve been studying or training in the martial arts since I was 18. I’ve trained in several arts, earned a black belt in one, an instructor’s certification in another, and felt that overall, I had a good understanding and a significant level of skill when it came to the martial arts. However, from my first time rolling (free sparring with a resisting opponent), I became rapidly re-acquainted with cognitive dissonance. Although I had some ground fighting training in the past, this was a huge game-changer. It’s one thing to say, “If I run up against a guy who wants to hurt me, I’ll do ‘such and such’”, but it’s something entirely different to have that guy (who outweighs you by an easy 75 pounds) posted with a knee on your belly making you seriously contemplate whether to crap or go blind. Very, very little of my previous training prepared me for this – the techniques, the conditioning, the emotional content. And this is what sets this art apart – the brutal closeness to actual combat it simulates. As I’ve come to realize, without a training method in which your opponent is actually trying his hardest to submit you as you are trying to submit him, you are to a certain extent, engaging in a fantasy.  

This cognitive dissonance continues to rear its head whenever I start thinking I have an idea of what I’m doing. It usually takes the form of a higher belt student crushing me during a three minute roll, but in the end it’s teaching me a valuable lesson: the world doesn’t care what you think. What works is what works, I can either accept it and integrate this knowledge into my slow climb to self-mastery, or I can quit and go back to my old comfortable delusions. Believe me, I’ve thought about quitting and justifying it by telling myself that “this isn’t what I was looking for”, but that would just be a disguise for me sticking my head in the sand and pretending I was something I wasn’t.

I’d like to think that this post sums up why I’m so keen on the teachings of Bruce Lee and his art of Jeet Kune Do*. Bruce was all about confronting his own illusions and inspiring others to do the same. He knew that cognitive dissonance, while a crappy feeling, is a means to explore, expose, and root out the causes of our own ignorance. His art and philosophy was a very practical one. It says, do what works, ignore what doesn’t, and find your own way. He knew the facts don’t lie and we have to stand ever vigilant against the self-deception we indulge in order to avoid having to change our beliefs.

I’ll button up this post with two quotes that seem appropriate:

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

– John Adams

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

* Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a component of the Jeet Kune Do I practice and it provides a set of attributes vital to the overall JKD matrix.



In Defense of Deepak

June 9, 2015

I’ve been associated with the Chopra Center for nearly 20 years. I’ve read the majority of Deepak Chopra’s and David Simon’s work, attended numerous programs, worked as a Chopra Center volunteer, and become a certified instructor of meditation, yoga, and Ayurvedic lifestyle and wellness. During that time I’ve watched Deepak and David’s focus shift and evolve from perfect health, to living an abundant and fulfilling life, to the path to love, to the philosophy and practice of yoga, to harnessing the power of synchronicity to bridging the gap between science and spirituality. Through all this Deepak has had his share of critics and detractors. Such is the result of being in the public eye while attempting to translate the world’s wisdom traditions into a modern context. People naturally resist and fear what they don’t understand and haven’t experienced themselves. Over the last several years though, that resistance seems to have become increasingly hostile.

Disagreement is part of the human condition. There’s nothing wrong with a spirited debate over opposing viewpoints. However it’s something completely different to attack, insult, mock and criticize someone for their views. Most of this criticism has come from the scientific community who take exception to Deepak’s views on science, spirituality, and the connection between the two. Personally, I find their animosity toward Deepak to be puzzling in that he’s an MD with a thoroughgoing scientific background who regularly interacts and engages with highly respected members of the scientific community in an attempt to better understand how modern science can shed light on the wisdom teachings of the East.  

One of those wisdom traditions is Vedanta, which in India is known as the Science of Spirituality. Although putting those two words together in a sentence may seem cringeworthy to the Western Scientific mind, this model for spiritual inquiry actually very closely resembles the scientific method. It begins with a hypothesis (Consciousness is the foundation of the universe) and this leads to specific experiments that can validate or invalidate the hypothesis (The four paths to unity or Yogas which provide experiential knowledge of that unity). If the experiments appear to validate the hypothesis, then one asks his or her peers to duplicate the results and provide additional evidence for the hypothesis. The key here is having your own experience. When I teach my students about meditation, yoga, and Vedanta, I always make sure to tell them, I can’t prove that any of what I tell you is true…but you can. You have to go out and have your own experience to find out for yourself if what I’ve taught you is valid. Run your own experiment. Your life is the laboratory. But realize if you’re not willing to run the experiment, you’re in no position to criticize it.

While this scientific model of spiritual exploration has proven successful for countless seekers throughout the ages, (myself included), it still does little to convince the critics. That’s because the problem with this method, if you want to call it one, is that it’s experiential. As one of my meditation teachers once said, “The only bad thing about meditation is that you have to do it.” Let’s be honest, of Deepak’s critics, from the well-known scientific community, to the hostile media personalities, to the unknown internet keyboard warrior, they all have at least one thing in common – they will most likely never attend a Chopra Center event, read one of Deepak’s books with the open-minded intention of truly understanding it, or most importantly, invest the time and energy involved in practicing the mind-body teachings that can lead to both the self-transformation and self-validation of a spiritual worldview. As such, this is a particularly safe position for Deepak’s critics to be in. They can accuse him of being a woo-woo, snake oil salesman and new age charlatan while simultaneously avoiding the heavy lifting of actually practicing what Deepak teaches.

This seems like a no win scenario for Deepak. His opponents viciously attack his dedication and passion for creating a healthier, happier, and more sustainable world and show no real interest in exploring the path he has laid down in his books, lectures, and workshops. The fact that he works and co-authors books with amazing scientists like Leonard Mlodinow, Rudolph Tanzi, and Stuart Hameroff appears to account for nothing with his opponents. As such, it seems difficult to fathom why Deepak would continue to interact or debate with such a hostile audience. In fact, I asked him this very question during a retreat a few years ago. It was shortly after a now well-known public debate between Deepak and some of his more contentious opponents that had ultimately turned into something of a science versus spirituality throw-down. I asked, If part of living a spiritual life is to practice defenselessness, and knowing that knowledge and understanding changes in different states of consciousness, and your opponents are not only unwilling but also unable to understand this worldview, why would you want to continue to engage with them; what could you hope to accomplish?

Deepak answered by saying that while on the surface it might seem to be a contentious situation, it was all ultimately all just Leela, a Sanskrit word that describes the play of the universe. As such, the conflict between Deepak and his opponents was part of a divine drama in which the One spirit divides itself into opposite factions to engage in imaginary conflict, much in the same ways children play cops and robbers. Ultimately Deepak and his critics are just opposite sides of the same coin, debating about who gets to be face up.

I can’t say I embrace that notion as fully as Deepak does, but after practicing these teachings and watching them change my life, I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. I’ll admit, I don’t always understand where he’s going with some of the things he says or does, but I do recognize that he’s trying to help make the world a better place and from where I stand, I believe he’s succeeding. Besides, who says I or anyone else is meant to fully “get” Deepak Chopra? In the documentary Decoding Deepak, Gotham Chopra, Deepak’s son asks himself who his father really is apart from the fame, the books, and seminars and admits that he really doesn’t know. If Deepak’s own son can’t define his father, who are we to do any better, and should we even try?

Regarding Deepak’s critics, I’m sure they will always be there. Deepak’s willingness to openly speak about the bridge he’s trying to build between science and spirituality makes him an easy target for his opponents. But one attribute that Deepak excels at is detachment. While he does get into some heated exchanges from time to time, he seems to say what he feels without any attachment to the outcome. One of the characteristics of the soul is that it is independent of the good or bad opinion of others. The Deepak I’ve watched over the years seems to have that trait down pat. I think it’s also telling to remember the paradox of judgment is that it often says more about the one passing judgment than their intended victim. When Deepak’s critics let loose with seething contempt and vitriol in an attack against his views, his finances, or personal life, it speaks volumes about the person behind such attacks. It reminds me of a story told about the Buddha:

One day, as the Buddha was walking through a village, he was approached by a young man who began insulting him. “You have no right teaching others. You are stupid and a fake.”

The Buddha was not upset by this attack. Instead, he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, but they refuse the gift, who does the gift belong to?”

The young man, surprised by the question replied, “It would belong to me.”

The Buddha smiled and replied, “That is correct. It is the same with your anger. If you offer me anger and I do not accept it and do not get insulted, then the anger still belongs to you. You are the one who is unhappy, not me. You have hurt yourself not another.”

Ultimately, while I titled this article In Defense of Deepak, I honestly don’t think Deepak needs defending. For those of us who follow his work or that of the Chopra Center though, it might be helpful to remember that the test of any teacher or body of knowledge lies in the results you see in your life. Bruce Lee, one of my personal heroes, reminds us to absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add specifically that which is your own. In my experience, I have absorbed innumerable useful teachings from Deepak Chopra and the Chopra Center. I have sifted through and let go of those things that aren’t appropriate to me and I strive to add to and modify what I learn in the most beneficial way for my life. I encourage you to do the same.