Archive for May, 2019

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already, but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already without a shadow of doubt what is laid before him”.

Leo Tolstoy 1897


What I Don’t Know I Don’t Know


Whenever I work with a client, I know we will make progress when there is a clear, open willingness to learn. To be in this space, however, a person must let go of trying to look good, or being slick and cool. They must let go of trying to demonstrate how smart they are.

To be a good student and to be able to learn all that is available for transformation to occur, a person must constantly practice humility and be willing to acknowledge they don’t know all they thought they did. The emptier the mind is, the more room there is for learning.

A sabotaging mind-set for learning is the “I think I know” level, which is the lowest level of the Knowing Ladder. As long as a person holds on to thinking they already have the answer, the less open they are to learning and the less they will learn.

Once a person begins to realize that maybe they don’t know, they release their grip on the lowest rung of the ladder. They begin to be open to new possibilities. They are curious . . . they ask, “If it’s not the way I had it all figured out . . . then how is it?” and the road to learning and discovery begins to open.

Soon, one realizes that not only do they not know everything, but they actually know very little compared to all there is to know on any given subject, never mind about life. This is indeed a humbling moment, and can be a little scary, because many of us think our very survival is connected to what we know. Our self-esteem self-worth and self-confidence have become linked to knowing stuff. We think the smarter we look, the better we are, and the better we are, the more we’re admired and the more we’re admired, the safer we are.

As children in school, we were rewarded for knowing the answer. A gold star was firmly placed on the forehead of the child who “knew”. Throughout the day, that tiny sticker trophy served as a protective badge as s/he was seen as “the one who knew”. This was alluring to not only our egos, but to our very safety and need for security.

As we mature however, we begin to realize our survival is NOT connected to what we know, but in what we can learn. Only then are we are ready to realize there’s a lot of what we don’t know we don’t know. . . the knowing of which will transform our lives. Soon, the mind opens up, and we see things we never knew were there; we hear things we never heard before and we awaken to a new world of possibilities, a world that was always out there, but we never knew was there. When we connect to this level of natural knowing, paradigms shift and lives literally change.

It all starts with letting go of that lower rung.


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Being a school shooting hero shouldn’t be part of being a teenager.”



The Heroes and Cowards

  • His name is Kendrick Castillo. He did not graduate from High School. He was dead.
  • His school was just 7 miles from Columbine where 2 teenagers massacred 13 students.
  • That was 20 years ago.
  • Since 2009, America has had 57x as many school shootings as 6 other major industrial nations combined: UK (0); Japan (0); Italy (0); Germany (1); France (2); Canada (2) and USA (288)
  • In this academic year alone, America has had 23.
  • In addition to our schools, add in places of worship, outdoor concerts, movie theaters and dance clubs and the numbers are staggering.
  • It is uniquely an American problem
  • Every day in America, an average of 108.9 people are killed or take their life with a gun.
  • That’s a total of 39,748.5 people a year.
  • That’s more than all the American soldiers killed in the entire Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
  • What is different about America?
  • Other countries have mental health problems and have violent entertainment.
  • I’ll tell you what’s different . . .
  • Only we have absurdly lax gun laws

In Port Arthur Australia, after the 1996 massacre of 35 and 23 wounded, the gov’t immediately went into action and enforced stricter gun controls. Like the USA, Australia is a nation of rugged individualism and high gun ownership. However, unlike the USA, their gov’t leaders realized their responsibility to protect their people. They immediately joined forces to change and enforce strict gun laws which sharply reduced the availability of guns. They:

  • Banned automatic and semi-automatic firearms
  • Adopted new licensing requirements
  • Established a national firearms registry
  • Instituted a 28 day waiting period for gun purchases
  • Bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian owned firearms

In spite of the NRA’s support of the opposition (yes, they are in Australia, too), the entire overhaul of Australia’s national gun policy took just a few months. Since then, gun related homicides and suicides in Australia dropped 65% up until the fatal mass shooting of 7 family members in May. 2018. In the USA, it’s estimated that in 2017, we had over 394 million guns in a population of 326 million citizens with not even the simple requirement for registration in 42 of our 50 states.
We require registrations for cars, boats and even dogs. Why not guns?

  • Ask the cowards in our Congress, who sell their souls to the NRA
  • Ask the cowardly Senators and Representatives, (who, like it or not, are predominately Republican) why they aren’t brave enough to live up to their duty to keep our country’s citizens and especially our children safe.
  • Ask them why they refuse to pass legislation to protect its citizenry like every other sane, law-abiding country.
  • Ask them why they put High School students in the position of bravely stopping the shooters with their own bodies, and why the Parkland students courageously stood together with such passion, when they, the supposed leaders of the most powerful country in the world, won’t do one damn thing from the safety of their lofty offices.

Go ahead. Ask them!

Kendrick Castillo is a hero because they are despicable cowards!

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“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”



Why Old Dogs Are The Best Dogs

By Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson

They can be eccentric, slow afoot, even grouchy. But dogs live out their final days, says The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten, with a humility and grace we all could learn from.

Not long before his death, Harry and I headed out for a walk that proved eventful. He was nearly 13, old for a big dog. Walks were no longer the slap-happy Iditarods of his youth, frenzies of purposeless pulling in which we would cast madly off in all directions, fighting for command. Nor were they the exuberant archaeological expeditions of his middle years, when every other tree or hydrant or blade of grass held tantalizing secrets about his neighbors.

In his old age, Harry had transformed his walk into a simple process of elimination — a dutiful, utilitarian, head-down trudge. When finished, he would shuffle home to his ratty old bed, which graced our living room because Harry could no longer ascend the stairs.

On these walks, Harry seemed oblivious to his surroundings, absorbed in the arduous responsibility of placing foot before foot before foot before foot. But this time, on the edge of a small urban park, he stopped to watch something. A man was throwing a Frisbee to his dog. The dog, about Harry’s size, was tracking the flight expertly, as Harry had once done, anticipating hooks and slices by watching the pitch and roll and yaw of the disc, as Harry had done, then catching it with a joyful, punctuating leap, as Harry had once done, too.

Harry sat. For 10 minutes, he watched the fling and catch, fling and catch, his face contented, his eyes alight, his tail a-twitch. Our walk home was almost … jaunty.

Some years ago, The Washington Post invited readers to come up with a midlife list of goals for an underachiever. The first-runner-up prize went to: “Win the admiration of my dog.”

It’s no big deal to love a dog; they make it so easy for you. They find you brilliant, even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you, even if you are a genocidal maniac. Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckle-headed matrix of behavior we find so appealing — his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace.

Kafka wrote the meaning of life is that it ends. He meant our lives are shaped and shaded by the existential terror of knowing that all is finite. This anxiety informs poetry, literature, the monuments we build, the wars we wage — all of it. Kafka was talking, of course, about people. Among animals, only humans are said to be self-aware enough to comprehend the passage of time and the grim truth of mortality. How, then, to explain old Harry at the edge of that park, gray and lame, just days from the end, experiencing what can only be called wistfulness and nostalgia?

I have lived with eight dogs, watched six of them grow old and infirm with grace and dignity, and die with what seemed to be acceptance. I have seen old dogs grieve at the loss of their friends. I have come to believe as they age, dogs comprehend the passage of time, and, if not the inevitability of death, certainly the relentlessness of the onset of their frailties. They understand what’s gone is gone.

What dogs do not have is an abstract sense of fear, or a feeling of injustice or entitlement. They do not see themselves, as we do, as tragic heroes, battling ceaselessly against the merciless onslaught of time. Unlike us, old dogs lack the audacity to mythologize their lives. You’ve got to love them for that.

The product of a Kansas puppy mill, Harry was sold to us as a yellow Labrador retriever. I suppose it was technically true, but only in the sense that Tic-Tacs are technically “food.” Harry’s lineage was suspect. He wasn’t the square-headed, elegant type of Labrador you can envision in the wilds of Canada hunting for ducks. He was the shape of a baked potato, with the color and luster of an interoffice envelope. You could envision him in the wilds of suburban Toledo, hunting for nuggets of dried food in a carpet.

His full name was Harry S. Truman, and once he’d reached middle age, he had indeed developed the unassuming soul of a haberdasher. We sometimes called him Tru, which fit his loyalty, but was in other ways a misnomer: Harry was a bit of an eccentric, a few bubbles off plumb. Though he had never experienced an electrical shock, whenever he encountered a wire on the floor — say, a power cord leading from a laptop to a wall socket — Harry would stop and refuse to proceed. To him, this barrier was as impassable as the Himalayas. He’d stand there, waiting for someone to move it. Also, he was afraid of wind.

While Harry lacked the wiliness and cunning of some dogs, I did watch one day as he figured out a basic principle of physics. He was playing with a water bottle in our backyard — it was one of those 5-gallon cylindrical plastic jugs from the top of a water cooler. At one point, it rolled down a hill, which surprised and delighted him. He retrieved it, brought it back up and tried to make it go down again. It wouldn’t. I watched him nudge it around until he discovered that for the bottle to roll, its long axis had to be perpendicular to the slope of the hill. You could see the understanding dawn on his face; it was Archimedes in his bath, Helen Keller at the water spigot.That was probably the intellectual achievement of Harry’s life, tarnished only slightly by the fact he spent the next two hours insipidly entranced, rolling the bottle down and hauling it back up. He did not come inside until it grew too dark for him to see.

I believe I know exactly when Harry became an old dog. He was about nine years old. It happened at 10:15 on the evening of June 21, 2001, the day my family moved from the suburbs to the city. The move took longer than we’d anticipated. Inexcusably, Harry had been left alone in the vacated house — eerie, echoing, empty of furniture and of all belongings except Harry and his bed — for eight hours. When I arrived to pick him up, he was beyond frantic.

He met me at the door and embraced me around the waist in a way that is not immediately reconcilable with the musculature and skeleton of a dog’s front legs. I could not extricate myself from his grasp. We walked out of that house like a slow-dancing couple, and Harry did not let go until I opened the car door.

He wasn’t barking at me in reprimand, as he once might have done. He hadn’t fouled the house in spite. That night, Harry was simply scared and vulnerable, impossibly sweet and needy and grateful. He had lost something of himself, but he had gained something more touching and more valuable. He had entered old age.

In the year after our move, Harry began to age visibly, and he did it the way most dogs do. First his muzzle began to whiten, and then the white slowly crept backward to swallow his entire head. As he became more sedentary, he thickened a bit, too. On walks, he would no longer bother to scout and circle for a place to relieve himself. He would simply do it in mid-plod, like a horse, leaving the difficult logistics of drive-by cleanup to me. Sometimes, while crossing a busy street, with cars whizzing by, he would plop down to scratch his ear. Sometimes, he would forget where he was and why he was there. To the amusement of passersby, I would have to hunker down beside him and say, “Harry, we’re on a walk, and we’re going home now. Home is this way, okay?”

On these dutiful walks, Harry ignored almost everything he passed. The most notable exception was an old, barrel-chested female pit bull named Honey, whom he loved. This was surprising, both because other dogs had long ago ceased to interest Harry at all, and because even back when they did, Harry’s tastes were for the guys. Still, when we met Honey on walks, Harry perked up. Honey was younger by five years and heartier by a mile, but she liked Harry and slowed her gait when he was around. They waddled together for blocks, eyes forward, hardly interacting, but content in each other’s company. I will forever be grateful to Honey for sweetening Harry’s last days.

Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless grieve inconsolably over the loss of the family dog. People who find this behavior distasteful are often the ones without pets. It is hard to understand, in the abstract, the degree to which a companion animal, particularly after a long life, becomes a part of you. I believe I’ve figured out what this is all about. It is not as noble as I’d like it to be, but it is not anything of which to be ashamed, either.

In our dogs, we see ourselves. Dogs exhibit almost all of our emotions; if you think a dog cannot register envy or pity or pride or melancholia, you have never lived with one for any length of time. What dogs lack is our ability to dissimulate. They wear their emotions nakedly, and so, in watching them, we see ourselves as we would be if we were stripped of posture and pretense. Their innocence is enormously appealing.

When we watch a dog progress from puppy hood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety, and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves.

From the book Old Dogstext by Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson, based on a longer excerpt that originally appeared in The Washington Post. ©2008 by Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson.

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