I’m From Detroit!


“I’m from Detroit! I invented Motown!” the befouled stranger said, stepping up to the rail that separated me from the downtown foot traffic. I was lingering over a happy hour cocktail at an outdoor cafe on an unusually warm day in February. I had been considering the unseasonable warmth, wondering if it was yet another manifestation of climate change and feeling a little uptight. Pulling me from my existential anxiety, the stranger continued. “I molested the Marvelettes!”

“No shit,” I said.

Here’s what I see. If you’re alone, without means and you suffer from schizophrenia, extreme cases of post traumatic stress disorder, or a cognitive cornucopia of other mental illnesses, you will be invited by the rest of us to join the invisible suffering. If you’re not able to confine yourself to societal norms then be ready to don the camouflage of blackened dirt and city grease. That filth makes it almost effortless for the rest of us to dehumanize you. So if your soiled and unhinged, lacking any form of love, compassion or money, then your luck has left town, taking along your humanity for the ride. Money seems the divide between a trajectory towards healing and ceaseless suffering for crazy folks on their own in our society. I can’t believe this is somehow okay.

Many refuse to lunch at outdoor tables because of such impromptu interactions with the mentally unstable and less fortunate. But I actually welcome such uninvited encounters. I understand the perception that was held by so many ancient societies of past millennia. These cultures were much more aligned with the earth and how the system works. They had to be in order to survive. And they would revere those members of their ranks whose mental wiring was crossed in so disparate a way from the rest of the citizenry. These people were considered messengers from worlds that most couldn’t begin to imagine. They were the authentic artists, which was a more shamanic role back in the day.

The First World in the modern age is defined by comfort and comfort has no need for authentic artists, so we cast them out to the chaos of street life. Those of us who are privileged are able to completely disconnect from those who may make us uncomfortable. We consider it a perk of privilege. But this approach is actually doing serious damage to our psyches. We are naturally built for compassionate connection like we are built to breathe air. That’s the way the system works. It takes a lot of misspent energy to go against the blueprint of who we actually are, to go against the natural flow of life. Embracing those made up stories of entitlement that we blanket ourselves in to stave off the “ugly” and “objectionable” is killing us. Literally. This is what the authentic artists have to teach us.

Every time we turn our backs to that inherent inclination towards connection we are preforming a violent act on ourselves. Over time we develop our own type of mental illness, the insanity of normalcy. We accept it as normal to completely disregard the suffering of a fellow being who may be a mere few feet away.

Whenever I come across anyone regarded as a lunatic on the streets I remember a potent quote from Jiddu Kirshnamurti: It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

Disconnected, privileged materialism is a listless and sick way to live. Those of us who have worked hard to establish our worth as determined by society often don’t recognize what the shamans, healers, wise crones an other such sages, mystics, artists and poets of past ages recognized; that everyone is worthy of attention. Everyone born on the planet has come with an offering for all of us. Especially those whose reality tunnels are so shadowy, mysterious and other-worldly. They have gifts for us! And to disregard the offering of any being in order to maintain the facade of societies grand comfort in all its flat-screened glory misses the entire point of being here.

Lakota elders say that everything is sacred and we are all related. What if we began to live as if those Lakota elders were onto something? What if that was the point?

“I wrote The Track of My Tears,” the man said, noticing my acknowledgement of him.

I pulled out my wallet and investigated. There was a lone five dollar bill. “I like that song,” I said. “That’s worth a fin.” He gratefully accepted the bill as we shared a breath.

Where Am I?



The first one said, “I’m here. Where are you?”

The second said, “I’m here. Where are you?”

The third one said, “I’m here.” She paused, perhaps for dramatic flourish, then said, “Where are you?”

I was pretty sure the three ravens weren’t talking to me. They perched nearby and didn’t seem at all interested in where I was, as I sat on my front porch half listening in on their conversation. Of course had they asked, I’m not at all sure how I would have answered. It was pretty clear that I was anywhere but here, despite my lounging form on the porch chair, about fifteen yards away from their branch as the crow flies. But when the ravens yanked me out of my autopilot reverie I realized that my brain had been chugging along in thought grooves so habitual they hardly required my participation.

And the funny thing was, when the ravens called me to presence, gifting me the space to actually catch the nature of my thinking, I realized how worthless the thoughts had been. Fueled by a false and well honed sense of self-importance, the thoughts were nothing more than repetitive chewing on the same old stories of past and future. I hadn’t even been close to here.

At the ravens behest my thoughts became more conscious and therefore more spacious. I became more present to the only place where life can be found. “I’m here,” I said to the ravens. “In case you were wondering.”

The ravens cawed in delight.



Timothy hated smoking in the alley. But his wife of 37 years insisted that he refrain from “burning that evil weed” in their tiny Eastside apartment. “Smells like death,” she would say to him. “I’m eighty three years old! What does it matter!” he would say back. But in the end he would always acquiesce, going to the alley and lighting up in the shadow of the perpetually full dumpster outside their home.

It was a cool afternoon, though not cold and Timothy sat on the upturned five gallon bucket he used as a smoking seat. As was his habit, once his Pall Mall was comfortably lit, Timothy gazed at the refuse that littered the ground around the dumpster. People just can’t keep things neat, he thought to himself. Then Timothy spotted the curling pages of a paperback sticking out from underneath the dumpster. Being a fan of Science Fiction novels, Timothy walked over and scooted the book out from the darkness with the edge of his shoe to see if it might be a title he was interested in. He bent and examined the cover. Stains and smears from unknown city sources covered the book, which right away negated any possibility that Timothy would pick it up. But he read the cover anyway. “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?” was the title. And it was written by someone named Byron Katie, an author that Timothy never heard of. It was a strange title by a writer with a strange name and held no interest. He kicked the book back into the darkness.

Timothy sat back down and concentrated on the Pall Mall. But as he sat smoking, the title of the book rose up in his consciousness. “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?” What the hell kind of question is that? he thought to himself.

Normally Timothy didn’t hold on to things in his mind like the title of a discarded book. But the title became a seed in his consciousness as the cigarette smoke curled about him, like a Zen koan planted by a Rinzai monk within the furrows of his brain. “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?”

That evening, comfortably in bed and just drifting off to sleep to the gentle sound of his wife’s deep breathing, the answer to the question posed by Byron Katie on the cover of her book flashed in Timothy’s mind, a brilliant flash of spacious insight. “I would be a man who wouldn’t mind whatever was happening!” he said softly, but still loud enough to wake his wife.

“What?” she asked in a sleepy voice. “Are you okay?”

Timothy looked at his wife’s face. He could barely make out her features in the night. But he could feel every nuance of her beauty in a way that he hadn’t for decades, in a way that required only inner illumination. “I’m fine, just a dream. Go back to sleep.” Timothy leaned over and gave his wife the most precious kiss on her cheek, feeling the deepest connection with her, the deepest gratitude for her presence. And whatever the morning brought, good, bad or mundane, he wouldn’t mind one bit.


I had been told that he was a  holy man, though not a representative of any particular religion. He was called a “Beyonder”. I gathered that meant he was beyond the conceptual limitations of any one particular faith. He had been invited to New Mexico to give a series of teachings on the mysteries of life. I had come to hear him teach and to hopefully have the opportunity to ask a single question, a question that I deeply longed for an answer to.

He sat in a straight back wooden chair and we gathered around him, sitting on the various cushions that were about the floor. He introduced himself. “I am Fu-Kiau,” he said simply. His voice was friendly and welcoming, laced with a deep Central African accent.  He began speaking on a very lofty topic, the underlying power out of which the universe is manifest. He said it was a power that infuses all of life and spoke of the importance of recognizing and embracing that power within ourselves. Despite the deep and complex nature of the topic, he made understanding very accessible. His words were inspiring and it felt like he was speaking from a place of authentic wisdom.

After about two hours he finished his talk and was willing to take questions. A few immediately raised their hands. I didn’t hear what their questions were nor his answers. I was busy trying to clarify in my mind the one question I had come to ask. I decided direct and simple was the best way to go. It was time. I raised my hand.

Fu-Kiau noticed my raised hand. “Yes?” he said, looking and listening deeply.

“Fu-kiau,” I began, “I was hoping you could share with me what you believe the most important spiritual practice is.” In retrospect I see the naive quality of the question. But at the time I felt that I required the teaching of some authority figure to see me through. I desired, more than anything else, for someone to give me that magic formula that would diminish the struggle and resistance that I was experiencing in my movement through life and help me get to the next spiritual level, whatever that meant.

Fu-Kiau gave the question the space of quiet consideration for a moment. Then he answered. “I would have to say that the most important spiritual practice is gratitude.” He broke his gaze with me and chose another person with a question. That was the only answer I was going to get to the one question that I had so dearly wanted answered. Gratitude. I was hoping for more; the most potent prayer or meditation, the most powerful ritual or sacred rite that would smooth over all the rough patches. In all honesty, I was very disappointed.


That was over twenty years ago. Fu-Kiau has recently died and I was extremely saddened to hear of his passing. The world has lost a very deep well of Beyonder wisdom. But authentic teaching is not that easily extinguished. Over the last twenty years Fu-Kiau’s answer to my question, which had been so disappointing at first,  has become like a many layered onion.  As I have evolved  I have been moving through the layers, getting closer and closer to the core of his most potent answer.

Lately I have been spontaneously experiencing the deepest feelings of gratitude in the most mundane of places; the grocery story, standing in front of the mail machine at work, places that I am very familiar with and barely gave a second thought to. The one thing these experiences share is an inner silence, a quiet mind. The gratitude is of a deeper nature, a pleasant and at the same time powerful feeling that transcends the usual level of consciousness that I’m familiar with. It is not gratitude expressed in words or thoughts. It is a silent, spacious, fully present feeling of gratitude for every aspect of life as it is, even those aspects that I might otherwise label as painful or negative. It is a full submersion into the “Now”.  I have discovered that gratitude can only be completely experienced where life can only be found, within the present moment. I have discovered that gratitude is actually a type of energetic stance beyond thought, a key to fully inhabiting the present moment, usually obstructed by my constant fascination and identification with stories of life as it was in the past or life as it will be in the future. Gratitude has become a natural result of consciously quieting my mind and inhabiting the “Now”. For me, twenty years later, gratitude has indeed become the most important spiritual practice.

Thank you Fu-Kiau.

Time To Pop

Ernest was very skillful in cultivating the ideal look that would induce a person to “pop”. Of course the timing had to be perfect, the person popping had to be open to it.  But if the look wasn’t just right, more important than the words spoken, the moment would be missed, the popping would not occur. He had been doing this work for more years than most could count, and he was good at it. His look, words and timing were impeccable.

The Guidance was clear that the woman called Sara would stop at the corner of Canal Street and Broadway for a red light in just under a minute. And Ernest made sure he was there in plenty of time for this cosmic turning of the traffic signal. The nights darkness was thwarted by city lights, bathing the corner in artificial contrasts of luminance and shadow. Standing there, Ernest looked like just another down on his luck hard ass, seeking refuge from life’s lack of mercy.

The light changed from green to yellow to red just as the small Kia hatchback approached. Ernest knew that this was Sara. And he knew that Sara’s window would be rolled down. All the pieces, set into motion at the beginning of time, were in place. The Kia stopped at the light and Ernest ran up to the driver, Sara.


 Sara stopped at the red light. Her mind was preoccupied, mired in thoughts about the meeting she had with her supervisor earlier that day. She had left the meeting worried about making the deadline for the upcoming Nautilus project. She didn’t notice the rough looking man running up to her window until he was two steps away. Panic shot throughout her mind and body, silencing the work related mental ramblings of the previous moment. She froze as he leaned into her car, inches away from her face, looking deeply into her eyes. His look was vacant, a face left numb by the world’s cruelties.  And at the same time his look demonstrated a fullness born from lifetimes of experiences, a look that held a wisdom older than time, a complete acceptance beyond the complexities of life or the mysteries of death. It threatened everything she thought she knew.

“Nighttime sky opens. Infinity cascades down. Don’t blink, you’ll miss it!”  The rough looking man said in the forceful manner of one speaking with total authority. Then he turned and ran down a nearby alley, disappearing.

Sara’s mind was shocked clean of any debris of identity, of any knowings of work, love, or the meaning of life, like a newborn. Sara popped. She struggled to take a breath, the first since the rough looking man appeared out of nowhere. As she breathed in she realized that she was breathing in the greatest understanding that the universe had to offer. As she let the breath slowly out she smiled like the Buddha, sitting in the shade of the Bodhi tree.

Cutting Cloth

In the spirit worlds, sorcery, magic and celestial power dictate the rules. But the drama in those alternate dimensions is not that different from ours in the more mundane dimensions of shopping malls, Honey Boo Boo and corporate takeovers. Pain and struggle seem to find their way into most situations eventually, whether they’re of an etherial, cosmic nature or something more pedestrian. Vicktor, whose powerful sorcery was greatly feared by most, found this out in a most difficult way. His was a typical play for power not earned. Deafening desire, and desire’s inverted twin, aversion, which are really at the crux of a heart’s experience of pain and struggle, drove him.  He would have the Pendant of Essence worn by the elder known simply as The Brotherly One. That pendant was key to the elder’s power. And it could be Vicktor’s if he got his hands on it. And the desire for that power, and the aversion to life without it, was inciting Vicktor’s every move.

 Through multi-layered Machiavellian machinations Vicktor was able to trap The Brotherly One on an isolated mountain top.

 “You didn’t think I had it in me, did you Bro?” Vicktor snickered. “Is it okay if I call you Bro? Just seems easier.” He inflected every syllable with the tone and timbre of a fearless vanquisher.

 “Just do what you’re here to do. Steal what you’re here to steal. Don’t waist my time with your jibber-jabber,” The Brotherly One returned.

 “As you wish.” Vicktor reached out to grab the simple yet commanding moonstone pendant hanging from The Brotherly One’s neck.

 “Too many plans driven by desire and aversion make you stupid,” The Brotherly One said in a surprisingly compassionate way.

 What Vicktor could only describe as a swirling electrical vortex engulfed his outstretched hand, “What is this?” he cried out in shock.

 “The motion of cause and effect,” The Brotherly One said.

 The vortex of energy moved up Vicktor’s arm, around his shoulder and over his head, finally swallowing him whole, smashing his chest with a crushing weight and throwing him far from the mountain top.  It was a turn of events that have become a mythological cliche over the millennia: Man tries to steal celestial power in the form of some magical object, man becomes consumed by some retributive, dynamic force, man is banished to some godawful backwater of the cosmos for all eternity. In this case, the backwater was the planet Earth. More specifically, Saul’s Fabrics  on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan.

 Vicktor regained consciousness, still feeling the crushing pressure on top of his chest. With great effort he was able to open his eyes. He was no longer on the mountain top. The Brotherly One was gone. And a bolt of weighty linen was laying across his chest, pinning him down. Vicktor knew that he had been defeated, The Brotherly One’s power had been too great. All was lost.

“Vicktor! Quit screwing around!” Saul yelled, deeply irritated. “I need you to cut those linen pieces for Jacqueline right away. She’ll be here in an hour!” Saul wondered for the thousandth time why he had hired this sad sack.


Since he unexpectedly found himself on a beautiful mountain top, The Brotherly One took the opportunity to enjoy a fabulous view.

To Beat A Chicken

Leo had never been able to beat that chicken at tic-tac-toe. But every Friday after work he would stop by the Chinese arcade and try. It was an actual live chicken behind a piece of glass. There was a panel that the chicken could peck at, to make it’s selection of either an X or O, which displayed on a lit up grid. Leo, of course, would make his selections from outside the piece glass as the game progressed. If he won, his prize was a bag of fortune cookies. Seemed an easy thing, beating a chicken at a simple child’s game. But the chicken always won. Though Leo had a feeling that his luck was going to change.

It wasn’t about the bag of fortune cookies, not any more. It was the principle. That damn chicken had done more harm to Leo’s fragile self-esteem in the last six months than all the failed relationships of his entire life combined. Gluttons for punishment always fine the perfect set-up, and this chicken was Leo’s. But he was sure, tonight would be different.

Leo dropped the quarters in the coin box and the chicken went first. House rules, the chicken always got to go first. The chicken pecked an O in the center square. Leo punched in an X above it. The chicken pecked out another O to the left of the first and Leo paused to study the board. That’s when he first saw her reflection shining on the glass.

She wasn’t a traditional beauty by any measure, but there was something… an exquisite authenticity. It sparkled with it’s own form of loveliness that trapped Leo.  He forgot about the chicken and studied her shimmering mirror image. His suddenly shallow breath and pounding heart announced to his brain that he was smitten. He knew that he could be with the woman standing behind him. And somehow he knew that she could be with him. Her reflection was that clear. For the first time in memory a ray of hope found its way inside the burlap sack of loneliness that he had been carrying around, like a bundle of last weeks potatoes.

Just as he was about to turn around and say something, her reflected face changed. What was a simple countenance of curiosity suddenly became one of disgust, turning into extreme compassion. He could see that she only had eyes for the suffering of the chicken, forced to live in a glass box and play tic-tac-toe with assholes all day. In that instant he understood that all was lost. He watched as her reflection vanished. And although he knew it was a mistake, he turned towards the door, watching her wondrous backside exit the premises. It really might have been.

Leo’s heart wasn’t in the game anymore. But he kept playing out of habit. He picked, the chicken pecked, and when the game was through, Leo, for the first time, had won. But it didn’t matter. For months he had been trying to beat that chicken, but tonight it didn’t matter at all. A surly young clerk at the arcade gave him his prize, the bag of fortune cookies. Then Leo left.

Leo opened the bag of fortune cookies and picked one at random. He read the fortune as he munched the stale treat. “You will die alone and poorly dressed,” it read.

“Goddamn chicken,” Leo said to himself.