Pride: Can't live with it, can't live without it

Being Ordinary


How I got here

A few things stick out:

At 14 I declared my atheism.

At 16 I noticed that there was a hidden world that no one was paying attention to. I got it backwards, and thought the hidden world was selfish: give to get. But the part I got right was that everyone conforms to a narrow slice of life, and lives as if that's all there is.

My parents were intellectually creative, and supported my truth-seeking anywhere it went. The college I attended continued that: four years of open-ended discussion of big ideas.

After graduate school in political science - getting a handle on the real world - I spent most of the next 13 years as a journalist in the business of articulating truths. This got wearisome as the point of daily newspapering sank in: It's a social shaming mechanism. Ugh.

I also came into a family at age 36. By 40 my wife and I were nurturing four children, so the public service period of my career was over. I climbed the corporate ladder for the next 15 years, working for big public corporations: Wyndham, McGraw-Hill, Merck and McKesson. I learned a lot about Darwin and humans by sniffing around the alpha dogs.

When my marriage fell apart in 2006, I happened into a wise man named Bob Birnbaum. He had been taught by some remarkable people: Fritz Perls (the father of Gestalt therapy), Carl Rogers (the father of humanist psychology), Osho (aka Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the guru), and Hameed Ali (aka A.H. Almaas, the co-creator of the Diamond Approach, a modern spiritual path.)

Bob turned me on to a book by Eckhart Tolle, which introduced me to a neo-Buddhist viewpoint, and especially got me to notice how much suffering my mind inflicted on me.

Around the same time, a chance encounter with the spiritual master Adyashanti  persuaded me that there was more to the world than I thought. Pretty soon, Bob and I were diving into my identities. After an intense six-month engagement, I woke up to a life with very little strategy, very little anxiety, and a great appreciation for absurdity.

It was during my time with Bob that I first started to notice the great relief and wisdom in being ordinary. Or less than ordinary!

I wanted more. I joined one of Hameed Ali's Diamond Heart groups, moving along its progressive path to self-realization. For five years, Diamond Heart brought me structured inquiry, a community, and a superb method for the continued removal of identities and integration with true nature. I did a lot of work. Book groups, readings, monthly meetings, semi-annual retreats, a private teacher twice a month, and my weekly blast-offs with Bob Birnbaum. Whew.

I continued to sit with Adyashanti from time to time, and took a year-long course of Buddhist meditation training at the nearby Spirit Rock retreat center. 

That was my "stop believing my story" period. It was followed by a year or two of "burning down the house." Learning to live without strategy had been interesting a few years earlier; learning to live without beliefs was much weirder and harder. Now that I had shed a lot of my belief systems, what did I want or need?

I had been laid off from my last job in the corporate world. I didn't feel particularly fit for more. Something drew me to executive coaching. I needed a credential, so I went to Cal Berkeley. On the first day of training, I heard Mark Rittenberg say to the class: "Your only responsibility is to bring your outward-bound energy into the world." I'm not sure he actually said it. But it became my guidance, like a mantra.

Meanwhile, death had become an abiding interest. I felt intense grief with the death of Bob Birnbaum in 2012. When the grief subsided, I noticed how little I actually knew about grief and death.

Montaigne says: "To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave." I volunteered at hospice, read books about death, prepared my aging dog for end of life, and got my biggest lessons from spending time with my dying father.

So that was my succession of experiences:

        ♦ Not believing my story

        ♦ Burning down the house

        ♦ Getting over my fear of death.

Moving into executive coaching I noticed that coaching felt more like a calling than a job. What was it that appealed to my soul about it? Mostly, I thought, it was how I could be a fire starter: helping people get a first or second glimpse of the hidden heaven within.

And that's what led me to Being Ordinary.