I have reached the point in my spiritual life at which I am certain that I know nothing about the spiritual life.
Thomas Merton

Genetics may be involved in how actively a person strives for certainty, small comfort to anyone trying to fend off someone else’s definition of The Right Way to Be.

Where do you fit on the certainty continuum? Are you more comforted by statements of certainty or statements of uncertainty?

Example: Kelly Corrigan interviews Kate Bowler on PBS

Practice: On any day, you will run into both. Notice your “little kid” response. Mine varies: In one mood, I find certainty comforting. In another, it’s claustrophobic.

Advanced practice: Merton plays with the concept of certainty — as can you. Someone makes a vehement statement and you ask, “You’re sure?” You make one, and add “So sayeth I.”

Related practices: The Mind Craves Images, Fresh Peaches

Skip It

Found in a Canadian cookbook: If you don’t own an electric waffle iron skip this recipe.
Donna Dooher and Claire Stubbs with Lianne George


Great advice. Variants might read “If you lose heart when you make an ugly waffle, skip this recipe.” Not to mention, “If you live near a great waffle house. . .”

Practice: Identify an activity that is likely to require greater focus or more effort than it’s worth to you.

Consider skipping it.

Advanced practice: List the shoulds that interfere. Popular ones include: “Don’t be ridiculous,” “Nobody else finds it difficult,” “You just need to try harder…”

Such messages say “You are not who you ought to be,” which is an exorbitant price to pay for a waffle — or anything else.

Related practices: Misalignment, Tutu, Cliches

Buying Books

Buying books would be a good thing if you could also buy the time to read them.
Arthur Schopenhauer

Practice: Hold a book that appeals to you in both hands and say, “I wish I had time to read,” and set it back down. If what you’d like to do is sketch more, pick up your pencils and put them back down: this is an all-purpose suggestion.

Advanced practice: List as much as you can remember of “where the day went.” Then cross out anything that didn’t bring you satisfaction. Repeat until one day you find yourself reading.

Related practices: Busy, busy, busy, Please, Done


There is no mystery in killing each other over an imaginary line drawn on a map…Rhys Bowen

We all draw imaginary lines. The trick is noticing the ones that work and the ones that don’t.

Practice: Try moving one of your lines toward greater inclusion. Toward more self-protection. Move any line in any direction to become aware of yourself as a drawer of lines.

Advanced practice: Lines create insiders and outsiders. What changes if you identify with the insiders, the outsiders, and the imaginary line?

Related practices: Sweeping the staircase, Behaving badly, Author’s statement

Band of Angels

In South Africa in the early 1990s, a joke was making the rounds: Given the country’s daunting challenges, people had two options, one practical and the other miraculous. The practical option was for everyone to pray for a band of angels to come down from heaven and fix things. The miraculous option was for people to talk with one another until they could find a way forward.
Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda J. Orlikowski, Peter M. Senge

Practice: Rehearse until you find everyday language to discuss something controversial that you care about.

Advanced practice: What would you say differently if you respected those on the other side? If more than anything else, you wanted to find a way forward?

Related practices: Fluency, Authentic, Author’s Statement


The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
Alvin Toffler

Unlearning is hard. I applaud people who say something the way they first learned to say it — and then hear themselves and change their language. Update it. Make it more inclusive. Make it more hopeful or less cautious (some of us were taught to use words as camouflage).

Practice: When you or someone else says something that sounds “off,” identify what makes it so. Too imprecise? Too authoritative? Less generous than you prefer?

Advanced practice: Identify the ideas that surround that language. For years I said (without hearing myself) “I don’t really know.” Then one day I heard myself: I don’t really know but in unreally land, my knowledge is boundless.

Related practices: Cliches, Bright Blue Sailboat, Self-attack


“Don’t be silly,” she said, “you’ve got no right to walk into people’s castles and take their guitars.”Diana Wynne Jones 


Tastes vary, but I don’t want to speak so carefully that nothing odd or fanciful ever pops out of my mouth to startle me. Or someone else.

How about you?

Practice: Notice with whom you speak carefully, and with whom you let yourself go.

Advanced practice: Choose strangers you can observe easily, and replace the conversation you imagine they’re having with one far more peculiar. “Those two aren’t deciding where to go for dinner, they’re discussing whether to cartwheel their way there.”

Related practices: Poses, Cliches, Writing fiction

Arbitrary Rules

It is vital to have nothing to do with any art form which has dragons on it
Clive James

I enjoy making arbitrary rules. For years, one of mine was “Nothing yellow.” I have nothing against yellow, but eliminating it as an option helped me commit to Chinese Red and Williamsburg Blue.

Arbitrary rules can help you see through your unexamined expectations. Do you really think you can please someone sulky? Should you pay more in taxes than billionaires do? What about fretting over your meditation practice?

Practice: Since there isn’t a Right Way (yikes!) to do most things, consider entertaining yourself by coming up with an arbitrary rule. Decide to Always or Never do such-and-such.

Advanced practice: Identify one of the arbitrary rules you grew up with and how you feel about it.

Related practices: Walking Companions, Done

Nadia’s Practice

My practice is to listen deeply to what I am feeling and thinking and ex-periencing and then to try and communicate that in my writing as honestly as I can — looking at everything through a lens of grace.
                                                         Nadia Bolz-Weber

None of us can see without bias, but we can identify the lens we are looking through. Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber says her lens is grace. Mine is curiosity.

Practice:What is yours? (Fine if it’s aspirational: “I wish it were kindness but most of the time it’s . . . “)

Advanced practice: After you identify the lens or lenses you use, tell someone.

Related practices: Boredom, Author’s Statement, Bright blue sailboat


I told the doctor I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places.
                 Henny Youngman

kevin dean

Practice: Identify one of the places (internal or external) you go that you wish you didn’t. Then work to identify its precursor: what you feel or do or tell yourself immediately before going there.

It’s easier to avoid going to bad places when we see them coming.

Related practices: Done, Bright Blue Sailboat