The Next Right Thing

We spend most of our childhoods struggling against being told what to do. When to go to bed, when to get up, what to eat, where to go. 

Then we grow up, and man, do we want someone to tell us what to do. This is the most common question I hear from the people I work with: What should I do? Generally we don’t want someone dictating our bedtime or dinner choices, but along with the glorious and wide-open horizons of adulthood comes, with some frequency, the anxiety of which road to take, with whom, how far, how fast, and how on earth did I get here?

This human thing is very strange. And very ancient. Certainly our choices are different than they were a hundred, a thousand, thousands of years ago, but choice itself, conscious choice, considered choice, is such a fabulous human dilemma. When I pause long enough to consider it, when I look around me at the million tiny gestures and decisions that make up my day and the day of the people around me, I’m delighted. And I’m calmed.

We get overwhelmed by the question What should I do for a few reasons. 

First of all, we tend to think that there is only one path forward, ignoring hybrid options, radical tangents, the option to double back or just stay still for a time. We’re socialized to think in dichotomy: this or that. Here or there. Door #1 or Door #2. Sometimes when we’re at a crossroads, the thing to do is take neither road, but forge ahead into the between. Sometimes we need to sit awhile, and sometimes we need to head back the way we came. What matters is to remove the either-or from our thinking. Seldom are the choices as limited as they seem. 

Which brings us to the second reason What should I do is so often overwhelming. “Should.” I have spent years living in should-land. It’s not fun, or productive. How do you leave this airless place? Do what you want to do, and/or what you need to do. If you don’t want to do it and it doesn’t need to be done, why bother? 

And of course, there’s the question of “do.” The moment of choice. How do you decide what to do, especially in the face of limited information or an uncertain outcome? 

I like to start with the absurd. What’s the worst choice you could make right now? What would happen then? 

And I like to play with opposites. Who do you know that is as close to your opposite as possible? What would that person do? What would happen then? 

And admiration. Who do you admire for how they live their life? What would they do? What would happen then? 

What decisions have you made that delighted you? Where have you gone so right? What twists and tangles have brought you to this moment, today’s choices, and all that awaits?  


I’d prefer the moth beating itself against the window glass not be an allegory, but probably it is. Who stands behind me with giant hands, wanting to help but unable until I abandon the impossible path? I feel ready to abandon something, but what? Which path is the window glass, which the open door? The house is full of bugs that belong out of doors, stink bugs and sugar ants and that large flapping moth. The power to fly is the most common impossible desire among human animals. As if somehow by being able to move differently than we do, we’d somehow know where to go.

strangers maybe in their chairs

Grey days like this one make the bodies of joggers even more improbable. How do they push so quickly through the sky’s immobility? A habit of motion is, I guess, as strong as a habit of stasis. I have a habit of this chair, this blanket, these books, this thinking which is a kind of motion, a jogging of the mind. I tell myself this, from my chair. I watch the sky and even the trees are still. I drink my tea even though it’s cold. I think about the phrase cold comfort. If I study the sky, I can see that it is not in fact flat. The low part with its faint striations of white, to the west a darker patch. Through the sun room door a stretch of almost blue. I cast my mind out there, past the stoplight, past the dark tree’s arterial branches, past the just-visible chimney on some building housing no one I know or love yet, strangers maybe in their chairs, drinking tea one of them has warmed and brought to the other without prompting or agenda. A small motion, setting it down on the broad arm of the chair, their hands faintly brushing as the other picks it up.

a beautiful day

I woke up this morning and walked out into the most beautiful day. The bright leaves on the elm outside my living room window lifting and lowering with the wind, the sky among them a cloudless, cartoon blue. The cars speeding by on the boulevard, the perpetual jogger on the sidewalk, a dog barking the next building over.

And I thought, how odd. A day like any other day. I remember the sky on 9-11, as I stumbled through Manhattan with my desperately purchased clutch of water, Power bars, and fruit. This same cartoon blue.

A day like any other day. Except today I wish I were hung over, or even heartbroken, some pain that would pass. Some temporary, individual reason for the swollen face and the tears that refuse to stop coming.

I know a few things, and many more pace around my tired brain like the runners who pass me on the boulevard daily. A blur of color and wind.

I know the country we woke up in today is the same country we woke up in yesterday. The ugly parts just got a bigger stage, a broader permission slip.

The danger is real and has always been there. It now has an invitation to the light in a new way. This makes it more dangerous and also easier to see. What is easier to see is easier to fight, and more deadly. We who have not been ready must get ready. Find the will. Get in it.  

We have more weapons than we know. It is time to take stock. White people need to dig deep into our pockets of privilege and use it, put our bodies on the line as we never have. Those of us who pass, who seem less queer or are not, do the same for those whose do not, are not, cannot, will not.

Not all of our weapons are physical. Healers and light workers, artists of all kinds, yogis, good witches, meditators, our magic is as needed as it’s ever been. Bring it.  

We have to remember, this is not about him, vile and poisonous as he is. And it’s not about her, no matter what we wanted her to be. It’s about us. How (not if) we come together. How we move past just having each other’s backs to have each other’s everythings.

Beloveds, the end of this world has already happened. How we live it out is up to us. Here we go. It’s a beautiful day.

a matter of matter

Isn’t it strange to have a body? To be alive and dying, all the time. Last night, watching a fire, I thought, the wood doesn’t mind being burned, becoming ember, ash, smoke, air. There are things we can only become by dying, both the act and the process that takes a whole life to happen. I am interested in those things, though I know I can’t know them. To be interested in the unknowable is, I think, to be interested in the divine. I know that the deeper into the self we dive, the closer we come to the divine. Not the ego, but the internal internal. The point at which we are so interior that it’s all light, all spark, all of the fashion, trappings, furniture of externally dictated identity fallen away. Just the Self and the Everything, entirely porous to each other. This must be what it is in the womb. Gestation a microcosm of how we are held by the Everything, and how we move away from it to experience physical life. One thing I remember from high school physics is that matter is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. The matter of the wood does not cease to exist when it burns, but is transfigured into new forms, separate from where we found it, which is of course separate from its form as tree, as sapling, as seed. My grandmother died this year, after 100 years in her small, strong body. Remembering this about death, that it is not a destruction but a transformation, a release of both the physical structure of the body and the Everything stuff of the spirit, helps me. Death makes sense in this way, and holds then no urgency and less dread. Which is how I want to live.

life, liberty, and the pursuit of affirmation

Someone doesn’t like me.

While I have guesses as to why, wild and not-so-wild surmises, I know that I didn’t do anything directly to her. We hardly know each other, though we share friends and acquaintances. And it rattles me, her palpable distaste, every time I’m in her vicinity, which is, fortunately, not all that often.

When I was six years old, and new to a school, there was a girl who took an inexplicable dislike to me. I was a quiet, bookish kid with an accent and habit of chewing on the end of my hair, which was long enough that even when the teacher put it into a ponytail in an attempt to prevent the chewing, I could still get to it.

As is the way of first graders, this girl would call me names, get other girls to shun me on the playground. I told my mom, who told me to ignore her, that you can’t fight an uphill battle and it would stop. I did, it did, eventually, and I rarely remember it.

I’m 37 years away from that girl on the playground. I’ve shouted down drunken hecklers who outweighed me by an easy hundred pounds, come out, cut ties with humans I once loved, exposed family secrets, shoved more than one unwelcome body off my body, quit jobs, fired people -- I don’t love confrontation, but we’re well acquainted.

So why don’t I confront this human who doesn’t like me?

Because what I have to grapple with here, in this adult body, with this grown-up mind, is that here, now, the discomfort is mine to manage. Mine to own. Her feelings are her feelings, and she has every right to them. Even if she simply despises my chin, or the way I walk reminds her of a teacher who was cruel, or she can’t even name what it is that makes her not like me, that feeling is hers and she gets to have it.

For my part, simply quashing my sense of discomfort is no good either. My part is to pull that discomfort to the surface and say, Discomfort, what are you here for? How are you my teacher?

The drive to be liked is so strong. But it’s not everything I’m being shown here. I have been disliked for good reason, and that was hard but it was a different teacher than this. To be unliked without knowing why, possibly without a nameable reason, is different. There are no apologies or amends to be made, as far as I can tell.

So instead, I’m left with self-work. I’m charged with turning inward. Gathering the wounded first-grader, the bullied seventh grader, the fear of unbelonging, of imposter-ness, not-coolness, radical inadequacy, and soothing them all myself.

I won’t confront her because it’s not about her. As far as I know, she’s not doing me any harm.

My job is to release the need for a respected acquaintance’s affirmation. My job is to look at her and see her, not Susie on the playground, or that guy in junior high, or a mirror. My job is to calm my mind and heart, those jittery creatures that so want to be loved, seen, embraced, and make my way through the world not ego-first, but soul-first. Which is to say, less as a self in need of definition and more as a vessel through which the divine moves.  

If I can do that, when I can do that, my suffering eases. It matters less, if at all, what anyone thinks of me, so long as I am not doing harm. And most importantly, I’m less distracted, less grasping, I’m more able to do the work I need to do in this world. I’m free.

getting naked with the universe

Yesterday I was thinking I might not be a poet anymore.

I started thinking this out of a sense of discouragement and frustration at the limitations of my own art to make significant or sizable difference in a world that feels so desperately in need of change, but I realized eventually that the question was really more about ego, and identity.

Almost every significant non-family relationship I have can be linked back to my being a poet, even if that relationship now has no connection to the art. I teach poetry, I write poetry, I coach people in working on their poetry, I attend poetry festivals and read poetry and… what if I were not a poet anymore?

At least once a day, we take off our clothes. We are naked with ourselves. We are, for some period of time, a body unadorned.

It’s important, I think, for us occasionally to take off our identity adornments -- our shiny identity jewelry, our ill-fitting identity pants, our cozy identity sweater, the identity boots that make us look taller and slimmer and more imposing to strangers.

What if I were not a poet anymore? Does that feel like an opening up of space in this life, or an amputation of a limb? I roll it around in my head. I picture it -- someone asking “Are you an artist?” and my answering “No.” Or, “Not anymore.”

I think about other identities I’ve surrendered, abandoned or sloughed off. Non-athlete. Asthmatic. Chronic worrier. Enabler. Thirtysomething. Actor. Itinerant touring artist. New Yorker.

I’m not going to stop writing poetry, at least for now, so I guess that means I’ll still be a poet. But that’s not what's most important. The most important thing is that I can step back in my mind and picture myself, the inmost me, and understand that self as free from these labels, these earthbound ways of labeling and naming and supposedly knowing myself.

I can locate, in my best moments, this central Self, and see constellated all around it these aspects, these actions and identities -- and I can know that they are not me.

And it’s a comfort.

Because in that moment, I am least alone. I am most connected to the Universe, the Everything, the Divine, whatever language we give it -- I am not the sum of all this doing, I simply am.

How peaceful that is. What a relief. What a joyful place from which to begin again, and again.

time & vines

I love these vine plants, these resilient pothos I’ve propagated in water and placed on the windowsill on either side of my desk. I love watching their progress. Tubular roots pushing down and inside the bottles, leaves extending and bending back toward the light. The thing that’s so disturbing about time is its invisibility. Of course we have seasons, and faces, but for day to day time-watching, I’m for plants. I lose track of what day it is often, but only for a moment. All the technology knows and reminds. If this were a poem, I’d tell the story of how when I was five, the teacher told my mother that I couldn’t tell time, couldn’t read a clock with hands. All of ours were digital. Time is the oddest, slipperiest thing. How much sleep did we get, how many hours until, how late for, how old, this series of agreements that increments and assignments we’ve made to portions of what we know to be “day” and “night” matter so much. Order our known lives. Real and not real. Time and money. Money may not be real but my landlord is, so what we call tomorrow there must be what we call a check. My philosophies don’t change that. But in this what I call minute, I can stew about that or I can look at the plants. Watch the light push through the translucent roots.

Everything brought you here.


Everybody thinks they’ve done their life wrong somehow.

One day, I worked with someone who feared she had made all the wrong choices by focusing on her life as an artist and not settling down, having kids, in her words “giving it up to the normal.”

The next, someone who was certain all of her choices were wrong because she’d married, had kids, put her career aspirations aside and now finds herself single, kids out of the house, unsure of where to send her energies.

Everybody thinks they’ve done their life wrong somehow.

If only we could go back. Not answer the phone. Send that email. Say no instead of yes, yes instead of no, take that job, not move to that city, listen to our mother, not listen to our mother, kiss her, get out of the car while it’s still in motion, run for our lives, sit still, actually practice the piano, kiss him, fly back in time to say good-bye, never eat too much, never drink too much, never say those things we can’t forget or take back, never be born.

Listen. Everything brought you here.

And I’m talking to myself as much as to you. Maybe more. I’m the queen of hindsight, the empress of revisionist history, the high priestess of how things might have been if only I were perfect. But man, everything brought us here.

And here, here is where we belong. Even if it’s a hard place to be. Even if it’s the worst. Where you are is a fucking trampoline to the next place, the next thing. Or maybe it’s just a broken lock on the crawl space, and you’re out of here. Or you just need to walk into the next room, say hi to the plants and the mirror and moon and consider who you want to be tomorrow.  

You are so right. You are so necessary. Wherever you're headed has genius in it -- the genius of possibility. God, I love possibility.

Years ago, when I was in the middle of steady making marvelously terrible choices, I was fond of saying I just wanted to make new mistakes. And that was close to right -- that was my unwavering love of possibility making cracks in my stubborn clinging to cynicism, which felt then like a kind of safety.

What’s possible for you right now, if you let go of everything you think you’ve done wrong? What if you just entertained the idea that everything you’ve ever done was exactly right, because it brought you exactly here, just as you are, entirely ready, gorgeously formed in the image of yourself? What then?

create. resist. arise. love.

I have these three prints on my wall. Along with an illustration of an animal they say: Create. (Peacock.) Resist. (Porcupine.) Arise. (Owl with outspread wings.)

I think about these three verbs, these three commands or invitations or actions, often, and often I think of them as a cycle. Create. Resist. Arise.

Today I’m thinking of them in terms of love. Which is not, as some magazines would have us believe, a singular act. To love someone is a process. It is a process which, like most processes do, involves cycles. Create. Resist. Arise.

We create love, mostly unconsciously. Certainly we choose it, choose to act on the feeling and create relationship, which is a way of saying we create the conditions for the process of love to occur.

And we resist. Oh, we resist. Love is scary. Love holds a mirror up to us and we see ourselves. Love makes us risk and reveal, and most often we don’t like it one bit. So we resist. We push back, we retreat, we run, we do anything we can to save ourselves from this thing that we created.

But then, if we stick with it, if we move into and through that resistance, we arise. We rise in love. We become brighter, stronger, more honest, more daring, more grounded, more capable of and in the process of love.

Which creates again in us what we call love. And so the cycle begins again -- and not in a terrible, frustrating way, though often it can feel terrible and frustrating to be in resistance again, but we know at the end of it is rising. And creation.

As a people outside of relationships, as friends of people in love, we tend to witness a lot of resistance. Which makes sense; the creation is private. The arising is intimate. The struggle is real, and often requires wine or crying or both.

So often the arising disappears so quickly into the creation, we can barely catch sight of it, let alone share it with others. It’s often momentary, bright, a lifting and flare that catalyzes the everyday acts of creation that make up living in love. And that’s not generally what we call home about, or bring to our friends to drink over and through.

And this is why I think we have weddings. Weddings are the chance for those who love these people who love each other so much, to be part of the creation of something new. A public, sanctified union. And at the same time, to witness an arising.

What a blessed ritual it can be, if we let it. If we don’t get caught up in the distraction of the flowers not being the right level of blooming or the caterer serving the wrong temperature steak, our uncomfortable shoes or the cantankerous uncle complaining about the heat.

Being together. Witnessing creation, witnessing arising. Witnessing love as a process with no edges, no beginning, no ending, only expansiveness and all the now that now can hold.

Create. Resist. Arise. Amen. Blessed be.

Divination and the understanding of the infinite Now – an argument for clarifying rather than predictive divination

In divination work, we step out of time, or rather out of our common conceptions of it, in order to know ourselves, and by extension the universe or the unity consciousness, in a different way. Accepting that time is a construct we use to move through this world, in the same way that we use names for things and numbers for things in order to order our experience, we in the act of divination dip into the infinite moment and emerge with new understandings.

This is why the method of divination is only relevant in as much as it serves the person engaging in the act. Tarot cards, pendulum, scrying, tea leaves, palm reading -- these are simply practices, rituals, tools we use to step out of our regular conceptions of space-time.

We can know time as not linear (moving from past to present to future), but simultaneous and without boundary, and still acknowledge that our human experience in this world is shaped by memory, the present moment/experience, and anticipated future.

So what divination allows us to do is tune into the knowing of ourselves as absolutely without separation from the fabric of the universe, and in that tuned-in state access information about the past-present-future of the person with us in the divination.

Because in this state we know the past-present-future as the same thing, a common and boundaryless experience, we can know the person with us in the divination and their experiences in a way we could not under normal, boundaried circumstances.

Of course even in the act of divination we are limited by so many things -- language foremost among them, which only permits transmission of information in boundaried terms, but the power of divination lies in its source: the simultaneous and boundless moment, the seamless universe from which we only seem to be distinct.

To me, this is why divination of the predictive sort -- will the person find someone to love, get a new job, etc -- is both less authentic and less ultimately useful than what I think of as clarifying divination. In predictive divination, we are asking to know what will happen in the future, which is basically pointless if we believe in either free will or the actual boundarylessness of time.

In clarifying divination, we are not asking what will happen, but what is happening. Why does that matter, you might ask. Who among us doesn’t know what’s happening? This question has two answers. One has to do with the infinite Now: if we understand that past-present-future are actually the same, that the only moment is the infinite present, the question of what is happening becomes the only question to ask. Asking what happened or what will happen is pointless, because those are the same thing as what is happening.

The other answer doesn’t require that comprehension at all, and might be more readily understood. If we understand that our lives are not set on fixed tracks, with a predestined set of experiences lined up for us at birth -- if we believe that we can make changes and decisions that impact the directions and experiences of our lives -- then knowing what is ahead of us based on our condition at any given moment is of limited use.

What then is of use? In my opinion, what is of use is information about the present/infinite moment that can serve as a touchstone for the choices and decisions, major and minor, that make up our everyday existence in this world.

For example, if I tell you that you will meet a tall, handsome stranger in the near future, that might be exciting, but is of limited use. Even if I tell you that this stranger is bad news and the cards are signalling not to engage with him, any number of actions on your part may prevent you from ever meeting this person who at this exact moment you are on track to meet and be drawn to despite his being bad news.

However, what if we step into the infinite and unified consciousness and learn that what is happening is that you are drawn to dramatic, high risk situations as a way of focusing your attention on other people and tasks instead of on your own growth?

If we come to know this, then as you go through your days making decisions and choices, you can ask yourself which choice moves you closer to an understanding and pursuit of your own growth, and which moves you further away from that. In that case, you’re less likely to steer clear of the dangerous handsome stranger only to take on an overly demanding job or buy a decrepit mansion to renovate as distraction.

In this way, divination moves out of the realm of “fortune-telling” and into the arena of self-knowledge, equipping us with information, tools, and insight we might otherwise never access.

analogy of the flowering plants

Months ago, my partner and I decided that it was time we become the kind of people who can keep flowering plants alive. We’d had good success with a few vine-based houseplants, the kind you really have to work at killing, that one can propagate by cutting off a portion of it and sticking it in some water. We’d also succeeded at not killing air plants, the kind that do best if you manage not to even look at them too often.

So we went to Home Depot and bought two hanging plants, exuberant purples and oranges already blooming. How could we fail, we thought. We read the little plastic care cards and hung them on the back porch in what seemed the proper amount of sun, we watered them and watched them and watched them steadily die.

When it was clear that they were truly gone, we each assumed the other would throw them away, and left for a string of vacations and other distractions. And the strangest thing happened. A month or so later, they were resurrected. Green shoots shooting up from among the dead branches. Then flowers, not so many as when we overpaid for them at the oversized hardware store, but definitely, defiantly, flowers.

And what do we make of this? Not, certainly, that neglect brings blossoming in all cases, but that we often overcare for things. We tend our lives like overanxious parents, rebudgeting daily when our accounts have not changed, lying awake nights spinning our mindcogs about something we could have or should have or would have done differently, overcaffeinating in the hope that by crowbarring more work into each hour things will be better. Easier. Happier. More blooming.

Yesterday morning I went to lay out three tarot cards, one way I check in with myself and the Everything. Traditionally, a three-card draw indicates past, present, and future states, but I wanted something else. So I sat quietly until what came to me was this: Know. Be. Do. I just googled it, and of course I’m not the first person to come to this mantra -- apparently the U.S. Army’s leadership model is based on the variation “Be. Know. Do.” But in any case, it felt like a newish thought to me.

We -- I -- get so caught up in the doing, the action, that we lose connection with what centers and grounds us: the knowing, and the being. It’s only from here that truly effective and meaningful action can come.

Sometimes, we have to leave the plants alone. Step away from what knows how to grow all on its own, leave it in a place it can get sun and rain and some friendly insects. For me, to become a gardener of sorts was to become an adult -- my mother has an award-winning garden designed not only for beauty but to support butterfly migration. So I overtended, ineffectively, because it was only about the action and what I wanted to happen.

It’s an imperfect analogy; I don’t know how long the flowers will survive, or what we’ll do with them over the winter. Benign neglect is hardly an answer to most of the world’s problems. But caring enough, without ego-driven grasping -- what the Buddhists call loving detachment -- is something those tenacious flowering plants in their plastic hanging pots taught me. To pause, to go hands-off, to trust, to let go and let the Everything do its good work in its own time. That’s today’s magic.