Sansaku: Counter-Conditioning


The problem with ten-thousand hours and the two-second blink is over-confidence. According to Gladwell, it’s the disease of the expert. The problem of the novice, who lacks the ten-thousand hours but still blinks, is incompetence. Competence and confidence are linked.

I have an image for the tipping-point transformation. When the drop of water comes to the ocean, the drop doesn’t just enter, the ocean enters the drop. It’s a miracle. The word makes adults wince.

Why don’t children have trouble with miracles? They’ll watch Star Wars and believe in the Force every time. They still feel the pattern that connects. Adults call it fantasy and wish-fulfilling fiction.

Yet children can be more blunt and truthful than most adults. “Why do you smile when you’re mad and say that you aren’t? Who are you trying to fool” It’s the voice and the face adults put on when the phone or doorbell rings. The emperor has no clothes. It took a child.

Miracles make sense and it takes ten-thousand hours of training for kids to learn not to see them. Fake news. Now we laugh at those who share. It’s why people won’t talk about near-death experiences.

When Alan Watts learned Chinese calligraphy, his teacher told him, “If you try too hard to improve and correct your faults, the best you might achieve will be relatively fault-free but not very interesting.” That’s a shift from school.

I can imagine the calligraphy, I’m sure it was Taoist. “Let down your hair, stick out your belly, laugh.” Or maybe, “When you’re wrong, don’t make it worse and hide. Embrace, celebrate, display. Spiritual courage.”   Or this one, “Don’t clutch.”

The western image of a thinker, the one Rodin made famous, is a clutcher: bent-over, head on chin, heavy, ponderous, straining. And then the eastern image of Buddha under a tree or the Taoist sage dipping his toes in the stream. Easy to embrace.

If I ever teach again, I’ll call it “The Journal and Sansaku”. I’ll advertise: “How to build a space-ship and time-machine. Miracles will happen.” I won’t try to popularize or persuade, it’s empirical.

The law of large numbers depends on statistical measures. The design is simple: make an accurate entry every day and do this over time. Within a few years you’ll notice, synchronicities occur. No doubts about it. Jung was wise not to call them miracles, too much religious baggage. He used a pseudo-scientific term. He could have said, “Don’t throw the miraculous baby out with the normative bathwater.”

Imagine you won the lottery. You’d had a dream the night before. Your recently deceased husband had come to you and said, “Let’s have a beer on Sunday morning.” When you woke you remembered the dream and drove to the store.

The stores won’t sell liquor early, so you wait outside and think about that dream. It reminded you of being in Vegas. He saw you at the slots and said, “Put five quarters in, then pull.” You did and hit a jackpot.

Now you remember, he also said, “Buy a ticket for me.” Mary, my step-mom, did just that and won. The Arizona lottery didn’t pay as much back then, but she retired. Corder came through in the end.

Dreams are called magic mirrors. It’s all about reflection. What has been, what could have been. What is and what can happen. Jung said the secret was the mirror-image reversal.

The objective world is experienced subjectively and the subjective experience is real. It takes practice to counter-condition.








Ten-Thousand Hours, Two-Seconds

Sansaku: Ten-Thousand Hours, Two-Seconds


We talked about the ten-thousand hours it supposedly takes to master an art, like counseling, in training group. We also talked about tracking the experience, the two-second blink of brilliance that comes from the ten-thousand hours. According to Gladwell, there are tipping points.

The yunomi, my teacup, is precious and not like the ring of power. It’s like one those three elven rings, the one Galadriel wore. After pouring the golden green tea, I hold the cup with both hands. I know the sides and four rounded corners by heart and sight. It’s like a medicine wheel.

I don’t pour much at any one time. I like the tea hot. Just enough for a gulp from each of the four corners. I only drink from corners, the flat sides don’t work. Right now, the southeast corner is facing me. Irma lived in that part of Colorado as a child. I was born in the northeast part of the state. I moved to the southwest, the four corners.

The glaze looks wood-fired, but isn’t. The design Chyako carved looks ancient, yet modern. The symbol, a cup, has been crafted for ages in the psyche. It’s an icon. The yunomi on the desk looks alive. I’ve invested hours and years, no wonder it glows. Sacred technology.

The ten-thousand hours are mostly practice and play. Think about the way a musician learns to perform. I play guitar and rarely practice, but I like to sing some songs. I’ve been doing this for years. Rituals add up over time. I wrote songs for each of the parents.

When George turned seventy-five he asked, “I’d like to adopt you.” The song I wrote surprised me. The old stone shirt meant more than I’d realized. He was like the forest for the trees, a little too close for me to see. “Who you are is what I need…”

It’s a bit sentimental, but true. “I can see us in that jeep, going fishing every week. You were teaching me to choose and the words I now use, I’m teaching them just like you…”

The song I wrote for Corder contrasts in every way. The chords are complex and the rhythm leaps. The words are harsh but loving. “It was in the night and into the night, we drove and you said, I know we are drunk, but hear what I say, I need you to know…”

He’d just died when I wrote the song and I recorded it about ten years later when I was taking a course in family counseling. One of the graduate students was putting together a tape and asked if she could include those songs. I’m grateful I obliged.

I wrote the last stanza to Corder’s song first. “You said you never wanted me to see you this way, just an empty shell, a shadow that’s past, hell you know it’s not me. I always look back, reflecting what’s past, I never forgot, I never will.”

I wrote the song for Irma when I was living in the woods. I missed Mother’s Day and then her birthday. I decided I’d send her a song through the underground and breeze. I used some of my favorite chords and it’s easy for me to play, but hard to sing.

“Rancher’s daughter, growing up in Colorado, a sun-tanned girl with a smiling face…” I can usually get through those words, but start to get hung-up on the second verse.   “Dark-eyed woman, you’re still your mother’s child. The only change is in this world of time…”

If I haven’t already lost it, the last verse does me in. It’s the reason I don’t perform. I can’t sing when I’m crying. “Rancher’s daughter you’ve a daughter, your daughter has a daughter too. The way of life is always giving, lord knows, it sure flows through you…”

Two-second words, ten-thousand hours, tipping-point transformations.




The Oscar Goes to George

Sansaku: The Oscar Goes to George


Reading old journals, Thanksgiving lasts a week. It’s not like Christmas, always on the twenty-fifth. I’m often at home and keep running into George, my third parent. Corder’s fourth wife, Mary, doesn’t count.

Besides saying grace from the head of the table, George had one duty in the preparation of the food. He carved the turkey and made a production out of it. He always did.

If Irma was the prettiest mom on the block and Corder the wildest dad by far, George was the bulldog behind the fence. You weren’t sure if you wanted to go in. I’d tell my friends, “He just barks, he doesn’t bite.” Irma would have taken him down if he tried.

When Irma came home from work, carrying a sack of groceries in her arms, the neighbors came out to talk. When Corder turned up the block, he roared the jag’s engine and the kids all came out. The neighbors peered from windows and gossiped. George was a neighbor. I never imagined, back then, what would happen.

Forgiveness depends on where you stop the story, the wound or redemption. A friend of mine visiting in Boulder spent some time with George. He could listen, George could talk. Bruce said, “Irma needs to slip some Zoloft in his coffee. He’s depressed.” I’d never looked at George through clinical eyes. This opened them up.

George had cornered Bruce. It was painful to watch. Irma and I were in the kitchen washing dishes, mostly talking. It’s what we did. She could talk about anything and anything was fair. Bruce summarized George’s life history, “He was always second best. That’s the theme. He got the short end of every stick.” I said, “He likes to complain.”

Garon wrote a fine obituary for George and he would have been proud. There were only announcements for the other two parents. Irma dictated what she wanted me to say. It’s in my journal somewhere. But she didn’t really care, not even what to do with her ashes. Corder is buried in Longmont with the family. He really didn’t care.

We left George at home that day. Irma and I made the drive. We took the old way, the slow way, out Arapahoe to Nine Mile Corner. We told stories over the open casket. George never asked.

On one of the last Thanksgivings, I messed with him. He lived at a care center and was mostly lost to dementia. Somehow his sense of humor survived. He was funny. “Where’d you get that tatoo, soldier?” He looked down at his arm and said, “Hell, I must have been drunk.”

Back at the apartment mother said something very tragic. It reminded me of that ominous phrase in Matthew, “I never knew you.” It’s not what you want to hear at the end.   She said, “He never knew me.”

I asked her what might happen when he crossed to the other side. She didn’t know or wouldn’t say. But she knew what his last words would be. It’s what he always said, “Glad that’s over.”

He wasn’t a happy man and no one would have described him that way. He was very smart, but lacked some emotional reason. He wanted to have the lead role and complained he always played the part of the fool. In the band, he sang the silly songs. He wanted to sing the ballads, the sexier songs.

If Irma was Mt. Everest, he was one of those rugged hills you have to cross just before you get there. He had the best view of her, but wanted to be the highest peak around. He didn’t suffer comparisons well. We never could convince him. That’s why, at the end, the Oscar goes to George – for best supporting role.





Continue Thanksgiving

Sansaku: Continue Thanksgiving


Psychological integration is a two-part harmony. It takes dots or notes, and the pattern that connects and plays them.   I was dreaming about that idea last night. Yesterday was Thanksgiving and today is Black Friday.   Having spent so many years working with symbols and language, I can’t help but compare.

I might have to stay with Thanksgiving, but there is a more somber side.

I feel my heart’s a little bruised this morning. I miss Irma and the family. After not being able to find the grandparent’s headstone in Boulder, I asked Garon. He said he hadn’t been there in a long time, but if he remembered, there was a sandstone tower in the middle.  He remembered better than I and I’d just been there.

With typical precision he described the cemetary as a rectangular clock. “If the tower is the center and twelve o’clock is north, they’re in the southwest quadrant. You need to walk towards eight and it’s about halfway out.” I’d been looking in the northeast and west.

Instead of going out yesterday, we stayed at home then took a hike in Hidden Valley. It’s a favorite place and my psyche would be confused if I lived there. It looks too much like my inner world.

I’m grateful for the solitude I share with Chyako. I’m grateful for the quiet evening. We watched two Nature episodes. Joe Hutto lived first with wild turkeys in Florida and then mule deer in Wyoming. Talk about praise, that man knows how to connect dots.

There’s a scene during hunting season. He’s become family for the mule deer, they even know him from a distance. They nuzzle and groom. They’ll show him the fawns in their secret places and openly grieve when they lose one. In the fall, the sound of gunshots pains him.

He goes running and discovers it’s his good friend, Babe, the massive buck that’s up to now avoided other humans. The hunters are having some trouble getting the big deer to the truck. He mentions how ironic it is when he helps them.

“This is the biggest buck I’ve ever shot. Do you have any idea how old it is?” Joe had tears in his eyes when he said, “I’ve known that deer since he was a fawn. I have all of his shed antlers at home.”

I was sitting in the front room at dusk last night. I was still in a giving thanks mood. The sky was the same pink and blue as it was this morning. Instead of tea, I was drinking a beer.

We had buffalo burgers and pumpkin pie for dinner. I said grace while I cooked and then cleaned. Chyako had posted a photo of Irma and I. I gave thanks it was stuck in my mind.



Giving Thanks

Sansaku: Giving Thanks


Vincent said, “I have a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion. Then I go out and paint the stars.”

I’m giving thanks today. It’s mostly what I write about, but I’m making it explicit, an inquiry. At the moment I’m giving thanks for my simple yunomi, the act of appreciation, drinking tea. Vincent would call this religion. The word derives from the Latin to re-connect and bind. Vincent goes out to paint stars, I paint the morning sun with words.

We watched a movie last night. It was hardly sophisticated and Chyako said, “It was a good bad movie.” Never mind the bad script or acting, it was all on account of the theme. An ancient wrong is finally made right. There’s atonement, redemption, giving thanks.

I love the sound of giving thanks. Those prayers said under the breath. I’m back to drinking tea and giving thanks as consciously as I know how. It’s best that no one’s watching. I don’t do this in public. Chyako would probably disagree.

Giving thanks is my ritual way to begin every day. I’ll spend four hours in this wonderfully situated old pottery studio. I used to sit on the floor behind a chair in the family room. I had a little desk and blanket for a pillow. Zen monks look at a blank wall in a meditation hall, I stared at the back of a white leather chair and page. It’s symbolic.

A symbol has a religious function. It binds together, the outer image and the inner experience. Take religion, it needs a symbolic key to open it up. He paints the stars and gives color and life to the word.

Giving thanks. When I taught how to dream journal, I never suggested a gratitude log. It happened on its own. We were simply grateful and the praise we gave was giving thanks.

I liked holidays as a child and the four big ones for our family came with the seasons. Besides the break from school, Christmas was the most spectacular. I liked everything about it as a kid. I even liked the story.

I wasn’t so sure about Easter. I didn’t like what I thought was religion back then. I liked Easter egg hunts and candy. I’m reminded of a joke. “Do you know why the rabbit hides the eggs? He doesn’t want anyone to know he’s been foolin’ around with the chickens.”

Fourth of July was a summer picnic and fireworks. Garon, the famous pyromaniac, is still the honorary wizard. This day stands for freedom, not the flag. I’m giving thanks for any revolution that sets us free.

I have to confess, I found Thanksgiving odd at first. I liked turkey and loved pie, but identified more with the Indians than the pilgrims. I knew the story, what followed. It didn’t make sense.

Back then we rotated who hosted the dinner for the family. Besides grandparents, aunts and uncles, my cousins were grown. I’m the youngest of the young. Irma was the queen and did the holy work with great skill and joy. I never felt guilty, which amazes me now. She worked a forty-hour week and made it look like love.

Corder drove a Jaguar. It wasn’t street legal. I showed my friends the speedometer. While Irma prepared the food, he took me for a ride on the toll road to Denver. We were doing 120 when he turned to me and said, “Would you like to go faster?”

I know what conventional folks would say. I said, “Hell, yeah.” Ask me if I’m thankful. “Hell, yeah.”













Beginning Thanksgiving

Sansaku: Beginning Thanksgiving


Stanfield began our graduate course in Marxian economics with this sentence, “The capitalist producers play with our real human needs and substitute artificial solutions in place of the real.” He gave a few examples, like fancy clothes and perfume. He said, “We all have belonging needs, to be respected, attractive and touched.”

I can almost hear what he’d say about the Trump. Take his slogan, “Making America Great Again.” For sure there’s a need to improve our self-image and esteem as a people and country. And we’ve bought the con. What makes America great is not a wall or closed borders. It’s not about “us” against “them.” Come on, we’re better than that.

A Marxist economist might measure wealth by how much one gives, how little one needs, and not how much one can take. If the rich have so much and want even more, they must be very poor.

It’s easy to identify with the wrong things and when the soul is lost, so is the savor of life. Which is often why we want more and more. As the saying goes, “You can’t get enough of what you do not need.”

I told a friend about my journal. I didn’t write for others. I wrote for that person I hoped I’d become. I wanted a redemption story and was aware you had to have been there to know. I hoped to be thankful.

If days and thoughts are dots and strokes and words, they slowly add up into patterns and paintings and stories. There are libraries and museums in the psyche. Metaphors for life.

Trees have growth rings to mark the seasons and sliced they reveal.  The journal was like some record I could spin and play. It opened memories, stories and the wide-open sea. I hadn’t begun to explore.

Thanksgiving reminds me of family, not food. Irma died five years ago and I wrote about the last one where I saw her and the first one without. She was always the main attraction and the ancestors gathered around her. But the wheel moves on.

Her story was incomplete before she died. Her death summed it up. We were sitting around the death-bed. She said, “I have never felt more blessed in all my life.” Even dying she felt blessed. It was February and not Thanksgiving. She gave hers.

She said it all comes clear at the end, at least it had for her. I was paying great attention. So were her children and grandchildren.

The AAI is a structured interview used to assess attachment – secure or otherwise. The questions explore our childhood memories, relationships, and if we felt threatened or safe. After Irma died, I took the test and knew what it would say. It’s our interpersonal genetics.

I’ve studied my memory for years. On that first Thanksgiving after she died, I made sure to remember my dreams.   She didn’t appear, but a beautiful dog came and sat by my side. It didn’t lift a paw to shake, the paw was softly laid upon my leg. I looked in the dog’s eyes and knew.

Before she died, Kinner turned to me and said, “Look at Grandma’s eyes. Do you see? She has the eyes of an elephant.” I’d never seen that before. She had the most human eyes of anyone I’d ever known. But it was true, an elephant was looking out at us.

No wonder I felt safe.







Grab On

Sansaku: Grab On


Looking back, there’s so much foreshadowing. And now that I know what happened, it seems quite obvious. Paracelsus said, long ago, “To find the cause, look for the cure.” If I was going to find out what was wrong, I needed to take a fall.

This was 1987 and I was living at Timberline, a counselor and teacher. I described the day. The bell rings and students slam doors, go to classes. I’ve mostly finished the homework. I have a few Zen stories to read before I take my morning walk. The coffee ritual complete.

The day is beautiful, but then out here, they always are. The blue sky is deep like water, only deeper. The tall ponderosa pines remind me of the most profound moments in human life, our finest thoughts. I wonder what are mine.

And the river runs through the valley, like the unconscious runs through me.   It’s the last page in a journal. I tend to summarize. Many insights, much change; some incredible frustrations and worries. I’ve been going up and down.

My eyes are ridiculous and weak. I stress them with too much reading and sitting at a desk. I need to care for what remaining eyesight I have left. My eyes are much worse than people think. It causes some scenes that cause me to smile.

I began this journal with a bumper sticker I’d seen on the streets of Durango. It had just become popular. “Shit Happens.”

I tend to write notes at the end of the journal and encounter a poem. It’s not usual, since I write half in prose, half in verse.

I’ve seen into thoughts/ Mine are empty/ But deep like wells/ Rocks drop, no sound/ The bucket comes up full/ I close my eyes to listen/ Questions are asked/ The answers are strange/ What can I do/ I hear a voice say/ Open the door to your house.

I was reading the collective works of Jung and giving lectures at the college and mental health center. I copied paragraphs and sentences into the journal to track my progress. I encounter the foreshadowing.

“Only those people who can really touch bottom, can truly become human…” Jung goes on to describe how the conscious mind and adapted persona need to lose leadership and collapse, and only then does the true individuality emerge, which has its source in the deep layers of the unconscious. I was ripening.

Rilke made a similar suggestion. “Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one way, go into yourself.” He says there are terrors and abysses; they belong to us. Try to live them.

Hesse warned the entrance to the Magic Theater had a sign that read, “Not for Everybody. Madmen only.” The price of admission might be a fingernail. I offered up my dreams.

Jung wrote, “We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path…   And to love oneself, one needs to hold communion with people… To see that you are just the same. All suffer from the same problem.” The world is not out for us. We need to know this.

I had a dream that night, thirty years ago, and I’m just now seeing the cause. I was fighting in a cavern and a woman holding a rope suddenly appeared from a hole in the floor. From my perspective, she was coming up. From her perspective, she was coming down.

She knew I needed help. I grabbed the rope. We both went down.