How to Spot a Narcissist

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People with narcissistic tendencies are dangerous — physically, spiritually, emotionally. They are especially dangerous in a crisis where the pressure of a situation reveals the depth of their narcissism. Thus, it’s important to be able to spot them — and deal with them in a rational, thoughtful way.

First, let’s do a level-set …

Psychologically, I’m referring to Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You can do your own search on this issue, but this article has a good summation:

Narcissistic personality disorder involves a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior, a lack of empathy and consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration.

Spiritually, I’m referring to someone fully consumed by their ego-self. A metaphor I frequently use is the rind and the fruit. Picture an orange. The rind represents the external identity we’ve adopted to make it through life. The fruit represents our interior true Self. A spiritually healthy person has a fairly thin rind and lots of juicy goodness on the inside. The more the trauma or delusion, the thicker the rind — and the less the fruit. Someone fully consumed by their ego-self is comprised primarily of rind.

It’s important to note that we all have narcissistic tendencies. More on that later.

With those references in mind, here are five ways to spot a narcissist:

  1. Fragility — Narcissists are famously thin-skinned (which is ironic considering the above metaphor). They tend to become petulant, defensive, angry when confronted. This is because the rind is being pierced — which means their entire identity is threatened. This is why they are always comparing themselves to others.
  2. Forgetfulness — Because narcissists live almost completely in the world of illusion, they are forgetful of their own statements and proclamations. They don’t remember what they said, what they promised, what they threatened. They lack the recall ability of rational thought. This is why narcissists are notorious for not reading, avoiding hard data and being easily swayed by conspiracy theories.
  3. Bad at Moral Math — Narcissists have a strange way of keeping score. They will do 100 horrible things and one “good” thing. When confronted with their horribleness, they will bring up the one thing and proclaim their righteousness. This is also how a narcissist’s enablers apologize for his/her behavior. A famous version of this is in regard to the Italian dictator, Mussolini — where it was said: “At least he made the trains run on time.”
  4. Impulsiveness — Narcissists are fast at what should be slow and slow at what should be fast. They are notoriously impulsive with relationships — or staff in a working environment. They are notoriously slow at grasping facts, data, science.
  5. Destructiveness — Because narcissism is both a mental and spiritual disorder, it never ends well — unless there is some sort of intervention or awakening. If not, it inevitably ends in some sort of bunker — either a literal bunker or a mental one.

So how does one deal with a narcissist? Here are three ways:

  • Practice distancing — The thing the narcissist fears the most is being ignored. Attention in any form fuels their ego. It’s tempting to debate or argue with narcissists. But they love that shit. The best thing to do is to remove yourself from their presence.
  • Set clear boundaries — This is using declarative words and firm voice to establish a clear buffer. Imagine speaking to them as you would a child. This is useful if you have to deal with a narcissistic person in your family or an ex-partner/co-parent.
  • Be empathetic (but not an enabler): As mentioned, we all have narcissistic tendencies. We have identities, roles, views that we get very attached to. I say this because empathy is one of the most effective tools for dealing with narcissists. It’s not so much about empathy for them and more about understanding where they’re coming from as to not become like them.

It is important to remember that, ultimately, narcissists are consumed by fear. Their aggression, self-aggrandizing, reactivity, bluster are all fear responses. Fear of being found out. Fear of being ignored. Fear of being alone. The antidote for fear is Love. In this case, a deep, abiding self-love that is grounded in humility, worthiness and confidence.

Ryan Holiday shares it this way:

“When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes — but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed, its swagger is artifice. One is girding yourself, the other gaslighting. It’s the difference between potent and poisonous.”

 — Ryan Holiday: “Ego is the Enemy”

Meditation and Me

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I’ve always been a thinker. As far back as I can recall, I was drawn to ideas, imagination, knowledge. I would read Trivial Pursuit cards for fun. I would read books on facts and trivia. (I still have one! “1001 Surprising Facts”). On the ranch, my favorite pastime was thinking. Feeding steers in sub-zero temperatures. Riding horseback amongst the junipers. Sitting on an open-cab tractor in 100+ degree weather. In class. In church. At home in the middle of the night. In all of it, I was thinking, dreaming, planning.

Almost 50 years in, I have a very well exercised thinking brain. It can absorb copious amounts of information. It can strategize and plan. It can problem solve. And it can be paranoid, delusional and anxiety-riddled. Conversely, I had until recent years, an under-developed feeling brain (heart). I was afraid of any emotion I couldn’t control. I felt like feelings were a distraction from getting things accomplished. I viewed emotional people as unstable and unreliable. 

In essence, I was the mental version of the guy in the gym who only does upper body workouts. My thinking brain was all yoked up but my feeling brain had chicken legs. This imbalance came into stark awareness after a spiritual awakening in 2014 and the ensuing shifting, changing (and death) of old forms and structures. Then I felt EVERYTHING. And my thinking brain didn’t know how to handle it.

In 2017, I discovered the power of meditation. My curiosity was piqued when I read Mark Divine’s book “Unbeatable Mind.” If a Navy SEAL and martial artists practiced meditation, then it must be pretty badass!  My prior perception of meditation was that it was for thinking. And I already did that. I also thought it was more for monks and Buddhists. It was fine for them, but I had shit to do. 

I began practicing meditation in fits and spurts in 2018. My bias, at that point, was that meditation was a mind-control tool; that it was to calm racing thoughts, overthinking, anxiety. And it did. Sort of. I assumed that its lack of efficacy was due to my own inconsistencies with it. In 2019, I discovered Sam Harris’ app “Waking Up”. It was then that I established a regular practice. Sam’s sessions were simple, short and non-woo woo. Through those meditations, I learned that meditation isn’t about controlling thoughts. It’s about observing them; sitting in the witness chair. I did think differently, but I didn’t feel all that different.

Then this happened … 

This past weekend, I discovered something new and beautiful about meditation. I made this discovery not by reading or thinking, but by meditating itself. I realized that I was now using meditation to do to my feelings what I used to do for my thoughts: control and/or change them. Sitting in a guided meditation on Sunday morning (30 minutes – the longest one I’d ever done!), this truth flashed to me: Meditation is about accepting feelings, not changing them. This was a game-changing discovery for me. Although I was slightly embarrassed that it took me so long to arrive at it.

Ultimately, all of meditation is about acceptance of and connecting with THIS; the hard-to-grasp presence, now, and oneness of being HERE. Observing thoughts and feelings without judgment, without trying to change them, is part of the process of connecting to THIS. And THIS is where God, Spirit, peace, love, joy, purpose are. THIS is where I am. 


PS: I have read a number of books on this topic. Message me if you’d like a list of my favorites.

A New TPQ (Thought-Provoking Question)

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In a recent breakfast conversation with a dear friend, we visited about the most constant messages we each received as kids. And how those messages still influence your thinking and behavior – even if you have reached a higher level of awareness. 

We know that social conditioning creates permanent grooves in our neuropathways. And the more intense the conditioning (such as trauma or violence), the deeper the grooves. Epigenetics shows these family-oriented social conditionings can be carried in the DNA to the next generation. 

While the above is more associated with experiences, messages are the words we hear – spoken or unspoken. They become the norms and framings for what I call the 5 Relationships:

  1. God/religion (belief, non-belief, agnostic)
  2. Money/career
  3. Health/well-being
  4. Education/knowledge
  5. Sex/intimacy

These five areas (and I’m certain there are more) become relationships that influence every area of our journey through the continuum of adulthood. They also frame our actual relationships – who we partner with, who we befriend, how we raise kids, etc. 

Phrased as a thought-provoking question (TPQ), it would be …

What messages did you most constantly receive as a child? 

For me, these are some of the messages I received:

  • “Get to work.” Work ethic, quality of work, ability to work were all a premium in my family. This still influences me today; causing work to be at the top of my attention hierarchy.

  • “Manage your emotions.” In my family, the message was women are expressive with their emotions and men are not. Further, there are emotions that are acceptable and unacceptable for men.

  • “Something is wrong with me.” This one is the closest to a trauma-based message because I received much of this message through experience. Over the years, it became a voice in my head, especially after failure and conflict. 

I texted my sons, Logan (27) and Caden (21) the same question. With their permission, I’m sharing their responses. 


Seek truth, question everything, love openly, whatever you do be the best at it, there’s humor in everything


Do what you love, don’t be an asshole, Stand up for what you believe, question everything 

After a good cry of both relief and gratitude, I realized their responses were the fruit of a very intentional early strategy their mother and I had to impart the best messages we received and consciously eliminate the negative ones. 

The messages we received, we received. Either positive or negative, our choice is how we let them direct our lives. Therapy and inner work don’t eliminate the negative ones – it just helps us frame them properly. And effort and ability don’t guarantee the positive ones will bear results.


If you’re feeling brave, I would love to hear your answer to the question by commenting below.

What are You Teaching You?

By Coaching, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

We consume books, podcasts, articles, workshops. We distill what we learn and try to apply it to our lives. We also share it with others – as parents, partners, leaders, friends. Sometimes we get paid to teach what we learn. 

The efficacy of all of this knowledge consumption is fairly low. For example, Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk has almost 49 million views – plus hundreds of thousands that have read his “Start with Why” book. Yet most businesses still start with WHAT in their marketing, culture, product offerings. This low efficacy applies to all aspects of life and business: health, personal development, psychology, leadership, business growth, finances, spirituality. 

I’m not saying to stop consuming content. Hell, I’m reading 5 different books right now and subscribe to a multitude of daily and weekly emails from thought-leaders. What I am saying is this … what are you teaching you?

Our minds, bodies and souls are tremendous teachers. Yet we often go looking for that outside guru or formula. What if we first turned to ourselves to learn? 

The mind mostly teaches through negative examples. Meaning, we learn what NOT to do from our minds. Things like distraction, habit slippage, obsession, mental noise. When we sit in the seat of the observer, we can see that the mind teaches us something every day. For example, I observed a continuum of my day. I start out contemplative, then creative and/or productive, but by 5p or so, I become quite consumptive. I will eat three tacos instead of two. I will watch multiple episodes of something on Netflix when one will suffice. I increase my screen time in the evening when I should be winding my mind down. Unto themselves, these are not necessarily “bad” things. But every unconscious behavior is teaching us where our mind is controlling us instead of the other way around.

The body is also a terrific teacher, if we listen. It will tell us exactly what it needs – either through positive or negative reinforcement. We westerners tend to treat our bodies as inanimate machinery. This makes our bodies become an abstract. Which then leads to all kinds of cravings. Recent science affirms the intelligence of the body: our hearts and our stomaches contain brain cells, somatic responses are often tied to untreated trauma, allergies and other non-pathological ailments are connected to emotional well-being.  My body is teaching me – the hard way. Since mid-January, I’ve had my third flair up of gout in less than 18 months. This one has been the most severe. It’s forcing me to eat much more clean, focus on improving my sleep patterns and recalibrating my relationship with pain. My left big toe is literally teaching me to be aware, choose what’s best for me and do what I can with what I have to work with.

Then there is the soul – the mightiest, wisest teacher of them all. To understand that the soul is a teacher will require either: a) some level of rational faith or b) at least some suspension of show-me-the-science. If the mind is the seat of consciousness and the body is the seat of matter, then the soul is the seat of Wisdom. Just as the mind and body use instincts to teach us, the soul uses intuition. This inner Knowing teaches us what to prioritize, when to rest, who to connect with, where to go. The soul has no biases, no filters, no need for form. It simply is the truth. This means when it teaches, it does so simply, concisely and directly.  My soul has been teaching me that soul/self-care is my highest priority. This is very difficult for my mind to grasp. I went through a time of great selfishness and hardness towards others. I remember that and mistake putting myself first as a returning to that dark place. My soul teaches me this is not true. That I must put my soul/self first so that I can do the work I’ve been sent to do. 

The best part of learning from ourselves is that each day contains lessons, tests, resources from and for mind, body and soul. We don’t need to wait until that mythical tomorrow or next week. Or the next book, podcast or webinar. We can learn from ourselves right now. We just need to be good students.

Four Narratives that Still Influence Me

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Narratives are part of the human experience. It appears narratives are a feature in the ego-mind designed to keep us alive and safe. And to move as many of the narratives to an unaided, unconscious level to provide more energy for present state issues. It also appears that narratives can be both positive and negative – and are created primarily through experiences and social conditioning. 

Part voice-over of life’s events, part inner critic, these narratives have a tremendous influence on us at a subconscious level. 

This came to the forefront after an experience this weekend.

Short version: in the final evaluation for a motorcycle certification course, I bombed a particular exercise. Immediately, the inner critic roared to life. I see this critic often as a drill sergeant; spitting slurs, invectives and disappointment in my ear. “You are worthless!” “You suck at everything!” “You have a weak mind!” “What’s wrong with you?!” – and so much more verbal abuse. 

I ended up passing the course, but the experience of having that inner critic play such a big role in the process got me thinking about these unaided narratives that still influence me. To be certain, I’ve left a lot of narratives behind. Narratives related to religious beliefs, masculinity, ideology, education. 

But a few remain …

  • The Planner. This narrative is all about what’s next. It is constantly scanning my calendar and my task list. It obsesses about time, directions, agendas – especially related to other people. Its main narrative is: “Control everything!”

  • The Critic. I already mentioned this one. The critic can arrive in several forms but is always an outside voice that condemns my being, my worth, my weaknesses. It can also turn on others with condemnation and rage.

  • The Therapist. This is the narrative of my relationships. It tells me that I have to be something other than I am to be seen as acceptable, cool, attractive, etc. It tells me that worry is the same as love. It tells me that roles and rules are important.

  • The Analyst. This is the narrative of trying to figure out other humans. The target of the analyst can vary. Lately, it’s primarily been about Trump supporters, right-wing Christians, far-left activists. The narrative is essentially, “What’s wrong with these people? Let’s figure them out.”

The main issue with these narratives is that they remove me from the is-ness of the moment. They create an out-of-body, out-of-moment perspective that is separate from reality. They truly are an illusion with little to no merit.

I know of only one way to remove a narrative: awareness. 

Awareness brings light and truth – which no narrative can withstand. Awareness brings the courage to examine the narratives and debunk them. And the additional courage to share them here – in the hope that this additional awareness will benefit both you and me.

Meet the Professor

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Abe Weissman 

I have written and spoke at length about parts therapy and Internal Family Systems. (If you’re not familiar with these concepts, here’s an excellent article to read). 

In addition to identifying parts with an IFS-trained therapist, I have also learned to identify parts on my own. The starting point is to reverse engineer particular patterns or tendencies; to look for the driver or instigator. Almost always, it’s a part that was tucked into my psyche. 

I discovered a new part recently. I noticed a tendency to explain things. To pull from my polymath mind a nugget or tidbit and apply as an explanation. I first recognized this drive to explain is part of my ego. It has an insatiable appetite for information and form because that’s what keeps it alive. 

This part of me is often my master. When I’m confused, doubtful, uneasy, it kicks in. It is my internal expert. It uses my wide knowledged base and my ability to recall to provide The Right Answer in any situation. 

Diving into this tendency to explain, I met a part I call The Professor.

The Professor loves to be right. He loves to win with better, faster information. He loves to be told he is smart. He uses his intellect to try to dazzle people. He has an answer for almost everything. And is eager to share his answer with you. The Professor is most certainly a know-it-all – but he thinks the hyphens in that saying should be removed for him. 

He gets his identity from his knowledge, so Not Knowing is a direct threat. Matters of faith, spirituality, wisdom make the Professor nervous. He is deeply troubled by Not Knowing. So much so that the Professor’s incessant explaining and instructing often numbs intuition and faith. 

The Professor is constantly trying to explain away feelings and emotions by intellectualizing them. 

He is always trying to create the form of an explanation for situations, conditions and/or people he finds confusing or threatening. 

He is a bit of a moral relativist – especially with his ability to justify behaviors. Or judge the behaviors of others. 

He is constantly comparing his knowledge base and intellect with others. And when he meets someone with extensive credentialing, he gets either insecure or arrogant. 

He wants to control the information flow and the explanation of things. And when he can’t, he starts to become a conspiracy theorist. 

Since identifying this part, here are some things I am teaching the Professor:

  • There is a time and place for you. In a classroom-type environment where lecturing is permitted. Or when doing research or trying to solve an immediate problem.

  • You can spiritualize the intellectual world. But you can’t intellectualize the spiritual world. No matter how hard you try or how smart you think you are.

  • Being loved and admired for your knowledge is temporary and fickle. Being loved for your soul, wisdom, love is so much better.

  • Not Knowing is part of the mystery of life. All the good stuff is in the Not Knowing. Trying to make it not so is suffering.

If you know me, you’ve almost certainly met the Professor. Do you have an equivalent? And internal expert or know-it-all? I would love to hear!

Re-Wiring Relationships

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In recent years, non-traditional relationships have permeated every corner of my life and soul. They have become the new reality – replacing old roles, social norms, structures. There remained a lot of old wiring about relationships so in my recent personal retreat, I dove re-wiring relationships.  

Re-wiring comes in three areas:

  • Upgrading the language and narrative for relationships
  • Shifting to a heart-first approach to relationships
  • Establishing boundaries

In reflecting on this, I realized that I hadn’t yet upgraded my narratives and beliefs about relationships to reflect these current realities. I still had a lot of old language about what a relationship was. Much of which was based on traditional roles. In particular, the language and mindset around marriage and what that means. 

I realized that I have a head-first approach to most relationships.  The highest level a head-based relationship can go is either obsession or co-dependency. Head-based relationships contribute to an illusion that causes additional suffering; making the hard work of relationships even more difficult. What I needed was to shift to a heart-based approach to relationships. Heart-based relationships are limitless and transcendent.  Heart-based relationships run on unconditional love and freedom.

The question of boundaries was brought to the surface in a recent therapy session where my therapist made this brilliant, simple statement: “You can’t prioritize your boundaries and someone else’s feelings at the same time.” I realized that I don’t really know my boundaries. And further, I viewed that giving up boundaries was a requirement to love someone. I had the bias that boundaries created separation and separation was bad. 

I was sharing some of this with one of my dearest friends. In her wise way, she re-framed my observations as questions. The first five are her questions …

  • What are the two intersecting truths in each key relationship?

  • Where is evidence of growth in each key relationship?

  • What is the core motivating factor in each relationship?

  • What am I afraid of in each relationship?

  • Where do I not feel free in each relationship?

  • What are the additional boundaries that each relationship has?

  • What are the key questions in each relationship?

  • 13 years ago, I received the command to “LOVE MORE” (this is tattooed on my right forearm). In light of boundaries, what does this mean?
    • I need to express my wants and boundaries
    • I need to love without expectation
    • I need to serve and support
    • I need to remind others of their value

All of this pondering and reflecting and asking and answering revealed some new things …

  • Connection is at the top of the relationship hierarchy. Not chemistry, not compatibility, not beliefs.
  • From this connection a natural state of the relationship emerges.  The ego will fight against this natural state.
  • Every relationship based on connection has a specific purpose.
  • When there’s a connection, a new thing is created.
  • Masculine and feminine energy are required to create anything.
  • Soul-based relationships flex and change.
  • Soulful connections always contribute to each other’s missions.
  • Each relationship is represented by one of the 4 elements (water, air, earth, fire)
  • Cosmic relationships follow the 3 laws of physics (force, inertia and symmetry)
    • Force: they self-generate their own power
    • Inertia: they have their own forward momentum
    • Symmetry: harmony and balance are the natural state

Some final output for all this …

With introspection, I realized that I am wired (maybe we all are?) for relationships that are elemental: earth, air, water, fire. That I need all four and it’s extremely unlikely that all four (or even three or two) will come from the same person.

In all relationships, I want: freedom, sovereignty, connection, experiences, collaboration. Further, I don’t want my identity to be defined by my relationships.

My relationship standards (what standard I want to be held to and that I hold others to):

  1. Love
  2. Freedom
  3. Ownership
  4. Expression
  5. Mission

My overall boundaries in any relationship:

  • Sovereignty
  • Freedom
  • Respect
  • Truth

The Long Search for Permanence

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False Narratives: The Dandelions of Consciousness

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Think of a behavior or habit you aren’t particularly happy with. You may assign some sort of negative feeling to that behavior like shame or judging. Yet you keep doing the behavior. Is this is some sort of character flaw? Maybe. But it’s way more likely it’s a false narrative manifesting in behavior. Or as Jesus said “Forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Our mind contains thousands of false narrative — all of which come from external factors such as experiences and social conditioning. They shape our worldview about the important things in life (God, relationships, sex, money, health) and the unimportant things (hobbies, activities, which sports team to be a fan of). They lay embedded in our psyche — looping over and over every time they’re triggered. And more get added with every experience. No wonder we have so much noise in our heads!

False narratives unto themselves are neither bad nor good. But they are false — in the sense that they are illusory. And they have much more influence over us than we realize. Here’s how deep they go: a false narrative informs our mindset which produces a feeling which produces a behavior.

False narratives are the dandelions of consciousness: if you find one, there’s always more. Which is both good news and bad news. The good news is that you have awareness of them. The bad news is that there’s probably a lot of them and it will take a lot of work to get rid of them.

This work that needs to be done starts with deconstructing the false narratives — usually with a reverse engineering process. As an example, I will use fatigue. Let’s start with the behavior or reaction to fatigue. The most common is over-stimulating with caffeine. Fatigue almost always then produces a negative feeling — usually shame or self-loathing. This loop between behavior and feeling can produce its own set of mini-narratives: “What’s wrong with me?” “I’m lazy.” “I’ve got some unknown illness”. This produces a mindset that I’m defective. This mindset comes from several sources — chiefly, growing up on a ranch where grit was seen as the ultimate achievement badge. Other conditioning of this mindset came from football practice, exercise, being a parent, being an entrepreneur and now being a man in my late 40s. This leads us to the false narrative: I AM A MACHINE.

Rationally, I know that’s not true. But to accept that it’s not true is also to accept that I get tired. Maybe even get more tired faster than others. But now I can construct a new true narrative: I AM A HUMAN. The mindset is then around the husbandry of my physical being; that I’m worthy of self-care. The new emotions are love, gratitude, compassion. The new behaviors are going to bed and waking up at regular times, taking a short nap if needed, putting nourishing things in my body.

Phew. That’s just one false narrative. I see others in my lawn. About money. About religion. About intimacy. Time to work on those.

Eradicating Unease Ain’t Easy

By Leadership, Life, Self-Worth2 Comments

Even in a healthy state, the ego’s baseline is identity; typically an identity attached to a role, title, system or group (or all four). When identity is unattached from, the ego shifts into its intended role and more natural state — protection. This produces a varying but chronic sense of unease. The ego seeks to keep us in a state of unease to encourage us to attach to a new identity or re-attach to an old identity. Unconscious religious practices, busy-ness, obsessions are often adhered to in order to alleviate this unease. For starker cases, addiction, violence and nihilism will be turned to. That’s how powerful this unease is at driving behavior.

But it’s not real. It is a product of the mind. In Jesus’ parables, this is the building on the sand, the building of bigger barns, the seeking of higher seats. In Buddha’s teachings, it is simply called attachment.

So what is real? How do you take ownership over this feeling of unease? How do I find peace?


Former Navy SEAL, podcaster, author Jocko Willink says it well: “discipline equals freedom.”

I know I need Systems of Discipline (what I call SoDs). But they need to be of my choosing and execution. I can’t truly find peace by following someone else’s system. Learn, absolutely. Adhere to, no. Further, I need to keep an eye on not worshipping or attaching to these SoDs.

For me, I need SoDs in specific areas of life …

  • Self-care
  • Productivity
  • Creativity
  • Mind mastery
  • Value creation
  • Time/energy management

These SoDs create freedom and flow for relationships, experiences, creative output, ideation, innovation — and joy. They create a soul-based operating model that is aligned with self-actualization rather than survival or acceptance.

For me, the SoDs are activated by awareness, physical discomfort and inciting incidents. I theorize that you will have the same activators but different SoDs.Without these activators, we will drift — back to old models and attachments. And forward to projections of future outcomes and feelings and reactions.

It’s being present, to be in the now, thwarts that unease. As such, discipline not only creates freedom. It encourages presence. It produces meaning. It reveals truth. With freedom, presence, meaning and truth, unease will be an occasional visitor, not your landlord.