For (or Against) Authenticity?

For (or Against) Authenticity?

The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible.
What the second duty is, no one has as yet discovered.

~Oscar Wilde

 As a facilitator, teacher, and leader in the Authentic Relating movement, you might be surprised to know that I often question the actual concept and practice of Authenticity. And a timely article by Bo Winegard over at Quillette asked some of the deeper philosophical issues around this word: 

Winegard argues that Authenticity is not a noble or even attainable ideal and that it is impossible to be authentic because there is no fundamental way to remove ourselves from our embedded cultural conditioning. He concludes his short essay with: 

But to be human is to be artificial. And to contend that it is inauthentic to conform to one’s culture and to strive to suppress and overcome one’s natural tendencies is like contending that it is inauthentic for a mockingbird to imitate the song of another species. Paradoxically, the most authentic thing we can do is strive to transcend ourselves and become what we are not.

 I have always struggled with the word and the practice itself. Sometimes when speaking vulnerably and passionately, others may comment and appreciate what they perceive as authenticity. However, as I reflect internally, I question: “Was any of what I said original, authentic, genuine, or was that a product of my history, culture, and unconscious and borrowed words and ideas?”  I think, in some ways, that what I am actually practicing, facilitating, embodying, and teaching is the practice of congruous or congruent relating. The meaning of congruous is similar to that of accordant: agreeing; conforming; harmonious, or exhibiting harmony of parts.

I’ve always liked the word accordant, as its etymology is something like ‘with heart, be of one heart, bring heart to heart.’

Unfortunately, ‘Congruent Relating’ doesn’t sound very appealing – so I continue to search for the word or concept that represents this embodied, present-moment relational practice.

And a problem with authenticity is that it doesn’t always make a better person. I have often argued controversially that our 45th president is a highly authentic human being, and something that many people appreciate about him. Winegard gives the following hypothesis:

Suppose we are comparing the behavior of Thomas and John, two people who are, for whatever combination of reasons, both full of hatred and envy. But while Thomas struggles to contain his rage, his competitiveness, and his jealousy, John does not. After years of hard work, Thomas has built a successful company and become a revered businessman who provides hundreds of jobs to a once-impoverished community. He attends church and is kind to everyone, despite his seething resentment. John, on the other hand, is unemployed and constantly bickers with others. He frequents bars and brawls to relieve his rage. But he does not lie—he is candid about his contempt for everyone. The champion of authenticity appears to be committed to claiming that John should be celebrated whereas Thomas should be condemned.

  • What do you think we should call this embodied, present-moment relational practice?
  • How do you relate to the concepts of authenticity and congruence? 
  • Can we avoid being artificial and inauthentic?

Incubating and Creating

** Overdue update! In late April, I left Mazunte, Mexico, and spent a beautiful month in Portugal visiting a lover in Lisbon and exploring the country’s northern half on a solo backpack. While there is a lot to say about my time in Portugal, what is most alive is what is happening now in Boulder. In early June, I returned to the US and rented a room in a beautiful home with a close friend, my first permanent-ish home since spending the last two years at my Zen Monastery and then abroad.

I have been thrust back into community and activity in a way that has validated my decision to relocate and live here again, a place I have not entirely resided in since 2009 when I packed up after 8-years of corporate ‘do as you are supposed to do life,’ sold all of my possessions and traveled to Asia.

Last week, I co-led two workshops called | OPEN | – Authentic Relating Meets Sexuality that were so popular that we will offer a third one next Saturday that is also nearly sold out two days after announcing it. This is the fruit of a long-developing bond with the incredible human, Michaela Smail.

THIS beautiful, fierce, devotional, and focused woman has evoked a creative spark in me as I have never experienced before! I feel confident to explore, offer and create in the rich, edgy, controversial space my life has followed:  intimacy, sexuality, consciousness, and communication. Our recent collaboration convinced me that my path is collaborative, and planning a company, a movement, or a dynasty together is so enlivening! She inspires me personally and professionally to realize and actualize creating and birthing something in the world: a task that I have been hiding from and fearful of until now, preferring to play it safe and avoid potential humiliation or failure. It’s been an honor and privilege to facilitate and create alongside this legendary human.

This is just the beginning. I hope to see you at the next one! Are you in? It’s time to | OPEN |

Freedom and Love

Thank you all for your continued feedback and thoughts on my writing – For the last two days, I have been sitting patiently in front of my laptop, noticing the urge to write and connect but not feeling a specific impulse or topics. So what is most alive for me recently? Possibly, the pendulum swinging from the angst of not doing or giving enough(in my recent posts) towards more self-acceptance? 

The Hologram is a beautiful concept from the Authentic Relating corpus that I teach regularly. My friend and mentor Jason Digges has a wonderful definition in his book, Conflict = Energy: The Transformative Practice of Authentic Relating (IMHO the best book available on Authentic Relating!):

Our “hologram” is the lens through which we experience and make meaning of the world. It is unique to every one of us, yet ubiquitous across our lives. As the old adage goes, The way we do one thing is the way we do everything. Thus, when we begin to perceive our hologram and to work directly with it, powerful change can happen remarkably quickly.

Another way to look at the hologram is as a fully three-dimensional picture, giving us a full view of something in its entirety from any angle. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a hologram is worth a million. Yet in Authentic Relating terms, “seeing our hologram” means much more than simply seeing the details of ourselves. It means welcoming each detail as both valid in its own right, revealing and ultimately transforming the parts that aren’t serving us. Through this process, we become more aware, awake, and whole…Each of us is limited in what we can perceive, and we need each other to be able to clearly see ourselves. Community is the primary resource we have for waking up to, integrating, and beginning to free ourselves from the past relational limitations we were not consciously aware of.

These epiphanies can show us the internal patterns that have been shaping our entire lives. Often, we discover patterns that have been directing the course of our relationships for years and even decades—hidden in plain sight. These realizations, however humbling they may be, are in fact an opportunity to radically change our relational habits for the better.

As I have reviewed your comments and received feedback from close friends in conversation, it is clear that I have a personal hologram around not doing enough or giving enough, being enough, showing up enough, or accepting myself. In addition, my online audience and friends often reflect that I am doing a lot – constantly leading courses in-person and online, studying and participating in new training, and still in the aftermath of an intense healing process from a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

With this feedback and a slow, dawning realization that I seek validation and worth through external sources and success, I decided to start examining if I could source what I needed internally. Easier said than done, I began exploring this topic again through the concepts and language of polarity and the masculine and feminine aspects of my being.

What does my inner feminine seek? To be seen as light and felt as Love.

This subtly connects to my relational realm (my unconscious definition of being a man requires being in a relationship, needed by, loved, attached to a woman). First, I see that this continued efforting to seek external validation from a partner/lover/friendship originates in the part of my shadow that rejected, did not trust, or acknowledge my inner feminine. And if I cannot see myself as Light and Love, what business do I have seeking to be seen and known in this way by another human being? This is one of the reasons I took a long break from romantic/sexual relationships and recommitted myself to more flow, more invitation and surrender, and more self-nurture. I splurged on a beautiful home in Mexico that I would not have ‘allowed’ myself to in the past. I enjoy more time in self-pleasure and indulgence (in all the ways)! I am allowing my body to rest and sleep and go slow. I’m growing my hair longer than usual. I am committed to saying yes to opportunities and invitations regardless of cost or sometimes practical considerations. So far, this has been a delightful dance. Highly uncomfortable at times as this territory of flowing and lack of control is when my masculine would typically come in and dominate – make a plan, a budget, manage, control, and direct my life! I’m committed to this experiment for a while – at least through the summer.

What does my inner masculine seek? Direction, purpose, and seeking freedom amidst challenges.

This is where I operate most of the time – and what I have been writing about recently. The masculine heart responds most fully when aligned with a mission to advance freedom: financial, artistic, or spiritual liberation. The masculine heart often opens deepest when facing death, immense challenge, or going beyond all forms in a spiritual discipline. Rather than write more here – I’ll say for now that I am softening and widening my approach. After noticing how this advancement of freedom, immense challenge, and spiritual liberation is where I direct most of my attention, I’m allowing myself to accept that the outcome of such masculine endeavors may look very different than anything I can imagine at this moment. This freedom is likely utterly personal and may have very little connection to my place or position in society.

I’ll share a few words from David Deida on this dance of the masculine and feminine ( from chapter 31 of Blue Truth:

Feminine spiritual growth is about opening to receive all—all people, all situations, the massive presence of the entire moment—deep into your heart, surrendering open to breathe and move as the full force of Love, aboundingly alive, appearing as all. Whereas the masculine grows by realizing identity with emptiness, boundless consciousness, the unchanging ever-present witness of life, the feminine grows by realizing identity with ever-changing light, radiant Love, or the very love-fullness of all life and every moment.

The masculine craves unchanging nothingness—if not as eternal consciousness, then at least in post-ejaculative peace or zoned out in front of the computer. The feminine is drama, volatile passion, an ocean of tumultuous and ever-fluid light, changing shades, dark and dazzling, concealed and exposed, longing to be seen, felt, entered so deeply as to be overflowed beyond fullness.

Emptiness and quietude are masculine obsessions. The masculine often wants to resolve feminine turmoil and conclude in unadorned openness, the one taste that feels like home to the masculine. But the feminine opens as cinnamon and garlic, as salty, sweet, and bitter, as every possible flavor.

 Since we embody both masculine and feminine energies, we all can benefit from opening as BOTH unbounded emptiness and love’s fullness. Sitting in the open silence of meditation and surrendering open as love’s dance is helpful for each of us. At different moments in our lives and journeys, we may be required to emphasize one over the other. An important point I want to make in my inquiry into these topics is that it can be easy to assume or oversimplify this journey and think that if you increase your masculinity, you will decrease your femininity and vice-versa. Nothing is farther from the truth! Both can be expanded to unimaginable capacity – and even though we will very likely have a preferred way to enter and meet the world, we may be asked or demanded to call upon the other polarity to meet life’s uniqueness and dynamism.

This is enough for today – next time I want to inquire with all of you what happens when we can develop and satisfy our inner masculine and feminine ourselves – and then walk forward in the world from this place of wholeness? Love and Freedom, expressed in their uninhibited fullness.

Your thoughts and feedback are welcome and always greatly appreciated.

Right Under my Nose!

I am winding down my time at Lake Atitlan, spending my final days in this magical, mythical and mysterious land. Two weeks ago, as I sat through illness and mild depression, I could not imagine this time coming soon enough. But now I feel like putting the brakes on, extending my time, and slowing down to take in the people and the places that I very much appreciate. I may be back; I may not. But, I most likely will be. I have always noticed how the appreciation of a place increases once I am away from it.

Today marks the 12th day my right ear has been blocked since the illness I contracted at the beginning of the year. It has added an extra layer of challenge to the last two weeks. Finally, after the body gained strength and energy, a friendly omicron leftover invited me to lean into a (hopefully) temporary disability to navigate, leading an event that deeply depended on my listening and speaking skills. With no success, I’ve attempted ALL of the methods to unblock this ear known to mankind and the internet. I have seen a doctor who diagnosed an infection and gave me antibiotic drops, which have also been futile. Continuing to cross my fingers that the pressure will relax before flying in two days.

Amid this rather significant impairment, I facilitated and led an Authentic Relating Training for 20 people. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work: marketing, following leads, promotional events, working with a challenging venue, etc. However, once the event began, I found myself slowing down, relaxing, and doing what I love – being with others and helping and teaching them tools to be more with themselves and others. With the blocked ear, I felt like I was speaking underwater. I had no idea how loud I was talking and found it took extended effort to stay focused. Fortunately, I was with my trusted co-lead, Ash, who helped ensure nothing was missed.

I guess everything above is a preamble for what I want to speak about today: A recent dissonance that has appeared in my awareness around my purpose and meaningful place in the world. I have had the good fortune of hosting a weekly brothers circle here in San Marcos the past two months, full of rich harvests and insights and a space of healing for many of the men, myself included. Yesterday we ranged in age from 20 to 65 and spent a good portion of the circle sincerely inquiring into each man to level him up in a specific area of life that he was struggling with. For one man, it was faith in light of a terminal illness. For another, his leadership in his intimate relationship, my inner conflict between what I have found deeply satisfying recently and my pre-existing story of what success is supposed to look like. Let me unpack this:

Recently, or more or less for the past three years, I’ve been contemplating, exploring, considering my purpose in the world, my search for meaning, which has shown up as a repeated theme on my blog. I now notice that I may have been missing something directly under my nose. The pain of not feeling on-purpose is due to this fixed idea of what being ‘on-purpose’ is supposed to look like: a pre-defined notion of what being satisfied in my purpose is. My ego wrestles with and opposes the idea that being on purpose might look very different than what it has gripped for so long: success in the masculine sense: having a significant impact, owning a brand or center, being in the limelight, earning fist loads of money changing the world.

When I measure my last couple of years against this idea of success, no wonder I feel like I have fallen short! Being diagnosed with cancer in the middle of a pandemic and spending most of my energy healing myself and nourishing my relationships and emotional intelligence – what a tremendous waste of time (from that vantage point)! But wait a minute – maybe there is something here that I have been missing? What have I discovered, developed, and nourished these past two years? One-one relating, small group interactions, esoteric body-mind-spirit practices, nature, deep healing, sensemaking, poetry, and mysticism.

But what if, just what if…the purpose of this leadership was in these inner realms, in the more feminine aspects of leadership: empathetic, intuitive, passionate, collaborative, instinctual, versus the more traditional masculine individualistic, analytical, decisive, independent, and logical?

Leadership in community, service and teaching are clearly part of my calling and path. However, I realize that while my WHY is clear, I may have been envisioning the wrong HOW and WHAT. As I transition away from Guatemala, returning to Colorado briefly before heading abroad again, I will ponder this possibility and continue to allow my lived experience to challenge my old stories and beliefs. Let’s see what unfolds next. Thanks for being with me.

A Field of Potentialities

I am writing today from my small room in Crestone Colorado. An arctic cold front has moved through Colorado, providing us a foot of snow, and 10F (-12C) temperatures. I moved from Boulder to the Crestone Mountain Zen Center on October 1st. I feel as though I have written a blog post like this before – in fact, I did, in 2011!

9 years later, I am making a similar choice. A synchronistic set of circumstances came together to allow this to happen. First, earlier in the summer, my Zen teacher, Zentatsu Baker Roshi, who was forced to remain in the US due to the pandemic, decided to unretire and began teaching and managing the monastery again. There were some significant leadership changes this summer at the monastery and several of my closest sangha friends over the years agreed to support my teacher through this transition. Suddenly a space that had felt uninviting in recent years was very open and welcoming to me.

In June, Roshi invited me to live at the monastery in any capacity possible. As my health at that time was still very compromised, I knew I would be unable to make an immediate decision. All my advisors were very clear that making big decisions in a state of depression and ill health, was not a good idea! Therefore, I left the decision open as my health improved until I felt more capable of a decision requiring a big change. With time, I noticed my heart was feeling increasingly at ease with the idea of returning to a monastic existence, and there was some excitement at the concept of being invited to participate in a part-time manner, something I will discuss below.

This time, the circumstances are wildly different. First, I will not “be dancing on loves stage with a beautiful Dutch woman” as I wrote 9 years ago. One of the more difficult aspects of moving here was choosing to leave behind two deeply satisfying and nourishing romantic relationships that had developed in recent months. At the monastery, my risk tolerance for coronavirus merges with the risk tolerance of the entire sangha – and that is a very low tolerance. Essentially the group here is self-isolating to keep our residents safe (Three residents are over 70 and my teacher is nearly 85). Aside from essential medical or shopping trips, my only engagement with others outside the monastery will be outside walks or Zoom calls. Anyone with significant exposure outside the monastery must quarantine and test before returning to communal practice life. The positive side of this is that it is as-if the pandemic does not exist here – because of the group self-quarantine, we do not need to wear masks, we eat and work closely together, hugging and touch are encouraged and what was once normal to everyone outside, remains normal here. Today I shared practice and meals with a group of 18 people which feels incredibly nourishing and intimate after the long period of chemo and corona isolation.

Although nearly four weeks have passed since I arrived, a clear sense of timelessness has accompanied living here. The schedule, the first teacher, is repetitive and unforgiving. The wake-up bell rings at 4:30, although many of us need to stir even earlier to prepare for our various practice roles. I am finding such deep nourishment in my daily meditation. Post-chemotherapy, I took an unintended hiatus from regular practice, possibly for the longest period since I began meditating regularly a decade ago. Each morning, despite the cold and darkness, I eagerly seek that cushion, coming back home to one of the most intimate places I have discovered in this life.

I am experimenting with a part-time schedule here, participating in about 2/3 of the daily activities while allowing myself extra space for ensuring I get enough rest to continue my healing. This means I skip the afternoon work period and the evening meditation – I would prefer not to miss this meditation, but it means I would not get to sleep until past 9. Right now, I need a solid 8 hours of sleep to remain healthy and not deplete my immune system. Once I see the clock strike at 8 pm, it’s lights out for me, which seems unbelievable, although completely necessary!

The other benefit of being on a 2/3 schedule is that I have some flexibility to remain connected to the outside world with better frequency and I am continuing to pursue several threads that have become very important to me in the last year. Authentic Relating is one of the primary ones: I am teaching an online course in Authentic Relating and am also mentoring several people in a leadership development course. I have also headed up a crowdfunding project for the Realness Project where we are raising funds to get authentic relating workbooks into prisons to bring some light to incarcerated people who are facing much more difficult and isolated conditions than many of us. There are a few other threads I may describe later, but the point is that my agreement with the staff here makes it possible for me to occasionally miss part of the morning work period for a meeting or to take a couple of days here or there to teach or take an online course. Normally such half-time positions are not possible, but because I have a long relationship and a developed practice with this monastery, we have come to this seemingly mutually beneficial agreement.

I think I’ll leave it here – I had intended to reach into the subtle aspects, the emotional and spiritual shifts and reflections, however, the practical points took over!  I hope to continue writing more consistently and plan to take you all along on this next stage of my healing and evolution!

2020–A Flight Delay

January 2020 did not go as planned. Around the new year I was filled with ambition – beyond the usual new year’s resolutions. I found myself excited to create, to finally build a business and begin sharing my gifts. I bought a website domain, started whiteboarding all of my ideas, and was preparing to take flight. However just before take-off the captain informed me of a delay. A perfect time to reflect on the past half a year. 

Last June I moved back from Asia. I was recovering from a failed community, as my yoga and tantra school was crushed between the combination of a #me-too scandal and woefully weak and misguided leadership in the aftermath. I had not lived in the U.S. for almost a decade except a few short stays or time in my Zen monastery which is like being in no-country. In my mind, I committed myself to at least a year of being a U.S. resident, knowing that otherwise it would be too easy to return abroad at the next opportunity to teach or be in community. I was invited to participate in the creation of a meditation community in Bali and there were opportunities to teach under one of my meditation teachers in either Europe or Mexico. I considered these and other options, but in the end, something was calling me back to the United States. Unable to discern what that call was, all I can say is that it was stronger than the call to continue in the fashion I had been over the last decade.


I found myself in Boulder, renting an apartment, shopping for a car, considering employment opportunities. It all felt surreal. Although I was in my element, many of my friends were now married, had children in elementary school and in general the community had changed – the Googlers, techies and entitled SJW progressive types seemed to be much more present. At least there was a lot more disposable income around for my new business ideas!

I spent the second half of 2019 in exploration mode – I joined circling and t-group communities in Boulder, I participated in a Men’s Retreat and even had the opportunity to assist one of my teachers, David Deida in an intimacy workshop in September. I did a vision quest for my 40th birthday, I was taking online psychology courses, volunteering at yoga festivals, hosting and joining various ceremonies and events and just simply trying everything. I became very interested in a practice called Authentic Relating, a community movement focused on increasing human connection. Its a loose community, with several affiliated groups in different cities, Boulder being a major hub along with Austin and the bay area. These practices resonated strongly with me. I had noticed over the years, mainly in my intimate and family relationships that I was repeating certain patterns, that left relationships strained and I liken it to having my tongue tied and feet stuck in the mud. Through Authentic Relating I was discovering tools to own and reveal my experience, to communicate more effectively, to resolve conflict and to meet others in more intimacy, something I had been craving and seeking for a long time. I drank the Kool-Aid, joined an organization called ART International, took and repeated several of their courses, culminating in a leadership training that prepared me to begin leading these courses myself. I became involved in a non-profit organization offering this precious work to inmates in Colorado. I saw firsthand that these communication and connection skills are applicable to everyone.

Throughout this period, an attribute of mine started to come more to light that genuinely surprised me – that I do not step into leadership or really take up space when opportunities are present. Fundamentally there was a collapse inside me, a sense of not having anything to say and a belief that no one would benefit from what I had to say. I assumed that as a rather extroverted, charismatic Leo it was easy and natural for me to lead. Yet, in retrospect I see that I often relied on the container around me, the systems I was in and was never fully comfortable standing in my own power. One weekend I sat down and wrote down all of the things that I was knowledgeable at, skilled or held significant training or expertise in. Holy Shit! That’s a big list. And then the shame of keeping it all to myself set it. So it was over the new year that I decided it was time to stop holding back.

I just had to deal with one little thing before taking off – a pesky little cough that had been growing worse since October. Frustratingly, it worsened when I was speaking, not the best situation for a teacher or coach. After a couple of failed attempts with my local clinic to troubleshoot the cough with antihistamines, I was referred to a hospital for a couple of x-rays.

And here my friends is the source of the flight-delay: On the way home from the hospital the doctor calls – “Something showed up in your x-ray, we need you to come back for more tests as soon as possible”. And those tests and their results have been the center and focus of my last 3 weeks.  I will continue with the details tomorrow.

Authentic Relating in Prison

I had never been to prison before. In fact, I had been avoiding them as much a possible. A subconscious fear of confinement had existed within me for most of my life. And yet here I am, entering La Vista Women’s prison in Pueblo, Colorado, walking through a metal detector. As you enter and exit the prison you have so spend a few moments in a space locked between too large metal doors. My heart quickened as I waited for the guard to unlock one of the doors. How did I get here?

Several months ago I attended a workshop called The Art of Being Human, which focuses on improving relational skills with other human beings. It is a highly embodied and experiential course, using exercises to help develop skills to create more profound connection, intimacy and trust with those that we are in relationship with. For me this course was like fresh rain after a drought. I had witnessed in myself how a lack of effective communication techniques had created misunderstanding and suffering in my relationships. And I witnessed first hand how several of the communities I had lived in over the years simply lacked these conscious relating tools, that over time led to an inability to navigate out of a number of destructive and painful situations.

After the Art of Being Human course I became inspired to register for the facilitator training in December and to volunteer with the companies non-profit branch which visits prisons in Colorado, offering a similar two-day workshop for inmates. Fast forward a month, and with a team of 5 volunteers, we traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, set ourselves up in a modest Air B&B and prepared to go into the prison the next morning.

The metal door unlocked and I found myself in the visitor room of the prison, a sterile space with many chairs and tables, several humming vending machines against the wall. Several of the inmates were already in the space, and very quickly I relaxed as I began to feel the welcoming and warmth of the women in the room. We shared some laughs as we figured out how to divide 10 stickers into 24 name tags and prepare the space for the two-day workshop.

The course proceeded and throughout the two days I was able to participate and help facilitate the growth and opening of this amazing group of women. It was incredible to observe the shift of energy from the first morning until the second afternoon when we closed. One of the biggest sources of conflict in women’s prison is rooted in personal relationships, and again and again the women shared how the tools and practices they were receiving were providing immediate relief and improvement in their relationships. For me, there was also a tremendous amount of learning and growth. During lunch or other breaks I was able to learn much more about prison life, the challenges and the some of the surprising sustenance’s and resources that exist within prison life.

During the exercises themselves, I discovered much more about the personal stories of the women – and I was really confronted with the assumptions I held in my mind of who ‘these people’ are and what they are like. Most of these assumptions were really challenged and had to be discarded as I saw that many of these women are just like you and me, except they may have made a mistake in their life, struggled with addiction or have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A very profound moment for me was when I role played with one of the inmates who was being released in a week. In front of the entire group we practiced scenarios that she was soon to be challenged with as she returns to civilian life. There were so many subtle aspects potentially pulling her back towards prison, yet with the support of the facilitation team and the other inmates, I witnessed this woman gain a confidence and insight into how to proceed and I felt much more assured that she would be successful.

I left La Vista with a sense of great connection, humbleness and desire to continue working in this field and helping offer such profound tools to people who desire them and don’t typically have the means to access them. If you are interested in supporting this project, please consider making a tax deducible donation!

Here is a short video from a previous visit to La Vista prison: