“If you have a deep refined physical practice, like Chinese martial arts, occasionally you will have subtle experiences of transformation. When you go to practice the next day, you try to recreate the experience. Often you fail and it is gone. But sometimes you succeed, and then the next day you recreate it again, and then again, the next day. As the experience of transformation becomes more familiar, it becomes easier to identify, generate, and eventually it will integrate into the “fabric’ of your practice. This is called the ‘Golden Thread.’

In the beginning you are using a yardstick to measure something that should be measured in millimeters, so it will seem subtle and ephemeral. For this reason, if you don’t practice everyday, Chinese martial arts can be frustrating — you will keep losing your gains. Or as the common Chinese saying has it; “It is like rowing a boat upstream, if you stop you get carried back downstream.” – Scott Park Phillips

And, that is ok too, because then we re-learn, re-member, and the discoveries, because they have been lost, when they come back, they are more potent, more realized. Sometimes through the loss of something we once had, we understand it’s significance more and that helps us understand why we would put our energy into trying to create it. This is especially helpful if we are having a struggle with an internal or external voices of an authority that say we should or shouldn’t do things in order to be “good enough” or to “measure up.” Through loss and the understanding that is gained from it, we can start to have real motivation inside to create something for ourselves. This goes way beyond the shallow world of measuring sticks.


These experiences of transformation are often small… mostly, the biggest transformations are ones we barely notice, partially because of perspective, like Scott Park Phillips says, “using a yardstick to measure something that should be measured in millimeters, so of course it will seem subtle and ephemeral.” I think there are two transformations one is fairly measurable and one is not.

THE FIRST TRANSFORMATION: The body is built to adapt and it is built for efficiency. Anything you do with your body, it will get better at. When we attempt to do something, a signal from our center goes out to the periphery of our body telling our limbs to move this way and that way and then there is another pathway that actually re-traces those steps backwards and this is how the body learns. It’s like looking back at your life and learning from your past experiences. The body actually has an in-built mechanism that happens automatically, basically whether you like it or not! This is why we get better with practice. For example, learning to play the guitar, at first it’s impossible to stretch your fingers all over the place and hold strings down and then with some practice, it starts to get easier, faster, and sounds better! This is why a focus on just getting better at something is perhaps, not the most profound place to put your focus. You will get better.

THE SECOND TRANSFORMATION:  The second transformation is the one that is very ephemeral and impossible to measure, yet, leads to the most profound multiplying of gains. It is a shift in our relationship to ourselves and to our practice / work. I notice myself and everyone else who has a practice go through this feeling of urgency around wanting things to change. Often that is the driving force that brings us to a practice. The practice promises us freedom from pain and we just have to do it. Many of us who went to school and were taught by American culture to work hard and pull ourselves up by our own britches, get to work, either doing the practice in a way that we feel would deserve an “A” or in a way that we feel would be productive according to a capitalistic system of “working hard-is-what-earns-you-a-result.”  And some of us, who just have done that kind of working hard for so long and for so many times, just fall apart and can’t seem to practice at all.

The trouble with approaching yourself and your practice with an urgency around wanting to fix or change things is that there is an inherent type of resistance there. The resistance is in not wanting the experience you are having. You are doing something to have a different experience. In order for a transformation to take place, there has to be an openness. We create that openness though a beginners mind. Imagine walking through the forest and meeting an animal you have never seen or been with before, for the first time, you wouldn’t be coming at it with a bunch of judgements or trying to change it right away, or even trying to touch it with your hand, you might touch it / attempt to know it with other senses like seeing, smelling and listening.

 if it wanted to connect with you, you might hold out your hand with every sense alive, you would touch it with your whole heart… your whole capacity to feel, sense, honor… it’s kind of scary because you are going into the unknown and you could get hurt. There is a vulnerability there because of the opening. There is also an opening there because there is curiosity and the intention is not to change the animal, but to meet fully, for the first time. In a practice, your body is the forest, your awareness is you walking through the forest witnessing all the feelings, and the feelings (emotional and physical) are the animal.

I think we can often come at ourselves without checking in and just assert a bunch of actions on our bodies through some pre-conceived ideas or assumptions about ourselves and that is sort of like washing your car even though it’s already clean just because there is an idea in your mind that you should wash your car because it helps prolong the life if the car… you will get different results than if you wait for it to be dirty and then wash it… like you might start actually wearing away the paint and negatively impacting the car like that. You might actually shorten the life of the car!

In my experience, having a daily practice has shown me just how different I can be. There are familiar qualities to me, like where I hold tightnesses, where I am vulnerable, different depressions and boredoms or excitement and inspirations etc. but each day, these are different and some days they are more willing to do things than other days… I think that seeing how much things change has really softened my urgency and helped me to inquire more deeply around… wondering what created this openness? What created this tightness? What happens if I push this thing around? What happens if I don’t? What happens if the only action I take is to feel it more fully? The buddhists are famous for saying that the awareness of something IS THE CHANGE.


Having a practice is the way that I take care of myself so that I create an internal stability even as the external world may be totally unstable and unreliable. Committing to a practice is a platform to develop the kind of strength that is stability.

The Sufi’s have a phrase that describes this quality, Ya Matin (yea ma-TEEN): “Al Matin is the kind of strength that makes one consistent and dependable. At the scale of the whole universe, this balanced rhythm is an expression of divine omnipotence. It gives the strength to keep on keeping on. It involves mastery as well as stability. You become like a rock or a mountain. You feel grounded in the world because you are grounded in your own self and this gives you integrity as a human being. A quality that indicates this quality in your life is the presence of rhythm, daily rhythm. The power that comes from this rhythmic existence is a kind of balance, harmony, and wholeness. Al – Matin gives you the strength to handle both success and failure. It is the strength to balance and harmonize your individual needs with the needs of the group.” – Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the Ninety Nine Names of Allah

Through a practice we develop the strength to handle both success and failure, and the strength to keep moving towards what we want even through success and failure. We also develop the strength to balance and harmonize our individual needs with the needs of the group / world at large.



“This is a practice you do in every mood and circumstance. It provides stability because even in the worse scenario, you are showing yourself you can still search inside yourself for deeper understanding and resourcing.  It is not how well you excel at the practice that matters – it’s your relationship to doing it that is most important. You are learning to explore, to make mistakes and love yourself in the process, how to use your energy in a way that honors your limitations. There is no learning without love and there is no practice without process. Practicing simply with the goal of doing something better is not a process.” – Elijah Nisenboim

Let go of the goal of doing it better and instead focus on searching yourself for deeper understanding and resourcing. This is concentration. Teach yourself to concentrate by cultivating the inner aliveness that makes real concentration possible. The best technique for learning to concentrate is to awaken a loving interest for the object of concentration and to use this love for one-pointed attention. In a practice, YOU are the object of concentration and you get to witness yourself through your relationship to doing the practice and what is revealed to you when you attempt to do it. Committing to create free time in your life, committing to having a commitment and knowing you are about to do a practice will show you so much about yourself, your life & your patterns. It will show you:

  • How to care for yourself so you can show up for things
  • How to organize your time and your energy in order to feel well enough and be present enough for your life to show up in the way that you want to
  • What your boundaries actually are
  • What you need in order to be centered and grounded
  • How you treat yourself
  • What’s happening in your relationships with others
  • & more!


With back pain, it is not strength alone that brings healing, it is the endurance to hold ourselves with integrity over longer and longer durations of time. Developing endurance is partly about the ability to keep moving towards what we want even with success and failure. We learn what distractions are and to not give our energy or attention to things that pull us away from our center or just leave us feeling emptier. We learn how to actually work with our pain in a way that creates a bridge for the way forward instead of losing heart and giving up on our hopes and dreams. We stop complaining about what we have to work with as it compares to others and we put our attention on our work and see what we can create with what we have. We lose interest in abandoning ourselves in a search for a different experience and assume this experience is as good as any to be present with and it might even be that, although it’s challenging, it could be just what we need. We learn to watch our emotional reaction to the pain and instead of panicking or imagining a terrible future, we use our pain as a reminder to get present, to be curious, to notice and feel our physical and emotional experience. We are able to use the pain as a reminder to come back to, or maintain center, to concentrate and make the adjustments internally or externally to our aim for what we want to create. This is endurance. I personally think endurance is one of the most emotionally challenging, transformational and beneficial qualities to work towards. It has immense payoff because we find ourselves blowing our own minds with what we are capable of and what we imagine is possible for ourselves. We become our own biggest support system.


Commitments can feel limiting in a certain way, but the real secret is that working with limitation is how we learn to create the most freedom for ourselves. It is through the creativity and adaptation that has to happen in order to keep the commitment that we grow tremendously in our capacity to be creative and free in the world. It is actually the tether / the grounded-ness of the limitation that teaches us how to cultivate incredible freedom. That’s transformation.

Having a commitment is sort of like taking a drug because the drug shifts your perspective and suddenly you are free of things because you see a new way. Taking a drug also helps you make a commitment because you know that while you are on that drug you don’t have a choice to do something else, you are going to be inside of a certain experience for a certain amount of time whether you like it or not. The drug helps you set aside your preferences and get really present with just what is because you know there is no way out. You can’t run from your experience so you find a way to go into it deeper.

A practice, makes you do this on your own without the help of a drug, you have to choose to be present and to stay committed with every breath. That process of doing it on your own is empowering and makes it grounded; it is slower but it makes it integrated because the process you go through to get there, is it.  The transformation happens through the process. For example, the process of learning a pose, is the pose… sometimes we get fixated on the end result looking a certain way and we forget that the attempt IS it. The pose is just a tool / structure that we commit to that helps us do the internal transformation work. Without that limitation and structure, we can’t concentrate our personal power to do the transformational work. The practice provides a structure that is like a talisman.


In a practice there are moments of bliss and moments of misery. Sometimes weeks and months of bliss and weeks and months of misery. But, if we manage to stay committed, even through the experiences we would rather not be there for, then experiencing our misery can also become generative. We have to feel our pain in order to heal it. We can box it up, talk about it from the outside & live our life avoiding it and anything that reminds us of it, but that seems to mean that we have this ball and chain that follows us around all the time and dictates the experience we can and cannot have, and even causes us to lose trust in ourselves and our ability to accept / allow / grow / and transform hard things… If we can find a way to feel our feelings, move through our resistance to experiences, to allow “what is,” even little bits at a time, then we find incredible fortitude and deep trust in ourselves to be able to be with hard things.

This is how we open the door for ourselves. It’s weird, but the door doesn’t open by us running away from our experience or even trying to transform our experience because both of those are forms of resistance. The key to the lock is to welcome our experience in and allow it. In this welcoming, we surrender even trying to get the door open. We begin to see that all things come and go, everything has a beginning, middle, and end… that “this too shall pass.” It is through the letting go that the door opens. It’s an internal shift of allowing our experiences. We begin to trust ourself to be able to be with our life and our pain. We become open again, to life and all the possibilities that each day brings. This can build a sense of safety internally. There is empowerment in that because then we have choice. Then we don’t have to run if we don’t want to. We can stay or we can go. That is stability.