Category Archives: Life Coaching

Life Coaching is a designed alliance between coach and client where we create a space of inquiry – an ongoing, living and dynamic conversation within the coaching relationship that continually returns all the power back to you, the client. Our basic premise is that you (the client) already know the most appropriate and effective answers to every question or challenge you may have in your life, even if those answers appear to be obscured, concealed, or hidden inside. The space and process of inquiry is the opening door to transformation – where we discover what your best answers might be – and then we create a plan to put those optimal answers into play in your life. Remember, insight without action is illusion. At it’s best, life coaching is a powerful process for emotional self-management and cognitive-behavioral restructuring in the client’s life.

“Spanking: The Ultimate Disciplinary Failure”

Let’s begin with the essential distinction between punishment (arbitrary, harsh or cruel mistreatment for wrong-doing) and discipline (which is an organized method of instruction). So zen is a discipline, and mathematics, and Aikido. Hitting children for any reason is not discipline, it’s abuse and punishment.

Next let’s agree to the assertion that for the most part, parents are doing the best they can with the information and resources they have at the time. If they could do better, they would. This of course does not include those who are Cluster-B. People with that level of psychiatric pathology have entirely different agendas which may include feeding off the emotional pain of others. I’m not talking about them – separate conversation there.

A second assertion is that most parent are unaware that there are radically different options for interacting with their children that produce optimal outcomes for both parent and child. We tend to parent the way we ourselves were parented. Most of us were raised in some version of authoritarian parenting – do as I say or else…

Kids raised under authoritarian parenting grow up and become parents who will either apply authoritarian parenting with their own children (I turned out ok) or were so wounded by it that they rebel and become permissive parents.

Unfortunately, permissive parenting doesn’t work any better than authoritarian parenting, because kids need boundaries. They need to know where the edges are. They need to know that their parents are in charge, that they will keep them safe, that their parents are on their side and will teach them how to be people who can self-manage and be effective problem-solvers.

What does work is connection. Every shred of research over the last century – since John Bowlby wrote “Attachment”  has reinforced our understanding that the more secure our bonding and attachments are with others, the healthier and more functional we are as human beings. People hear important ideas best from those they trust most. This is especially true in the relationships between parent and child.

As Pam Leo says in her essential book “Connection Parenting” – “In every interaction with a child we can determine what to do by asking one simple question: Is what I am about to say or do going to build and strengthen the connection with my child or will it weaken and break it?” and then just act accordingly. This applies at every level, scalable from one-on-one to considering an entire parenting philosophy.

Punishment doesn’t work because it doesn’t teach. Humans cannot learn when they are being hurt. Furthermore, hitting kids creates an attachment break – a drop in connection, loss of trust, and generates fear instead of respect.

It is absolutely unnecessary to rule children through fear. In fact ruling children through fear is counterproductive and dangerous. Fear literally alters the structures of the child’s growing brain. When they are in fear, when kids are being hurt by those they love and trust who apply fear, the result is that children CANNOT learn. The punishment itself destroys any possibility of learning – the child’s thinking shuts down – they cannot process their painful experience, and their attention is focused on how to be smarter – to not get caught next time. Punishment and the use of fear creates liars and bullies. Kids who are hurt are far more likely to hurt other children as well. We have known about these correlations for decades.

Negative behavior is caused by unmet needs. Decode the behavior, meet the unmet need and the behavior will change. Works every time. What keeps these assaults on children in place is a combination of poor skills in emotional self-management among adults, lack of empathy and compassion, ignorance, denial, laziness, and the idealization of abuse and abusers.

As I said above, humans cannot learn when they are being hurt, our thinking shuts down completely. The lessons a spanking teaches are:

– that you are powerless and I can hurt you whenever I wish,
– that might makes right,
– that love is pain and when I hurt you that means I love you,
– that violence is an acceptable resolution for conflict,
– that you must learn to lie and deceive so you will not get caught,
– that people who claim to love you have a right to hurt you,
– that people who claim to love you have a right to violate your boundaries,
– that your consent doesn’t matter,
– that your physical integrity is not safe,

Spanking locks resentment, anger, fear into an internal emotional conflict with a confusion that conflates love and pain, and frequently turns to hatred. It damages self worth and creates behavioral problems that take up to two years to begin to manifest. And mostly it is a behavioral demonstration that our own needs are deeply unmet and we lack sufficient resources as a parent. We lack emotional self-management skills, and we need to find, learn and apply methods for conflict resolution that do not include assault and physical, emotional and mental violence.

Spanking is also a set up for domestic violence in later relationships, for sexual abuse and furthermore, if you did that to me I would have you in court and charged with assault. Why should those laws be any different for a child?

We absolutely have real clarity about what it takes to raise children into healthy, fully-functional, kindly and capable adults who are able to have nurturing relationships and make meaningful work. We (in the human domains of knowing) have understood most of this for decades, but convincing parents to give up their barbaric practices and to do what works best is an appalling uphill battle.

As Laura Markham says, “If we’re serious about raising good kids, we need to use methods that teach kids to manage themselves. Spanking does not do that. Instead, it teaches kids to be afraid of us, which is no basis for love. It teaches them to be sneaky so they won’t be caught doing something wrong. It teaches kids that they are bad, so they are more likely to behave badly. It teaches kids to use violence when they want to solve a problem. And it keeps them from taking responsibility to improve their own behavior, because they “externalize the locus of control,” which means they only behave because an authority figure makes them, rather than behaving because they want to.”

Violence against children is what is most broken in this civilization – physical, emotional, mental. Until we change this, nothing else in the overculture will ever change. Look at the world around you. I rest my case.

“However we treat the child, the child will treat the world.” – Pam Leo

Carmine Leo – ©2001-2023

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Mastering the Internal Critic – Our Gremlin

The voice of the internal critic lives inside our very own head. There are many names for this ancient, invisible, and enormously influential wee beastie – the voice-over, the narrator, the internal critic, the gremlin, your conscience, your trip advisor, the mind, the ego, and so on. For the sake of brevity and convenience lets just call it a gremlin.

A gremlin’s job is to maintain the status quo. It’s always the voice of limitation. What it wants is to keep you safe, to keep you in a box, to never take a risk, never be exposed or vulnerable, to never get hurt. Nearly all our gremlins are created sometime in childhood as a survival response when a perceived threat to survival happened. When we were kids someone said something negative and hurtful, and they said it often enough over time that as a matter of self-defense we internalized their voice and started saying it to ourselves. We do this simply because it hurts less if we say it to ourselves than it does if someone else says it to us. Eventually we forget that commentary came from someone else, and we just believe that this noise, this internalized voice is telling the truth about who, what or how we are.

The problem is that human beings like and need to be fulfilled, or else life is not much fun. In order to be fulfilled we need to take risks, change behavior, grow and learn, try new things, explore new territory, stretch and develop new masteries, and etc. When we try to do all those new things, that’s when the gremlin shows up.

The gremlin says:

You can’t do that! You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough, young enough, sexy enough, thin enough, rich enough, healthy enough – whatever. You’re too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too stupid, too smart, too white, too black, too sexy, not sexy enough, too male, too female – whatever the pairs of opposites are that come quickly to mind – you’re just not good enough, you are not worthy of it, you don’t deserve it, you better not even try.

The thing is that your gremlin is really not your enemy and you’ll never get rid of it. It is actually your friend because its entire interest is pegged to your survival. For example, if you are going to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, you better listen to that voice when it says, “No, don’t do that, you’ll die!” So there are indeed times when you do want to listen to your gremlin.

The trouble is it’s really out of control. It generalizes over everything and it’s often confused about what actually concerns your survival and what does not. It’s highly sensitive and not very smart. Wait. Let me say that again:

A gremlin is highly sensitive and not very smart. (This is an amygdala function – always alert – very poor distinctions.)

Part of the challenge is also that it was created in childhood, so while its interest was our survival, it was usually focused on our emotional survival, not our actual physical survival. We had an experience where we felt we would die of embarrassment or shame, so the gremlin kicked in and now it rallies just as strongly about talking in front of people as it would have if we got chased by a bear. It cares about you not ever being embarrassed as much as it cares about you not ever stepping in front of a bus.

We want to take our power back, and specifically we want to reclaim our power to choose freely yes or no in all the places where we have the power of choice. The trick is for us to become in charge of our gremlin, so we can make our own choices about whether or not something is a real or perceived threat to our survival, instead of letting our gremlin choose for us. We want to use the gremlin as an advisor, but one we can override and say no to when appropriate.

What happens to most people is that they think they are the gremlin. We make no distinction between the human being, who we really are, and the survival voice of the gremlin going off inside our head. As a result, we buy into everything it says, because we think it’s us.

The way we work on this, and it’s very powerful work, is to learn to distinguish yourself from the gremlin. We have to see the difference between the gremlin and who we really are as a being. That is when we get our power back, the power to choose freely, right now in the present moment. What gives a gremlin power is its ability to hide, to remain invisible. So when we shine a spotlight on it, we take back our power to choose what we want for ourselves.

Once we see it, once we really know the gremlin is not who we are, then it’s just a matter of listening to the gremlin, evaluating what it says, and then choosing freely yes or no. Then the gremlin becomes an assistant, an advisor, or perhaps on occasion even a co-pilot.”Yes yes, you’re probably right. If I jump off this cliff I’ll just go splat and die, so I won’t do it. Instead I’ll go out for pizza with my friends, figure out how to open up emotionally a little more, and maybe they can help me understand what’s not working. Thank you for sharing.”


“You know, I probably won’t die if I go talk in front of all these people and it’s something I really need to do to grow my business, so thank you for sharing but I’m busy now. Please go sit on the bench until I’m done.”

There are three steps to handling a gremlin:

1) First step is to hear that inner voice, that commentary, and acknowledge that it’s not you – that it’s a gremlin. The criteria for recognizing whether or not something is a gremlin is to ask one question, “Is that voice speaking to my greatness or to my possibilities? Or is it speaking to my belief in my limitations?” (Notice how hard it is to imagine and admit that we might have possibility or some greatness stashed away here…)

All this requires is a process of inquiry and the honesty to tell yourself the truth. Just look and see. That insight and recognition has to come from inside you – nobody else can do this for you – just look inside and see what’s true.

2) Second step is for you to shine the spotlight on it. Ask yourself what exactly does the gremlin say? Many of my clients actually write down everything their gremlin says, word for word. Sometimes it’s one sentence, sometimes three pages, but externalizing the gremlin’s narrative will help you see the difference between who you really are and what the gremlin is telling you about yourself and the world around you.

Also if appropriate, give the gremlin a name, describe what it looks like, etc. I’ve had clients who have drawn, painted and/or created a sculpture of their gremlin out of play dough. When I was doing this work on myself I got one of those rubbery finger puppet monsters and named him Fred. One day I realized there was also a female version of that voice, so I got another finger puppet monster and named her Jane. (no offense intended to anyone named Fred or Jane.) Lemme tell ya – we have had some very enlightening conversations over the years…

3) Third step in how to handle the gremlin – in that moment when it starts yackin at you, the criticisms, the warnings, the admonitions – what can you say to it that gets it on the sidelines, puts it aside, moves it out of your way so you can move forward and accomplish the goal or objective, whatever it is you intend or want to achieve?

The point is that your gremlin is not actually your enemy. There is no need to kill it off completely and it’s not possible to do that anyway. That’s just resistance, and resistance inevitably creates persistence. Learn to work with the gremlin, but remember and realize that you actually have the power to choose.

The gremlin is not you, and in and of itself it has no power beyond what we surrender to it. Remember – it’s highly sensitive and not very smart. The gremlin cannot recognize the difference between a real threat versus a perceived threat – between a 3 year old in a tantrum, a pissed-off spouse, or a hungry bear. To the gremlin, anything that looks like trouble of any kind is going to be translated into a 3 alarm fire. It holds no distinctions – we do.

Stop – Listen – Distinguish – Reclaim Your Power – Choose – Act.

I hope you find this useful. If gremlin work is of interest to you, give me a shout.

Warm Regards,

© 2018
Carmine Leo

Food: Serious as a Heart Attack

At 9:15 PM on Tuesday April 2, 2007, just as the opening credits for that evening’s episode of Star Trek Enterprise started rolling, I had a massive heart attack and died. Three times in fact. I died on my living room floor, in the ambulance and once again in the ER. Long story full of heavy drama, cliff-hanger close calls, amazing technologies and personal transformations, but the upshot was that I spent 6 days in a cardiac ICU and generated well over a hundred grand in medical debt. The nurses later told me that only 4 percent survive the kind of heart attack I had.

Very. Close. Call. Yep.


Coming out of that event I was seriously disabled. A 50-foot walk to the mailbox at the end of my driveway required a 45 minute nap afterwards. Nonetheless, in between naps I could go online and I did. My focus was, “What the hell happened?” I had no significant lifestyle risk factors, no family history of heart disease and had been a strict vegetarian for over 40 years, eating a diet that included no meat, fish, birds or eggs, or anything containing those as ingredients. I did eat dairy products, including milk, cheeses, yogurt and butter, but those were the only animal products I consumed and I had them in small amounts. I was 56 at the time of my heart attack, just 3 weeks before my 57th birthday.

How could I – a low-fat, high complex-carb vegetarian eating a plant-based diet as recommended by everyone from Michael Pollan to Michelle Obama – end up with a host of serious and chronic health issues and have one of them kill me dead? (Yes, obviously they brought me back, but that was entirely a function of good luck, modern medical technology and especially the clot-buster injection that went straight into my heart, and then later, the arterial stent. And obviously I was not dead-dead. Nobody comes back from that. I flat-lined. Or, as Miracle Max may have said, I was “…mostly dead.”)

I ate all the “right things,” exercised regularly, didn’t eat “the bad stuff” such as saturated fat, and yet I still got whacked. If I was this vulnerable to heart disease, then something was seriously wrong with how I was living my life, and the first suspect was my diet. That heart attack required that I re-examine all my closely held beliefs about nutrition, health and food. I began intensively researching this topic, and was eventually fortunate enough to find some really significant information and resources. More on that later.

First off let me remind you that I’m not a doctor and I’m not giving medical advice. I’m a survivor of a massive heart attack of a type that very few survive. The nurses and docs warned me that the damage to my heart and cardiovascular system was so severe that they gave me a survival prognosis of three months to maybe two years tops. As of this writing it’s been nearly ten years since. For me, understanding what happened and what to do about it was literally a matter of life and death. While I am no longer afraid of death at all, I am rather fond of my life and am not terribly anxious for it to end. My understanding of this issue was then and continues to be a top priority for me.

At the time of my heart attack I was shocked to discover that my total cholesterol was normal (179) according to conventional wisdom, but that I was prediabetic (A1C of 11.2 so BG maybe around 280 if I remember correctly), that I weighed about 215 (give or take), that I had IBS, high blood pressure, serious arthritis and a host of other underlying conditions. Nobody tells us that half of all fatal heart attacks occur in people with “normal” cholesterol, and they certainly do not advertise that 70 percent of diabetics die of heart disease. Clearly there are direct causative correlations between those two. And now there is even some early data saying that Alzheimer’s may be a form of Type 3 diabetes. We’ll see – more research necessary there.

However. It turns out that everything we’ve been told about fat and dietary health is backwards and comes from a profit-based collusion between government, big agriculture, the food processing industry and the big pharma companies. It’s not that they are in some massive conspiracy, just that everyone’s greed for profits has produced an interlocking set of belief systems that is extremely toxic and damaging to us all. It started with Ancel Keys and his faked research and deceptive cholesterol reports after World War II and the pattern went on from there. It’s called “the lipid hypothesis” and it’s one of the most heinous deceptions in modern medicine.

There is no causal relationship between cholesterol levels and heart disease. The lipid hypothesis is a health scare that has been completely invented, made up out of nothing and sold to the American public using every marketing and advertising technique available to Madison Avenue. If the dietary advice about low-fat diets really worked, why then are the rates for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity still sky-rocketing?  I – as a lifelong low-saturated fat plant-eater vegetarian – should have been completely exempt from heart disease. Nope.

It took me two years of research before I discovered, worked out and fixed the culprits in my food supply. I experimented and played with my food and swapped things around until I developed real certainty about what was optimal. I stopped eating any grains or carbs, no sugars or sweeteners, and although altogether the conversion and transformation took about 3 years total, I eventually even quit eating plants at all. The result is that my daily intake of carbs is typically below 20 grams per day, and consistently less than 10 grams.

Turns out that there are two kinds of human metabolism – fat-driven ketosis, where we metabolize ketone bodies, and the sugar/carbohydrate-driven insulin-based metabolism. Ketosis and the fat-based diet is how we evolved, but as a fall-back for times when meat is scarce we can survive on carbs. It’s not optimal, and we suffer for it, but once we get back to a meat diet we can recover very quickly.

Fat doesn’t make you fat and it’s not fat that kills you. The culprit is sugar. And guess what? Every gram of carbohydrate you eat is nothing more than a gram of glorified sugar. Furthermore, obesity (with some rare exceptions) is a symptom of metabolic starvation. When we eat fat it becomes fuel and it burns clean. When we eat carbohydrates and sugars our body thinks we are in starvation and it converts much of that sugar to fat, storing it for later. The problem is that sugar does not burn clean – it requires insulin, and excessive insulin generates severe inflammation, glycation, insulin resistance and eventually hyperinsulinemia, which of course leads to the big 5 – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and many types of the sugar-derived cancers.

The reality is that nutrient-rich traditional fats have nourished healthy human population groups for hundreds of thousands (and quite likely, millions) of years. Humans are natural-born fat-seekers and fat-eaters. Remember, 50 to 60 percent of the total caloric value of human breast milk is from the saturated fat it contains, and that nutritional requirement does not go away when we wean.

Eat this:
Butter, whole raw milk and whole raw cheeses
Beef and lamb tallow
Chicken, goose and duck fat
bacon fat
Egg yolks
Marine oils (like cod liver oil)
all fatty meats

I find it interesting that medical researchers call this the “French Paradox” because the fatty ingredients above are what make French cuisine so amazingly delicious, yet as a people, the French have a significantly lower rate of heart disease and rates of death by heart attack when compared to Americans. The same high saturated fat ingredient list contributes to the healthier aspects of the Mediterranean diet, which produces health outcomes very similar to what happens in France. In Okinawa, where we find the longest-lived people on the planet, the primary fat is from pork and pork products, which contributes a significant percentage of their daily caloric intake. Saturated fats are so important to our health that if we don’t eat enough of them in our foods then our body will make them out of carbohydrates. This is also part of the reason that people eating a low-fat diet have such consistently high cholesterol levels. If we don’t eat sufficient cholesterol then our body has to make it, and our blood levels spike. We need that cholesterol for every single cell membrane in our body, as well as for all our neurotransmitters. Ever wonder why low-fat dieters are so susceptible to mood disorders?

I recommend reading the ingredients list on every food item we buy. If it contains any of the following 5 ingredients, don’t buy it and certainly don’t eat it:

Avoid these:
1)  enriched flour (usually white and heavily refined),
2)  white sugar,
3)  high-fructose corn syrup,
4)  partially hydrogenated vegetable oils of any kind,
5)  fully hydrogenated vegetable oils of any kind.

The following laboratory-developed and machine-processed fats listed can cause serious degenerative diseases:

All hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils including hydrogenated lard
Soy, corn and safflower oils
Cottonseed oil
Canola oil
All plant fats heated to very high temperatures in processing and frying

When you add in high-fructose corn syrup to the mix, along with all the chemical additives, pesticides and whatever leaches from plastics into our foods, is it any wonder that our diet is killing us? I just read a recent study that high fructose corn syrup is the number one favorite nutrient preferred by cancer cells.

Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, thyroid problems, high blood pressure, arthritis, ADHD, autism, osteoporosis, dental caries and gum disease, obesity, allergies, many kinds of cancers, reproductive dysfunction and sterility – all these have significant contributing factors that arise in some degree from our diet, and the quality of the foods we eat and don’t eat.

For over 5 years I only ate fat and meat and drank only water. Period. 80 percent or more of my daily calories came from animal fats (butter, lard, pork fat, tallow and so on) and about 15 percent came from meat proteins. When I’m thirsty I drink water. That’s it. Although this time of year (August) when the wild blueberries are ripe on my land, I might have a handful on the way down to go canoeing on the river that is the western boundary of my place. I see no negative effects from this so far, but the quantities are small and the frequency is low.

My metabolism stays in nutritional ketosis. I’ve lost well over 50 pounds of belly fat and weigh in around 160 give or take a few pounds. My IBS vanished, and so did my GERD and arthritis. My blood pressure is 110 over 70. My A1c is between 4.2 and 4.4,  and regular blood testing shows my BG levels consistently run between 85 and 105, so I’m no longer prediabetic. Total cholesterol is about 170, my triglycerides are at 42 and even the plaque in my arteries has been diminishing. I’m in the best health I’ve been in since I was 20, in spite of the old damage to my heart muscle from the CVE in ’07.

My cardiologist, when he found out I was eating a primal diet (some might call it paleo but I don’t because I go way beyond that), just went batshit crazy, jumping all over my case about how I should be on statins and eating very low-fat. I flat out refused the statins. Then I asked him, if all he said was true then how did he explain my blood chemistry results? He couldn’t. I eventually had to fire him because he refused to wake up to the fact that nearly everything he knew and advised about food, nutrition and my health was not only incorrect, but ass-backwards. If you need a doctor, find one who is paleo (or primal) friendly.

If you like to eat plants, then I highly recommend you follow the meal plan of my good friend Steve Cooksey, who is a classic example of an insulin-dependent T2 diabetic who no longer requires insulin or any other meds. (If you eat the way the ADA recommends you will stay sick, stay insulin-dependent and you will die a miserable death for no reason.)

If you don’t like eating plants and want to experience the most robust health possible for humans, then go full-on zero carb and follow my friend Esmée La Fleur’s elegant eating plan here:

That is the simplest way of eating that humans can follow – eat meat, drink water. End of story.

For those of you who love the science and the details, I recommend Nora Gedgaudas – links to her videos and her book can be found here:

Primal Body, Primal Mind – Beyond the Paleo Diet

You should be aware that eating this way will generate a lot of push-back from people who have no idea what they are talking about – friends, family, poorly informed true believers such as vegans and dieticians and so on, even many doctors. They have not lived this experience and they are operating from conviction founded upon belief. Instead of listening to them, just trust your body. Do the work that growth requires, heal and live well.

It can take a while to adapt to zero carb and ketosis but once you do, you will be amazed at how quickly you will heal, how great your body feels and how effortless this way of life is.

For more background, I also highly recommend you read

“The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability”  by Lierre Keith


The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet   by Nina Teicholz

Also from Nina, this terrific video debunking all the nonsense assertions about
health hazards from red meat – what is the real science about it:

“Science and Politics of Red Meat in 2021” 

As well as:

“The Carnivore Diet” by Shawn Baker

For a female perspective on this journey to understanding food, nutrients, and body health,
here is my partner Jenny’s process  in three parts on her blog – Our Daily Crime:

Part 1:
The Politics of Food: Questions

Part 2:
The Politics of Food: Reluctant Journey

Part 3:
The Politics of Food: Ideology

And also please read the essays and reports on my friend’s great research web site: L. Amber O’Hearn is a data scientist by profession with a background in math, computer science, linguistics, and psychology. She has been studying and experimenting with low-carb, ketogenic diets since 1997, and more recently writing and speaking about her findings. Her review on the evolutionary appropriateness and benefit of weaning babies onto a meat-based, high fat, low carb diet, was included as testimony defending Professor Tim Noakes in his recent trial. Amber has been eating a plant-free diet since 2009.

Ivor Cummins on calcium scores and the root causes of CVD, Part 1

Ivor Cummins – Part 2 – Healing CVD

Here’s a bit of our evolutionary history, human predatory patterns – marrow – us as fat eaters:

Dr. Miki Ben-Dor maintains we have always been eating some plants, but his evidence seems to show it’s been less than 20 percent of our daily caloric intake. Personally I consider them either garnish or medicine and don’t generally partake. If you can take some and not suffer consequences then good for you, but others, like my partner, she can’t even have a few spinach leaves under her scrambled eggs without 3 days of fibromyalgia pain thereafter. Up to you – figure out what works and do that more.

A good text recap of the podcast –

the podcast: (about 90 minutes)
What Have Humans Evolved Eating – Meat or Plants? Miki Ben-Dor, PhD – Peak Human Podcast

© 2016-2020
Carmine Leo

Who Are You?

Yes. I mean that.


Who are you?

Most people have no idea what to say when asked that question. In fact, most people have no idea even of what to think when asked that question. It’s a show-stopper.

And Byron Katie ( ) adds an additional layer of confusion and exponentially-explosive possibility when she asks that question in a marvelously expanded way, “Who are you without your story?”

You want to cause trouble, ask THAT question. It’s a sure-fire way to stir things up. Works every time.

One of the deepest and most troubling curses of the modern age – and I suspect with a few rare exceptions this has been true of humans for millennia, at least since that moment when we left our lives as foragers and took up agriculture – is this mis-identification of self (identity) as form or content. In other words, we believe we are our story: our thoughts, our feelings, our roles, our beliefs, our doctrine and dogma, our jobs, our cars, our relationships, our wounds, our bodies, our history and so on.

We have come to believe we are the construct – that survival-driven, painfully and carefully-built assemblage of identification-with. We have lost touch with the magnificent experience of being (in the moment and in the felt-sense experience of our bodies) and have come to believe we are the story about the doing and having of our day-to-day lives. The relentless machinery of our survival mind now identifies content as self and self as content, and our survival is dependent upon the persistence of our point of view. We are completely convinced that this is THE WAY IT IS! And sadly, that conviction leaves us utterly powerless.

Additionally, the machine mind (ego) believes that its content – our story – all those thoughts, interpretations, assumptions, beliefs, identities, and perspectives – are true and real, and that we MUST act on whatever feelings come up connected to those thoughts. Because the survival mind machinery cannot differentiate between our thoughts and feelings in the story – between what is real and what is in our heads – that toxic confusion of thoughts and feelings becomes hypnotic and compelling drivers of words and actions based in fear, disconnection and otherness. And all that is amplified because our limbic system cannot differentiate between a real threat and a perceived threat. Our biology cannot distinguish between a co-worker throwing a tantrum and a hungry bear.

This is a problem.

Every example of what we consider to be real evil in the human world (other than the presence and behavior of true psychopaths, malignant narcissists, and others with Cluster-B disorders and their related identity disturbances ) is a result of this confusion of identity (self as content) and the resulting disconnection from being and presence (authentic self). As a result of the imprinting, constraints and distractions of the overculture, the machine mind, its thoughts, perceptions, assumptions, interpretations and conclusions are profoundly disordered. We have no access to the present moment, and the felt-sense of the feeling body is numbed. We are disconnected from the real world as it is and dwell almost entirely in the fictional world in our heads – our story.

This state of spiritual unconsciousness has truly disastrous consequences for all of planet earth, every being and every species, globally. As a species we humans are the planetary apex predator. We consume everything and we really need to own that about ourselves. We must either grow through this numb unconsciousness and disconnection from our being in the natural world or we will die off, taking nearly all of the planetary biome with us.

Well, all of that still leaves us with the primary question – who are you? Perhaps we now have a bit more clarity about what we are not, but how do we answer the question of who we are?

This reminds me of the zen lesson embodied inside one of the most famous koans of all time:

The zen master sat in stillness with the student for the entire morning. Then, without preamble he said, “The two hands, when brought together quickly will produce the sound of two hands clapping.” and he demonstrated this by clapping his two hands together loudly. Then he held out only one hand and posed the question, “What is the sound of the one hand clapping?”

Now, this is where it gets really tricky, because you see – there is only one true, correct answer to that zen riddle and it’s not possible to figure it out. You can’t think your way to it. You can’t use logic, reason, science, math, art, music, past experience or serendipity – nothing in our culture prepares us for that question. It is intended to actively confound the mind. You can only get there through genuine insight. The masters know this, and every time you respond with an answer from the mind, they know it. They can tell exactly where you are in your mind by hearing what you have to say in response to any of those hundreds of koans. It’s like the punchline of a great joke told by a cosmic comedian. Understanding is not the same as getting it. You know you got it when you are sitting there trying not to wet yourself because you are laughing so hard. When you get it, you get it and you know you got it. The direct experience of being is the same way. Understanding may come later and actually isn’t all that useful, but the moment of awakening is unique to itself. You just can’t fake authenticity.

The sound of the one hand is like that. So is the answer to the question, “Who are you?”

Now, I can tell you who I am, and while this comes directly from my experience, my telling you isn’t going to do you any good unless you can be in the direct experience of being for yourself – without the filters of the mind. Part of the challenge in this is that my speaking of being reduces into language something that words cannot contain. As Mikhail Naimy so famously said in “The Book of Mirdad” – “Words are, at best, honest lies.” Or spoken another way, “The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.” The most I can hope for in my coaching work with clients is to point at the moon. The rest is up to the client. We get out what we put in.

So – things that make you go hmmm – here’s one:

Who I am is the witness – an aware, compassionate, presence of attention – an empty space in which experience occurs.

The trouble is, that’s just bullshit. Self is an illusion. If I can say it, that’s not it. Who I am is not any thing. As someone famous may have said – not this, not that. To be more precise, who I am is no thing. Nothing.

See? I just delivered my punchline and it’s useless to you. And I warned you it wouldn’t do you any good. All you have is a bunch of words describing something that happened to someone else. Perhaps if you are lucky, it’s a finger pointing at the moon. But that’s my experience and you’ve gotta get yours for yourself. Figuring it out and understanding it will not work here.

It’s kinda funny though. Hysterical in fact. That’s exactly the point. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to to do, and nothing to get.

You got it.

And as they say, when you really get it, the truth will set you free. It will also royally piss you off. And then you’ll giggle like a five-year-old who just heard the preacher fart.

Go ahead. Wet yourself laughing. It’ll be awesome.

© 2016
Carmine Leo

What’s Up With Boundaries?


If we grew up in a family or a society (such as this current overculture – industrial civilization and most of its ancestors) that does not have and/or does not accept, acknowledge and respect healthy boundaries then we have no models for what they are, how they work, or how we manage boundaries for ourselves or with others. Although we can feel the consequences, typically boundaries are invisible to us and those around us. As a side note, if we grew up in an abusive family then we are certain to have all kinds of trouble with boundaries. It can take years of inner work to repair that childhood damage.

This issue – boundary failure – is the dividing line between taker-societies driven by domination and power-over versus giver-societies living from consent and respect. First thing to know: if we have trouble with boundaries it’s not our fault. AND: as adults we are responsible for figuring out what boundaries are, how they work and what we need to do to function well. No one else can do this work for us.

Healthy boundaries work in several directions: First, they keep you from taking onto yourself that which does not belong to you – other people’s crap, their judgments and criticisms, their values and beliefs, their agenda for you, the troubles and problems that are rightfully theirs and so on.

Second, healthy boundaries keep you from surrendering to others that which does rightfully belong to you – your power, your autonomy, your own choices, your agenda for yourself, your integrity, your ability to walk your own path and learn your own lessons and etc.

There is a third piece around boundaries – and that is that healthy boundaries allow IN those things others wish to give us that we DO deserve – love, affection, the gifts of generosity and kindness and etc. Healthy boundaries support and encourage these kinds of reciprocal bonding exchanges that allow us to receive and accept what others want to give to us because they love us and wish us well.

Remember also that anger has a significant evolutionary role that has contributed to our survival as individuals and as a species. Anger lets us know when our boundaries are being violated in some way and it helps to keep us safe. There absolutely are times when the full expression of anger really is totally necessary, appropriate and effective. The trick is knowing which is which and then coming from choice and intention in expressing the right emotion to the right person to the right degree at the right time. Women especially get disconnected from their rightful and righteous appropriate anger by the varied oppressions of the overculture.

These emotional intelligence skills are deeply rooted in our biology, as we only have ancestors who could quickly read motive and intention and differentiate between friend and enemy. Those who could not do this well simply did not survive.

There is another source of anger that can be quite difficult, and that is managing our expectations of how we think our life should be turning out. When we believe that someone or something is in the way of what we need or what we want we then argue with reality – we say, “It shouldn’t be like this!” or the reverse, “It should be different!” In either case, I am reminded of the old saying, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” And of course as the brilliant Byron Katie says, “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.” We only suffer when we believe our thoughts and argue with what is.

If we have not fully integrated our anger then it manifests as aggression. Once we do that inner work on emotional integration, then the emotional energy of anger becomes assertion, and assertion one of the primary gateways through which we create, have and hold healthy boundaries.

Usually, people who have not done that inner work themselves cannot distinguish between assertion and aggression in others, so they tend to see what they themselves hold. So if you are being assertive, they can misinterpret your strength as aggression and will often try to gaslight you into doubting yourself, either your perceptions or your actions.

Boundaries can be very difficult until our emotional body awakens and our attention and consciousness is fully present in the now. Only then do we begin to see the connections – the inner links between cause and effect – and our behavior, our choices, our decision-making and problem-solving become both accurate and wise.

© 2016
Carmine Leo