Know Thyself

                                                                                                              Photo: Vivian Maier Collection

​“Know thyself” is the most famous utterance of Priestess Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi. When the old Greeks got overly wrought in the morass of their thoughts clarity was difficult to achieve. Voila`! the Priestess saves the day for she liaised with the Mystery and was damned good at it.

​Pythia spoke the languages of the Goddesses, Gods and mortals of course. Her role was clear: to provide a human voice—a native tongue articulation to better enable the Mystery to capture human attention, engagement and creative self-expression. Though we are absent Pythia’s oracular voice today, the Mystery is still bent on garnering our attentions. As the great Irish poet philosopher John O’Donohue said “The Mystery won’t leave us alone.” Her intent is compliance: Ours. We are to fulfill the promises of our lives for Life requires an exchange. We’re to render our part in our own sovereign ways of course. The Mystery is persistent. But she won’t beg. Ante your part or live the consequences of an unfulfilled existence. Curiously, the majority remains oblivious to her. Nonetheless…

Whether we’re responsive to her Her or not, deep down we know we are well served to acquire self knowledge: part of this is identifying the topographies of ourselves— that ground within us that the forces of the Mystery have crafted and rendered non-negotiable. Sovereign. Inviolate. “Keep your hands off buddy! You won’t talk to me this way!” And get this: we, ourselves, did not choose which parts of us are not to be trespassed, sullied or messed with. We did not choose which lines in the sands of ourselves are not to be crossed. Its a “we were born this way thing”. The forces of the Mystery marked us, as all Life, as sacred.

One of our life tasks is to identify our non-negotiable ground. Then we are to defend these with Grace—and if necessary, with all requisite fierceness—but only this. There is to be no unnecessary force. Do no unnecessary harm. Do not be polite. Do not be rude. Stand in the Grace of your personal power and tend to your sovereign integrity. Its not a good/bad, right/wrong thing. Rather, there are actions and behaviors that are a fit for us and those that are not. Some people are a fit, some not.

Once we’ve identified our inviolate areas—those requiring our relaxed vigilant attention—we become clear on sentiments and actions expressed by others—on areas of our common ground—which, though ungracious, we can let slide. Let go of. Ignore. Drop. Turn the other cheek. For that other person needs in these moments your graciousness. Your kindness. Your generosity. Your compassion.

Typically we are unaware of our non-negotiable terrain. So too we are ignorant of the places where we can be honestly gracious and caring. Too often our non-negotiable aspects enter our awareness as they are being, or just after having been violated. Then, because we’ve been brought up to be nice we say nothing. Its only later, long after the sovereign territories of ourselves have been breached, overrun and occupied—long after being beleaguered and besieged—long after we’ve sheltered ourselves in our ostensible comfort zones which are too small for us—we yet say nothing. For we are inured to the ongoing battering of the rams on our facades.

Worry not. Should we not take well care. For in the Mystery’s largesse She ups Her ante rendering larger and larger breaches until we redeploy our attentions and take necessary action—those of preserving and restoring the vestiges of our shattered integrities.

More in my next post.

What are your non-negotiables?

What internal resources do you need to enforce them?

The Non-Negotiable

                                                                                                              Photo: “Hands” by Vivian Maier

​I sometimes wonder whether impediments to being ourselves, creative self-expression and choosing happiness ensue from our forgetting to identify and defend those terms of their lives that are non-negotiable, or should be: areas against which pop psychology informs that we must have boundaries and enforce them. Take for example a child speaking abusively to her or his parent: The parent need respond something to the effect: “Enough!! I love you!, and you will never speak to me in this manner again! Ever! Do you understand me? Never!

Saying these things are most effective when the parent is strong, and her or his voice and body language match the volume and intensity of the child’s speech, without the parent, her- or himself, being angry. Yet saying these things is a must. She or he need then enforce future breaches by imposing sanctions that are meaningful to the child. We need be loving, yet firm and fair in our resolve to honor ourselves and be treated properly. This is about self-love!

It is our own individual responsibility to monitor how others treat us. Each of us are autonomous and sovereign beings whether we appreciate this or not–whether our cultural mores reflect this. In the absence of us defending what we deem as non-negotiable, the defending of our dignity, and ensuring that we are treated respectfully, we are, in effect, endorsing, underwriting and normalizing the untenable diminishment of ourselves and our lives. We are then complicit in undermining our integrity and dashing the promise of being ourselves. In this we lower the probabilities of fulfilling the promise of our creative self-expression. We prevent ourselves from having a good life.

I’m a proponent of human decency—of being gracious, compassionate, kind and generous. Expressing these things gives rise to more ease and effectiveness in navigating life’s currents: they reflect our essential ennobling spiritual natures. We need be genuine in this—honest, aligned, congruent—or we are indecent—doing unnecessary harm to ourselves and others.

Pretense is trite and cheap. Graciousness, compassion, kindness, and being generous are not forms of politenesses. Rather, they are expressions of love. Politeness itself is an affront. An obscene one—sullying everyone. We see through such ruses though we pretend otherwise. Politeness never masks indifference, upset or other agendas.

I invite you to deplore and eschew rudeness too. Yet standing up for ourselves is never rude! Standing up for ourselves is imperative—without it no self remains. Standing up for ourselves by honoring what is non-negotiable for us—this is essential to our wholeness, our wellness. Attending to the stature of our dignity is our responsibility alone.

Of course be gracious to the fullest extent possible yet never at the expense of our own self-respect and personal dignity. There are times when the most decent and respectful thing we can do is clearly and powerfully interrupt and stop another when their speech or actions diminish, denigrate or demean us. Some circumstances warrant an unambiguous emphatic “Fuck you!” punctuated by walking away! And staying away if necessary. A “Fuck you” can be literally or metaphorically delivered depending on need. Yet avoid unnecessary harm at all costs.

Proviso: Our intent needs to be clear within ourselves: we are saying these strong things to disrupt and stop another’s unwanted and untoward behavior; it is neither our place nor role to diminish another person. We are to stop their behavior toward us! Nothing more. Nothing less. If our intent is aligned the other can hear and receive our message. If our intent is to indict, punish and diminish the person we only worsen our circumstance and their’s. We must clearly know our intent as it is the difference that makes the difference.

Wisdom holds “If you step on my tail, I will bite you.” Our job is to be powerful, strong and loving in our autonomous sovereignty as we relate well with others.

Caveat: It’s bad form to say “Fuck you” to a spouse or lover, close friend or colleague unless we require an inordinate amount of leverage to get ourselves to leave the relationship. Never harm unnecessarily.

More on this topic in my next post.

What are your non-negotiables?


“Take your well-disciplined strengths, stretch them between the two great opposing poles,
because inside human beings is where God learns.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke

My earlier postings in 2015 revolve round the promises of being ourselves, creative self-expression, and choosing happiness. This post continues that arc.

I began my first draft of this post with this paragraph: “Fear has been the greatest impediment in my life. I don’t mean the life and death fears nor putting myself in harms’ way to assist others…that’s been easy enough. I mean the other ones…those niggling little fears borne on shame…those potent diminishing little phrases orbiting self-doubt that I overhear in my self-talk—and all the rules I follow—rules that aren’t even mine: the can’ts, shoulds, ought tos, the nevers, the what’ll they thinks?, what’ll this mean or say about me?, and so forth and so on.”

Being faithful to petty fears and rules erodes the lovely contours and great powers of ourselves. Failing to let go of such fears and rules are evidences of our having yet to choose to Love completely. And, they evince that we’ve opted to be adherents to knowledge and understanding rather than Intelligence/Wisdom. I contend Love and Intelligence and Wisdom are synonymous terms. Love/Intelligence/Wisdom do not originate in the precincts of the our personalities and psychologies.

Rather, these forces belong to the non-ordinary realities of the Mystery—those beyond mind and body. Everyone is born connected to them—the central organizing force of the Cosmos. One of the many consequences of experiencing trauma when young is our becoming disconnected from this central organizing force. Unless and until connected again we are significantly constrained by our stories and circumstances of ancestors, cultures, pasts—and by our thinking and imaginations–fears and shame. In this we are orbiting but one of the great opposing poles, the personality left to its own devices, and thus hugely limited—yet thinking we know and understand.

We do not reconnect to the central organizing force of the Cosmos via intellect/thought/mind/imagination. Rather, it initiates invitations for our reconnection via our physical bodies’ sensory systems—ordinary and non-ordinary—our direct experience—not our psychological experience. Most of us do not detect the Mystery’s overtures as we are much too engaged and entangled with thought and imagination.

Becoming Wisdom’s Consort means hooking up with Rilke’s other opposing pole–Love/Intelligence/Wisdom. In stretching our well disciplined strengths between these poles…might Rilke be suggesting that we open to Love and Intelligence and Wisdom? Those forces beyond intellect/knowledge/imagination? Those we sense rather than think or imagine? Is he suggesting that knowledge and understanding remain impoverished absent our connection to Love/Intelligence/Wisdom? Is he inviting us to experience each pole?

In our efforts to navigate each pole and the spaces between are we not changed, expanded? Better enabled to be ourselves and creatively express ourselves? …Oh one more thing: Wisdom holds that Intelligence is the effortless absorption of apparent contradictions. This too is Love! This too is Wisdom. Only at Wisdom’s pole can we get our head around this.


“Ever since happiness heard your name, its been running through the streets trying to find you.” Isn’t there something simply right about this line from Hafiz?

I’m curious: How can I become visible to happiness? What can I do? Do I go where many streets intersect? Are there specific boulevards I might walk? Do I don bright colors and climb atop the fountain in the Central Plaza and wait happiness’s arrival?

I read part of The Art of Happiness some years ago…however happiness did not find me in its text. I remember wondering “What now?”

Happiness did find me when I saw a video of Viktor Frankl saying the Americans have it wrong in their Declaration of Independence. “…Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” Frankl said happiness ensues. It cannot be pursued. Happiness ensues from doing other things, specifically from valuing and choosing to live creatively; by directly experiencing life; and by intentionally choosing life-affirming attitudes. Here’s more:

• Creativity:
We need not paint nor write unless we feel their pull. Creativity occurs naturally while being ourselves—in doing the things we love in our own unique ways. This is creativity. We can do this at work or home and in all parts of our daily lives: how we cook, garden, parent, sing in the shower, dance, whether anyone sees or not…how we talk with colleagues, and so on. And of course, if the arts call or tug on us, yes, we must muster our courage, make the time and do these things. We must say “Yes!”.

• Direct experience:
This is saying “Yes” to our lives and giving ourselves over to our sentience (with our five senses) directly experiencing the richness of our lives: Experiencing the beauty of the foods we eat, the arts, nature, and other people. These are the true pleasures of life from which happiness ensues. Unlike James Joyce’s short story protagonist, Mr. Duffy, in A Painful Case, “who lived a short distance from his body…” we need return home to our physical body and again experience what life brings. Roses have thorns yet this is no reason to avoid the loveliness of their fragrance, color and corolla.

• Life-affirming attitudes:
We are capable of choosing our mental emotional states, our states of being, and our presences (attitudes). We do this by being consciously aware moment to moment where we place our attention. Keeping our attentions on what affirms life, on what is expansive, and lovely (what we can say yes to) in any and all situations. This is what keeps our attitudes buoyant, light and in motion. From these choices we enter our heartedness—whole, kind, strong, and open. This is the heart from which the qualities of character of our human decency flow—so too our happiness. In these states our thinking and actions most closely reflect the staggeringly profound beauty of the Beings we are. Happiness finds us here.

On the streets of our creativity…on the streets of directly experiencing our sentience…and on the streets of life-affirming attitudes—this is where happiness finds us.

Wholeheartedness and the World Out There

                                                                                                                                                        *                                                                                                                                                              “Change in society is of secondary importance; that will come about naturally, inevitably, when you as a human being bring about change in yourself.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Are you strong-hearted? Can you be gracious with yourself if not?

Are you wholehearted? Can you be generous with yourself if not?

Are you open-hearted? Can you be compassionate with yourself if not?

Are you kindhearted? Can you be kind with yourself if not?

If you are not these things with yourself, you are not these things with others. If you are weak-hearted, half-hearted, closed-hearted, or mean-spirited, let these habits go.

Knowledge tells us that for person to be alive, pulse, respiration, consumption and waste are required. If not these, no life.

Wisdom teaches that life is creativity—gradations of creativity. The more creativity you express, the more alive you are. If you are not creating, you are dead—whether you think otherwise or not.

Creativity requires strong-, whole-, open-, and kindheartedness, though you may believe you have evidence to the contrary.

Attending to the world out there is distraction until you properly attend to things within. Give yourself over to processes bringing about your graciousness, your generosity, your compassion and your kindness.

Article & image: 
Impressive Chalk Portrait Drawn on the Streets of Paris by François Pelletier by Christopher Jobson 

Human Canvas


                                                                                         Dane at Le Moulin de la Galette, Renoir, 1876
Capturing on the canvas 
of our soul
          our life task
     —some say.

The Maestro 
bequeathing each  
its pentimento
          traces of our Being
      —some say.

‘neath myriad 
–textures– of
     —some say.

Paints of adaptation…
—some say.

Capture this
     your essence 
—some say.

© 2015 Stephen Victor


I’ve had the good fortune of visiting the Ju Ming Museum in New Taipei. Ju Ming is a revered sculptor in Taiwan, New York and Paris. I am moved by the man and his work. Also by his capacity to identify and maintain a process of genuinely becoming and being himself–and, for expressing his unique creative talents.

In his teens Ju Ming apprenticed as a wood carver and though receiving accolades for his work, he wanted to become and express more. He re-apprenticed himself to a sculptor who directed him to take up Tai Chi. He continues the practice to this day. After his apprenticeship he realized that were he to become more than a younger version of his mentor, he needed to let go of everything he had learned, from him and his first mentor. Additionally he let go of attending to the amalgam of domesticating voices in his head.

In this letting go he began feeling into and listening to the materials he worked with. They partnered with him co-informing the singularly of his creativity. All these disciplines he labeled “self-cultivation”.

This is the loveliest and most succinct articulation of the necessary processes for fulfilling our human promise of becoming truly ourselves, and expressing our unique creative talents. The wisdom of his second mentor needs mention: asking Ju Ming to undertake a movement practice involving Chi (energy distinct from body and mind) enabled Ming to open in Awareness to the Mystery’s Intent Forces thereby informing his creativity. Utterly brilliant!

Looking for more in your life? Model the master.


When your nuance 
insinuated itself into the solitary reverie
in which I toiled,
I apprehended 
but the singularity of my belonging.

your particular motion, 
articulating on my anxieties,
became the collapsing of 
estrangement’s glory
     …for which I had no understanding.

I believed myself so ill-prepared,
so ill-prepared
for the inviting loveliness 
of you…

The fixation of my aloofness  
has not longer ground 
to predicate my
ignorance, my arrogance.

the undoing of my 

© 2015 Stephen Victor 


                       after Bert Hellinger and Hunter Beaumont

A man approaches…
sits between 
the oracles.

He asks 
how do I proceed?

       With what?

I gave my friend a kidney,
the second given him.

His body rejected the first.

      Now it eschews mine.

      Now I too am unwell.

The donor’s phantom kidney hauntingly utters:
                  You had no right to kill me.

The recipient walks 
      into deaths’ arms

Oracle to man’s left:
      You interfered with your friend’s fate.

Oracle to his right:
      Knowledge is insufficient,

      Wisdom is what’s needed.

So oft 

So oft
suffering is of our own making.

Being Yourself: Someone Wants to be a Poet

“It is clear that we must trust what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Recently while talking with a friend about writing I evoked a memory of an evening writing class I started in the Navy. We wrote the first evening submitting our pieces. In the second the instructor sat on her desk reading from our papers.

She cynically read the first line of mine with exasperation and incredulity stating “God! Someone wants to be a poet!” I stopped breathing. Rolling her eyes she threw my paper to the side of her desk for effect. I don’t remember the remainder of that evening’s class nor did I return to others. My first line concerned itself with a handmade wooden boat pulled high on the sands while yet buffeted by the waves of a rising tide, and the sounds of the surf and wind.

As I continued talking with my friend my neck began to hurt and stiffen and my throat tightened. In my mind’s eye I was watching images of ancestors on my mother’s side: they were inured to constraint upon constraint of their expression. I saw too my own history of constraints: In the seventh grade for example, the band teacher told me to put the sticks to my snare drum down and return to study hall as “I was having too much fun and not taking class seriously.” I did as he directed.

The Mystery is bent on changing us. Though not exclusively, we are changed by how we navigate difficulties. The late anthropologist Angeles Arrien said “Neither push to make things happen nor hold yourself back.” If we collapse in the face of difficulties, we are holding ourselves back. If we blame or attack, we are caught up in the folly of pushing to make things happen. Each response is self-defeating and disempowering. **

In each of my examples I collapsed. Proving we are more powerful than opposing forces never occurs through attacking, pushing-back, resisting, or collapsing. Rather, prevailing ensues from becoming a countervailing force equal to the opposition in each moment: neither pushing nor collapsing. Prevailing is standing in our relaxed sovereign power; it is being guided by non-ordinary forces informing the what and how of our next actions.

The seventh grade boy in band and the nineteen year old in the writing class were ill-prepared to do anything but collapse. They lacked a connection to Wisdom: They had unhealed ancestral, familial and personal injuries (Aka: difficulties) awaiting remedy. Collapsing in their respective circumstances was inevitable, of necessity; though painful their collapses were boons to later changes and healing.

The boards or timbers comprising the hulls of beached boats shrink leaving the boats devoid of buoyancy. For these boats to fulfill their purpose they need be submerged in water for extended periods. Only then may they be surfaced and placed in service. The waters and seas are feminine. At nineteen I was unaware of the absences of feminine nurturing in my upbringing; of her absences in the lives of my parents—and those before them, and those before them.

The crush of difficulties and our proper responses to them gives rise to gravitas—our soul weight—our rightly weighted keels ensuring our stability, our seaworthiness, and our capacities to counterbalance forces opposing us.

The lecturer, explorer and mystic Paul Richards reminds us that our power is assessed not in how hard a punch we can throw but rather in how hard a punch we can take. Being gracious, embodying an equanimity, consenting to and relaxing into the difficulties we face garners us greater ease in our lives. So too does being attuned and in touch with the Mystery. She provides clarity regarding what to do and how to do it. Being so attuned furthers our capacities in seeing and appreciating beauty—in our difficulties—and in all things. (Beauty is code for the feminine.)

The younger me, the one having too much fun in band unwittingly knew the rhythm of Life was something other than seriousness. The guy in the writing class was unaware of his deeper intent in taking the class: he wanted to learn to skipper his boat. Thanks to the selves I’ve been I am in open waters now reacquainting myself with non-ordinary Life rhythms.

I want a poetic life and to be myself. Both are more easily realized by being kind, generous, gracious and compassionate with my Self and others. Gratitude helps too. In the cycling repetitions of Beauty in the canon in which I find myself I ask—“How is the snare drum in Ravel’s Bolero?”

* The Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein commissioned Ravel’s Bolero, thus her painting by Valentin Servo.

** There are times of course when the Mystery demands that we fight for our lives or those of others. We know this. Let go of any beliefs standing between you and genuinely caring for, defending and preserving yourself and others in your care.