Makin’ It Real


One of the things we deal with when we start a therapeutic process—or encounter on our path of learning—is the relationship between the ideal self we have in our mind and the real self that walks around in this body day to day.

The real self up against the ideal self is a subject addressed in many kinds of therapy. Rogers addressed it directly in his body of work on client centered therapy. As I form my consciousness of myself as a separate human being, I also gradually build a ‘picture’ of myself as I would like to be, or should be. I build relationships, join groups, interact with people at different levels and –just behind my everyday reality– I have ideas about how I could be better. Some of these ideas are from my own judgments and some are from feedback from others.

If this gap between real self and ideal self is fairly small, I have a healthy kind of tension that provides some energy for movement in therapy and for learning about myself in general. If the gap is too great I can be prone to shame, lack of courage, pessimism and even self-abuse.

One thing that interests me about this concept is the truth it holds about organizations, communities and nations. If there is a significant gap between what an organization claims itself to be and how it actually operates, the members of the organization can suffer a crisis of belief, commitment and loyalty. The difference between an idealistic mission statement and everyday practices can dramatically influence morale and drain energy from any group.

Churches are a good example. At a young age I looked at the difference between what was said in the pulpit on Sunday mornings and how church members behaved during the rest of the week. I quickly came to the conclusion that church was not going to hold much for me. But any organization that holds itself to high standards faces the challenge of living up to those standards or facing the consequences of the loss of energy and membership.

There is another, related issue: the lack of authenticity.

When my community adopts high ideals and individuals wed themselves to certain mindsets—compassion, loving behavior, lack of judgments—there is the tendency to think we have to be that way. We can become afraid of not living up to our own standards in the eyes of fellow members. (“I’d love to say this to him, but it’s pretty judgmental.”)

Life teems with this dilemma, of course. Can we be ‘good people’ and be open and honest in the same moment? Can I hold onto my vision of being compassionate and supportive when somewhere in the middle of myself I am hurt, angry and critical?

Sometimes the pillars of client centered therapy lean against each other in uncomfortable ways; congruence and unconditional positive regard. Which do I value more? Are they mutually exclusive? Can they exist in the same moment in the same person?

These ideas and values to which we have dedicated ourselves are ideals. They are conditions that we strive to create in a relationship. Often we fail. Intimate relationships dissolve. Organizations founder. We struggle with being ourselves in the face or our own critical natures.

At this stage of life, I fall back on one thought: I only have one chance, moment by moment, to be fully myself.  Authenticity, when it is pure and self-responsible, eclipses my wishes and attempts to be compassionate, understanding and accepting. Authenticity, in fact, is a path to those ideals. When I am clear about my own experience—as imperfect as it may be—I can process that with you and move on to an open heart.

My job is not to be ideal; my job is to represent myself as fully as possible.

The relationship I’m in and the community I’m part of will—hopefully, ideally—foster and support this. In the end, it’s up to me: can I be real with you?




Blind Hunters

On the weathered front porch made with dense white oak

A covey of men sit

On wounded rockers, crates and an old porch swing creaking in the vast black night


They chew and spit and sip bourbon and branch, their

Coveralls and denim shirts soaked in sweat

Illuminated only by a small lantern against the wet August dark


They listen


Out there, through the pines, oaks, hickory trees

And the endless black air their hounds run and run

And run


The men, with eyes half closed in reverie

And ears wide open hear their dogs and speak

Their names nearly in prayer Jigs, Rattler, Honey, Prince, Buck


They know their dogs by their barks

Harsh, forlorn, joyful and mean

All running like they knew nothing else,

No other instinct save the

Perpetual motion, tongues-out pursuit of the scent, only the scent


Of the coon.


Blind in the big black night the men and the dogs are wed

By the dogs’ sounds and the men’s love

Now they hear their dog, excited with the nearness

Of the panicked, furry coon running under the summer moon


For its life


The barks, as if from a crowd of desperate men

Echo through the Virginia woods

Now loud, now soft, now finally with satisfaction

As the dogs crane their necks and spring on tight back legs

Up the crusty pine tree

Sending through the sightless woods to their masters


“We’ve got him.”




John Thomas Wood

The Great Imitator

If you know something about the explosion in the sale of T-shirts after Marlon Brando wore his so well in “Streetcar Named Desire,” you will know what I’m talking about

We humans are great mimics.

Babies learn a great deal by watching and listening to their mothers, then doing, or trying to do, what they do and say. The young and impressionable keep learning by imitation, by trying on behaviors and repeating words and they gradually and profoundly introject, or adopt, the opinions, feeling sets and attitudes of the people they love and admire.

There is no stopping this. This is the way of our species and others to learn about the world, to form our view of others, to learn about love and the use of power.

Conscious parents know this and are careful about the ways the speak and behave in front of their children. Unconscious parents, for better or worse, pass on their habitual ways of communicating and acting and their children absorb it.

This does not necessarily end when we become adults. When we admire someone—a leader, a teacher, a sports figure—we want to do what they do, say what they say and be like them in the world. After seeing Sean Connery pour himself a single malt scotch, look at it and sip it, I still want to go home and have a drink.

Advertising folks know this well.

Why this is important now is the dialogue going around this nation about politics, religion, marriage, sex, money and our humanness. In the recent campaign and in our mainstream and social media we have lowered the bar in the way we speak to each other.  We publicly question the size of a man’s genitals. We talk about grabbing a woman’s genitals. We call for a US Senator running for President to be jailed. We used horrible expressions to describe the candidates of each party. And we continue it as we label the President-elect with words that make me wince.

Our children are watching and listening. Not only our children, but the impressionable among us are watching and listening and giving themselves the permission to use these words and these attitudes in public statements. This is how the level of public dialogue is brought closer to a level of violence.

Communications exists in order to create meaning. We can use our considerable powers to speak to each other in order to create synergy, to nurture and to collaborate. We can also use our words to compete, manipulate, condemn and render someone insignificant.

Please be careful—no matter your political views—how you speak to each other and about each other. We are continually teaching each other what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated.

Your children and the other people you care about are watching and listening.


John Thomas Wood

Your True Self

“We are blind to this fact, that we are in possession of all the necessary faculties that will make us happy and loving towards one another. All the struggles that we see around us come from this ignorance… When the cloud of ignorance disappears… we see for the first time into the nature of our own being.”   D.T.Suzuki



You are by nature a loving, bonding being. This is how you started out. This is how you came out of the womb, reaching for another human in order to make contact and get your wants and needs fulfilled.

Picture yourself hours old. You are not yet critical, self-defeating, cynical or discouraged. You do not believe that you are unworthy of real love. You are gazing into the eyes of your mother and father, loving what you see, and looking at the first human you see– bonding.

This is who you are. It is easy to look at yourself now, years and years later, and deny that. Even when you affirm it, the journey back to that self may seem unlikely. You have thousands of reasons and rationalizations for not loving and not being loved. You have scores of fears and ways you discourage yourself.

Somewhere on your journeys things happened that told you to be wary, afraid, hurt, angry. You formed a belief about the world and, more importantly, about yourself. The creation of this belief about who you are is perhaps the most important thing you have ever done in your life. Out of that belief springs your attitudes and behaviors in your love relationships and your work.

You have decided what you are capable of, how much you can give, how you love someone and what you do and don’t deserve, among other things. You have gone through life mostly unconscious of this. You have been driven by the past, operating with some vague notion that things could be so much better.

They can be. First you must choose. You can decide to change your belief about yourself. You can re-educate yourself; just as you educated yourself for all these years that you were one person, you can learn to be the “first” person you were—your original self.

Think about walking into a room and seeing and hearing things that frightened you. People criticized you. They walked away. They told you you were not good enough. You stayed in that room. You lived there with those people.

Realize now that all those things are not true. They were not true then and they are not true now. Those were things that knocked you off of your loving nature, your original core self, like being knocked down in a game of dodge ball.

Your work now is to change your belief about yourself. Now you are a conscious, self-responsible human being who is much more powerful than you have imagined. It is now time to take a full assessment of who you are and what you want for yourself and begin the deliberate process of becoming a fully loving, grateful, graceful human being.

That’s how you began. You can do it.

Sunday Morning in My Mind

Sunday morning. Year 77.

I come here to the edge of the continent with my canvas beach chair and my dog. I am here for my morning mind exercises. I am reading my own mind.
I settle down three feet from the cliff edge, 80 feet above the ocean on Point Loma. I watch the brown pelicans gliding without an effort just two feet above the surface of the green water. I see the waves, unconscious of time, swelling, breaking, rolling in on the rocks. The surfers are here, a quarter mile out on bone colored boards wet and slick like seals, waiting for their time.
Way out, a couple of miles maybe, I spot a rhythmic spray of seawater headed a few meters straight up. The gray whales are making their annual pilgrimage to the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez to bear their young. In and out, in and out, their breathing. I listen to my own.
I am mindful of my experience here, looking west until I can see no more. I think about the sadness enveloping loss, my own pesky expectations of others, my anger growing from hurt and I turn thoughts over in my hand like small beach rocks. Now I decide to let them go—no, to give them away.
I give my sadness to the horizon. I watch it float away toward Japan, smaller and smaller until I can’t see it at all. I give my expectations to the pelicans and they glide away with it. My anger I donate to the waves and the waves cover it with white foam and it sinks to the bottom, sleeping with the fishes.
Some might call this meditation, this clearing out. I don’t call it anything. I’m just improving my thinking, reading my mind.
The ocean is SO big. There is so much room out there, to let things be. I am of so little consequence to the ocean. The sea would envelop me, absorb me, with no notice at all. This is why the ocean is of so much solace to me; it can take me in without resistance, without a care.
My mind improvement this early morning is to allow my sadness, expectations and anger to be of the same tiny consequence to my bigger self as I am to the ocean.
Breathe, I remind myself.