Retreats, not rehab or resorts

Taking a short retreat, even just a few days away from your daily routine, can do wonders for personal and professional development. It’s an opportunity to step back from the chaos of daily life, focus on your goals and priorities, and gain new insights and perspectives that can accelerate your growth.

Circle time is reflection time

Here are a few reasons why short retreats can be so effective for personal and professional development:

  1. Increased focus and clarity: When you step away from your normal routine and environment, it’s easier to let go of distractions and hone in on your priorities. You can take time to reflect on your goals, assess your progress, and strategize your next steps.
  2. A break from stress and overwhelm: Many of us are constantly bombarded with demands and stressors in our daily lives, which can impede our ability to think clearly and make progress toward your goals. A short retreat allows you to disconnect from the stress and recharge your batteries, which can help you approach your work with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
  3. Exposure to new ideas and perspectives: When you’re stuck in the same routine, it’s easy to fall into patterns of thinking that can limit your growth. A short retreat can expose you to new environments, people, and ideas, which can help you broaden your perspective and see new possibilities for your work and life.
  4. Opportunities for skill-building and learning: Many short retreats are designed to provide opportunities for skill-building and learning, whether it’s through workshops, classes, or other activities. This can help you acquire new knowledge and skills to apply to your work and life.

Overall, short retreats can be a valuable tool for accelerating personal and professional development. They provide a much-needed break from the stress and distractions of daily life, and offer opportunities for increased focus, clarity, and exposure to new ideas and perspectives. So if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed, consider taking a few days to step back and focus on your goals – you might be surprised at how much progress you can make in a short amount of time!

Inspiring a Grateful Heart

Remembering that gratefulness starts with us, Lynda and I want to express our deep and abiding thanks for the trust you’ve placed in us to keep safe your journey to a fuller awakening. The goodness we feel in community with you is the foundation of our own health and happiness. With love, we express our gratitude.

And in communion with this day of thanks, we want to share an inspiring gratitude practice so simple that it would be easy for us all to emulate. Give yourself the gift of eight quiet minutes today. Watch it and feel inspired to spread your love.

365 Days of Thanks:

May your Thanksgiving be filled with joy, love, and goodness.

From the bottom of our hearts,

Mark, Lynda, and Alana

The End of Back Pain (As You Know It) eBook Coming Soon!

In the late 1990’s I started writing a book on the causes and remedies of a type of back pain that affects upwards of 80% of people who suffer from the condition. This most common type of back pain is easy to understand and with patience and consistent effort, it can resolve. It’s taken me nearly two decades, but I’m now back at my computer committed to finally finishing the eBook. If you or anyone you know suffers from chronic low back pain, you’ll want to read and share this post. The following is an excerpt from the eBook that tells the story of my back pain history.

My Back Pain History
I believe it imperative to tell you about my own back pain experiences so you can appreciate and trust that my knowledge of this subject runs deeper than what is possible to learn through books and clinical practice alone.

My back has hurt countless times, sometimes very intensely. Just a few years before colleagues and I developed this program, my back often hurt chronically, for months and even years at a time. I experienced much anguish and frustration as a result. If you have a long standing back condition, be assured I have compassion for what you’re going through, and I want you to feel better as soon as possible. Life’s too short to spend years hurting and not knowing why, or worse yet, what to do about it.

I was 20 years old and into my 5th week of Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School when I first experienced low back pain. One day our training involved repeatedly bending and lifting other candidates onto our backs and then hustling across an open, pock-marked mine field. That activity heralded the beginning my back issues. This first, intense, short-lived bout of back pain lasted for only about two weeks.

Before I knew it, half-a-dozen years intervened, and I experienced more back pain of a similar nature. Despite the pain, I continued to exercise. I remember lifting weights and practicing Taekwondo karate, and although I tried to discover a pattern, I couldn’t seem to attribute my back pain to any particular activity. It seemed like it would just start for no reason; the causes remained unknown to me. Because of the seemingly random nature of the problem, when it hurt badly, it felt out of control. I was at its mercy. The pain, coupled with my confusion, was maddening. At the time, I was in my middle 20’s and enjoyed being active. I needed to work too, but at least two or three times a year, sometimes for a couple of months at a time, I was totally out of commission because of my pain.

It was for this reason and the fact that I was always injuring myself in Taekwondo, that I developed an interest in physical therapy. I wanted to learn how to take care of my body so I would not have to suffer from so much pain all the time.

Very soon after starting physical therapy school I injured my back again. I was 27 years old. This particular incident, I hurt myself while lifting weights. I hurt it “leg pressing” more weight than was reasonable for a person of my size and strength. The pain came on slowly but intensely. After a tough two weeks, the pain diminished but did not cease again for another year and a half.

Of course, as part of my physical therapy education, I was taught many methods and modalities designed to alleviate back pain; nothing I tried seemed to help, however. In fact, most of my attempts at relieving the pain made it worse. At that time, I had no understanding of the real causes or remedies of my pain. Both of my parents had had significant back pain histories; maybe it was genetic? Looking back, I remember feeling disheartened and wondering if I was doomed to live with this pain for the rest of my life.

Once I graduated, the hurting slowly and unaccountably subsided. I had finally recovered from that long episode of back pain. You would think that I should have regarded that favorable circumstance positively. I did not. Because I did not yet understand what the causes or the cures of my pain were, I reasoned that it was only a matter of time before I’d injure my back again. Furthermore, working as a physical therapist and not possessing the requisite knowledge to help most back pain patients was a source of great anxiety for me, the only solace was that most every other medical professional I knew was as equally perplexed as I was.

For these reasons, I was compelled to learn more about this puzzling condition. I read many books and took a lot of professional continuing education on the subject. After a particularly disappointing weekend class on another type of back pain therapy (read: bogus!) my frustration peaked and I honestly considered closing my practice and changing professions. But as providence would have it, my quest for answers to the questions of back pathology, diagnosis, and treatment was fulfilled. In January of 1996, I met my teacher, Omer Matthijs, DSc., PT, MOMT, and my orthopedic education took off under his tutelage.

Omer taught me to see the spine as a system of interdependent parts which are subject to an age-related process of degeneration. As the spine ages, certain parts may wear excessively and therefore, sometimes cause pain. If one understands the process, and then acts to mitigate the stresses that might exacerbate or accelerate it, the condition can stabilize and more often than not, heal and feel better. Under Omer guidance, I started to connect the dots between the causes of particular back pain conditions and the subsequent cures. After Omer’s tutelage and following his advice, over a year passed in which I felt no back pain.

It was the spring of 1997. I was 36 years old. One morning as I was getting ready for work, I bent down to pick up my cat’s food dish when I felt a little “twinge” in my back. Two hours later I could not stand up straight and was in a lot of pain. Although the pain was familiar, there was something different about this episode. This time, for the first time, I understood what was going on in my back. This time I was not afraid. Instead, I was inquisitive, wondering how the course of this incident would respond to my new informed treatment approach.

May 6th, 2016. Squating 225 Pounds!

I went to work that day, and aside from strictly applying the movement patterns that I will teach you, I didn’t change a thing. I even decided to go out for a short two-mile jog the day after my pain started. Astonishingly, especially to me, within four days I was completely pain-free again!

Because of what I’ve learned, and how I apply this knowledge in my own life, my back pain episodes have decreased from about 3 per year to maybe one minor bout every two or more years. The way my back feels now (strong, stable, no pain), compared to what it’s felt like in the past (weak, touchy and painful), represents a triumph over a condition that disables more people in the industrial world than any other.

Had it not been for this approach, you might still include me with those unfortunate many who continue to suffer. And as for the emotional anguish I experienced in the past, well, I recognize that on rare occasions I might feel a little back discomfort, but I also know its source, how to treat it well, and that it won’t last. As a result, I have no fear and therefore no emotional distress. This peace of mind and sense of control are the real jewels hidden within this approach.

No one can prevent every episode of back pain. That is not what this program promises. What it does say, however, is that if one acquaints oneself with the causes and cures of back pain, and, skillfully applies the proposed treatment regimen, your experience with this condition should not get worse (as is currently the norm for chronic back pain sufferers through the age of 60). But rather, your situation can improve significantly, as measured by your pain’s intensity and duration, and the frequency of occurrences. If you don’t have an extreme pathology (see RED FLAGS), and put forth the necessary effort, it is not hyperbole to suggest that this program can teach you how to create the causes for healing whereby you will eventually develop a healthy, fit, and pain-free back again.

I’ve ended my back pain, and thankfully, I can now say that my patients recover faster, more completely, and with fewer reoccurrences as well; that’s the real validating proof of the efficacy of this program.

If you would like to receive periodic excerpts and updates on the progress of this eBook, please subscribe to this blog and email me at Put “End Back Pain” in the subject line.

Words Matter

Do not assume you know who I’m writing about. Because I’m writing about us all. The acrimony I see coming from both sides of the political isle motivates me to raise my hand and say “stop.” Words matter. And the words we hear prominent political figures and surrogates use to describe their opponents is creating a dangerous energy field that will result in horrific consequences if we’re not careful. If the fallout from these words merely increases the amount of hatred in the world, that would be bad enough. But, eventually, words turn into actions. Thoughts and words motivated by ignorance and malice lead to violence. Two days ago we learned that the FBI foiled a homegrown terrorist plot to blow up an apartment complex that is the home of Somali immigrants. CBSNews reports “The men are members of a small militia group that calls itself “the Crusaders,” and whose members espouse sovereign citizen, anti-government, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremist beliefs, according to the complaint. The complaint alleges group members chose the target based on their hatred and out of a desire to “wake people up.””

At our core, we’re all good people. Yes, even the person you KNOW is the antichrist, is at the core, good. That said, every one of us, 27484886630_234db35e7c_b-donald-trump24005922924_04bf7e287b_b-hillary-clintonwithout exception, carries a shadow. I’m not talking about the shadow cast by a bright light. I’m talking about what Carl Jung described, the unconscious part of ourselves that we disavow, but, see so clearly in others. Shadow is the primal, law of the jungle aspect of us that we still personify. Our shadow steps in front of others when it sees a friend at the front of the line. It wants to pay as little tax as possible but rails against anyone else’s loophole. It fights for its personal freedoms while working hard to limit the freedoms of others. It judges others mercilessly but is the first to rationalize away its sins and beg for leniency. It is outraged by what others say but doesn’t pay much attention to its own dark views. That’s shadow. So in this respect, Donald Trump is doing us a great service by teaching us to recognize our collective shadow. If we remain objective and hold the widest possible perspective, he’ll help to quicken our collective evolution. We’ll all take a lesson in what not to do, which will result in a more inclusive, humane, respectful and fair society. If, however, we take the bait and start hating from our side, no telling how far down we could spiral.

The following is an analogy I use to teach the concept of shadow to students. If you have ever watched a Nature program and observed a pride of lions devouring their kill, you may have noticed that the pride organizes itself around rules over which animals get to eat first, and which ones have to wait their turn. The dominant males eat first, followed by the subdominant males and females. 27165434772_62df7b24ce_b-fighting-lionsThe cubs are often the last to join in the feast. Those are the rules. But, many times, members of the pride jump in, out of turn. Disregarding the social hierarchy is always met with a harsh rebuke, with teeth and claws. The dominant animal meeting out the punishment feels utterly justified when a subordinate jumps the line. But, hypocritically, if it were given the chance to do exactly the same, and eat before its turn, it would take that opportunity in a guilt-free second.

Shadow embodies the attitude: ‘What’s good for me is good for me. But you, we have a different set of rules for you.’ We see this in politics all the time. Shadow is on full frontal display. And what do most of us do when we see it in another person? Yeah, just like the self-righteous lions, we punch down. We project our unconscious shadow outward, onto other people. Sure, that person may fit the projection perfectly. That is mostly the way it goes. There is something in that person that you recognize, that the projection can stick to. But what goes unnoticed in our superior finger pointing is that three fingers are pointing back at ourselves. We mostly spot it because we got it!

So what triggers that vehement charge to vent on someone else? Down deep, we care. We want things to be better. We care ST-labrynthabout personal freedoms, social justice, family values, the right to protect ourselves, to make our way in the world, environmental sustainability, national security, sovereignty, religious freedom, and fairness. And as Americans, we especially care about fairness. We don’t like it when we perceive that the deck is stacked in someone else’s favor. Working out the agreements that create a fair society is what politics is all about. It’s not easy to be compassionate, to try to understand what stirs the emotions of others. But in this election, and going forward, there is a real opportunity to start to see the humanity in other people, especially others with whom you disagree. When we see their humanity, and privilege their rights, as much as we do our own, we’re on the right track. Opening our hearts that way would transform our politics. We could negotiate competing wants and needs within a civil discourse, full of empathy and compassion. By seeing ourselves in another we would develop the widest, most inclusive and fair perspective possible. All problems are solvable once we learn to dial down the hateful rhetoric.

What motivates me to write this blog today is the desire to hear from people who are earnestly trying to see themselves in others. I want to fill my consciousness with stories of people who are negotiating win-win agreements, reconciling long-held disputes for the greater good, cooperating in order to make a business or a relationship work out in a good way, or in any other way making this a more humane world. That goodness is happening right now too. It’s just drowned out by the vitriol. So, let me hear from the do-gooders today. It’s their positive politics that I want to energize. What I don’t want, is to hear from anyone who is angered by this article. If you’re are reading this, and you want to give me a piece of your mind, feel free to write out a full-throated and cathartic response and then scream it into the void.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-51-37-am

Dr. Mark Pirtle
Dr. Mark Pirtle
Dr. Ann Marie Chiasson

I wrote this blog for myself as much as anyone else. The shadow side of me has played all the parts of the drama triangle–perpetrator, victim, and rescuer. I’m doing my best not to breathe life into those limiting personas, but they still exist within me. It’s hard work to confront and integrate one’s shadow. But the work is its own reward. What you get from shadow work is you get to keep the passionate energy that the shadow offers, plus, more and more, you get to enjoy the freedom from its limiting perspective. Dr. Ann Marie Chiasson and I are holding a Shadow Work Retreat February 19th, 2017. If you think you might be interested, click here for more info.

If you gained any perspective from this article or found it otherwise helpful in any way, please share it. The sooner we all learn about our shadow the closer will be the day when we’re not ruled by it.

Wishing you well,


About HSP’s — Highly Sensitive People

My wife Lynda and I just watched a fascinating documentary titled: Sensitive – The Untold Story. It turns out, the genetic trait of high sensitivity is found in 20% of the population. It is found equally in men and women and in over 100 animal species. The scientific term for the trait is SPS or Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This trait is not a disorder, but it does pose challenges for people who possess it, as well as those with whom they live.

What SPS means is, certain people are more tuned into subtly of words, emotions, environments, threats, meaning, sounds, beauty, loss, poignancy, world events, human suffering, the list goes on. On other words, the brains of highly sensitive people (HSP) not only process more information, but they also process it more deeply. High sensitivity can be a blessing or a curse. Because practically speaking, HSP’s feel more. So their emotions are not only more keen and profound, sometimes they’re more gripping. For this reason, HSP’s can get easily overstimulated in environments that are chaotic, loud, or otherwise intense. Overstimulation is the challenging aspect of this trait, both for the HSP and for those with whom they live. I imagine many stress-related illnesses – addictions, depression, chronic pain, anxiety disorders, and more – are correlated with HSP.

Mark as a babyI am a highly sensitive person. I even joked about it in my guided meditation booklet when I wrote:

“When I was a kid, I don’t remember people thinking that I was spoiled, but I do remember being overly sensitive. I would throw a fit if there were wrinkles in socks when my mom put on my shoes. I’ve always liked things to be just so. I can recall my Dad even telling me to “unfuss myself.” So I guess that’s my life’s journey, learning to accept and allow.”

Being an HSP has been a journey – an educational one – where I’ve had to learn about myself. Learning to meditate and be more mindful has been a big part of that journey. Since I started meditating, my sensitivity has not toned down. Rather, it’s even stronger than ever. But the remarkably positive difference now is in the quality of my sensitivity. I’m no longer reactively sensitive, throwing a fit when I get tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or otherwise when circumstances don’t go my way. Instead, now, I can sit for extended periods of time, experiencing relative discomfort with composure. I’m still sensitive, but now, I’m groundedly sensitive. That’s the blessing that makes all the difference. I now know how to open up and have complete experiences, riding the waves of energy around me. In this way, I can experience the fullness of my gift for sensitivity without it throwing me into an emotional tailspin. The blessed gift of grounded sensitivity heightens one’s senses, and that, in turn, makes life more precious. If you are an HSP, you have the potential to make the shift from reactive to grounded sensitivity yourself. If you need support, I’m here to help.

If you think you’re an HSP, let us know. Add your comment to this post. We want to hear your stories. Also, if you know other HSP’s, share this post with them. They want to know they’re not alone.



Doing Leads to Being

Ever been to a social gathering or a meeting and introduce yourself this way, “Hi, I’m Mark, I’m a _________.’ Funny how we identify ourselves with what we do. It makes sense. I’m not quibbling about it. But it’s also strange if you think about it. A Noun (being), arises out of a Verb (doing).

For example, if I start smoking, at some point, I become a smoker. In the case of smoking, it’s hard to say exactly when that transformation happens. Are there milestones that identify the shift? Once a person crosses an invisible line it is inevitable, smoking-1026559_960_720the consequences of the actions (smoking) start to emerge. Smelly breath, morning cough, higher blood pressure, lower blood oxygen, possibly even cancer can be effects of smoking. Interestingly, the activating force behind these results begins to fade once a person stops smoking. Changing the actions (not smoking) then attracts different results–better overall health. Also too, the now ex-smoker will eventually stop identifying him or herself as a smoker. The label (the noun) evaporates away as well.

As you know, I’m in the business of trying to inspire people to start meditating. I do this because the same potentiating force that turns doing into being is at play here too. If you start to meditate, you will initiate actions that lead to predictably positive results. Studies show that people who meditate are happier and healthier. The enhanced awareness that goes with a skillful meditation practice also improves relationships at work and home. Simply put, meditators learn skills and perspectives that enable them to suffer less and their life gets easier.

EVERYONE WANTS THE EFFECTS OF MEDITATION. But to my great dismay, less than one percent of people will do what it takes to achieve those positive results. People get so totally lost in the world that they won’t prioritize the one activity that will shift things for them.

One of my meditation teachers, John Yates, PhD., (Culadasa), wrote a book, The Mind Illuminated, that details the ten stages of meditative development. His formulation teaches that a person masters stage one as soon as they develop a consistent practice. If you are part of the one percent and are interested in cultivating the positive results that come with the activity of meditating, find my free guide on starting a practice. I’ve attached a PDF to this blog. Click the link at the end of this paragraph. And please, share it with your friends too. Begin-at-the-Beginning-M1. This PDF is a part of a more comprehensive 6-module online course on learning meditation and mindfulness for stress relief. If you feel inspired, you’re invited to check out that resource as well.

Remember, Being arises out of the Doing, and, when Doing changes, so does Being. Become a meditator. Then, reap the rewards!


In my mind, the word “ritual” conjures religious overtones. Today, I choose to use it in a much more mundane way. Here, let ritual mean any activity you engage in that captures your attention on a daily basis. I’m talking about ingrained habits, like walking the dog in the morning, watching TV after work, reading the Huffington Post at lunch (me), or posting on FaceBook after putting the kids to bed. We all have rituals we devote precious allotments of our time to every day.

Thoughts and feelings come to reflect whatever are our cumulative preoccupations. Capturing attention as they do, rituals lead to habitual emotional states. And, emotions felt habitually, eventually grow from states into temperaments. That is how mundane rituals mold us over time.

How the power of focus can create a positive spiral in your life
How the power of focus can create a positive spiral in your life

If you want life to be better, consider examining the effects of your mundane rituals. How are you ritually prioritizing your time each day? You may discover that some rituals are not serving you. Giving yourself over to them is costing rather than adding to your life.

If you decide you’d like to replace some of your rituals with a daily meditation practice, I’d like to offer you a quick lesson on how to get started. Just click here to gain access to a free webinar that explains the basics of how to use meditation for stress relief. On the webinar page, you’ll be able to watch a video and also receive free downloadable audio meditations. These are the same meditations that come with the first month of my 13-month guided program. Enjoy them. They’ll get you started.

My mission is to help as many people start a meditation and mindfulness practice as possible. The reason, I want the world to be a better place. So, if you’ve been thinking about taking up the ritual of meditation, go for it. I assure you, you’ll gain more happiness, mental and emotional clarity, compassion for yourself and others, more creativity, confidence, grounded sensitivity, peace, a sense of purpose, deeper sleep, and a better memory. If you want to improve as a parent, to be less impulsive and reliant on medicating substances and behaviors, to develop increased tolerance for distress, then begin to practice the ritual of meditation and mindfulness. IN ALL THESE WAYS AND MORE, THIS RITUAL WILL MOLD YOUR LIFE INTO SOMETHING WORTH CELEBRATING. I’m here to support you if you’d like to get started. Please share this newsletter with anyone you want to be happy.

As always, I wish you peace, health, and happiness.



Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 12.55.02 PM

I wanted to pass on some exciting, and super valuable news to anyone interested in THE BEST EVER BOOK on the stages of meditation training. I’ve read many books on the subject, but this book is the most informative, clear, and thorough by a long shot. The book is titled, The Mind Illuminated, and it was written by one of my meditation teachers, John Yates, Ph.D. I’m excited about this book because it’s simply the best resource on the topic. Please check it out for yourself. Reading this book will totally jumpstart your practice. Also, please share this post with anyone and everyone who is interested in learning to meditate for the purpose of self-change and/or healing.

Wishing you well,


Kids These Days!

“Kids these days.” How many times have you heard someone speak these words? How many times have you thought or spoken them yourself? We adults are perfect projection machines—chastising children for their behavior while at the same time forgetting it is a reflection of our own. Sure, each person is born with a unique temperament. Nevertheless, the environment of the home and culture radiates a powerfully influential force that molds them as well.Fighting Children

It might be helpful to think of children as biological recording devices. As such, they come into the world equipped to record and playback everything they experience. How do we imagine children learn to feel, sit with, and process their emotions? Clearly, it is through the process of modeling the emotional responses of those closest to them. Kids learn to speak kindly to others or not, depending on whether or not they hear kind words spoken to them. They may learn to respect others and their feelings, but only if their feelings receive respect first.

Likewise, by modeling the adults in their lives, children learn to become anxious, depressed, aggressive, distracted, impatient or disinterested. Unfortunately, most often our medical system treats these emotional issues as medical conditions. Pharmaceutical companies create pills for dampening all such “symptoms.” This misguided polypharmaceutical approach has no endgame. Lab testing our kids by pouring psychoactive chemicals into them is not the answer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying in all cases. Sure, in rare instances medicine can be a solution. What I’m saying is that pills won’t solve problems related to an unsafe environment, or the unavailability of tuned-in, emotionally skillful caregivers.

Happily, there’s another alternative to taking our children to the doctor. Humans never exhaust the capacity for growth and evolution. Meaning, grace is embedded in the practice of parenting. But, progressing along the path towards positive change requires pulling yourself out of your routine, and then, learning something new. Happy ChildrenIf you want to change your child’s behavior, start by working on yourself first. When you learn to experience your emotions more skillfully, speak more kindly and respectfully, be more compassionate, you’ll become perfectly enabled to model that skillfulness for your children. Then they’ll change.

Dr. Mark Pirtle is a meditation and mindfulness teacher who works in the recovery field. He contracts for Sierra Tucson, Miraval and is a faculty member of the Center for Integrative Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Arizona. He teaches Skillfully Aware, a 6-week class that teaches the brain science of emotional literacy and the practice of meditation and mindfulness. For more information on classes go to

Universal Causes of Violence, and a Plea to Guard Our Senses

I was skimming through the Huffington Post last week when I came across an article written by Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., named to TIME magazine’s 2012 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and the founder and president of Give an Hour. Dr. Dahlen wrote a piece on the recent killings in South Carolina of nine African Americans, by 21-yearold, self-described white supremacist, Dylan Roof. In her article, Dahlen implores us all to “pay attention to how he became a killer…” because such understanding may help us prevent other young people from following a similar path. I couldn’t agree more.

Without wasting another moment, let’s explore what are the causes of such hatred and violence. Since Dr. Dahlen already mentioned the abuse Roof suffered as a child, let us look beyond early childhood experiences for more answers. Are there universal features that lie behind every mass shooting or terrorist attack? If so, what are those elements?

To start, I would argue, that in the mind of every perpetrator is a volatile combination of two mental factors: a fixated attention, coupled with a rigidly unexamined self-narrative, the theme of which is injustice. Or, as Dahlen similarly describes, “a distorted sense of purpose in a belief system that fomented hate…” These two factors work the same way in the minds of homegrown white supremacists, Islamic terrorists, and everybody else. Mixing attentional fixation, with a personal self-story of injustice forms an unassailable fortress of views, which makes the world appear as a hostile battleground between “us” (includes me and my tribe), and “them.” The violence comes easily then, because one’s self-story rationalizes and justifies it.

But there’s something more. And this is a big one, maybe the biggest because it provokes and agitates the two already mentioned. It’s the influence of Us vs. Them memes—ideas that spread like viruses through a population—propagated intentionally by outside sources. Keep in mind Root’s views did not arise in a vacuum. He was not the first to imagine a self-excusing perspective that pit him against his victims. It’s vital we acknowledge this reality: there are those who benefit from disseminating Us vs. Them memes. Whether for TV ratings, political power, market exploitation or for furthering a cause or career, carefully massaged talking points, meant to manipulate us, pour out through various media channels.

It never seems like manipulation to the person who identifies with the speaker, however. It just sounds and feels like the “Truth.” That’s because the right ideas, those with which one identifies, make a person feel understood, and thus connected to something larger. And that’s when it happens: when a person feels like he’s found his tribe, he gives his trust, and shortly thereafter, he loses his discernment. Like an invisible puppet master pulling invisible strings, the fixated person then buys things he does not need, votes against his own self-interest, and may even strap a suicide vest to his chest.

Rush Limbaugh CaricatureOne test for evaluating potential media programming that belies a hidden profit, power or political motive is that the talking points make a certain segment of the population mad. Clever programming tells stories that portray clear villains (them) and clear victims (us). Once the programming hooks someone, that person then finds it hard not to tune in. It’s natural to want to see how the fight is going—whether we’re winning or not.

So, please, be careful. The consequence of exposing oneself to such Us vs. Them content is living a life more filled with harmful self-righteous indignation. Ask yourself: Who are you listening to, and what are they saying? How does it make you feel? Is it making you mad, especially at someone else? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please turn away. As Dahlen so incisively points out, “we need to recognize this type of hatred for what it is, a sign of severe emotional disturbance.”

Now, I am not equating us with Dylan Root. He is an extremist. But he was not born that way. His extremism evolved through repeated exposure to harmful and manipulative ideas. Then, he marinated in them, turning them over in his mind. As you might imagine, the “flavor” of his views intensified over time. Lacking awareness, this malignant process can happen to us too! Everything we watch and listen to plants seeds in our minds, which will bear fruit that will become our future. So, let us guard ourselves against malicious, Us vs. Them ideas, for our own sake, and for the sake of our aggrieved society.

If you found this post valuable, please share it. Also, if it feels like the right time to start working with your triggers, thoughts and sensations by learning to meditate and be mindful, I offer a meditation program that may be of interest to you. For more information, click here. We are grateful that all of the Skillfully Aware classes we have held this year filled. If you are interested in attending the next round of classes in September and October, please email


Wishing you peace,