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,


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 www.skillfullyaware.com.

Intentional Families Thrive

Hi all,

Karen Putnam PhD., childhood development and parenting expert

Last week, I had the great pleasure of teaching alongside Karen Putnam PhD., a clinical psychologist who specializes in child development and parenting. We spoke to an engaged group of parents interested in implementing evidence-based strategies for promoting health and happiness within their families. Karen suggested something simple, but profound: being intentional and setting agreements for family behaviors. Simple yes, but who among us has been so proactive? As intentional as Lynda and I believe we are, we’ve not taken this step. That’s going to change! We’ve already begun to craft our own family agreements document and intend to enact it. Family harmony seems to stem from cooperation, kindness, skillful communication and emotional self-regulation. As a result, we wove these attributes into the fabric of our agreements. Our document is still a work in progress, but here’s what we have so far:

Pirtle Family Mission: to consciously wish for, and actively support, the health, happiness, growth, and success of each family member

In the spirit of this intention, we each endeavor to live by the following agreements:
1. We agree we each play a part in the well-functioning of the family
2. We agree to mindfully contribute to the well-functioning of the family, both emotionally and materially
3. We agree to give our full attention when communicating with one another
4. We agree to speak kindly and listen to each other without judgment or interruption
5. We agree to be honest with each other
6. We agree to acknowledge, accept, and tolerate the feelings of others
7. We agree to share our feelings openly, but in a respectful and kind way–we don’t dump or dramatize
8. We know we can ask for support, yet we each agree to be responsible for ourselves and our feelings
9. We agree to try to understand one another, and ask clarifying questions
10. In every way, we aim to be kind, cultivating empathy and compassion in all our relations

That’s it so far. Let me know what you think. I’m open for suggestions.

Also, for those of you who live in Tucson, Karen and I are going to teach a parenting workshop on Saturday, April 18th. Here’s a link to a flier for more information. To register, call: 520-981-9911. Given the positive response to the short talk we did last week, the workshop promises to be well-attended. Seats are limited. Hope to see you there.

If you don’t live in Tucson, but you’d like Karen and I to come to you, just contact us through the website. We’re eager to share simple techniques that may positively transform your family dynamics.

All the best,


Living the Golden Rule Starts with Empathy…

Dr. Mark Pirtle

If we were to explore where empathy comes from, we would discover that it emerges from understanding; putting oneself in another’s shoes. I was not surprised by a new CNN/ORC poll released this week that reports more white Americans believe in the color blindness of police and the justice system than do non-white Americans. It’s disheartening given the overwhelming evidence of bias against people of color.

mark_pirtleThese data suggest that the majority of us still resist broadening our “in-group” to include others of different races and socioeconomic classes. The fact is that most of us reserve our compassion for only those like us. I wonder how this can be when other polls report the majority of people identify themselves as religious, and all of the world’s major religious traditions hold compassion at their core.

There’s a simple explanation for this contradiction. Collectively, we’ve been conditioned by a social Darwinistic dogma that pits us against each other. Ironically, those most antagonistic to Darwinian evolution in schools most embrace the survival of the fittest perspective in their social, economic and political activities. As a result, a person’s values may not align with his/her thoughts, speech, and actions.

The holidays offer us all an opportunity to reflect on this misalignment. Some may dispute this, but I believe the spirit of the holidays is about connection–renewing our spiritual connection to ourselves, our family, friends, neighbors, and more broadly all beings and the planet as a whole. There’s so much we need to fix, and we won’t be able to make progress if we keep our compassion reserved for our narrow in-group.

The challenge then for us going forward is to try to align our hearts and minds more accurately with the compassion-based teachings of our wisdom traditions. If you are one who does not claim a religion or spiritual tradition, you can participate by analyzing this fact. The enjoyments in your life are dependent on others, therefore, the happiness of others also depends on you! So let’s all do as the Dalai Lama suggests, and ‘be wisely selfish.’ Meaning, be kind and help others because it’s good for us.

Should you feel moved to take up this “compassion challenge” for 2015, may I suggest a wonderful book to help you get started: 12-Steps to a Compassionate Life, by Karen Armstrong.

Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday and New Year!


PS: If you’re interested in taking up meditation and a mindfulness practice, we’re offering a holiday discount on our 13-month program for stress relief. The program comes with a lifetime membership to our online forum. The forum is where you can ask questions, get support, interact with others, meditate with me, receive teachings and participate in retreats and more. The discount runs until midnight on December 31st. Call 520-981-9911 or email lynda@skillfullyaware.com and mention this “Peace2015” in the subject line.

A time to connect with kindness

Word Christmas Card 2012

The Pirtle-Martinez-Siek-Sobel-Stoll clan got together last night for the first of what may be many holiday gatherings over the next two weeks. As I was driving over to my father’s house I noticed feeling a mix of contradictory emotions. I felt happy, afraid, grateful, hesitant, thrilled, upbeat, reluctant and I don’t know what else. I was a hot helping of emotional stew.

Having mixed feelings prior to a family gathering is not new for me. Maybe you can relate. I love my family, but I always feel a little trepidatious; I don’t trust we will all mesh with each other joyously. So, I try to do my part. Normally it is my habit to remind myself before such events to “stay awake.” Unfortunately, this time I missed it. So shortly after I arrived, I fell into blissful unconsciousness. Smiling, hugging, and small talk issued forth, but I wasn’t deeply connecting.Worst_Christmas_Card_2012_2

When we got to the White Elephant gift exchange I played my role as the family comic. Humor is great, when it’s conscious. But it’s also so easy to cross a line, and for humor to bite a little. I may have crossed that line yesterday. The reason I think I did, is because I wondered about it on the drive home, and also as I fell asleep, and mostly because I feel compelled to write about it today.

In my heart, I always want to be kind. I’m working through feelings of guilt today because I wasn’t fully awake yesterday. Like me, you’re likely to spend lots of time with family in the next two weeks too. That time is precious, because it’s so rare. I’m going to redouble my efforts to try and stay awake for it. I know that wakefulness makes room for kindness, and kindness is the point of it all.

Wishing you a happy holiday and new year!


Baboons have something to teach us about kindness, health and happiness

Hi all, Lynda and I watched a National Geographic documentary last night on stress. If you consider watching it, be forewarned. It starts off pretty scary. It suggests that the way we live is killing us. Specifically, this documentary warns us against relentlessly driving ourselves, but also acknowleges that our cultural and social pecking orders also add a heavy burden of stress. It uses a troop of baboons to gather most of the data to support stress as a killer.

Snuggling-Baboons1If you watch it, I suggest watching it to the end. The message turns 180 degrees from how baboon culture conspires to make life a living hell for most all its members, to how, the troop  can change and live more peacefullly and therefore more healthfully. The moral is this: If baboons can learn to live with more kindness and compassion, and therefore live more happily and healthfully, so can we. If you’re looking to destress and find more peace in your life, we’re publishing an online course to help you do just that. We’re calling this course True North. It becomes available this Sunday, June 1st. If you’d like more information on True North, visit this link. Wishing you health and happinesss, and the same to your troop as well.