Are You A Vampire?

image by psychodollbox

For the past several weeks I’ve been having an amazing conversation with Ana Noriega about love. Love is one of those topics that is hard to contain, it is nearly impossible to wrap your fingers around it because – well, because it is not a “thing.”  Our conversation hasn’t been about defining love or quantifying it. Ana has been helping me sort out for myself what is love and what is often mistaken for love.

Many months ago she introduced me to types of relationships that look like love but are in actuality something she calls “vampiring.”  Vampiring happens when people try to fill their emptiness with another person; basically, vampiring is enabling. For me, vampiring is much more visceral and clear than an abstract concept like “enabling.” Asking, “Who is drinking your life-blood?” or  “Whose life-blood are you drinking?” inspires the making of new agreements.

I’m learning that Love is distinct from need. Love is not invested in what you get. It is all about what you bring. Love is more about who you are than anything you do. Love grows in the space between you and the other. I have an image of love like sound waves rippling from a heart, resonating with other hearts so that the sound/love waves magnify and reach ever farther as they grow in vibration.

Ana is an amazing coach and leads workshop groups that explore the universal laws and how they apply in daily life. This is a list she recently sent me – it is from her latest newsletter. Think of this list, not as definitions or rules but as descriptions of something beyond description, of how you might try to describe a sunset or the view from the top of a mountain. Think of this list, not as something to achieve, but as the qualities of an experience:

What is Love?

The cosmic law of Universal Love, ruler of all universal laws shows that:

  • LOVE builds, not destroys;
  • Gives freedom, not denies it;
  • Does not subject to nor subjects itself to;
  • LOVE does not treasure, but shares;
  • It is not selfish, possessive nor authoritarian;
  • It is impersonal, generous and sympathetic;
  • LOVE is not discriminatory or personal, but universal and impersonal;
  • IT is delivered without expecting rewards or recognition;
  • Love does not forgive, because nothing offends it;
  • It does not demand because it has no expectation;
  • Love does not reason because it is a divine feeling rather than a calculated thought;
  • Love is not greedy, because it has it all;
  • It does not criticize, because it understands the divinity of man, respects his wishes and free will;
  • It does not fall into jealousy, because it extends into every heart;
  • It loves all and shares without feelings of belonging or possession.
  • LOVE is protector without discrimination, for to Love, all are his children, mothers, fathers, husbands, brothers, friends.
  • Love does not have favorites and extends itself as a perfect feeling and divine energy that is.
  • Love is God, and therefore is perfect and absolute.
  • It is silent, because it is wisdom;
  • Its manifestations are simple and humble, but sincere and pure.
  • Nothing disturbs Love because it is intact;
  • Nothing extinguishes it, because it is infinite;
  • It belongs to all, because it is universal and cosmic.

I would add to this list: You discover it in others when you first find it in yourself.

What Would You Put In Your Box?

Tom is what first nation’s people would call a ‘Rememberer.’ Within him he carries all of the family stories, stories that stretch back centuries. He knows them in vivid detail and you can feel the presence of his ancestors in him when he tells their stories. He is a living monument to those that came before him. Over many long nights sipping wine he’s told me the stories and now parts of them live on in me. One story in particular has become mine to tell.

It is about a little boy that died 125 years ago. The little boys name was Johnny Quiggle and he died of typhoid fever. At the time, 1885, people believed the fever could be passed through the possessions of the inflicted so Johnny’s doctor mandated that his mother, Isabelle, burn her little boy’s possessions; he asked her to erase any evidence that Johnny had lived. She couldn’t do it. In secret she packed his belongings in a trunk, wrote stories of Johnny’s life, and plastered the trunk into a wall for some distant descendent to find. Tom found the trunk in 1985 when he was restoring the ranch house.

Over our long nights sipping wine Tom and I have talked about Isabelle and Johnny, and about monuments and memorials. Why do people need to memorialize their departed loved ones? Why do we need to leave marks on the earth that say, “I was here” or “This happened on this day in this place?” “Remember me.”

Isabelle’s impulse was innate. Isabelle wanted Johnny to live into the future; she wanted someone to find the trunk and share his story. She wanted people in the future to know that her boy, Johnny Quiggle, lived.

We paint on the walls of caves. We pose for portraits and we erect pyramids and statues. We create altars and celebrate The Day Of The Dead. We bury time capsules and plaster treasure chests into the walls of our homes. We seek to connect with our ancestors and our descendents, we research family trees to know the root of our existence and explain our oddities and behavior. We fret about our legacy.

I’ve spent many hours in old graveyards reading the faded headstones and wondering about the people whose full rich lives are told in a few spare details carved in stone: birth and death date and perhaps a phrase like, “Devoted Mother” or “Civil War Veteran.” I will join them someday. I wonder about my life, what it is about, what I have achieved, who I have become and am becoming. I wonder what might be carved on my stone – what single phrase can possibly describe the fullness of my life. What is the story I want my life to tell? Who will tell it when I’m gone?

Sipping wine, Tom asked, “What would you put in your box? Better yet, what would others put in your box?” Beyond your awards and other fake social-face stuff, what would you put into your box that truly revealed who you were?

It’s a great question.

Carl Jung believed the human psyche was spiritual by nature and so do I. My friend Joe Shirley has taught me that the universe tends towards wholeness. What could I put in a box that would communicate these beliefs?

I believe we seek identification with something greater than our selves: god, nature, and community, work that truly matters. What is a life well lived? When I look at the things Isabelle packed into Johnny’s box, the stories she told about his brief life, I think he lived a life that truly mattered – not because of the stuff but because of her ceremonial act.

Someone once told me that the saddest thing they could imagine was a 40-year-old production assistant (someone who hadn’t achieved outward success). I’ve met some amazing people who have lived rich full lives, traveled and experienced all of the messiness of life and they mop floors for a living. Some of the saddest human beings I have met have achieved all outward success and are miserable in their very-safe-lives. What might go in their boxes?

For me, these questions always go into the mythic. We forget that in the story of the Garden of Eden there are two important trees: the tree of knowledge (apparently an apple tree) and the tree of everlasting life. Eat the fruit from the first tree and your consciousness splits; you see through the eyes of duality (me/you, him/her, us/them, black/white,). One bite from the apple of knowledge and you are no longer in the garden, you become distinct, separate, and alone. This is a birth metaphor. After a bite of apple, the ultimate quest in life is for unity (a return to the garden); it is a quest for greater connectivity, wholeness, and belonging. How do we get back to the garden and eat the fruit of the second tree, the tree of everlasting life? The transcendence of time is the transcendence of separation. This is a death metaphor, the return to unity: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We live a life of cycles: spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring…. Birth, life, death. Rebirth. Every culture has a birth (separation) story and a death (unity) story. We make sense of our experiences of separation and transcendence through story – what else?  Separation and transcendence with all the happenings of life in between; this is the stuff of our lives and we make meaning of it through story. Memorials and monuments are forms of story. Isabelle was separated from her boy and she reached across 100 years to share the story of her boys’ life.

For many people their children represent their transcendence of time – they live on in their children’s children through memory and genetics. For others, their work is their legacy; Van Gogh’s paintings are his children.

Neither Tom nor I have children though Tom is deeply connected to his ancestors and in his old age he is concerned for his family’s legacy. His people have lived for generations in the Sacramento valley and on the same piece of land. The city of Sacramento will soon gobble up his property and so he will be the last of his line connected to his ancestral land. When he asks, “What am I going to do with Johnny’s trunk?” he is also asking, “what am I going to do when the land is paved over and the memory of my family is gone?”

Another great question.

Tom’s stories are more than histories. Through the telling his ancestors are transcending time and he is leaning toward them, leaning into belonging and wholeness: telling the stories of ancestors is the same as saying, “this is who I am.”  I feel that I know these people personally because they are present in Tom. And now, even though they are not my ancestors, I carry Tom’s stories within me. This is who I am.

Two Practices Useful For Stepping Off The Edge

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming (and yet to be titled) book in collaboration with Patti Digh

Photo by Paulo Brabo


Two Practices

There must be a moment when the butterfly, newly emerged from the cocoon, virgin wings gently flapping, untested and unknown, releases for the first time its hold on the branch; it cannot know what will happen because it has never experienced flight and yet it lets go. It steps into space. Can you imagine? The earthbound caterpillar following an internal imperative, an impulse devoid of sense-making, weaves a chamber around itself and falls into a deep sleep, fully protected, safe and warm. When it awakens it is profoundly changed. Does it wonder, “who am I?” Its once comfy cocoon is now a complete misfit for its body, a giant cramped in a kid’s bed it wrestles mightily to be free of this tight chamber. Once free of its wrapping it shakes and stretches its new body for the first time – and recognizes nothing about itself. Had it a mirror it would gape at its reflection looking for some remnant of its former self. Nothing in its experience has prepared it for a body with wings. Nothing in its experience has prepared it for that first big step into space. And, at the same time, every impulse in its body says, “Let go! See what happens!” The same imperative that drove the caterpillar into the cocoon fulfills itself in when the butterfly steps into space.


We do not underestimate how difficult it is to step out of the cocoon of the story you tell yourself about yourself though, if you are reading this book, you are probably like the newly minted butterfly still locked in the cocoon of an old story. You are following an inner imperative that makes no intellectual sense. If you are like the rest of us you daily ask yourself, “What am I doing?” Following an inner imperative necessarily comes with struggle because, like the butterfly, it requires you to leave the safety and comfort of everything you know and step into a new way of being that makes no sense from the old perspective. The struggle to be free of the cocoon is necessary – in fact it is vital to the growth and survival of the butterfly. In fact, if you help a butterfly out of its cocoon, if you try to eliminate the struggle, you will kill it. The inner imperative requires an obstacle and this is true in every process of transformation.


To help you begin the process of wrestling your way out of the old story we offer these two practices that are helpful in the struggle – these are the first of sixteen practices and form the foundation upon which all the others are built. And as is true of every practice we offer, you will only benefit from them if you practice them. They are practices; they are not inert concepts:


Have the experience first and then make meaning of the experience second. Much of what we ask you to do won’t make sense until the end of the series. Making meaning second is actually how things work naturally with your brain and yet we find most people invested in the idea that they need to make sense of something BEFORE they try it; that’s folly and will keep you in the cocoon forever. It’s the equivalent of the butterfly standing on the branch saying, “No Way! I’ve never done this before! I don’t care what the rest of you do but this caterpillar is keeping its belly safe on the ground!” Following an imperative rarely makes sense until after you step off the branch. So, we ask that you suspend your need to know, your need to control, your need to be right and open yourself to having experiences that may or may not make sense.  We promise the meaning will emerge – it always does. Practice having the experience first and then make meaning of the experience second.


All significant learning happens at the edges of your comfort zone. Think about it: it is generally uncomfortable to “not know.” In fact, most people go to great lengths to create the illusion that they know because to “not know” is vulnerable. The first thing we do when we are uncomfortable is to judge ourselves and/or others, usually both. When you go into judgment you impede your capacity to learn. Self-judgment creates a thick blanket of fog around you; it’s one of the most dense stories you can generate and (obviously) obscures your capacity to see. Ironically, most of us have an inner superhero that tells a great story about what it does in the face of danger but has no idea of what it really does when uncomfortable. The second practice is to suspend your judgments and learn: witness what you actually do at the edges as opposed to what you think you do. Suspending your judgments allows you to see and honor your choices: running away is just as valid as jumping over the edge or standing very still –  they are valuable because they are conscious choices available to you whey you give yourself the gift of not having to know. Suspending your judgment affords you the privilege of learning something new.