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The Secret Gift Hidden In Plain Sight Everywhere

The Secret Gift Hidden In Plain Sight Everywhere

Here’s a little fable that I first read years ago in a book called Life 101 by Peter McWilliams. I have heard the story in other places since so I don’t know if McWilliams came up with it but its one of my favorites.
So god really wanted to give humans a gift of the secret of happiness but he didn’t want to just hand it over. He wanted to hide it somewhere where everyone could get to it but they wouldn’t find it easily.
He delegated the hiding job to a group of angels and then went to play frisbee at the beach with his kids.
So the angels talked it over and came up with some ideas. “Let’s hide it on top of the highest mountain!” said one. The others pointed out that eventually humans would climb to the highest mountain and find it. Then inevitably someone would keep it for themselves.
Another suggested hiding it under the ocean and a third suggested putting it on the moon or on another planet. These ideas were rejected because, while humans would eventually get to these places, neither one would be accessible to everyone. Not everyone could swim for example.
They considered hiding it in caves and closets or in deserts or under piles of laundry. None of these places were just right.
Then the wisest angel snapped it’s fingers and said “I’ve got it. We’ll hide in in a place that is so obvious they’ll never think to look there. It’s a place that everyone can access.”
“Where is this place?” the others asked.
The wisest angel had been watching humans and had been involved in the early design meetings so this angel really knew humans. The Angel explained “We’ll hide the gift in plain sight, everywhere, right now. To make it even harder for them to find it we’ll label the gift so it’s really obvious. Then they’ll ignore it entirely.”
“What will we call it?” the others asked.

“We’ll call it The Present.”

The other day I came across this quote from Alan Watts. He said

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions, and ideas.”

This is what I realized long ago. When I am unhappy or upset or worried it’s because I am thinking about the past or the future. When I am completely involved in the present I am blissfully happy. This is why playing sports is fun. This is why I love doing improv. This is why playing music feels really good when you’re fully involved in it.

This works on the macro level. Nothing from the past and future needs to keep you from making this day, this week and even this year fantastic.

On the micro level, you can take a deep breath right now and experience the present. This is where bliss lives. This is the aim of Zen, to really be present to the present without thoughts of the past or worries about the future. This is surprisingly hard to do for more than a few seconds at a time but that’s the goal of meditation.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t meditate because their mind keeps spinning. Here is the truth. I’m not sure if this is encouraging or disheartening but it certainly blows away the idea that some people can’t meditate because their minds are too active. Everyone mind is too active. You’re not special. No one can stay in the present. Let me tell you a story that illustrates that. Genjo Marinello was an old friend of mind and is now the Abbot of the Zen Temple in Seattle where I started my practice. Genjo told me once that he meditated every morning for 90 minutes and every evening for 60 minutes and meditated several times a day with clients (he’s also a psychotherapist). He said in all that daily time he spends trying to focus on the present without thinking he feels lucky if he has one or two “good breaths.” Now Genjo has since been declared a Dharma heir so maybe all that zazen has turned him into a Bodhisattva who is always in the present moment but the point is that meditation is not about doing it right. It’s about trying to do it. Tara Brach suggests that the real point is not staying in the present moment but rather getting in the habit of noticing that you’re not in the present and refocusing on it. Brad Warner, my new favorite writer about Buddhism and founder of the Angel City Zen Center which is located in Los Angeles and, ironically, somewhere in my future plans, compares staying in the present to riding a surfboard. It’s great when you’re on it but it takes concentration to stay there and inevitably you’re going to fall off.

So take a moment right now to appreciate right now. Do that as much as you can. That’s where happiness is hidden.

How to Get to the Moon

How to Get to the Moon

I heard a story once about a couple of travelers who, upon coming to a high, seemingly impassable wall, would toss their hats over it first. That way their hats would not fall off while they climbed and, more significantly, they were committed. They had to climb over or else they would never see their hats again.

Turns out that this story was first written by Frank O’Connor in his memoir and was referenced by President Kennedy when he was making a speech dedicating a new Aerospace Health Center in San Antonio in 1963.*
He said:

“This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties they will be overcome…we will climb this wall…and we shall the explore the wonders on the other side.”

Click Here to jump to the Actionable/Practical Stuff at the Bottom

What Kennedy had done to toss the nation’s hat over a wall was to make a crazy promise in his first year in office to put a man on the Moon before the decade was over. This was less than a month after the first American (Alan Shepard) went to outer space (and less than 7 weeks after the Russians sent the first human). Really NASA had no idea how they were going to get someone to the Moon let alone get them back in one piece in less than 10 years. But President Kennedy said we were going to do it.

So we tried.

And we did.

So the first action step is to say what you’re going to do. Declare it. Write it down. Tell people about your intention. Then keep saying it. The more often you say it the more power it will have. The more confidently you say it the more power you will have.

Saying you’re going to do something does several important things.

The first is that it commits you to action by putting your goals outside of your imagination and into reality.

Secondly it tells people around about your goal and gives them a chance to support you or too adopt that goal yourself.

Also it makes the goal more concrete and less dreamlike simply because you have to organize the goal into a sentence.

This is how Sacred Fools Theater started. It was just a bunch of brain cells randomly firing inside my skull until I told a few people about the idea. Then I told a few other people. Then I invited them to my house on a Sunday afternoon in January nearly two decades ago (January 19th, 1997…I think).

At that meeting the random group of people I invited became a talked and came up with agreements and plans and structures. We wrote things down and hashed things out and invented stuff.

All of a sudden there was a team, a growing team, of people working on a real project. Like magic we were a theater company.

That started because I opened my mouth.

And here’s an interesting thing about that. When I started talking about it the conversation went like this: “I’m thinking about starting a theater.” My friend would squint and look at me and I would get nervous. I’d think they thought it was a dumb idea or that I had no business starting theater. Then I’d mumble, “Would you want to be part of it?” In nearly every case they responded “YES! I was afraid you weren’t going to ask!”

In my experience, making the statement is the scariest part. After something is out of your brain it takes on a life of it’s own.

More recently I quit drinking. The most important step I took to make that commitment a reality was to announce it on Facebook. That got me a huge amount of positive support for my choice. Honestly I was surprised by that. I was expecting people to be bummed out. I was operating under the delusion that people loved to see me imbibing alcohol. I also got great advice that has helped me stay sober (for 10 months so far). It’s also made my private choice a matter of public record. That a bit of pride keeps me from considering a sip.

So if you have something you want to do. Say it. Say it out loud. Say it to people near you. Declare your intention. Say it before you know how you’re going to do it. Throw your hat over the wall.

That’s how you get to the Moon.


When you decide to do something the first step is to tell someone about your decision.The next step is to tell more people about your decision. Telling people about your intention gives it life and power.

Three Steps to
Take Today

  1. Write down your goal as a sentence.
  2. Call at least 2 people and tell them about your goal.  Tell them you want to sit down and discuss it. Do it now. (I’ll wait.)
  3. Schedule a meeting with you and at least two other people to discuss your goal. These people may share your goal or support you in reaching your goal.


* This was November 21. He was killed in Dallas the following day.

Step Way Back

Step Way Back


An important step when looking at solving a problem or making a positive change is to step back.

You can take a small step back. Take a moment to reassess and regroup.

You can take a big step back so you can look at the big picture.

Or you can step back right out of your own head.

When you’re dealing with a difficult situation, it may be a good idea to forget everything you know about it and approach it with new eyes.

There is something that called disfluency that actually helps people approach problems in new ways. Not knowing how things have always been done and not knowing the conventional wisdom leads to new ways of looking at things.


In the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell figured out that light was a wave of electomagnetism and it always traveled at the same speed in a vacuum. That would be 186,000 miles per second.

But there was a problem. Sir Isaac Newton and common sense and every physicist in the world would tell you that if you throw a rock from a moving platform the rock will have the speed of the platform AND the speed your arm gave it. Therefore if you shoot a beam of light out of a car going at 186,000 miles per second, that beam of light is obviously going to shoot out at twice that speed.

Twice the speed of light.

Maxwell’s equations said that this wouldn’t work so Maxwell’s equations violated Newton’s laws of motion and common sense.

For 40 years physicists tried to figure out what was wrong with Maxwell’s equations.

Then in 1905 a young man who worked in the Swiss patent office figured out what it would mean if Maxwell was right and Newton and everyone else was wrong.

That’s how Einstein came up with Relativity.

In Zen Buddhism there is a concept called Shoshin or Beginner’s Mind. This is a state of openness, eagerness and wonder uncorrupted by knowledge of how things are supposed to be.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” 

-Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

If you can toss out your preconceptions you may see solutions that were invisible before.

Another powerful way to look at things in a new way is to imagine that a friend was facing your situation and asked you for advice. What would you tell them?

Chances are good that you would tell them not to worry about many of the things that are keeping you from moving forward. If you are a like most humans, you’re more powerful and capable than you think you are. Your conception of yourself was probably formed when you were 5 or 6. At that time you were, in fact, smaller and weaker than almost everyone else.

That’s not true anymore.

Keep in mind also that back when humans were evolving and our basic operating software was written, failure usually meant death. So we have a built in fear of failure. This was a healthy fear for a caveman 500,000 years ago.

It’s not a healthy fear any more.

A great way to get new perspective on a tough situation is to grind it through a set process like The Three Simple Steps. Another powerful tool is to talk it through with a friend or a coach (like me!) who is unfamiliar with the situation.

Often just describing or writing about a problem will reveal your own preconceived notions and disempowering beliefs. Suddenly you’ll find yourself pushing aside a pile of dead branches and revealing a brand new path to your destination.

This has been happening to me like crazy lately. I’ve been telling friends about this blog and this book I’m writing and no one has told me I’m crazy. No one has told me to play it safe and no one has told me I have no business doing this.

No one is more surprised by this than me. Let me tell you that I have doubts ALL THE TIME about this and I’ve barely even started. The interesting thing is that these doubts are coming from inside. Everything outside of myself—everything I read, every conversation I have and everything I do—demands that I move forward with this project. There is no evidence that this is the wrong thing to do.

Yet there is a big scared caveman in my head who thinks I have no business doing this.

So I take a deep breath and take a big step back and look at the project from a point about 5 feet behind that caveman’s head.

From back here that’s a caveman who has really made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. That’s a caveman who has let fear and self-doubt cripple him and his potential for way too long. I have compassion for that caveman but I’m not going to let him run this show anymore.

I’m going to do this. I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it and I’m going to be successful at it.


I have to admit that I wanted to pull back on that last statement but I took a step back and asked myself “what would I recommend a client do?” The clear answer was to clearly declare my intention.

So I did.


Here’s the homework for the comments section.

  1. What advice would you give a friend in your situation?
  2. If you traveled back in time, what advice would you give yourself 20 years ago?
  3. A time door just opened and you, 20 years older, just stepped through. What advice is your older self giving you?