How to avoid choking on food

Some of you may know that Olivia saved my life in London last year; here’s a brief reprise.

I had just started chewing a mouthful of steak when a piece of gristle and fat separated from the rest of the piece, and slid quickly down my throat, lodging across the trachea—instantly I knew I could not breathe. I could not breathe out; I could not breathe in. I stood up; time slowed. The certainty that I could no longer breathe was profound. I was mute; I signalled that I could not breathe. Olivia ran around behind me and slapped me as hard as she could in the middle of the back, several times. Nothing changed. Still behind me, she clasped her arms around me and began the Heimlich manoeuvre and at the same time I slumped forwards against the pressure of her arms; the small fragment of fat and gristle popped out. Life restarted.

Last night I realised (for the first time) that my habit is to breathe out before taking a mouthful of food. (This just goes to show that even someone who has meditated as long as I have, and have felt the movements of the breath many, many times, can still have 100% blank spots about regular daily life habits.) How do you breathe when you eat?

The significance of this habit, always breathing out before taking a mouthful, cannot be overstated: fundamentally, it is dangerous. If your breath is out as you place food in your mouth, you will be at least partially breathing in through your mouth as you begin to chew—which means you can breathe a part of this into the wrong place. As well, compounding the danger, you cannot breathe out if something does become lodged. This is precisely what happened in London. Had I been on my own, I’d be dead.

Last night, seeing and feeling this pattern clearly, I paused before every mouthful, and breathed in. Only when the breath was full did I place the food. I noticed that introducing this tiny pause had a number of effects: I became more aware of the appearance of the food on the spoon and I was able to appreciate its appearance. Once on the tongue, I breathed out as I started to chew. Absolutely no chance of choking here.

The most amazing aspect of this was to realise how unaware I was about a tremendously important aspect of how I ate. ‘What else have I missed?’ was my second thought.

More prosaically, please observe how you actually eat a mouthful of food. If your habit is to breathe out before putting food in your mouth, try doing it the way I suggest. Does this make any difference for you?

For me, like all awarenesses, I cannot not be aware of this from now on.

The vexed question of “enlightenment”

A student who has done a number of Goenka-style 10-day Insight meditation retreats, and who knew that I have done some work in this area myself, asked me if I would like to take part in a podcast ’round-table’ discussion about what he described as my “awakening”, and those of the other guests. On reflecting on his request, I said that I was not sure that a round-table discussion would serve the audience well—such discussions tend to bog down in definitional arguments and ‘my evidence is bigger than yours’. Personally, I have little interest in trying to convince anyone that what has been useful for me is anything more than potentially useful to anyone else. I told him I would be happy to talk about my experiences, if that would be of interest. That podcast might happen yet.

I do not describe myself as having ‘awakened’, rather that I find myself in an awakening process from time to time. I find myself in other processes too, if sufficiently tired—this is key, because the way some people talk about their awakening is that, in some way, it’s a permanent change (and the sub-text is that the work is done, and no further effort is required). This is not the case in my experience. While the Satipatthana Sutta* describes this process as a “one-way street” once one has got on that path sufficiently (a one-way street that goes to Nibbana directly with no turn-offs), I think this is a simplified version of what can happen. I know at least one person who achieved profound awakening, and then deliberately tried to revert, in a kind of, ‘let’s see how permanent this really is’ kind of way, and she was successful. She is now one of the unhappiest people I know.

Swami Rudrananda’s (“Rudi”) perspective is helpful, and orients us in the most useful direction, I feel: “The reward of the work is more work”, he says. Key here is the insistence on the need to keep working, possibly at a deeper level of understanding or subtlety, but in all instances to keep working. Note that this use of ‘work’ is as far from the 9–5 sense as can be, but the activity requires effort and vigilance, nonetheless.

As well, the Tibetan perspective on this is cautionary: they say that if you enter the God realm, it’s impossible to get out of it—and that is something I have kept in mind over these last 30 years of practise. If even the smallest part of you believes that you are enlightened, or even well along that path, you have stepped into the God realm. No thank you.

This self-entrapment has led to many gurus teaching false teachings, which are always based around their own awakening experiences, but which never set properly or, perhaps better, did not go deep enough. From my perspective, it never “sets properly”: there is only the continuing opportunity to practise.

Another aside: the Satipatthana Sutta speaks of the different kinds of students (in the sense of their attributes and inclinations), and which of the two practises, Vipassana and Samatha, each should do. The same sutta also describes the “Four Postures of Meditation”: lying, sitting, standing and moving. In the West, sitting has become the ‘gold standard’ but no justification can be found for this in the suttas. All postures will need to be explored. My understanding is that these four postures describe one’s whole daily life—there is no place or time one can’t be practising is my read.

And there is a famous quote from the Dalai Lama that is relevant here, too. He was asked, “What is your religion?” He answered, “Kindness. Be kind wherever possible. He paused, looked away, and looked back, “It is always possible.” Olivia put forward a similar sentiment, after we had spent some time with another well-known teacher, and while talking about whether we would continue to work with him: she said that she was only interested in practises that would make her a better human being.

So, to put this together, I am working on being a better human being; and that is all. This is a small thing, and a personal one. And the suttas describe a range of techniques to help you in that goal. They are one map. Schools of Yoga and Taoism have other maps. And as one teacher said to me once, “There are many maps to buried treasure, but not all maps lead to buried treasure.”

My own path was to rediscover Samatha meditation by myself (Serenity meditation, contrasted with Vipassana, or insight meditation), when on that long retreat in NM doing 4–6 yoga nidras daily, and often with breath counting. I was trying to be present in what Western science calls “the delta state”. The cessation of thought, and the concomitant opening of a much larger space of experience, in which thoughts can be seen dancing around, like fish on the surface of the ocean, crying out, “I am the ocean, etc.” is inevitable if you practise for long enough, I believe. Nothing special, actually, except it changes how you relate to thoughts that arise; at least it did for me.

If your clear experience is that thoughts are a very small, constantly changing content in a much larger, unchanging, space, you will never take your own thoughts for anything but what they are: the mind just doing its thing. Useful when useful. This experience can show the practitioner one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, impermanence, very clearly—my reaction was to laugh, I recall.

I think there are an infinite number of paths to awakening. The Buddhists are certain that theirs is the ‘correct’ one, and certainly there is the scriptural backup of the Pali Canons and the other parallel records in Sri Lankan, Chinese, and Japanese, and no doubt it is a successful method. But it is not the only one. The Buddha himself said many times that his ‘way’ was an approach that was empirical: try for yourself and see if it works for you.

Vipassana has captured the West, but somewhere in one of the suttas the Buddha says, “The bird of meditation needs two wings to fly”; the wings are Samatha and Vipassana. Insight arises in both approaches, though some teachers claim that only Vipassana leads to insight. If not taught well, Vipassana can become another fascination for the mind.

IMHO, Samatha is more useful in the modern Western world, with its myriad distractions—which always pull one away from one’s internal state. Samatha (among other things, the cultivation of the experience of serenity in the body) is rooted in sensations in the body. As bodily sensations only exist in the continually unfolding present, this focus helps to keep the practitioner present. Additionally this is why I have focussed my work on stretching: adding these sensations to the mix helps keep you grounded and present and helps the process of more finely discriminating these sensations.

*Satipatthana Sutta: “Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness”

A note on meditation retreats:

If any readers do have an opportunity to attend an Insight meditation retreat, I strongly urge you to act on this, but with one caveat: I recommend Mahasi-style retreats over the Goenka variants, because the former explicitly includes some instruction on walking meditation, and alternates these with sitting sessions, usually 45′ each. The Goenka retreats only do sitting practise, and unless you are an experienced sitter, pain will be a major fraction of your experience.

The ‘miracle’ of paper towel, and the brilliance of the ‘in-toilet shower’

I am in Singapore, teaching. I am staying at Hotel 81 Elegance, 30 Foch St, an inexpensive “hotel” (I will comment on ‘truth in advertising’ below) with minimal conveniences. As I contemplate living on a boat for extended periods some time in the future, I am asking myself, “what do I really need” on a regular basis.

It has been observed before that Westerners have extravagant needs for space; and “needs” becomes expectation and policy, both with consequences. I saw a calculation once that stated if everyone lived at the population density of Mong Kok (a suburb in Hong Kong I have stayed in) the world’s entire population could fit easily in Tasmania, with space left over.

Look at this space: a sink with tap and flick-mixer control to the left (you can just see the corner); a toilet in the back; and a hose with shower head clipped into a quick release fitting on the RH wall. An Aeropress and the world’s smallest kettle in the foreground (holds 750ml), is steeping coffee #2, the important one. The space is about 1,500 x 1,600, in a modified “L” (I imagine my neighbour’s toilet is behind the wall you can just see the edge of at the LH side of the pic.). This area is just a bit bigger most stand-alone toilets in Australia.

When I first saw this shower layout (and this is how most boats are laid out), I thought, ‘using the shower will wet the floor and the toilet seat’—and yes: that’s exactly what happens. But it is genius! The entire “bathroom” space is cleaned or at least rinsed every day. The shower head can reach every surface in the room; and washing both the toilet and the sink is so easy. No shower screen, because one isn’t needed.

And where does paper towel come in? An aside: I stay in serviced apartments and hotels regularly, and although the better ones have sponges and absorbent cloths, none has ever had paper towel, an essential for a messy cook like me. But give me a roll of recycled paper towel, and I can clean up as I go. The smaller the space, the more necessary this becomes.

So when visiting a new city, step one (or close to it) is I go paper towel hunting. In the process, I learn the supermarket or store layout; I walk around and start to get a feel of the place and get an idea of where I will find things. I feel like I am taking the city’s pulse; it is essential to do this by foot, I find.

The rest of the room space is a square with the “bathroom” excised: the king-size bed takes up most of the space, and so no chairs or lounge. There is a tiny “table” built in to the wall, about the size of three A4 sheets of paper, and a drawer underneath. Usually, I am worried about using any space where I cannot see the contents directly (I confess I have left many items behind in such rooms), but I am using this drawer, out of necessity. I will not forget its contents.

Another view now: looking from the bathroom/front door corner, we see a tiny fridge (holding ground coffee, a couple of cans of Carlsberg, and half a block of roasted almond chocolate; the main food groups) and above it a safe, holding passports, money, credit cards, camera, and one of the parts of my PA system, the receiver. Sensibly, it requires a numerical password. It works properly.

And the view! Another construction site, complete with complex sound effects (yesterday, the intriguing sound of an excavator’s bucket being gently drawn along concrete, worked in to the morning’s practise, around 06:00). I am becoming quite the connoisseur of construction views; that’s what I was looking at from a much more expensive Meriton I stayed in recently. The blackout curtains do just that (and I find real darkness a help in deep sleep).

There is no wardrobe space, but the TV screen serves as a clothes rack; a fine use, I feel, and my roller bag sits behind.

And my trusty MacBook Pro on the bed. Hotel 81 claims ‘high-speed wi-fi’, and that it is: 70Mb/sec down, and 50Mb/sec up—faster than any NBN connection in Australia that I have heard of. Why can’t we do this right? Anyhow, the wi-fi here is the best I have used anywhere in the world. In a tiny, cheap space, no bigger than a small Australian lounge room, in total. As I spend a significant time each day working via the net, this is important to me.

There’s more, though: the ceiling is over 3m (well over 10′) in height—this means air volume; this means breathable air and a feeling of spaciousness. The air-con is adjustable high enough for me (26°C, when sleeping) and because the ceiling is high, the air-con can do its work unobtrusively, both aurally and physically. All hotels and apartments in Australia have significantly lower ceilings than this (2,400mm typically) and that’s why they feel so cramped. I do not feel cramped, at all, in this space.

I must mention the surrounds: on three of the four corners of the hotel block are food courts, of a friendly home-cooking standard. This is perfect for me. A typical meal costs $6.

So, is “Hotel” 81 Elegance mis-named? I think not: for a single person, or a couple, this will be an excellent place to stay. The bed is made up, and the room cleaned, every day—how many hotels can make this claim, if we include weekends? Not so many. The staff are friendly and helpful. The manager told me how to find a 24-hour DIY laundry with the best commercial washing machines I have used, which dispenses detergent (and fabric softener and some other substance that I don’t use, if you so choose) as part of the price and not a soul in attendance. It is simply a service that the staff mentioned to me—the hotel’s own in-house laundry was $7 per T-shirt; the DIY laundry was $5 for an 11Kg load…

There are so many ways of addressing the requirements of living.

I pose the question: what do we really need?

This or that?

On the eve of running a Deep Well Being workshop in Brisbane, my thoughts turn to what can I offer a room full of students. The short description of the workshop is appended here:

Many people want to experience life more fully, and feel instinctively that there is more to life than how it appears on the surface. Others find that it is difficult to be still internally, because their minds are too busy. Still others don’t understand why their emotional life is a roller-coaster!

This one-day workshop is designed to provide you with a number of tools to go deeper into the ordinary experiences of daily life, and to help you experience happiness more often – for no reason at all.

Related to this, I believe there is evidence to support the claim that many people’s minds are simple binary operators that divide lived experience: good or bad, male or female, this or that, self and other; it is an endless list (it is also a lie; more on this below). And, also increasingly, public discourse on any topic is similarly reduced to what appears to be choices between only two options.

When I talk to people (as in, How are you?), one of the most common comments I hear is “I can’t sleep (the whole night through); I wake up at 03:00, thinking about something, and can’t go back to sleep.” What is this mind that both over-simplifies and holds us to ransom?

Many thinkers over eons have tried to plumb the nature of mind; the most relevant ones here are the notions of dualism (usually credited to Descartes) and reductionism (the belief that the whole can be understood by analysing constituent parts); opponents of this view talk about emergent properties or supervenience (the focus of my PhD research; in fact, the intensive work in supervenience led directly to my re-immersion in Buddhism).

Personally, the most illuminating comment on the extent to which our own minds literally structure our experience appeared as a footnote in the preface of G. Spencer Brown’s inimitable “Laws of Form”, here paraphrased, “A universe comes into being the moment a distinction is made; distinctions are motivated. A distinction is made when the contents of the divided are seen to differ in value“. The tattoo on my arm (manopubbangama dhamma) makes the same claim: “All mental phenomena have their mind as forerunner” (some translators prefer “chief”); the point is that the structure of one’s own mind literally constructs how all phenomena will be experienced—the very objects we see have been constructed out of electromagnetic energy hitting the retina, energy that has no form in that instant. In other words, in the most fundamental sense, we construct the universe we experience.

In making this claim, though, have I simply started the slide into infinite regress, eventually being able to say anything about anything (in a “post-fact”, or ‘post-reality’ world)? Do we end up at the position taken by some late post-modernists, namely, that there are as many versions of the truth as there are utterers of it? Not at all: experience in this life is both embodied and shared—no one is an island; we are co-constructing interpretations of our experience continuously. For example, it is a matter of legal and physical safety that we understand the convention that a red traffic light means ‘stop’, yet that information is not in the light inherently. And there are brute facts about the way this world is organised: if you want coffee to stay in the cup, or kava to stay in the coconut shell, the opening had better face the sky. So, certain aspects of our experienced are shared mutual conventions about what things mean, and others are immutable aspects of Reality (gravity, for example), and about which different peoples in different places will have their own theories and attributions of significance.

Let us allow, then, that one’s reflexive responses tend towards a simple division of experience (mostly along the lines of “I want this, and I don’t want that”. If asked, most will say that this is a simple matter of preference (I prefer oranges to apples) but if G. Spencer Brown and the Buddha are right, this separation of ‘this’ from ‘that’ is done in the instants of experiencing phenomena, and is not, in fact, the product of what we would ordinarily call “thought”, or cognition, or any kind of conscious choice. And the many years I have watched my own thoughts (meditation) has shown me that this ‘pre-cognition’ (for want of a better word) is what actually happens for the most part, rather than the ‘thought’ we believe has led us to a particular position if we are asked to explain a choice. Sometimes, this pre-cognition is the first and last operation.

The reason I say that such division of experience into two parts is a lie is that the borders of the things being distinguished (or, simply, separated) are rarely the only place such division can be made. Usually, there are an infinitude of alternative locations; let me illustrate. On workshops we sometimes mention the old parable, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. I pause, and then add, “but you can contrive to make it thirsty”. This is accurate. Myths, legends, and politics most commonly present their narratives as choices between this or that. Never is this accurate: add another factor, or take one away, and the choices multiply, endlessly. Black or white? Yes, on one simple account of division, but many shades of grey (from black to white) may a more accurate perspective. To quote G. Spencer B. once more: “distinctions are motivated”. So, the process of making a distinction can depend on what question (implicitly or explicitly) is being asked. “Black” is an answer to one question; “a very dark shade of grey” is an answer to another. Another example: to describe the environment as an “infinite sink for the wastes of production”, as modern economics used to describe it, is a motivated distinction—and the assumptions that motivate this perspective are both simple and venal.

How one might learn to see what’s really going on more clearly, and what might we need to do to fall into this trap less often? For me, the solutions were to learn to relax more in all situations (to “let go of unnecessary tension”; thus the concept of necessary tension) and to learn how to meditate.

Learning to relax connects me directly to what is happening in my body now. Why could this be important? It turns out that when you look at it closely enough, thinking (or one’s state of mind) is concerned with either what’s happened in the past, or what might happen in the future—the mind does not exist in the continuously unfolding present. Usually, the habitual mind has a preference for one or the other. The body, on the other hand, exists only in this same continuous present: the body’s sensations are momentary, ephemeral, come and go continuously and if we pay attention, we can experience this clearly. Learning how to meditate teaches you how to do nothing, and be comfortable in that nothingness.

And why would we want that? Because at some point in one’s practise, one sees clearly that the space in which thinking occurs is a relatively small one (between one’s ears); and the space in which this happens is infinitely large—that, and we become aware of the endless repetition in our thoughts, and (later, much later, sometimes!) we realise that few of them are interesting. This is liberation, in the sense of having a weight taken off one’s shoulders. As well, all creativity “comes” to one (think of the last great idea you had: it probably came when you were having a shower). Creativity comes from stillness and this is the same larger space in which thinking occurs.

In time in one’s meditation practise, and as one combines this with letting go of remaining tension, thoughts slow, and can stop completely. One is simply aware of what’s happening now. There is no discrimination and hence no filtering, or buffering, of direct or immediate experience. It is difficult to articulate the sheer magnitude of this experience but, should you have it, it will be one you will want to return to, if my experience is anything to go by. And when this experience is happening, you can become clearly aware that there are no problems in this state. Problems are created by the mind (in fact, this is what it does best). When one is not obsessed by one’s thought processes, one becomes aware that events are simply unfolding, and the momentary shape of the unfolding requires this response, or another, or no response at all.

“Breaking news”:

I just saw this, and my heart was glad. A moment of stillness.

Chicken and pork adobo

Sincere thanks to my friend Patty DLS for this truly excellent recipe. When I travelled to the Philippines regularly in the middle 80s (I was tendering for a Philippine Board of Tourism documentary on the back of the success of the film The Comeback), I would always eat this dish somewhere, and it is one of the traditional dishes of this beautiful country. It is (at least in my experience) an unique flavour, combining soy, vinegar, and sugar to produce an extraordinary taste. Best of all, it is a simple cooking process. Here’s the recipe, pretty much as Patty sent it to me, with a couple of modifications. My notes in square brackets.

2 tablespoons olive oil [coconut may be substituted]
1 large red Spanish onion, peeled and sliced thinly [Kit: I use two]
1 head garlic, peeled and cut into sticks
500gms lean pork belly strips, cut into 3 cm pieces
6 chicken thigh cutlets (with bone), skin removed if desired [Kit: I leave the skin on]
1 ½ cups brown malt vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
Water to cover the meat…will elaborate below. [Kit: I have not needed to use any water]
2 bay leaves (fresh is better – crushed with your hands to release oils)
3 tablespoons brown sugar {Kit: Patty recommended raw sugar, but I feel brown sugar adds a little something]
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
[Kit: I sometimes add 1 tsp. umami; this is Ajinomoto; MSG to everyone else. Optional, but gives it even more of a lift, if you are OK with it; umami can replace salt in a recipe, too]


Patty wrote: “It is advisable to use enamel–coated casserole pot (such as La Creuset) as steel pots may possibly have a chemical reaction with the vinegar. (Maybe an old wives’ tale)”. I have used stainless steel without any problems as well as a ceramic casserole and noticed no taste difference and no discolouration of the steel pot.


– Heat the oil in the casserole pot on high heat, add the chopped onion and sauté until transparent; [Kit: I like a little caramelisation, so cook the onion longer]
– Add the pork and sauté till browned. Add the garlic, bay leaves and the chicken cutlets and continue to sauté until browned. Remove the chicken cutlets and set aside to add later
– Pour the vinegar and soy sauce over the pork, add the sugar and peppercorns and stir well until sugar has dissolved. [KIT: I do this in a separate bowl to make sure the sugar is dissolved completely before adding]
– Add water to cover the meat to allow stewing and remaining moist. Reduce heat to medium after it starts to boil. [Kit: I have not needed to add water, but do cook in a coverd pot, and stirring from time to time. This way little water is cooked off, and the sauce/broth is the richer for it]
– Simmer covered for 1 hour. This is a good time to taste – you are free to add more vinegar or water if you wish. I enjoy it when the vinegar flavour gives a wonderful “burn” sensation on the throat. [Kit: if you don’t add water, this should be perfect; it is to my taste, anyway!]
– Add the chicken and continue to simmer for another ½ hour or until cooked and the meat is just about to fall from the bone. [Kit: I have fond 45′ is perfect for the large chicken legs we get here]
– Serve hot with rice and whatever wine you like. ENJOY!!!! [Kit: that final injunction will not be necessary!]. This dish traditionally can be 100% pork, 100% chicken, or the mix suggested here. I have tried all three; the 50/50 mix of chicken and pork works marvellously well on many levels.

Choices and consequences

Correspondence with a student teacher raised some interesting responses, so I thought I would post here to see if this is any use to anyone else. Indirectly, this ties into a thread on the forums that has been running for a while, and which many have found interesting; I will link below. Here’s part of the exchange with my friend:

Thanks for your understanding and support. I have to say that I am not sure I believe in “everything happens for a reason” concept. Or, perhaps I just need to have a little more faith… 

No, that “everything happens for a reason” seems like a non-useful perspective, to me. It is true, though, at the same time, it’s correct to say that the larger perspective cannot be seen at any point in time, and (assuming one survives the experience) a reason may become clear at a later time. Or the construction of a reason might simply be “post facto” analysis; humans are pattern-seeking organisms above everything else. At its core, this saying is an untestable hypothesis. It may be useful in helping one to feel more relaxed about undesirable events that one finds oneself enmeshed in. One other aspect must be mentioned, too: if one is open, and working to grow, then any experience will be used in the service of that intention.

“Everything happens for a reason” seems too passive. I prefer “in this life, there are choices and consequences”. Not making choices has its own consequences. Each choice, without doubt, constrains the possible future from that point. In each of these possible futures, again there are choices and consequences. It is via this process that the past (and its choices) constrains the future. 

Life is sure a journey, regardless you like it or not! 

And your last point is 100% accurate. There’s more, though, in the same vein: tension (in the mind or the body) is simply resistance to what is. Now (and this has been the story of my life) one can choose to push against what’s happening, but rarely will this change what’s happening. What can be useful, though, is that this resistance increases one’s energy level (for a while, at least) and sometimes that same resistance can reveal, or create, opportunities that were not able to be seen at the earlier time, because one’s energy level is higher. This is ‘staying awake’ to what’s actually happening, and responding to the minutiae of this unfolding rather than complaining about it or trying to stop it. The best analogy is surfing a wave: its shape is constantly changing, and the change is being ridden; thousands of subtle adjustments all the while. Too slow and you miss the wave; too fast and the wave buries you. Expert surfers get buried regularly!

Anger has been the common response of my ‘body–mind’ since I began thinking (say, around nine or ten years of age). For me, anger manifests in the cold/cutting style (directed outwards, with clenched jaw) and self-criticism (directed inward); immensely damaging to relationships, and to myself. This needed to be recognised—I will never forget a late-night conversation with one of my teachers, wherein I offhandedly remarked that I was looking forward to the day when I didn’t feel anger. And he said, why? And I replied, you know; damaging to myself and others; and he replied, “I know that, of course; let me tell you about the time of the Great Beings, that the Rishis (Sanskrit: ऋषि ṛṣi) spoke about many thousands of years ago.

He said that many people are are angry for a few minutes, a few hours, weeks—or their whole lives. In contrast, the Great Beings were said to be angry for “the space of two or three heartbeats”. He mentioned that some schools teach detachment—in his view, if pursued, this is the wrong directions entirely: detachment cuts you off from life eventually. “I don’t feel anything” is the consequence.

Far better, he said, to practise non-attachment: one of the blessings of this life is to feel as much as possible but to not be attached to the feeling (to not let the feeling be mistaken for reality, and hence running one’s life or creating an obsession). And this—to be angry for two or three heartbeats—became my life goal in that moment.

So (in the words of a close friend): “how’s that workin’ for ya?” Probably it’d be better to ask those close to me; but as I am the one doing the writing here, I will answer honestly. The short answer is that I have failed, many, many times—but I am aware that I am noticing more. By this I mean that now I literally feel my body (and a particular place in my abdomen) organising itself to “do anger”. If I am awake enough in the moment, I take a breath in and simply hold it gently, and drop my awareness out of my head into that place in my abdomen. I let the breath out, and (this is the critical bit) let that place relax; I let it go completely soft. The sensation literally melts away (because it has not strengthened sufficiently to become anger; think of a wind gathering speed to become a cyclone; if the energy source that creates the wind is interrupted, the building process stops). The sensation has been felt, noted, and it passes, by itself. Two things to note here: anger is always a mental response initially, but becomes a physical response in instants, and that this movement (from the head to the physical body) must be caught instantly.

So how does this relate to ‘choices and consequences”? Directly, as it happens: the more aware you are, the more you see “choices and consequences”. And the more aware you are, the more you realise that there are infinitely more choices possible than you will have seen before. This is where freedom is experienced.

Thai green chicken curry

It’s been a while – we have been intensely busy. But we need to eat, and I usually cook in bulk. The recipe below will make four or five dinners for two people. This recipe freezes beautifully. I usually eat one meal with Miss O when it is first cooked, and leave overnight on the stove in the pot, covered. Then I remove another meal’s worth (for us, that’s five legs plus veggies and stock) and there are three meals left over, which I ‘decant’ and freeze in meal serve-sized containers.

Main ingredients
4 trays skinned chicken thighs. We use “Lovely Legs” (Macro organic brand); in Australia, the trays are about 400g each, and contain ~5 LLs).
10–20 Asian eggplants (these look like pale green speckled balls, about the size of a lime)
two large onions, brown or red
one whole head garlic
two medium-sized limes
one lemon
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
big handful shredded dried coconut
handful fresh coriander
3 tbls. coconut oil

Green ingredients to be macerated (I use a 250W Braun hand blender):
all the garlic
1–2 green chili (how hot do you want the end product? I usually only use one or two)
the cut-up white ends of two pieces of lemon grass; save tops
6–8 kaffir lime leaves
one tsp. belachan (see or 1 tbls fish sauce (if you use fish sauce, reduce the amount of salt you add)
zest from 1–2 limes, depending on taste
juice from limes and lemon
mix down to liquid

Spices (lightly fry before grinding)
1 tbls white peppercorns
2–3 whole star anise
1 tbls. coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
1 tbls. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
6 allspice pimento ‘balls’

Put all the fried spices into grinder, add 1 level tbls. rock or sea salt, and grind finely

Spices cont’d (to be added once lovely legs are resting in the stock)
one whole vanilla bean
1 cinnamon quill

Once cooking starts (details below):
grate 1 whole nutmeg over pot
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or chili flakes
1 tbls. ground turmeric
2 tbls. karamel makasan (cooking caramel; heavy and dark; mmmm) to taste (also makes the stock darker)

Put coconut oil in heavy-bottomed pot. Cut onions and add the coconut milk and heat. Section eggplants and put aside. I usually cut lime-sized eggplants into thirds, then halve again crosswise, all cuts made vertically. Macerate the wet ingredients (taking great care to not let any of the belachan escape; I wrap cling wrap around the top of the blender to make sure!) and add to pot.

Heat all the unground spices in a small frying pan until one of them just starts to smoke, then put in grinder. Grind finely after adding the salt and stir mixture into pot. Add turmeric, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Omit the cayenne p. if you are using green chillies.

Cook the basic stock until onions are translucent. Add karamel makasan and stir well until consistent colour is achieved. Thin stock to suit; I usually add 1/4–1/2 litre of boiling water to get the consistency I want. Slowly add the Lovely Legs, submerging them. Add the vanilla bean, cinnamon quill, and the top sections of the lemon grass.

Bring to boil and immediately reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, then add the eggplants. Simmer until the chicken and vegetables are cooked to your taste (about 15 minutes more is about right). If you cook the chicken too long, it will fall completely off the bone.
If you want to thicken stock, add one tbsp. finely ground brown rice (use the same spice grinder; this will clean it, too) and stir well before adding eggplants.

Serve with rice on plates with raised edges (to contain the stock). Place rice first, use tongs to place the lovely legs, use ladle to place stock and veggies. Garnish with small handful of chopped coriander leaves and fresh ground black pepper.

Eat with your favourite white wine!

On the eve of going live with the new site

Behind the scenes and most recently while most of you were on holiday, the triumvirate of Miss O, Suu Kyi, and myself have been busily slaving away on what will become the new website. We have learned some remarkable things along the way.

Chief among them (and completely unexpected by me) was to understand for the first time how most people use websites – and much to my surprise the majority of people interact with website via their phones or tablets these days. For me as a power Macintosh user who owns two laptops and a 5K iMac (and quite often they are all doing different things at the same time), the idea of interacting with a web page via a device that is so small that I have to put my glasses on to read it is simply unimaginable. But clearly I am a minority, so my thinking must change.

On the flight back from Malaysia recently I sat next to a young man who is the CEO of a Netflix-like company located mostly in Asia. He told me that their stats say that 90% of their customers interact with their website and their products (films, TV programs) via their phones. This information has a massive impact on the way you design any site that is going to be relevant in the 21st-century, and it says something about the nature of consumption, too, and how that has changed (I am thinking here of the traditional western lounge room dominated by a TV, with couches or chairs, and around which family would gather for the evenings entertainment, after arguing about what to watch. These days are gone forever).

Our current site, like many sites, is a hodgepodge of different softwares and systems. But this phenomenon is hardly limited to us: for example, the last time I spoke to a Commonwealth Bank technical person he told me that they have 17 historical, or legacy, databases that the current software tries to link together, with varying degrees of success. Olivia and I have been unable to successfully change our place of abode in all of those databases and as a result the Commonwealth Bank is still sending paper printouts of various things to an address that we have not lived in for over 12 months. Three separate attempts, with senior people with higher access than the tellers, have failed to rectify this problem. This is a clue.

Relevant here are our ongoing interactions with Telstra; the company which exemplifies the notion of ‘the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing’. And there is an immense unwieldiness and inertia in all large corporations. For example, the last two times we reported a massive internet speed drop (>90%), the business centre dispatched a Telstra technician to find out why – both times a two-cent connector had failed. The tech replaced them with the same connectors. And when I raised this with the head of the business centre, asking him whether the people involved were aware of this problem, he said, yes of course. And I asked him well why don’t they do something about it? And he replied (and this is gold), “That’s the way they’ve been doing it for 45 years.” His point was that it is easier to dispatch a technician and replace a connector than improve – or change – the kind of connector they use.

We cannot look to the large corporations as any kind of guide to current best practice. There are problems with software and hardware and the way they interact and how people expect to be able to use them and if we want to be effective in this very rapidly changing environment, we have to co-invent the future ourselves.

We started this new website project several years ago, but we realise now that what we were really doing was learning about how people use websites and, as a parallel process, refining our own understanding of exactly what it is we’re trying to do with the website; this has changed hugely in the last ten years. There have been three major developments that have played significantly into this process.

We have had some success with our Vimeo On Demand (VOD) presence and ‘VOD’ has become a significant source of income and a focus of work that we will do in the future. VOD has changed our income base – in 18 months. Think about the speed of this change. In fact, apart from the workshops (and perhaps a few classes we will run locally), our entire world is now based on the idea of digital delivery of something that we’ve created in one place in the world and which is delivered, automatically, to any other place in the world, once someone pays us a modest amount. As DW so famously said recently, we are two of the few people making money on the Internet not actually involved in pornography. I found this a charming idea.

Another development fundamental to Stretch Therapy, and which occurred during the same period Vimeo on Demand emerged, is the emergence of print on demand (POD) technology. POD refers to the process whereby you order a book from (say) Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and a hidden “total fulfilment company” gets the order electronically, prints one copy, binds it, packages it, addresses it, and sends it to you. POD, as we affectionately call it, is a boon for authors, who immediately have become publishers with this technology. As I wrote in the foreword to the second edition of Stretching and Flexibility, the shortcomings of the Gutenberg press model have been addressed, finally. I speak of the primacy of economy of scale in the publishing mind-set of previous years (meaning that one had to print a lot of books in order to get individual copy costs down to something manageable, with the financial risk that involves; most books are ‘remaindered’ within 12 months of publication) and of the publishing company’s influence in the authorial process (“Is it too complicated? There are so many words…”). And when books are printed using this almost 600-year-old technology, they have to be transported and stored somewhere, where they are susceptible to the same vicissitudes of Middle Age libraries: rodents, inundation, and fire. With the advent of POD technology, though, any author can update his or her material as quickly as writing it, converting to PDF, and sending it to the company. And publishers are no longer needed.

Between POD and VOD, our world has changed, forever.

The third development is called “micro 4/3rds”: a standard devised by Olympus and Panasonic. The result is a range of hand-holdable video-capable cameras that can also take magnificent still images. All are about half the size of the cameras they replace, or smaller. For example, my four-camera kit will fit in a small carry-on bag and include batteries, lenses, sound recorder, tabletop tripods and other essential equipment – all weighing less than the international 7 kg limit. My old standard definition “professional” video camera weighed more than this, without the charger. Ten years ago no amount of money would have bought a portable studio that could fit into a carry on bag and which could record high-definition video under ordinary room lighting. I can travel everywhere with this bag now and this equipment allows me to make programmes on whatever I feel like wherever I am in the world. As an ex-television director (who once had a crew of 45 in one of the two big four-camera television studios at Gore Hill in Australia), this is liberation. Print on demand is liberation for a writer.

The bigger picture is that these technologies have freed many of us from the strictures of large organisations – and it is not just the inertia I referred to above; it can be the sheer cost of ‘getting the experts’ involved. Today, anyone can become one of those experts. Reorganising our internal mental landscape to take full advantage of this will be required: action requires a vision, the confidence to see it to fruition, and the energy to sustain the effort that will be required.

I don’t want to make today’s blog too long, because I have become aware that most people do not care to read these days. As a writer, I acknowledge this reality in order that I communicate more effectively. So, for example, all individual elements of the new website are introduced by an image or an icon and just a few lines of text, followed by a more button*. In this way the user can skim the total content of the site very quickly and drill down deeper whenever she wishes. This approach is a fundamental change in information architecture that acknowledges the shorter attention spans of the modern reader/watcher; that recognises that information now is more than word-based content; and which results in an organisation that benefits all users.

Today, and perhaps for the first time in human history, content creators and educators are limited only by what can be conceived. Seeing this clearly has profoundly influenced our new website; we will be very interested in your feedback.

*On the new site, clicking this takes you to the bulk of the text, images, possible an icon or two, and maybe an action you can take, like paying for a workshop.

Google has long owned the internet; bowing to pressure, we now have Instagram and Twitter presences, but only to get the site’s new name out there. is live.

Feeding the Beast (how to survive the pressure of the internet in the 21st century)

We have a Facebook Profile, and Facebook Page; the former a personal space that I add things to from time to time and the latter a business presence* which gets updated every time we have something new to let the world know about. Unlike many of my colleagues (who are updating their Facebook presences hour by hour, if not minute to minute) I feel no compulsion to put anything up there unless it’s important to me.

We have a new website going live very soon and I’ve written a longish blog about the emergence of new technologies that have completely changed our business world in the last two or three years. All this coming tomorrow or the next day; I will publish the relevant blog as soon as the new site goes live.

And our Forums are going great guns; we have over 1,000 members and more than 11,000 posts now. I hope I’m not jinxing the future by observing that the forums are more or less self-sufficient now as there are many active posters. And our stats tell us that many thousands more visit weekly but describe themselves as lurkers and who are not members and who don’t post. It was always my hope that the Forums becomes an unique repository of knowledge on the subject of stretching and strengthening (and much more, these days) and it seems to be well on the way there.

So, getting back to the title, we do not feed the beast in the same way that we see many other people doing. I feel good about that. I had visitors here recently whose phones have the notifications turned on and who are getting Facebook advisories every five minutes or so. Personally I do not find this relaxing in the slightest and found the pings intrusive but I have noticed that social behaviour has changed incredibly in the last five years.

Olivia and I were in a sports bar/restaurant in New York last year and we saw six people who work together come in for an after dinner drink and dinner. All of them were connecting to other people via their phones for the whole time they were there and the only time they spoke to each other was to briefly point the face of the phone to the table at large and laugh about an image there and then go straight back to the person they were talking to. The interesting thing is that they were all having conversations – just not with each other.

And this blog is only something I turn to when I have ideas that really need exploring for one reason or another. If I think about the total amount of time I spend on the Internet on a daily basis it would look something like this: I get up at 6:30 or seven at the latest (and sometimes much earlier; this depends on many factors) and make the first of the two holy cups of coffee with herbs. I then carry said coffee to the couch or to the floor and open the email client on the MacBook Air (I have two other computers; both sleep at this stage!). I have emails sorted in ascending date order and the client always opens the oldest of the emails first; working through these take somewhere between 45 minutes and two hours. I then go to the Forums and scan the new content; if anything looks either interesting or looks as if it could benefit from some personal input I will go to that but I often leave the forums alone for up to week. I realise in this moment of writing that I never go to Facebook (either page) and I don’t go to the blog are either; that is something that might be accessed when I’m in a more reflective state.

And depending on what is interesting me at the moment I may visit one or both of the pro-photography forums I’m a member of. And that is pretty much the extent of my Internet interaction.

I do have an Instagram account but never use it. I do not have a Twitter account on philosophical grounds: 140 characters is insufficient to express any useful thoughts on anything I’m thinking about and, from the tweets I have seen, encourages the user to pithiness and maximum impact rather than insight. More thoughtful is my inclination.

We will have a Stretch Therapy Twitter account, as google owns the internet these days, but it will only push to the new site. Same for a ST Instagram account.

I feel that social media is having major effects on interpersonal relations. Personally, I think staying off social media will benefit any of the relations near you that you care about, but I feel that I am in the minority now.

So, how do we survive the pressure of feeding the Beast? By realising that the beast is another internal fiction; use the Nancy Reagan approach, and “just say No!

No problem and stay tuned.

*thanks Matt, for picking up a typo

Active brand protection and franchising of Stretch Therapy



We have had calls from people involved in our work about what the next stage of development might look like; many ideas are being floated—all this is good. So, in a brief post today, I wanted to air an idea or two, to spark reactions and to foment discussion.

While I am alive, there will be no active brand protection for Stretch Therapy and no franchise models for using our work, beyond attending workshops. The short story is that if my attention, or Olivia’s, is directed to “protecting our borders”, then creativity switches off. I have more ideas per day than I can possibly implement. ST will stay ahead of the curve (and hence be pre-eminent in the field) by being the best, and being recognised and spoken about as the best. Whether this is a slow, or fast, process is out of our control, it seems to me. For this reason, we will be devoting our energy to improving ourselves, our offerings, and the way we teach them.

Regarding the franchising model, I have never heard a franchisee speak a pleasant word about it: too many strictures from ‘head office’; too onerous accounting to calculate the fees and too much talk about what counts as a ‘legitimate’ expense—overall, too much energy in a small business needing to go to accountability overheads. No to franchising. Other models need to be developed if, indeed, they need to be developed at all. In our present thinking, we say we need to see a practising teacher show up at one of the cognate workshops within any three-year period to stay on the current teacher listings on our main site. This is how students find a teacher. As well, we make Vimeo on Demand inexpensive download products, and we sell books (print and PDF); teachers recommend these to their students, and the enterprise ticks along. I should say that making money is not my objective, nor Olivia’s; but living in a capitalist culture, we need to pay bills. A holiday would be nice.

A philosopher whose work I admire, Imre Lakatos, wrote of “degenerating paradigms”: these are knowledge gathering systems who spend their energy protecting their boundaries in preference to creating new aspects to their work; many schools of body work who claim to teach an “original system” fall into this category—failing to realise THE most important aspect of learning, which is embodiment. All originators of all systems departed from what they were taught in order to set up their ‘new’ systems; without fail, they changed the original teaching in the process. This will happen to our work, and should happen. (An aside: I once said to one of the senior teachers that, in the future when I am no longer around, if I hear anyone saying “do it like this because Kit said this is how it must be done” I will strike him down with a bolt of lightning!). I want experimentation and practical empirical research—which anyone can do—to happen, with all present being clear about why this technique is held on to, or why this new thing is better. What I am trying to develop is the most efficient method of tinkering—the fact that we use stretching techniques as the method of exploring this field is due to my own personal history—equally we could be discussing ping pong. All teachers of this system need to see themselves as inveterate tinkerers. Only a fool thinks he knows all that is needed.

Many practitioners fall into a similar category: the worst massages I have received have been from massage therapists with postgraduate training; in the limit case, they end up knowing all about their subject from an academic perspective, but being distanced from the in-the-present activity itself in the process, and not being able to do it well. Where your attention goes, you become.

Anyone can take our work and incorporate it into what they do; this is what’s been happening over the last ten years, and we have noticed that very few teachers of our work position themselves as “Stretch Therapy teachers”. There are many reasons for this, no doubt, but we feel (when I say “we” I mean Olivia and I, as the two core people in this system), that we want to get better, not bigger. This is already happening as more people like all the excellent people on the Forums take up, and contribute to, what we do. What we want to do now, with the ten or so years’ of experience of teaching Stretch Teacher workshops behind us, is concentrate more on how to get better. We have some clear ideas about what that will entail, and some not-so-clear ones, and this is what we need the Forums and the workshops for: to clarify and select the best directions for everyone involved in what we do. When I make any decision, the heuristic I use is simple: ‘What is the decision that will bring about the greatest good for the largest number of people involved?”

Getting back to Lakatos for a moment (and I wrote extensively about this in my Master’s thesis, and it was a central idea in my PhD research in talking about lean learning systems), if you are not creating, growing internally and externally, and if you are not constantly re-specifying your objectives and trying news ways of reaching those objectives, then you are dying. Of course, we all share that fate, but many are dead before this event occurs. We don’t want that.

This is why I am suffering through the 45 day ‘ballistic stretching protocol’ (many hundreds of dynamic repetitions of both loaded and unloaded stretching: how else can I know what effect this approach will have on me? This is “conscious suffering”. Something will have been learned, and embodied, by the end of this period. There is no other way of getting this knowledge.

It might be worth reading these posts before engaging with what I write above: (Where are the wise?)

and (The genie is out of the bottle, and she ain’t going back any time soon)

and (short one that ends with the “50-year test”)

There is so much more to say on this, but short story is no border protection, and no franchises.

Thanks to dog for the correction to the last link.