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How People Transform


I remember when Abraham Hicks and the Power of Attraction arrived on the scene in the 1990’s. These teachings were later popularized in the movie The Secret. Looking back it’s clear to me that these schools of thought were onto something very true, yet very partial.

Lacking a clear sense of what we want to have happen (an aim) we are likely to drift through life. As noted author, educator and psychologist Jordan B. Peterson shares in this brief clip declares in this brief clip, “you do not hit a target you don’t aim for.”

The popular teachings from Abraham and The Secret helped many gain valuable clarity on what they wanted to have happen in their lives. These teachings enabled a vast number of people to envision –  perhaps for the first time – transforming their home life, work, hobbies, relationships and self!

Finding clarity around what you want to happen is a skill that is is easy for some, and difficult for many. Yet, it is a worthy thing to do. Setting an aim generates creative tension between your current reality and your desired future, which fuels the fire of transformation in your life. This is good!

These teachings help us imagine/feel/visualize/articulate what it would be like to have more responsibility or a bigger job at work. They help us envision how it would be to speak our truth, and to create more love in our relationships. Peterson  even claims in the clip that having an aim generates positive emotion and meaning. I agree.

In the domain of Kirtan, you might imagine how fun it would be to have a home chant practice, or even share amazing and transformational Kirtan practices with others.

I suggest you try imagining something along these lines right now and see what happens. Take your time. Notice what thoughts and/or objections arise in your head, what moods/emotions arise in your heart, and what types of sensations arise in your body. Taking notes on this could be useful!

You may have just discovered that imagining a bigger future is not merely mental/cognitive (head), but also involves the ability to feel (heart) and sense (body) the excitement, fulfillment and meaning that playing a bigger game brings to you.


Over the years I observed friends and clients who following these teachings yet fell into several common traps.

The first trap is one of proportion. Some made their bigger game way too big (too much of a stretch) and others made their game not big enough (too easy to achieve). Too big an aim generates overwhelming anxiety. Too small an aim doesn’t generate much in the way of  challenge, meaning, excitement or growth. We need to size our aim appropriately.

A second trap is making an appropriately sized, or super-sized, aim and then thinking (hoping?) they were done. Some believed all they needed to do at this point was to sit back and wait for everything they could possibly imaging ever wanting to simply arrive. Their formula: “I think it, then it happens in the world.”

Ultimately this second trap led to much suffering. (Deep sigh.) If only life were that easy.

Gaining clarity about your aims for the future AND being able to feel/sense the meaning that’s available there is a great start. However, it falls into the category of  true, but partial. It’s partial, because there’s further to go.


Jordan B. Peterson claims that when we gain clarity our what we want and state that aim in language, our perception of the world begins to shift. Aspects of the the world, our relationships and our self begin to sort into the categories of (i) tools for fulfilling on our aim (ii) obstacles to fulfilling on our aim and (iii) things that are not relevant.

Let’s say you decide to take your Kirtan practice deeper. You’re tired of chanting along with CD’s and streaming music. You’re tired of waiting months and months for a touring Kirtan artist to come to your town so you can chant with a live group. You feel clear – now is the time to purchase a harmonium and start chanting at home.

As you sit with this, you have a growing sense of confidence. Yes, this is the thing to do!

You feel excitement and pulsing sensations in your chest that you identify as a mix of excitement and anxiety. This reminds you of the scary/excited feeling you experienced as a tween waiting in line for the roller-coaster, or a teen preparing  for a first date. You feel a palpable sense of  aliveness in your body. This excitement validates and increases your confidence and clarity that this is indeed the right direction.

What happens at this moment is that the things in the domains of external world, interpersonal relationships and your self begin to realign into the categories of (i) tools for fulfilling, (ii) obstacles to fulfilling and (iii) irrelevant stuff.

You being to  wonder…

  • How do I purchase a harmonium?
  • Who can help me get one?
  • What do I need  to learn?
  • How will I learn to play?
  • Where can I find instruction?
  • Who do I need to be in relationship with in order to fulfill on this aim?

Suddenly the violin you purchased a few years back feels irrelevant, and soon ends up in your attic.


At this point you need to step into action. You need to access the “tools” that will allow you to fulfill on your aim. You need a good harmonium, useful instruction and – depending on your aim- perhaps a lot  more (i.e., community, peers, teachers, professional support, musicians, repertoire, a sound system, website, etc.).

And, you need to overcome “obstacles” – lack of knowledge about how best to proceed, self-doubt and skepticism, nay-sayers, competing commitments for your time, energy and money, etc.

You need to let go of attachments to things that are no longer relevant.

To fulfill on your aim, there are things you will need to start (Brahma/creation), stop (Shiva/cutting through  patterns) and continue (Vishnu/patterns).

As you shift from clarity into action around fulfilling on a new/bigger aim, one of the most useful things you can have is the support of a learning community. A learning community possesses:

  • A proven methodology
  • Teachers who embody this methodology and are expert at conveying it to others
  • Peers –  others who are on this path
  • Practice – repetitions of desired behavior to build embodiment
  • Feedback and coaching from peers and expert teachers

Why? At points during this process the exciting vastly outweighs the scary. At other points, the scary rises to the point where the stories in our head, feelings in our heart and (most subtle, yet incredibly important) the sensations in our body, can make us want to turn away from who we are becoming and retreat back into who we’ve been. This is the point where many people decide it’s better (easier/safer) to abandon their aim and retreat back into the safe, yet constricting, life they’ve been leading. Being “held” by a learning community dramatically increases the likelihood we will persist in the face of obstacles and challenges, and not collapse back into our old and “small” life. 

Internally, when things get challenging we need to remember our aim, connect with the “for the sake of what” that we are doing this, connect with the excitement within our body, and seriously ponder the “cost of not fulfilling.” Externally need support from peers and mentors so we can keep moving forward.

Above we used the example of deciding to launch a home chant practice. However, there are many occasions in life  where we step into a bigger game and experience this “dance.”

Anytime we enter a new context our body/nervous system/psychobiology tends to seize up. We get grabbed, and retreat from our pre-frontal cortex (thinking/human brain) to our hind-brain (reptilian brain). Suddenly we feel triggered and reactive. The key (see below) is to re-center in our body and with our narrative, then step into action.

Here are some common contexts that Kirtan  Leader Institute students traverse. When we first  ENTER into a deeper level it’s common to feel a uncomfortable, excited, anxious and often grabbed!

  1. Practicing at home alone – this one’s quite easy to navigate
  2. Practicing in front of your teacher during lessons – this can provoke an occasional grab
  3. Sharing chants with others you know – this is a sizable transition and often provokes anxiety
  4. Sharing chants with others you don’t know – BIG grabs tend to happen here.
  5. Leading your band in front of an audience – really BIG grabs can happen here
  6. Leading a band of new musicians in front of an audience – this can provoke an occasional grab
  7. Playing at a festival – this  tends to provoke a BIG grab
  8. Recording an album – this provokes long, slow, occasional grabs

Each  of these is eight occasions involve stepping into a larger context, and require you step into a bigger game.


In  many of our programs we teach a simple and profoundly useful Somatic (body) practice for centering, and re-centering when grabbed. We also practice re-centering in  language, speaking in a way that re-centers us in the energy and excitement of our aim and our intention for who we will be as we move in the world to fulfill this aim.  We use language to generate succinct statements that provide a useful, positive and empowering NARRATIVE (story) about who you are becoming, how you will show up in the world, and what you are creating.

Here’s a great example. Beth recently led her first full-band Kirtan in public. It was one of the first times she played with this band, one of the first times using a sound system, and was in a brand new venue. As  if that weren’t enough, she was opening up for a nationally known touring/recording Kirtan artist.

The entire situation was both  a big GRAB and a fantastic opportunity to enjoy excitement and learning as she stepped into a bigger game.

One of her keys to success was  reminding herself that she was here to Serve and Learn. We discussed this in our private sessions, and I encouraged her to create a slogan card with these two words and put it on her harmonium where she could easily see it during the event. See the cover photo for her lovely and useful creation!

Beth set and intention to repeatedly remind herself during the event that she was there to serve and to learn.

Doing so helped her  crowd out the stories her monkey mind and inner critic were generating. They wanted her to believe she was there entertain, perform, be perfect, delight every single person, etc.

Coming back to the slogan card helped Beth stay centered. It  helped connect her with something  bigger than herself, and allowed her to not get stopped out buy the stories, feelings and body sensations running through her at the event.

“Serve and Learn” was a useful reminder that while Kirtan is in some ways a performance, it is primarily a spiritual practice. It reminded Beth that her job was to serve (open hearts) and learn (see below).

Beth later shared, “the Learn and Serve Cards on my harmonium really worked. I’m no artist but it just felt right, and it felt good having them there to remind me of why I’m doing this.”


After the event, Beth harvested her learning. She sent me detailed notes with  her responses to these three simple,  yet incredibly useful questions:

  1. What worked?
  2. What didn’t work?
  3. What was missing?

We celebrated her success and discussed her reflections at length. At her next event, Beth amplified what worked and addressed what didn’t work and was missing. In this way she demonstrated learning and raised the quality of her service.


I hope my description of this process illuminates something useful for you around playing a bigger game. It’s relatively easy to think about how extraordinary life could be. It’s much more challenging and time consuming to actually make this happen in the world. And yet, nothing is more fulfilling or meaningful.

I honor your ambitions. Please find them deep within, make them appropriately grand, and step into the challenging work of manifesting them in the world. Once you have done so, repeat the process with an even grander aim.

Be sure to access support, build skills, work to remove inner and outer obstacles, find peers, gain a mentor, and dedicate yourself to something much,  much bigger than yourself.

As the poet Anna Swir says (see below), “Splendid possibilities are open to us.”

I TALK TO MY BODY – by Anna Swir

My body, you are an animal whose appropriate behavior is concentration and discipline. An effort of an athlete, of a saint and of a yogi.

Well trained, you may become for me a gate through which I will leave myself and a gate through which I will enter myself.

A plumb line to the center of the earth and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body, you are an animal for whom ambition is right. Splendid possibilities are open to us.


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