Reflections on Living

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and can become – if you intend to finally find the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we’ll arrange a time to chat.

It is my hope that you find the writings below helpful and a sincere effort to help you along on your journey. Nothing gives me a warmer feeling than having contributed to the life of another. We are all on this path together. It is my fondest wish to share part of it with you.


Zen Mentoring Can Change Your Life: Hesitate and lose the chance to live your dream. Act and begin living them today.It’s that hesitancy that destroys a life’s potential. The possibility that your dreams will become your life is always out there. But the reality is that your unwillingness to put away the habits which are keeping you from living such a life is dominating your living experience in very destructive ways. And, for the most part, you don’t realize, or are not willing to accept, that it is you who are doing this. (Read More)

Seeking the Upward Path: There is a lot of writing being done on something called the ‘Upward Path’ or the ‘Path’. The recent TV series Stargate SG1 popularized the idea that it was possible to ‘ascend’ by finding and keeping to this ‘path’. Most of this – including the TV series – is popularized and remanufactured bits of Buddhism. The problem is that it is misleading in several ways – that people who accept that ‘seeking the upward path as the road to enlightenment’ are almost certainly going to be seriously disappointed and waste a lot of living in what could only be called a ‘kamikaze raid on a vacant lot’. (Read More)

Westerners, Roadblocks & Zen: For Westerners, Zen can be a particularly maddening series of suggestions about how to experience life in a different way. One of the major reasons that this is so is that all Westerners are essentially children of Aristotle. As such, we tend to prioritize rationality over instinct. To be clear, the Ancient Greeks did not do so. They had Dionysius as well as Apollo. They had their own Trinity: Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. But Western culture and spirituality as aggressively pruned the tree. With limited exceptions, Aristotle and the worship of rationality dominates the field. (Read More)

A couple of interesting if irrelevant tendencies: It is occasionally amusing to read comments that seem to assiduously avoid the focus of a posting in order to vent some personal suspicion of inadequacy. I have, of course, blocked the petulant child who seemed to think that vulgarity is a sign of maturity when it is really a sign of angry impotence.

And then there are the self-appointed hall monitors whose principal contribution seems to be to castigate anyone who might have a thought and be willing to offer that thought in the hope that it might prove helpful to others. I am reminded of a quote from Inherit the Wind: Henry Drummond: “Suppose God whispered into a Bertram Cates’ ear that an un-Brady thought could still be holy? Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?” These “self-appointed profits” parading as hall monitors generally contribute nothing to a discussion except impotent castigations. The idea of irony of that impotence seems lost on those who seem to be determined to demonstrate in themselves what they posture as finding in others. But, in the end, these are very uninteresting people who have very little to add and are best ignored. (Read More)

The Hungry Ghost: We all create virtual realities as we attempt to come to terms with the world as we find it. Our virtual world is populated by conceptual interpretations. These symbols are shorthand for the detritus of our living experiences. It’s not a unique sentient being, it’s a tree. It’s not the residual of a life prematurely ended, it’s a table. And amongst these manufactured ornaments, we place our self-image; a virtual representation of the being we assume that we are. It’s this self that I refer to as the hungry ghost. Indeed, in a fundamental way, it’s that self that the foundational teachings of Buddhism are directed towards. (Read More)

Bucketing Out: Robert Bly retells a very interesting and useful ancient fairytale in Iron John: A Book About Men. The story begins when a hunter shows up at the castle and asks the King, “Anything dangerous to do around here?” The King replies, “Well, I could mention the forest, but there’s a problem. The people who go out there don’t come back.” But this is a hunter of a peculiar nature. “That’s just the sort of thing I like,” is his response. (Read More)

Self-Sabotage is a Bad Idea: “Do more of what enriches your life and less of what damages it.” Sounds like common sense right? But, in my mentoring work, I frequently encounter people who seem to be dedicated to damaging their own prospects through self-defeating behaviors. (Read More)

First Steps Are Always the Hardest: Inertia is the Enemy of the Possible “I should’ve done this a long time ago. Why didn’t I? Why did I waste all of those years? It’s like I spent my time walking around in the dark when, all the time, I knew where the light switch was.” (Read More)

Climbing a Ladder That Leads to a Hole in the Ground: There is a sea change going on among millennials and the rest of us should pay close attention to it. (Read More)

A Fundamental Understanding: Realization often takes more time because ego and hubris interfere. Presumption is a challenging adversary when it is self-deployed. In an effort to avoid the implications of impermanence, we often work hard to convince ourselves that we are the architects of our lives and the framers of reality. (Read More)

Journeys: I would like to distinguish between two types of journeys that humans make in the course of their lives. (Read More)

I am I and will be till I die? Not! The practice of Zen brings a challenge to the literate. The farther one moves along the path from ‘right now right here’ to ‘right now right here’ the more language comes to be desperately inadequate. The difference between experience and verbal description widens until the chasm can no longer be spanned. (Read More)

A New Direction: Many people who come to me for mentoring support are certain of one thing – that they are facing a problem which is unique to them. To their relief, they discover that the situation they find themselves in – the challenges that they are facing – the decisions that they have to make – and the options that are open to them are shared by many of their fellow travelers. One of their first lessons is that ‘they are not alone’. (Read More)

The Denotative Tendency: Attempts to help Westerners along the path established by the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path often come up against a distinctive tendency to want to define terms rather than experience the path itself. (Read More)

Your Foundation: An old friend was fond of saying that most people begin at paragraph two. The point he was making was that the foundational assumptions of any argument tend to be taken as givens by the person advancing it and, as a result, they feel no need to explain them. (Read More)

The idea of something is not the thing Let’s say you’re sitting in a movie theater watching a war film. It’s about the battle of Gettysburg – a reenactment of Pickett’s charge. The theater is filled with the sounds of cannon and musket fire. The images graphic. Soldiers on both sides are suffering horrific wounds. Many are dying before your eyes. But are they? (Read More)

The Treasure of This Moment You are busy. There is so much happening around you. People, events – the general coming and going that makes up your day. All of these keep you distracted – sociologists and psychologists would describe you as engaged and involved. (Read More)

What’s In It For Me? This is a retelling of a post-modernist nightmare – a journey into the void of virtual relationships that never become real. It is a story about lost possibilities sacrificed upon the shrines of inattention, self-absorption and indifference. The interspersed poem is by Antonio Machado – The Wind, One Brilliant Day. (Read More)

Walking Together Alone – Searching For the Self There is an important difference between Coaching and Mentoring. Coaching tends to deal with the finishing details while mentoring focuses on foundational questions. I value the work done by Coaches and have done a considerable amount of it myself but, over the years, I have gravitated towards Mentoring because it tends to involve Transformational Journeys and the remaking of a life. Helping a person make that journey successfully is a source of great joy and satisfaction for me. (Read More)

Making the Possible Probable – A Mentoring Case Study When you awake each morning, the day presents you with literally thousands of possibilities. Human existence is chocked full of possibilities. But the important questions is, what is probable? And the more important question is, how can you make the right possible things probable – how can you select the right probabilities from all those possibilities? This is one of those areas when more education can be a real liability. (Read More)

The One True Thing What is the one thing in your life that is that certain? It has a reality and significance unlike anything else. Your thoughts, memories and aspirations are manufactured realities. The one thing that is certain is that you are alive in the moment and experiencing what it brings to you. (Read More)

Train, Shoot Self in Foot, Run Marathon Most behaviors are patterns – recurring tendencies – rather than one-off acts. People tend to do the same thing over and over even though it generates unsatisfactory results. They don’t seem to be able to take the most common sense advice. (Read More)

The Price of Intemperance Socrates observed that ‘a life unexamined is not worth living’. Nowhere is that more true than when we act against our own self-interests and suffer the consequences – pay the bills for our own rash actions. (Read More)

How Long? How often has that question occurred to you? And what did it mean when it did? Occasionally perhaps it appeared as “how long is this going to go on?” A variation could have been “how long do I have to endure this?” Although there are plenty of other meanings that might occur, that’s the one that I intend to focus on but perhaps not in the way you might expect. (Read More)


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