Posts Tagged ‘tami simon’

The Primacy of Experience

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I have now hosted over 100 episodes of Insights at the Edge, a free podcast series in which I interview Sounds True authors about their life and work. What I have found is that the part of the conversation that always interests me the most is when people talk about their own direct experience–their experience with difficult times, their “illumination” experience, their experience with intimate relationships (the good, the bad, the ugly). These are the moments when the conversation becomes the most real for me. I feel like saying to my guests, “Please don’t tell me what you think sounds like wonderful philosophy, tell me what you have seen with your own eyes, tell me what has surprised you, tell me what has disappointed you, tell me what has helped you feel most alive and free.”

Being in the spiritual education field, I have recently developed an allergy to people telling me that “life is like this” or “life is like that.” I am very interested in knowing what people have discovered for themselves, but am very disinterested (and yes, allergic) to people telling me how life is, period. Recently, I recorded with a Sounds True author who repeatedly used the phrase “in my experience” to talk about the discoveries he has made. I noticed how much I appreciated the spirit of this phrase, how there was a certain humility in his presentation, how he wasn’t speaking for all people, for all time, in all dimensions. He was speaking about what he had discovered in his own experience that might be helpful to others.

One of the questions I have been asking myself is, “Why have I developed this allergy to people telling me that the universe works, definitively and forever, like this or like that?” I recently discovered this quote from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche that I quite like: “Ambiguity is called a seed syllable when it becomes a starting point rather than a source of our problems.” To me, what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche means by “ambiguity being a seed syllable” is that each moment is unprecedented and fresh— we can be open in any moment to a new possibility. We don’t need to attach ourselves to some type of certainty (possibly a false certainty) as a way to feel at peace. We can be at peace with not-knowing.

After listening to hundreds of hours of Sounds True recordings and hearing all kinds of wise teachers contradict each other (and sometimes even contradict themselves), I am beginning to feel at home with ambiguity. I do not need a wisdom teacher to take away ambiguity because it is too destabilizing, because I can’t handle it. And I feel allergic to advertising that promises me that someone else’s theories will assuredly work just wonders for me, all the time and in all situations. What I am interested in is the personal process of discovery, and sharing notes and experiences with other spiritual journeyers. What I find is that when people talk to me from their own first-person experience, I relax. No one is preaching to me about “how it is.” Instead I am touching in with someone and for a moment seeing the world the way that they see it. And that makes my world bigger. I feel in those moments that I am connecting with another person, not being preached at (hallelujah!). And perhaps most importantly, I feel interested in diving deeper into my own experience, inspired by this person’s genuineness and vulnerability.

Blessing and Being Blessed

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I love to receive personal blessings. One of the best blessing-givers I have ever met was the late Irish poet and mystic John O’Donohue. I remember at the end of our various recording projects, we would always celebrate by going out to dinner and having a few drinks. One night, after dinner, I shyly asked John if he would be willing to give me a blessing (I just couldn’t let him fly back to Ireland the next morning without asking). We walked together to a private spot outside of the restaurant, under a tree. He then cupped his hands over my head and prayed out loud for several minutes, asking that goodness come, that any obstacles in my path be removed, that I be liberated from any shame or self-deprecation that was holding me back (quite honestly, I can’t remember exactly what he said, it was a long stream of consciousness invocation, but what I wrote here was the gist of it).

I will always remember that moment when John O’Donohue blessed me under a tree. It was like being injected with light.

Interestingly, since that time, I have requested blessings from all kinds of people (from Tibetan Buddhist teachers, from friends who seem to have healing abilities and from my partner Julie who is always willing to help me out with a blessing if I feel like I am facing a particularly difficult situation). I have also given blessings to all kinds of people in different kinds of circumstances. John O’Donohue spent 19 years as a Catholic priest, but I am not a priest of any kind. My point here is that we can all give and receive blessings, regardless of whether we have been “officially sanctioned.” All that is necessary is a willingness to invoke infinite benevolence for the sake of someone else. Then there is a meeting, a mysterious meeting that is beyond the personal and infuses the person with infinite possibility.

Recently, I interviewed Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés for “Insights at the Edge” (the weekly free podcast series that I host). I asked her about the power of blessings, as she ends each one of her online teachings with a blessing-prayer for the listeners. Her comments hit home. She talked about how the blessing withheld is as important as the blessing given. I thought of situations in my own life in which out of competitiveness or meanness, I have actually withheld from someone my belief in them or my investment in their success. CPE (as I call Dr. Estés) also spoke of how we can bless people through our work, and through writing and poetry, and how there are many people who are literally waiting and in need of the blessings that can only pour through each of us.

I love the idea of blessings flowing freely from us and to us. We each have the freedom and the birthright to invoke blessings at any time. We can scream blessings from the rooftops, silently look through eyes that bless, or say something to someone that is exactly the blessed encouragement they need to hear. It doesn’t have to be formal or even seen. Blessing and being blessed can be a way of opening to a field of grace, a field that is always available, ready to fill us and others in response to our heart’s call.

What makes a “Groovy Workplace”?

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

I am not someone who easily fits into office life (or at least what might be called “traditional” office life). I like to take my shoes off when I work. I sometimes need to lie down at strange times and simply stretch (or moan). It is impossible for me to wear one face at work and then wear another face when I am not at work, as if I were two separate people – a worker and a person. To me, I need to work in an environment where I feel whole and can express my wholeness.

Twenty five years ago when I started Sounds True, it wasn’t that easy to find what I would call a “groovy workplace”. And for me, such an environment was a necessity. I knew I would be spending most of my waking hours at work (in an office no less), and I wanted those hours to be enjoyable, love-filled, interesting and rich.

With that in mind, back in 1985, I articulated three bottom lines for the company. We would be successful as a business if we could:

1)Fulfill our mission (defined as “disseminating spiritual wisdom”)

2)Maintain a groovy workplace

3)Generate a profit

To this day, these remain the three bottom lines that matter to me most. The first two are non-negotiable and are within our control (we decide what we publish and how we treat each other). The third bottom line allows us to pursue the other two.

When it comes to maintaining a groovy workplace, the employees at Sounds True have taken over this bottom line as their own. What is mostly required of me is to stay out of the way. Here are a few examples:

  • A few months ago, our Art Director curated an all-employee art show. For several months, the hallways of Sounds True were filled with employee-created works of photography, sculpture, painting and collage. People even brought in art by their children (and one of our conference rooms was dedicated to children’s art). The exhibit was called “Many Artists, One Show,” a take-off on our new company tag line.
  • Last Friday was Pajama Day. For the past several years, during the first snowfall in March, people are invited to wear their pajamas, booties, and sleeping hats (who really wears a sleeping hat?) to work. The idea was introduced by someone in our art department several years ago. At first, I thought it was ridiculous, and I was one of the few curmudgeons who wore my clothes to work on Pajama Day. This year, I wore my pink cotton pajamas and a cashmere grey robe and finally got the hang of it.
  • A new employee in our marketing department recently asked me how I would feel about him gathering people once a month for a lunch-time discussion group to talk about a Sounds True title. “Will it cost anything?” I asked. “No, but it would be wonderful if you wanted to join us.” That’s the kind of initiative I can roll with. Now, a group of ST employees bring their lunch and gather once a month to share their experience of listening to a ST title.

These are just a few recent Sounds True happenings. The point is that NONE of these ideas came from me or the management of the company. Even our meditation room exists because an employee wanted it to happen. The idea was brought forward about 15 years ago by a copywriter who worked in an open cubicle. He wanted to meditate during his morning and afternoon breaks and felt uncomfortable meditating in public while people walked past (understandably).

So, what makes a workplace groovy? I believe each person will have a different answer to that. As the founder of ST, I believe my role is to be open and receptive and to let people act on what is important to them. Grooviness does not require a policy or plan. It requires creating the space in which people feel safe to enact their inspiration.

Now for me personally, the absolute grooviest part of the Sounds True workplace is the fact that people can bring their (well-behaved) dogs to work. Bosco
When visitors come to Sounds True, the number of dogs in the building is one of the first things they notice (on any given day, there can be anywhere between 10 and 20 dogs sleeping in offices, sitting on people’s laps and walking through the halls). The “bring your dog policy” began about two decades ago when I lived with a dog named Toby. Toby would give me the most woeful look when I would leave the house each morning, and I couldn’t bear it. So one day, I decided to bring him with me. And soon, Toby was coming to work with me every day. After about a week, an employee asked me if she could bring her dog as well. Believe it or not, I never considered that bringing Toby would mean that everyone else would soon be bringing their dogs too (I clearly didn’t think through the implications). But I have always believed in treating people the way that I would want to be treated. And clearly I wanted to bring my dog to work. How could I not let others do the same?

We now have an entire page of our Employee Handbook dedicated to the Sounds True dogs (three poops and you’re out!) along with dog free zones in the building (if only there was compliance). Yes, there are challenges (we have a large supply of stain remover on hand) and there are occasional turf wars and barking attacks during conference calls. But overall, the dogs humanize Sounds True. And I mean that quite seriously. They connect us to our natural warmth and softness. They break our trance of busy-ness (if you bring your dog to work you need to take it out on a regular basis, similar to taking a smoking break but without the smoke). They provide a dog-lover like me with over-the-top grooviness (a bit of smelliness is a small price to pay).

I never thought I would spend my life working in an office building. I associated office life with something stale and staid. But it needn’t be. What is mission critical for me is that every day I can come to work and be genuine and connect with other genuine people in an authentic way. Can that happen in an office building? Well, of course it can. It can happen anywhere.

About 5 years ago, the culture of Sounds True was studied by two researchers from “The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.” Their goal was to study various businesses to see if contemplative practice (the practice of prayer, meditation, and other forms of reflection) had an impact on the culture of a company. Did such businesses embody “spiritual” characteristics? If so, how are those characteristics expressed in business? After spending two days at Sounds True and interviewing our 80+ employees (about one-third of whom identified as being contemplative practitioners), they came to the following conclusion: Overwhelmingly, the people at Sounds True feel like they can be themselves at work.

Maybe that is the ultimate grooviness.

Many Voices, One Journey

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Sounds True has a new logo (see above) and a new tag line: Many Voices, One Journey.


The new tag line came from Mitchell Clute who works as a Producer at Sounds True. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded a bit like we were a gospel choir, but hey, that’s not that far from the truth.


The phrase “Many Voices, One Journey” has grown on me. Obviously, we each have our own individual journey to make, however we are all here together experiencing our one life. As unique as we each are, there is an underlying universality that we share, which is the human journey of birth, death and the potential for spiritual transformation.


At a deeper level, I have been reflecting on the whole notion of what it means to be a universalist (someone who appreciates what all the world’s spiritual traditions have in common) and at the same time someone who has chosen a particular spiritual path to follow (to be part of a particular lineage).


In my own life, I started out in my early twenties in love with the direct path of mystical knowing, determined that I would always be a “world citizen” and never become a member of any particular tribe or tradition. However, by the time I reached my late thirties, I had the feeling of being a bit lost in the woods. I had studied with many different teachers and in many different traditions. I knew a lot, but there was a way that I had remained on the surface. At one point, my partner Julie said to me “You like to talk about spiritual transformation more than anyone I have ever met. The question is, when are you going to start transforming?”


Her question stung, and I knew she was pointing to something absolutely critical. It was at that time in my life that I started working intensively with a single spiritual teacher and with a single spiritual community, and this teacher and community have been my “home base” for the past 8 years. What is interesting is that now that I have a home base, I am engaged with exploring many different spiritual teachings and traditions (my heart is a universal heart), but I no longer feel lost. I feel like someone who has a home and who is an adventurous traveler.


Perhaps even more importantly, I can now appreciate in an experiential way deeper dimensions of various teachings from other traditions (different from my own) because I have reference points from my own practice that illuminate the language of other traditions.


When I first started meditating, I studied with S.N. Goenka who is a Burmese meditation master who teaches the Vipassana style of meditation. I was 20 years old, and I remember him saying, “If you want to find water, don’t dig in hundreds of different holes, dig deeply in one place.” I remember thinking that he was an old fuddy-duddy, a traditionalist, and besides, how did I know that I was digging in the right one hole to begin with? Two decades later, I reached a certain point where I knew the smell of water and I knew what pure water tasted like (I had also tasted quite a bit of what I might call “muddy water”). I had experienced enough and grown enough to have confidence in my instincts. And when I found the tradition that had the right scent and the taste, I decided to dig in a very serious way.


I love the tag line “Many Voices, One Journey” because I believe there is a great underground table of pure water that is available to all serious spiritual journeyers. I also believe there are many routes and access points depending on your personal bent, your personal karma (all of the various conditions of your life), and on what teacher and practice form calls forth your heart and inspiration. I have met deeply realized people from many different traditions. One Sounds True author whom I dearly love, John Milton (who takes people on vision quests in nature) recommends to students to always study in more than one tradition because it creates checks and balances on the path (John himself has studied and practiced extensively within 4 lineages: Taoist, Shamanic, the Kali Tradition, and the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism). And this combining of paths is an interesting “voice in the choir” as well.


My current perspective is that spiritual transformation is a universal process (“one journey”). No one can own it. However, the universal becomes real for us when it has a voice, a name, a particular expression. We discover the universal through the particular and then we can appreciate all particulars as expressions of the universal.


Manifestation Manifesto

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Over the past few years, I have heard more and more people talk about “manifesting.” From what I can tell, the going definition of manifestation is “learning how to use spiritual principles to get what you want out of life.” Of course, it is usually stated in more palatable language like “how to realize your dreams” or “how to create the life you want.” Often, when I hear people describe this view of manifestation, I find myself feeling irritated. So, I decided it was time to write my own “Manifestation Manifesto.” (As you can see, I’m using this Publisher’s Blog as a chance to constructively express – at least I hope I’m being constructive – many of the pent-up frustrations I have been feeling as a publisher in the field of personal and spiritual transformation for the past 24 years.)

So in response to all of the manifestation talk I‘ve heard over the past few years, here is my “Manifestation Manifesto”:

Step 1. Listen to your inner voice.

Step 2. Do what your inner voice says.

Step 3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2.

That’s my manifesto (very short!). And although it sounds quite simple – and it is from a conceptual viewpoint – that doesn’t mean it is easy.

Step 1: Listen to your inner voice.

I believe we all have a trustworthy inner voice. You might experience it in the form of words spoken internally or as a gut feeling, an intuitive vision, a flash of insight, or a spontaneous sense of knowing. In traditional religious language, this inner voice might be called “the voice of our conscience,” which may not be too far off the mark. I do believe we each have an internal guidance system that is always available, if we are willing to stop and listen.

You might ask, “Where does this inner voice come from?” That’s a good question – and I don’t have a good answer. What I do know is that for me this inner voice is a compass. It feels to me like a reliable, benevolent, evolutionary messenger service, something that is guiding me to express more, to love more, and to extend more for the benefit of others.

It’s my experience that there is no shortage of available inner guidance. What is in short supply, however, is our willingness to tune in and listen. Most of us are too busy, busy, busy (ironically, trying to manifest our dreams, right?). Imagine how much power and impact we could have if we paused and listened to make sure we were actually scurrying in the right direction.

If we are interested in manifesting more in our lives – more abundance, more happiness, more contribution to others – one interesting question to ask ourselves is why we don’t spend more time listening to our inner guidance. Caroline Myss, the medical intuitive and author of Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, has investigated this question in some detail. She posits that the reason many people don’t listen to their inner guidance is that they don’t actually want to change – certainly not in dramatic ways. We may say we want change in our lives (we want to “manifest” something that doesn’t currently exist, right?), but we usually want it on our terms, not on unconditional terms, not if it costs us something like our current sense of security, our current network of relationships, or our current identity structure.

And this brings me to why I often feel irritated when I hear people talk about “manifesting their dreams.” It is as if this all-powerful ego-based person wants to orchestrate a new world order according to their likes and dislikes, as if this whole universe exists to line up around our personal wishes. I really see things in quite the opposite way. The way I see it, we are servants, not masters. What are we serving? That is for each person to answer in their own being. In my case, I am serving a higher field or finer dimension of vibration that has qualities to it like truth, beauty and justice. I am also serving and partnering with all of the beings, seen and unseen, who have worked and are working to bring these qualities into form. To put it another way, for me the central question around manifesting is not “What do I want?” but instead “What is wanted from me?”

Step 2: Do What Your Inner Voice Says

Once we hear our inner guidance, we need courage – or to use Caroline Myss’ language, “a backbone, not a wishbone” – if we are to manifest in the world. This is complex territory, because there are all kinds of unconscious reasons we don’t want to act on the messages we hear.  I will give you an example from my personal and professional life:

For about 5 years, I knew I needed to hire a President at Sounds True. The company needed day-to-day operational leadership, and I needed the time to explore other avenues of self-expression and contribution. I was, however, terrified about making this change. What if I hired someone who ruined the 20 years of work I’d put into the company, eroding the value of the business? What if I hired someone who was better than me at running the company, and I ended up feeling like a horse put out to pasture? What if and if and if?

Finally, my inner voice stopped talking to me in clear sentences and started creating difficult circumstances in my life – including a schedule that was totally unmanageable and a love partner who could not tolerate how little time and attention I had for our relationship. It was as if my guidance system could no longer get my attention by whispering so it started shouting through the circumstances of my life.

A year and a half ago, the shouting got so loud I couldn’t help but listen. So I finally made the decision to hire a President. (Happily, April 1st 2009 will be the one year anniversary of a fellow spiritual traveler and business professional named Grant Couch filling this role.) Why did it take me 5 years to take this step? Because, as Caroline Myss says, I was afraid of how much and how quickly my life would change. In a certain sense, I was “hiding” behind all of the tasks that I had to do. I knew this just below the surface of my consciousness, but I didn’t really want to acknowledge this knowing because I was hiding for some very good unconscious reasons. Suffice it to say I was protecting my heart; it can be quite scary to change in ways that radically – and publicly – increase our level of vulnerability.

So for me, when it comes to manifesting, a useful line of inquiry is “Why am I not doing what I know I need to do right now”? That is a totally different approach than “visualizing what I want” or expecting hoped-for external events to happen. It’s about deeply inquiring into our own resistance and what lies underneath it. My experience is that when I can archaeologically dig up that unconscious material, feel it and release it, it’s like untying a knot. Once that knot is untied, the energy to manifest flows swiftly and generally, unimpeded. Doors fly open. Surprising allies arrive. Magic happens.

Step 3

Repeat steps 1 and 2

There is no end to manifesting and expressing who we are. I recently spent some time with Eckhart Tolle. We were filming a trailer for Eckhart Tolle TV, a new online television service that Sounds True is launching in partnership with Eckhart Teachings. I asked Eckhart why he was bothering to create this new service at all. I wanted to understand his motivations. Obviously, Eckhart can be spending his time in whatever way he wishes; why get involved in a multi-year commitment requiring so much energy and creativity? When I asked Eckhart the question “Why are you bothering to create Eckhart Tolle TV?” he paused for about a minute. Then he looked directly at me and said, “I am responding to the evolutionary impulse.”

I love that answer. When we are responding to an evolutionary impulse, we manifest in a way that is pure and selfless. We tune in. We are given instructions. We respond boldly, wildly and unconditionally. And as a result, we manifest in ways that serve evolution itself.

–Tami Simon

Enlightenment in five easy steps?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Here at Sounds True, we have seasonal meetings (called “creative direction” meetings) where our creative team gathers to brainstorm (and argue—in a constructive way, of course) about how best to position each one of our new titles. By creating a position for a title we are launching it into the world as a new and unique being—what it will look, sound, and feel like; what makes it unique from every other title that has ever been born.

The writers at Sounds True have historically advocated describing each program in terms of its benefits to the customer. The idea is that people want to gain something—intelligence, peace of mind, greater health—when they spend their money on inner learning and spiritual development. Well, those “benefits” sound good (they sure do!), but here’s the rub: The spiritual journey is often more about loss than gain, as much about embracing our darkness as it is about basking in the light. Advertising that promises the spiritual journey will be easy, fun, and always filled with light and bliss has some very real problems attached. Specifically:

It makes us misunderstand and reject our own experiences of “descent.”

Experiences of “descent” are those times when we need to be deep within ourselves—when we are called to inner silence and inquiry, when we are letting go of something that needs to be let go of, when we are grieving, when we are wrestling with and sorting out our priorities, when we are grappling with physical illness. These times of descent are part of life and are intrinsic to the spiritual journey. They are not times of failure or of being off course; they are passageways that need to be traversed so we can emerge with greater depth of being and, dare I say, wisdom.

If we ingest advertising that says that the spiritual journey is all about peace and feeling positive all of the time, then we are prone to believing that we are somehow “failing” during such times of descent. We will reject ourselves and our experience; we will actually pull away from the initiatory experiences we are having that hold so much richness and information, and we will instead stay on the surface of our lives and wonder why we feel like something is missing. Without the descent there is no real ascent; it is like wanting all of the vitality and energy of springtime but being unwilling to experience winter.

We are not prepared for the real work of the spiritual journey.

If we believe that the spiritual journey is quick and easy (like following the instructions on the back of a bag of microwave popcorn), we will not be prepared for the real work, the “heavy lifting” of genuine transformation. What I mean by “genuine transformation” is a process by which everything that is false in us—our emotional defenses, limiting beliefs, and self-structures—are seen and released, and a new unbounded and mysterious sense of self emerges which is fluid and ever-changing. Of course, this heavy lifting is more about “un-doing” than doing. But in my experience, when it comes to letting go of my need for power and control and safety, as well as my need to be universally well-liked by others, this process is quite a process indeed!

The problem with believing that the spiritual journey does not require real and sustained work is similar to the problem that emerges when a partner in a love relationship believes that the relationship should continuously unfold beautifully and perfectly without either partner needing to work at it. When tough spots emerge, there is no willingness to engage, to go deeper. The real treasures, those that can only be discovered through sustained engagement, remain hidden.

We lecture others about our theories of happiness instead of meeting them in their unique experience.

If we believe that the spiritual journey is formulaic, that there is a one-size-fits-all series of easy steps to follow, then when other people are suffering, we insist on sharing with them our winning formula. I do not believe this is what people really need or want from us when they are in emotional pain.

Recently, I spent three days in a studio in Madison, Wisconsin with Parker Palmer recording a series of talks about “The Undivided Life.” He is a beautiful writer and educator and someone who has written courageously (and now spoken courageously!) on the topic of depression. Parker himself has gone through three periods of clinical depression (he describes the most recent experience which he underwent during his sixties as “becoming the dark”). One thing he learned in these periods was how people could best relate to him in ways that were truly helpful instead of simply driving him deeper into isolation. He named this ideal form of relating as being “neither invasive nor evasive” and he compared it to how a dying person might want to receive a visitor—the visitor would not try to “fix” the dying person (for who can fix the fact that we are going to die and this is actuality the situation we are all in?) but would instead be at the bedside with total presence and a full heart, neither invasive nor evasive.

If we know that the spiritual journey is mysterious, complex, and totally individual (not reduced to a series of simplistic steps) then we can be with each other in this way—present, open, attentive, warm, and available. We can be fellow travelers instead of salespeople with one-size-fits-all answers.

The irony here is that the spiritual journey is the most exciting, the most rewarding, the most benefit-packed focus we could ever have for our lives. I remember at one point approximately seven years ago speaking with spiritual teacher Reggie Ray about my own ambitious nature. I wondered if a life focused on inner growth could ever really satisfy me. His comment was that the inner journey would nourish me and fulfill me in ways outer accomplishments never could—that instead of feeling drained and empty from working in the world (even with the purpose of being of benefit to others), I would feel overflowing from the inside out with a sense of richness and fulfillment.

So yes, we can describe Sounds True titles with benefit language galore, but we need to be careful we never sell the spiritual journey as something that is easy, quick, formulaic, and without challenge. That would be a serious disservice. As Parker Palmer says, there is no resurrection without death. As I see it, our real job at Sounds True is to communicate the great glory of dying.

–Tami Simon

Leap . . . and Life Unfolds

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Writing a blog like this is a type of “leap” for me. It is one thing to run a publishing company and stand behind the work of great luminaries and spiritual teachers. It is another thing to stand up front and use my own voice in this way. Preparing to write this first entry, I started thinking about a phrase that I have often heard repeated in spiritual circles: “Leap and the net will appear.” I just don’t think that’s true, at least not in all cases. People always want guarantees when they take a risk, and they want their spiritual endeavors to come with guarantees (if I follow this path, I must know that I am going to become happier, wealthier, etc.). What if there are no guarantees? What if we leap simply because we have to, because not leaping leads to stagnation and stuckness and sometimes we know in our hearts we just have to extend, regardless of the outcome?

Back in 1985, it appeared to others (my friends and family) that I was taking a leap to start Sounds True. But really, it was more like a calculated risk. The leap came when at age 20, I dropped out of college. It actually felt like I jumped off of a train that had been going 100 miles per hour (a stunt-like maneuver, I leapt off the train and rolled on the ground somersault fashion and found myself studying meditation and traveling in Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal for a year). It was a dramatic leap because I had been on a certain track, an academic track. I thought I was going to be a professor or something like that because I loved learning and I loved ideas. And here I was, called by something mysterious to discover what it meant not to get a degree in mysticism but to live the life of a mystic.

When I started Sounds True a year after returning from India, I had nothing left to lose. I was a college drop-out volunteering at a local radio station and working as a waitress to pay the bills. During this period in my life, there was a prayer that I said every day: “God, I am willing to do your work. Show me what it is.” The word “willing” was a very intentional part of the prayer. I did not want to approach finding my life’s calling in a “willful” way and I also didn’t want to be “will-less” — not exerting myself or caring about the outcome. I wanted to be shown, and I wanted the universe to know I was willing to do my part, whatever it might be, however humble it might look.

At the age of 21, I received a small inheritance (about $50K) when my father died. This was the money I used to start Sounds True. Starting Sounds True was a calculated risk. I lived very simply at the time (in a rented house with four other people) and I felt as though I had nothing to lose. If after the end of two years, Sounds True was not able to pay me a wage, then I would shut it down and go look for a job (which would put me in the same place I was in before I took the risk, seeking meaningful employment in a landscape that didn’t seem particularly promising).

People sometimes ask me if it took courage to start Sounds True. And the answer is no. What did take courage was to leave a situation (Swarthmore College) that promised a lot of rewards that were meaningful to other people but not actually meaningful to me. It took courage because I had no idea what would happen or how my life would unfold. I risked losing the respect of my family, and I had no explanation for my actions. I knew I had to leave a situation that felt wrong to me, but I had no idea what would feel right.

Since leaving college and starting Sounds True, there has been no end to “leaping.” Sometimes, I have taken a leap and suddenly it feels like a magical white horse has appeared underneath me, wings spread, and we fly through the air together. Other times, I have landed on the ground with a resounding “thud.” Sometimes, I have taken a leap and felt really humiliated at the results (a public talk that didn’t go well, for example). No matter. There are no guarantees. A “thud,” however painful, can lead to a new birth. What matters to me is to keep leaping, to keep moving away from the known and trusting the great fertility of the unknown.

We could even take this further. What if there is no “known”?  What if all of our plans and safety nets are fictions we have created to give us an illusion of personal control? What if life, when lived “full out” with our hearts leading the way, is more like a free fall in space than a construction project?  With this first entry, I have now made the “blog leap,” and I am doing so in free fall and in dialogue with you, Sounds True listeners. I would love to hear from you.

–Tami Simon