Totally Nuts? Really? Who Exactly?

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"Totally Nuts? Really? Who Exactly?"

“My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go in there alone.”

I love this quote from Bay Area author Annie Lamott. At first blush, it’s really funny, but for many of us, despite the fact that we really do need to observe our thoughts and actions carefully, so as to take ownership of all parts of ourselves, it’s very accurate. Indeed, an important part of my coaching work involves self observation practices and exercises. But, Annie is right – sometimes visits can be scary.

I’ve posted a number of times about my Thursdays at “Martins” a SF homeless shelter, my favorite day of the week because of the big learning that happens there for me. Last week was no exception. This time I thought I’d share.

After parking and on my walk to the shelter, I was “buttonholed” by one of our guests. I recognized him. Since we were headed to the same place, I decided to walk with him. He had, as usual, his ancient, thick, tattered bible in his hand and was reciting it, from memory, in monotone, like a mantra, and very fast. I tried, but most of what he was saying I couldn’t understand, with the exception of numerous references to Jesus, sinners, kingdom of heaven, and the devil too. He appeared to me to be totally lost in his bible, in his words, in his own world – completely oblivious to what was going on in the ”real world”, where I live. I’m sure you get the picture.

Anyway, we got to the corner of a very wide, two way, busy traffic street. I stopped to wait for a green light. He took off. It was amazing watching him dodge the cars: slowing down for the faster cars, speeding up to get ahead of slower cars, and stopping when he needed to not get hit. Exceedingly nimble and alert – like a downhill skier on a slalom course – body as close as possible to the “flags”, to get around them without knocking them down (in his case, being knocked down) – and very, very much in this world, not in his bible. When he got to the other side, he turned to look at me – stlll waiting for the light.

Although his choice was not prudent or wise, nevertheless a big and important part of his brain was fully functional and taking excellent care of him. I couldn’t have managed his feat.

Are people who we observe in the street talking to themselves really cuckoo? What is that exactly? We all, every one of us, have an endless stream of conversation going on inside our heads, all the time – the voices, talking to us. But because it’s silent, we call it thinking. How big of a step is it really, to be having that conversation out loud? Not that big I reckon. Gotta be careful who we call cuckoo.

But I wasn’t done learning.


Towards the end of the shift, in order to let the dishwashers catch up, we switch from soup bowls to paper cups for the last 20-30 minutes. Our guests can have as many as they want. One guest was coming back every 60 seconds or so asking for two more cups full each time. Nobody can eat that fast, so I knew he must be filling a container. We have a takeout counter where we offer to fill jars and bottles for takeout, so I offered to fill a container of his choice with as much soup as he wanted so we could stop sending paper cups to the landfill needlessly. He refused. I offered again. He refused again. I followed him outside and observed him filling a green garbage bag with soup, salad, and bread (we offer salad and bread with the soup) – all together in the same bag, all mixed up.

I freaked – not at him – but I freaked. I had to stop to take inventory of all the out of control thoughts and feelings going on in my brain (all mixed up together, just like the mess in his garbage bag). The list: shock, disbelief, revulsion (eew!! how can someone eat like that?), anger (a lot, for the needless trash), compassion (not enough), shame (for my anger), and a weird, crazy kind of awe and respect for his survival skills (which I know I totally lack)…what a brew!!

Do we really believe we are the boss of our mind? The job of a lifetime. No wonder we need to meditate!!

Now, while you are reading the practice tip, which I pray you will do, because it’s from the Dhammapada, is on point, and is unbelievably wise, click on the link below, and listen to what John Lennon had to say about “Mind Games:”

BTW: If you are in your email, the link likely won’t be there. To listen, click on the title of this post. You will get to my blog page. The link is there.

Practice tip:

We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts we make the world.

Speak or act with an impure mind

and trouble will follow you

as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.


We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts we make the world.

Speak or act with a pure mind

and happiness will follow you

as your shadow, unshakable.

Your worst enemy cannot harm you

as much as your own thoughts, unguarded.


But once mastered,

no one can help you as much,

not even your father or your mother.

(trans Thomas Byrom)

Dear Reader, Please be kind to yourself.


About Michael Scott

Michael Scott is a life coach, author and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending 35 years in business - coaching found him - and he's never looked back. Michael uses his coaching training and experience, in the service of his clients, as their constant and loving guide towards joyous, fulfilling lives which are genuinely their own. He lives with his dear wife in Sausalito, CA.

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