Hello from Houston, Texas. I just arrived here. Tomorrow I will lead a day-long zazen thing starting at 9:30am and ending at 3:00pm at the Houston Zen Center, 1605 Heights Blvd. Houston, TX 77008. You should be there.

Tomorrow I will be in my element. People will be here specifically to see and talk to me. I’ll be on stage – or at least in front of the meditators – and I’ll talk to the group. I have no difficulty at all with that, no stage fright, no jitters. I just open up and talk.

My problem is when I’m not in my element. Nobody who meets me at a book signing or a retreat or a Zero Defex gig or a movie screening would ever guess that I am painfully shy. Yet, in fact, I’d say I might qualify as cripplingly shy.

Put me at a party where nobody knows who I am and I can’t even bring myself to start a conversation with someone. I’ve lived in Philadelphia since March but I only know two people in the city. And I met those two people at places where I was “in my element” i.e. at book signings and lectures.

I signed up for meetup.com and went to two meet-ups, but they were kind of terrifying, so I never went to any more.

For years I masked my terror at meeting people under layers of carefully constructed misanthropy. I was too shy to talk to anyone, so I just hated them instead. All through high school I hated everyone, college too, adult life… Oh man!

OK. I am exaggerating a little. I have managed to find my way into certain groups of people. In Akron I was a part of the early hardcore punk scene. In high school I had a little nerd clique I hung out with. In Japan, when I was a teacher, I managed to find a group of like-minded ex-pat teachers to be my pals. I loved the people I worked with at Tsuburaya Productions — most of them, anyway. So it’s not like my entire life has been one of staying in my room hating on everybody.

Besides that, being shy has been a positive boon to me as a writer and musician. Because I am so tense with social interaction, I have lots of time to spend by myself writing or practicing my instruments.

I think one of the reasons I was initially drawn to Zen was because Zen centers were places I could go and be around people without having to talk to them. Talking was always the hard part. It was never like I didn’t want to be around people. I just didn’t know how to interact with them.

Before I got into Zen, I liked places where I could be anonymous but still be with people. I’m not a great fan of shopping malls, but I liked going to them when I was a teenager because it allowed me to be with people without having to say much. I still like that sort of thing. It’s one of the reasons why I always choose to live in large cities.

Zen has been good for me because it’s all very ritualized. You don’t have to think a whole lot about how you’re going to say the right thing to somebody. You’re not supposed to talk anyhow. You just bow when it’s bowing time, chant when it’s chanting time, sit when it’s sitting time. It’s very nice.

I probably would have been a good candidate to be recruited by a gang or a religious cult if any had been available to me in my youth. But alas there were no gangs in Wadsworth, Ohio and no cults either.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I would imagine most people are shy and probably getting shyer as social media replaces real social interaction.

One thing that has helped me is the realization that everyone is pretty much the same. I mean, I always knew that. But something about this Zen stuff allows you to start to see that very, very clearly. You see that even the people who put on the show of being completely at ease so well that they themselves start to believe it, even they are trying as hard as you to find out the right thing to say and the right thing to do.

That makes it a little easier. But I still find it to be an uphill battle.

Anyway, come talk to me at the Houston Zen Center tomorrow!

*   *   *

I’m shy to ask this, but some donations would be most helpful!

*   *   *

Here’s my upcoming events schedule:

Sept. 6 Houston Zen Center All Day Zazen

Sept. 9 Austin Zen Center

Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland– Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland — Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon — 5pm  Manchester, UK

54 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. The Idiot
    The Idiot September 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm |

    ask the enterprise guy out for a beer!
    (safe travels)

  2. A beginner in Texas
    A beginner in Texas September 5, 2014 at 5:21 pm |

    If any of the usual suspects here states they grew up anything else but shy I will be amazed. Many of us have found ways to bypass our personal shyness in professions or circumstances that we find in our lives.

    Do the “in crowd” or “cool clique” kids grow up not feeling this shyness, or do they learn their work-arounds earlier in life?

    Is shyness a function of the illusion we call the ego? Great research projects for someone with the bent to find the answers.

    Before writing this comment I was watching a clip on YouTube of Robin Williams presenting an award to Jonathan Winters. The person who turned to stage over to Williams had introduced him as the “very shy” Robin Williams.

    I’ve read this about his personal side before. When one thinks of Williams shy is usually not how we picture him. Like my own coping mechanisms his stage persona was just another mask, put on for audiences and cameras. Inside he was as scared as I ever was every day of his life.

    Is there a lesson we can draw from knowing this? Perhaps one of compassion. Perhaps we can be the hand reaching for the pillow in the night when we see the shyness in another and encourage them to just be there.

    We have all been the pillow. Sometimes we can be the hand.

    1. Fred
      Fred September 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm |

      I’ve never been a pillow or a Them.

  3. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 5, 2014 at 6:28 pm |

    Everybody is shy and Everybody was in the misfit group in high school and Everybody is misunderstood and Everybody missed out on their true potential and Everyone has their hidden tragedy.

    Try not to waste too much time brooding over your terminal uniqueness.

    Oh, the Unfairness. Of. It. All.



  4. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 September 5, 2014 at 7:27 pm |

    Brad, if you ever come to Dallas, I’ll buy you a beer and we’ll sit in silence. I’m good with that too. It’s the least that I can do for all the smart-azz I’ve contributed. Or I could just donate the $6.75 .

    Btw, I’ve noticed that many Christians are more friendly (“outgoing”) than many Zennites, and I’ve been around a lot of both. I supposed this is because Zen is more about the self, Christianity in particular is more “others” based. I also bringing this up also because I’m halfway through your new book.

  5. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 September 5, 2014 at 7:28 pm |

    “I’m also bringing this up…”

  6. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 5, 2014 at 8:50 pm |

    Believe me, I ain’t shy.


  7. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon September 6, 2014 at 6:26 am |

    Shy or introverted?

    I highly recommend Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.

  8. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 6, 2014 at 8:27 am |

    I read (actually listened) to that book. It had some interesting stuff inside.

    However it was oriented towards giving “even though you are shy here is how you can succeed” advice.

    And what the world considers success is becomming less and less interesting to me.

    If you pay attention, you will realize that the media are filled with loud, confident people explaining how to succeed and why you haven’t. If they aren’t doing that, then they are generally trying to scare you.

    It is pretty annoying.


  9. Fred
    Fred September 6, 2014 at 2:23 pm |

    A couple of hits of acid is all you need for shyness

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot September 7, 2014 at 9:34 am |

      That’s OK, so long as you don’t replace it with abjectly paranoid panic.

  10. Fred
    Fred September 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm |

    Everybody is shy
    Everybody was in the misfit group in high school
    Everybody is misunderstood
    Everybody missed out on their true potential
    Everyone has their hidden tragedy

    Oh the horror

  11. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 6, 2014 at 4:39 pm |
  12. AnneMH
    AnneMH September 6, 2014 at 7:06 pm |

    Hi Brad, I can relate. I have a a regular meditation group and the idea that I could go and not talk to anyone and that would be totally fine was the only reason I went. For awhile I didn’t talk to anyone. Now I help sit in front and facilitate, but like you that is different. At work I do a lot of leading and training, no one would guess that I am introverted/shy.

    So now it is a new generation and my son has been struggling with this so much. He says he hates everyone, yet he has friends and people really like him. Especially adults he gets along with. However his social anxiety has been so bad that we spent a few years dragging him into school, trying different high schools, doing some therapy and then dropping it and he took the GED just after he turned 17. He hadn’t been to school in months, but never in trouble, never a bad grade other than due to extreme absences. So what is this about? Well I want to say that not everyone has this specific issue even if we all had a sucky time in high school. And it is really nice to hear someone else talk about this, know that my kid may be okay long term. He really is okay, but just struggling to get into the world.

  13. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid September 6, 2014 at 8:38 pm |

    There are no people, just shattered mirrors.

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 6, 2014 at 9:18 pm |

    Hope you had a time like no other at the Houston Zen Center, Brad.

    Anne, has your son thought about the local JC at all- he might have a better time with the situation there.

    Then again, the relationship between volition and absorption can throw anyone for a loop; absorption feels like who we are, volition feels contrived. I know how Brad did it, he picked up a guitar and discovered he could not only lose himself but find himself, and he could even do it in front of a crowd; right Brad?

    1. Fred
      Fred September 7, 2014 at 8:39 am |

      If you aren’t clinging to a self, there is no one to be shy about.

      Or when you jack up your serotonin, there is no ebb in hormonal flow due to
      perceived placement in the social hierarchy.

      Pick your poison.

  15. genec
    genec September 7, 2014 at 11:54 am |

    Like yourself, I have always been very shy, and have found that the ritual-based nature of Zen groups allows me to “blend in” more easily. Funny though, when the zazen stops and it’s time for cookies, tea and chit chat… ohhhh the anxious feelings return! 🙂

    But, as with everything, sitting practice helps to feel these arising emotions without being 100% bound to them.

  16. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm |

    We just spent the day at the local annual State Fair, with its carnival barkers, kiddie rides, bad food, livestock, rock music, mutant produce, butter sculptures, artwork, and people of every size and shape from every walk of life. The people always fascinate me, and today I was struck most by how each and every one of us thinks we are “special,” and of course we are to some degree unique, mysterious outgrowths of the stuff of the universe, however, then again, we are not, being so many of the same thing: bipeds eating, shitting, fucking…dying. Life goes by in the wink of an eye. What’s it all about, anyway?

  17. Fred
    Fred September 7, 2014 at 4:22 pm |

    “What’s it all about, anyway?”


  18. Fred
    Fred September 7, 2014 at 5:06 pm |
  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 7, 2014 at 8:06 pm |

    “wishin’ my long lost lover would walk to me, talk to me, tell me what it’s all about”


  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 7, 2014 at 8:25 pm |

    And again, (a person), by passing quite beyond the plane of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, enters on and abides in the stopping (cessation) of perception and feeling; and when (such a person) has seen by means of wisdom (their) cankers (of greed, aversion, and confusion) are caused to be destroyed. And… (such person) does not imagine (that she herself or he himself) is aught or anywhere or in anything.”

    (Gautama “the Buddha”; MN III 42-45, PTS pgs 92-94, parenthetical paraphrases by this author).

    Yeah, you gotta ask yourself: do I really wanna get real? (since there will be no imagining sh#t at such time as…)

    naw, I’m gonna have to be dragged onto the wall of death.


  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 7, 2014 at 8:36 pm |

    Here, now: what’s this!

    Richard Thompson at 1:12-

    “I was very shy as a kid; to get on stage and express yourself, that was just, a revelation”


  22. mb
    mb September 7, 2014 at 11:39 pm |

    Nice tie-in with the this post’s subject Mark! (And I have been a fan of Mr. Thompson since the early Fairport days).

    When I first started looking at this blog, I was always amused how when threads started to die out, everybody started posting YouTube links to keep them going.

    So…in that very spirit…I am posting my own YouTube link (first ever) with only the most tangential connection to anything, except for the fact that Brad has confessed to really liking the music of Robyn Hitchcock.

    This is the trailer to the just-released film version of Radio Free Albemuth (a Phillip K. Dick novel). It was filmed in 2010 but languished in distribution limbo for 4 years, but is now streaming on Amazon (and elsewhere). It’s low budget ($3.5 million), uses mostly unknown actors (except for Alanis Morisette, who plays the subversive pop singer in the story)…but the large majority of the soundtrack is Robyn Hitchcock. Recommended.


  23. Andy
    Andy September 8, 2014 at 10:15 am |

    We’re either struggling with such things or we’re not.


    I have an hypothesis that I’ve been researching for a good while now: that we, especially in the West, need much clearer and more widely visible psychological frameworks about Narcissism, which people can apply to all levels of society and culture, in order to protect and nurture many of those things that are of real value to us all – and that includes Buddhism.

    1. Fred
      Fred September 8, 2014 at 11:30 am |

      The rebuttal of this non-science.


    2. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon September 8, 2014 at 3:21 pm |

      Is that the religion that worships daffodils and jonquils?

      1. Andy
        Andy September 9, 2014 at 12:01 am |

        No, but sometimes it can have Religious parents and worships atheism.

  24. Fred
    Fred September 8, 2014 at 11:32 am |

    “I have a few serious problems with this description. It implies that sensitive introverted people are all actually selfish and egocentric. I don’t think it ever says anywhere that all such people are, but rather leaves the reader to imply such by using broad undefined terms such as “in spades.” Now, its entirely possible there are sensitive and introverted people who are actually quite selfish and egocentric. I think it would be irresponsible to claim that there aren’t any people who fit that mold. But it equally irresponsible to claim the opposite, especially without any sort of data to back up the claim.

  25. Fred
    Fred September 8, 2014 at 11:35 am |

    “. But I got curious, so I took a look. I noticed a few things right off. To keep it brief, Much of the research cited in the source was from the 70s, the writing style felt reminiscent of a college term paper where lengthy technical language was used for the sole purpose of trying to sound smart, but the complete lack of coherency in the descriptions gave the opposite effect.

    And rather than considering that perhaps the reason why two different measures of narcissism didn’t correlate with each other was that one or both of them wasn’t accurately measuring what they thought it was measuring, the authors decided that it meant that there was simply a different type of narcissism that just so happened to fit their data perfectly. This was a classic example of shaping a theory to fit the data, and generally makes for some pretty bad science.

    So, back (again) to the article at hand. The source material is old, references older outdated research, and can generally be considered bunk“

  26. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 8, 2014 at 12:22 pm |


  27. minkfoot
    minkfoot September 8, 2014 at 12:22 pm |

    Y’know, it was a deep and comforting revelation for me to realize that few people really paid much attention to me, because almost everybody else was too concerned with how others might perceive them!

  28. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 8, 2014 at 12:22 pm |


  29. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm |

    I spread out.

  30. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm |



    1. Fred
      Fred September 8, 2014 at 12:48 pm |


  31. Fred
    Fred September 8, 2014 at 12:48 pm |

    You have

  32. Fred
    Fred September 8, 2014 at 12:48 pm |

    Something to

  33. Fred
    Fred September 8, 2014 at 12:49 pm |

    Blow up.

  34. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 8, 2014 at 2:28 pm |

    “But the latest research suggests that there is also a large selfish segment of the population who say they are introverted and sensitive when they really just can’t stand it that everyone doesn’t recognize their brilliance.”

    I guess that was the zinger the author of the disputed article wished to loose upon general society all along. You can understand, him being in an academic environment and all, how much joy there would be in silently categorizing all his fellow departmentals.

    Just kidding, Prof. Kaufman!

    mb, I’m a big Alanis Morrisette fan, but not as big a fan of sci-fi built around the twists of psychology, or even detective stories built around the same. I think that’s because I prefer depictions that center around movement in three dimensions and weight, for building my neuron networks. Speaking of which, I gotta get outa here and pound some pavement before the shadows come.

    Say, that reminds me of a tune:


  35. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 8, 2014 at 2:54 pm |

    Nope. I’m at work putting things together.

    Nowadays I just sit and Imagine a world without shrapnel. It’s easy if you try.


  36. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon September 8, 2014 at 3:28 pm |

    Brian Victoria is stirring the shit again over at Sweeping Zen.
    They need more YouTube videos in their comments.

  37. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm |

    Meanwhile, back on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator front:

    “The interesting – and somewhat alarming – fact about the MBTI is that, despite its popularity, it has been subject to sustained criticism by professional psychologists for over three decades. One problem is that it displays what statisticians call low “test-retest reliability.” So if you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there’s around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category compared to the first time you took the test.

    A second criticism is that the MBTI mistakenly assumes that personality falls into mutually exclusive categories. You are either an extrovert or an introvert, but never a mix of the two. Yet most people fall somewhere in the middle. If the MBTI also measured height, you would be classified as either tall or short, even though the majority of people are within a band of medium height.”

    etc., from here

  38. Andy
    Andy September 8, 2014 at 10:48 pm |

    “The rebuttal of this non-science.”

    There is no “The” with this. But, yes, Fred, the science is very flawed. The academics and the clinic practitioners are at odds – especially about the flawed and tainted shifting sands of the DSMs – a diagnostic framework that has suspect roots and a concerning relationship with the pharmaceutical industry.

    1. Andy
      Andy September 8, 2014 at 11:48 pm |

      .. oops something pressed send for me! Cont…

      This is why I suggested that a better framework is needed. A framework that can be applied amidst others. One of the reasons for the slippery nature of such is that no one is free of narcissistic traits. It protects itself – to personify – and provides support structures for its more chronic exemplars. The primary hell-makers can go under the radar because so many have their own ugly portrait behind the curtain to flinch from and ingrained habits that help with the flinching. Different personalities refract certain traits various ways. Also, confirmation bias and distortion abound. Those who Identify Narcissists might often be being narcissistic themselves.

      Meanwhile lives are destroyed and many, many people are isolated and suffering alone – most likely damaged to the extent that they themselves exhibit some of the traits. Those who have been in relationships with such abusers and have come out the other side will understand what I’m talking about. It can spread through families over generations.

      The article I posted at least helps with bringing the possibility to light, something to keep in mind. The label ‘covert’ when applied to Narcissists with a big N is pertinent and can be a desperately needed starting pointer for many. Like in many areas, the the science needs to turn the light around and catch up. My own models and frameworks are a work in progress – and will be for the rest of my life. Investigations should always begin with oneself. Practices like zazen are one side of the equation. Our contemporary, constructed selves also need some support. Such things like Sanghas do too, in my opinion.

      This blogger writes very articulately on the subject of big N Narcs.


      Sometimes the wicked witch is real and our monkeys have have grown wings.

  39. Andy
    Andy September 9, 2014 at 12:48 am |

    Mark, the problems with psychiatric labeling is a good one to point out. The problem of not labeling shouldn’t go missing either. I’m largely with the blogger I linked to on the subject of labels.

    You were very kind (or nice) to Adam Tebbe on the comments section to a post where he labelled and pathologized a girlfriend with BPD. He provided a youtube video about BPD, too. I wonder how the girlfriend felt, who didn’t have a platform in which to respond – and would have had her responses blocked anyway.

    The ambiguities abound.

    Being nice to people who exploit them has its own ramifications. I appreciate Brad’s no-contact attitude to Adam, since the well-documented nastiness a while back.

  40. Fred
    Fred September 9, 2014 at 10:57 am |

    What the hell are you going on about? Spell it out.

    1. Andy
      Andy September 9, 2014 at 11:46 am |

      Sorry if it’s not clear enough for you, Fred.

      For me Narcissism is a way to see things, and I see it on a spectrum that includes everyone, and that has support structures at all levels of society and culture. It can become chronic, and when it does, it is dangerous and involves covert strategies to varying degrees, though the distinction of it as a form of malignant narcissism is up for investigation. My views and experiences are very similar to the blogger at ‘Narcissists suck’, so have a look there. This is not something that can be understood only by reading the research, though.

      I’m sure Mark knows what I’m on about with regard to Adam, and I’ll reply to him, if he wishes for clarity and doesn’t find me too ‘inoffensive’!

  41. Fred
    Fred September 9, 2014 at 11:59 am |

    You once described a trainwreck of an existence with others who had Bipolar
    and Narcissism. Is that what you are referencing or reacting to?

    “Sometimes the wicked witch is real and our monkeys have have grown wings.”

    Thanks, that is very good. I enjoyed reading that.

  42. Andy
    Andy September 9, 2014 at 12:44 pm |

    I don’t recall mentioning bipolar. I’ve had extensive experience with malignant narcissists. I can also spot intellectual narcissism a mile off – for obvious reasons. I don’t think it’ll do any good to go into any detail anymore about my private life, and your tone certainly doesn’t encourage me to do so.

  43. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 9, 2014 at 9:39 pm |

    Hey, Andy- yes, I also remember your writing about your experience with a partner, that was very moving to me as well.

    I have a good friend, an old friend; I watched the movie Adam linked to about Borderline Personality Disorder (there we go again with the labels!), and I realized that my friend fit the major identifying characteristics of the disorder to a tee (now whether a psychologist would agree, that might be another matter). I then realized what my friend’s parting statement to me that she just felt things more intensely implied: she manages her behavior.

    She’s a genius, in her own fashion, and I wish she would write.

    Once a person realizes that they have some genetic and environmental consequences that will give their lives a particular challenge, perhaps through modern clinical psychology, that’s only the beginning of the journey. To face into the challenge and live successfully in society, that’s quite amazing. Lucky too, I’m sure.

    My monkeys growing wings, pretty scary thought, Andy- Halloween’s coming up, guess I better get some candied bananas just in case…

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