Stephen Mitchell’s Book Tour: The Second Book of the Tao


For those of you who have questions for Stephen, or just want to say hello to him on his book tour, you can catch up with him in the following places:

Portland, OR
2/27/09 Powell’s City of Books 7:30PM
1105 West Burnside Street

Seattle, WA
2/28/09 Elliott Bay Book Company 2:00 PM
101 South Main Street

Santa Barbara, CA
3/2/09 Mind & Supermind Series 7:30 PM
Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.

San Francisco, CA
3/3/09 Berkeley Arts & Letters 7:30 PM
First Congregational Church of Berkeley
2345 Channing Way

3/4/09 Book Passage, Corte Madera 7:00 PM
51 Tamal Vista Boulevard

Sonoma, CA
3/5/09 Reader’s Books 7:30 PM
127 East Napa Street

Denver, CO
3/6/09 Tattered Cover 7:30 PM
2526 East Colfax Avenue

Boulder, CO
3/7/09 Boulder Bookstore 2:30 PM
1107 Pearl Street, Boulder

Santa Fe, NM
3/9/09 Garcia Street Bookshop 5:00 PM
376 Garcia Street

New York, NY
3/11/09 Rubin Museum of Art 7:00 PM
150 West 17th Street

Philadelphia, PA
3/12/09 Free Library of Philadelphia 7:30 PM
1901 Vine Street

Los Angeles, CA
3/18/09 Los Angeles Public Library 7:00 PM
630 West 5th Street

3/19/09 Barnes & Noble 7:00 PM
1201 3rd Street, Santa Monica

A Glimpse of Stephen’s New Book

He calls it The Second Book of the Tao. The book is now available online and in bookstores everywhere.

Here Stephen reads an excerpt from the book:

Chapter 8

How do I know that loving life
isn’t simply a delusion?
How do I know
that when we’re afraid of death
we aren’t like someone
who left home as a young child
and has forgotten the way back?
How do I know that the dead
aren’t so happy that they wonder
why they once clung to life?

You may dream that you’re at a banquet
and wake up to find yourself miserable.
You may dream that you’re sobbing your heart out
and wake up to find yourself at ease.
How, in the middle of a dream,
can you know that you’re actually dreaming?
In the middle of a dream, you may even
try to interpret the dream;
only after you wake up
do you realize that you were dreaming.

Someday there will be
a great awakening, when we know
that all this was one big dream.

And when I say that we’re dreaming,
of course I am dreaming too.


How do I know? Well, I don’t. So that settles that.

But loving life isn’t a problem. Preferring life to death: that’s what causes the confusion.

It could be (if there were such a thing as departing) that death is the return to a presence the wandering mind has long forgotten. It could be (if there were such a thing as separate beings) that the dead look upon our attachment to life like fond grandparents watching a teenager’s first tumultuous love affair. It could be, in fact, that the dead are nothing but their own delight, there (if there were such a thing as space) where they know even as they are known.

We are close to waking up when we dream that we are dreaming. All the imagined ups and downs, the hubbub and reversals of fortune, are what most people call life. But before and after, at the point where the end meets its beginning, there is only what has woken up from the cycle of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.

As for a “great awakening”: dream on. When do you think that that someday will come, after all? Isn’t it enough just to open your eyes, feel the pillow beneath your head, and see the hands of the alarm clock pointing to this very moment (as if there were such a thing as time)?

Stephen’s Translations

Stephen sits in front of my computer translating the squiggles into words.

He translates email almost as well as he does poetry. Neither makes sense to me. What I love is his patience, as he reads it again, slowly, and this time I understand.

I didn’t know I liked poetry until I heard Stephen re-reading my emails.

The Husband Story

If you say that you love your husband, what does that have to do with him?

You’re just telling him who you are. You tell the story of how he’s handsome and fascinating and sexy, and you love your story about him. You’re projecting that he’s your story. And then when he doesn’t give you what you want, you may tell the story of how he’s mean, he’s controlling, he’s selfish—and what does that have to do with him? If my husband says, “I adore you,” I think, “Good. I love that he thinks I’m his sweet dream. How happy he must feel about that!”

If he were ever to come to me and say, “The sorriest day of my life was when I married you,” still, what would that have to do with me? He’d just be in a sad dream this time, and I might think, “Oh poor baby, he’s having a nightmare. I hope he wakes up soon.” It’s not personal. How can it have anything to do with me? I love him, and if what he says about me isn’t true in my experience, I would ask him if there’s anything I can do for him. If I can do it, I will, and if it’s not honest for me, I won’t. He is left with his story. No one will ever understand you. Realizing this is freedom. No one will ever understand you—not once, not ever. Even at our most understanding, we can only understand our story of who you are. There’s no understanding here except your own. If you don’t love another person, it hurts, because love is your very self. You can’t make yourself do it.

But when you come to love yourself, you automatically love the other person. It’s not a choice. Just as you can’t make yourself love us, you can’t make yourself not love us. Husbands, wives, lovers—all a projection of mind. When you truly love someone, a thought like “You should love me” brings laughter to your heart. Can you hear the arrogance of that thought? “I don’t care whom you want to love. You should love me, and I’ll even trick you into it if need be, or at least I’ll try to, out of my self-deluded head.” This is the opposite of love.

If I think my husband should love me, I’m insane.
Whose business is it whom he loves? His, of course. The turnarounds show me the way toward what is truer to my heart: I should love me, and I should love him. Let him love whomever he loves—he’s going to anyway. The story of whom someone should love keeps me from the awareness that I am what I’m seeking. It’s not his job to love me—it’s mine.

A Reading

I look up, I see Stephen walking into the room with a copy of his new book under his arm. He’s happy like a child, delighted with what he sees as the book’s production values, what it looks like, how it feels. We sit down together and he reads to me from it.

His beautiful, kind voice sends me to sleep almost instantly.

When I wake, fifteen minutes later, Stephen is still reading.

A Valentine’s Story

I first met Stephen because Michael Katz said that I needed a literary agent. I said I didn’t have a book, so I didn’t need a literary agent. But Michael persisted. I liked him a lot, so eventually I said okay. It was like the Beatles song: I didn’t have a car, but I had a driver. He also gave me a dozen of Stephen’s books. I didn’t read any of them. Actually, I gave them away. Then Michael wanted to introduce us.

I’ll let Stephen tell the story:

“Sometime in November or December of 1999, Michael Katz, my old friend and literary agent, sent me two videotapes and an audiotape of Byron Katie. He had discovered Katie and The Work a few months before and had been deeply impressed. As a long-time student of both Suzuki Roshi and of Gregory Bateson, he had a finely-tuned sense of the genuine, and he recognized something extraordinary in Katie. He told me that he had begun to do The Work as a daily practice, and that it was clearing his mind in subtle ways that Zen meditation had never touched.

“I always trust Michael and almost always follow his advice. So when he told me to watch the videos, I did. I was impressed. I liked Katie a great deal. I thought that The Work was a powerful method for people who had problems with anger, desire, or confusion—though I (I thought), as a mature Zen person, was of course far beyond the need for it. But I was very impressed.

“I told Michael my reaction, and he said, ‘Now I want you to see her. It’s ten times more powerful in person.’ I told him I would. She was giving a public event in Marin County at the end of January. For some reason that I didn’t understand, I wanted to meet her privately before the event, so I made an appointment with her assistant, Melony. It was for 10 A.M. on Sunday, January 23, 2000, at a house in Mill Valley.

“I remember arriving that morning five minutes early and sitting in the car until it was 10 o’clock. I remember the feeling of excitement as I waited, and the specific thought: ‘Don’t get too excited. And don’t expect her to recognize you. Even if she doesn’t recognize you, it will be fine.’ That was the thought that passed through my mind several times.

“I rang the bell at 10 o’clock exactly. Katie’s host came to the door, opened it, and let me into the living room, where she was waiting on a couch. It must have been 10:03 when I looked into her eyes.

“The experience is as vivid to me now as it was at that instant, and as impossible to describe. I will try a few statements, from different directions. All of them are trying to say the same thing. I had seen a videotape of her, so I was prepared to meet someone very wise. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw the first instant I looked into her eyes: the awe of it. I felt I was looking into a heart that was completely pure. I felt that I was being totally seen, totally met. What was in those eyes was something I had never experienced before: something that the phrase ‘unconditional love’ can only point to from a great distance. I felt that I was standing in front of a clear mirror and seeing myself and that I was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. I felt that whatever it was that was missing in my own heart was suddenly, magically, standing in front of me, and whatever it was that this radiant, joyous woman had understood was now available to me as well.

“I used to think of myself as a connoisseur of eyes. I had met many spiritual masters: Zen masters, lamas, gurus, and so forth, and some of them had the brilliance and humor in their eyes that for me was the mark of the genuine. The strongest experience of this kind that I had had was with my old Zen master in June 1973, in Providence, Rhode Island. The first moment I had set eyes on him, I knew that he knew the great secret, the answer that I had been looking for during seven years of hard work on ‘Job and the problem of suffering.’ It was there, in his eyes, and at that moment I thought of the line from Yeats: ‘Their eyes, their ancient, glittering eyes are gay.’ That moment had changed my life.

“But Katie’s eyes were even more glittering, I felt, even more ancient, and so beautiful that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with joy. The joy shining from them was something I had never seen before. I felt overwhelmed, relieved, mortified at my own arrogance, deeply grateful, and in love. The love wasn’t personal. It wasn’t I, the man Stephen, falling in love with a woman named Katie. It was like falling in love with the Buddha. It was like falling in love with the magnificence of the human heart.

“We sat together for about an hour and a half. We talked a little. I told her a little about my life, how I had come to Zen, what it had meant to me, what felt still unfinished. I don’t remember what she said. I do remember that it was perfectly clear to me that she had no attachment to being a spiritual teacher. This was extraordinary, since even my own Zen master, wonderful as he was, had more than a smidgen of attachment to being a teacher. Most of the time, we just sat in silence. She had taken my hand, and we just sat together holding hands. The silence was very full, and deeply fulfilling. I had never been so happy.”

All Ways Lead to The Right Place

I’m sitting with friends in the sun, at a table outside Ojai Coffee Roasting Co.

My cell phone rings. It’s Stephen. He’s going to join us.

I give him directions: “Turn left, honey, turn right, and look for us on your left. We’re at the first table in front of the door.”

We see Stephen. He is walking toward us, then right past us, concentrated on some beautiful thought probably, oblivious. Now he’s getting ready to cross the street.

We yell, “Stephen!”

He turns, walks back, and joins us with a smile. For him, for all of us, all ways lead to, and are, the right place.

A Happy Marriage

Someone asked me what was the secret to a happy marriage. I explained that “happy marriage” is the story that we are believing in the moment, or not.

I love the story of “my” marriage. Do you yet?


When I say “I love you,” it is always self-love. There’s no personality talking: I only talk to myself, so of course I must hear you as me. “I” am the listener, I am all of it, as it turns out.

Love is self-absorbed and leaves no room for any other. Love is the affect of self-consuming, the consumed. There’s not a molecule separate, outside of itself. In the apparent world of duality, it can be seen as a you and a me, but in reality there is only one. And even that isn’t true. I call it the last story, the one in the moment. The voice I love from within is what I’m married to. All marriage is a metaphor for that marriage.

When I make a commitment, it’s to my own truth, and there’s no higher or lower. “I love, honor, and obey you—and I may change my mind.” I’m married only to God—reality. That’s where my commitment is. It can’t be to a particular person. And Stephen says that he wouldn’t want it any other way. Unless we marry the truth, there is no real marriage. Marry yourself and you have married us. We are you. That’s the cosmic joke.

Book Excerpt: “My Mother Wouldn’t Approve”

Chapter 3 from Who Would You Be Without Your Story >>

Are you trying to spare someone’s feelings by denying yourself? Free yourself from that prison. How can you know that they’ll disapprove? And if they do, whose business is that?

Rebecca: I’m very new at this; a friend just invited me to come to your event today, and voilà! Here I am. My question refers to the parent-child relationship. Actually, it sort of stems from a problem that I have with my mother. And I lied when I filled in the Worksheet. The problem was not with [choking back tears] relationships that I have now. It’s . . . probably something that I didn’t work out with her . . . probably am unable to.

Katie: So what is it with your mother that you haven’t worked out yet?

Rebecca: Well, I come from a conservative Jamaican family, and I’ve been living in America now for twelve years, so I don’t have my family with me. And I have to depend on myself, to pat myself on the back and say, “You’re doing okay!” I find myself, though . . .

Katie: Sweetheart, what’s the problem with your mother?

Rebecca: I’m not certain I can get her approval to do what I really, really want to do.

Katie: And what is that?

Rebecca: Well, it’s music . . . yes. They’ve told me in the past that I shouldn’t. In a conservative family, you do something practical.

Katie: So if your life became all about music as an occupation . . .

Rebecca: Well, I can’t even imagine that. I think of it all the time, and it’s . . . [She chokes back tears.]

Katie: . . . and it’s overflowing.

Rebecca: I teach business English, and my business is going very well, and this is something my mother approves of, especially when I’m so far away.

Katie: So what is it she would not approve of?

Rebecca: Doing something impractical, something that’s so risky.

Katie: Like what?

Rebecca: Singing . . . yes.

Katie: Singing where, how? As an occupation?

Rebecca: Possibly, yes.

Katie: So “if you dropped your profession . . .

Rebecca: I dare not.

Katie: . . . and you became a singer, your mother wouldn’t approve”—is that true?

Rebecca: She would kill herself with worry.

Katie: That was a very quick answer. Sweetheart, this is inquiry. This is where you look for answers that are not on the surface. This is where you open your mind and heart to what you don’t already know. “If you dropped your occupation and became a singer, your mother wouldn’t approve”—can you absolutely know that that’s true?

Rebecca: Absolutely? I can’t absolutely know, but I know her well enough to know. . . . It’s not . . . not 100 percent certain, but . . .

Katie: Drop your philosophy. Drop your qualifications, and just give me a straight yes or no. This is meditation. “If you become a singer, your mother would not approve”—can you absolutely know that that’s true? Close your eyes and really look for your answer. It’s okay to say yes or no. Get a picture of your mother. Can you absolutely know
she wouldn’t approve?

Rebecca: [crying] I know the reality that she lives. It’s not a yes or no answer, but I know her reality.

Katie: I understand. You think for her. She thinks for you, and you think for her. [Rebecca laughs.] Have you ever said things and not really meant it? “She wouldn’t approve of you”—can you absolutely know that that’s true?

Rebecca: Can we redefine that word approve?

Katie: No. Can you absolutely know that it’s true she would not approve if you became a singer?

Rebecca: [after a long pause] No.

Katie: Feel that. Now, how do you react when you believe the thought “My mother would not approve”?

Rebecca: Katie, she’s a worrier; she’s a professional worrier.

Katie: Notice that you didn’t follow the simple direction. You get to be right, and you don’t answer the question.

Rebecca: Can you repeat the question?

Katie: How do you react when you believe the thought “My mother would not approve”? How do you live your life when you believe that thought?

Rebecca: Strained, disappointed, unfulfilled.

Katie: So you’re living out everything you don’t want her to experience!

Rebecca: That’s true.

Katie: Close your eyes, and look at her look at you—singing. Now drop your story, just for a moment, and look at her face. Who would you be without that thought?

Rebecca: Freer! Not so cramped, not so unhappy. Not so uncertain, not so hopeless and helpless.

Katie: “My mother would be disappointed”—turn it around.

Rebecca: My mother would not be disappointed.

Katie: Could that be as true?

Rebecca: It could be. She might even be excited!

Katie: Who knows?

Rebecca: But it has its flip side. She’s got enough worries, and I don’t want to be the problem.

Katie: Now we’re out of inquiry.

Rebecca: Oh.

Katie: Can you see how you moved out of answering the questions and into another story?

Rebecca: Yes, I see that.

Katie: So you turned around the statement “My mother would be disappointed” to “My mother would be excited.” Now give me three reasons why she would be excited if you were singing and loved it.

Rebecca: Because I would be doing what I want. Because I would be doing something she possibly never had the courage to do. And because I’d be happy.

Katie: So she might be excited because you’re doing something you love, because you’re happy, and because it’s possibly something that she wanted to do herself and didn’t. “My mother would be disappointed”—can you find another turnaround?

Rebecca: Because it’s another thing to worry about.

Katie: That’s a reason, not a turnaround. “My mother would be disappointed”—can you find another turnaround?

Rebecca: I’m not sure I understand how to turn it around.

Katie: “My mother would be disappointed.” Turn it around to yourself. “I would be…”

Rebecca: I would be disappointed—if I didn’t do it.

Katie: Is your mother disappointed a lot?

Rebecca: Yes.

Katie: So if you sang, would she be any less disappointed? She’s already disappointed!

Rebecca: But she’s not disappointed in me.

Katie: What’s the worst that could happen if your mother was absolutely blown away disappointed—in you? You drop your occupation, you’re out there singing, and she is very disappointed in you. This is your nightmare. What’s the worst that could happen if she was disappointed in you? [Pause] So you take on the role of your mother, disappointed. Even exaggerate it. And I’m going to be her daughter, the one who loves her very much, the one who is singing her heart out, and loving it. I’ll be you. This is your chance to experience what you think your mother would say.

Katie: [as Rebecca] “Hello, mom. Guess what? I quit my job. I’m
singing now.”

Rebecca: [as her mother] “Rebecca? Have you totally lost it? Have you lost your mind?”

Katie: “Oh, mom, I’ve lost my job, my occupation, everything. I have lost it.”

Rebecca: “What happened to you?”

Katie: “I decided to be a singer. That’s what I want to do. I love it.”

Rebecca: “Rebecca, how are you going to make a living?”

Katie: “I don’t know.”

Rebecca: “Lord help us!” [The audience laughs.]

Katie: “That’s what I’m counting on.” [The audience laughs and applauds.] “So, are you disappointed, Mom?”

Rebecca: “You know we don’t have a lot; I can’t send you any money. I’ve got your father here to worry about; I’ve got your brothers; I’ve got your sister; I’ve got your nephew.”

Katie: “Mom, I don’t know how you do it. Would you like to hear me sing?”

Rebecca: “That’s not funny.”

Katie: “I was serious. It brings me so much joy, I thought maybe you’d want to hear what I was doing.”

Rebecca: “Rebecca, this is probably not the time and place for that.”

Katie: “You have a major burden on your hands, Mom. What I can tell you is, I’m going to help you in any way that I can. And I just don’t know how you do it. You’re an amazing woman.” [As herself] Is that all she would say, honey?

Rebecca: No, she’d say [resuming the dialogue as her mother], “Rebecca, we all worry about you, I worry about you . . . you’re so far away! Who’s going to feed you?”

Katie: “If I get hungry, I promise I’ll call.”

Rebecca: “Rebecca, we love you. I love you. And it’s important— it’s important for me that you’re happy.”

Katie: “Mom, you are so amazing. . . . Do you realize that not one time have you said that you were disappointed in me? I asked you the question and it was as though you didn’t even hear me. You’re incredible. You’ve been that way all my life. You’ve only wanted my happiness.”

Rebecca: “Yes.”

Katie: [as herself] So, “Your mother would be disappointed”—can you absolutely know that that’s true?

Rebecca: [pause] No, I really can’t. That’s just incredible. I feel so much lighter. Thank you.
Katie: You’re welcome. Sweetheart, when you believe what you think, it’s as though you’re living in a horrible prison. And when you question what you believe, you set yourself free. The mind becomes so open that it sees ways that you can have it all—your job, a singing career, you can have it all. But one thing you can know: When you go to work, it’s because you choose it. It could be that you’ll never say, “I didn’t live out my passion because of my mother. I couldn’t sing because I didn’t want to disappoint her.” It just doesn’t sound reasonable.

Rebecca: It makes me sound unreasonable, yes.

Katie: Thank you. So, sweetheart, would you like to sing right now? [The audience whistles and applauds.]

Rebecca: Sure! Now this is not exactly a song my mother would approve of.

Katie: And can you absolutely know that that’s true?

[Rebecca laughs, then belts out a torrid love song. The audience applauds wildly.]

If you enjoyed this excerpt, try the book >>